« EdellinenJatka »
his master with the characters of oppression and fraud,—is an evil which calls not less loudly for redress. The lowness of wages is mentioned by the Committee as unquestionably one main source of criminal offence; and but for this system, they never could have fallen so low. But the lowness of wages is not so great an evil, as the absolute dependence of the labouring classes upon their wages ; owing to the pernicious policy which has robbed them both of every auxiliary resource, and of the spirit of selfdependent exertion and economy. These are points to which we shall have future occasion to advert ; and we must now content ourselves with having thus briefly indicated them. We beg, in conclusion, earnestly to recommend to our readers the Report before us, and to invite, on behalf of the Institution from which it emanates, the cordial support of all who have at heart the wel• fare of their country, and the improvement and happiness of “their fellow-men.'
Art. III. An Essay upon National Character : being an Enquiry
into some of the principal Causes which contribute to form and modify the Characters of Nations in the state of Civilization. Bu the late Richard Chenevix, Esq., F.R.S. L. and E., M.R.I.A., &c.
2 Vols. 8vo. pp. 532, 590. Price 11. 8s. London. 1832. THIS is a work which we feel some difficulty in dealing with.
The wide range of inquiry which it embraces, the multifarious nature of the topics that are brought before the reader, the abundant matter for discussion which they furnish, the paradoxical or doubtful character of some of the Author's opinions and assertions,-in short, the merits and defects of the work, alike render it difficult to do critical justice to it, without an extended analysis and comment, which our narrow limits forbid. The Writer was evidently an accomplished and extremely well-informed man, an acute and thoughtful observer of the phenomena of society, and practically versed in the knowledge of mankind. He had acquired, we are informed, from personal observation, an intimate acquaintance with the distinctive features of national character in the principal States of Europe. And for many years, his thoughts had been constantly directed to the subject of these volumes; in connexion with which he wrote several articles in the Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviews, on the Comparative State of England and France. With such qualifications, added to extensive literary acquirements, a writer could not fail to produce a work replete with valuable observations and reflections; and, whatever we may think of the philosophical theory that serves as the ground-work of the present Inquiry, or of some of the Author's opinions, it is impossible not to be struck with his acuteness, instructed by his intelligence, and interested by the variety of information which is rapidly passed before us. The illustrations of history with which these volumes abound, if not always profoundly philosophical, or morally just, are highly valuable, even as the mere opinions of so intelligent a thinker, supplying the reader with abundant materials for reflection; and, generally speaking, the sentiments are of a character that must command approbation, and inspire respect and esteem for the memory of the Author. The motives and occasion which first suggested the undertaking, are thus stated by Mr. Chenevix himself:
* Placed, by fortuitous circumstances, in the midst of one of the most tremendous political convulsions that ever agitated a civilized and powerful people, and spread its influence over an enlightened world, his attention was soon engrossed by the scenes which were passing around him. An immense population, conceiving all at once that they had yielded up too large a share of their natural liberties, led or misled by the lights of what they called philosophy, undertook to reform their political condition, and to correct the malpractices which offended them. The further they advanced in the career of imaginary freedom, the more they became heated in the pursuit ; and, in the warmth of their frenzy, each person formed to himself a different idea of the object which all had in view. One single point there seemed to be, round which all rallied ; and that was, destruction. The more moderate sought to destroy a little; the most frenetic would have demolished everything. A greater horde of passions than ever at once broke loose upon mankind, burst forth from among the ruins of the oldest monarchy of Europe, and all were gigantic. The vices and virtues which grew amid the conflict, could no more be rated by the common standard of human good and evil, than could the winds which issued from the cavern of Eolus be measured by the breezes of Tempe. On every side the soul found something to make it shudder, even when it admired ; and the nation, in which this awful scene of desolation was acting, had long been civilised, powerful, luxurious, and corrupted.
• The contemplation of such a super-excitation of moral energy naturally led to the questions-Why are these things so? and, Would they be thus elsewhere?
• The most direct mode of obtaining an answer, was to compare the history of the French with that of other nations. A coincidence soon became manifest, between what was thus learned, and what observation detected in living examples. A connexion, as little variable as human affairs could allow, became manifest, between the sentiments, passions, and intellects of nations, and the situation in which they had been placed by nature; and all their actions, all their thoughts, their institutions, and the minds which formed them, their government, religion, philosophy, industry, all seemed to follow, as natural and necessary consequences, from the circumstances which acted upon their feelings, moral and physical, from the very first moment they became inhabitants of earth. Vol. I. pp. 5–6.
The causes which contribute to form or to modify the character of nations, are arranged by the Author under two classes. The first class consists of those which, acting directly either upon the physical or the moral nature of man, may be held as primary; including all the natural circumstances relating to the region or country in which men dwell. Such are climate, soil, temperature, geographical position, &c. ; 'properties which come into action at
the very first instant that a country possesses inhabitants, and . continue to act until it is depopulated. The second class comprises those causes which are the results of the primary ones, and which, re-acting upon the mind, complete the disposition which these had begun; causes connected with the social state and progress of mankind. Among them are religion, government, industry, literature, and 'every thing, which, being established among men as an institution of society, can impart an impression to the mind.' Of the mode in which the physical and the moral causes act in combination, and re-act upon each other, the following is given as an example.
Among the most general of national institutions is government. It cannot be denied that government is a consequence of the national mind; and that the national mind is the result of the natural circumstances to which the nation is exposed. Government, therefore, is a result of natural circumstances. Government then cannot produce any effect upon the mind of a nation, which is not in unison with the effect produced by natural circumstances.' Vol. I. p. 17.
