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The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 13, No. 79, May, 1864
Author: Various
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"Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day" is a beautiful poem, filled with thought, humor, and imagination. The mythical theory of Strauss was never so well analyzed as in the tilting lines from page 353 to 361. And there is good theology in this:—

"Take all in a word: the truth in God's breast Lies trace for trace upon ours impressed; Though He is so bright and we so dim, We are made in His image to witness Him; And were no eye in us to tell, Instructed by no inner sense, The light of heaven from the dark of hell, That light would want its evidence," etc.

Naddo will doubtless tell us that this poem is not built broadly on the human heart; there is too much discussion about the difficulty of becoming a Christian, and the subtile genius flits so quickly through the lines that an ordinary butterfly-net does not catch it. That is well for the genius. But we are of opinion that the human heart will always find in this great poem the solemn and glorious things that belong to it, and more and more so as new and clearer thought is born into the world to read it. It is no more difficult to read than "Paradise Lost," while its scenery is less conventional, and the longings of a religious heart are taken by a bold imagination into serene and starry skies.

A History of the Intellectual Development of Europe. By JOHN WILLIAM DRAPER, M.D., LL.D. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Water and the science of Physiology are both good things. But water is one thing to drink, and another to be drowned in. In like manner, though Physiology is a large and noble science and a yet larger symbol, furnishing analogies to the thinker quite as often as uses to the medical doctor, nevertheless, Physiology in the form of a deluge, overflowing, swamping, drowning almost everything else, and leaving only Body, the sole ark, afloat,—this is a gift which we are able to receive with a gratitude not by any means unspeakable. And such, very nearly, is the contribution to modern thought which the author of the above work endeavors to make. He holds Physiology to be coextensive with Man, and would prove the fact by including History in its laws.

In truth, however, it is a pretty thin sort of Physiology to which this extension is to be given,—resembling water in this respect also. Our physiological philosopher seeks to prove (in 631 octavo pages) that there are in history five perpetually recurring epochs, answering—the reader will please consider—to the Infancy, Childhood, Youth, Maturity, and Old Age of the individual body. So much, therefore, as one would know concerning Physiology in its application to the individual body, in virtue of being aware that men pass from infancy to age, thus much does Dr. Draper propose to teach his readers concerning the said science in its application to History. Add now that his induction rests almost wholly on two main instances, of which one is yet incomplete! Should one, therefore, say that his logic is somewhat precipitate, and his "science" somewhat lacking in matter, he would appear not to prefer a wholly groundless charge.

Were Dr. Draper simply giving a History of the Intellectual Development of Europe, he could, of course, relate only such facts as exist; and should it appear that this history has but two cycles, one of them incomplete, he would be under no obligation to make more. But such is not the case. His "history" is purely a piece of polemic. His aim is to establish a formula for all history, past, present, and to come; and, in this view, the paucity of instances on which his induction rests becomes worthy of comment.

And this disproportion between induction and conclusion becomes still more glaring, when it is observed that he expects his formula for all history to carry an inference much larger than itself. Dr. Draper is devoted to a materialistic philosophy, and his moving purpose is to propagate this. He holds that Psychology must be an inference from Physiology,—that the whole science of Man is included in a science of his body. His two perpetual aims are, first, to absorb all physical science in theoretical materialism,—second, to absorb all history in physical science. And beside the ambition of his aims one must say that his logic has an air of slenderness.

This work, then, may be described as a review of European history, written in obedience to two primary and two secondary assumptions, as follows:—

Primary Assumptions: First, that man is fully determined by his "corporeal organization"; second, that all corporeal organizations, with their whole variety and character, are due solely to "external situations."

Secondary Assumptions: First, that physical science (under submission to materialistic interpretations) is the only satisfactory intellectual result in history, being the only pure product of "reason"; second, that "reason" alone represents the adult stage of the human mind,—"faith" being simply immature mental action, and "inquiry" belonging to a stage of intellect still less mature,—in fact, to its mere childishness.

The position thus assigned to inquiry is very significant of the theoretic precipitancy which is one of Dr. Draper's prominent characteristics. His mind is afflicted with that disease which physicians call "premature digestion." Inquiry, which is the perpetual tap-root of science, he separates wholly from science, stigmatizes it as the mere token of intellectual childhood; and this not in the haste of an epithet or heat of a paragraph, but as a fixed part of his scheme of history and of mind. The reason is found in his own intellectual habits. And the savage fury with which he plies his critical bludgeon upon Lord Bacon is due, not so much to that great man's infirmities, nor even to his possession of intellectual qualities which our author cannot appreciate and must therefore disparage, as to the profound consecration of Inquiry, which it was one grand aim of his life to make.

