Progress and History
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Transcriber's Note Obvious typographical errors have been corrected in this text. For a complete list, please see the bottom of this document. Text printed using the Greek alphabet in the original book is shown as follows: [Greek: logos]








'Tanta patet rerum series et omne futurum Nititur in lucem.' LUCAN.








This volume is a sequel to The Unity of Western Civilization published last year and arose in the same way, from a course of lectures given at the Woodbrooke Settlement, Birmingham.

The former book attempted to describe some of the permanent unifying factors which hold our Western civilization together in spite of such catastrophic divisions as the present war. This book attempts to show these forces in growth. The former aimed rather at a statical, the present at a dynamical view of the same problem. Both are historical in spirit.

It is hoped that these courses may serve as an introduction to a series of cognate studies, of which clearly both the supply and the scope are infinite, for under the general conception of 'Progress in Unity' all great human topics might be embraced. One subject has been suggested for early treatment which would have especial interest at the present time, viz. 'Recent Progress in European Thought'. We are by the war brought more closely than before into contact with other nations of Europe who are pursuing with inevitable differences the same main lines of evolution. To indicate these in general, with stress on the factor of betterment, is the aim of the present volume.







By R. R. MARETT, Reader in Social Anthropology, Oxford.


By F. MELIAN STAWELL, late Lecturer at Newnham College, Cambridge.


By the Rev. A. J. CARLYLE, Tutor and Lecturer at University College, Oxford.




By L. P. JACKS, Principal of Manchester New College, Oxford.


By A. E. ZIMMERN, late Fellow of New College, Oxford.



IX. ART 224





By J. A. SMITH, Waynflete Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy, Oxford.






The editor of these essays was busy in the autumn of last year collating the opinions attached by different people to the word 'progress'. One Sunday afternoon he happened to be walking with two friends in Oxford, one a professor of philosophy, the other a lady. The professor of philosophy declared that to him human progress must always mean primarily the increase of knowledge; the editor urged the increase of power as its most characteristic feature, but the lady added at once that to her progress had always meant, and could only mean, increase in our appreciation of the humanity of others.

The first two thoughts, harmonized and directed by the third, may be taken to cover the whole field, and this volume to be merely a commentary upon them. What we have to consider is, when and how this idea of progress, as a general thing affecting mankind as a whole, first appeared in the world, how far it has been realized in history, and how far it gives us any guidance and hope for the future. In the midst of a catastrophe which appears at first sight to be a deadly blow to the ideal, such an inquiry has a special interest and may have some permanent value.

Words are the thought of ages crystallized, or rather embodied with a constantly growing soul. The word 'Progress', like the word 'Humanity', is one of the most significant. It is a Latin word, not used in its current abstract sense until after the Roman incorporation of the Mediterranean world. It contains Greek thought summed up and applied by Roman minds. Many of the earlier Greek thinkers, Xenophanes and Empedocles as well as Plato and Aristotle, had thought and spoken of a steady process in things, including man himself, from lower to higher forms; but the first writer who expounds the notion with sufficient breadth of view and sufficiently accurate and concrete observation to provide a preliminary sketch, was the great Roman poet who attributed all the best that was in him to the Greeks and yet has given us a highly original picture of the upward tendency of the world and of human society upon it. He, too, so far as one can discover, was the first to use the word 'progress' in the sense of our inquiry. The passage in Lucretius at the end of his fifth book on the Nature of Things is so true and brilliant and anticipates so many points in later thought that it is worth quoting at some length, and the poet's close relation with Cicero, the typical Greco-Roman thinker, gives his ideas the more weight as an historical document.

He begins by describing a struggle for existence in which the less well-adapted creatures died off, those who wanted either the power to protect themselves or the means of adapting themselves to the purposes of man. In this stage, however, man was a hardier creature than he afterwards became. He lived like the beasts of the field and was ignorant of tillage or fire or clothes or houses. He had no laws or government or marriage, and though he did not fear the dark, he feared the real danger of fiercer beasts. Men often died a miserable death, but not in multitudes on a single day as they do now by battle or shipwreck.

The next stage sees huts and skins and fire which softened their bodies, and marriage and the ties of family which softened their tempers. And tribes began to make treaties of alliance with other tribes.

Speech arose from the need which all creatures feel to exercise their natural powers, just as the calf will butt before his horns protrude. Men began to apply different sounds to denote different things, just as brute beasts will do to express different passions, as any one must have noticed in the cases of dogs and horses and birds. No one man set out to invent speech.

Fire was first learnt from lightning and the friction of trees, and cooking from the softening and ripening of things by the sun.

Then men of genius invented improved methods of life, the building of cities and private property in lands and cattle. But gold gave power to the wealthy and destroyed the sense of contentment in simple happiness. It must always be so whenever men allow themselves to become the slaves of things which should be their dependants and instruments.

They began to believe in and worship gods, because they saw in dreams shapes of preterhuman strength and beauty and deemed them immortal; and as they noted the changes of the seasons and all the wonders of the heavens, they placed their gods there and feared them when they spoke in the thunder.

Metals were discovered through the burning of the woods, which caused the ores to run. Copper and brass came first and were rated above gold and silver. And then the metals took the place of hands, nails, teeth, and clubs, which had been men's earliest arms and tools. Weaving followed the discovery of the use of iron.

Sowing, planting, and grafting were learnt from nature herself, and gradually the cultivation of the soil was carried farther and farther up the hills.

Men learnt to sing from the birds, and to blow on pipes from the whistling of the zephyr through the reeds: and those simple tunes gave as much rustic jollity as our more elaborate tunes do now.

Then, in a summary passage at the end, Lucretius enumerates all the chief discoveries which men have made in the age-long process—ships, agriculture, walled cities, laws, roads, clothes, songs, pictures, statues, and all the pleasures of life—and adds, 'these things practice and the experience of the unresting mind have taught mankind gradually as they have progressed from point to point'.[1]

It is the first definition and use of the word in literature. If we accept it as a typical presentation of the Greco-Roman view, seen by a man of exceptional genius and insight at the climax of the period, there are two or three points which must arrest our attention. Lucretius is thinking mainly of progress in the arts, and especially of the arts as they affect man's happiness. There is no mention of increase in knowledge or in love. As in the famous parallel passage in Sophocles' Antigone, it is man's strength and skill which most impressed the poet, and his skill especially as exhibited in the arts. Compared with what we shall see as typical utterances of later times, it is an external view of the subject. The absence of love as an element of progress carries with it the absence of the idea of humanity. There is no conception here, nor anywhere in classical thought before the Stoics, of a world-wide Being which has contributed to the advance and should share fully in its fruits. Still less do we find any hint of the possibilities of an infinite progress. The moral, on the contrary, is that we should limit our desires, banish disturbing thoughts, and settle down to a quiet and sensible enjoyment of the good things that advancing skill has provided for us. It is, of course, true that thoughts can be found in individual writers, especially in Plato and Aristotle, which would largely modify this view. Yet it can hardly be questioned that Lucretius here represents the prevalent tone of thoughtful men of his day. They had begun to realize the fact of human progress, but envisaged it, as was natural in a first view, mainly on the external side, and, above all, had no conception of its infinite possibilities.

When we turn to typical utterances of the next great age in history the contrast is striking. Catholic doctrine had absorbed much that was congenial to it from the Stoics, from Plato and Aristotle, but it added a thing that was new in the world, a passionate love and an overpowering desire for personal moral improvement. This is so clear in the greatest figures of the Middle Ages, men such as St. Bernard and St. Francis, and it is so unlike anything that we know in the world before, that we are justified in treating it as characteristic of the age. To some of us, indeed, it will appear as the most important element in the general notion of progress which we are tracing. It so appeared to Comte.[2] Of numberless passages that might be quoted from fathers and doctors of the Church, a few words from Nicholas of Cusa must suffice. He was a divine of the early fifteenth century, true to the faith, but anxious to improve the discipline of the Church. To him progress took an entirely spiritual form. 'To be able to understand more and more without end is the type of eternal wisdom.... Let a man desire to understand better what he does understand and to love more what he does love and the whole world will not satisfy him.'

