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ARTICLE VII.-GUIZOTS GENERAL HISTORY OF CIVIL
Guizot's General History of Civilization. Translated by
W. Hazlitr. Appleton's Edition.
PROBABLY no book of the historical kind has had so wide an influence, within the last twenty-five years, upon thinking and the discipline of the mind in the United States, as Guizot's history of civilization in modern Europe. We have, ourselves, felt its power; and we have seen with great satisfaction, in multitudes of instances, how it has quickened and enlarged the minds of young persons, charmed them by showing the philosophical basis on which history rests, and helped them to see a unity and an advance in human affairs. And yet there are two main objections to which the study of this book is liable. The one is that the pupil, unversed in history, finds the great generalizations of the work too abstract and skeletonlike, so that he is like a person standing on a high mountain and surveying a vast tract of country with the geography of which he is imperfectly acquainted. The other is, that the philosophy stops short of the ways of Providence, leaving out of sight that in which history finds its unity, and the thoughful student his impulse to study it;—for if nothing but tricks and wars, nothing but man with his private ends, nothing but social progress is to be taken account of, how is history much worthier of study than the battles of crows or daws?
This want of a living faith in Divine Providence suggests doubts as to the method of treating history into which we cannot now enter. Our present object is to make some criticisms upon portions of Mr. Guizot's work, which are not offered without reflection, and may not be, perhaps, without their use. We do this by no means in the spirit of fault-finding, and
with a most sincere respect for this distinguished Protestant Frenchman, who, by his many historical works, has placed himself at the head of the historians of his country, and on a level at least with those of any other land; and who now, after the toil of the statesman is broken off, in his advanced life, is worthily employing his leisure on the composition of the "Memoirs of his own Time."
The work begins with affirming the evident fact that there is one European civilization; that amid many minor differences, and although one country may fall behind another in some respects, there is a general all-pervading something which distinguishes that continent from the neighboring ones of Asia and Africa, which we call civilization.*
Here, perhaps, the vagueness of the general statement ought to have been filled up by the remark, which would not have anticipated anything that is to follow, that this community of civilization depends upon and is indicated by a faith in the same God, and the same sacred book, and by common views concerning sin, redemption, and eternal life; by closeness of intercourse which one faith, and, for a long time, a common church especially fostered, and which itself fostered common views of international law; by the prevalence of nearly the same metaphysical, moral, and political theories; by a community in science, and in art, both practical and æsthetical; and to mention nothing more, by a general similarity in political development.
The question, however, may be fairly asked whether, with this uniformity of result, there have not been two modifying causes, which always have, and perhaps always will produce a difference between different parts of Europe? There are three principal races or groups of nations on that continent, into whose hands civilization is committed. Of these the Scla
We shall usually quote, when there is occasion for quoting, from Hazlitt's translation, as it appears in the common, or Appleton's edition. In all cases, however, we consult the original. In the translation mistakes are by no means absent. Thus, besides a smaller one on the first page, we have on the second, “whenever France has set forward in the career of civilization," instead of “whenever France has seen itself outstripped in the career," etc.
