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to point out the continued operation of these beneficent influences. When this is done, some foundation may be laid in history for their pleasant hope. History may be regarded as the record of a series of experiments elicit ing the social nature of man. Who can venture to say that these experiments have been so numerous and complete as to have exhausted their subject, and displayed the utmost capabilities of the human being? Who, on the other hand, can rely with confidence on the untried capacities of our nature? The light of history is as a lamp to our feet; but the light shines steadily only for a little way on the path before us. It is enough for conduct, not for speculation. Those who will discuss, not what is likely to happen in the next generation, or the next to that, but what are to be the ultimate destinies of man as an inhabitant of this globe, proceed beyond where the light. of history can pene trate. They must build their hope on new inventions in the arts, or new discoveries in science; or, after having gathered all they can from the annals of states and empires, they may, if they will, revert to the study of the individual man, and, pondering on the human heart, may consider what revolution of circumstances, or remodelling of society, will bring to it a continuous happiness. The truth is, they agitate a topic beyond the rigid test of experience. We are apt to smile at men of Utopian complexion, who in that distant futurity, which is almost as much open to imagination as our mode of existence in another world, see before them a golden age, when wars shall cease, and the suffer. ings of poverty be heard no more, and the plague of ignorance be banished from the earth. We do not share their faith, or rather their hope; but the same caution that leads us to refuse the golden anticipation of these happier reasoners, should prevent us from dogmatically pronouncing with others, that human society has again and again attained substantially its perfect form, and that in no age, and under no circumstances whatever, could a happier, or altogether different scheme be possibly devised than such as the world has already exemplified. What man is capable of for evil how low he may sink in ignorance and brute passion-has certainly been
tested; how high he is capable of rising-how truly social a being he may become how far, under propitious circumstances, reason, and the good of all, may indeed give laws to society, may hitherto be unresolved.
History, then, reveals the future by the past, inasmuch, and to the same extent, as it reveals the knowledge of man. It supplies us with that repertory of facts, without which we should have very faint and most imperfect ideas of human beings as they exist in national and political combinations. But we must add, that if the ardour of our historical reading were to be regulated by this its practical utility, we should find it signally abate. An enlightened curiosity meets its liberal gratification in perusing the transac tions of the past; it is the charm of the retrospect which gives this endless interest we feel in history. Were it read only for the sake of those general truths which are to be extracted from, or confirmed by it, we should not find it necessary to peruse so many volumes, and we should close our books when we had settled our principles, It happens, however, that our love of history increases the more we read, and that we often take especial interest in those very times, which, being most remote and dissimilar to our own, afford us the fewest lessons of political wisdom. Nor is this surprising; for, laying aside all thought of governing or divining the future by the past, what a thing it is merely to look back! The recorded transactions of the human race viewed simply for themselves-with a wish only to comprehend them-with a mere curiosity to know through what straits, and difficulties, and strange predicaments, humanity has proceeded-are equalled in interest by no department of science, by no province of nature. How curious and complicated has been the progress of human affairs! how tortuous, errant, and convulsive, have been the movements of so grave a thing as society! how grotesque has been the grandeur of our world! how wild and improbable its history, had it not been real! Who could have expected to find in war the principle of union within a society, and the means of extending its civilisation outwardly to others? Who would have dreamed that absurd, and fearful, and cruel superstitions would have acted as a
salutary discipline to enforce peaceful conduct, and induce amenity of manners? Yet so it is. At one time we see men so savage that their most intimate bond of union is that of warwar which combines them, indeed, for enterprises of violence, bloodshed, pillage, and conquest, but still com. bines, in greater number, and in firmer bond of union, than any other known cause could have associated them. At another time we may observe this throng of men, thus gathered together at the voice of battle, and disciplined for deeds of outrage and enmity, still further tamed and subjugated by the authority of superstition; and long before the gross and giddy multitude could love peace for its own sake, or value the benefits of civil government, an Indian or Egyptian priesthood has compelled them, by the terrors of ignorance and folly, to the restraint of wholesome laws and the preservation of civic tranquillity. And thus the nation has proceeded, tortured into activity by war, and religion, and foreign hostility, till it has stood before us in that singularly complex condition-a termination little less curious than any stage of the progress-which is expressed in the terms of a civilized state. We may figure to ourselves the spirit of humanity set down upon this earth, full of vital but undirected energies, to work out its way, as amidst the bewildering scene of external nature, into systematic knowledge, so amidst the urgent wants and passions of life, into some rational mode of existence. Good and evil, truth and falsehood, are thrown before the thinking faculty, mixed and involved in grotesque proportions, and in stubborn complication. What is thus, as if in chance-medley, thrown upon its path, it takes in the lump, and seeing truth or a good purpose somewhere in the mass, stops not to enquire or to sift. Stops not!-it cannot stop-life has no pause. Humanity must think as it works, must ponder as it suffers, must separate the mischief from the benefit, and disengage itself from the former, while it travels on beneath the combined influence of both. Thus ages may pass over a country before it is aware that the blessings of government are not necessarily connected with subjection to a despot. The general reason advances slowly, and takes long years to learn a lesson,
which, when learned, appears so simple. Centuries are the hours of a nation's life. Strange life! so busy and so slow!