Here is a point of view so different from the last that we find some difficulty in fitting it into the same scheme of things. Yet both are essential elements in Western civilization; both have been developed by the operations of similar forces in the world civilized and incorporated by Greece and Rome.

The Catholic divine looks entirely inward for his idea of progress, and his conception contains elements of real and permanent validity, of which our present notions are full. His eyes are turned towards the future and there is no limit to his vision. And though the progress contemplated is within the soul of the individual believer, it rests on the two fundamental principles of knowledge and love which are both essentially social. The believer may isolate himself from the world to develop his higher nature, but the knowledge and the love which he carries with him into his solitude are themselves fruits of that intercourse with his fellows from which an exclusive religious ideal temporarily cuts him off.

Nor must we forget that Catholic doctrine and discipline, though aiming at this perfection of the individual rather than of the race, was embodied in an organization which carried farther than the Roman Empire the idea of a united civilization and furnished to many thinkers, Bossuet as well as Dante, a first sketch of the progress of mankind.

But it is clear that this construction was provisional only, either on the side of personal belief and practice, or of ecclesiastical organization; provisional, that is, if we are looking for real unity in the mind of mankind. For we need a doctrine, a scheme of knowledge, into which all that we discover about the world and our own nature may find its place; we need principles of action which will guide us in attaining a state of society more congruent with our knowledge of the possibilities of the world and human nature, more thoroughly inspired by human love, love of man for man as a being living his span of life here and now, under conditions which call for a concentration of skill and effort to realize the best. The breaking of the old Catholic synthesis, narrow but admirable within its limits, took place at what we call the Renascence and Reformation; the linking up of a new one is the task of our own and many later generations. Let it not be thought that such a change involves the destruction of any vital element in the idea of progress already achieved; if true and vital, every element must survive. But it does involve an acceptance of the fact that progress, or humanity, or the evolution of the divine within us—however we prefer to phrase it—is a larger thing than any one organization or any one set of carefully harmonized doctrines. The truth, and the organ in which we enshrine it, must grow with the human minds who are collectively producing it. The new unity is itself progress.

It must give us confidence in facing such a prospect to observe that at each remove from the first appearance of the idea of progress in the world man's use of the word has carried more meaning and, though sometimes quieter in tone, as in recent times, is better grounded in the facts of life and history. Such an advance in our conceptions took place after the Renascence. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, when the art and science of the ancient world had been recovered, the word and the idea of progress started on a fresh course of unexampled vigour. The lines were closer to those of the pre-Christian than of the Catholic world, but it would be by no means true to call them pagan. When Bacon and Descartes begin to sound the modern note of progress, they think primarily of an advance in the arts and sciences, but there is a spiritual and human side to their ideal which could not be really paralleled in classical thought. The Spirit of Man is now invoked, and this, not in the sense of an elite, the builders of the Greek State or the rulers of the Roman Empire, but of mankind as a whole. This is Christian, or perhaps we should say, Stoical-Christian. Thus Descartes tells us that he looks to science to furnish us ultimately with an art which will make us 'masters and possessors of nature ... and this not solely for the pleasure of enjoying with ease the good things of the world, but principally for the preservation and improvement of human health which is both the foundation of all other goods and the means of strengthening the spirit itself' ('Discours de la Methode'). It is significant that the two words Progress and Humanity come into use in their modern sense side by side. The latter is the basis and the ideal of the former.

But the new thing which had come into the world at this point, and gives a fresh impulse and content to the idea of progress, is the development of science. The Greeks had founded it and, as we shall see in a later chapter, it was the recovery of the Greek thread which gave the moderns their clue. But no one before the sixteenth century, before the marvels revealed by Galileo's telescope and knit up by Newton's synthetic genius, could have conceived the visions of human regeneration by science which light up the pioneers of the seventeenth century and are the gospel of the eighteenth.

We turn to the eighteenth century, and primarily to the school of thinkers called 'philosophes' in France, for the fullest and most enthusiastic statement of progress as a gospel. It is, of course, European, as all the greatest advances of thought have been; and German thinkers, as well as English, stand with the French in the vanguard. Kant and Herder, from different points of view, thought it out perhaps more thoroughly than any one else at that time; but the French believed in it as a nation and were willing to stake their lives and souls on the belief. Thus Turgot, before the Revolution, declared that 'the total mass of the human race marches continually though sometimes slowly towards an ever-increasing perfection'. And Condorcet, in the midst of the Revolution, while himself under its ban, painted a picture 'of the human race, freed from its chains, and marching with a firm tread on the road of truth and virtue and happiness'.

Here is the gospel in its purest and simplest form, and when we are inclined to think that the crimes and the partial failure of the Revolution discredit its principles, it is well to remember that the man who believed in them most systematically, expounded his belief with perfect calmness and confidence as he lay under sentence of death from a revolutionary tribunal.

If this enthusiasm is madness, we might all well wish to be possessed. The true line of criticism is different. At the Revolution, as before at the Renascence, the leaders of the new movement could not see all their debt to the past. Like the Renascence, they idealized certain features in classical antiquity, but they had not yet gained the notion of historical continuity; above all, they did not realize the value of the religious development of the Middle Ages. It was left for the nineteenth century and for us, its successors, to attempt the supreme task of seeing things steadily and seeing them whole.

For in spite of the capital contributions of the Renascence to progress and the idea of progress, especially by its scientific constructions, it is undeniable that a bias was then given to the course of Western civilization from which it has suffered ever since, and which it is now our urgent duty to correct. Two aspects of this may be specified. The old international unity which Rome had achieved, at least superficially, in the Mediterranean world, and which the Catholic Church had extended and deepened, was broken up in favour of a system of sovereign and independent states controlling religion and influencing education on lines calculated to strengthen the national forces and the national forces alone. They even believed that, at any rate in trade and commerce, the interests of these independent states were rather rival than co-operative. The Revolution struck the note of human association clearly enough, but we have not yet learnt to set all our other tunes in accord with it. Another, and perhaps even more fundamental, weakness of the Renascence tradition was the stress it laid on the material, mechanical, external side of progress. On the one hand, the spiritual side of life tended to be identified with that system of thought and discipline which had been so rudely disrupted. On the other hand, the new advance in science brought quickly after it a corresponding growth of wealth and mechanical inventions and material comforts. The spirit of man was for the time impeded and half suffocated by its own productions.

The present war seems to many of us the supreme struggle of our better nature to gain the mastery over these obstructions, and freedom for its proper growth.

Now if this analysis be anywhere near the truth, it is clear that our task for the future is one of synthesis on the lines of social progress. Knowledge, power, wealth, increase of skill, increase of health, we have them all in growing measure, and Mr. Clutton Brock will tell us in his chapter in this volume that we may be able by an exercise of will to achieve even a new renascence in art. But we certainly do not yet possess these things fairly distributed or in harmony of mind.

The connexion therefore between progress as we now envisage it, and unity, both in ourselves and in society at large, becomes apparent. At each of the previous great moments in the history of the West development has been secured by emphasis on one side of our nature at the expense of the rest. Visions of mankind in common progress have flashed on individual thinkers, a Roman Emperor, a Catholic Schoolman, a Revolutionary prophet. But the thing achieved has been one-sided, and the needed correction has been given by another movement more one-sided still. The greatest hope of the present day lies in the fact that in all branches of life, in government as well as in philosophy, in science as in social reform, in religion and in international politics, men are now striving with determination to bind the threads together.

There is no necessary opposition between the rival forces which have so often led to conflict. In all our controversies harmony can be reached and has often been reached by the application of patience, knowledge, and goodwill. And goodwill implies here the readiness to submit the particular issue to the arbitration of the general good. The international question has been so fully canvassed in these days that it would be superfluous to discuss it here. The moral is obvious, and abundant cases throughout the world illustrate the truth that well-organized nationalities contain in themselves nothing contrary to the ideal of international peace.[3] Nor is the still more persistent and universal opposition of capital and labour really less amenable to reconciliation, because in this case also the two factors in the problem are equally necessary to social progress, and we shall not enter on the various practical solutions—co-operation, co-partnership, partial state-socialism, &c.—which have been proposed for a problem which no one believes to be insoluble. The conflict in our own souls between the things of matter and sense and the life of the spirit, is more closely germane to the present argument, because ultimately this has to be resolved, if not in every mind yet in the dominant mind of Europe, before the more practical questions can be generally settled. Harmony here is at the root of a sound idea of progress.

