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HARMONY OF PHRENOLOGY
EXAMINATION OF MR COMBE'S HYPOTHESIS, THAT THE WORLD IS CONSTI> TUTED ON THE PRINCIPLE OF SLOW AND PROGRESSIVE IMPROVEMENT.— GENERAL VIEW OF THE SUBJECT.
IN the commencement of his work on the Constitution of Man, Mr Combe draws a parallel between the inferior animals and the human race, and the circumstances in which they are respectively placed. He observes, most truly, that animals exhibit a much more simple constitution than man does; that, whether their nature is wild and ferocious, or gentle and inoffensive, they are uniformly and consistently so; and that each tribe is placed in circumstances obviously suited to its character and habits. Man, on the other hand, presents anomalies and inconsistencies without end, at once destructive and benevolent, selfish and generous-capable of the grossest sensuality, cruelty, and deceit; or of high attainments in wisdom, piety, and virtue. "But how," says Mr Combe, "shall these conflicting tendencies. be reconciled, and how can external circumstances be devised that shall accord with such heterogeneous elements?" These questions have puzzled philosophers in all ages. Mr Combe thinks he is able to solve the enigma.
It is to be regretted, that, in entering upon this most interesting field of speculation, Mr Combe should have thought it necessary, at the very outset, to come into collision with certain doctrines which are generally supposed to lie at the very foundation of Christianity, I allude to the doctrines of the Fall, and the consequent depravity of the human race.
Mr Combe had no occasion whatever to enter upon topics like these. If it had been his wish to treat his subject in a manner purely philosophical, and to consider the state and prospects of man, as far as he was able, by the lights of natural reason, he might have done so without trenching upon ground which is within the peculiar province of revelation. He might, and, as a philosopher, he was bound to have confined himself to that part of the history of the human race to which we have access from authentic human testimony, or existing monuments; and if, from facts thus established, when compared with the actual state of the race in various parts of the world, he could, by a legitimate induction, succeed in establishing any general laws respecting the progress of society in times past, there might then have been rational grounds for drawing conclusions as to the probabilities of this progress in ages to come. In choosing this course, Mr Combe would have avoided all risk of shocking the prejudices, or insulting the faith of any class of professing Christians, or of awakening, what he so much deprecates, the angry feelings of religious controversy.
But Mr Combe has not chosen to take this safe, rational, simple, and truly philosophical course. Instead of a regular induction, drawn from an extensive and well arranged collection of facts, he sets out with an hypothesis of the most sweeping description, drawn from analogies the most remote, and premises the most slender
and insufficient. This hypothesis is announced in general terms as follows: "The constitution of this world does not look like a system of optimism. It appears to be arranged, in all its departments, on the principle of slow and progressive improvement."
In support of this position, Mr Combe first refers to the facts recently discovered by geologists, shewing that this earth has, in very remote periods of time, undergone various revolutions, and has been covered by various races of vegetables and animals, successively produced and successively destroyed, all tending to prepare it for the residence of its present inhabitants, and particularly of man, the most important of them all. "At last," he says, "man was created, and since that period there has been little alteration in the physical circumstances of the globe."
After some general observations respecting the powers and faculties of man, and their adaptation to the circumstances in which he is placed, he goes on to draw an analogy between the progress of the human race and that of the physical world. "If the physical history of the globe," he observes, "clearly indicates progression in an advancing series of changes, the civil history of man equally proclaims the march, though often vacillating and slow, of moral and intellectual improvement;" and he takes for an example of this improvement the progress from barbarism to civilization in our own country,- -and upon this slender shred of a very remote analogy, he thinks he has established a new theory of the Divine arrangements, of universal application, which is to explain the secret purposes of Providence in regard to the human race, "and vindicate the ways of God to man." He now brings forward his views in a more definite form, and states them in opposition to those generally received. I shall give them in his own words:
"In our own country, two views of the constitution of the world and of human nature have long been prevalent, differing widely from each other, and which, if legitimately followed out, would lead to distinct practical results. The one is, that the world, including both the physical and moral departments, contains within itself the elements of improvement, which time will evolve, and bring to maturity; it having been constituted on the principle of a progressive system, like the acorn in reference to the oak.
“The other hypothesis is, that the world was perfect at first, but fell into derangement, continues in disorder, and does not contain within itself the elements of its own rectification.”
It is quite obvious, that in adopting the former of these views, in opposition to the latter, Mr Combe openly maintains opinions, in regard to the past and present condition of the human race, directly at variance with the doctrines of our divines, and of our national church. He nowhere pretends to conceal this; on the contrary, he constantly, throughout his whole work, refers to the doctrine of the corruption of human nature as a fundamental error, which has been adopted by divines in consequence of their entire ignorance of a true system of mental philosophy. A great part of his introductory chapter is devoted to shewing the causes of this and various other errors into which he supposes them to have fallen, and pointing out to them a course by which they may promote the intellectual and moral improvement of mankind more effectually than they have hitherto been able to do.
It may here be remarked, in the first place, that the question respecting the corruption of human nature, or, in other words, its degeneracy from its original state, is not a question dependent on any philosophical theory, or system of mental philosophy. It is purely a question
of fact, to be determined by the ordinary means by which we acquire information with regard to other facts. If Mr Combe thinks he is in possession of evidence sufficient to prove that the moral and intellectual faculties of man are at present in a state equal or superior to that in which they existed at his creation, let him produce this evidence, and we shall give it all due consideration. But it must be quite clear, that any evidence upon which we can come to a conclusion on such a subject, can have no connection with the peculiar nature of the faculties themselves with which man is endowed. It is of no consequence, as to the point at issue, whether man possesses sentiments of benevolence, veneration, and conscientiousness, or whether he is endued with propensities of destructiveness and combativeness. The question is, whether these, and all the other faculties, propensities, and sentiments which form part of his nature, are now in an equally perfect state as in the day when he came from the hands of his Creator. If Mr Combe can prove that they are so, or that, instead of degenerating, they have actually improved, it will be time enough for him to find fault with the doctrines of divines on the subject of human degeneracy.
To illustrate what I mean when I say, that it is of no consequence, as to this question, what the faculties are, I shall suppose the question to be, whether our breed of horses has degenerated from the time when it was first introduced into this island? In this case, it would not in the least tend to a solution of the question, to enter into any detail respecting the anatomy of the horse, or to shew that, at his first introduction, he had exactly four legs as at present; that he had then, as now, two eyes, two ears, two nostrils; that the form of the neck, the hoof, the pastern, and every part, was