« PredošláPokračovať »
another prologue-otherwise a foot-note-to say that he is not a lion after all; it were pity of his life, indeed, if he were. Hereupon he names his name, and tells us plainly he is only Snug, the joiner!
All this illustrates a marked feature of Mr. Topp's writing, viz., the painful inexactitude of his adjectives. He is, on the whole, a disputant with whom it is pleasant to cross swords. He has wide knowledge, and a fine gift of imperturbable good temper. He accuses me, indeed, of writing in a "somewhat shrill, not to say, frenzied key;," but this is the solitary touch of shrillness in his paper. He writes like a gentleman and scholar; but scarcely, like a logician. No one can argue closely who uses terms loosely; and both Mr. Topp's adjectives and substantives are very variable quantities. The empire that is about to make its advent, as we have seen, is indifferently "universal," "European," and even, at a moment when Mr. Topp was nodding very badly indeed, only "Continental." This is like describing a coin as being at once a sovereign, a half-crown, and a three-penny bit. And the owner of this coming empire is a quantity as indeterminate as the empire itself. Now it is "Germany," now "Prussia," now the "Austro-German alliance;" these are by no means interchangeable terms, and the last in particular is, surely, a very unlikely birth. How is one to argue with a disputant, whose terms appear, and vanish, and change their complexion, as in a witches' dance, in this remarkable fashion?
It is to be noted, moreover, that Mr. Topp's ideas have a touch of the same lawless and rambling quality which characterises his adjectives. He does not take the trouble to agree with himself; or he seems to forget on one page of his article what he has written on another page. He supplies us with two distinct and opposite sets of opinions on most of the subjects he discusses. He gives two wholly contradictory views, for example, of Russia. On p. 380 Russia is the "Northern Colossus," whose strength was the menace of the civilised world. Germany alone-"certainly not England"had the ability or the will to "bridle" this Colossus; and the bridling was an achievement which laid mankind under a greater debt of obligation than the invention of printing or the Protestant Reformation. On p. 386, however, where Mr. Topp is anxious to disprove the possibility of a Slav empire, this "Northern Colossus" dwindles into a mere ragged and weak-kneed Smike! Its growth is due to "temporary causes," which are rapidly "ceasing to operate:" the two principal ones being-first, "the disunion of Germany;" and second, the number of German station-masters, drill-sergeants, &c.,
employed by Russia! After the same fashion, Mr. Topp has several sets of what may be called movable opinions about England. On p. 391, England “belongs to a class of states that history shows us to have always been in a somewhat precarious position, and to have attained to greatness and a prolonged existence rather from the absence of powerful neighbours than from their own intrinsic strength." She resembles such states as, amongst others, Venice and Portugal. She "has always relied more on paid mercenaries of various nationalities than on a national army of her own!" But, on p. 389, "in all the elements of real strength-in wealth, men, ships, and strategical position—the British Empire is not surpassed or even equalled by any power in the world!"
It will be thus seen that, to effectively refute Mr. Topp, there only needs a slight readjustment of Mr. Topp's own article. His paper is a kaleidoscope-an accidental grouping of a number of pretty bits of coloured glass that have no necessary connection with each other whatever. A turn of the tube, and lo! the manycoloured fragments are shuffled together on a perfectly fresh pattern, and look quite as well as they did before.
The manner in which Mr. Topp, like Saturn, devours his own offspring, is perhaps best seen on p. 384, where, with the self-cruelty of a Hindoo Fakir, he declares that "the shrewdest observer of the present time, the most practical politician, and the most diligent student of history would ridicule " the ideas he puts forward, and that the necessary amount of faith can be expected only from some “solitary thinker," whom the kindness of fate had placed in Australia rather than in Europe, and who was not "the shrewdest observer," etc. Surely Mr. Topp chastises his own ideas with step-fatherly severity!
Amongst the many obiter dicta of Mr. Topp's paper that invite criticism, may be mentioned his forecast of the fate of the small states of Europe, and his list of the qualifications which fit a nation for an empire. Into that list-on the whole, a true and noble one, made up of the domestic virtues, reverence for the law, a readiness to obey, doggedness of will, etc.-Mr. Topp oddly enough thrusts "narrowness of view!" Who ever before conceived of stupidity as an imperial quality? Yet, Mr. Topp says that it was this gift of stupidity, amongst other qualities, which enabled the Romans "first to establish a strong and enlightened government of their own"evolution is more than involution here!-and then to rule the world.
By far the most serious, however, of these debatable side-sayings, with which Mr. Topp's paper abounds, are those in which he enumerates
the forces that go to mould the character and determine the fate of nations. Mr. Topp goes to the root of all history, and declares he finds there nothing but a knot of physical causes. History is not shaped by the play of human wills and passions, by forces that have their seat in the intellect and the soul, by beliefs, and ideas, and ambitions. It is in the last analysis the resultant of purely physical forces that lie outside man. All the events in its records are links in the iron chain of a purely physical evolution. I complained, in my first article, that Mr. Topp made empire purely an affair of physical geography, and that he took but slight account of the subtler forces that dominate matter and really shape history-of ideas, of differences in national character, of degrees in liberty and civilisation, &c. To this Mr. Topp replies:
I am quite prepared to admit the importance of all these, but I believe that they are all ultimately traceable to physical conditions-that is, to geographical position, climate, geological structure, &c. . . The belief that all national developments and social characteristics are ultimately traceable to physical conditions, is by no means new; but it has received an amount of evidence in its favour during the last few years which places it upon as firm a basis as any of the most clearly recognised scientific generalisations. The view put forward in my article, that the seat of empire is determined chiefly by geographical position, is merely an application of this theory; and Mr. Fitchett has not seriously attempted to disprove it.
