Popular Science Monthly/Volume 2/November 1872/The Study of Sociology V
|THE STUDY OF SOCIOLOGY.|
V. Objective Difficulties (continued).
ANOTHER common cause of very serious perversion of evidence is the unconscious confounding of observation with inference. Everywhere, a fertile source of error is the putting down as something perceived what is really a conclusion drawn from something perceived; and this is a more than usually fertile source of error in Sociology. Here is an instance:
A few years ago Dr. Stark published the results of comparisons he had made between the rates of mortality among the married and among the celibate; showing, as it seemed, the greater healthfulness of married life. Some criticisms made upon his argument did not seriously shake it; and he has been since referred to as having conclusively proved the alleged relation. More recently I have seen quoted from the Medical Press and Circular the following summary of results supposed to tell the same tale:
We have but to consider a little the circumstances which in many cases determine marriage, and those which in other cases prevent marriage, to see that the connection which the figures apparently imply is not the real connection. Where attachments exist, what most frequently decides the question for or against marriage? The possession of adequate means. While some are so reckless as to marry without means, yet it is undeniable that in very many instances marriage is delayed by the man, or forbidden by the parents, or not assented to by the woman, until there is reasonable evidence of ability to meet the responsibilities. Of those men whose marriages depend on getting the needful income, which are the most likely to get the needful income? Those who are best, physically and mentally—the strong, the intellectually capable, the morally well-balanced. Often bodily vigor achieves a success; and therefore a revenue, which bodily weakness, unable to bear the stress of competition, cannot achieve. Often superior intelligence brings promotion and increase of salary, while stupidity lags behind in ill-paid posts. Often caution, self-control, and a far-seeing sacrifice of present to future, secure remunerative offices that are never given to the impulsive or the reckless. But, what are the effects of bodily vigor, of intelligence, of prudence, on longevity, when compared with the effects of feebleness, of stupidity, of deficient self-control? Obviously the first further the maintenance of life, and the second tend toward premature death. That is, the qualities which, on the average of cases, give a man an advantage in getting the means of marrying, are the qualities which make him likely to be a long liver; and conversely.
There is even a more direct relation of the same general nature. In all creatures of high type, it is only when individual growth and development are nearly complete that the production of new individuals becomes possible; and the power of producing and bringing up new individuals is measured by the amount of vital power in excess of that needful for self-maintenance. The reproductive instincts, and all their accompanying emotions, become dominant when the demands for individual evolution are diminishing, and there is arising a surplus of energy which makes possible the rearing of offspring as well as the preservation of self; and, speaking generally, these instincts and emotions are strong in proportion as this surplus vital energy is great. But to have a large surplus of vital energy implies a good organization, which is on the average of cases likely to last long. So that, in fact, the superiority of physique which is accompanied by strength of the instincts and emotions causing marriage is a superiority of physique also conducive to longevity.
One further influence tells in the same direction. Marriage is not altogether determined by the desires of men; it is determined in part by the preferences of women. Other things equal, women are attracted toward men of power physical, emotional, intellectual; and obviously their freedom of choice leads them in many cases to refuse inferior samples of men; especially the malformed, the diseased, and those who are ill-developed, physically and mentally. So that, in so far as marriage is determined by female selection, the average result on men is that, while the best easily get wives, a certain proportion of the worst are left without wives. This influence, therefore, joins in bringing into the ranks of married men those most likely to be long-lived, and keeping in bachelorhood those least likely to be long-lived.
In three ways, then, does that superiority of organization which conduces to long life also conduce to marriage. It is normally accompanied by a predominance of the instincts and emotions prompting marriage; there goes along with, it that power which can secure the means of making marriage practicable; and it increases the probability of success in courtship. The figures given afford no proof that marriage and longevity are cause and consequence; but they simply verify the inference which might be drawn a priori, that marriage and longevity are concomitant results of the same cause.
This striking instance of the way in which inference may be mistaken for fact, will sufficiently serve as a warning against another of the dangers that await us in dealing with sociological data. Statistics having shown that married men live longer than single men, it seems an irresistible implication that married life is healthier than single life. And yet we see that the implication is not at all irresistible: though such a connection may exist, it is not demonstrated by the evidence assigned. Judge, then, how difficult it must be, among those social phenomena where the dependencies are more entangled, to distinguish between the seeming relations and the real relations.
