Prefaces and Prologues to Famous Books
Charles W. Eliot

Part 9 out of 9

field. And the same elsewhere. Germany, with its genius, so pliant, so
broad, so prompt in transformations, so fitted for the reproduction of
the remotest and strangest states of human thought; England, with its
matter-of-fact mind, so suited to the grappling with moral problems,
to making them clear by figures, weights, and measures, by geography
and statistics, by texts and common sense; France, at length, with its
Parisian culture and drawing-room habits, with its unceasing analysis
of characters and of works, with its ever ready irony at detecting
weaknesses, with its skilled finesse in discriminating shades of
thought--all have plowed over the same ground, and we now begin
to comprehend that no region of history exists in which this deep
sub-soil should not be reached if we would secure adequate crops
between the furrows.

Such is the second step, and we are now in train to follow it out.
Such is the proper aim of contemporary criticism. No one has done this
work so judiciously and on so grand a scale as Sainte-Beuve; in this
respect, we are all his pupils; literary, philosophic, and religious
criticism in books, and even in the newspapers, is to-day entirely
changed by his method. Ulterior evolution must start from this
point. I have often attempted to expose what this evolution is; in my
opinion, it is a new road open to history and which I shall strive to
describe more in detail.


After having observed in a man and noted down one, two, three,
and then a multitude of sentiments, do these suffice and does your
knowledge of him seem complete? Does a memorandum book constitute a
psychology? It is not a psychology, and here, as elsewhere, the search
for causes must follow the collection of facts. It matters not what
the facts may be, whether physical or moral, they always spring from
causes; there are causes for ambition, for courage, for veracity, as
well as for digestion, for muscular action, and for animal heat. Vice
and virtue are products like vitriol and sugar; every complex fact
grows out of the simple facts with which it is affiliated and on
which it depends. We must therefore try to ascertain what simple facts
underlie moral qualities the same as we ascertain those that underlie
physical qualities, and, for example, let us take the first fact
that comes to hand, a religious system of music, that of a Protestant
church. A certain inward cause has inclined the minds of worshipers
toward these grave, monotonous melodies, a cause much greater than its
effect; that is to say, a general conception of the veritable outward
forms of worship which man owes to God; it is this general conception
which has shaped the architecture of the temple, cast out statues,
dispensed with paintings, effaced ornaments, shortened ceremonies,
confined the members of a congregation to high pews which cut off the
view, and governed the thousand details of decoration, posture, and
all other externals. This conception itself again proceeds from a
more general cause, an idea off human conduct in general, inward and
outward, prayers, actions, dispositions of every sort that man is
bound to maintain toward the Deity; it is this which has enthroned the
doctrine of grace, lessened the importance of the clergy, transformed
the sacraments, suppressed observances, and changed the religion of
discipline into one of morality. This conception, in its turn, depends
on a third one, still more general, that of moral perfection as this
is found in a perfect God, the impeccable judge, the stern overseer,
who regards every soul as sinful, meriting punishment, incapable of
virtue or of salvation, except through a stricken conscience which He
provokes and the renewal of the heart which He brings about. Here is
the master conception, consisting of duty erected into the absolute
sovereign of human life, and which prostrates all other ideals at the
feet of the moral ideal. Here we reach what is deepest in man; for, to
explain this conception, we must consider the race he belongs to,
say the German, the Northman, the formation and character of his
intellect, his ways in general of thinking and feeling, that tardiness
and frigidity of sensation which keeps him from rashly and easily
falling tinder the empire of sensual enjoyments, that bluntness of
taste, that irregularity and those outbursts of conception which
arrest in him the birth of refined and harmonious forms and methods;
that disdain of appearances, that yearning for truth, that attachment
to abstract, bare ideas which develop conscience in him at the expense
of everything else. Here the search comes to an end. We have reached
a certain primitive disposition, a particular trait belonging to
sensations of all kinds, to every conception peculiar to an age or
to a race, to characteristics inseparable from every idea and feeling
that stir in the human breast. Such are the grand causes, for these
are universal and permanent causes, present in every case and at every
moment, everywhere and always active, indestructible, and inevitably
dominant in the end, since, whatever accidents cross their path being
limited and partial, end in yielding to the obscure and incessant
repetition of their energy; so that the general structure of things
and all the main features of events are their work, all religions and
philosophies, all poetic and industrial systems, all forms of society
and of the family, all, in fine, being imprints bearing the stamp of
their seal.


