Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/642

This page has been validated.
624
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

as, for example, are afforded, in the case of English religious ideas and superstitions from the Druids to the Gorham controversy, within the limits of seven columns an inch wide." Yet, in these seven long columns of compressed statements, with the copious authenticating extracts, there is a vast amount of valuable (though we suspect to Mr. Gibson), of unpalatable information, as he returns to them again and again with unhappy comments. But it is to be remembered that Mr. Spencer is far from proposing to formulate a sociological science on the basis of English experience alone. The plan of his work embraces all types and grades of the social state, and is so comprehensive that its complete publication is still a matter of question. Mr. Gibson's complaints at the paucity of the materials are, therefore, quite gratuitous.

Such is the quality of Mr. Gibson's critical work. It is approached in an ugly temper, and, a few petty inaccuracies and defects being found, the most absurd charges are made and the whole work declared unworthy of confidence. The complete break-down of his case, so far as Mr. Collier is concerned, affords excellent evidence of the judgment and fidelity with which the task has been executed.

Mr. Gibson's second point is that, "even supposing that Mr. Spencer had got them (the tables) done with as great accuracy and intelligence as possible, they would still be useless." But why expend so much vicious ingenuity in finding defects in an intrinsically worthless thing? One would naturally suppose that this second point would have been taken up first, because, if established, the former inquiry would be superfluous. But, if we ask for the reasons of this position, Mr. Gibson wisely declines to give them; only remarking that "we have had too much already of the tendency, on the part of framers of social and other sciences, to deal superficially with history." By the framers of sciences, we suppose that Mr. Gibson can only mean those cultivators of science who originate and organize this kind of knowledge, and the upshot of his charge, therefore, is that the scientific method of studying history is superficial. This raises the question, "What are the depths, and what the shallows, of history?" Of the descriptive sociology, one of the most eminent authorities in England, Mr. E. B. Tylor, writes in Nature: "So much information, encumbered with so little rubbish, has never before been brought to bear on the development of English institutions." Is it the information concerning the "development of English institutions" that is the superficial element? and is it the "rubbish" that constitutes the profound element wanting in Mr. Spencer's plan? There are two methods of dealing with history: the old method of chronicle, narration, and story-telling, which was in vogue before science arose; and the later or scientific method, which aims at the discovery of natural laws among historic phenomena. The old method occupied itself with the registration of surface effects, and whatever happened to be uppermost and obtrusive in any place or period. It was a biography of the conspicuous figures that chanced to emerge and occupy passing public attention. It was full of the doings and sayings of sovereigns, generals, diplomatists, and politicians; full of their gossip, rivalries, and crimes; the details of war, the quarrels of factions, and the intrigues of ambitious families; and it has consisted of so chaotic and incoherent and interminable a mass of details of this sort, that its cultivators scout the idea that there is or ever can be any thing like a science of history. This, we suppose, is to be taken as the deep part of the subject—its profundity being due to the fact that it cannot be reduced to order? On the other hand, science, which has disclosed the opera-