When the concluding chapters of this volume are reached it will be seen how fully the recent developments both in science and philosophy corroborate the line which is here suggested for the reconciliation of conflicts and the establishment of a stronger and more coherent notion of what we may rightly pursue as progress. For both in science and still more in philosophy attention is being more and more closely concentrated on the meaning of life itself, which science approaches by way of its physical concomitants, and philosophy from the point of view of consciousness. And while science has been analysing the characteristics of a living organism, philosophy finds in our consciousness just that element of community with others which an organic conception of progress demands. The only progress of which we can be certain, the philosopher tells us, is progress in our own consciousness, which becomes constantly fuller, more knowing, and more social, as time unfolds. This, he tells us, must endure, though the storms of passion and nature may fall upon us.

On such a firm basis we would all gladly build our faith. No unity can be perfect except that which we achieve in our own souls, and no progress can be relied on except that which we can know within, and can develop from, our own consciousness and our own powers. But we cannot rest in this. We are bound to look outside our own consciousness for some objective correspondence to that progress which our own nature craves; and history supplies this evidence. It is from history that we derive the first idea and the accumulating proofs of the reality of progress. Lucretius's first sketch is really his summary of social history up to that point. The Catholic thinker had a wider scope. He was able to see that the whole course of Greco-Roman civilization was, from his point of view, a preparation for the Church which had the care of the spiritual life of man while on earth. And in the next stage, that in which we now live, we see all the interests of life taken back again into the completeness of human progress, and can trace that complete being, labouring slowly but unmistakably to a higher state, outside us in the world, as well as within our own consciousness, which is ready to expand if we will give it range.

On such lines we may sketch the historical aspect of progress on which the personal is based; and it is of the utmost importance to keep the two aspects before us concurrently, because reliance on the growing fullness of the individual life to the neglect of the social evolution is likely to empty that life itself of its true content, to leave the self-centred visionary absorbed in the contemplation of some ideal perfection within himself, while the world outside him from which he ultimately derives his notions, is toiling and suffering from the want of those very elements which he is best able to supply.

The succeeding chapters of this book will, it is hoped, supply some evidence of the concrete reality of progress, as well as of the tendency to greater coherence and purity in the ideal itself. It would have been easy to accumulate evidence; some sides of life are hardly touched on at all. The collective and the intellectual sides are fully dealt with both in this and in the volume on The Unity of Western Civilization. But if we make our survey over a sufficient space, coming down especially to our own days, our conclusion as to the advance made in the physical and moral well-being of mankind, will be hardly less emphatic. Our average lives are longer and continue to lengthen, and they are unquestionably spent with far less physical suffering than was generally the case at any previous period. We are bound to give full weight to this, however much we rightly deplore the deadening effect of monotonous and mechanical toil on so large a part of the population. And even for these the opportunities for a free and improving life are amazingly enlarged. We groan and chafe at what remains to be done because of the unexampled size of the modern industrial populations with which we have to deal. But we know in some points very definitely what we want, and we are now all persuaded with John Stuart Mill that the remedy is in our own hands, 'that all the great sources of human suffering are in a great degree, many of them entirely, conquerable by human care and effort.' This conviction is perhaps the greatest step of all that we have gained. In morality some pertinent and necessary questions are raised in Chap. VI, but the general progress would be doubted by very few who have had the opportunity of comparing the evidence as to any previous state of morals, say in the Middle Ages or in the Elizabethan age—the crown of the Renascence in England—with that of the present day. The capital advance in morality, which by itself would be sufficient to justify our thesis, is the increase in the consciousness and the obligation of the 'common weal', that conception of which Government, increasingly better organized, is the most striking practical realization. It has its drawback in the spread of what we feel as a debasing 'vulgarity', but the general balance is overwhelmingly on the side of good. And in all such discussions we are apt to allow far too little weight to the change which the New World, and especially the United States, has brought about. In matters of personal prosperity and a high general standard of intellectual and moral competence, what has been achieved there would outweigh a good deal of our Old World defects when we come to drawing up a world's balance-sheet.

It will be seen therefore that we dismiss altogether any doctrine of an 'illusion of progress' as a necessary decoy to progressive action. Progress is a fact as well as an ideal, and the ideal, though it springs from an objective reality, will always be in advance of it. So it is with all man's activities when he comes to man's estate. In science he has always an ideal of a more perfect knowledge before him though he becomes scientific by experience. In art he is always striving to idealize fresh things, though he first becomes an artist from the pure spontaneous pleasure of expressing what is in him. The deliberate projection of the ideal into the future, seeing how far it will take us and whether we are journeying in the right direction, is a late stage. As to progress, the largest general ideal which can affect man's action, it is only recently that mankind as a whole has been brought to grips with the conception, also enlarged to the full. He was standing, somewhat bewildered, somewhat dazzled, before it, when the war, like an eclipse of the sun, came suddenly and darkened the view. But an eclipse has been found an invaluable time for studying some of the problems of the sun's nature and of light itself.

One of the most acute critics of the mid-Victorian prophets of progress, Dr. John Grote, did very well in disentangling the ideal element which is inherent in every sound doctrine of progress as a guide to conduct. He took the theory of a continuous inevitable progress in human affairs, and showed how this by itself might lead to a weakening of the will, on which alone in his view progress in the proper sense depends. He took the mechanical theory of utilitarianism and subjected it to a similar analysis. We cannot evaluate progress as an increase in a sum-total of happiness. This is incapable of calculation, and if we aim directly at it, we are likely to lose the higher things on which it depends, and which are capable of being made the objects of that direct striving which is essential to progress. Dr. Grote's analysis has long since passed into current philosophical teaching, but he will always be well worth reading for his fresh and vigorous reasoning and for the way in which he builds up his own position without denying the solid contributions of those whom he criticizes. Complete truth in the matter seems to us to involve a larger share for the historical element than Dr. Grote explicitly allows. We grant fully the paramount necessity for an ideal of progress and for constantly revising, purifying, and strengthening it. But in its formation we should trace more than he does to the collective forces of mankind as expressed in history. These have given us the ideal and will carry us on towards it by a force which is greater than, and in one sense independent of, any individual will. This is the cardinal truth of sociology, and is obvious if we consider how in matters of everyday experience we are all compelled by some social force not ourselves, as for instance in actions tending to maintain the family or in a national crisis such, as the war. This general will is not, of course, independent of all the wills concerned, but it acts more or less as an outside compelling force in the case of every one. Moreover our selves are composite as well as wholes, and parts of us are active in forming the general will, parts acquiesce and parts are overborne. Thus it is clear that a general tendency to progress in the human race may be well established—as we hold it to be—and yet go on in ways capable of infinite variation and at very various speed. We are all, let us suppose, being carried onward by one mighty and irresistible stream. We may combine our strength and skill and make the best use of the surrounding forces. This is working and steering to the chosen goal. Or we may rest on our oars and let the stream take us where it will. This is drifting, and we shall certainly be carried on somewhere; but we may be badly bruised or even shipwrecked in the process, and in any case we shall have contributed nothing to the advance. Some few may even waste their strength in trying to work backwards against the stream. We seem to have reached the point in history when for the first time we are really conscious of our position, and the problem is now a possible and an urgent one to mark the goal clearly and unitedly and bend our common efforts to attaining it.

If this be so, the work of synthesis may be thought to have a higher practical value for the moment than the analysis which has prevailed in European thought for the last forty or fifty years. In the earlier part of the nineteenth century the great formative ideas which had been gathering volume and enthusiasm during the revolutionary period, took shape in complete systems of religious and philosophic truth—Kant, Hegel, Spencer, Comte. They have been followed by a period of criticism which has left none of them whole, but on the other hand has produced a mass of contradictions and specialisms highly confusing and even hopeless to the public mind and veiling the more important and profound agreements which have been growing all the time beneath. There are now abundant signs of a reaction towards unity and construction of a broad and solid kind. In no respect is such a knitting up more desirable than in this idea of progress itself. Are we to say that there is no such thing as all-round continuous progress, but only progress in definite branches of thought and activity, progress in science or in particular arts, social progress, physical progress, progress in popular education and the like, but that any two or more branches only coincide occasionally and by accident, and that when working at one we can and should have no thought of working at them all? This is no doubt a prevalent view and we may hope that some things said in this book may modify it. Another school of critical thinkers, approaching the question from the point of view of the ultimate object of action, asks what is the one thing for which all others are to be pursued as means? Is increase of knowledge the absolute good or increase of happiness? Or if it is increase of love, is it quite indifferent what we love? A few words on this may fitly conclude this chapter.