There is, then, a system in human ideas and sentiments, the prime
motor of which consists in general traits, certain characteristics
of thought and feeling common to men belonging to a particular race,
epoch, or country. Just as crystals in mineralogy, whatever
their diversity, proceed from a few simple physical forms, so do
civilizations in history, however these may differ, proceed from a few
spiritual forms. One is explained by a primitive geometrical element
as the other is explained by a primitive psychological element. In
order to comprehend the entire group of mineralogical species we must
first study a regular solid in the general, its facets and angles, and
observe in this abridged form the innumerable transformations of which
it is susceptible. In like manner, if we would comprehend the entire
group of historic varieties we must consider beforehand a human soul
in the general, with its two or three fundamental faculties, and, in
this abridgment, observe the principal forms it may present. This sort
of ideal tableau, the geometrical as well as psychological, is not
very complex, and we soon detect the limitations of organic conditions
to which civilizations, the same as crystals, are forcibly confined.
What do we find in man at the point of departure? Images or
representations of objects, namely, that which floats before him
internally, lasts a certain time, is effaced, and then returns after
contemplating this or that tree or animal, in short, some sensible
object. This forms the material basis of the rest and the development
of this material basis is twofold, speculative or positive, just as
these representations end in a _general conception_ or in an _active
resolution_. Such is man, summarily abridged. It is here, within these
narrow confines, that human diversities are encountered, now in the
matter itself and again in the primordial twofold development. However
insignificant in the elements they are of vast significance in the
mass, while the slightest change in the factors leads to gigantic
changes in the results. According as the representation is distinct,
as if stamped by a coining-press, or confused and blurred; according
as it concentrates in itself a larger or smaller number of the
characters of an object; according as it is violent and accompanied
with impulsions or tranquil and surrounded with calmness, so are
all the operations and the whole running-gear of the human machine
entirely transformed. In like manner, again, according as the
ulterior development of the representation varies, so does the whole
development of the man vary. If the general conception in which this
ends is merely a dry notation in Chinese fashion, language becomes
a kind of algebra, religion and poetry are reduced to a minimum,
philosophy is brought down to a sort of moral and practical common
sense, science to a collection of recipes, classifications, and
utilitarian mnemonics, the mind itself taking a whole positive
turn. If, on the contrary, the general conception in which the
representation culminates is a poetic and figurative creation, a
living symbol, as with the Aryan races, language becomes a sort of
shaded and tinted epic in which each word stands as a personage,
poesy and religion assume magnificent and inexhaustible richness,
and metaphysics develops with breadth and subtlety without
any consideration of positive bearings; the whole intellect,
notwithstanding the deviation and inevitable weaknesses of the effort,
is captivated by the beautiful and sublime, thus conceiving an ideal
type which, through its nobleness and harmony, gathers to itself all
the affections and enthusiasms of humanity. If, on the other hand, the
general conception in which the representation culminates is poetic
but abrupt, is reached not gradually but by sudden intuition, if
the original operation is not a regular development but a violent
explosion--then, as with the semitic races, metaphysical power
is wanting; the religious conception becomes that of a royal God,
consuming and solitary; science cannot take shape, the intellect grows
rigid and too headstrong to reproduce the delicate ordering of nature;
poetry cannot give birth to aught but a series of vehement, grandiose
exclamations, while language no longer renders the concatenation of
reasoning and eloquence, man being reduced to lyric enthusiasm, to
ungovernable passion, and to narrow and fanatical action. It is in
this interval between the particular representation and the universal
conception that the germs of the greatest human differences are found.
Some races, like the classic, for example, pass from the former to the
latter by a graduated scale of ideas regularly classified and more
and more general; others, like the Germanic, traverse the interval
in leaps, with uniformity and after prolonged and uncertain groping.
Others, like the Romans and the English, stop at the lowest stages;
others, like the Hindoos and Germans, mount to the uppermost.

If, now, after considering the passage from the representation to the
idea, we regard the passage from the representation to the resolution,
we find here elementary differences of like importance and of the same
order, according as the impression is vivid, as in Southern climes,
or faint, as in Northern climes, as it ends in instantaneous action
as with barbarians, or tardily as with civilized nations, as it
is capable or not of growth, of inequality, of persistence and of
association. The entire system of human passion, all the risks of
public peace and security, all labor and action, spring from these
sources. It is the same with the other primordial differences; their
effects embrace an entire civilization, and may be likened to those
algebraic formulae which, within narrow bounds, describe beforehand
the curve of which these form the law. Not that this law always
prevails to the end; sometimes, perturbations arise, but, even when
this happens, it is not because the law is defective, but because it
has not operated alone. New elements have entered into combination
with old ones; powerful foreign forces have interfered to oppose
primitive forces. The race has emigrated, as with the ancient
Aryans, and the change of climate has led to a change in the whole
intellectual economy and structure of society. A people has been
conquered like the Saxon nation, and the new political structure
has imposed on its customs, capacities, and desires which it did not
possess. The nation has established itself permanently in the midst
of downtrodden and threatening subjects, as with the ancient Spartans,
while the necessity of living, as in an armed encampment, has
violently turned the whole moral and social organization in one unique
direction. At all events, the mechanism of human history is like this.
We always find the primitive mainspring consisting of some widespread
tendency of soul and intellect, either innate and natural to the race
or acquired by it and due to some circumstance forced upon it. These
great given mainsprings gradually produce their effects, that is to
say, at the end of a few centuries they place the nation in a new
religious, literary, social, and economic state; a new condition
which, combined with their renewed effort, produces another condition,
sometimes a good one, sometimes a bad one, now slowly, now
rapidly, and so on; so that the entire development of each distinct
civilization may be considered as the effect of one permanent force
which, at every moment, varies its work by modifying the circumstances
where it acts.


