II. — THE NEGATIVE SIDE. T HE weak point in this argument seems
to me to be the assumption that there is something in the necessary effect of what is known as " progress," to increase the drain on the inward elasticity and vitality of human nature. Now, that appears, on the whole, improbable, if not untrue, though undoubtedly, for particular phases of progress, it is true. It is clearly true that what we may call childishly happy races lose a great deal of the fountains of their joyousness, in losing their ignorance and their indifference to the future. I do not doubt for a moment that the Irish peasantry of the time before the famine were a far more joyous race than the Irish peasantry of the present day ; nor that the negroes of our West-Indian colonies, as they grow in culture and the power of looking forwards, lose a great deal of their gaiety of heart. Unquestionably, too, as the pressure of individual responsibilities on the character increases,— whether through the adoption of Protestantism, in place of Roman or Greek Catholicism, or through the growth of political anxieties and the habits of self-government,—that superabund- ance of the vitality needed to meet human cares which exhales in joyousness, tends to diminish. To admit as much as this is only admitting, in relation to nations, precisely what every one concedes in relation to individuals when it is said that the period of youth, before the weight of personal responsibilities becomes very heavy, and after the yoke of parental authority has ceased to be so, is the most joyous period of life. Unquestionably it is so, for the very good reascn that it is the period of life when there is more vitality, and less external drain upon it—a greater excess of in- ward springiness over outward anxieties—than ever before, or ever after. Some exceptionally happy children are perhaps even more joyous as children than in youth, but then they are the children who are not much " disciplined " in their childhood, and who therefore do not enjoy, later in their youth, the sense of power which that discipline is apt to give. As a rule, I fancy those children whose childhood is most joyous will not find their youth equally so, for they will miss the exquisite stimulus not merely of the final release from authority, but of the new consciousness of strength which the pressure of that auth- ority has secured for them. And something of the same kind may be true of nations. As the man who has to get in youth the dis- cipline which he missed in childhood, will seldom find his youth so joyous as the man who inherited from his childhood the power which discipline gives, at the sometime that he exults in the creative life of youth,—so the peoples which are too light-hearted and with- out thought for the morrow in one part of their career, are apt to become gloomier as they become more prudent ; whilst those who have passed through a corrective discipline of responsibility in the earlier stages of their growth, will often blossom, as Athens did in the age of Pericles, and as England did in the Elizabethan period, into a sort of joyousness which is not the joyousness of mere light hearts, but includes the joyousness also of creative power. I say this to guard myself against being under- stood to mean that there is no kind of progress which does not, and does not necessarily, drain away the sources of that exuberant vitality to which joyousness is due. But the general thesis advanced is not that there are some changes of the progressive kind in the life of peoples, as in the life of individuals, which tend to exhaust joy,—but that all pro- gress tends to be of this nature, that in the growth of science, and popular knowledge and sympathy,—the three chief constituents of progress,—a cause is at work which of itself tends and neces- sarily tends, to overtook men, and to drain off that surplus life, that redundant buoyancy of nature, without which the joyous temperament is hardly possible.
Now this appears to me untrue. I cannot see any tendency in- herent in the growth of science, of popular knowledge, and of sym- pathy, to overburden all men, no matter in what phase or stage of character it finds them. You cannot say absolutely of any one man, or of any one race, that the letting of new cares and responsibilities into his life will diminish joyousness. Joyousness seems to me to de- pend chiefly on the relative proportion between life or power, and that burden which stimulates and elicits life and power. Where the burden is sufficient to elicit the whole power of an individual or a race, but not to task it to the full, to leave a certain margin always ready to bubble over,—there, to my mind, the conditions of joyousness chiefly exist. But it is quite as easy to destroy the conditions of joyousness by a deficiency in the stimulus, as by an excess. The greatly over-worked man can never be joyous. The slightly under-worked man, if he is worked in that vein which best elicits his own consciousness of power, is the most likely of all to be so. But the greatly under-worked man, the so-called man of leisure, is hardly ever joyous. And so with nations, the over-tasked nation,—" the weary Titan, staggering on to his goal," —is never joyous ; the greatly under-tasked nation seldom ; the nation which is just coming to the consciousness of its power, but feels that it has enough and to spare for all the probable drafts upon it, is in the condition most favourable to joyousness of any I can conceive.
