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XXIV. ON PHYSICAL MORPHOLOGY, OR THE LAW OF ORGANIC FORM
I HAVE been asked to contribute some words by way of introduction to the present volume, which consists of papers, partly manuscript, partly republished, by one from whose hand, but a few short months ago, we were hoping to welcome some fresh philosophical achievement, the planting of some new beacon far advanced into the surrounding gloom; but must now content ourselves. with gathering together, soberly and sorrowfully, the fallen but still burning torches which strew the stages of a traversed road, that their radiance may not be wholly lost to us.
The task is one which I think I cannot better perform than by attempting to indicate the general direction of thought taken by their lamented author-the nature of the general problem which he set himself to solve the place which speculations of this kind hold in the economy of human effort. It would be beyond the province of an introduction, as well as beyond my own powers, were I to attempt to estimate what success has been actually achieved within that direction and in that part of the general economy-what position and rank among philosophical and scientific authors will finally be assigned to James Hinton. That rank, I venture to anticipate, will be no mean one. The very direction of thought into which he struck, the mere method which he adopted, 1 Written April 1876.
would suffice to secure him an honourable place. In magnis voluisse sat est; it is so, namely, in cases where the choice itself is one which can only have been made by a mind at once acute, energetic, and comprehensive.
A comprehensive mind is one that not only pursues various lines of thought, but pursues them in combination with each other, continually weighing the bearings of one upon another and of the whole upon each. And the present selection of papers brings out this character of comprehensiveness in a very marked way. They show us their author's mind at work simultaneously in three different directions; and have been accordingly classed, and their dates given wherever possible, under the three heads of general philosophy, physiology, and ethic. The union of the order according to time with the order according to subject serves to make manifest the unity of thought and method which underlies them all, the co-ordination which they have all received from the dominant desire of finding a supreme law of practice which should bring harmony out of discord in the various aims and actions of men.
But this dominant desire which rules throughout these papers is precisely the desire which most strongly and universally prevails in the world at large, which is preeminently the characteristic of the present age. In this point Hinton and the world are absolutely at one; he has but given expression to the wants now felt as the most urgent by the heart of universal humanity.
How long are mankind to continue in a condition of anarchy and discord, authority against experience and experience against authority, faith against reason and reason against faith, law against liberty and liberty against law? Nay, it is not a question of the continuance merely, but of the increase of anarchy; for the discord,
which was at first confined to the few, is now reaching the masses. Not that we are without a common widely accepted morality to steady us. This we have, and we cleave to it the more energetically because, like men in despair, we have as yet nothing else to cleave to. We have the moral habits and practices which custom and inheritance have bequeathed to us, and which an ancient creed has sanctioned-two guarantees for their continuance, one of fact, the other of theory. But of these, the theoretical and theological one is fast losing, even for the masses, what long has seemed to them its foundation in reason is fast becoming universally a belief at variance with truth. This is the position of things; one of the two sources of common morality is decaying or decayed— decayed for advanced minds, decaying for all. We cannot trust to the other source alone. We must replace the theoretical one. We want an authoritative and a reasonable basis for the common morality.
Society has, in our days, again arrived at a crisis where it is called upon to undertake the tasks of adult age before that age has been fully reached. It is called upon to guide itself by reason before its reason is fully matured. For what is the age of mature reason in a society? The answer must surely be, that it is one at which the reason of the few most intelligent of its members can without hindrance govern the action of the whole society, just as, in an individual, reason is mature when the actions of the individual can be governed by it, his passions restrained, his purposes guided. It is one at which, if the individual goes wrong, he does so in spite of his better reason, not from the absence or the interception of its guidance.
But is a state analogous to this reached by any of the greater societies, that is, by any nation, at the present day? Assuredly not. It is a state, indeed, which they are all,
with more or less success, striving to attain, but which not one has reached. The obstacles are two. First, there is imperfect communication between the intelligent few and the masses; secondly, the intelligent few are at variance with each other on points of fundamental importance. There is neither an authoritative doctrine nor adequate means of diffusing any doctrine at all. And this is but another way of saying that the Churches have lost their authority. For these two functions, of announcing an authoritative doctrine and of diffusing it, are precisely those which the Churches once performed, and now increase the anarchy by insisting that they can perform still.
Of the two desiderata, the re-establishment of theoretical concord is incomparably the most urgent. Unless a theoretical concord is established, no provision for the diffusion of knowledge can do anything but increase the confusion. But this by no means implies that provision for diffusion should not be made without waiting for the complete advent of a doctrine. For, on the one hand, the diffusion itself may be itself a means of leading, through discussion, to concord; and, on the other hand, there are certain points in which, for some societies, concord may be held to be already attained, notwithstanding that these points are not yet combined into a system of truth.
It is at the re-establishment of theoretical concord that philosophy necessarily aims at the present day; it is in this direction that Hinton's writings have their chief value; and it is as contributions to this end that they must be judged. What, then, is the feature in his writings which makes them tend in this direction; what is the point which he is most concerned to establish as the pivot on which the whole of philosophy must turn if theoretical concord is to be established? It is this,