Three different sources contribute to the production of this
elementary moral state, _race, environment_, and _epoch._ What we call
_race_ consists of those innate and hereditary dispositions which man
brings with him into the world and which are generally accompanied
with marked differences of temperament and of bodily structure. They
vary in different nations.

Naturally, there are varieties of men as there are varieties of
cattle and horses, some brave and intelligent, and others timid and of
limited capacity; some capable of superior conceptions and creations,
and others reduced to rudimentary ideas and contrivances; some
specially fitted for certain works, and more richly furnished with
certain instincts, as we see in the better endowed species of dogs,
some for running and others for fighting, some for hunting and others
for guarding houses and flocks. We have here a distinct force; so
distinct that, in spite of the enormous deviations which both the
other motors impress upon it, we still recognize, and which a race
like the Aryan people, scattered from the Ganges to the Hebrides,
established tinder all climates, ranged along every degree of
civilization, transformed by thirty centuries of revolutions, shows
nevertheless in its languages, in its religions, in its literatures,
and in its philosophies, the community of blood and of intellect
which still to-day binds together all its offshoots. However they may
differ, their parentage is not lost; barbarism, culture and grafting,
differences of atmosphere and of soil, fortunate or unfortunate
occurrences, have operated in vain; the grand characteristics of the
original form have lasted, and we find that the two or three leading
features of the primitive imprint are again apparent under the
subsequent imprints with which time has overlaid them. There is
nothing surprising in this extraordinary tenacity. Although the
immensity of the distance allows us to catch only a glimpse in a
dubious light of the origin of species,[1] the events of history throw
sufficient light on events anterior to history to explain the almost
unshaken solidity of primordial traits. At the moment of encountering
them, fifteen, twenty, and thirty centuries before our era, in an
Aryan, Egyptian, or Chinese, they represent the work of a much greater
number of centuries, perhaps the work of many myriads of centuries.
For, as soon as an animal is born it must adapt itself to its
surroundings; it breathes in another way, it renews itself
differently, it is otherwise stimulated according as the atmosphere,
the food, and the temperature are different. A different climate
and situation create different necessities and hence activities of a
different kind; and hence, again, a system of different habits, and,
finally, a system of different aptitudes and instincts. Man, thus
compelled to put himself in equilibrium with circumstances, contracts
a corresponding temperament and character, and his character, like
his temperament, are acquisitions all the more stable because of the
outward impression being more deeply imprinted in him by more frequent
repetitions and transmitted to his offspring by more ancient heredity.
So that at each moment of time the character of a people may be
considered as a summary of all antecedent actions and sensations; that
is to say, as a quantity and as a weighty mass, not infinite,[2] since
all things in nature are limited, but disproportionate to the rest and
almost impossible to raise, since each minute of an almost infinite
past has contributed to render it heavier, and, in order to turn
the scale, it would require, on the other side, a still greater
accumulation of actions and sensations. Such is the first and most
abundant source of these master faculties from which historic events
are derived; and we see at once that if it is powerful it is owing
to its not being a mere source, but a sort of lake, and like a
deep reservoir wherein other sources have poured their waters for a
multitude of centuries.