The task of mankind, and of every one of us so far as he is able to enter into it, is to bring together these various aspects of human excellence, to see them as parts of one ideal and labour to approach it. This approach is progress, and if you say 'progress of what, and to what end', the answer can only be, the progress of humanity, and the end further progress. Some of the writers in this book will indicate the point at which in their view this progress is in contact with the infinite, with something not given in history; but, whatever our view of the transcendental problem may be, it is of the utmost importance for all of us to realize that we have given to us in the actual process of time, in concrete history, a development of humanity, a growth from a lower to a higher state of being, which may be most perfectly realized in the individual consciousness, fully awake and fully socialized, but is also clearly traceable in the doings of the human race as a whole. Such is in fact the uniting thread of these essays, and when we proceed to the converse of this truth and apply this ideal which we have shown to be the course of realization, as a governing motive in our lives, it is even more imperative to strive constantly to keep the whole together, and not to regard either knowledge or power or beauty or even love as an ultimate and supreme thing to which all other ends are merely means. The end is a more perfect man, developed by the perfecting of all mankind.

Such a conception embraces all the separate aspects of our nature each in its place, and each from its own angle supreme. Love and knowledge inseparable and fundamental, freedom and happiness essential conditions of healthy growth, personality developed with the development of the greater personality in which we all live and grow. This greater personality is at its highest immeasurably above us, and has no assignable limits in time or in capacity to know, to love, or to enjoy. We cannot fix its origin at any known point in the birth of planets, nor does the cooling of our sun nor of all the suns seem to put any limit in our imagination to the continuous unfolding of life like our own. While thus practically infinite, the ideal of human nature is revealed to us concretely in countless types of goodness and truth and beauty which we may know and love and imitate. To all it is open to study the lineaments of this ideal in the records and figures of the past; to most it is revealed in some fellow beings known in life. From these, the human spirits which embody the strivings, the hopes, the conquered failings of the past, we may form our better selves and build the humanity of the future.

There is a famous and magnificent passage in Dante's Purgatorio which Catholic commentators interpret in sacramental terms but we may well apply in a wider sense to the progress of the human spirit towards the ideal. It occurs at that crucial point where the ascending poet leaves the circles of sad repentance to reach the higher regions of growing light.

'And when we came there, to the first step, it was of white marble, so polished that I could see myself just as I am.

'And the second was coloured dark, a rugged stone, cracked lengthwise and across. And the third piled above it was flaming porphyry, red like the blood from a vein.

'Above this one was the angel of God, sitting on the threshold, bright as a diamond.

'Up the three steps my master led me with goodwill and then he said, "Beg humbly that he unlock the door."'[4]

Like this, the path man has to tread is not an easy progress. But he is rising all the time and he rises on steps of his own past. He sees reflected in them the image of himself, and he sees too the deep faults in his nature, and the rough surface of his path through time. The last step, tinged by his own blood, gives access to a higher dwelling, firm and bright and leading higher still. But it is open only after a long ascent, and to the human spirit that has worked faithfully, with love for his comrades and leaders, and reverence for the laws which bind both the world and him.


John Grote, Examination of Utilitarian Philosophy.

Kant, Principles of Politics (translated by Hastie and published by Clark) contains his smaller works on Universal History, Perpetual Peace, and the Principle of Progress. See also the Essay on Herder.

Comte's Positive Polity, vols. i. and ii, passim.


[1] 'usus et impigrae simul experientia mentis paulatim docuit pedetemtim progredientes.'

[2] Comte, Positive Polity, ii 116.

[3] See Delisle Burns, Morality of Nations, and The Unity of Western Civilization, passim.

[4] Purgatorio, ix. 94-108.




If I am unable to deliver this lecture in person, it will be because I have to attend in Jersey to the excavation of a cave once occupied by men of the Glacial Epoch. Now these men knew how to keep a good fire burning within their primitive shelter; their skill in the chase provided them with a well-assorted larder; their fine strong teeth were such as to make short work of their meals; lastly, they were clever artisans and one may even say artists in flint and greenstone, not only having the intelligence to make an economic use of the material at their disposal, but likewise having enough sense of form to endow their implements with more than a touch of symmetry and beauty. All this we know from what they have left behind them; and the rest is silence.

And now let us imagine ourselves possessed of one of those time-machines of which Mr. H. G. Wells is the inventor. Transported by such means to the Europe of that distant past, could we undertake to beat the record of those cave-men?

Clearly, all will depend on how many of us, and how much of the apparatus of civilization, our time-machine is able to accommodate. If it were simply to drop a pair of us, naked and presumably ashamed, into the midst of the rigours of the great Ice Age, the chances surely are that the unfortunate immigrants must perish within a week. Adam could hardly manage to kindle a fire without the help of matches. Eve would be no less sorely troubled to make clothes without the help of a needle. On the other hand, if the time-machine were as capacious as Noah's Ark, the venture would undoubtedly succeed, presenting no greater difficulty than, let us say, the planting of a settlement in Labrador or on the Yukon. Given numbers, specialized labour, tools, weapons, books, domesticated animals and plants, and so forth, the civilized community would do more than hold its own with the prehistoric cave-man, devoid of all such aids to life. Indeed, it is tolerably certain that, willingly or unwillingly, our colonists would soon drive the ancient type of man clean out of existence.

On the face of it, then, it would seem that we, as compared with men of Glacial times, have decidedly 'progressed'. But it is not so easy to say off-hand in what precisely such progress consists.

Are we happier? As well ask whether the wild wolf or the tame dog is the happier animal. The truth would seem to be that wolf and dog alike can be thoroughly happy each in its own way; whereas each would be as thoroughly miserable, if forced to live the life of the other. In one of his most brilliant passages Andrew Lang, after contrasting the mental condition of one of our most distant ancestors with yours or mine, by no means to our disadvantage, concludes with these words: 'And after all he was probably as happy as we are; it is not saying much.'[5]

But, if not happier, are we nobler? If I may venture to speak as a philosopher, I should reply, confidently, 'Yes.' It comes to this, that we have and enjoy more soul. On the intellectual side, we see farther afield. On the moral side, our sympathies are correspondingly wider. Imaginatively, and even to no small extent practically, we are in touch with myriads of men, present and past. We participate in a world-soul; and by so doing are advanced in the scale of spiritual worth and dignity as members of the human race. Yet this common soul of mankind we know largely and even chiefly as something divided against itself. Not only do human ideals contradict each other; but the ideal in any and all of its forms is contradicted by the actual. So it is the discontent of the human world-soul that is mainly borne in upon him who shares in it most fully. A possibility of completed good may glimmer at the far end of the quest; but the quest itself is experienced as a bitter striving. Bitter though it may be, however, it is likewise ennobling. Here, then, I find the philosophic, that is, the ultimate and truest, touchstone of human progress, namely, in the capacity for that ennobling form of experience whereby we become conscious co-workers and co-helpers in an age-long, world-wide striving after the good.

But to-day I come before you, not primarily as a philosopher, but rather as an anthropologist, a student of prehistoric man. I must therefore define progress, not in the philosophic or ultimate way, but simply as may serve the strictly limited aims of my special science. As an anthropologist, I want a workable definition—one that will set me working and keep me working on promising lines. I do not ask ultimate truth of my anthropological definition. For my science deals with but a single aspect of reality; and the other aspects of the real must likewise be considered on their merits before a final account can be rendered of it.