His assumptions made, Dr. Draper proceeds to "break" and train history into their service, much after the old fashion of "breaking" colts. First, he mounts the history of Greece. And now what a dust! What are centaurs to a savant on his hobby? To see him among the mythic imaginations of the sweet old land! He goes butting and plunging through them with the headiness of a he-goat, another monster added to those of which antique fancy had prattled.

He has collected many facts respecting ancient thought, (for his industry is laudable,) but the evil is that he has no real use for his facts when obtained. Think of finding in an elaborate "History of the Intellectual Development of Europe" no use for the "Iliad" and "Odyssey" but that of bolstering up the proposition that there was in Greece an age of unreasoning credulity! It is like employing Jove to turn a spit or to set up tenpins. Everywhere, save in a single direction, and that of secondary importance with respect to antique thought, he practises the same enormous waste of material. Socrates is a mere block in his way, which he treats with nothing finer than a crow-bar. Socrates had set a higher value on ethical philosophy, derived from the consciousness of man, than on physical science; consequently, Dr. Draper's choice must be between treating him weakly and treating him brutally; he chooses the latter, and plays his role with vigor,—talks of his "lecherous countenance," and calls him "infidel" and "hypocrite." Plato he treats with more respect, but scarcely with more intelligence. He makes an inventory of Plato's opinions, as a shopman might of his goods; and does it with an air which says, "He who buys these gets cheated," while occasionally be cannot help breaking out into an expression of impatience. Indeed, not only Plato, but Athens itself, represents to Dr. Draper's mind the mere raw youth, the mere ambitious immaturity of Grecian intellect, amusing itself with "faith" because incapable of "reason." He finds its higher and only rational stage at Alexandria, at Syracuse, or wherever results in physical science were attained. In Aristotle, indeed, he is able to have some complacency, since the Stagirite is in a degree "physiological." But this pleasure is partial, for Aristotle has the trick of eminent intelligences, and must needs presently spread his pinions and launch forth into the great skies of speculation; whereupon, albeit he flies low, almost touching the earth with the tips of his wings, our physiological philosopher begins to pish and pshaw.

In his treatment of modern or post-Roman history, Dr. Draper goes over new ground in much the same spirit. He seems, indeed, nearer to his facts, deals more with actual life, is more lively, graphic, engaging, and has not that air of an intellectual shopman making an inventory. Considered as a general review of the history of Europe, written chiefly in the interest of physical science, but also in marked opposition to Roman Catholicism, it might pass unchallenged and not without praise. But considered as a final scientific interpretation of the last fifteen centuries, its shortcomings are simply immeasurable. The history of Europe, from the fusion of the Christian Impulse with Roman imperialism to the time of Columbus, Copernicus, and Luther, is the history of a grand religious idealism established over men's heads in the form of an institution, because too great to be held in solution by their thoughts. Of such a matter the writer in question could give no other than a very inadequate account. Wanting that which is highest in the reason of man, namely, imaginative intellect, he has no natural fitness for explaining such a fact; while his unconsciousness of any such deficiency, his persuasion that an imagination and a delusion are one and the same, and his extreme dogmatic momentum cause him to handle it with all the confidence of commanding power.

Considered, again, as a polemic to the point that history revolves forever through five recurring epochs, and that, as our civilization has been now four centuries in the "age of reason," it must next (and probably soon) pass into the fifth stage, that of decrepitude, and thence into infantile credulity and imbecility once more,—as a demonstration that history is such a Sisyphus, his induction is weak even to flimsiness.

But on approaching times yet more modern, the dominating predilection of the writer no longer misleads him; it guides him, on the contrary, to the truth. For of the last four centuries the grand affirmative fact is the rise of physical science. Or rather, perhaps, one should say that it was the grand fact until some fifty years ago. Science is still making progress; indeed, leaving out of sight one or two great Newtonian steps, we may say that it is advancing more rapidly than ever. But now at length its spiritual correlative begins to emerge, and a new epoch forms itself, as we fully believe, in the history of humanity.

In celebrating this birth and growth of science, in treating it as the central and commanding fact of modern times, and in suggesting the vast modification of beliefs and habits of thought which this must effect, Dr. Draper has a large theme, and he treats it con amore. In this respect, his book has value, and is worth its cost to himself and his readers. In some branches of science, moreover, as in Physiology, and in questions of vital organization generally, he is to be named among the authorities, and we gladly attend when he raises his voice.