This theory underlies the whole of Mr. Topp's paper; it is written everywhere between the lines. It has no doubt the authority of great names in its favour, and is spreading rapidly with the growth of that materialistic science of which it is the child; and as it strikes at the roots of all morality, it is certainly worth a little serious discussion.
This theory, of course, involves a wholly new reading, both of human nature and of the world. Man is the creature not even of the sum total of his environments, but of the lowest and rudest, the merely physical conditions by which he is surrounded-"geographical position, climate, geological structure, &c.," to adopt Mr. Topp's enumeration. This is what Carlyle calls "the gospel of dirt." All the great faculties which have hitherto been supposed to distinguish man-the kingly power of a self-determining will, the awful endowment of conscience, the imperial gift of intellect--vanish. The stomach, as the organ through which physical forces act most directly, and not the soul, is the originating centre of character; or rather, the soul is an accident of the stomach, and, to quote Cabanis, may be secreted by the liver, as bile is. Religion, as some one said recently in the famous Bradlaugh debate in the British House of Commons, is a mere disease of the brain, and conscience a nervous contraction of the
diaphragm. Prior described, and scarcely parodied, this theory in some very Hudibrastic lines-lines too realistic, indeed, to be quoted fully :—
The qualms and raptures of your blood
Of food and drink in several nations.
Upon the strength of water gruel?
But who shall stand his rage and force
It was a philosopher of this school who discovered that potatoes and Popery were related to each other as cause and effect in Ireland. Another (Buckle, no less) discussed, with unsmiling gravity, the relation betwixt a rice diet and public liberty in Hindostan! It was one of Buckle's school, again, who undertook to prove that Calvinism had never flourished beyond a certain distance from the tidal line, and who held that nothing but a complete system of drainage would extirpate the doctrine of an everlasting hell! The elder Mill regarded the distinction of sex itself as somehow a mere product of circumstances. "Man," said Sir William Hamilton, "is not an organism, but an intelligence served by organs." This school denies to man, in the last analysis, even the poor dignity of being an “organism." They postulate, to quote Leslie Stephen, “a kind of colourless and uniform substratum, with a mere accretion of external accidents." The man, that is, is built up entirely of coats!
This theory is weighted with great names; but no tyranny of mere names ought to prevent sensible men describing it in plain and unsoftened terms. If it can be proved, in God's name, we will accept it, and make the best of it; but antecedently to any question of whether it be truth or lie, no one need hesitate to describe it as a theory utterly hateful and degrading, abhorrent alike to reason and to conscience. It robs man of his chief distinction, a self-determining will, and makes him a poor chameleon thing, the product of
his own physical environment. It annihilates science and morality. All beliefs, like all other human possessions, are equally necessary, equally the result of mere environment, and equally transitional. Each creed, from fetishism to evolution, each phase of civilisation, each new scene in history, is like the tail of our arboreal ancestors-a physical accident which was inevitable at a given stage of our evolution, but which bas its day and then ceases to be. "Human affairs," to quote Mr. Topp, "pursue the same fixed and predetermined course, are part of the same closely-connected chain of cause and effect, that is to be seen in the constitution alike of the globe on which we live, and of the system of worlds that roll around us and fill all space." Some one defined Comtism as "Popery organised on atheistic principles;" this system is hyper-Calvinism, or rather Mohammedan fatalism, conducted on an atheistic basis. How idle is all speculation, all action, all resolve, all attempt to influence events! It were as reasonable to attempt to argue with a comet about its path, as with a person about his creed. Path of star and creed of man, they are equally determined by resistless physical causes! This may be a true theory; it is certainly a very doleful one. It annihilates moral distinctions, it takes away both the guilt of sin and the glory of virtue. What is sin but a form of disease? and what is virtue but a mere affair of digestion and nerve?
But what is the logical value of the theory? Does it, indeed, as Mr. Topp declares, stand on "as firm a basis as any of the most clearly recognised scientific generalisations," say as the law of gravitation? Let us see.
It is now rejected, even by many of the Utilitarian and Evolutionist School themselves. Buckle employed the rarest mental. gifts, and spent the labour of an intensely diligent life, in the attempt to establish it; but his version of the theory is hopelessly dead. Says Mr. Leslie Stephen, himself no unfriendly critic:"Buckle's influence has faded. I can speak of his theories as I might record the history of a half-forgotten skirmish in the Crimean War." Speaking of Buckle's historical speculations, he says:-" More philosophy is held in solution in a few pages of 'Old Mortality,' or the Heart of Midlothian,' than in a hundred such volumes as Buckle's." Herbert Spencer is building up Buckle's theory on a slightly different plan; but who will undertake to say that, twenty years to come, his philosophy, at this point at least, will not be as dead as Buckle's is to-day?