Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/154

This page has been validated.

pressing, by policies carried out in pursuance of erroneous conceptions. And thus, notwithstanding first appearances to the contrary, there is a very important part to be played by a true theory of social phenomena.

A few words to those who think these general conclusions discouraging, may be added. Probably the more enthusiastic, hopeful of great ameliorations in the state of mankind, to be brought about rapidly by propagating this belief or initiating that reform, will feel that a doctrine negativing their sanguine anticipations takes away much of the stimulus to exertion. If large advances in human welfare can come only in the slow process of things, which will inevitably bring them, why should we trouble ourselves?

Doubtless it is true that, on visionary hopes, rational criticisms have a depressing influence. It is better to recognize the truth, however. As, between infancy and maturity, there is no short cut by which there may be avoided the tedious process of growth and development through insensible increments, so there is no way from the lower forms of social life to the higher, but one passing through small successive modifications. If we contemplate the order of Nature, we see that everywhere vast results are brought about by accumulations of minute actions. The surface of the earth has been sculptured by forces which in the course of a year produce alterations scarcely anywhere visible. Its multitudes of different organic forms have arisen by processes so slow, that, during the periods our observations extend over, the results are in most cases inappreciable. We must be content to recognize these truths and conform our hopes to them. Light falling upon a crystal is capable of altering its molecular arrangements, but it can do this only by a repetition of impulses almost innumerable: before a unit of ponderable matter can have its rhythmical movements so increased by successive ethereal waves as to be detached from its combination and in another way arranged, millions of such ethereal waves must successively make infinitesimal additions to its motion. Similarly, before there arise, in human nature and human institutions, changes having that permanence which makes them an acquired inheritance for the human race, there must go innumerable recurrences of the thoughts, and feelings, and actions, conducive to such changes. The process cannot be abridged, and must be gone through with due patience.

Thus, admitting that for the fanatic some wild anticipation is needful as a stimulus, and recognizing the usefulness of his delusion as adapted to his particular nature and his particular function, yet the man of higher type must be content with greatly-moderated expectations, while he perseveres with undiminished efforts. He has to see how comparatively little can be done, and yet to find it worth while to do that little: so uniting philanthropic energy with philosophic calm.