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ESTIMATE OF ACTUAL CHANGES.
In professing to estimate actual changes, it must be premised that our object is different from that of him who would pass an authoritative decision respecting the events that are at present going on in the world, and dividing the opinions of mankind;all that we aim at, because all that is suitable to the plan of such a treatise as this, is to afford some rules for judging respecting any present changes which men may perceive going on around them— whether these relate to the events of the passing day-or to any future alterations in which, during subsequent revolutions, men may find themselves.
And on this part of the subject, our observations shall be arranged under the following general topics-which, as they relate to matters that may
affect the actual conduct of men, we shall endeavour to discuss as concisely and clearly as possible. In the first place-what are the errors which mankind are chiefly disposed to entertain respecting actual changes. In the second place-what are the characteristics of a sound and healthy change—and to the furtherance of which enlightened and wellconditioned men may give their aid. And, in the last place—what, on a general view of the state of the world, or at least of its most civilized and influential portions, are the changes that may be considered as safe and desirable-and towards which things, if left to their natural course, seem to be tending.
I. ERRORS RELATING TO ACTUAL CHANGES.
1. The first of these errors seems to be a disposition to identify any actual change that is going forward, with the grand order of nature, and the progressive course of human affairs.
Now, that there is a general and constant tendency in human affairs to progression, we are not disposed to question. If we doubted of this, we must then suppose that human affairs are simply at the mercy of accidents, and that no rule respecting
their progress or purpose can be discovered, either from the essentially progressive nature of individual men or from the consideration of any grand scheme which Divine Providence has in view, by having thrown mankind over the different countries of the earth, and over the successive ages of time.-Indeed, even supposing that the human race are still but in their infancy-emerging from the mists and darkness that have, during a great portion of their past history, concealed them from each other, and from the relation of the world which they inhabit to the great system of universal nature-and that the progress of society and of knowledge among men has accordingly in past ages, been chiefly confined to some favoured nations, who have risen into distinction for a time and then yielded to those revolutions to which all earthly conditions seem to be subject—still, looking back even over this short period of the history of our race-and on the varied and troubled aspect which its condition has presented, there are grounds sufficient to induce the belief that the tide of knowledge among mankind has been progressive-and that even those ages-sometimes long and dreary--which have seemed to throw mankind on a backward course, have yet involved the elements of changes which, in happier and more
advanced times, have but enabled the species to advance with accelerated speed on the course for which Divine Providence had destined them.
Mankind have thus gradually become better acquainted with the relation of the different countries of the world to each other, and with the connection between this sublunary department of the universal kingdom and the vast scheme of which it is a portion; they have been employed, especially during the latter ages of their history, in exploring the wide face of their world, and making themselves acquainted with all the varied productions which beautify its surface;―arts and sciences have gained a degree of comparative perfection which the most polished nations of antiquity could not have anticipated ;-improved modes of conducting all investigations have gradually been the result of these extended agencies ;--and as the nature, and duties, and prospects of the human being himself have not been overlooked in this universal tendency-and the laws of human thought, and the best modes of human research, have thus come to be better known, there is little hazard,-whatever may be the temporary and partial aberrations of the human intellect-that the gross errors of unenlightened ages will ever again acquire a general and lasting influence.