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Henry Thomas Buckle As A Thinker - The Atlantic

The recent death of Henry Thomas Buckle calls a new attention to his published works. Pathetic it will seem to all that he should be cut off in the midst of labors so large, so assiduous and adventurous; and there are few who will not feel inclined to make up, as it were, to his memory for this untimely interruption of his pursuits, by assigning the highest possible value to his actual performance. Additional strength will be given to these dispositions by the impressions of his personal character. This was, indeed, such as to conciliate the utmost good-will. If we except occasional touches of self-complacency, which betray, perhaps, a trifling foible, it may be said that everything is pleasing which is known concerning him. His devotion, wellnigh heroic, to scholarly aims; his quiet studiousness; his filial virtue; his genial sociability, graced by, and gracing, the self-supporting habit of his soul; his intrepidity of intellect, matched by a beautiful boldness and openness in speech; the absence, too, from works so incisive, of a single trace of truculence: all this will now be remembered; and those are unamiable persons, in whom the remembrance does not breed a desire to believe him as great in thought as he was brave, as prosperous in labor as he was persevering.

But however it may be with others, certainly he who has undertaken the duties of a scholar must not yield too readily to these amiable wishes. He, as a sworn soldier of Truth, stands sacredly bound to be as free from favor as from fear, and to follow steadily wherever the standards of his imperial mistress lead him on. And so performing his lawful service, he may bear in mind that at last the interests of Truth are those of every soul, be it of them that we number with the dead, or that are still reckoned among these that we greet as living. Let us not be petty in our kindness. Over the fresh grave of a scholar let us rise to that high and large friendliness which respects more the scope of every man's nature than the limited measure of any man's performance, and sides bravely with the soul of the departed, even though it be against his fame. Who would not choose this for himself? Who would not whisper from his grave, "My personal weaknesses let those spare who can; my work do not praise, but judge; and never think in behalf of my mortal fame to lower those stars that my spirit would look up to yet and forever"?

As a man and scholar, Mr. Buckle needs no forbearance; and men must commend him, were it only in justice to themselves. Such intellectual courage, such personal purity, such devotion to ideal aims, such a clean separation of boldness from bitterness,—in thought, no blade more trenchant, in feeling, no heart more human;—when these miss their honor and their praise, then will men have forgotten how to estimate fine qualities.

Meanwhile, as a thinker, he must be judged according to the laws of thought. Here we are to forget whether he be living or dead, and whether his personal traits were delightful or disagreeable. Here there is but one question, and that is the question of truth.

And as a thinker, I can say nothing less than that Mr. Buckle signally failed. His fundamental conceptions, upon which reposes the whole edifice of his labor, are sciolistic assumptions caught up in his youth from Auguste Comte and other one-eyed seers of modern France; his generalization, multitudinous and imposing, is often of the card-castle description, and tumbles at the touch of an inquisitive finger; and his cobweb logic, spun chiefly out of his wishes rather than his understanding, is indeed facile and ingenious, but of a strength to hold only flies. Such, at any rate, is the judgment passed upon him in the present paper; and if it is stated roundly, the critic can be held all the better to its justification, and the more freely condemned, should these charges not be sustained.

But while in the grand topography of thought and in the larger processes of reasoning the failure of Mr. Buckle, according to the judgment here given, is complete, it is freely admitted that as a writer and man of letters he has claims not only to respect, but even to admiration. His mental fertility is remarkable, his memory marvellous, his reading immense, his mind discursive and agile, his style pellucid as water and often vigorous, while his subordinate conceptions are always ingenious and frequently valuable. Besides this, he is a genuine enthusiast, and sees before him that El Dorado of the understanding where golden knowledge shall lie yellow on all the hills and yellow under every footfall,—where the very peasant shall have princely wealth, and no man shall need say to another, "Give me of thy wisdom." It is this same element of romantic expectation which stretches a broad and shining margin about the spacious page of Bacon; it is this which wreathes a new fascination around the royal brow of Raleigh; it is this, in part, which makes light the bulky and antiquated tomes of Hakluyt; and the grace of it is that which we often miss in coming from ancient to modern literature. Better it is, too, than much erudition and many "proprieties" of thought; and one may note it as curious, that Mr. Buckle, seeking to disparage imagination, should have written a book whose most winning and enduring charm is the appeal to imagination it makes. Moreover, he is an enthusiast in behalf of just that which is distinctively modern: he is a white flame of precisely those heats which smoulder now in the duller breast of the world in general; he worships at all the pet shrines; he expresses the peculiar loves and hatreds of the time. Who is so devout a believer in free speech and free trade and the let-alone policy in government, and the coming of the Millennium by steam? Who prostrates himself with such unfeigned adoration before the great god, "State-of-Society," or so mutters, for a mystic O'm, the word "Law"? Then how delightful it is, when he traces the whole ill of the world to just those things which we now all agree to detest,—to theological persecution, bigotry, superstition, and infidelity to Isaac Newton! In fine, the recent lessons of that great schoolboy, the world, or those over which the said youth now is poring or idling or blubbering, Mr. Buckle has not only got by heart, not only recites them capitally, but believes with assurance that they are the sole lessons worth learning in any time; and all the inevitable partialities of the text-book, all the errors and ad captandum statements with which its truth is associated, he takes with such implicit faith, and believes in so confidently as part and parcel of our superiority to all other times, that the effect upon most of us cannot be otherwise than delectable.

Unhappily, the text-book in which he studied these fine lessons chanced to be the French edition, and, above all, the particular compilation of Auguste Comte,—Comte, the one-eyed Polyphemus of modern literature, enormous in stature and strength, but a devourer of the finer races in thought, feeding his maw upon the beautiful offspring of the highest intelligence, whom the Olympians love. Therefore it befell that our eager and credulous scholar unlearned quite as much as he learned, acquiring the wisdoms of our time in the crudest and most liberal commixture with its unwisdoms. And thus, though his house is laboriously put together, yet it is built upon the sand; and though his bark has much good timber, and is well modelled for speed, yet its keel is wholly rotten, so that whosoever puts to sea therein will sail far more swiftly to bottom than to port.

And precisely this, in lieu of all else, it is my present purpose to show: that the keel of his craft is unsound,—that his fundamental notions are fundamental falsities, such as no thinker can fall into without discredit to his powers of thought. Fortunately, he has begun by stating and arguing these; so that there can be no question either what they are, or by what considerations he is able to support them.

The foundation-timber of Mr. Buckle's work consists of three pieces, or propositions, two of which take the form of denial. First, he denies that there is in man anything of the nature of Free-Will, and attributes the belief in it to vulgar and childish ignorance. Secondly, and in support of the primary negation, he denies that there is any oracle in man's bosom,—that his spirit had any knowledge of itself or of the relationships it sustains: in other words, denies the validity of Consciousness. Thirdly and lastly, he attempts to show that all actions of individuals originate not in themselves, but result from a law working in the general and indistinguishable lump of society,—from laws of like nature with that which preserves the balance of the sexes; so that no man has more to do with his own deed than the mother in determining whether her child shall be male or female. By the two former statements man is stripped of all the grander prerogatives and characteristics of personality; by the last he is placed as freight, whether dead or alive it were hard to say, in the hold of the self-steering ship, "Society." These propositions and the reasons, or unreasons, by which they are supported, we will examine in order.

1. Free-Will. The question of free-will has at sundry times and seasons, and by champions many and furious, been disputed, till the ground about it is all beaten into blinding dust, wherein no reasonable man can now desire to cloud his eyes and clog his lungs. It is, indeed, one of the cheerful signs of our times, that there is a growing relish for clear air and open skies, a growing indisposition to mingle in old and profitless controversies. It commonly happens in such controversies, as it undoubtedly has happened in the dispute about free-will, that both parties have been trying to pull up Life or Spirit by the roots, and make a show, à la Barnum, of all its secrets. The enterprise was zealously prosecuted, but would not prosper. In truth, there are strict and jealous limits to the degree in which man's mind can become an object to itself. By silent consciousness, by an action of reason and imagination sympathetic with pure inward life, man may feel far down into the sweet, awful depths and mysteries of his being; and the results of this inward intimation are given in the great poems, the great art and divine philosophy of all time, and in the commanding beliefs of mankind; but so soon as one begins to come to his own existence as an outsider and stranger, and attempts to bear away its secret, so soon he begins to be balked.

Mr. Buckle, however, has assumed in a summary and authoritative way to settle this question of free-will; and, without entering into the dust and suffocation of the old interminable dispute, we may follow him far enough to see whether he has thrown any light upon the matter, or has only thrown light upon his own powers as a thinker.

His direct polemic against the doctrine of Free-Will consists simply of an attempt to identify it with the notion of Chance in physics. The notion of Chance, he says, is the same with that of Free-Will; the doctrine of Necessary Connection with the dogma of Predestination. This statement has certainly an imposing air. But consider it. To assert the identity of chance and free-will is but another way of saying that pure freedom is one and the same with absolute lawlessness,—that where freedom exists, law, order, reason do not. If this be a misconception, as it surely is a total and fatal misconception, of the nature of freedom, then does the statement of our author, with all that rests upon it, fall instantly and utterly to the ground.

It is a misconception. Freedom and lawlessness are not the same. To make this finally clear, let us at once give the argument the widest possible scope; since the largest way of looking at the matter, as indeed it often happens, will prove also the nearest and simplest. In the universe as a whole Will does certainly originate, since there is, undoubtedly, origination somewhere. Freely, too, it must arise, for there is nothing behind it to bring it under constraint: indeed, all origination is by its nature free. But our philosopher tells us that wherever there is a pure and free origination of will, there is lawlessness, caprice, chance. The universe, therefore, should be a scene, not of absolute order, but of absolute disorder; and since it is not such, we have nothing for it but to say that either the logic of the universe, or that of Mr. Buckle, is very much awry.

In the universe, Will freely originates, but forever in unison with divine Reason; and the result is at once pure necessity and pure freedom: for these, if both be, as we say, absolutely pure, are one and the same. A coercing necessity is impure, for it is at war with that to which it applies; only a necessity in sweetest affinity with that which it governs is of the purest degree; and this is, of course, identical with the highest and divinest freedom.

And here we approach the solution of our problem, so far as it can be solved. Freedom and free-will exist only in virtue of reason, only in connection with the rational soul. In a rough account of man, and leaving out of sight all that is not strictly relevant to the present point, we discriminate in him two natures. One of these comprises the whole body of organic desires and energies, with all that kind of intellect by which one perceives the relation of things to his selfish wishes. By this nature, man is a selfish and intellectual animal; a polyp with arms that go round the world; a sponge with eyes and energies and delights; a cunning ego, to whom all outside of himself is but for a prey. But aloft over this, and constituting the second nature, into whose kingdom one should be born as by a second birth, is the sovereign eye and soul of Reason, discerning Justice and Beauty and the Best, creating in man's bosom an ideal, redeeming him out of his littleness, bringing him into fellowship with Eternal Truth, and making him universal. Now between these two natures there is, for there must be, a mediating term, a power by which man enacts reason, and causes doing to accord with seeing. This is will, and it must, from its very nature, be free; for to say that it is a mere representative of the major force in desire is simply to say that it does not exist. A mediation without freedom in the mediator is something worse than the mediation of Holland between England and the United States in the dispute concerning the North-East Boundary.

So far, now, as the sovereign law and benefaction of the higher nature, through a perfect mediation of the will, descends upon the lower, so far man enters into free alliance with that which is sovereign in the universe, and is himself established in perfected freedom. The right action of free-will is, then, freedom in the making. But by this entrance into the great harmonies of the world, by this loyalty to the universal reason which alone makes one free, it must be evident that the order of the world is graced and supported rather than assailed.