Yet even in respect to this feature, his work cannot be praised without reserve. Though a man of scientific eminence, yet in the pure and open spirit of science it is impossible for him to write. He is a dogmatist, a controversialist, a propagandist. No matter of what science he treats, his exposition ever has an aim beyond itself. It is always a means to an end; and that end is always a dogma. For example, he has written a work on Human Physiology; and in the present volume he avows that his "main object" therein was to "enforce the doctrine" of the "absolute dominion of physical agents over organic forms as the fundamental principle in all the sciences of organization." This "main object" is no less dear to him in the work immediately under consideration. He still teaches that the primitive cell, with which, it is supposed, all organisms begin, is in all the same, but, being placed in different situations, is developed here into a man, and there into a mushroom. "The offspring," he says, not without oracular twang, "is like its parent, not because it includes an immortal typical form, but because it is exposed in development to the same conditions as was its parent." Behold a cheap explanation of the mystery of life! If one inquire how the vast variety of parental conditions was obtained, Dr. Draper is ready with his answer:—"A suitableness of external situation called them forth," quoth he. An explanation nebulous enough to be sage!

Behold, therefore, a whole universe of life constructed by "Situations"! "Situations" are the new Elohim. They say to each other, "Let us make man"; and they do it! But they cannot say, "Let us make man in our own image"; for they have no image. No matter: they succeed all the same in giving one to man! Wonderful "Situations"! Who will set up an altar to almighty "Situations"?

We have ourselves a somewhat Benjamite tongue for pronouncing the popular shibboleths, but, verily, we would sooner try the crookedest of them all than endeavor to persuade ourselves that in a universe wherein no creative idea lives and acts "external situations" can "call forth" life and all its forms. We can understand that a divine, creative idea may develop itself under fixed conditions, as the reproductive element in opposite sexes may, under fixed conditions, prove its resources; but how, in a universe devoid of any productive thought, "external situations" can produce definite and animate forms, is, to our feeble minds, incomprehensible. Verily, therefore, we will have nothing to do with these new gods. The materialistic savans may cry Pagani at us, if they will; but we shall surely continue to kneel at the old altars, unless something other than the said "Situations" can be offered us in exchange.

We complain of Dr. Draper that he does not write in the spirit of science, but in the spirit of dogmatism. We complain of him, that, when he ostensibly attempts a piece of pure scientific exposition, his thought always has a squint, a boomerang obliquity; it is afflicted with strabismus, and never looks where it seems to look. He approaches history only to subject it to the service of certain pet opinions already formed before his inspection of history began. He seeks only to make it an instrument for the propagation of these. He is a philosophical historian in the same sense that Bossuet was a philosophical historian. Each of these seeks to subject history to a dogma. The dogma of Bossuet is Papal Catholicism; that of Dr. Draper is the creative supremacy of "Situations" and "the insignificance of man in the universe."

It is quite proper for Dr. Draper to appear as a polemic in science, if he will. It is not advocacy per se of which we complain; it is advocacy with a squint, advocacy round a corner. If he wishes to prove the creative efficacy of "Situations," let him do so; but let him not in doing so seem to be offering an impartial exposition of Human Physiology. If he wishes to prove that physical science is the only rational thing in the world, he may try; but let him not assume to be writing a history of intellectual development. If he would convince us that history has epochs corresponding to those of individual life, we will listen; but we shall listen with impatience, if it appear after all that he is merely seeking, under cover of this proposition, to further a low materialistic dogma, and convince us of "man's insignificance in the universe."

We are open to all reasonings. Any decent man, who has honorably gone through with his Pythagorean lustrum of silence and thought, shall, by our voice, have his turn on the world's tribune; and if he be honest, he shall lose nothing by it. But we hate indirections. We hate the pretension implied in assuming to be an authoritative expounder, when one is only an advocate. And, still further, we shall always resist any man's attempt to make his facts go for a great deal more than they are worth. Let him call his ten ten, and it shall pass for ten; but if he insist on calling it a thousand, we shall not acquiesce. The science of Physiology is just out of its babyhood. Of the nervous system in particular—of its physiology and pathology alike—our knowledge is extremely immature. We are just beginning, indeed, to know anything scientifically on that subject. The attempt in behalf of that little to banish spiritual philosophy out of the world, and to silence forever the voice of Human Consciousness, is a piece of pretension on behalf of which we decline to strain our hospitality.

Our notice of this work would, however, be both incomplete and unjust, did we forbear to say, that, in its avowed idea, the author has got hold of a genuine analogy. Not that we approve the details of his scheme; the details, we verily believe, are as nearly all wrong as an able and studious man could make them. But the general idea of a correspondence between individual and social life, of an organic existence in civilizations and a consequent subjection to the law of organisms, is a rich mine, and one that will sooner or later be worked to profit. And the definite, emphatic announcement of it in Dr. Draper's work, however awkwardly done, suffices to make the work one of grave importance.

