When Auguste Comte proposed that classification which made the fortune of his philosophy,—when he said that all mankind passed through the theological state in childhood, the metaphysical in youth, and the philosophical or positive in manhood,—and ventured to extend this discovery to nations, he had a glimpse, as others have had before him, of the beauty of the great harmony which pervades all created things. But he had not philosophy enough to see that the one great law is so vast and so remote, that no human intellect can grasp it, and that it is only the little fragments of that great scheme, which are found everywhere, which man is permitted to understand.
Had he known as much of ethnographical as he did of mathematical science, he would have perceived that there is no warrant for this daring generalization; but that nations, in the states which he calls the theological, the metaphysical, and the philosophical, exist now and coexisted through all the ages of the world to which our historical knowledge extends.
What the Egyptians were when they first appeared on the scene they were when they perished under the Greek and Roman sway;—what the Chinese always were they now are;—the Jews and Arabs are unchanged to this day;—the Celts are as daringly speculative and as blindly superstitious now as we always found them;—and the Aryans of the Vedas or of Tacitus were very much the same sober, reasoning, unimaginative, and unartistic people as they are at this hour. Progress among men, as among the animals, seems to be achieved not so much by advances made within the limits of the group, as by the supersession of the less finely organized beings by those of a higher class;—and this, so far as our knowledge extends, is accomplished neither by successive creations, nor by the gradual development of one species out of another, but by the successive prominent appearances of previously developed, though partially dormant creations.
Ethnographers have already worked out this problem to a great extent, and arrived at a very considerable degree of certainty, through the researches of patient linguistic investigators. But language is in itself too impalpable ever to give the science that tangible, local reality, which is necessary to its success; and it is here that Archæology comes so opportunely to its aid. What men dug or built remains where it was first placed, and probably retains the first impressions it received; and so fixes the era and standing of those who called it into existence: so that even those who cannot appreciate the evidence derived from grammar or from words, may generally see at a glance what the facts of the case really are.