But how if free-will fail of its highest function? Must not the order of the world then suffer? Not a whit. Universal Reason prevails, but in two diverse ways: she may either be felt as a mere Force or Fate, or she may be recognized and loved and obeyed as an Authority. Wherever the rational soul, her oracle, is given, there she proffers the privilege of knowing her only as a divine authority,—of free loyalty, of honorable citizenship in her domains. But to those who refuse this privilege she appears as fate; and though their honor is lost, hers is not; for the order of the world continues to be vindicated. The just and faithful citizen, who of his own election obeys the laws, illustrates in one way the order of society and the supremacy of moral law. The villain in the penitentiary illustrates the order of society and the supremacy of moral law in quite another way. But order and law are illustrated by both, though in ways so very different. So one may refuse to make reason a free necessity in his own bosom; but then the constable of the universe speedily taps him upon the shoulder, and law is honored, though he is disgraced.

Now Mr. Buckle supposed that order in the world and in history could be obtained only by sacrificing the freedom of the individual; and that he so supposed determines his own rank as a thinker. There is no second question to be asked concerning a candidate for the degree of master in philosophy who begins by making this mistake.

But does some one, unwilling so soon to quit the point, require of me to explain how will can originate in man? My only answer is, I do not know. Does the questioner know how motion originates in the universe? It does or did originate; science is clear in assigning a progress, and therefore a beginning, to the solar system: can you find its origin in aught but the self-activity of Spirit, whose modus operandi no man can explain? All origination is inscrutable; the plummet of understanding cannot sound it; but wherefore may not one sleep as sweetly, knowing that the wondrous fact is near at hand, in the bosoms of his contemporaries and in his own being, as if it were pushed well out of sight into the depths of primeval time? To my mind, there is something thoroughly weak and ridiculous in the way that Comte and his company run away from the Absolute and Inexplicable, fearing only its nearness; like a child who is quite willing there should he bears at the North Pole, but would lie awake of nights, if he thought there were one in the nearest wood. And it is the more ridiculous because Mystery is no bear; nor can I, for one, conceive why it should not be to every man a joy to know that all the marvel which ever was in Nature is in her now, and that the divine inscrutable processes are going on under our eyes and in them and in our hearts.

Doubtless, however, many will adhere to the logic that has satisfied them so long and so well,—that it is impossible the will should move otherwise than in obedience to motives, and that, obeying a motive, it is not free. Why should we not, then, amuse ourselves a little with these complacent motive-mongers? They profess a perfect explanation of mental action, and make it the stigma of a deeper philosophy, that it must leave somewhat in all action of the mind, and therefore in a doctrine of the will, unexplained. Let, now, these good gentlemen explain to us how a motive ever gets to be a motive. For there is precisely the same difficulty in initiating motion here as elsewhere. You look on a peach; you desire it; and you are moved by the desire to pluck or purchase it. Now it is plain that you could not desire this peach until you had perceived that it was a desirable fruit. But you could not perceive that the fruit was desirable until you had experienced desire of it. And here we are at the old, inexplicable seesaw. It must appear desirable in order to be desired; it must be desired in order to appear desirable: the perception must precede the desire, and the desire must precede the perception. These are foolish subtilties, but all the fitter for their purpose. Our motive-mongering friends should understand that they can explain no farther than their neighbors,—that by enslaving the will they only shift the difficulty, not solve it.

Anything but this shallow sciolism! More philosophical a thousand times than the knowing and facile metaphysic which makes man a thing of springs and pivots and cogs, are the notions of old religionists, which attributed human action in large part to preventing, suggesting, and efficient "grace," or those of older poets, who gave Pallas Athene for a counsellor to Odysseus, and Krishna for a teacher to the young Aryan warrior,—which represent human action, that is, as issuing in part out of the Infinite. A thousand times more philosophical, as well as ten thousand times more inspiring, I say, are the metaphysics of Imagination,—of scriptures and great poems and the live human heart,—than the cut-and-dried sciolisms which explain you a man in five minutes, and make everything in him as obvious as the movements of a jumping-jack.

To deny, then, the existence of free-will is, in my judgment, a grave error; but to deny it on the ground of its identity with chance is more than an ordinary error, however grave; it is a poison in the blood of one's thought, conveying its vice to every part and function of the system. And herewith we pass to the next head.

2. Consciousness. It has been the persuasion of wise men in various ages, and is the persuasion of many, as wise, doubtless, as their neighbors, now, that the soul has a native sense of its quality and perpetual relations. By Plato this sense, in some of its aspects, was named Reminiscence; by modern speakers of English it is denoted as Consciousness. This, according to its grades and applications, is qualified as personal, moral, intellectual, or, including all its higher functions, as intuitive or spiritual. Of this high spiritual sense, this self-recognition of soul, all the master-words of the language—God, Immortality, Life, Love, Duty—are either wholly, or in all their grander suggestions, the product. Nothing, indeed, is there which confers dignity upon human life and labor, that is not primarily due to the same source. In union with popular and unconscious imagination, it generates mythology; in union with imagination and reason, it gives birth to theology and cosmogony; in union with imagination, reason, and experience, it is the source of philosophy; in union with the same, together with the artistic sense and high degrees of imaginative sympathy, it creates epic poetry and art. Its total outcome, however, may be included under the term Belief. And it results from an assumed validity of consciousness, that universal belief is always an indication of universal truth. At the same time, since this master-power finds expression through faculties various in kind and still more various in grade of development, its outcome assumes many shapes and hues,—just as crystallized alumina becomes here ruby and there sapphire, by minute admixtures of different coloring substances.

We assume the validity of this prime source of belief. Why not? Here is a great natural product, human belief; we treat it precisely as we do other natural products; we judge, that, like these, it has its law and justification. We assume that it is to be studied as Lyell studies the earth's crust, or Agassiz its life, or Müller its languages. As our author shuns metaphysical, so do we shun metapsychical inquiries. We do not presume to go behind universal fact, and inquire whether it has any business to be fact; we simply endeavor to see it in its largest and most interior aspect, and then accept it without question.