Now let me apply this principle to the effect of growing science, growing knowledge, growing sympathy, on the life of man. Undoubtedly, it is true that the rapid dissemination of know- ledge peculiar to our age, has a much greater tendency to tell us gloomy news than cheerful news. Prosperity is not a sensational fact : it seems so appropriate, that it does not attract attention : you telegraph a crime or a suicide, when you would not think of telegraphing a benefaction, or an accession of fortune. But I doubt extremely whether the gloom thus diffused over the world diminishes at all seriously the total amount of human joyousness. The fact is, that human sympathy, even at its highest point, is a limited quantity in human nature, and often quite as great in the man whose knowledge of misfortune only extends over a couple of alleys, as in him whose knowledge extends over two hemi- spheres. The general effect, I fancy, of increasing the range of our sympathy with the race in general, is to drain off a certain portion of its intensity for individuals. It has often been noticed that sympathies which are very wide, are not so eager in relation to individuals, as the sympathies which are somewhat narrow in range. I cannot help thinking that as the range widens, we probably feel more equably with all, but less ardently with a few. At all events, I doubt if the knowledge of distant and half-realised suffering, however terrible, sensibly diminishes that individual overflow of life and power in a creature so limited as man, to which joyousness of nature is due. So far, indeed, as the attempt to relieve such calamities overpowers the energies of men already tasked up to their full strength, it would, of course, have this effect. But short of this, I greatly doubt it. You cannot sympathise enough with unknown sufferers, to restrain the welling-up of a buoyant, inward strength. As a child is quite unable to suppress its gaiety for anything less than a grief which touches its home, so men are unable to suppress the overflow of their strength and youth, for anything less than a calamity which touches somewhat closely their own race. And we must remember that there is another side to the account. Every growth in the power of sympathy is probably a much greater addition to the fountains of joy than to the fountains of sorrow,—not, indeed, because you enter into the joys of others half as clearly as you enter into their sorrows, but because the power of sympathy is in itself so great a source of imaginative life, so great a help to the insight which elevates anguish into tragedy, and suffering into sacrifice ; because it enables us more than anything else to obtain partial glimpses into the ends of -sorrow, and of the light behind the cloud of pain ; because it aids us to feel that we are not merely men, but also sharers in the life of man. In the highest sense of the word " gladness," I believe the growth of sympathy has swelled the springs of glad- ness, much more than it has swelled the springs of sorrow, by the extension it has given to the vividness and range of the human mind, the exaltation, not to say rapture, it has lent to the mood of meditative faith, and the sublimity which it has added even to many aspects of human suffering. Strangely enough, even those who, like Shelley, disbelieve in God, have been raised by the higher Rights of human sympathy so as to reach some inscrutable confi- dence in the ultimate victory of Promethean fortitude over unjust power; and we see something of the same unreasonable, but in- destructible, faith, in the exaltation with which modern Positivists speak of the future of humanity. All this meditative prophecy seems to me to be reasonable only so far as it is evidence of a real com- munion between men and God such as forces these beliefs even on those who have no logical ground for them. But whether it be so or not, it is at least clear that the extension of a vivid sympathy with all human feelings and hopes has, as a matter of fact, added, whether reasonably or unreasonably, at least not less,—I believe much more,—to the spring and elasticity of human hope, than it has added to the detailed suffering due to our enlarged knowledge of human misery.