Now anthropology is just the scientific history of man; and I suppose that there could be a history of man that did without the idea of human progress altogether. Progress means, in some sense, change for the better. But, strictly, history as such deals with fact; and is not concerned with questions of better or worse—in a word, with value. Hence, it must always be somewhat arbitrary on the part of an historian to identify change in a given direction with a gain or increase in value. Nevertheless, the anthropologist may do so, if he be prepared to take the risk. He sees that human life has on the whole grown more complex. He cannot be sure that it will continue to grow more complex. Much less has he a right to lay it down for certain that it ought to grow more complex. But so long as he realizes that he is thereby committing himself by implication to a prophetic and purposive interpretation of the facts, he need not hesitate to style this growth of complexity progress so far as man is concerned. For if he is an anthropologist, he is also a man, and cannot afford to take a wholly external and impartial view of the process whereby the very growth of his science is itself explained. Anthropologists though we be, we run with the other runners in the race of life, and cannot be indifferent to the prize to be won.

Progress, then, according to the anthropologist, is defined as increase in complexity, with the tacit assumption that this somehow implies betterment, though it is left with the philosopher to justify such an assumption finally and fully. Whereas in most cases man would seem to have succeeded in the struggle for existence by growing more complex, though in some cases survival has been secured by way of simplification, anthropology concentrates its attention on the former set of cases as the more interesting and instructive even from a theoretical point of view. Let biology by all means dispense with the notion of progress, and consider man along with the other forms of life as subject to mere process. But anthropology, though in a way it is a branch of biology, has a right to a special point of view. For it employs special methods involving the use of a self-knowledge that in respect to the other forms of life is inevitably wanting. Anthropology, in short, like charity, begins at home. Because we know in ourselves the will to progress, we go on to seek for evidences of progress in the history of mankind. Nor need we cease to think of progress as something to be willed, something that concerns the inner man, even though for scientific purposes we undertake to recognize it by some external sign, as, for instance, by the sign of an increasing complexity, that is, such differentiation as likewise involves greater cohesion. All history, and more especially the history of early man, must deal primarily with externals. Thence it infers the inner life; and thereby it controls the tendency known as 'the psychologist's fallacy', namely, that of reading one's own mind into that of another man without making due allowance for differences of innate capacity and of acquired outlook. In what follows, then, let us, as anthropologists, be content to judge human progress in prehistoric times primarily by its external and objective manifestations; yet let us at no point in our inquiries forget that these ancient men, some of whom are our actual ancestors, were not only flesh of our flesh, but likewise spirit of our spirit.

* * * * *

A rapid sketch such as this must take for granted on the part of the audience some general acquaintance with that succession of prehistoric epochs which modern research has definitely established. Pre-history, as distinguished from proto-history, may, in reference to Europe as a whole, be made coextensive with the Stone Age. This divides into the Old Stone Age and the New. The Old Stone Age, or Palaeolithic Period, yields three well-marked subdivisions, termed Early, Middle, and Late. The New Stone Age, or Neolithic Period, includes two sub-periods, the Earlier or Transitional, and the Later or Typical. Thus our historical survey will fall naturally into five chapters.

There are reasons, however, why it will be more convenient to move over the whole ground twice. The material on which our judgements must be founded is not all of one kind. Anthropology is the joint work of two departments, which are known as Physical Anthropology and Cultural Anthropology respectively. The former, we may say, deals with man as an organism, the latter with him as an organizer. Here, then, are very different standpoints. For, in a broad way of speaking, nature controls man through his physical organization, whereas through his cultural organization man controls nature. From each of these standpoints in turn, then, let us inquire how far prehistoric man can be shown to have progressed. First, did the breed improve during the long course of the Stone Age in Europe? Secondly, did the arts of life advance, so that by their aid man might establish himself more firmly in his kingdom?

Did the breed improve during prehistoric times? I have said that, broadly speaking, nature controls man as regards his physical endowment. Now in theory one must admit that it might be otherwise. If Eugenics were to mature on its purely scientific side, there is no reason why the legislator of the future should not try to make a practical application of its principles; and the chances are that, of many experiments, some would prove successful. But that conscious breeding was practised in prehistoric times is out of the question. The men of those days were one and all what we are ourselves—nature's mongrels, now broken up into varieties by casual isolation, and now by no less casual intermixture recompounded in a host of relatively unstable forms. Whatever progress, therefore, may have occurred in this respect has been unconscious. Man cannot take the credit for it, except in so far as it is indirectly due to that increase and spread of the race which have been promoted by his achievements in the way of culture.

The barest outline of the facts must suffice. For the Early Pleistocene, apart from the Java fossil, Pithecanthropus erectus, a veritable 'missing link', whom we may here disregard as falling altogether outside our world of Europe, there are only two individuals that can with certainty be referred to this distant period. These are the Piltdown and the Heidelberg specimens. The former consists of a fragmentary brain-case, thick-boned and narrow-fronted, but typically human in its general characters, and of the greater part of a lower jaw, which, as regards both its own elongated and curiously flanged structure, and that of the teeth it contained, including an enormous pointed canine, is conversely more appropriate to an ape-like being than to a man. The latter consists only of a lower jaw, of which the teeth, even the canines, are altogether human, whereas the jaw itself is hardly less simian than that of the Sussex skull. If we add the Java example to the list of very primitive forms, it is remarkable to note how, though differing widely from each other, all alike converge on the ape. Nevertheless, even in Pithecanthropus, the brute is passing into the man. We note the erect attitude, to be inferred from his thigh-bone, and the considerably enlarged, though even so hardly human, brain. The Piltdown individual, on the other hand, has crossed the Rubicon. He has a brain-capacity entitling him to rank as a man and an Englishman. Such a brain, too, implies a cunning hand, which doubtless helped him greatly to procure his food, even if his massive jaw enabled him to dispose of the food in question without recourse to the adventitious aids of knife and fork. For the matter of that, if our knowledge made it possible to correlate these rare finds of bones more exactly with the innumerable flint implements ascribable to this period (and, indeed, not without analogies among the spoil from the Piltdown gravels), it might turn out that even the equivalent of knife and fork was not wanting to the Early Pleistocene supper-party, or, at any rate, that the human hand was already advanced from the status of labourer to the more dignified position of superintendent of the tool.

The Middle Pleistocene Epoch belongs to the men of the Neanderthal type. Some thirty specimens, a few of them more or less complete, have come down to us, and we can form a pretty clear notion of the physical appearance of the race. Speaking generally, we may say that it marks a stage of progress as compared with the Piltdown type; though, if the jaw, heavy and relatively chinless as it is, has become less simian, the protruding brow-ridge lends a monstrous look to the face, while the forehead is markedly receding—a feature which turns out, however, to be not incompatible with a weight of brain closely approaching our own average. Whether this type has disappeared altogether from the earth, or survives in certain much modified descendants, is an open question. The fact remains that during the last throes of the Glacial Epoch this rough-hewn kind of man apparently had Northern Europe as his exclusive province; and it is by no means evident what Homo Sapiens, the supposed highly superior counterpart and rival of Homo Neanderthalensis, was doing with himself in the meantime. Moreover, not only in respect of space does the population of that frozen world show remarkable homogeneity; but also in respect of time must we allow it an undisputed sway extending over thousands of years, during which the race bred true. The rate of progress, whether reckoned in physical terms or otherwise, is so slow as to be almost imperceptible. A type suffices for an age. Whereas in the life-history of an individual there is rapid development during youth, and after maturity a steadying down, it is the other way about in the life-history of the race. Man, so to speak, was born old and accommodated to a jog-trot. We moderns are the juveniles, and it is left for us to go the pace.