But M. Comte made the discovery that this great product of man's spiritual nature is nothing but the spawn of his self-conceit: that it is purely gratuitous, groundless, superfluous, and therefore in the deepest possible sense lawless, Mr. Buckle follows his master, for such Comte really is. Proclaiming Law everywhere else, and, from his extreme partiality to the word, often lugging it in, as it were, by the ears, he no sooner arrives at these provinces than he instantly faces the other way, and denies all that he has before advocated. Of a quadruped he will question not a hair, of a fish not a scale; everywhere else he will accept facts and seek to coördinate them; but when he arrives at the great natural outcome and manifestation of man's spirit, then it is in an opposite way that he will not question; he simply lifts his eyebrows. The fact has no business to be there! It signifies nothing!

Why this reversal of position? First, because, if consciousness be allowed, free-will must be admitted; since the universal consciousness is that of freedom to choose. But there is a larger reason. In accordance with his general notions, personality must be degraded, denuded, impoverished,—that so the individual may lie passive in the arms of that society whose laws he is ambitious to expound. Having robbed the soul of choice, he now deprives it of sight; having denied that it is an originating source of will, he now makes the complementary denial, that it is a like source of knowledge; having first made it helpless, he now proceeds to make it senseless. And, indeed, the two denials belong together. If it be true that the soul is helpless, pray let us have some kind drug to make it senseless also. Nature has dealt thus equally with the stone; and surely she must design a like equality in her dealings with man. Power and perceiving she will either give together, or together withhold.

But how does our author support this denial? By pointing to the great varieties in the outcome of consciousness. There is no unity, he says, in its determinations: one believes this, another that, a third somewhat different from both; and the faith that one is ready to die for, another is ready to kill him for. And true it is that the diversities of human belief are many and great; let not the fact be denied nor diminished.

But does such diversity disprove a fundamental unity? All modern science answers, No. How much of outward resemblance is there between a fish and a philosopher? Is not the difference here as wide as the widest unlikenesses in human belief? Yet Comparative Anatomy, with none to deny its right, includes philosopher and fish in one category: they both belong to the vertebrate sub-kingdom. See what vast dissimilarities are included in the unity of this vertebrate structure: creatures that swim, creep, walk, fly; creatures with two feet, with four feet, with no feet, with feet and hands, with hands only, with neither feet nor hands; creatures that live in air only, or in water only, or that die at once in water or air; creatures, in fine, more various and diverse than imagination, before the fact, could conceive. Yet, throughout this astonishing, inconceivable variety, science walks in steady perception of a unity extending far toward details of structure. The boor laughs, when told that the forefoot of his horse and his own hand are essentially the same member. A "Positive Philosopher" laughs, when told that through Fetichism and Lutheranism there runs a thread of unity,—that human belief has its law, and may be studied in the spirit of science. But it is more than questionable whether the laugh is on their side.[A]

[Footnote A: Comte did, indeed, profess to furnish a central law of belief. It is due, he said, to the tendency of man to flatter his own personality by foisting its image upon the universe. This, however, is but one way of saying that it is wholly gratuitous,—that it has no root in the truth of the world. But universal truth and universal law are the same; and therefore that which arises without having any root in eternal verity is lawless in the deepest possible sense,—lawless not merely as being irregular in its action, but in the deeper and more terrible sense of being in the universe without belonging there. To believe, however, that any product of universal dimensions can be generated, not by the truth of the universe, but by somewhat else, is to believe in a Devil more thoroughly than the creed of any Calvinist allows. But this is quite in character. Comte was perhaps the most superstitious man of his time; superstition runs in the blood of his "philosophy"; and Mr. Buckle, in my opinion, escapes and denounces the black superstitions of ignorance only to fall into the whited superstitions of sciolism.]

But our author does not quit this subject without attempting to adduce a specific instance wherein consciousness proves fallacious. Success, however, could hardly be worse; he fails to establish his point, but succeeds in discrediting either his candor or his discrimination. "Are we not," he says, "in certain circumstances, conscious of the existence of spectres and phantoms; and yet is it not generally admitted that such beings have no existence at all?" Now I should be ashamed to charge a scholar, like Mr. Buckle, with being unaware that consciousness does not apply to any matter which comes properly under the cognizance of the senses, and that the word can be honestly used in such applications only by the last extreme of ignorant or inadvertent latitude. Conscious of the existence of spectres! One might as lawfully say he is "conscious" that there is a man in the moon, or that the color of his neighbor's hair is due to a dye. Mr. Buckle is undoubtedly honest. How, then, could he, in strict philosophical discussion, employ the cardinal word in a sense flagrantly and even ludicrously false, in order to carry his point? It is partly to be attributed to his controversial ardor, which is not only a heat, but a blaze, and frequently dazzles the eye of his understanding; but partly it is attributable also to an infirmity in the understanding itself. He shows, indeed, a singular combination of intellectual qualities. He has great external precision, and great inward looseness and slipperiness of mind: so that, if you follow his words, no man's thought can be clearer, no man's logic more firm and rapid in its march; but if you follow strictly the conceptions, the clearness vanishes, and the logic limps, nay, sprawls. It is not merely that he writes better than he thinks, though this is true of him; but the more characteristic fact is that he is a master in the forms of thought and an apprentice in the substance. Read his pages, and you will find much to admire; read under his pages, and you will find much not to admire.

It appears from the foregoing what Mr. Buckle aims to accomplish at the outset. His purpose is to effect a thorough degradation of Personality. Till this is done, he finds no clear field for the action of social law. To discrown and degrade Personality by taking away its two grand prerogatives,—this is his preliminary labor, this is his way of procuring a site for that edifice of scientific history which he proposes to build.

But what an enormous price to pay for the purchase! If there is no kingdom for social law, if there is no place for a science of history, till man is made unroyal, till the glory is taken from his brow, the sceptre from his right hand, and the regal hopes from his heart, till he is made a mere serf and an appanage of that ground and territory of circumstance whereon he lives and labors,—why, then a science of history means much the same with an extinction of history, an extinction of all that in history which makes it inspiring. The history of rats and mice is interesting, but not to themselves,—interesting only to man, and this because he is man; but if men are nothing but rats and mice, pray let them look for cheese, and look out for the cat, and let goose-quills and history alone.