It must be owned that the spectacle presented by our nature in this its public career, is not such as always to fill the mind with very exalted sentiments towards humanity. Far otherwise so little dignity, so little reason, so little sense or justice does there ofttimes appear in the conduct of nations, and so fantastic, wild, or reckless is the deportment of those who have been most conspicuous on the scene, that it is curious to remark how each individual of us, however obscure he may be--who lifts his head above that stream which is carrying us all forward, to observe how winding and heady a current it has been-grows great in his own estimation, as he looks with pity and derision on the folly of the species.
Yes, the humblest individual who makes but one of the common mass thus wildly conducted—who is devoid perhaps of the talents necessary to raise him to those giddy elevations which humanity supports so ill-even this man feels himself elated, and rises into a moral dignity, when he descants on the deeds of commonwealths, and the character of the great! But if the scene be not always of the most exalted description-if the drama perpetually violate the rules of decorum-if, unlike the spectacle presented by the physical world, disorder and confusion prevail, and scarce a clue can be found by which the maze may be unravelled; yet, nevertheless, it is our world-it is a creation we may in some measure call our own-it is the planet such as we have made it— the rude workmanship of human reason of a reason, moreover, which is still, at this very day, at work, and cannot therefore fail, through all its faults, and blunders, and enormities, to be invested to us with a perpetual interest.
II. But we proposed, in the second place, to make some observations on the method of conducting this retrospect, and arranging the materials it presents to us. It is worthy of notice, that the successful prosecution throughout Europe of physical science-whose brilliant discoveries attract to them the gaze of all men-has produced an intellectual habit, a mental discipline, which is brought to all subjects of en
quiry. It has induced a strong predisposition to find, amidst whatever complexity of circumstance, some settled rules to which all is conformable. It has prepared us to find order and law amidst apparent confusion. To the application of this strong scientific faith to the intricate affairs of trade and commerce, we owe our modern political economy; the merit of which lies in the recognition of certain general principles of human nature by which social industry is directed and propelled, and in the confidence it teaches us to repose in such principles rather than in the artificial regulations of a legislature prompted by views of casual advantage. In the great work of Adam Smith, we see the spirit of scientific arrangement moving over the multifarious pursuits of civilized life, and out of the common transactions of the market place and the exchange, become difficult to comprehend from their very familiarity, buying and selling, money and bills, and all the jargon of the merchant's ledger, creating for us an orderly plan and a comprehensible scheme of things. How much our science of psychology, (if we may yet venture to pronounce it a science,) is indebted to the example of successful enquiry in physics, it were long to tell, and out of place. Jurisprudence, also, the slowest to be set in motion, has received an influence from this quarter. Here, also, the scientific spirit is manifestly at work, scrutinizing, methodizing, discarding with utter contempt that mere historical reason for the existence of a law which has so often been made to pass as a reason for its continuance, and demanding for jurisprudence that it be released from its connexion with feudal times, and from traditionary maxims, and find the sole ground for its principles in the actual benefit of society. On the study of history the operation of the same spirit is noticeable, though its effects here are not so striking, and this general discipline of mind may be traced in our manner of reviewing the past.