When we have thus verified the internal structure of a race we must
consider the _environment_ in which it lives. For man is not alone in
the world; nature envelops him and other men surround him; accidental
and secondary folds come and overspread the primitive and permanent
fold, while physical or social circumstances derange or complete the
natural groundwork surrendered to them. At one time climate has
had its effect. Although the history of Aryan nations can be only
obscurely traced from their common country to their final abodes, we
can nevertheless affirm that the profound difference which is apparent
between the Germanic races on the one hand, and the Hellenic and
Latin races on the other, proceeds in great part from the differences
between the countries in which they have established themselves--the
former in cold and moist countries, in the depths of gloomy forests
and swamps, or on the borders of a wild ocean, confined to melancholic
or rude sensations, inclined to drunkenness and gross feeding, leading
a militant and carnivorous life; the latter, on the contrary, living
amidst the finest scenery, alongside of a brilliant, sparkling sea
inviting navigation and commerce, exempt from the grosser cravings of
the stomach, disposed at the start to social habits and customs, to
political organization, to the sentiments and faculties which develop
the art of speaking, the capacity for enjoyment and invention in the
sciences, in art, and in literature. At another time, political events
have operated, as in the two Italian civilizations: the first
one tending wholly to action, to conquest, to government, and to
legislation, through the primitive situation of a city of refuge, a
frontier _emporium_, and of an armed aristocracy which, importing and
enrolling foreigners and the vanquished under it, sets two hostile
bodies facing each other, with no outlet for its internal troubles and
rapacious instincts but systematic warfare; the second one, excluded
from unity and political ambition on a grand scale by the permanency
of its municipal system, by the cosmopolite situation of its pope and
by the military intervention of neighboring states, and following the
bent of its magnificent and harmonious genius, is wholly carried over
to the worship of voluptuousness and beauty. Finally, at another time,
social conditions have imposed their stamp as, eighteen centuries ago,
by Christianity, and twenty-five centuries ago, by Buddhism, when,
around the Mediterranean as in Hindostan, the extreme effects of Aryan
conquest and organization led to intolerable oppression, the crushing
of the individual, utter despair, the whole world under the ban of a
curse, with the development of metaphysics and visions, until man,
in this dungeon of despondency, feeling his heart melt, conceived
of abnegation, charity, tender love, gentleness, humility, human
brotherhood, here in the idea of universal nothingness and there under
that of the fatherhood of God. Look around at the regulative instincts
and faculties implanted in a race; in brief, the turn of mind
according to which it thinks and acts at the present day; we shall
find most frequently that its work is due to one of these prolonged
situations, to these enveloping circumstances, to these persistent
gigantic pressures brought to bear on a mass of men who, one by
one, and all collectively, from one generation to another, have been
unceasingly bent and fashioned by them, in Spain a crusade of eight
centuries against the Mohammedans, prolonged yet longer even to the
exhaustion of the nation through the expulsion of the Moors,
through the spoliation of the Jews, through the establishment of
the Inquisition, through the Catholic wars; in England, a political
establishment of eight centuries which maintains man erect and
respectful, independent and obedient, all accustomed to struggling
together in a body under the sanction of law; in France, a Latin
organization which, at first imposed on docile barbarians, than
leveled to the ground under the universal demolition, forms itself
anew under the latent workings of national instinct, developing under
hereditary monarchs and ending in a sort of equalized, centralized,
administrative republic under dynasties exposed to revolutions. Such
are the most efficacious among the observable causes which mold the
primitive man; they are to nations what education, pursuit, condition,
and abode are to individuals, and seem to comprise all, since the
external forces which fashion human matter, and by which the outward
acts on the inward, are comprehended in them.

There is, nevertheless, a third order of causes, for, with the forces
within and without, there is the work these have already produced
together, which work itself contributes toward producing the ensuing
work; beside the permanent impulsion and the given environment there
is the acquired momentum. When national character and surrounding
circumstances operate it is not on a _tabula rasa_, but on one already
bearing imprints. According as this _tabula_ is taken at one or at
another moment so is the imprint different, and this suffices to
render the total effect different. Consider, for example, two moments
of a literature or of an art, French tragedy under Corneille and under
Voltaire, and Greek drama under AEschylus and under Euripides, Latin
poetry under Lucretius and under Claudian, and Italian painting under
Da Vinci and under Guido. Assuredly, there is no change of general
conception at either of these two extreme points; ever the same human
type must be portrayed or represented in action; the cast of the
verse, the dramatic structure, the physical form have all persisted.
But there is this among these differences, that one of the artists is
a precursor and the other a successor, that the first one has no model
and the second one has a model; that the former sees things face to
face, and that the latter sees them through the intermediation of the
former, that many departments of art have become more perfect, that
the simplicity and grandeur of the impression have diminished, that
what is pleasing and refined in form has augumented--in short, that
the first work has determined the second. In this respect, it is with
a people as with a plant; the same sap at the same temperature and
in the same soil produces, at different stages of its successive
elaborations, different developments, buds, flowers, fruits, and
seeds, in such a way that the condition of the following is always
that of the preceding and is born of its death. Now, if you no longer
regard a brief moment, as above, but one of those grand periods of
development which embraces one or many centuries like the Middle Ages,
or our last classic period, the conclusion is the same. A certain
dominating conception has prevailed throughout; mankind, during
two hundred years, during five hundred years, have represented to
themselves a certain ideal figure of man, in mediaeval times the knight
and the monk, in our classic period the courtier and refined talker;
this creative and universal conception has monopolized the entire
field of action and thought, and, after spreading its involuntary
systematic works over the world, it languished and then died out,
and now a new idea has arisen, destined to a like domination and to
equally multiplied creations. Note here that the latter depends in
part on the former, and that it is the former, which, combining its
effect with those of national genius and surrounding circumstances,
will impose their bent and their direction on new-born things. It is
according to this law that great historic currents are formed, meaning
by this, the long rule of a form of intellect or of a master idea,
like that period of spontaneous creations called the Renaissance, or
that period of oratorical classifications called the Classic Age, or
that series of mystic systems called the Alexandrine and Christian
epoch, or that series of mythological efflorescences found at the
origins of Germany, India, and Greece. Here as elsewhere, we are
dealing merely with a mechanical problem: the total effect is a
compound wholly determined by the grandeur and direction of the forces
which produce it. The sole difference which separates these moral
problems from physical problems lies in this, that in the former the
directions and grandeur cannot be estimated by or stated in figures
with the same precision as in the latter. If a want, a faculty, is
a quantity capable of degrees, the same as pressure or weight, this
quantity is not measurable like that of the pressure or weight. We
cannot fix it in an exact or approximative formula; we can obtain or
give of it only a literary impression; we are reduced to nothing and
citing the prominent facts which make it manifest and which nearly, or
roughly, indicate about what grade on the scale it must be ranged at.
And yet, notwithstanding the methods of notation are not the same
in the moral sciences as in the physical sciences, nevertheless,
as matter is the same in both, and is equally composed of forces,
directions, and magnitudes, we can still show that in one as in the
other, the final effect takes place according to the same law. This is
great or small according as the fundamental forces are great or small
and act more or less precisely in the same sense, according as the
distinct effects of race, environment and epoch combine to enforce
each other or combine to neutralize each other. Thus are explained the
long impotences and the brilliant successes which appear irregularly
and with no apparent reason in the life of a people; the causes of
these consist in internal concordances and contrarieties. There was
one of these concordances when, in the seventeenth century, the social
disposition and conversational spirit innate in France encountered
drawing-room formalities and the moment of oratorical analysis; when,
in the nineteenth century, the flexible, profound genius of Germany
encountered the age of philosophic synthesis and of cosmopolite
criticism. One of these contrarieties happened when, in the
seventeenth century, the blunt, isolated genius of England awkwardly
tried to don the new polish of urbanity, and when, in the sixteenth
century, the lucid, prosaic French intellect tried to gestate a living
poesy. It is this secret concordance of creative forces which produced
the exquisite courtesy and noble cast of literature under Louis XIV.
and Bossuet, and the grandiose metaphysics and broad critical sympathy
under Hegel and Goethe. It is this secret contrariety of creative
forces which produced the literary incompleteness, the licentious
plays, the abortive drama of Dryden and Wycherly, the poor Greek
importations, the gropings, the minute beauties and fragments of
Ronsard and the Pleiad. We may confidently affirm that the unknown
creations toward which the current of coming ages is bearing up will
spring from and be governed by these primordial forces; that, if these
forces could be measured and computed we might deduce from them, as
from a formula, the characters of future civilization; and that
if, notwithstanding the evident rudeness of our notations, and the
fundamental inexactitude of our measures, we would nowadays form some
idea of our general destinies, we must base our conjectures on an
examination of these forces. For, in enumerating them, we run through
the full circle of active forces; and when the race, the environment,
and the moment have been considered,--that is to say the inner
mainspring, the pressure from without, and the impulsion already
acquired,--we have exhausted not only all real causes but again all
possible causes of movement.