But the truth is that Person and Society are mutually supporting facts, each weakened by any impoverishment of its reciprocal term. Whenever a real history of human civilization is written, they will thus appear. And Mr. Buckle, in seeking to empty one term in order to obtain room for the other, was yielding concessions, not to the pure necessities of truth, but to his own infirmity as a thinker.

Having, however, taken the crown and kingdom from Personality, our philosophical Warwick proceeds to the coronation of his favorite autocrat, Society. His final proposition, which indeed is made obscurely, and as far as possible by implication, is this:—

3. That Society is the Real Source of Individual Action. A proposition made obscurely, but argued strenuously, and altogether necessary for the completion of his foundation. He attempts proof by reference to the following facts:—that in a given kingdom there occur, year after year, nearly the same number of murders, suicides, and letters mailed without direction, and that marriages are more frequent when food is low and wages high, and so conversely. This is the sum total of the argument on which he relies here and throughout his work: if this proves his point, it is proven; if otherwise, otherwise.

To begin with, I admit the facts alleged. They are overstated; there is considerable departure from an exact average: but let this pass. I will go farther, and admit, what no one has attempted to show, that an average in these common and outward matters proves the like regularity in all that men do and think and feel. This to concentrate attention upon the main question.

And the main question is, What do these regular averages signify? Do they denote the dominancy of a social fate? "Yea, yea," cry loudly the French fatalists; and "Yea, yea," respond with firm assurance Buckle & Co. in England; and "Yea," there are many to say in our own land. Even Mr. Emerson must summon his courage to confront "the terrible statistics of the French statisticians." But I live in the persuasion that these statistics are extremely innocent, and threaten no man's liberty. Let us see.

Take first the instance of forgetfulness. In the United Kingdom some millions of letters are annually mailed; and of these, one in a certain number of thousands, "making allowance," as our author innocently says, "for variation of circumstances," is found to be mailed without a superscription. Now provision for a forgetting is made in every man's individual constitution. Partly for permanent and final forgetting; in this way we get rid of vast quantities of trash, which would suffocate us, if we could not obtain riddance. Partly also for temporary forgetting; by means of which we become oblivious to everything but the matter in hand, and, by a sole concentration upon that, act intensely and efficaciously. Then, as all particular constitutions have their debilities, this provision for temporary obliviousness may become an infirmity, and in some is an habitual and chronic infirmity.

Let us now assume an individual man, and suppose ourselves able to analyze perfectly his mental condition. From his temperament, constitution, and habit, we shall then be able also to infer with precision the measure of his liability to lapse of memory. Place him, now, in a world by himself; give him a life of several centuries' duration; and secure him through life from essential change of constitution. Divide, then, his life into centuries; count the instances of forgetfulness in each century; and in each century they will be found nearly the same. The Law of Probability determines this, and enables us to speak with entire confidence of a case so supposed. Here, then, is the continuous average; but it surely indicates no subjection of the individual soul to a law of society; for there is no society to impose such law,—there is only the constitution of the individual.

Now, instead of one individual, let us suppose a hundred; and let each of these be placed on a separate planet. Obtain in respect to each one the measure of his liability to infirm lapse of memory, and add these together. And now it will appear that the average outward result which one man gave in one hundred years one hundred men will give in one year. The law of probability again comes in, and, matching the irregularities of one by those of another, gives in this case, as in the former, an average result. Here, then, is Mr. Buckle's average without the existence of a society, and therefore without any action of social law. Does another syllable need to be said?

Perhaps, however, it will be objected that I redeem the individual from a fate working in the general whole of society, only to subject him to an equal fate working in his own constitution. There is undoubtedly a certain degree of fate expressed in each man's temperament and particular organization. But mark the difference. Mr. Buckle's social fate subjects each man totally, and in effect robs him of personality; the fate which works in his own constitution subjects him only in that proportion which his abnormal liability bears to the total force of his mind. One letter in ten thousand, say, is mailed without direction. Our historian of civilization infers hence that each individual is totally subject to a social fate. My inference is, that, on the average, each individual is one ten-thousandth part subject to a fate in his private constitution. There is the difference, and it does not seem to me insignificant. Our way to the cases of crime is now somewhat more clear; for it is already established beyond cavil that the mere fact of an average, to which, without any discriminations, our philosopher appeals with such confidence, proves nothing for his purpose.

The case of murders, however, differs from the foregoing in one important particular. The persons who are detected in the commission of this crime are commonly, by their punishment, withdrawn from the number of active criminals; and consequently the average is kept up, not by the same persons, but in part by different ones. Here is, therefore, more appearance of the mediation of compulsory social law; and indeed the action of social forces in the case I am far more disposed to assert than to question. What we are to inquire, however, is not whether social forces contribute to this result, but whether they are such forces as supersede and annihilate individual will. Let us see.

All men are liable to collisions of passion and interest with their neighbors and contemporaries. All desire to remove the obstructions thus opposed. All would labor for this end with brute directness, that is, by lawless violence and cunning, were it not for the rational and moral elements in their nature, which suggest noble pieces of abstinence and self-restraint, thus securing a certain freedom, a certain superiority to the brute pressure of interest and impulse. These rational and moral elements are in variable counterpoise with the ruder desires,—sometimes commanding them with imperial ease, sometimes overcoming them by struggle, sometimes striving with them feebly and vainly, or even ceasing to strive.