Once more, we are ever liable to be led away by superficial, trivial facts, from those deep-seated and really important facts which they indicate. Always the small details of social life, the interesting events, the curious things which serve for gossip, will, if we allow them, hide from us the vital connections and the vital actions underneath. Every social phenomenon results from an immense aggregate of general and special causes; and we may either take the phenomenon itself as intrinsically momentous, or, along with other phenomena, may take it as indicating some inconspicuous truth of real significance. Let us contrast the two courses.
Some months ago a correspondent of the Times, writing from Calcutta, said:
"The Calcutta University examinations of any year would supply curious material for reflection on the value of our educational systems. The prose test in the entrance examination this year includes 'Ivanhoe.' Here are a few of the answers which I have picked up. The spelling is bad, but that I have not cared to give:
"Question: 'Dapper man?' (Answer 1.) 'Man of superfluous 'knowledge.' (A. 2.) 'Mad.' (Q.) 'Democrat?' (A. 1.) 'Petticoat Government.' (A. 2.) 'Witchcraft.' (A. 3.) 'Half turning of the horse.' (Q.) 'Babylonish jargon?' (A. 1.) 'A vessel made at Babylon.' (A. 2.) 'A kind of drink made at Jerusalem.' (A. 3.) 'A kind of coat worn by Babylonians.' (Q.) 'Lay brother?' (A. 1.) 'A bishop.' (A. 2.) 'A step-brother.' (A. 3.) 'A scholar of the same godfather.' (Q.) 'Sumpter-mule?' (A.) 'A stubborn Jew.' (Q.) 'Bilious-looking fellow?' (A. 1.) 'A man of strict character.' (A. 2.) 'A person having a nose like the bill of an eagle.' (Q.) 'Cloister?' (A.) 'A kind of shell.' (Q.) 'Tavern politicians?' (A. 1.) 'Politicians in charge of the alehouse.' (A. 2.) 'Mere vulgars.' (A. 3.) 'Managers of the priestly church.' (Q.) 'A pair of cast-off galligaskins?' (A.) 'Two gallons of wine.'"
The fact here drawn attention to as significant is, that these Hindoo youths, during their matriculation examination, betrayed so much ignorance of the meanings of words and expressions contained in an English work they had read. And the intended implication appears to be that they were proved unfit to begin their college careers. If, now, instead of accepting that which is presented to us, we look a little below it, that which may strike us as more noteworthy is the amazing folly of an examiner who proposes to test the fitness of youths for commencing their higher education, by seeing how much they know of the technical terms, cant-phrases, slang, and even extinct slang, talked by the people of another nation. Instead of the unfitness of the boys, which is pointed out to us, we may see rather the unfitness of those concerned in educating them.
If, again, not dwelling on the particular fact underlying the one offered to our notice, we consider it along with others of the same class, our attention is arrested by the general fact that examiners, and more especially those appointed under recent systems of administration, habitually put questions of which a large proportion are utterly inappropriate. As I learn from his son, one of our judges not long since found himself unable to answer an examination-paper that had been put before law-students. A well-known Greek scholar, editor of a Greek play, who was appointed examiner, found that the examination-paper set by his predecessor was too difficult for him. Mr. Froude, in his inaugural address at St. Andrews, describing a paper set by an examiner in English history, said, "I could myself have answered two questions out of a dozen. And I learn from Mr. G. H. Lewes that he could not give replies to the questions on English literature which the Civil Service examiners had put to his son. Joining which testimonies with kindred ones coming from students and professors on all sides, we find the really noteworthy thing to be that examiners are concerned not so much to set questions fit for students as to set questions which make manifest their own extensive learning. Especially if they are young, and have reputations to make or to justify, they seize the occasion for displaying their erudition, regardless of the interests of those they examine.
If we look through this more significant and general fact for the still deeper fact it grows out of, there rises before us the question—Who examines the examiners? How happens it that men, competent in their special knowledge but so incompetent in their general judgment, should occupy the places they do? This prevailing faultiness of the examiners shows conclusively that the administration is faulty at its centre. Somewhere or other, the power of ultimate decision is exercised by those who are unfit to exercise it. If the examiners of the examiners were set to fill up an examination-paper which had for its subject the right conduct of examinations, and the proper qualifications for examiners, there would come out very unsatisfactory answers.