Yet Late Pleistocene Period introduces us to more diversity in the way of human types. Only one race, however, that named after the rock-shelter of Cro-Magnon in the Dordogne, is represented by a fair number of specimens, namely, about a dozen. At this point we come suddenly and without previous warning on as pretty a kind of man as ever walked this earth. In his leading characters he is remarkably uniform. Six feet high and long-legged, he likewise possessed a head well stocked with brains and a face that, if rather broad and short, was furnished by way of compensation with a long and narrow nose. If the present world can show nothing quite like him, it at least cannot produce anything more shapely in the way of the 'human form divine'. Apart from the Cro-Magnons, the remains of an old woman and a youth found at the lowest level of the Grotte des Enfants at Mentone are usually held to belong to a distinct stock known as the Grimaldi. The physical characters of the pair are regarded as negroid, verging on the Pygmy; but if we could study an adult male of the same stock, it might possibly turn out not to be so very divergent from the Cro-Magnon. Again, a single specimen does duty for the so-called Chancelade race. The skeleton is of comparatively low stature, and is deemed to show close affinities to the type of the modern Eskimo. Without being unduly sceptical, one may once more wonder if the Cro-Magnon stock may not have produced this somewhat aberrant form. Even on such a theory, however—and it is hardly orthodox—diversity of physical structure would seem to be on the increase. On the other hand, there are reasons of considerable cogency for referring to the end of this period skeletons of what Huxley termed the 'River-bed type', the peculiarity of which consists in the fact that they are more or less indistinguishable from the later Neolithic men and indeed from any of those slight-built, shortish, long-headed folk who form the majority in the crowded cities of to-day. Some authorities would ascribe a far greater antiquity to this type, but, I venture to think, on the strength of doubtful evidence. The notorious Galley Hill skeleton, for instance, found more or less intact in an Early Pleistocene bed in which the truly contemporary animals are represented by the merest battered remnants, to my mind reeks of modernity. Be these things as they may, however, when we come to Neolithic times a race of similar physical characters has Europe to itself, though it would seem to display minor variations in a way that suggests that the reign of the mongrel has at length begun. And here we may close our enumeration of the earliest known branches of our family tree, since the coming of the broad-heads pertains to the history of the Bronze Age, and hence falls outside the scope of the present survey.

Now what is the bearing of these somewhat scanty data on the question of progress? It is not easy to extract from them more than the general impression that, as time went on, the breed made persistent headway as regards both the complexity of its organization and the profusion of its forms. After all, we must not expect too much from this department of the subject. For one thing, beyond the limits of North-western Europe the record is almost blank; and yet we can scarcely hope to discover the central breeding-place of man in what is, geographically, little more than a blind alley. In the next place, Physical Anthropology, not only in respect to human palaeontology, but in general, is as barren of explanations as it is fertile in detailed observations. The systematic study of heredity as it bears on the history of the human organism has hardly begun. Hence, it would not befit one who is no expert in relation to such matters to anticipate the verdict of a science that needs only public encouragement in order to come into its own. Suffice it to suggest here that nature as she presides over organic evolution, that is, the unfolding of the germinal powers, may be conceived as a kindly but slow-going and cautious liberator. One by one new powers, hitherto latent, are set free as an appropriate field of exercise is afforded them by the environment. At first divergency is rarely tolerated. A given type is extremely uniform. On the other hand, when divergency is permitted, it counts for a great deal. The wider variations occur nearest the beginning, each for a long time breeding true to itself. Later on, such uncompromising plurality gives way to a more diffused multiplicity begotten of intermixture. Mongrelization has set in. Not but what there may spring up many true-breeding varieties among the mongrels; and these, given suitable conditions, will be allowed to constitute lesser types possessed of fairly uniform characters. Such at least is in barest outline the picture presented by the known facts concerning the physical evolution of man, if one observe it from outside without attempting to explore the hidden causes of the process. Some day, when these causes are better understood, man may take a hand in the game, and become, in regard to the infinite possibilities still sleeping in the transmitted germ, a self-liberator. Nature is but a figurative expression for the chances of life, and the wise man faces no more chances than he needs must. Scientific breeding is no mere application of the multiplication table to a system of items. We must make resolutely for the types that seem healthy and capable, suppressing the defectives in a no less thorough, if decidedly more considerate, way than nature has been left to do in the past. Here, then, along physical lines is one possible path of human progress, none the less real because hitherto pursued, not by the aid of eyes that can look and choose, but merely in response to painful proddings at the tail-end.

Our remaining task is to take stock of that improvement in the arts of life whereby man has come gradually to master an environment that formerly mastered him. For the Early Palaeolithic Period our evidence in respect of its variety, if not of its gross quantity, is wofully disappointing. Not to speak of man's first and rudest experiments in the utilization of stone, which are doubtless scattered about the world in goodly numbers if only we could recognize them clearly for what they are, the Chellean industry by its wide distribution leads one to suppose that mankind in those far-off days was only capable of one idea at a time—a time, too, that lasted a whole age. Yet the succeeding Acheulean style of workmanship in flint testifies to the occurrence of progress in one of its typical forms, namely, in the form of what may be termed 'intensive' progress. The other typical form I might call 'intrusive' progress, as happens when a stimulating influence is introduced from without. Now it may be that the Acheulean culture came into being as a result of contact between an immigrant stock and a previous population practising the Chellean method of stone-work. We are at present far too ill-informed to rule out such a guess. But, on the face of it, the greater refinement of the Acheulean handiwork looks as if it had been literally hammered out by steadfastly following up the Chellean pattern into its further possibilities. Explain it as we will, this evolution of the so-called coup-de-poing affords almost the sole proof that the human world of that remote epoch was moving at all. If we could see their work in wood, we might discern a more diversified skill or we might not. As it is, we can but conclude in the light of our very imperfect knowledge that in mind no less than in body mankind of Early Palaeolithic times displayed a fixity of type almost amounting to that of one of the other animal species.

During Middle Palaeolithic times the Mousterian culture rules without a rival. The cave-period has begun; and, thanks to the preservation of sundry dwelling-places together with a goodly assortment of their less perishable contents, we can frame a fairly adequate notion of the home-life of Neanderthal man. I have already alluded to my excavations in Jersey, and need not enter into fuller details here. But I should like to put on record the opinion borne in upon me by such first-hand experience as I have had that cultural advance in Mousterian days was almost as portentously slow as ever it had been before. The human deposits in the Jersey cave are in some places about ten feet thick, and the fact that they fall into two strata separated by a sterile layer that appears to consist of the dust of centuries points to a very long process of accumulation. Yet though there is one kind of elephant occurring amid the bone refuse at the bottom of the bed, and another and, it would seem, later kind at the top, one and the same type of flint instrument is found at every level alike; and the only development one can detect is a certain gain in elegance as regards the Mousterian 'point', the reigning substitute for the former coup-de-poing. Once more there is intensive progress only, so far at least as most of the Jersey evidence goes. One coup-de-poing, however, and that hardly Acheulean in conception but exactly what a hand accustomed to the fashioning of the Mousterian 'point' would be likely to make by way of an imitation of the once fashionable pattern, lay at lowest floor-level; as if to remind one that during periods of transition the old is likely to survive by the side of the new, and may even survive in it as a modifying element. As a matter of fact, the coup-de-poing is frequent in the earliest Mousterian sites; so that we cannot but ask ourselves how it came to be in the end superseded. Whether the Mousterians were of a different race from the Acheuleans is not known. Certain it is, on the other hand, that the industry that makes its first appearance in their train represents a labour-saving device. The Mousterian had learned how to break up his flint-nodule into flakes, which simply needed to be trimmed on one face to yield a cutting edge. The Acheulean had been content to attain this result more laboriously by pecking a pebble on both faces until what remained was sharp enough for his purpose. Here, then, we are confronted with that supreme condition of progress, the inventor's happy thought. One of those big-brained Neanderthal men, we may suppose, had genius; nature, the liberator, having released some latent power in the racial constitution. Given such a culture-hero, the common herd was capable of carrying on more or less mechanically for an aeon or so. And so it must ever be. The world had better make the most of its geniuses; for they amount to no more than perhaps a single one in a million. Anyway, Neanderthal man never produced a second genius, so far as we can tell; and that is why, perhaps, his peculiar type of brow-ridge no longer adorns the children of men.

Before we leave the Mousterians, another side of their culture deserves brief mention. Not only did they provide their dead with rude graves, but they likewise furnished them with implements and food for use in a future life. Herein surely we may perceive the dawn of what I do not hesitate to term religion. A distinguished scholar and poet did indeed once ask me whether the Mousterians, when they performed these rites, did not merely show themselves unable to grasp the fact that the dead are dead. But I presume that my friend was jesting. A sympathy stronger than death, overriding its grisly terror, and converting it into the vehicle of a larger hope—that is the work of soul; and to develop soul is progress. A religious animal is no brute, but a real man with the seed of genuine progress in him. If Neanderthal man belonged to another species, as the experts mostly declare and I very humbly beg leave to doubt, we must even so allow that God made him also after his own image, brow-ridges and all.

