Cornhill Magazine,  9 (1864), 292–96.

The Two Aspects of History

[George H Lewes]




Historiography, Progress, Evolution, Human Development, Animal Development, Analogy, Positivism, Eschatology, Organicism, Humanism, Race, Industry, Cell Biology, Climatology, Invention

    Compares the view that history is a narrative of 'hopeless corso ricorso, of rising and falling' with the conception of it as a story of 'gradual though laborious evolution', coming down decisively in favour of the latter. Draws an analogy between the fitful but steady progress of 'Humanity as a collective Life, of which nations are the organs, and individuals the units' and 'the development of an animal organism' in which 'some changes seem an apparent undoing of what has been effected—as when a mass of cells dissolve, or when a provisional organ disappears—but in a little while a higher form emerges'. (292) The 'history of our globe tells of a gradual progress towards higher, that is, more complex, life', and just as the growth of a new 'rich and varied vegetation' requires the 'decay of vegetable remains', so in the advance of 'the Race [...] towards completer life' the lives of everyone who has now passed away have 'enriched the world', and, no matter how modest they might have been, have helped 'modify successors' (292–93). Although 'much seems to perish, much is known to be immortal' in human life (292). Asserts that the 'true conception of Freedom as a sacred human right arose in modern times; its nursery was the Industrial Order'. Also affirms that 'just as the individual organism is made up of countless microscopic cells, each of which has its own independent life, is born, is developed, and dies, subserving by its life the general life of which it is an unit; in like manner Humanity is made up of countless individual lives, each independent, yet each subserving the general end'. It was, however, 'long before Biology was enabled to show that the organism was composed of countless cells', and 'Philosophy' has likewise only recently realized that 'individual existences made one collective life'. (296)

© Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical Project, Universities of Leeds and Sheffield, 2005 - 2020

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