Having seen through the small details and the wider facts down to these deeper facts, we may, on contemplating them, perceive that these, too, are not the deepest or most significant. It becomes clear that those having supreme authority suppose, as men in general do, that the sole essential thing for a teacher or examiner is complete knowledge of that which he has to teach, or respecting which he has to examine. Whereas a coessential thing is a knowledge of Psychology; and especially that part of Psychology which deals with the evolution of the faculties. Unless, either by special study or by daily observation and quick insight, he has gained an approximately-true conception of how minds perceive, and reflect, and generalize, and by what processes their ideas grow from concrete to abstract, and from simple to complex, no one is competent to give lessons that will effectually teach, or to ask questions which will effectually measure the efficiency of teaching. Further, it becomes manifest that, in common with the public at large, those in authority assume that the goodness of education is to be tested by the quantity of knowledge acquired. Whereas it is to be much more truly tested by the capacity for using knowledge—by the extent to which the knowledge gained has been turned into faculty, so as to be available both for the purposes of life and for the purposes of independent investigation. Though there is a growing consciousness that a mass of unorganized information is, after all, of but small value, and that there is more value in less information well organized, yet the noteworthy truth is that this consciousness has not got itself officially embodied; and that our educational administration is working, and will long continue to work, in pursuance of a crude and outworn belief.
As here, then, so in other eases meeting us in the present and all through the past, we have to contend with the difficulty that the greater part of the evidence supplied to us, as of chief interest and importance, is really of value only for what it indicates. We have to resist the temptation to dwell in those trivialities which make up nine-tenths of our records and histories; and which are worthy of attention solely because of the things they indirectly imply or the things tacitly asserted along with them.
Beyond those vitiations of evidence due to random observations, to the subjective states of the observers, to their enthusiasms, or prepossessions, or self-interests beyond those that arise from the general tendency to set down as a fact observed what is really an inference from an observation, and also those that arise from the general tendency to omit the dissection by which small surface results are traced to large interior causes there come those vitiations of evidence consequent on its distribution in Space. Of whatever class, political, moral, religious, commercial, etc., may be the phenomena we have to consider, a society presents them in so diffused and multitudinous a way, and under such various relations to us, that the conceptions we can frame are at best extremely inadequate.
Consider how impossible it is truly to conceive so relatively simple a thing as the territory which a society covers. Even by the aid of maps, geographical and geological, slowly elaborated by multitudes of surveyors—even by the aid of descriptions of towns, counties, mountainous and rural districts—even by the aid of such personal observations as we have made here and there in journeys during life; we can reach nothing approaching to a true idea of the actual varied surface—arable, grass-covered, wooded; fiat, undulating, rocky; drained by rills, brooks, and slow rivers; sprinkled with cottages, farms, villas, cities. Imagination simply rambles hither and thither, and fails utterly to frame an adequate thought of the whole. How, then, shall we frame an adequate thought of a diffused moral feeling, of an intellectual state, of a commercial activity, pervading this territory; unaided by maps, and aided only by the careless statements of careless observers? Respecting most of the phenomena, considered as displayed by a whole nation, only the dimmest apprehensions are possible; and how untrustworthy they are, is shown by every parliamentary debate, by every day's newspapers, and by every evening's conversations; which severally disclose quite conflicting estimates.
See how various are the statements made respecting any nation in its character and actions by each traveller visiting it. There is a story, apt if not true, of a Frenchman who, having been three weeks here, proposed to write a book on England; who, after three months, found that he was not quite ready; and who, after three years, concluded that he knew nothing about it. And every one, who looks back and compares his early impressions respecting states of things in his own society with the impressions he now has, will see how erroneous were the beliefs once so decided, and how probable it is that even his revised beliefs are but very partially true. On remembering how wrong he was in his preconceptions of the people and the life in some unvisited part of the kingdom—on remembering how different, from those he had imagined, were the characters he actually found in certain alien classes and along with certain alien creeds—he will see how greatly this wide diffusion of social facts impedes true appreciation of them.
Moreover, there are illusions consequent on what we may call moral perspective, which we do not habitually correct in thought, as we correct in perception the illusions of physical perspective. A small object close to, occupies a larger visual area than a mountain afar off; but here our well-organized experiences enable us instantly to rectify a false inference suggested by the subtended angles. No such prompt rectification for the perspective is made in sociological observations. A small event next door, producing a larger impression than a great event in another country, is over-estimated. Conclusions, prematurely drawn from social experiences daily occurring around us, are difficult to displace by clear proofs that elsewhere wider social experiences point to quite opposite conclusions.
