Cornhill Magazine,  8 (1863), 83–92.

Commonplaces on England

[J Fitzjames Stephen]




Nationalism, Theory, Reasoning, Force, Aeronautics, Dynamics, Engineering, Wonder, Railways, Steamships

    Complains of the 'periodical writers, especially the writers in newspapers, who assume to themselves the right of speaking in the name of the nation at large' (83) and put forward the erroneous opinion that 'the English nation is not fitted for speculation—that it has little logical power—that it cares little for "theory"' (84). Rather, the 'alleged dislike of Englishmen to theory and speculation is, in reality, a dislike for falsehood and rashness' (87). Compares the 'notion that Englishmen are not speculative, because the practical results of their speculations are not simple' to the equally inaccurate 'notion that the propulsive force of gunpowder and the force of gravitation have no assignable direction, because it is a very difficult thing to trace accurately the course of a projectile'. Also notes that 'Great and well-deserved admiration has of late years been bestowed upon the wonderful engineering feats, of which the last two generations have witnessed so many. Most of them rested on speculations and theories of the most recondite and elaborate kind. Locomotive engines and their applications to railroads were theories long before they were translated into facts. So were the Atlantic steamers and the tubular bridges of which we have all heard so much. Can it be true that a nation which has taken the lead in such works as these should really be deficient in power of thought—in other words, in speculation?'. (89)

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