There remains to be ascertained in what way these causes, applied to
a nation or to a century, distribute their effects. Like a spring
issuing from an elevated spot and diffusing its waters, according
to the height, from ledge to ledge, until it finally reaches the low
ground, so does the tendency of mind or soul in a people, due to race,
epoch, or environment, diffuse itself in different proportions, and by
regular descent, over the different series of facts which compose
its civilization.[3] In preparing the geographical map of a country,
starting at its watershed, we see the slopes, just below this common
point, dividing themselves into five or six principal basins, and
then each of the latter into several others, and so on until the whole
country, with its thousands of inequalities of surface, is included
in the ramifications of this network. In like manner, in preparing the
psychological map of the events and sentiments belonging to a certain
human civilization, we find at the start five or six well determined
provinces--religion, art, philosophy, the state, the family, and
industries; next, in each of these provinces, natural departments, and
then finally, in each of these departments, still smaller territories
until we arrive at those countless details of life which we observe
daily in ourselves and around us. If, again, we examine and compare
together these various groups of facts we at once find that they are
composed of parts and that all have parts in common. Let us take first
the three principal products of human intelligence--religion, art, and
philosophy. What is a philosophy but a conception of nature and of its
primordial causes under the form of abstractions and formulas? What
underlies a religion and an art if not a conception of this same
nature, and of these same primordial causes, under the form of more
or less determinate symbols, and of more or less distinct personages,
with this difference, that in the first case we believe that they
exist, and in the second case that they do not exist. Let the reader
consider some of the great creations of the intellect in India, in
Scandinavia, in Persia, in Rome, in Greece, and he will find that art
everywhere is a sort of philosophy become sensible, religion a sort
of poem regarded as true, and philosophy a sort of art and religion,
desiccated and reduced to pure abstractions. There is, then, in the
center of each of these groups a common element, the conception of
the world and its origin, and if they differ amongst each other it is
because each combines with the common element a distinct element;
here the power of abstraction, there the faculty of personifying with
belief, and, finally, the talent for personifying without belief. Let
us now take the two leading products of human association, the Family
and the State. What constitutes the State other than the sentiment
of obedience by which a multitude of men collect together under the
authority of a chief? And what constitutes the Family other than the
sentiment of obedience by which a wife and children act together
under the direction of a father and husband? The Family is a natural,
primitive, limited state, as the State is an artificial, ulterior, and
expanded Family, while beneath the differences which arise from the
number, origin, and condition of its members, we distinguish, in the
small as in the large community, a like fundamental disposition of
mind which brings them together and unites them. Suppose, now, that
this common element receives from the environment, the epoch, and the
race peculiar characteristics, and it is clear that _all the groups
into which it enters will be proportionately modified_. If the
sentiment of obedience is merely one of fear,[4] you encounter, as in
most of the Oriental states, the brutality of despotism, a prodigality
of vigorous punishments, the exploitation of the subject, servile
habits, insecurity of property, impoverished production, female
slavery, and the customs of the harem. If the sentiment of obedience
is rooted in the instinct of discipline, sociability, and honor,
you find, as in France, a complete military organization, a superb
administrative hierarchy, a weak public spirit with outbursts of
patriotism, the unhesitating docility of the subject along with
the hot-headedness of the revolutionist, the obsequiousness of the
courtier along with the reserve of the gentleman, the charm of refined
conversation along with home and family bickerings, conjugal equality
together with matrimonial incompatibilities under the necessary
constraints of the law. If, finally, the sentiment of obedience is
rooted in the instinct of subordination and in the idea of duty, you
perceive, as in Germanic nations, the security and contentment of
the household, the firm foundations of domestic life, the slow
and imperfect development of worldly matters, innate respect for
established rank, superstitious reverence for the past, maintenance
of social inequalities, natural and habitual deference to the law.
Similarly in a race, just as there is a difference of aptitude for
general ideas, so will its religion, art, and philosophy be different.
If man is naturally fitted for broader universal conceptions and
inclined at the same time to their derangement, through the nervous
irritability of an over-excited organization, we find, as in India, a
surprising richness of gigantic religious creations, a splendid bloom
of extravagant transparent epics, a strange concatenation of subtle,
imaginative philosophic systems, all so intimately associated and so
interpenetrated with a common sap, that we at once recognize them, by
their amplitude, by their color, and by their disorder, as productions
of the same climate and of the same spirit. If, on the contrary,
the naturally sound and well-balanced man is content to restrict his
conceptions to narrow bounds in order to cast them in more precise
forms, we see, as in Greece, a theology of artists and narrators,
special gods that are soon separated from objects and almost
transformed at once into substantial personages, the sentiment of
universal unity nearly effaced and scarcely maintained in the vague
notion of destiny, a philosophy, rather than subtle and compact,
grandiose and systematic, narrow metaphysically[5] but incomparable
in its logic, sophistry, and morality, a poesy and arts superior to
anything we have seen in lucidity, naturalness, proportion, truth, and
beauty. If, finally, man is reduced to narrow conceptions deprived
of any speculative subtlety, and at the same time finds that he is
absorbed and completely hardened by practical interests, we see, as
in Rome, rudimentary deities, mere empty names, good for denoting the
petty details of agriculture, generation, and the household, veritable
marriage and farming labels, and, therefore, a null or borrowed
mythology, philosophy, and poesy. Here, as elsewhere, comes in the law
of mutual dependencies.[6] A civilization is a living unit, the parts
of which hold together the same as the parts of an organic body. Just
as in an animal, the instincts, teeth, limbs, bones, and muscular
apparatus are bound together in such a way that a variation of one
determines a corresponding variation in the others, and out of which
a skillful naturalist, with a few bits, imagines and reconstructs an
almost complete body, so, in a civilization, do religion, philosophy,
the family scheme, literature and the arts form a system in which
each local change involves a general change, so that an experienced
historian, who studies one portion apart from the others, sees
beforehand and partially predicts the characteristics of the rest.
There is nothing vague in this dependence. The regulation of all this
in the living body consists, first, of the tendency to manifest a
certain primordial type, and, next, the necessity of its possessing
organs which can supply its wants and put itself in harmony with
itself in order to live. The regulation in a civilization consists in
the presence in each great human creation of an elementary productor
equally present in other surrounding creations, that is, some faculty
and aptitude, some efficient and marked disposition, which, with its
own peculiar character, introduces this with that into all operations
in which it takes part, and which, according to its variations, causes
variation in all the works in which it cooeperates.