A further great difficulty to which we are thus introduced is, that the comparisons of experiences, by which alone we can finally establish relations of cause and effect among social phenomena, can rarely be made between cases in all respects fit for comparison. Every society differs specifically, if not generically, from every other. Hence it is a peculiarity of the Social Science that parallels drawn between different societies do not afford grounds for decided conclusions—will not, for instance, show us with certainty what is an essential phenomenon in a given society and what is a non-essential one. Biology deals with numerous individuals of a species, and with many species of a genus, and by comparing them can see what traits are specifically constant and what generically constant; and the like holds more or less with the other concrete sciences. But comparisons between societies, among which we may almost say that each individual is a species by itself, yield much less definite results: the necessary characters are not thus readily distinguishable from the accidental characters.
So that, even supposing we have perfectly valid data for our sociological generalizations, there still lies before us the difficulty that these data are, in many cases, so multitudinous and diffused that we cannot adequately consolidate them into true conceptions; the additional difficulty, that the moral perspective under which they are presented can scarcely ever be so allowed for as to secure true ideas of proportions; and the further difficulty, that comparisons of our vague and incorrect conceptions concerning our society with our kindred conceptions concerning another society, have always to be taken with the qualification that the comparisons are only partially justifiable, because the compared things are only partially alike in their other traits.
An objective difficulty, even greater still, which the Social Science presents, arises from the distribution of its facts in Time. Those who look on a society as either supernaturally created or created by Acts of Parliament, and who consequently consider successive stages of its existence as having no necessary dependence on one another, will not be deterred from drawing political conclusions from passing facts, by a consciousness of the slow genesis of social phenomena. But those who have risen to the belief that societies are gradually evolved in structure and function, as in growth, will be made to hesitate on contemplating the long unfolding through which early causes work out late results.
Even true appreciation of the successive facts which an individual life presents, is very generally hindered by inability to grasp the long-drawn processes by which ultimate effects are produced; as we may see in the foolish mother who, yielding to her perverse child, gains the immediate benefit of peace, and cannot be made to realize the evil of chronic dissension which her policy will hereafter bring about. And in the life of a nation, which, if of high type, lasts at least a hundred individual lives, correct estimation of results is still more hindered by this immense duration of the processes through which antecedents bring their consequents. In. judging of political good and evil, the average legislator thinks much after the manner of the mother dealing with the spoiled child: if a course is productive of immediate benefit, that is considered sufficient justification. Quite recently an inquiry has been made into the results of an administration which had been in action some five years only, with the tacit assumption that, supposing the results were proved good, the administration would be justified.
And yet to those who look into the records of the past not to revel in narratives of battles or to gloat over court-scandals, but to find how institutions and laws have arisen and how they have worked, there is no truth more obvious than that generation after generation must pass before you can see what is the outcome of an action that has been set up. Take the example furnished us by our Poor-Laws. When villeinage had passed away and serfs had no longer to be maintained by their owners—when, in the absence of any one to control and take care of serfs, there arose an increasing class of mendicants and "sturdy rogues, preferring robbery to labor"—when, in Richard the Second's time, authority over such was given to justices and sheriffs, out of which there presently grew the binding of servants, laborers, and beggars, to their respective localities—when, to meet the case of beggars, "impotent to serve," the people of the districts in which they were found were made in some measure responsible for them (so, re-introducing in a more general form the feudal arrangement of attachment to the soil, and reciprocal claim on the soil)—it was not suspected that the foundations were laid for a system which would, in after-times, bring about a demoralization threatening general ruin. When, in subsequent centuries, to meet the evils of again-increasing vagrancy which punishment failed to repress, these measures, reenacted with modifications, ended in making the people of each parish chargeable with the maintenance of their poor, while it reestablished the severest penalties on vagabondage, even to death without benefit of clergy, no one ever anticipated that, while the penal elements of this legislation would by-and-by become so mollified as to have little practical effect in checking idleness, the accompanying arrangements would eventually take such forms as immensely to encourage idleness. Neither legislators nor others foresaw that in 230 years the poor's-rate, having grown to seven millions, would become a public spoil of which we read that—
As sequences of the law of Elizabeth, no one imagined that, in rural districts, farmers, becoming chief administrators, would pay part of their men's wages out of the rates (so taxing the rest of the rate-payers for the cultivation of their fields); and that this abnormal relation of master and man would entail bad cultivation. No one imagined that, to escape poor's-rates, landlords would avoid building cottages, and would even clear cottages away; so causing overcrowding, with consequent evils, bodily and mental. No one imagined that workhouses, so called, would become places for idling in; and places where married couples, habitually residing, displayed their "elective affinities" time after time. Yet these, and detrimental results which it would take pages to enumerate, culminating in that general result most detrimental of all—helping the worthless to multiply at the expense of the worthy—finally came out of these measures taken ages ago merely to mitigate certain immediate evils.