Every system of civilization is in some degree special. None is universal; none represents purely the spirit of humanity; none contains all the possibilities of society. Not being universal, none can be, in its form, perpetual. The universal asserts its supremacy; all that is partial must be temporary. The human spirit takes back, as it were, into its bosom each sally of civilization before pulsing anew. Thus, even on their ideal side, civilizations have their law of limitation; and to know what this law of limitation definitely is constitutes now one of the great desiderata of the world. We believe, that, ceteris paribus, the duration of a civilization is proportioned to its depth and breadth,—that is, to the degree in which it represents the total resource and possibility of the human spirit.

Again, every system of civilization has a body, an institution, an established and outward interpretation of social relationship. In respect to this it is mortal. In respect to this it has a law of growth and decay. In respect to this, moreover, it is subject to what we call accident, the chances of the world. In fine, the bodies of individuals and of civilizations, the fixed forms, that is, in which they are instituted, serve the same uses and obey the same law.

Now a work which should deal in a really great and profound way with this corpus of civilizations,—not spending itself in a mere tedious, endless demonstration that such corpus exists, and has therefore its youth and its age, but really explaining its physiology and pathology,—such a work would be no less than a benefaction to the human race. And in such a work one of the easiest and most obvious points would be this,—that the spirit of civilizations has a certain power of changing the form of its body by successive partial rejections and remouldings; and the degree in which they prove capable of this continuous palingenesia is one important measure of their depth and determinant of their duration.

For writing such a work we do not think Dr. Draper perfectly qualified. For this we find in him no tokens of an intelligence sufficiently subtile, penetrating, and profound. He is, moreover, too heady and too well cased in his materialistic strait-waistcoat. Nevertheless, his book carries in it a certain large suggestion; it contains many excellent observations; its tone is unexceptionable; the style is firm and clear, though heavy and disfigured by such intolerable barbarisms as "commence to" walk, talk, or the like,—the use of the infinitive instead of the participle after commence. Dr. Draper is an able man, a scholar in science, a well-informed, studious gentleman in other provinces; but he tries to be a legislator in thought, and fails.

De l'Origine du Langage. Par ERNEST RENAN, Membre de l'Institut. Quatrieme Edition, augmentee. Paris.

It seems to be the law of French thought, that it shall never be exhaustive of any profound matter, and also that (Auguste Comte always excepted) it shall never be exhausting to the reader. German thought may be both; French is neither; English thought—but the English do not think, they dogmatize. Magnificent dogmatism it may be, but dogmatism. Exceptions of course, but these are equally exceptions to the characteristic spirit of the nation.

M. Renan is thoroughly French. The power of coming after the great synthetic products of the human spirit and distributing them by analysis into special categories, eminent in his country, is pre-eminent in him. The facility at slipping over hard points, and at coming to unity of representation, partly by the solving force of an interior principle, and partly by ingenious accommodations, characteristic of French thought, characterizes his thinking in particular. That supremacy of the critical spirit in the man which secures to it the loyalty of all the faculties is alike peculiar to France among nations, and to this writer among Frenchmen. In Germany the imagination dominates, or at least contends with, the critical spirit; the French Ariel not only gives magic service to the critical Prospero, but seeks no emancipation, desires nothing better. Hence an admirable clearness and shapeliness in the criticism of France. Hence, also, in its best criticism a high degree of imaginative subtilty and penetration, without prejudice either to the dominion of common sense in the thought or to clearness in the statement.

M. Renan's essay on "The Origin of Language" is typical of his quality. Treating of an abstruse, though enticing problem,—almost profound, and that in comparison with the soundest and sincerest thinking of our time,—it is yet so clear and broad, its details are so perfectly held in solution by the thought, the thought itself moves with such ease, grace, and vigor, and in its style there is such crystal perspicuity and precision, that one must he proof against good thinking and excellent writing not to feel its charm.

The main propositions of the work—whose force and significance, of course, cannot be felt in this dry enumeration—are that language issues from the spontaneity of the human spirit,—"spontaneity, which is both divine and human"; that its origin is simultaneous with the opening of consciousness in the human race; that it preserves a constant parallel with consciousness, that is, with the developed spirit of man, in its nature and growth; and that, by consequence, its first form is not one of analytic simplicity, but of a high synthesis and a rich complexity. The whole mind, he says, acts from the first, only not with the power of defining, distinguishing, separating, which characterizes the intellect of civilized man; his objects are groups; he grasps totalities; sees objects and their relationships as one fact; tends to connect his whole consciousness with all he sees, making the stone a man or a god: and language, in virtue of its perpetual parallelism with consciousness, must be equally synthetic and complex from the start.