Suppose, now, a nation of thirty millions. Of these, twenty-nine millions, let us say, are never consciously tempted to commit a felony. Why? For want of opportunity? Not at all; good men, whom the police do not watch, have more opportunities for crime than those whose character causes them to be suspected. Is it because wrathful passion, the love of money, and other incentives to aggression are unknown to them? To none are they wholly unknown. Why, then, this immunity from temptation? Simply because their choices, or characters,—for character is but structural choice,—run in favor of just and prudent courses with a tide so steady and strong as to fill all the river-beds of action, and leave no room for worse currents. In other words, the elements that make men free hold, in this respect, easy sovereignty In their souls. Below these millions, suppose nine hundred thousand who might be open to such temptation, but for the influence of good customs, which are the legacies left by good men dead, and kept in force by the influence of just men who are living. In these, the freedom-making elements still keep the throne, and preserve regal sway; but they are like sovereigns who might be dethroned, but for the countenance of more powerful neighbors. Below these, the liability to actual commission of violence begins to open; but there are, we will suppose, ninety thousand in whom it is practically suppressed by the dangers which, in civilized communities, attend upon crime. These men have that in them which might make them felons, but for penal laws, prisons, and the executioner. But below these are ten thousand who have a liability in excess of all restraining influences whatsoever; and the result of this liability, in accordance with the law of probability already mentioned, is two hundred murders in a year.[B] Now here the action of fate does not begin until you reach the lowest ten thousand. Even here, freedom is not extinguished; the rational and moral elements that confer it are weak, but they are not necessarily dead or inoperative; for, in conjunction with lower restraints, they actually make the number of crimes not ten thousand, but two hundred. True it is, that these are partially enslaved, partially subject to fate; but they are enslaved not by any inscrutable law of society, comparable with "that which preserves the balance of the sexes"; they are "taken captive by their own lusts," as one of our philosopher's "ignorant men" said many years ago. But above these the enslaving liability begins to disappear, and freedom soon becomes, so far as this test applies, supreme.

[Footnote B: It may be said that this is a mere arguing by supposition.
But the supposition here has respect only to the numbers.]

Thus for one year we apply a measure of the liability to crime, and obtain a result which is inexpressibly far from sustaining Mr. Buckle's inference; since it shows that the fatal force is to all freeing forces as two hundred to thirty millions,—and shows, moreover, that this fate, instead of inclosing in its toils every man in the nation, and utterly depriving all of freedom, actually touches at all but a small number, and only diminishes, not destroys, the freedom of these. Next year we apply the same measure to nearly the same persons, in the presence of nearly the same restraints; and find, of course, the result to be nearly the same. But this result no more proves universal enslavement in the second year than it did in the first. And so of the third, fourth, or fortieth application of the measure.

But a portion of these murderers are yearly withdrawn: ought not the number of crimes to diminish? It would do so, but for that law of social propagation which is ever and everywhere active. But this law, which connects men and generations, and tends to make history a unit, is not a part of fate alone; it carries just so much fate and so much freedom as there are to be carried. It changes nothing; it is simply a vehicle, and transports freight,—precious stones or ballast stones, as the case may be. Therefore, in unveiling a single year, and seeing precisely what this fact of two hundred murders means, we find its meaning for any possible succession of years. It shows certain measures of fate working in the bosoms of certain numbers of men; but that there is a fate inhabiting society as such, and holding every man and woman in its unfeeling hand, must be proven, if at all, by other facts than these.

Mr. Buckle generalizes with marvellous facility, but often with an infatuation, or even fatuity, equally marvellous. Specious and audacious generalization is, however, a vice of thinking more attractive to most than any virtue,—above all, if it flatter their wishes and opinions. There are few to appreciate an exquisite temperance, an exquisite virgin modesty, continence, and reserve, whether in thought or art. The great masters disappoint, the great showmen dazzle, at first sight; the multitudes crave sensations and sudden effects. Even among thoughtful men, there are, in this galloping age, too many who prefer to frequent a philosophical slop-shop, where they can be fitted to a full suit in five minutes; and they willingly forgive some bagging and wrinkling, some ripping of seams and dropping-off of buttons, in consideration of promptitude in the supply. Nor is this unnatural. Ordinary travel goes by steam; does it not seem a little hard that thought should have to journey still in the ancient fashion? And so far as the mass of readers is concerned, this appetite for fast thinking and reckless generalization is a cheerful token: it is a gainful substitute for that hiding away from the blaze of intellect, that terror of large results in thought, which has harbored in the Vatican since the days of Galileo, and even in Protestant lands may sometimes be found, like the graveyard, in the neighborhood of churches. A relish for premature and extravagant generalization may be pardoned in the mass of readers; but in the writer? "It must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!"

Mr. Buckle finds some general book-facts, and, never trying to think down to their roots, he seizes upon their specious aspect, and thence rushes out into a generalization, which, rightly understood, sweeps Personality off the earth. Not such is the spirit of science; not such the manner of its masters. Look at Newton investigating colors. What effort for nearness, nearness, nearness to his facts! What solicitation for entrance to their households and sanctuaries! See Agassiz or Tyndale investigating the flow of glaciers. Here is no catching at book-aspects of the matter, and launching instantly into generalization. No, these men must get within eyeshot, within hand-reach, of the facts, and know first precisely and intimately what these are. Yet the generalizations for which they were seeking a basis were trivial in comparison with those which our author hurtles out after a glance at M. Quetelet. "A continuous average of so many murders a year; then so many must happen; then somebody must commit them; then free-will is a figment, and society is the source of all action which we call individual."

Intemperate and infatuated generalization, if supported by a certain ability, is an attractive vice. Yet he who indulges in this will be sure to leave upon his brilliant and exciting pages statements that are simply ludicrous. Our philosopher furnishes an instance of this in his treatment of the matter of marriage. If wages be low and food high, marriages are less frequent; if the converse be the case, they are more frequent. What conclusion would common sense base upon this fact? Why, of course, that the number of marriages is definitely influenced by the ease with which sustenance is obtained. But this is a commonplace result; there is nothing in it bold, brilliant, striking; besides, it does not make man the slave of outward influences. Accordingly, Mr. Buckle generalizes from it as follows:—"Marriages, instead of having any connection with personal feelings, are completely controlled by the price of food and the rate of wages." He does not distinguish between a definite modifying influence and a controlling cause. His facts prove the former; he asserts the latter. Let us see how this procedure would work elsewhere. There is "a definite relation," in our author's words, between the force and direction of the winds and the rise or fall of the sea upon our coast: therefore tidal rise and fall, "instead of having any connection" with the influence of the moon, are "completely controlled" by the direction and force of the wind! There is "a definite relation" between the straightness or want of straightness in a railroad and the speed of the train: ergo, the speed of the train, "instead of having any connection" with the locomotive and the force of steam, is "completely controlled" by the line of the road! It is by no means difficult to philosophize after this fashion; but if we are to have many professors of such philosophy, let the mediaeval cap-and-bells, by all means, be reproduced.