Supposing the Author's system to be philosophically correct, its chief value would seem to consist in its furnishing an explanation, or moral definition, of the national varieties of the human race; just as the system of the phrenologist offers an explanation of the intellectual varieties observable among individuals. The latter system, Mr. Chenevix considers as bearing, indeed, a close relation to his own; and considered as merely speculative', he says, the system of Gall and Spurzheim 'satisfactorily explains a 'greater number of phenomena, and accounts for a larger variety • of sentiments and affections, seemingly incomprehensible, than
any theory that ever was devised to explain the complicated 18“ture of human beings. Before he had become acquainted with it, he had arrived at the following coincident conclusions :
· First, he had admitted no faculty as primary and simple, which, to his great satisfaction, he has not found in their catalogue. Secondly, he had always attributed the condition of men and nations to innate faculties, and never had considered any faculty as created by any condition in which men or nations could stand. Thirdly, of all the systems of ethical philosophy which have come to his knowledge, the me taphysics of phrenology are those to which the opinions that he himself has long entertained bear the greatest resemblance. Fourthly, of all systems, that which admits no innate difference in the minds and dispositions of men, is the most repugnant to his reason. The truth or falsehood of the system of national character maintained in this
Essay, however, is wholly independent of the truth or falschood of phrenology.' Vol. I. p. 13, note.
Phrenology, so far as it may deserve the name of a science, consists of the knowledge of a certain class of physiological facts, including the appearances which are the subject of observation, and the causes which explain them. To speak of the metaphysics of phrenology, or to give it the name of a system of ethical philosophy, is surely a strange misapplication of terms, It would
be not more absurd to speak of the metaphysics of anatomy. As 1 little can the Author's own system deserve the appellation of an
ethical system. All that it pretends to do, is to trace the correspondence between national character and national condition,
between the moral development and the physical or political 1 structure,- between the history of a nation and the causes which
antecedently give a specific tendency to the national mind. The inquiry is curious and interesting, and may serve to throw light upon the natural history of man, and upon some political questions. But it is slenderly related to ethics ; and the attempt to found
a system of ethics upon any such basis, would be worse than idle: et it would be a pernicious delusion. The value of physiological 17 systems consists chiefly, if not altogether, in the facts which they 1 include, and to which they profess to furnish an index; but their
use is that of an index, which does not add to our knowledge, but only enables us to make better use of it. Theories that offer explanations of facts, although they may fail of their ultimate purpose, may yet be useful by bringing those facts under observation, and into a more distinct arrangement. Though not true in itself, a theory may serve as it were to hold truths together. Facts may be threaded upon a slender hypothesis; and though the arrangement be only ingenious or fanciful, it answers the purpose of classifying circumstances that are really similar and connected; enabling us, if not to discover causes, the better to appreciate existing connexions and actual effects.
Now this, if we mistake not, is the proper use to be made of the system which these volumes were written with the ambition of establishing. With the truth or fallacy of that system, fcw readers will concern themselves ; nor are the practical conclusions very apparent to which the Author wishes to conduct us. The final sentence of the work, which might be expected to indicate the result of the investigation, is as follows.
"Of all the concerns of nations, the least mutable is character, since that alone is founded upon causes which cannot change.'
Yet, if the least mutable, it of course admits of mutation; and if founded upon unchanging causes, it is confessedly not wholly determined by them, any more than the growth of a plant is
wholly determined by its root. Admitting, then, the truth of the remark, it cannot be regarded as possessing the character of a very comprehensive or profound conclusion ; and it might have found as appropriate a place in the first chapter as in the last.
But while we are unable to concede to these volumes the praise due to the higher class of philosophical works, we can strongly recommend them to the perusal of every one who is capable of being interested by either historical or physiological inquiries. For the reasons we have already given, we shall excuse ourselves from entering into any discussions connected with the Author's system, but shall proceed to lay before our readers the plan of the work, with a few extracts.
The first chapter is occupied with preliminary considerations. The second has for its object to shew, that pride and vanity are the agents which are most incessantly modifying the characters of men; and that they afford, by their respective prevalence, a principle of classification, applicable as well to communities as to individuals; according to which, all mankind may be divided into the proud and the vain; these two great classes being subject, however, to infinite modifications, according to the degrees and species of these sentiments which enter into every mind. The Author proposes, therefore, in his subsequent inquiry, 'to inves'tigate the causes which give rise to the pride or vanity of na• tions; to consider the mode in which they contribute to in'fluence the characters of empires, to regulate their political insti'tutions, to govern their actions in peace and in war; in a worl,
to make them such as observation shews them to be at this mo'ment, and such as history represents them to have been in the remotest ages of which any record is preserved.'
It may be supposed, that the terms pride and vanity are employed by the Author in a somewhat unusual and arbitrary acceptation. They are used to denote' two modifications of self
approbation ’, for which language possesses, we are told, no accurate denomination. It is admitted, that the usual acceptation of these words is remote from the sense in which they are employed throughout this Essay. By pride, Mr. Chenevix intends, that just degree of self-approbation which is inspired by the intrinsic value of moral or intellectual actions: the simple fundamental faculties upon which this pride depends, are, he says, conscience, reason, and self-esteem. By vanity, he intends that selfapprobation which is the mere reflection of the approbation «f others,—a self-complacency'independent of the intrinsic merit of 'its cause’. Both are represented as fair and laudable feelings
· Nay, they are indispensable ingredients of the character; for, without the one, it would be deficient in dignity; without the other, we should want many of the motives which draw us toward our fellow