Having reached this point we can obtain a glimpse of the principal
features of human transformations, and can now search for the general
laws which regulate not only events, but classes of events; not only
this religion or that literature, but the whole group of religions or
of literatures. If, for example, it is admitted that a religion is
a metaphysical poem associated with belief; if it is recognized,
besides, that there are certain races and certain environments
in which belief, poetic faculty, and metaphysical faculty display
themselves in common with unwonted vigor; if we consider that
Christianity and Buddhism were developed at periods of grand
systematizations and in the midst of sufferings like the oppression
which stirred up the fanatics of Cevennes; if, on the other hand, it
is recognized that primitive religions are born at the dawn of human
reason, during the richest expansion of human imagination, at times
of the greatest naivete and of the greatest credulity; if we consider,
again, that Mohammedanism appeared along with the advent of poetic
prose and of the conception of material unity, amongst a people
destitute of science and at the moment of a sudden development of the
intellect--we might conclude that religion is born and declines, is
reformed and transformed, according as circumstances fortify and bring
together, with more or less precision and energy, its three generative
instincts; and we would then comprehend why religion is endemic in
India among specially exalted imaginative and philosophic intellects;
why it blooms out so wonderfully and so grandly in the Middle Ages,
in an oppressive society, amongst new languages and literature; why
it develops again in the sixteenth century with a new character and an
heroic enthusiasm, at the time of an universal renaissance and at the
awakening of the Germanic races; why it swarms out in so many bizarre
sects in the rude democracy of America and under the bureaucratic
despotism of Russia; why, in fine, it is seen spreading out in the
Europe of to-day in such different proportions and with such special
traits, according to such differences of race and of civilizations.
And so for every kind of human production, for letters, music, the
arts of design, philosophy, the sciences, state industries, and
the rest. Each has some moral tendency for its direct cause, or a
concurrence of moral tendencies; given the cause, it appears; the
cause withdrawn, it disappears; the weakness or intensity of the cause
is the measure of its own weakness or intensity. It is bound to
that like any physical phenomenon to its condition, like dew to the
chilliness of a surrounding atmosphere, like dilatation to heat.
Couples exist in the moral world as they exist in the physical world,
as rigorously linked together and as universally diffused. Whatever
in one case produces, alters, or suppresses the first term, produces,
alters, and suppresses the second term as a necessary consequence.
Whatever cools the surrounding atmosphere causes the fall of dew.
Whatever develops credulity, along with poetic conceptions of the
universe, engenders religion. Thus have things come about, and
thus will they continue to come about. As soon as the adequate and
necessary condition of one of these vast apparitions becomes known to
us our mind has a hold on the future as well as on the past. We can
confidently state under what circumstances it will reappear, foretell
without rashness many portions of its future history, and sketch with
precaution some of the traits of its ulterior development.


