THE FORCE OF CIRCUMSTANCES.
The mere phrase ‘force of circumstances’ seems to remind us that there is some want of harmony between ourselves and the outer world. Such an expression would be unintelligible to a child, for it implies the consciousness of some law external to us ‘warring against the law of the mind,’ which in childhood is as yet undeveloped. Our new existence seems then to fit so exactly with existing things that the delights of sense are inseparable from those of the intellect, our whole being is absorbed in external objects, and we have no feeling of the gulf that is fixed between ourselves and that complicated power, the result of human action from the first foundation of the world, which assumes at one time the form of an irresistible compulsion to sin, at another that of the moral law of society. But meanwhile the yoke is forming whose weight we are soon to find so heavy. The senses become more gross as our mental sight becomes more refined, our habits grow in strength and complexity as our perception of the law which ought to regulate them attains greater definiteness, and external suffering rets its first strong hold on us just when we are beginning to discover that this world is not our home. What terms ought we then to make, and what do we habitually make, with this power which is foreign to us, and yet asserts its dominion over our inmost souls? In other words, how are mankind in general affected by circumstances, and how is the good man affected by them?
Looking at men as separate individuals, we may consider them as severally the centres of a system of external powers which widens as we contemplate it till it seems almost coincident with the universe. We may pass from the ‘portions of matter in which we are more nearly interested’ to the whole physical world around us, and from our own past actions and habits to the morals of all generations of men.