The presence of soul in man is even more manifest when we pass on to the Late Palaeolithic peoples. They are cave-dwellers; they live by the chase; in a word, they are savages still. But they exhibit a taste and a talent for the fine arts of drawing and carving that, as it were, enlarge human existence by a new dimension. Again a fresh power has been released, and one in which many would seem to have participated; for good artists are as plentiful during this epoch as ever they were in ancient Athens or mediaeval Florence. They must have married-in somewhat closely, one would think, for this special aptitude to have blossomed forth so luxuriantly. I cannot here dwell at length on the triumphs of Aurignacian and Magdalenian artistry. Indeed, what I have seen with my own eyes on the walls of certain French caves is almost too wonderful to be described. The simplicity of the style does not in the least detract from the fullness of the charm. On the contrary, one is tempted to doubt whether the criterion of complexity applies here—whether, in fact, progress has any meaning in relation to fine art—since, whether attained by simple or by complex means, beauty is always beauty, and cannot further be perfected. Shall we say, then, with Plato that beauty was revealed to man from the first in its absolute nature, so that the human soul might be encouraged to seek for the real in its complementary forms of truth and goodness, such as are less immediately manifest? For the rest, the soul of these transcendently endowed savages was in other respects more imperfectly illuminated; as may be gathered from the fact that they carved and drew partly from the love of their art, but partly also, and, perhaps, even primarily, for luck. It seems that these delineations of the animals on which they lived were intended to help them towards good hunting. Such is certainly the object of a like custom on the part of the Australian aborigines; there being this difference, however, that the art of the latter considered as art is wholly inferior. Now we know enough about the soul of the Australian native, thanks largely to the penetrating interpretations of Sir Baldwin Spencer, to greet and honour in him the potential lord of the universe, the harbinger of the scientific control of nature. It is more than half the battle to have willed the victory; and the picture-charm as a piece of moral apparatus is therefore worthy of our deepest respect. The chariot of progress, of which the will of man is the driver, is drawn by two steeds, namely, Imagination and Reason harnessed together. Of the pair, Reason is the more sluggish, though serviceable enough for the heavy work. Imagination, full of fire as it is, must always set the pace. So the soul of the Late Palaeolithic hunter, having already in imagination controlled the useful portion of the animal world, was more than half-way on the road to its domestication. But in so far as he mistook the will for the accomplished deed, he was not getting the value out of his second horse; or, to drop metaphor, the scientific reason as yet lay dormant in his soul. But his dream was to come true presently.

The Neolithic Period marks the first appearance of the 'cibi-cultural' peoples. The food-seekers have become food-raisers. But the change did not come all at once. The earlier Neolithic culture is at best transitional. There may even have been one of those set-backs in culture which we are apt to ignore when we are narrating the proud tale of human advance. Europe had now finally escaped from the last ravages of an Arctic climate; but there was cruel demolition to make good, and in the meantime there would seem, as regards man, to have been little doing. Life among the kitchen-middens of Denmark was sordid; and the Azilians who pushed up from Spain as far as Scotland did not exactly step into a paradise ready-made. Somewhere, however, in the far south-east a higher culture was brewing. By steps that have not yet been accurately traced legions of herdsmen and farmer-folk overspread our world, either absorbing or driving before them the roving hunters of the older dispensation. We term this, the earliest of true civilizations, 'neolithic', as if it mattered in the least whether your stone implement be chipped or polished to an edge. The real source of increased power and prosperity lay in the domestication of food-animals and food-plants. The man certainly had genius and pluck into the bargain who first trusted himself to the back of an unbroken horse. It needed hardly less genius to discover that it is no use singing charms over the seed-bearing grass in order to make it grow, unless some of the seed is saved to be sowed in due season. Society possibly brained the inventor—such is the way of the crowd; but, as it duly pocketed the invention, we have perhaps no special cause to complain.

By way of appreciating the conditions prevailing in the Later Neolithic Age, let us consider in turn the Lake-dwellers of Switzerland and the Dolmen-builders of our Western coast-lands. I was privileged to assist, on the shore of the Lake of Neuchatel, in the excavation of a site where one Neolithic village of pile-dwellings had evidently been destroyed by fire, and at some later date, just falling within the Stone Age, had been replaced by another. Here we had lighted on a crucial instance of the march of cultural progress. The very piles testified to it, those of the older settlement being ill-assorted and slight, whereas the later structure was regularly built and heavily timbered. It was clear, too, that the first set of inhabitants had lived narrow lives. All their worldly goods were derived from strictly local sources. On the other hand, their successors wore shells from the Mediterranean and amber beads from the Baltic among their numerous decorations; while for their flint they actually went as far afield as Grand Pressigny in West-Central France, the mines of which provided the butter-like nodules that represented the ne plus ultra of Neolithic luxury. Commerce must have been decidedly flourishing in those days. No longer was it a case of the so-called 'silent trade', which the furtive savage prosecutes with fear and trembling, placing, let us say, a lump of venison on a rock in the stream dividing his haunts from those of his dangerous neighbours, and stealing back later on to see if the red ochre for which he pines has been deposited in return on the primitive counter. The Neolithic trader, on the other side, must have pushed the science of barter to the uttermost limits short of the invention of a circulating medium, if indeed some crude form of currency was not already in vogue.

When we turn to the Dolmen-builders, and contemplate their hoary sanctuaries, we are back among the problems raised by the philosophic conception of progress as an advance in soul-power. Is any religion better than none? Does it make for soul-power to be preoccupied with the cult of the dead? Does the imagination, which in alliance with the scientific reason achieves such conquests over nature, give way at times to morbid aberration, causing the chill and foggy loom of an after-life to obscure the honest face of the day? I can only say for myself that the deepening of the human consciousnesses due to the effort to close with the mystery of evil and death, and to extort therefrom a message of hope and comfort, seems to me to have been worth the achievement at almost any cost of crimes and follies perpetrated by the way. I do not think that progress in religion is progress towards its ultimate abolition. Rather, religion, if regarded in the light of its earlier history, must be treated as the parent source of all the more spiritual activities of man; and on these his material activities must depend. Else the machine will surely grind the man to death; and his body will finally stop the wheels that his soul originally set in motion.

The panorama is over. It has not been easy, at the rate of about a millennium to a minute, to present a coherent account of the prehistoric record, which at best is like a jig-saw puzzle that has lost most of the pieces needed to reconstitute the design. But, even on this hasty showing, it looks as if the progressive nature of man were beyond question. There is manifest gain in complexity of organization, both physical and cultural; and only less manifest, in the sense that the inwardness of the process cannot make appeal to the eye, is the corresponding gain in realized power of soul. In short, the men of the Stone Age assuredly bore their full share in the work of race-improvement; and the only point on which there may seem to be doubt is whether we of the age of metal are as ready and able to bear our share. But let us be optimistic about ourselves. As long as we do not allow our material achievements to blind us to the need of an education that keeps the spiritual well to the fore, then progress is assured so far as it depends on culture.

Yet if we could likewise breed for spirituality, humanity's chances, I believe, would be bettered by as much again or more. But how is this to be done? Science must somehow find out. To leave it to nature is treason to the mind. Man may be an ass on the whole, but nature is even more of an ass, especially when it stands for human nature minus its saving grace of imaginative, will-directed intelligence. So let us hope that one day people will marry intelligently, and that the best marriages will be the richest in offspring. I believe that the spiritual is not born of the sickly; and at any rate should be prepared to make trial of such a working principle in my New Republic.

So much for the practical corollaries suggested by our flying visit to Prehistoric Europe. But, even if any detailed lessons to be drawn from such fragmentary facts have to be received with caution, you need not hesitate to pursue this branch of study for its own sake as part of the general training of the mind. Accustom yourselves to a long perspective. Cultivate the eagle's faculty of spacious vision. It is only thus that one can get the values right—see right and wrong, truth and error, beauty and ugliness in their broad and cumulative effects. Analytic studies, as they are termed, involving the exploration of the meaning of received ideas, must come first in any scheme of genuine education. We must learn to affirm before we can go on to learn how to criticize. But historical studies are a necessary sequel. Other people's received ideas turn out in the light of history to have sometimes worked well, and sometimes not so well; and we are thereupon led to revise our own opinions accordingly. Now the history of man has hitherto stood almost exclusively for the history of European civilization. Being so limited, it loses most of its value as an instrument of criticism. For how can a single phase of culture criticize itself? How can it step out of the scales and assess its own weight? Anthropology, however, will never acquiesce in this parochial view of the province of history. History worthy of the name must deal with man universal. So I would have you all become anthropologists. Let your survey of human progress be age-long and world-wide. You come of a large family and an ancient one. Learn to be proud of it, and then you will seek likewise to be worthy of it.