Again, having stated the fact of an approximation to a continuous average of suicides, and having assumed for this a cause operating in the indivisible whole of society, he goes on to say, "And the power of this larger law is so irresistible, that neither the love of life nor the fear of another world can avail anything toward even checking its operation." How, pray, does Mr. Buckle know? What shadow of a fact has he to justify this vaunting of his "larger law"? Has he ever known the love of life and the awe of another world to be suspended? Has he afterwards seen their action restored, and ascertained that in their presence and in their absence the ratio of suicides remained the same? These questions answer themselves. But when a writer who loudly professes and fully believes himself to proceed purely upon facts adventures statement so groundless, so gratuitous and reckless as this, who can pass to the next paragraph in full confidence of his intellectual rectitude? If you retain, as in this case I do retain, assurance of his moral rectitude,—of his intention to be fair,—to what conclusion can you come more charitable than this, that his partiality to his own notions is so vigorous as not only to overslaugh his sense of logical truth, but to supersede the necessity of other grounds for believing these notions and for urging them?

Only our author's first chapter has been dealt with; firstly, because in this are enunciated those radical conceptions which he afterwards argues not to, but from; and secondly, because it has been the writer's desire, avoiding all vagrant and indecisive criticism, to have a fair grapple, and come to some clear result,—like that of a wrestler, who frankly proffers himself to throw or be thrown. It only remains to indicate, so far as may be, a comprehensive estimate of Mr. Buckle as a thinker.

And at last it must be said in plain words that he is to be regarded as an adventurer in the kingdoms of thought,—though the word must be freed from all customary flavors of charlatanry and wickedness. One of the boldest and cleverest of his class; a man, too, of probity, of dignity and character, amiable, estimable; but intellectually an adventurer nevertheless. The grand masters in thought are those to whom the subtilest and most purely universal principles are nearest and most habitual, coming to the elucidation of all minutest matters no less than to that of the greatest,—as those forces which hold the solar system together apply themselves, as on the same level, to a mote wandering in the air; and because to these masters first principles, through all their changes of seeming, through all their ranging by analogy up and down, are never disguised, but are always near and clear and sure, they can admit the action of all modifying principles without imperilling the great stabilities of truth; so that in their thought, as in Nature, the dust-particle shall float and fly with the wind, and yet gravitation shall hold particle and world in firm, soft, imperial possession. And next to these are the inventors, guided by a fine felicity of intelligence to special discoveries and admirable combinations, often surpassing in this way the masters themselves. And then come the wise and great scholars, who learn quickly what has been discovered, and follow the masters not by sight only, as a greyhound, but by long inferences; and these also do noble work. And after these follow the broader company of useful, able, eloquent men, applying, explaining, illustrating, and preparing the way for schools and commerce and the newspaper. Finally comes a man with a genius for boldness more than for anything else, so that he has a pleasant feeling of himself only when he gives himself the sense of being startling, novel, venturesome, and therefore goes off in his thought as in a balloon: and of such man,—being daring, ingenious, agile, and not being profound,—this will be the unfailing characteristic, that he substitutes and asserts secondary principles, which are obvious, outward, and within his reach, for primary principles, which are deep, subtile, inward, and beyond his reach; he will swing loose from the principles which are indeed prime and imperial in Nature, and will boldly assert secondary principles as fundamental: this man is the intellectual adventurer.

And this is Mr. Buckle. The first fact with regard to man is his possession of a rational soul, and consequently of that liberation of will without which, despite the existence of reason, he could not be in act a reasonable being. But the secondary fact in this connection is that man's freedom is modified by pedigree, by temperament, by influences almost numberless, and that he is included in laws, so that, if he falls away from reason, he falls into the hands of fate. And this secondary or modifying congeries of facts our author announces as primary.

The first fact with regard to the soul is that it is intelligent and vocal,—that it is not merely a subject, but also an organ, of THAT WHICH KNOWS in the universe. The modifying fact is that its voice is commonly obscure, and the language it shall use and the logic of its utterance prescribed by the accident of time, place, and other circumstances; so that it has the semblance of voices many and contradictory. And this modifying fact Mr. Buckle announces, with much assurance and complacency, as primary.

The first fact in the world of man is Personality. The secondary fact is Society,—secondary, but reciprocal, and full of import. And Mr. Buckle begins with making Personality acephalous, and ends-with appending its corpse to Society, to be galvanized into seemings of life. And if you follow him through his book, you find this inversion constantly maintained,—and find, moreover, that it is chiefly this revolutionary audacity which makes his propositions so startling and his pages to many so fascinating.

Therefore an adventurer. This is concerning him the primary fact. But the modifying fact is that he has the manners of a gentleman, the heart of a humanitarian, the learning of a scholar, the pen of a ready writer, the outside or shell of a philosophical genius, excellent admixtures of sense, and an attractive hatred of ecclesiastical and political barbarisms.

He has great surface-reach, but no inward breadth. He invariably takes the liberal side with regard to practical and popular questions; he invariably takes the illiberal side in respect to questions of philosophy. In politics and in social feeling he is cosmopolitan; in questions of pure thought he is cockney. Here he is a tyrant; he puts out the soul's eyes, and casts fetters about its feet; here he is hard, narrow, materialistic, mechanical,—or, in a word, English. For—we may turn aside to say—in philosophy no nation is so straitened, illiberal, and hard of hearing as England, except, perhaps, China. Its tympanum is sadly thickened at once with materialism and conceit; and the consequence is that a thinker there is either ignored into silence, like Wilkinson, or driven to bellow, like Carlyle, or to put rapiers and poignards into his speech, like Ruskin. Carlyle began speaking sweetly and humanly, and was heard only on this side the ocean; then he came to his bull-of-Bashan tones, and was attended to on his own side the water. It is observable, too, that, if a thinker in America goes beyond the respectable dinner-table depth, your true Englishman takes it for a personal affront, and hastens to make an ass of himself in the "Saturday Review."