And now as to the fresh drain upon human joyousness caused by the increasing vivacity with which we recognise the immuta- bility of law, and by the paralysis with which our new knowledge of human insignificance is sometimes apt to strike us. I do not mean to say that it adds to our gladness to conceive of ourselves as mere ants upon an orange in a universe of innumerable suns, or that the progress, if it be progress, which has assured us that 'regress must begin before many centuries are over, in other words, which has brought so many of our astronomers to regard the cooling-down of the earth into a lifeless cinder as sooner or later a physical certainty, is a kind of progress which makes the heart lighter. But I do extremely .doubt whether this sort of belief has any appreciable effect in depressing that sense of overflowing energy and life, on which the joyousness of men depends. If the heart bounds high, even though its owner may be abstractedly convinced that he is a mere ant on an orange, that will be no reason why it should cease to bound high. It may seem strange that there should be so much intensity of life in the infinitesimal, but after all, is not an ant on an orange, if it have keen thoughts, and warm hopes, and a sense of communion with the eternal, much more, after all, than a frozen planet, or a mighty globe of fire not yet alive ? You cannot browbeat a mind to any good purpose by parading the vastness of the world of matter. Even admit that a physical term is fixed by the fiat of immutable law, to all the teeming thoughts of hope and love which are embodied in this little world, and the only reply which a buoyant heart will make is, that so much the more certain will be the infinite exten- sion of the spiritual part of that thought and hope and love, in a world which is not perishable. So long as there is no sign of a growing disproportion between the burden of man and the heart with which he bears it, so long I can see no tendency in what is called " progress " to extinguish joy. If -there were any proof of a regularly dwindling vital power in man himself, or without a dwindling vital power in man, a regularly in- -creasing weight in the burden he has to bear, I should be dismayed. But I can see no proof of either. To a great extent it is admitted that the growth of knowledge and sympathy, implies a diminution of the burden to be borne. I maintain also, that in the growth of both we have a positive source of growing power, directly increas- ing the spring and elation of the heart, and sometimes tending almost to an undae intoxication of human nature,—witness the non- sense often talked, and not seldom seriously accepted and wrought into the genius of more than one national character, as to the triumphs of the Nineteenth Century. Silly as most of this is, it rests upon something which is not silly,—genuine evidence of the marvel- lous elasticity of our mental and moral resources,--which means, to my mind, genuine evidence of a perennial divine fountain from which they are supplied. But apart from any interpretation of mine, the evidence seems to me clear that the spirit of the race rises, instead of falls, as the centuries go on. We cope with pestilence -and famine now, as no previous age would have dreamt of trying to cope with them. With our new knowledge of law, we feel as if we might almost learn, in a few centuries, to store up heat and light against the cooling of the Sun. But after all, it is not conviction of any kind which feeds the fountains of joy ;—it is the instinctive sense of life, of youth, of surplus power. And
the growing knowledge and the growing sympathy keep, as it seems to me, that instinctive sense of surplus power rather on the increase than on the decline.
Then there is the growth of Scepticism, and I do not deny at all that the growth of scepticism does tend more effectually to throw a damper on the human spirit, to quench its vividness, to overshadow its joyousness, than any other influence really at work and probably destined for a time to grow, in this world. But then I suppose the growth of scepticism,—so far as it is due to "progress,"—so far as it is due to the new light and knowledge,—not, of course, so far as it is due to the old darkness of selfishness and sin,—to be only a temporary phase of error, and in that degree in which it is a phase of progress at all, only a phase essential to the ultimate and more steady decline of scepticism. Even now the higher sceptics are compelled, by their own minds, to give their materialism an idealistic turn which is almost fatal to it as materialism. Even now " the secret of Jesus," to use Mr. Arnold's own phrase, is claimed by one of the Agnostics as the deepest principle in the law of the Universe. Mind and conscience,—thought and self-sacrifice,—infinite pur- pose and divine humility,—are recognised more and more every century as at the heart of material things ; and the more tlxs recognition grows, the more, in my belief, will the spring of joyousness grow with it, for the greater will be the inward re- sources of man, and the less iu proportion the burden he has to bear.