Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

“The reflex actions proper to the spinal cord itself are natural, and are involved in the structure of the cord and the properties of its constituents. By the help of the brain we may acquire an affinity of artificial reflex actions ; that is to say, an action may require all our attention and all our volition for its first or second or third performance, but by frequent repetition it becomes in a manner part of our organization, and is performed without volition or even consciousness.

" As every one knows, it takes a soldier a very long time to learn his drill, — to put himself, for instance, into the attitude of

attention at the instant the word of command is heard ; but after a time the sound of the word gives rise to the act, whether the soldier be thinking of it or not. There is a story which is credible enough, though it may not be true, of a practical joker who, seeing a discharged veteran carrying home his dinner, suddenly called out * Attention !' whereupon the man instantly brought his hands down, and lost his mutton and potatoes in the gutter. The drill had been gone through, and its effects had become embodied in the man's nervous structure.

“The possibility of all education (of which military drill is only one particular form) is based upon the existence of this power which the nervous system possesses, of organizing conscious actions into more or less unconscious or reflex operations. It may be laid down as a rule, that if any two mental states be called up together or in succession with due frequency and vividness, the subsequent production of the one of them will suffice to call up the other, and that whether we desire it or not."*

The body of the accomplished man has thus become by training different from what it once was, and different from that of the rude man ; it is charged with stored virtue and acquired faculty which come away from it unconsciously.

Again, as to race, another authority teaches :

“Man's life truly represents a progressive development of the nervous system, none the less so because it takes place out of the womb instead of in it. The regular transmutation of motions which are at first voluntary into secondary automatic motions, as Hartley calls them, is due to a gradually effected organization ; and we may rest assured of this, that co-ordinate activity always testifies to stored-up power, either innate or acquired.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

* Huxley's “Elementary Physiology" (1st Ed.), $S 335-337.

“The way in which an acquired faculty of the parent animal is sometimes distinctly transmitted to the progeny as a heritage, instinct, or innate endowment, furnishes a striking confirmation of the foregoing observations. Power which has been laboriously acquired and stored up as statical in one generation, manifestly in such case becomes the inborn faculty of the next; and the development takes place in accordance with that law of increasing speciality and complexity of adaptation to external nature which is traceable through the animal kingdom, or in other words, that law of progress from the general to the special in development which the appearance of nerve force amongst natural forces and the complexity of the nervous system of man both illustrate. As the vital force gathers up, as it were, into itself inferior forces, and might be said to be a development of them, or as in the appearance of nerve force simpler and more general forces are gathered up and concentrated in a more special and complex mode of energy, so again a further specialization takes place in the development of the nervous system, whether watched through generations or through individual life. It is not by limiting our observations to the life of the individual, however, who is but a link in the chain of organic beings connecting the past with the future, that we shall come at the full truth ; the present individual is the inevitable consequence of his antecedents in the past, and in the examination of these alone do we arrive at the adequate explanation of him. It behooves us, then, having found any faculty to be innate, not to rest content there, but steadily to follow backwards the line of causation, and thus to display if possible its manner of origin. This is the more necessary with the lower animals, where so much is innate." *

The special laws of inheritance are indeed as yet unknown. All which is clear and all which is to my purpose is, that there is a tendency, a probability greater or less according to circumstances, but always considerable - that the descendants of cultivated parents will have, by born nervous organization, a greater aptitude for cultivation than the descendants of such as are not cultivated; and that this tendency augments in some enhanced ratio for many generations.

I do not think any who do not acquire — and it takes a hard effort to acquire – this notion of a

* Maudsley, “ Physiology and Pathology of the Mind” (1st Ed.), Chap. iii.

transmitted nerve element will ever understand the

'connective tissue” of civilization. We have here the continuous force which binds age to age; which enables each to begin with some improvement on the last, if the last did itself improve; which makes each civilization not a set of detached dots, but a line of color surely enhancing shade by shade. There is by this doctrine a physical cause of improvement from generation to generation, and no imagination which has apprehended it can forget it; but unless you appreciate that cause in its subtle materialism, - unless you see it, as it were, playing upon the nerves of men, and age after age making nicer music from finer chords, – you cannot comprehend the principle of inheritance either in its mystery or its power.