Is it not obvious, then, that only in the course of those long periods required to mould national characters and habits and sentiments, will the truly important results of a public policy show themselves? Let us consider the question a little further.
In a society living, growing, changing, every new factor becomes a permanent force; modifying more or less the direction of movement determined by the aggregate of forces. Never simple and direct, but, by the cooperation of so many causes, made irregular, involved, and always rhythmical, the course of social change can never be judged of in its general direction by inspecting any small portion of it. Each action will inevitably be followed, after a while, by some direct or indirect reaction, and this again by a re-reaction; and, until the successive effects have shown themselves, it is impossible to say how the total motion will be modified. You must compare positions at great distances from one another in time, before you can perceive rightly where things are tending. Even so simple a thing as a curve of single curvature cannot have its nature determined unless there is a considerable length of it. See here these four points close together. The curve passing through them may be a circle, an ellipse, a parabola, an hyperbola; or it may be a catenarian, a cycloid, a spiral. Let the points be farther apart, and it becomes possible to form some opinion of the nature of the curve—it is obviously not a circle. Let them be more remote still, and it may be seen that it is neither an ellipse nor a parabola. And, when the distances are relatively great, the mathematician can say with certainity what curve alone will pass through them all. Surely, then, in such complex and slowly-evolving movements as those of a nation's life, all the smaller and greater rhythms of which fall within certain general directions, it is impossible that such general directions can be traced by looking at stages that are close together—it is impossible that the effect wrought on any general, direction, by some additional force, can be truly computed from observations extending over but a few years, or but a few generations.
For, in the case of these most-involved of all movements, there is the difficulty, paralleled in no other movements (being only approached in those of individual evolution), that each new factor, besides affecting in an immediate way the course of a movement, affects it also in a remote way by changing the amounts and directions of all other factors. A fresh influence brought into play on a society not only affects its members directly in their acts, but also indirectly in their characters. Continuing to work on their characters generation after generation, and modifying by inheritance the feelings which they bring into social life at large, this influence alters the intensities and bearings of all other influences throughout the society. By slowly initiating modifications of Nature, it brings into play forces of many kinds, incalculable in their strengths and tendencies, that act without regard to the original influence, and may produce quite opposite effects.
Fully to exhibit this objective difficulty, and to show more clearly still how important it is to take as our data for sociological conclusions, not the brief sequences, but the sequences that extend over centuries or are traceable throughout civilization, let us draw a lesson from a trait which all regulative agencies in all nations have displayed.
The original meaning of human sacrifices, which is otherwise tolerably clear, becomes quite clear on finding that where cannibalism is still rampant, and where the largest consumers of human flesh are the chiefs, these chiefs, undergoing apotheosis when they die, are believed thereafter to feed on the souls of the departed—the souls being regarded as duplicates equally material with the bodies they belong to. And, should any doubt remain, it must be dissipated by the accounts we have of the ancient Mexicans, whose priests, when war had not lately furnished a victim, complained to the king that the god was hungry; and who, when a victim was sacrificed, offered his heart to the idol (bathing its lips with his blood, and even putting portions of the heart into its mouth), and then cooked and ate the rest of the body themselves. Here the fact of significance to which attention is drawn, and which various civilizations show us, is that the sacrificing of prisoners or others, once a general usage among cannibal ancestry, continues as an ecclesiastical usage long after having died out in the ordinary life of a society. Two facts, closely allied with this fact, have like general implications. Cutting implements of stone remain in use for sacrificial purposes when implements of bronze, and even of iron, are used for all other purposes. Further, the primitive method of obtaining fire, by the friction of pieces of wood, survives in religious ceremonies ages after its abandonment in the household; and even now, among the Hindoos, the flame for the altar is kindled by the "fire-drill." These are striking instances of the pertinacity with which the oldest part of the regulative organization maintains its original traits in the teeth of influences that modify things around it.