W. J. Sollas, Ancient Hunters and their Modern Representatives, 2nd edition, 1915.

E. A. Parkyn, Introduction to the study of Prehistoric Art.

R. R. Marett, Anthropology (Home University Library).

J. L. Myres, Dawn of History (Home University).


[5] Presidential Address to the International Folk-Lore Congress, 1891, p. 9.




To speak the truth about national characteristics it is often necessary to speak in paradoxes, for of all unities on earth nothing contains so many contradictions as a nation. So it is here: it may be said quite truly that the Greeks had at once the most profound conceptions about Progress and no faith in it: that they were at once the most hopeful and the most despairing of peoples. Let me try to explain. When we speak of a faith in Progress, whatever else we mean, we must mean, I take it, that there is a real advance in human welfare throughout time from the Past to the Future, that 'the best is yet to be', and that the good wine is kept to the last. But if we are to have a philosophy underlying that faith we must be able to say something more. What, in the first place, do we mean by 'a real advance'? Or by 'human welfare'? Progress, yes, but progress towards what? What is the standard? And if we cannot indicate a standard, what right have we to say that one life is any better than another? The life of the scientific man any better than the life of the South Sea Islander—content if only he has enough bananas to eat? Or than the life of a triumphant conqueror, a Zenghis Khan or a Tamberlaine—exultant if he has enough human heads before him? Or, indeed, any of these rather than the blank of Nirvana or the life of a vegetable?

Our first need, then, is the need of a standard for good over and above the conflicting opinions of men, and some idea as to what that standard implies.

And the next question is, why we should hold that any of this good is going to be realized in human life at all? If it is, there must be some connexion of cause and effect between goodness and human existence. What is the nature of that connexion? Finally, why should we hope that this goodness is realized more and more fully as time goes on?

The Greeks faced these questions, as they faced so many, with extraordinary daring and penetration and with an intimate mixture of sadness and hope.

They themselves, of all nations known to us in history, had made the greatest progress in the shortest space of time. A long course of preparation, it is true, underlay that marvellous growth. The classical Greeks,—and when I speak of Hellenism I mean the flower of classical Greek culture,—the classical Greeks entered into the labours of the island peoples, who, whether kindred to them or not, had built up from neolithic times a great civilization, the major part of which they could, and did, assimilate. They found the soil already worked. None the less it is to their own original genius that we owe those great discoveries of the spirit which, to quote a recent writer, 'created a new world of science and art, established an ideal of the sane mind in the sane body and the perfect man in the perfect society, cut out a new line of progress between anarchy and despotism, and made moral ends supreme over national in the State.'[6]

But these practical achievements of theirs have been already summed up by Professor J. A. Smith in his lecture[7] at this school last year, and it is to that lecture that I would refer you. I will take it as a basis and proceed for my own purposes to discuss the Greek conceptions about progress. Those conceptions were complex, and, speaking roughly, we may say this: if belief in real progress implies belief in three things, namely, (1) an absolute standard apprehended, however dimly, by man, (2) a causal connexion between existence and perfection, and (3) a persistent advance through time, then the Greeks held to the first two and doubted, or even denied, the third. Their two great thinkers, Plato and Aristotle, worked out systems based on the conviction that there really was an absolute standard of perfection, that man could really apprehend something of this perfection, and that the effort towards it was essential to the very existence of the world, part of the stuff, as it were, that made the universe. These systems have had an effect not to be exaggerated on the whole movement of thought since their day. Moreover, many of their fundamental conceptions are being revived in modern science and metaphysics. And the convictions that underlie them are calculated, one would say, to lead at once to a buoyant faith in progress. But with Plato, and Aristotle, and the Greeks generally, they did not so lead. The Greeks could not feel sure that this effort towards perfection, though it is part of existence, is strong enough to deliver man in this world from the web of evil in which also he is involved, nor even that he makes any approach on the whole towards the loosening of the toils. The spectre of world-destruction, as Whitman says of Carlyle, was always before them. And I wish to ask later on if we may not surmise definite reasons in their own history for this recurring note of discouragement. But let us first look at the positive side, and first in Plato. Plato came to his system by several lines of thought, and to understand it we ought to take account of all.

1. In the first place no thinker, I suppose, ever felt more keenly than he felt the desire for an absolute standard of truth, especially in matters of right and wrong, if only to decide between the disputes of men. And, in Greece men disputed so boldly and so incessantly that there was no possibility of forgetting the clash of opinion in any 'dogmatic slumber'. Thus Plato is always asking, like Robert Browning in 'Rabbi Ben Ezra',—

Now, who shall arbitrate? Ten men love what I hate, Shun what I follow, slight what I receive; Ten who in ears and eyes Match me: we all surmise, They this thing, and I that; whom shall my soul believe?

In one of his very earliest dialogues, the 'Euthyphro', Plato puts the question almost in so many words. What is it, he asks (7 A-E), that men quarrel over most passionately when they dispute? Is it not over the great questions of justice and injustice, of beauty, goodness, and the like? They do not quarrel thus over a question of physical size, simply because they can settle such a dispute by reference to an unquestioned standard, a standard measure, let us say.

If there is no corresponding standard for right and wrong, if each man is really the judge and the measure for himself, then there is no sense, Plato feels, in claiming that one man is wiser than another in conduct, or indeed any man wiser than a dog-faced baboon (Theaet. 161 C-E).

2. Again, Plato feels most poignantly the inadequacy of all the goodness and beauty we have ever actually seen in this world of space and time, compared with the ideal we have of them in their perfection. How can we have this sense of deficiency, he asks, unless somehow we apprehend something supreme, over and above all the approaches to it that have as yet appeared? (Phaedo, 74 E).

This vision of an absolute perfection, as yet unrealized on earth, so dominates all his thinking, and has such peculiar features of its own, that even familiar quotations must be quoted here. You will find an exquisite translation of a typical passage in our Poet Laureate's Anthology, The Spirit of Man (No. 37). Specially to be noted here is the stress on the unchanging character of this eternal perfection and the suggestion that it cannot be fully realized in the world. At the same time, Plato is equally sure that it is only through the study of this world that our apprehension of that perfection is awakened at all:—

'He who has thus been instructed in the science of Love, and has been led to see beautiful things in their due order and rank, when he comes toward the end of his discipline, will suddenly catch sight of a wondrous thing, beautiful with the absolute Beauty ... he will see a Beauty eternal, not growing or decaying, not waxing or waning, nor will it be fair here and foul there ... as if fair to some and foul to others ... but Beauty absolute, separate, simple, and everlasting; which lending of its virtue to all beautiful things that we see born to decay, itself suffers neither increase nor diminution, nor any other change' (Symp. 211).

All beautiful things remind man, Plato tells us in his mythological fashion, of this perfect Beauty, because we had seen it once before in another life, before our souls were born into this world, 'that blissful sight and spectacle' (Phaedrus, 250 B) when we followed Zeus in his winged car and all the company of the gods, and went out into the realm beyond the sky, a realm 'of which no mortal poet has ever sung or ever will sing worthily'.

3. But, beside this passion for the ideal, Plato was intensely interested in our knowledge of the actual world of appearances around us. And one of the prime questions with which he was then concerned was the question, what we mean when we talk about the nature or character of the things we see, a plant, say, or an animal, or a man. We must mean something definite, otherwise we could not recognize, for example, that a plant is a plant through all its varieties and all the different stages of its growth. Plato's answer was, that in all natural things there is a definite principle that copies, as it were, a definite Type or Form, and this Type he calls an Idea. Thus in some sense it is this Type, this Idea, this Form, that brings the particular thing into being.

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