Apply to Mr. Buckle any test that determines the question of pure intellectual power, and he fails to sustain it. Let us proceed to apply one.

No man is an able thinker who is without power to comprehend that law of reciprocal opposites, on which the world is built. For an example of this: the universe is indeed a uni-verse, a pure unit, emanating, as we think, from a spirit that is, in the words of old Hooker, "not only one, but very oneness," simple, indivisible, and therefore total in all action; and yet this universe is various, multifarious, full of special character, full even of fierce antagonisms and blazing contradictions. Infinite and Finite, Same and Diverse, Eternal and Temporary, Universal and Special,—here they are, purest opposites, yet mutual, reciprocal, necessary to each other; and he is a narrow man who cannot stand in open relations with both terms, reconciling in the depths of his life, though he can never explain, the mystery of their friendship. He who will adhere only to the universal, and makes a blur of the special, is a rhapsodist; he who can apprehend only the special, being blind and callous to the universal, is a chatterer and magpie. From these opposites we never escape; Destiny and Freedom, Rest and Motion, Individual and Society, Origination and Memory, Intuition and Observation, Soul and Body,—you meet them everywhere; and everywhere they are, without losing their character of opposites, nay, in very virtue of their opposition, playing into and supporting each other.

But, from the fact that they are opposites, it is always easy to catch up one, and become its partisan as against the other. It is easy in such advocacy to be plausible, forcible, affluent in words and apparent reasons; also to be bold, striking, astonishing. And yet such an advocate will never speak a word of pure truth. "He who knows half," says Goethe, "speaks much, and says nothing to the purpose; he who knows all inclines to act, and speaks seldom or late." With such partisanship and advocacy the world has been liberally, and more than liberally, supplied. Such a number of Eurekas have been shouted! So often it has been discovered that the world is no such riddle, after all,—that half of it is really the whole! No doubt all this was good boy's-play once; afterwards it did to laugh at for a while; then it ceased to be even a joke, and grew a weariness and an affliction; and at length we all rejoiced when the mighty world-pedagogue of Chelsea seized his ferule, and roared, over land and sea, "Silence, babblers!"

If only Mr. Buckle had profited by the command! For, follow this writer where you will, you find him the partisan of a particular term as against its fraternal opposite. It is Fate against Free-Will; Society against the prerogatives of Personality; Man against Outward Nature (for he considers them only as antagonistic, one "triumphing" over the other); Intellect against the Moral Sense; Induction against Deduction and Intuition; Knowledge against Reverence; and so on and on to the utter weariness of one reader, if of no more. For what can be more wearying and saddening than to follow the pages of a writer who is fertile, ingenious, eloquent, rich in right feeling, in reading and courage, and yet who, in chapter after chapter of effective paragraphs, and tome after tome of powerful chapters, is merely persuading you that half is the whole? And if your duty as a scholar require you to peruse the book fully, instead of casting it aside, your mind at length fairly aches for the sense of poise and soundness, were it only for a single page. But no; it is always the same succession of perspicuous and vigorous sentences, all carrying flavors of important truth, and none utterly true. For the half is really half; but it simply is not the whole, be as eloquent about it as one may.

Such, then, is the estimate here given of Mr. Buckle's laborious and powerful work. Meantime, with every secondary merit which such a work could possess this is replete; while its faults are only such as were inseparable from the conjunction of such ambitions with such powers. He may whet and wield his blade; but he puts no poison on its edge. He may disparage reverence; but he is not himself irreverent. He may impugn the convictions that most men love; but, while withholding no syllable of dissent and reprehension, he utters not a syllable that can insult or sting. And all the while his pages teem with observations full of point, and half full of admirable sense and suggestion.

After all, we owe him thanks,—thanks, it may be, even for his errors. The popular notions of moral liberty are probably not profound, and require deepening. The grand fact that we name Personality is grand and of an unsounded depth only because in it Destiny and Freedom meet and become one. But the play into this of Destiny and Eternal Necessity is, in general, dimly discerned. The will is popularly pronounced free, but is thought to originate, as it were, "between one's hat and his boots"; and so man loses all largeness of relation, and personality all grandeur. Now blisters, though ill for health, may be wholesome for disease; and doctrines of Fate, that empty every man of his soul, may be good as against notions of moral liberty that make one's soul of a pin's-head dimension. It may be well, also, that the doctrine of Social Fate should be preached until all are made to see that Society is a fact,—that it is generative,—that personal development cannot go on but by its mediation,—that the chain of spiritual interdependence cannot be broken, and that in proportion as it is weakened every bosom becomes barren. In this case also Mr. Buckle may be medicinal. We owe him thanks also for refreshing our expectation of a science of civilization,—for affirming the venerableness of intellect, which recent teachers have undervalued,—for vindicating the uses of doubt,—and, finally, for a specimen of intellectual intrepidity of which one could wish there were less need. And withal how royally he presumes upon a welcome for candid confession of his thought! Such a presumption could be created in his soul only by a great magnanimity; and the evidence of this on his pages sheds a beauty about all his words.

But he is not an Oedipus. He has guessed; and the riddle awaits another comer. A science of history he has not established; the direction in which it lies he has not pointed out; and if Hegel and his precursors have failed to indicate such a science, the first clear step toward it remains yet to be taken. And should some majestic genius—for no other will be sufficient for the task—at length arise to lay hold upon the facts of man's history, and exercise over them a Newtonian sway, he will be the last man on the planet to take his initial hint from Auguste Comte and the "Positive Philosophy." This mud-mountain is indeed considerably heaped up, but it is a very poor Pisgah nevertheless; for it is a mountain in a pit, whose top does not rise to an equality with the broad common levels, far less with the high table-lands and skyward peaks and summits of intelligence.