The like holds in respect of the language, spoken and written, which it employs. Among the Egyptians the most ancient form of hieroglyphics was retained for sacred records, when more developed forms were adopted for other purposes. The continued use of Hebrew for religious services among the Jews, and the continued use of Latin for the Roman Catholic service, show us how strong this tendency is, apart from the particular creed. Among ourselves, too, a less dominant ecclesiasticism exhibits a kindred trait. The English of the Bible is of an older style than the English of the date at which the translation was made; and in the church service various words retain obsolete meanings, and others are pronounced in obsolete ways. Even the typography, with its illuminated letters of the rubric, shows traces of the same tendency; while Puseyites and ritualists, aiming to reenforce ecclesiasticism, betray a decided leaning toward archaic print, as well as archaic ornaments. In the æsthetic direction, indeed, their move has brought back the most primitive type of sculpture for monumental purposes; as may be seen in Canterbury Cathedral, where, in two new monuments to ecclesiastics, one being Archbishop Sumner, the robed figures recline on their backs, with hands joined, after the manner of the mailed knights on early tombs—presenting complete symmetry of attitude, which is a distinctive trait of barbaric art, as every child's drawing of a man and every idol carved by a savage shows us.
A conscious as well as an unconscious adhesion to the old in usage and doctrine is shown. Not only among Roman Catholics, but among many Protestants, to ascertain what the Fathers said, is to ascertain what should be believed. In the pending controversy respecting the Athanasian Creed, we see how much authority attaches to an antique document. The antagonism between Convocation and the lay members of the Church—the one as a body wishing to retain the cursing clauses and the other to exclude them—further shows that official Protestantism adheres to antiquity much more than non-official Protestantism: a contrast equally displayed not long since between the opinions of the lay part and the clerical part of the Protestant Irish Church.
Throughout political organizations the like tendency, though less dominant, is very strong. The gradual establishment of law, by the consolidation of custom, is the formation of something fixed in the midst of things that are changing; and, regarded under its most general aspect as the agency which maintains a permanent order, it is in the very nature of a State-organization to be relatively rigid. The way in which primitive principles and practices, no longer fully in force among individuals ruled, survive in the actions of ruling agents, is curiously illustrated by the long retention between nobles of a right of feud after it had been disallowed between citizens. Chief vassals, too, retained this power to secure justice for themselves after smaller vassals lost it: not only was a right of war with one another recognized, but also a right of defence against the king. And we see that even now, in the relations between Governments, there persists that use of force to remedy injuries, which originally existed between all individuals. As bearing in the same direction, it is significant that the right of trial by battle, which was a regulated form of the aboriginal system under which men administered justice in their own cases, survived among the ruling classes when no longer legal among inferior classes. Even on behalf of religious communities judicial duels were fought. Here the thing it concerns us to note is, that the system of fighting in person and fighting by deputy, when no longer otherwise lawful, remained in force, actually or formally, in various parts of the regulative organization. Up to the reign of George III., trial by battle could be claimed as an alternative of trial by jury. Duels continued till quite recently between members of the ruling classes, and especially between officers; and even now in Continental armies duelling is not only recognized as proper, but is, in some cases, imperative. And then, showing most curiously how in connection with the oldest part of the governing organization these oldest usages survive longest, we have, in the coronation ceremony, a champion in armor uttering by herald a challenge to all comers on behalf of the monarch.
If, from the agencies by which law is enforced, we pass to legal forms, language, documents, etc., the like tendency is everywhere conspicuous. Parchment is retained for law-deeds, though paper has replaced it for other purposes. The form of writing is an old form. Latin and Norman-French terms are still in use for legal purposes, though not otherwise in use; and even old English words, such as "seize," retain, in Law, meanings which they have lost in current speech. In the execution of documents, too, the same truth is illustrated; for the seal, which was originally the signature, continues, though the written signature now practically replaces it—nay, we retain a symbol of the symbol, as may be seen in every share-transfer, where there is a paper-wafer to represent the seal. Even still more antique usages survive in legal transactions; as in the form extant in Scotland of handing over a portion of rock when an estate is sold, which evidently answers to the ceremony among the ancient nations of sending earth and water as a sign of yielding territory.