vonic (including the modern Greeks) have been hitherto simply passive and recipient, and it is not for us to divine what part may be assigned to them in the future. The other two are the Romanic, which includes the ancient stock of the Celts upon the continent, together with the Iberians, whom Roman institutions and the Latin tongue assimilated to their Italian conquerors, and the Germanic, which embraces the Scandinavian family of nations. Here, too, it would seem the English, although a mixed people, are to be classed, for the strongest and most pervading ingredient in the mixture is undoubtedly the Anglo-Saxon. Both these great races or groups have been active and efficient in European civilization, and the question is whether they have not, on the whole, permanently diverse characteristics, as diverse as the old Celts and Germans, if not more so. In the one group of nations we see a logical, clear, and penetrating understanding, impulsive, volatile, and superficial feelings, a greater tendency toward the sensuous in art and the voluptuous in life, a religion which contents itself with the outward, an inability to attain to a good political system. In the other group we see profundity and intuitiveness, with less of clearness and of order, earnestness, simplicity and depth of soul, a more spiritual imagination, which, even when under the dominion of symbols, runs into the mystical, and therefore seeks out a wider, more irregular and more original field for the creations of art, comparative homeliness in social life with want of quick perceptions, a religion which has cast off the slough of an age of ignorance and returned to the purity of truth, the power and impulse to rectify political wrongs. The single facts that only among the Germanic nations the Reformation could get a permanent footing, and that from among them have originated political liberty, and successful resistance to a centralizing domination, are enough of themselves to show that the Germanic race has those characteristics which, at least, enable it to lead the way in the true progress of society. That a Frenchman should see and acknowledge this is hardly to be expected. That a German should exaggerate the difference in favor of his class of nations, would be quite as natural. Those who belong to the English stock, who can trace in their history the good and evil derived from both sources, will have reason to be thankful that amid the revolutions of England so much has been kept of Anglo-Saxon character, lineage, usages, and of the old Eng. lish tongue. We
pass onward to that part of the first lecture where the author, after inquiring whose definition of civilization—that of the philosopher, or of the common man-is to be preferred, and after showing by several hypotheses of states of society, what it is not, proceeds to say that the first notion in it is progress, and that it comprehends two facts, the progress of society, and the progress of humanity, or of the individual.
Here, perhaps, it would be captious to say that there are two states of society upon which this definition, regarded as a logical one, must break down; there is the acme of nations, as of Greece and Rome, which have been civilized, but now, as all progress has ceased, cannot be called so any longer; and there is the state of a barbarous tribe, just converted to Christianity, and making progress, under the guidance of its religious teachers, both in a social and an individual respect, to whom the quality, according to Mr. Guizot, must be ascribed. It is not progress, then, but the absolute possession of certain characteristics of individual and social life, that constitutes civilization. A state of society, however refined, which is built on untruths, would seem to be incapable of indefinite progress, and we may certainly speak of a waning civilization. And yet progress is the test of civilization, in the truest and best sense; there can be no decline in that which has true views of God for its basis.
It is more important to remark that something might have been gained by Mr. Guizot, on the score of definiteness and clearness, by introducing a distinction between culture and civilization, for terms are needed to express the two facts included under his general word. Let civilization be used in a restricted sense, to denote the mechanical side of human improvement, the polish of the exterior in social life, the comforts and luxuries supplied by advancing arts, the care of a watchful government over all which conduces to the health and outward weal of the citizen, the security efforded by just and humane laws,-everything which is not of the soul, and which, indeed, may be, in a great measure, borrowed from abroad, without awakening the national mind. Let culture, on the other hand, denote the influences over the individual of truth, religious, moral, and scientific, and of beauty in all its various forms. The parts of the great whole being thus kept more distinct in the mind than they could be by a mere analysis, we shall be led to test each age of civilization with more ease, shall be less taken by the outside show of a polished but uncultivated society, and shall more easily discover the futility of some of the theories for advancing the welfare of mankind. Thus Socialism will at once appear to be one-sided and empty, in that it puts its trust in social changes alone; and much the same objection will lie against all schemes for regenerating man through the State, which have been proposed since the days of Plato. And, again, if it can be made to appear, as we believe that it can, that all the sources of culture are closely connected, like the departments of the soul which they affect, and that religious culture has the control among them, then the importance of religion, and in historical inquiries of investigating the religious condition of a people, will become more manifest.
Another point deserves attention, in the history of civilization, which Mr. Guizot seems scarcely to have noticed. We refer to its distribution among the inhabitants of a country. It is conceivable that a favored few may partake of a very high polish; may form among themselves a refined, liberal, and humane society, and may have a large measure of the conveniences and the elegances of life; while the mass of the nation lies in ignorance and wretchedness. It is conceivable, on the other hand, that the mass is well educated in the common branches of knowledge, free and on the advance, but as yet without much culture or refinement. Are not these states of society,—the one exemplified by the Russian nobles, in their showy but shallow civilization, amid their throng of serfs, and by the few cultivated slave-owners in our southern States, and the other, perhaps, by the condition of society in the