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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/522

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

quent; the ancient belief in witchcraft and pervading demons holds its ground, as do the miracle-plays and local festivals; but a highway act is passed, new roads are being made, the new houses have chimneys, their furniture and fare become more luxurious; the power of the old feudal families is destroyed, the Star-Chamber is new-modeled; church-fasts are still observed under pain of imprisonment, and high offices of state are still in the hands of churchmen, but among the signs of momentous change come the dissolution of monasteries, and the distinct appearance of a sect of Protestants. Thus the tabulated record goes on till it ends near the present day, among such items as Trades-Unions, Divorce Courts, the Manchester School, County Courts, Free Thought, Railways, Rifled Cannon, Pre-Raphaelitism, Chartism, Papal Aggression, and the crowding events of modern manufacture and science.

"It is by following the several columns downward, that the principle of Evolution, the real key to Mr. Spencer's scheme, is brought out into the broadest light. It seems most strange, however, that he should not have placed in its proper niche the evidence of prehistoric archæology. Mr. Spencer can hardly doubt that the stone implements found in England prove the existence of one, or probably two, stone-age populations before the Celts, who, under the name of Ancient Britons, begin his series. If he acknowledges this, why should a first link so important in his chain of evolution have been dropped? Otherwise the chain is carefully stretched out so as to display it from end to end. In many matters, simple and direct progress is the rule. From the ancient Briton's bow with its bronze-tipped arrows, to the cross-bow, the matchlock-gun, and thence through successive stages to the rifled breech-loader; from the rude arithmetic before the introduction of the 'Arabic' numerals, through the long series of importations and discoveries which led to the infinitesimal calculus in its highest modern development; from the early English astronomy, where there was still a solid firmament studded with stars, and revolving on the poles about the central earth, to the period when the perturbations of planets are calculated on the theory of gravitation, and the constitution of the fixed stars examined by the spectroscope—these are among the multitude of cases illustrating the development of culture in its straightforward course. Harder problems come before us, where we see some institution arise, flourish, and decline within a limited period, as though resulting from a temporary combination of social forces, or answering only a temporary purpose in civilization.

"To take an instance from Mr. Spencer's table, English history has seen the judicial duel brought in at the Conquest, flourishing for centuries, declining for centuries more, till its last formal relic was abolished in 1820. Again, in the Old English period, marriage appears as a purely civil contract, on the basis of purchase of the wife; then with Christianity comes in the religious sanction, which by 1076 had become so absolute that secular marriages were prohibited: with a strong turn of the tide of public opinion, the English Marriage Act of 1653 treated marriage as a civil contract, to be solemnized before a justice of the peace; till, after a series of actions and reactions, in our own day the civil and ecclesiastical solemnization stand on an equal footing before the law. Closely similar has been the course of English society on the larger question of a National Church, which, soon after the introduction of Christianity, claimed an all but absolute conformity throughout the nation, practically maintained the claim for ages, and then was forced back to toleration, which has at last left it with a supremacy little more than nominal. This is not the place to discuss these subjects for themselves, but to show how the table before us, by its mere statement of classified events in chronological order, must force even the unwilling student to recognize processes of evolution in every department of social life. The writer of the present notice once asked an eminent English historian, a scholar to whom the records of mediæval politics are as familiar as our daily newspaper is to us, whether he believed in the existence of what is called the philosophy of history. The historian avowed his profound distrust of, and almost disbelief in, any such philosophy. Now, it may seem a simple matter to have tabulated the main phenomena of English social and political