He finds himself opposed, therefore, first, to those, "like M. Bonald," who attribute language to a purely extraneous, not an interior, revelation; secondly, to the philosophers of the eighteenth century, who made it a product of free and reflective reason; thirdly, to the German school, who trace it back to a few hundred monosyllabic roots, each expressing with analytic precision some definite material object, from which roots the whole subsequent must be derived by etymologic spinning-out, by agglutination, and by figurative heightening of meaning.

His work, accordingly, should be read by all sincere students of the question of Language in connection with the statements of Professor Mueller, as he represents another and a typical aspect of the case. He denies the existence of a "Turanian" family of tongues, such as Mueller sought to constitute in Bunsen's "Outlines"; pronouncing with great decision, and on grounds both philosophical and linguistic, against that notion of monosyllabic origin which assumes the Chinese as truest of all tongues to the original form and genius of language, he is even more decided that not the faintest trace can be found of the derivation of all existing languages from a single primitive tongue. From general principles, therefore, and equally from inspection of language, he infers with confidence that each great family of languages has come forth independently from the genius of man.

His results in Philology correspond, thus, with those of Mr. Agassiz in Natural History. They suggest multiplicity of human origins. From this result M. Renan does not recoil, and he takes care to state with great precision and vigor the entire independence of the spiritual upon the physical unity of man,—as Mr. Agassiz also did in that jewel which he set in the head of Nott and Gliddon's toad.

But here he pauses. His results bear him no farther. The philological and physiological classifications of mankind, he says, do not correspond; their lines cross; nothing can be concluded from one to the other. The question of unity or diversity of physical origins he leaves to the naturalist; upon that he has no right to raise his voice. Spiritual unity he asserts firmly; linguistic unity he firmly denies; on the question of physical unity he remains modestly and candidly silent, not finding in his peculiar studies data for a rational opinion.

M. Renan is not a Newton in his science. He satisfies, and he disappoints. The Newtonian depth, centrality, and poise,—well, one may still be a superior scholar and writer without these. And such he is. His tendency to central principles is decided, but with this there is a wavering, an unsteadiness, and you get only agility and good writing, it may be, where you had begun to look for a final word. Sometimes, too, in his desire of precision, he gives you precision indeed, but of a cheap kind, which is worse than any thoughtful vagueness. Thus, he opens his sixth section by naming l'onomatopee, the imitation of natural sounds, as the law of primitive language. He knew better; for he has hardly named this "law" before he slips away from it; and his whole work was pitched upon a much profounder key. Why must he seize upon this ready-made word? Why could he not have taken upon himself to say deliberately and truly, that the law of primitive language, and in the measure of its life of all language, is the symbolization of mental impression by sounds, just as man's spirit is symbolized in his body, and absolute spirit in the universe? But this is "vague," and M. Renan writes in Paris.

And in Paris he has written an able and in many respects admirable treatise,—almost profound, as we have said, and creditable to him and to France. It must be reckoned, we think, a foundation-stone in the literature of the problem of Language.

In five or six pages the theological peculiarities of M. Renan appear. The reader, however, who is most rigidly indisposed to open question on such matters will find these six pages which do not please him a feeble counterbalance to the two hundred and fifty which do.

FOOTNOTES:

[A] Published 1770-71.

[B] Johnson enumerates fifteen.

[C] Many of the bibliographers, even, have omitted mention of it.

[D] Of which the first book was published in 1772. This author is to be distinguished from George Mason, who in 1768 published "An Essay on Design in Gardening."

[E] Lettre XI Liv. IV. Nouvelle Heloise.

[F] First published in 1766.

[G] Citing, in confirmation, that passage commencing,—"Nunc dicam agri quibus rebus colantur," etc.

[H] Pp. 177-179, edition of 1802, Edinburgh.

[I] Pp. 166, 167.

[J] See Article of Philip Pussy, M.P., in Transactions of the Royal Society, Vol. XIV.

[K] First published in 1724.

[L] I find him named, in Dodsley's "Annual Register" for 1771, "Keeper of His Majesty's Private Roads."

[M] Loudon makes an error in giving 1780 as the year of his death.

[N] Presented to William Pitt, 1795.

[O] At that day, horse-hoeing, at regular intervals, was understood to form part of what was counted drill-culture.

[P] Returns incomplete.

[Q] In the Quarterly Tables of Mr. Hamilton's office, as quoted by Professor Chace, the maximum yield at Wine Harbor during the month of September, 1863, reached the almost incredible figure of sixty-six ounces to the ton.

THE END

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