From the working of State-departments, too, many kindred illustrations might be given. Even under the peremptory requirements of national safety, the flint-lock for muskets was but tardily replaced by the percussion-lock; and it was generations after the rifle had been commonly in use for sporting purposes before it came into more than sparing use for military purposes. Book-keeping by double entry had long been permanently established in the mercantile world before it superseded book-keeping by single entry in Government offices—its adoption dating back only to 1834, when a still more antique system of keeping accounts, by notches cut on sticks, was put an end to by the conflagration that resulted from the burning of the Exchequer tallies.
The like holds with apparel, in general and in detail. Cocked hats are yet to be seen on the heads of officers. An extinct form of dress still holds its ground as the court-dress; and the sword once habitually worn by gentlemen has become the dress-sword worn only on State-occasions. Everywhere officialism has its established uniforms, which may be traced back to old fashions that have disappeared from ordinary life. Some of these antique articles of costume we see surmounting the heads of judges; others there are which still hang round the necks of the clergy; and others which linger on the legs of bishops.
Thus, from the use of a flint-knife by the Jews for the religious ceremony of circumcision, down to the pronunciation of the terminal syllable of the præterite in our Church service, down to the oyez shouted in a law-court to secure attention, down to the retention of epaulets for officers, and down to the Norman-French words in which the royal assent is given, this persistence is everywhere traceable. And when we find this persistence manifested throughout all ages in all departments of the regulative organization—when we see it to be the natural accompaniment of the function of that organization, which is essentially restraining—when we estimate the future action of the organization in any case, by observing the general sweep of its curve throughout long periods of the past—we shall see how misleading may be the conclusions drawn from recent facts taken by themselves. Where the regulative organization is anywhere made to undertake additional functions, we shall not form sanguine anticipations on the strength of immediate results of the desired kind; but we shall suspect that, after the phase of early activity has passed by, the plasticity of the new structure will rapidly diminish, the characteristic tendency toward rigidity will begin to show itself, and in place of a progressive effect there will come a restrictive effect.
The reader will now understand more clearly the meaning of the assertion that true conceptions of sociological changes are to be reached only by contemplating their slow genesis through centuries; and that basing inferences on results shown in short periods is as illusory as would be judging of the Earth's curvature by observing whether we are walking up or down hill. After recognizing which truth he will perceive how great is another of the obstacles in the way of the Social Science.
"But does not all this prove too much? If it is so difficult to get sociological evidence that is not vitiated by the subjective states of the witnesses, by their prejudices, enthusiasms, interests, etc.—if, where there is impartial examination, the conditions of the inquiry are of themselves so apt to falsify the result—if there is so general a proneness to assert as facts observed what were really inferences from observations, and so great a tendency also to be blinded by exterior trivialities to interior essentials—if, even where accurate data are accessible, their multitudinousness and diffusion in Space make it impracticable clearly to grasp them as wholes, while their unfolding in Time is so slow that antecedents and consequents cannot be mentally represented in their true relations—is it not manifestly impossible that a Social Science can be framed?"
It must be admitted that the array of objective difficulties thus brought together is formidable: and were it the aim of the Social Science to draw quite special and definite conclusions, which must depend for their truth upon exact data accurately coordinated, it would obviously have to be abandoned. But there are certain classes of general facts which remain after all errors in detail, however produced, have been allowed for. Whatever conflicts there may be among accounts of events that occurred during the feudal ages, comparison of them brings out the incontestable truth that there was a Feudal System. By implication, chronicles and laws indicate the traits of this system; and on putting side by side narratives and documents written, not to tell us about the Feudal System but for quite other purposes, we get tolerably clear ideas of these traits in their essentials ideas made clearer still on collating the evidence furnished by different contemporary societies. Similarly throughout. By making due use not so much of that which past and present witnesses intend to tell us, as of that which they tell us by implication, it is possible to collect data for inductions respecting social structures and functions in their origin and development: the obstacles which arise in the disentangling of such data in the case of any particular society being mostly surmountable by the help of the comparative method.
Nevertheless, the difficulties that have been enumerated must be ever present to us. Throughout, we hope to depend on testimony; and in every case we have to beware of the many modes in which evidence may be vitiated—have to estimate its worth when it has been discounted in various ways; and have to take care that our conclusions do not depend upon any particular class of facts gathered from any particular place or time.
- In one case, "out of thirty married couples, there was not one man then living with his own wife, and some of them had exchanged wives two or three times since their entrance." This, along with various kindred illustrations, will be found in tracts on the Poor-Law, by a late uncle of mine, the Rev. Thomas Spencer, of Hinton Charterhouse, who was chairman of the Bath Union during its first six years.