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· Eothen there is a capital description of how every sort of European resident in the East - even the shrewd merchant, and “the post-captain with his bright wakeful eye of command” – comes
comes soon to believe in witchcraft, and to assure you in confidence that “there really is something in it”: he has never seen anything convincing himself, but he has seen those who have seen those who have seen those who have seen; in fact, he has lived in an atmosphere of infectious belief, and he has inhaled it. Scarcely any one can help yielding to the current infatuations of his sect or party. For a short time-say some fortnight — he is resolute; he argues and objects: but day by day the poison thrives and reason wanes. What he hears from his friends, what he reads in the party organ, produces its effect. The plain, palpable conclusion which everyone around him believes, has an influence yet greater and more subtle, that conclusion seems so solid and unmistakable; his own good arguments get daily more and more like a dream. Soon the gravest sage shares the folly of the party with which he acts and the sect with which he worships.
In true metaphysics I believe that contrary to common opinion) unbelief far oftener needs a reason and requires an effort than belief. Naturally, and if man were made according to the pattern of the logicians, he would say, “When I see a valid argument I will believe, and till I see such argument I will not believe ;" but in fact every idea vividly before us soon appears to us to be true, unless we keep up our perceptions of the arguments which prove it untrue and' voluntarily coerce our minds to remember its falsehood. “All clear ideas are true” was for ages a philosophical maxim; and though no maxim can be more unsound, none can be more exactly conformable to ordinary human nature. The child resolutely accepts every idea which passes through its brain as true; it has no distinct conception of an idea which is strong, bright, and permanent, but which is false too. The mere presentation of an idea, unless we are careful about it or unless there is within some unusual resistance, makes us believe it; and this is why the belief of others adds to our belief so quickly, for no ideas seem so very clear as those inculcated on us from every side.
* Chap. viii., at end.
The grave part of mankind are quite as liable to these imitated beliefs as the frivolous part. The belief of the money market, which is mainly composed of grave people, is as imitative as any belief: you will find one day every one enterprising, enthusiastic, vigorous, eager to buy and eager to order; in a week or so you will find almost the whole society depressed, anxious, and wanting to sell. If you examine the reasons for the activity or for the inactivity or for the change, you will hardly be able to trace them at all, and as far as you can trace them they are of little force. In fact, these opinions were not formed by reason but by mimicry: something happened that looked a little good, on which eager sanguine men talked loudly, and common people caught their tone; a little while afterwards, and when people were tired of talking this, something also happened looking a little bad, on which the dismal anxious people began, and all the rest followed their words: and in both cases an avowed dissentient is set down “crotchety.” “If you want," said Swift, “to gain
, the reputation of a sensible man, you should be of the opinion of the person with whom for the time being you are conversing." There is much quiet intellectual persecution among “reasonable" men: a
a cautious person hesitates before he tells them any. thing new, for if he gets a name for such things he will be called “flighty,” and in times of decision he will not be attended to.
In this way the infection of imitation catches men in their most inward and intellectual part, – their creed; but it also invades men by the most bodily
part of the mind, so to speak, - the link between soul and body,- the manner. No one needs to have this explained, - we all know how a kind of subtle
influence makes us imitate or try to imitate the manner of those around us: to conform to the fashion of Rome — whatever the fashion may be, and whatever Rome we may for the time be at — is among the most obvious needs of human nature. But what is not so obvious, though as certain, is that the influence of the imitation goes deep as well as extends wide: “The matter," as Wordsworth says, “of style very much comes out of the manner.” If you will endeavor to write an imitation of the thoughts of Swift in a copy of the style of Addison, you will find that not only is it hard to write Addison's style from its intrinsic excellence, but also that the more you approach to it the more you lose the thought of Swift: the eager passion of the meaning beats upon the mild drapery of the words. So you could not express the plain thoughts of an Englishman in the grand manner of a Spaniard. Insensibly, and as by a sort of magic, the kind of manner which a man catches eats into him, and makes him in the end what at first he only seems.
This is the principal mode in which the greatest minds of an age produce their effect: they set the tone which others take and the fashion which others
There is an odd idea that those who take what is called a “scientific view" of history need rate lightly the influence of individual character: it would be as reasonable to say that those who take a scientific view of nature need think little of the influence of the sun. On the scientific view, a great man is a great new cause, compounded or not out of other causes, — for I do not here or elsewhere in these papers raise the question of free-will, – but anyhow new in all its effects and all its results. Great models for good and evil sometimes appear among men, who follow them either to improvement or degradation.
VOL IV.- 32
I am, I know, very long and tedious in setting out this; but I want to bring home to others what every new observation of society brings more and more freshly to myself, – that this unconscious imitation and encouragement of appreciated character, and this equally unconscious shrinking from and persecution of disliked character, is the main force which molds and fashions men in society as we now see it. Soon I shall try to show that the more acknowledged causes, such as change of climate, alteration of political institutions, progress of science, act principally through this cause; that they change the object of imitation and the object of avoidance, and so work their effect. But first I must speak of the origin of nations, -of nation-making, as one may call it, - the proper subject of this paper.
The process of nation-making is one of which we have obvious examples in the most recent times, and which is going on now. The most simple example is the foundation of the first state of America, - say New England, which has such a marked and such a deep national character. A great number of persons agreeing in fundamental disposition, agreeing in religion, agreeing in politics, form a separate settlement; they exaggerate their own disposition, teach their own creed, set up their favorite government; they discourage all other dispositions, persecute other beliefs, forbid other forms or habits of government. Of course a nation so made will have a separate stamp and mark. The original settlers began of one type; they sedulously imitated it; and (though other causes have intervened and disturbed it) the necessary operation of the principles of inheritance has transmitted many original traits still unaltered, and has left an entire New England character, in no respect unaffected by its first character.
This case is well known; but it is not so that the same process in a weaker shape is going on in America now: congeniality of sentiment is a reason
of selection and a bond of cohesion in the “West” at present. Competent observers say that townships grow up there by each place taking its own religion,
own manners, and its own ways. Those who have these morals and that religion go to that place and stay there; and those who have not these morals and that religion either settle elsewhere at first or soon pass on. The days of colonization by sudden “swarms” of like creed is almost over; but a less visible process of attraction by similar faith over similar is still in vigor and very likely to continue.
And in cases where this principle does not operate, all new settlements, being formed of “emigrants,” are sure to be composed of rather restless people, mainly; the stay-at-home people are not to be found there, and these are the quiet easy people. A new settlement voluntarily formed (for of old times, when people were expelled by terror, I am not speaking) is sure to have in it much more than the ordinary proportion of active men, and much less than the ordinary proportion of inactive; and this accounts for a large part-though not perhaps all-of the difference between the English in England and the English in Australia.
The causes which formed New England in recent times cannot be conceived as acting much upon mankind in their infancy. Society is not then formed upon a “voluntary system,” but upon an involuntary : a man in early ages is born to a certain obedience, and cannot extricate himself from an inherited government. Society then is made up not of individuals but of families; creeds then descend by inheritance in those families. Lord Melbourne once incurred the ridicule of philosophers by saying he should adhere to the English Church because it was the religion of his fathers; the philosophers of course said that a man's fathers' believing anything was no reason for his believing it unless it was true: but Lord Melbourne was only uttering out of season, and in a