These principles are quite independent of any theory as to the nature of matter or the nature of mind. They are as true upon the theory that mind acts on matter though separate and altogether different from it, as upon the theory of Bishop Berkeley, that there is no matter but only mind; or upon the contrary theory, that there is no mind but only matter; or upon the yet subtler theory now often held, that both mind and matter are different modifications of some one tertium quid, some hidden thing or force. All these theories admit - indeed, they are but various theories to account for — the fact that what we call matter has consequences in what we call mind, and that what we call mind produces results in what we call matter; and the doctrines I quote assume only that. Our mind in some strange way acts on our nerves, and our nerves in some equally strange way store up the consequences; and somehow the result, as a rule and commonly enough, goes down to our descendants. These primitive facts all theories admit and all of them labor to explain.

Nor have these plain principles any relation to the old difficulties of necessity and free-will. Every Freewillist holds that the special force of free volition

66

is applied to the pre-existing forces of our corporeal structure; he does not consider it as an agency acting in vacuo, but as an agency acting upon other agencies. Every Free-willist holds that upon the whole, if you strengthen the motive in a given direction, mankind tend more to act in that direction. Better motives — better impulses, rather - come from a good body ; worse motives or worse impulses come from a bad body. A Free-willist may admit as much as a Necessarian that such improved conditions tend to improve human action, and that deteriorated conditions tend to deprave human action. No Free-willist ever expects as much from St. Giles's as he expects from Belgravia: he admits a hereditary nervous system as a datum for the will, though he holds the will to be an extraordinary incoming "something." No doubt the modern doctrine of the “conservation of force,” if applied to decision, is inconsistent with freewill : if you hold that force “is never lost or gained,” you cannot hold that there is a real gain,-a sort of new creation of it in free volition. But I have nothing to do here with the universal “conservation of force”: the conception of the nervous organs as stores of will-made power does not raise or need so vast a discussion.

Still less are these principles to be confounded with Mr. Buckle's idea that material forces have been the mainsprings of progress, and moral causes secondary and in comparison not to be thought of; on the contrary, moral causes are the first here. It is the action of the will that causes the unconscious habit; it is the continual effort of the beginning that creates the hoarded energy of the end; it is the silent toil of the first generation that becomes the transmitted aptitude of the next. Here physical causes do not create the moral, but moral create the physical ; here the beginning is by the higher energy, the conservation and propagation only by the lower. But we thus perceive how a science of history is possible, as Mr. Buckle

VOL. IV. - 28

said; a science to teach the laws of tendencies — created by the mind and transmitted by the body which act upon and incline the will of man from age

to age.

II. But how do these principles change the philosophy of our politics? I think in many ways; and first, in one particularly. Political economy is the most systematized and most accurate part of political philosophy; and yet, by the help of what has been laid down, I think we may travel back to a sort of “preeconomic age,” when the very assumptions of political economy did not exist, when its precepts would have been ruinous, and when the very contrary precepts were requisite and wise.

For this purpose I do not need to deal with the dim ages which ethnology just reveals to us, -- with the Stone Age and the flint implements and the refuse heaps. The time to which I would go back is only that just before the dawn of history, - coeval with the dawn, perhaps it would be right to say, for the first historians saw such a state of society, though they saw other and more advanced states too; a period of which we have distinct descriptions from eyewitnesses, and of which the traces and consequences abound in the oldest law.

"The effect,” says Sir Henry Maine, the greatest of our living jurists, – the only one, perhaps, whose writings are in keeping with our best philosophy, “of the evidence derived from comparative jurisprudence is to establish that view of the primeval condition of the human race which is known as the “patriarchal theory.' There is no doubt, of course, that this theory was originally based on the Scriptural history of the Hebrew patriarchs in Lower Asia; but as has been explained already, its connection with Scripture rather militated than otherwise against its reception as a complete theory, since the majority of the inquirers who till recently addressed themselves with most earnestness to the colligation of social phenomena were either influenced by the strongest prejudice against

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »