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Chronicle of Hitbical Science.
BRITISH AND FOREIGN
History of Civilization in England. By Henry Thomas Bucele.
It is with the more real satisfaction that we commence this notice by congratulating Mr. Buckle on the talent and learning displayed in the volume before us, because, with this general and merited approbation, there is yet, if not in the entire novelty of his views, at least in the new lights in which he disposes them, as well as in the difficulties and the wide suggest iv en ess naturally inherent in his subject, and the bold and uncompromising way in which he considers it, much Vhich may be deemed well fitted to lead afterwards to the expression of minor dissents. Mr. Buckle has startled the literary world by laying before it the first, and still only fragmentary, instalment of an undertaking so gigantic in its design and proportions, that we shall with difficulty find its parallel in these our degenerate days, when men are prone to run after distinction too hastily to bear heavy burdens, or to contemplate severe labours, in its pursuit. A few brief months ago, and no name lay in deeper obscurity than that of our author: now, both the continents ring with it familiarly, and the leading periodicals, aswell of Europe as of America, have joined in bestowing upon his volume that attention which is a tribute justly due to the genius displayed in it, though doubtless still without that unanimity of assent to its doctrines which he resolutely claims for them, but which it would be sanguine indeed to anticipate. To his mother he simply dedicates this the first volume of his first work; but it is a work for which he had made earnest preparation, and it has achieved fame for him at once.
It is essential to such a body of facts and doctrines as that evolved in the volume of Mr. Buckle, that these should be, and possibly under no narrow sense, differently interpreted by different classes of readers and thinkers. In attempting an abstract of them, it shall be our endeavour in the first place to present them under that aspect in which we conceive that the writer himself actually regarded them; thus giving a view of them unwarped, if that be really possible, by our own subjectivity, or by the confusion which would infallibly be introduced through a premature balancing between the notions or definitions of conflicting metaphysical systems. This accomplished, we shall be entitled to permit ourselves a freer range; and, having allowed the author to enunciate his opinions, we shall be able to follow them by our brief comment, weighing the value of his doctrines, and testing them by such illustrations and objections as occur to us. Even at this early stage, it may be proper to premise that the portion of Mr. Buckle's work which he has now issued, although entitled a 'History of Civilization in England,' is, in fact, only introductory to that subject; and that so comprehensive is his scheme, and with such cautious consideration does he contemplate its treatment, that he announces bis intention of occupying still two other volumes with merely preliminary facts and discussions, in order that, the necessary basis of principles and generalizations being first fully established, the reader may finally enter upon the main topic with a just understanding of the scope and spirit of his design. What may be anticipated as to the bulk and solidity of an edifice, the foundations of which are laid thus deeply and extensively, we are as yet scarcely in a position to determine. Its conception, however, looms beTbre us magnificently in the future; and if, along with the idea of grandeur in its proportions, and beauty and strength in its materials, there appears meanwhile an air also of dreaminess and indistinctness in its outline, we must attribute this to the vastness of a project, for the successful execution of which the existing stores of human learning seem almost neither sufficiently ripe nor abundant, even could a single human intellect be hoped to prove fully adequate to the task of wielding them. Unquestionably, when we express our earnest desire that Mr. Buckle may be enabled to complete his important work, on the scale in which he has commenced it, this is tantamount to wishing him no ordinary amount of mental vigour, continued through no limited duration of effort. We trust, however, that he will achieve the utmost possibleo success in his labour; and assuredly, when he has happily arrived at its completion, and has at last committed it to posterity in that weighty and eloquent peroration with which we know that it will conclude, there is, notwithstanding all its perhaps necessarily inherent defects, no other modern author, on any kindred subject, who will be able to look back at a nobler consummation.
Mr. Buckle introduces his subject by remarking, that of all the great branches of human knowledge, history is that upon which most has been written, and which has always been most popular. Glancing at the description and quality of the facts which have been customarily used for its illustration, the author proceeds to stigmatize the defective manner in which these have been ordinarily bent to their purpose. Thus, hardly any one has attempted to combine the parts of history into a whole, and to ascertain the way in which they are connected with each other. Since the early part of the eighteenth century, indeed, a few great thinkers have arisen, who have made something like a systematic effort to raise the subject to a higher value, by investigating it according to those exhaustive methods which in other branches of knowledge have proved successful, and through which alone empirical observations can be raised to scientific truths. Still, he proceeds, little more has been hitherto accomplished than to open up more cheermg prospects; while scarcely anything has been actually effected towards discovering the principles which govern the character and destiny of nations. Our acquaintance with history being thus so imperfect, while our materials are so numerous, it seemed desirable that something should be done on a scale far larger than had hitherto been attempted; and that a strenuous effort should be made to bring up this great department of inquiry to a level with other departments, in order that W8 may maintain the balance and harmony of our knowledge. It is in this spirit that the work has been conceived. Whoever is at all acquainted with what has been effected during the last two centuries must be aware, the author further tells us, that every generation demonstrates some events to be regular and predictable, which the preceding generation had declared to be irregular and unpredictable; so that the marked tendency of advancing civilization is to strengthen our belief in the universality of order, method, ana law. Hence, the expectation of discovering regularity in the midst of confusion is so familiar to scientific men, that amongst the most eminent of them it becomes an article of faith; and if the same expectation is not generally found among historians, it must be ascribed partly to their being of inferior ability to the investigators of nature, and partly to the greater complexity of those social phenomena with which their studies are concerned.
The author next proposes to inquire into the foundation of what he announces as the common opinion, that history must always remain in its present empirical state; and with reference to this he cites the existence of two doctrines, which appear to represent different stages of civilization. According to the first doctrine, every event is single and isolated, and is merely considered as the result of a blind chance: according to the second, men believe that every event is linked to its antecedent by an inevitable connexion, and that thus the whole world forms a necessary chain, in which, indeed, each man, playing his separate part, may hold his place, but can by no means determine what that place shall be. Tribes in the agricultural state, perceiving that what they sow, that likewise do they reap, are the first to take cognizance of this regular uniformity of sequence, through which gradually arises a dim idea of the stability of events; and thus begins to dawn upon the mind a faint conception of what at a later period are called the Laws of Mature, an increasing perception of which, in the ordinary march of society, destroys the doctrine of Chance, and replaces it by that of Necessary Connexion. From these two doctrines of Chance and Necessity have arisen, in all probability, the subsequent dogmas of Free Will and Predestination; the doctrine of Chance, in the external world, corresponding, according to the view of the author, with that of Free Will in the internal world, while the other doctrine of Necessary Connexion appears alike analogous to that of Predestination; the only difference, he subjoins, being that the first is a development by the metaphysician, the second by the theologian. There is, however, it is added, a growing opinion among the more advanced European thinkers, that both doctrines are wrong, or, at all events, that we have hitherto no sufficient evidence of their truth.
The idea of the supremacy of the free will, the author continues, involves two assumptions, of which the first is possibly true, the second unquestionably false. These assumptions are, that there is an independent faculty called consciousness, and that the dictates of that faculty are infallible. But it is by no means certain that consciousness is not rather a condition of the mind than a faculty; while, if it be a faculty, we have the evidence of all history to prove its extreme fallibility, at least as to the truth, if not as to the actuality, of its testimony. The doctrine of predestination he summarily sets aside as a barren hypothesis, because, being beyond the province of our knowledge, we have no means of ascertaining either its truth or its falsehood. Pursuing his argument, he adduces this uncertainty regarding the existence of consciousness, as an independent faculty, and the manner in which that faculty, if it exist, has contradicted its own suggestions, as two of the many reasons which have long convinced him that metaphysics will never be raised to a science by the ordinary method of observing individual minds: but that its study can only be successfully prosecuted by the deductive application of laws which must be discovered historically; that is to say, which must be evolved through an examination of the whole of those vast phenomena which the long course of human affairs presents to our view. He considers it fortunate, however, for the object of his work, that the believer in the possibility of a science of history is not called upon to adhere to either the doctrine of predestined events or that of freedom of the will; limiting the latter, somewhat singularly, to the idea of a cause of action residing in the mind, and exerting itself independently of motives. He expects, on the other hand, at this stage of the inquiry, the concession of the following positions: That, when we perform an action, we perform it in consequence of some motive or motives; that those