It used to be a favourite style of lucubration, to account for great historical events by the mere accidents of biography; and writers delighted in raising our wonder at the tenuity of that thread on which the fate of empires was shown to be suspended. Thus, to refer to a familiar instance
if Luther had been gratified by the Pope, no Reformation in Germany—if Anne Boleyn had been less or more virtuous, none in England. This method of viewing things must needs be displeasing and repulsive to minds at all trained in science, and accustomed to contemplate an adequacy and uniformity of causation. Reflective men have learned other habits, and shrink from that wonder which results only from some apparent enormity, some departure from all rational expectation. They desire to trace, as far as possible, an orderly progression of affairs, to find for great national events great national causes. They prefer to seek those causes in the wants, and passions, and notions of the people at large, rather than in the fortune or even the wisdom of individuals. They are led to see in political revolutions, not the success of a conspirator or a patriot, but a change produced, perhaps slowly and by many circumstances, in the popular opinion. They detect in the institutions of a country not merely the sagacity of the single legislator, the Lycurgus or the Solon, called in to promulgate laws, but the expression of public wants and public sentiments. To Luther and Henry VIII. they give their due share in the Reformation, and acknowledge that their character and conduct served to guide its course, and modify its nature, both in Germany and England; but the Reformation itself they have learned to trace to many and extensive influences acting on the general mind.
Instead of raising a foolish wonder at the accidental character of historical transactions, there appears more frequently an ambitious desire on the part of the writer to deduce, if possible, some law or order in that development of our nature, through great national events which history records. A difficult task it is to find a method in a scene which astonishes and perplexes by its extreme intricacy. Yet, doubtless, there is some true theory, could we attain to it. There is an order in the splendid confusion of the historic phenomena, could we unravel it. There is a divine plot, though we cannot follow it; for only half may be yet revealed. Of this at least we may be sure, that God's government, which acts in general by general laws, has never been dethroned a moment, whatever disaster, or confusion, or caprice,
or folly, has prevailed upon the earth that it stands even when all other governments are fallen and despised, and is as punctually and steadfastly obeyed amidst the tempestuous uproar of the revolutionary city, as in the stillness of retired hamlets.
It is another symptom of an improved and scientific method of reviewing the annals of the past, that, instead of exaggerating the personal qualities of some great and distinguished individual, and separating his character as much as possible from that of the multitude that surrounded him, those who write or discourse on his tory rather strive to collect from the hero of remote times some knowledge of that neglected multitude. The temper and feelings of the people, in every age, are the first subjects of curiosity, and it is the habit of our times to read the minds of the multitude in the conduct of the few who towered above it. At our first approach to them, the records of remote periods seem, indeed, to give but little insight into the feelings and opinions of the forgotten crowd. Heroes and legislators, monarchs and their ministers, the great conqueror or the great conspirator these stand out in bold and solitary relief from the disregarded level of humanity. These shine forth, the scattered luminaries, the bright wonders, of the historic firmament; and it seems as hopeless here as in the midnight depth of the natural firmament, to detect what lies between in the wide "interstellar spaces." But, like as the astronomer learned all he has revealed to us of the nature and vastness of remote space by observation of the luminous bodies that revolve in it; even so, and to a still greater extent, the moral observer, by a patient study of these disconnected examples of character and events, learns to estimate those distant times in which they moved and had their being. And if we reflect on it, how could a nation reveal itself to posterity in more faithful colours, than in the simple narrative of its great men and great events, the first examples and the highest products of its own thoughts and feelings?
But still more important than the history of individuals, however conducted, is the history of institutions. These embody the public mind, and render it operative; they give consistency to numbers, and make of a mul
titude a people; and their origin and decay are as distinct eras in the life of a nation. It is a frequent and obvious remark, that while they make effective the present convictions of men, they render change and a new conviction perilous and difficult. To oppose or to deny, becomes rebellion or heresy. Institutions are conservative by their very nature. But while this resistance to change, this tendency to fix and render stationary, is matter of common observation, it has not been as distinctly observed that institutions form the stepping-stones in a nation's intellectual progress. The new idea to which they offer resistance has often sprung from themselves; and the parent institution has only kept the junior from the seat of authority till it had grown strong enough to occupy it with effect. Sometimes the form of an institution has even suggested the principle which it was afterwards to embody. The institution has been found to involve ideas very imperfectly recognised, and not at all appreciated by those who, on some emergency, or for a very limited purpose, had constructed it; and an after age, contemplating the scheme that had been transmitted to it, has extracted from this a theory which it sets about forthwith more fully to exemplify. Such has been the origin of our theory of representative government, which grew out of institutions very faintly shadowing it forth, and which themselves were the offspring of feudalism, the plain and palpable antagonist to the principle of representation.