History has reached this point at the present day, or rather it is
nearly there, on the threshold of this inquest. The question as now
stated is this: Given a literature, a philosophy, a society, an art,
a certain group of arts, what is the moral state of things which
produces it? And what are the conditions of race, epoch, and
environment the best adapted to produce this moral state? There is
a distinct moral state for each of these formations and for each of
their branches; there is one for art in general as well as for each
particular art; for architecture, painting, sculpture, music, and
poetry, each with a germ of its own in the large field of human
psychology; each has its own law, and it is by virtue of this law that
we see each shoot up, apparently haphazard, singly and alone, amidst
the miscarriages of their neighbors, like painting in Flanders and
Holland in the seventeenth century, like poetry in England in the
sixteenth century, like music in Germany in the eighteenth century.
At this moment, and in these countries, the conditions for one art and
not for the others are fulfilled, and one branch only has bloomed out
amidst the general sterility. It is these laws of human vegetation
which history must now search for; it is this special psychology of
each special formation which must be got at; it is the composition of
a complete table of these peculiar conditions that must now be worked
out. There is nothing more delicate and nothing more difficult.
Montesquieu undertook it, but in his day the interest in history was
too recent for him to be successful; nobody, indeed, had any idea
of the road that was to be followed, and even at the present day
we scarcely begin to obtain a glimpse of it. Just as astronomy, at
bottom, is a mechanical problem, and physiology, likewise, a chemical
problem, so is history, at bottom, a _problem of psychology_. There is
a particular system of inner impressions and operations which fashions
the artist, the believer, the musician, the painter, the nomad,
the social man; for each of these, the filiation, intensity, and
interdependence of ideas and of emotions are different; each has his
own moral history, and his own special organization, along with some
master tendency and with some dominant trait. To explain each of these
would require a chapter devoted to a profound internal analysis, and
that is a work that can scarcely be called sketched out at the present
day. But one man, Stendhal, through a certain turn of mind and a
peculiar education, has attempted it, and even yet most of his readers
find his works paradoxical and obscure. His talent and ideas were
too premature. His admirable insight, his profound sayings carelessly
thrown out, the astonishing precision of his notes and logic, were not
understood; people were not aware that, under the appearances and
talk of a man of the world, he explained the most complex of internal
mechanisms; that his finger touched the great mainspring, that he
brought scientific processes to bear in the history of the heart, the
art of employing figures, of decomposing, of deducing, that he was the
first to point out fundamental causes such as nationalities, climates,
and temperaments, in short, that he treated sentiments as they should
be treated, that is to say, as a naturalist and physicist, by making
classifications and estimating forces. On account of all this he
was pronounced dry and eccentric and allowed to live in isolation,
composing novels, books of travel and taking notes, for which he
counted upon, and has obtained, about a dozen or so of readers. And
yet his works are those in which we of the present day may find the
most satisfactory efforts that have been made to clear the road I have
just striven to describe. Nobody has taught one better how to observe
with one's own eyes, first, to regard humanity around us and life as
it is, and next, old and authentic documents, how to read more than
merely the black and white of the page, how to detect under old print
and the scrawl of the text the veritable sentiment and the train
of thought, the mental state in which the words were penned. In his
writings, as in those of Sainte Beuve and in those of the German
critics the reader will find how much is to be derived from a literary
document, if this document is rich and we know how to interpret it,
we will find in the psychology of a particular soul, often that of an
age, and sometimes that of a race. In this respect, a great poem, a
good novel, the confessions of a superior man, are more instructive
than a mass of historians and histories, I would give fifty volumes
of charters and a hundred diplomatic files for the memoirs of Cellini,
the epistles of Saint Paul, the table talk of Luther, or the comedies
of Aristophanes. Herein lies the value of literary productions. They
are instructive because they are beautiful, their usefulness increases
with their perfection and if they provide us with documents, it is
because they are monuments. The more visible a book renders sentiments
the more literary it is, for it is the special office of literature to
take note of sentiments. The more important the sentiments noted in a
book the higher its rank in literature, for it is by representing what
sort of a life a nation or an epoch leads, that a writer rallies to
himself the sympathies of a nation or of an epoch. Hence, among the
documents which bring before our eyes the sentiments of preceding
generations, a literature, and especially a great literature, is
incomparably the best. It resembles those admirable instruments of
remarkable sensitiveness which physicists make use of to detect and
measure the most profound and delicate changes that occur in a human
body. There is nothing approaching this in constitutions or religions;
the articles of a code or of a catechism do no more than depict mind
in gross and without finesse; if there are any documents which show
life and spirit in politics and in creeds, they are the eloquent
discourses of the pulpit and the tribune, memoirs and personal
confessions, all belonging to literature, so that, outside of itself,
literature embodies whatever is good elsewhere. It is mainly in
studying literatures that we are able to produce moral history, and
arrive at some knowledge of the psychological laws on which events

