THE RISE OF HISTORICAL CRITICISM
3. CHAPTER III
Leaving then the question of the origin of society as treated by
the ancients, I shall now turn to the other and the more important
question of how far they may he said to have attained to what we
call the philosophy of history.
Now at the outset we must note that, while the conceptions of law
and order have been universally received as the governing
principles of the phenomena of nature in the sphere of physical
science, yet their intrusion into the domain of history and the
life of man has always been met with a strong opposition, on the
ground of the incalculable nature of two great forces acting on
human action, a certain causeless spontaneity which men call free
will, and the extra-natural interference which they attribute as a
constant attribute to God.
Now, that there is a science of the apparently variable phenomena
of history is a conception which we have perhaps only recently
begun to appreciate; yet, like all other great thoughts, it seems
to have come to the Greek mind spontaneously, through a certain
splendour of imagination, in the morning tide of their
civilisation, before inductive research had armed them with the
instruments of verification. For I think it is possible to discern
in some of the mystic speculations of the early Greek thinkers that
desire to discover what is that 'invariable existence of which
there are variable states,' and to incorporate it in some one
formula of law which may serve to explain the different
manifestations of all organic bodies, man included, which is the
germ of the philosophy of history; the germ indeed of an idea of
which it is not too much to say that on it any kind of historical
criticism, worthy of the name, must ultimately rest.
For the very first requisite for any scientific conception of
history is the doctrine of uniform sequence: in other words, that
certain events having happened, certain other events corresponding
to them will happen also; that the past is the key of the future.
Now at the birth of this great conception science, it is true,
presided, yet religion it was which at the outset clothed it in its
own garb, and familiarised men with it by appealing to their hearts
first and then to their intellects; knowing that at the beginning
of things it is through the moral nature, and not through the
intellectual, that great truths are spread.