In illustration of some of these remarks, and because it will afford an opportunity for offering others on the same subject, we propose to take a glance at the dark ages-to make a rapid survey of the principal institutions which distinguish the middle ages. Of course, it is not presumed here to give a complete delineation of these times; but only to touch upon what is peculiar to them, and which may interest us their successors. In the middle ages, embracing as they do the history of Europe from the fifth to the fifteenth century, there is nothing one may not meet with-r -no form of government, and scarce any system of manners, of which some example might not be given; but there are also some institutions exclusively their own. The Italian cities conquered their rus
tic nobility, and framed commonwealths in all their varieties;-there was life beating still, it seemed, at the heart of the old Roman republic; but such institutions may be studied also, and to more advantage, on the shores of Greece. The feudal monarch and the feudal noble, these were peculiar to the times. So too religion, or superstition, has every where prevailed, and every people has had its priesthood;
but here alone is the spectacle presented of many independent nations under one common hierarchy. Wars, and wholesale massacres, and malignant assassinations, abound in these as in all barbarous ages, but their chivalry is their own. Nor are there wanting other peculiarities, whether in their polity or jurisprudence, which will continue to furnish perpetual topics of curiosity and discussion.
Let us attempt to characterise feu dalism as a system of polity; though, as one striking peculiarity lies in the complication it presents of political and public functions with private and proprietary rights, it is almost impossible to view it steadily for any length of time as a system of polity, without regarding it also in its juridical aspect. To defend the country against its enemies, and bear arms in the common cause, is a public duty; it was here also the personal bond or obligation by which the individual held his land, and which marked out the nature of his property. To administer justice is a public function; it was here seized on as a private right, and handed down as such with the hereditary
In describing the feudal system, a language is sometimes used which would imply, that at the conquest of Europe by the barbarians, the soil was divided amongst the several chiefs, with a stipulation that they should be prepared to join in a common defence of the common conquest; which gave origin to the tenure-the holding land on the bond of fealty and military service. But we need hardly say that the feudal system was no immediate result of the conquest. It grew up afterwards. It grew from the encroachment of the baron, or military landowner, under the monarchies established by the barbarians. His fealty was not a fresh bond of subordination entered into by the noble with the monarch, but rather the last thin thread to which his obedience was worn. Thus in France, it is not under Clovis, or Charlemagne, but under Hugh Capet, the head of its third dynasty of kings, that the feudal system is seen flourishing in all its rude and anomalous perfection. As a general statement, which will leave no false impression of the course of events,
(which varied in different parts of Europe,) we may describe the feudal system as a compromise between the love of independent power and the sense of common danger. The great proprietors of land, through the weakness of the monarch, elevated themselves into petty princes; but care for their own security deterred them from altogether breaking the link of connexion. They willingly professed an allegiance to a common sovereign, yielding, however, just so much obedience, as, under varying circumstances, could be enforced from them. While they preserved their fealty to a superior, they were still more solicitous to strengthen themselves by their own clients or retainers, who held land under them, and with similar obligations to those by which they were bound to their sovereign. Thus grew up feudalism, which is distinguished by its spirit of independence, combined with subordination—a subordination, however, which was never regulated by any views of public welfare, but by the necessity or power of the parties immediately concerned in the treaty.
How novel a spectacle did the feudal polity present! Europe had been the scene of the free municipal governments of Greece and Rome, and the great central empire of the Cæsars what did it now exhibit? There was no municipality, no centralization; government was cast forth from towns; the seat of power was in the country, in the forest, in the solitary castle of the baron. The town, impoverished and half depopulated, sunk into a private property, and bec came part of the lord's domain. Speculative politicians have marked out the several stages in the progress to civilisation, and described the ascending scale from the huntsman to the shepherd, from the agriculturist to