I have undertaken to write a history of a literature and to ascertain
the psychology of a people; in selecting this one, it is not without
a motive. A people had to be taken possessing a vast and complete
literature, which is rarely found. There are few nations which,
throughout their existence, have thought and written well in the full
sense of the word. Among the ancients, Latin literature is null at the
beginning, and afterward borrowed and an imitation. Among the moderns,
German literature is nearly a blank for two centuries.[7] Italian and
Spanish literatures come to an end in the middle of the seventeenth
century. Ancient Greece, and modern France and England, alone offer a
complete series of great and expressive monuments. I have chosen
the English because, as this still exists and is open to direct
observation, it can be better studied than that of an extinct
civilization of which fragments only remain; and because, being
different, it offers better than that of France very marked
characteristics in the eyes of a Frenchman. Moreover, outside of
what is peculiar to English civilization, apart from a spontaneous
development, it presents a forced deviation due to the latest and most
effective conquest to which the country was subject; the three given
conditions out of which it issues--race, climate, and the Norman
conquest--are clearly and distinctly visible in its literary
monuments; so that we study in this history the two most potent motors
of human transformation, namely, nature and constraint, and we study
them, without any break or uncertainty, in a series of authentic and
complete monuments. I have tried to define these primitive motors, to
show their gradual effects, and explain how their insensible operation
has brought religious and literary productions into full light, and
how the inward mechanism is developed by which the barbarous Saxon
became the Englishman of the present day.

[Footnote A: Hippolyte Adolphe Taine (b. 1828; d. 1893) was one of the
most distinguished French critics of the nineteenth century. He held
the chair of esthetics at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and wrote a
large number of works in history, travel, and literary criticism.
His "History of English Literature" is the most brilliant book on
the subject ever written by a foreigner, and in this introduction he
expounds the method of criticism which has come to be associated
with his name, and in accordance with which he seeks to interpret the
characteristics of English authors.]

[Footnote 1: Darwin, "The Origin of Species." Prosper Lucas, "De

[Footnote 2: Spinosa, "Ethics," part iv., axiom.]

[Footnote 3: For this scale of coordinate effects consult, "Langues
Semitiques," by Renan, ch I, "Comparison des civilizations Grecque
et Romaine," vol I, ch I, 3d ed, by Mommsen, "Consequences de la
democratie," vol III., by Tocqueville.]

[Footnote 4: "L'Esprit des Lois," by Montesquieu; the essential
principles of the three governments.]

[Footnote 5: The birth of the Alexandrine philosophy is due to contact
with the Orient. Aristotle's metaphysical views stand alone. Moreover,
with him as with Plato, they afford merely a glimpse. By way of
contrast see systematic power in Plotinus, Proclus, Schelling, and
Hegel, or again in the admirable boldness of Brahmanic and Buddhist

[Footnote 6: I have very often made attempts to state this law,
especially in the preface to "Essais de Critique et d'Histoire."]

[Footnote 7: From 1550 to 1750.]

_Planned and Designed at The Collier Press By William Patten_


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