One peculiarity of this age is the sudden acquisition of much physical knowledge. There is scarcely a department of science or art which is the same, or at all the same, as it was fifty years ago. A new world of inventions—of railways and of telegraphs—has grown up around us which we cannot help seeing; a new world of ideas is in the air and affects us, though we do not see it. . ..
If we wanted to describe one of the most marked results, perhaps the most marked result, of late thought, we should say that by it everything is made 'an antiquity.' When, in former times; our ancestors thought of an antiquarian, they described him as occupied with coins, and medals, and Druids' stones; these were then the characteristic records of the decipherable past, and it was with these that decipherers busied themselves. But now there are other relics; indeed, all matter is become such. Science tries to find in each bit of earth the record of the causes which made it precisely what it is. . . .
It may be answered that in this there is nothing new; that we always knew how much a man's past modified a man's future; that we all knew how much, a man is apt to be like his ancestors; that the existence of national character is the greatest commonplace in the world; that when a philosopher cannot account for anything in any other manner, he boldly ascribes it to an occult quality in some race. But what physical science does is, not to discover the hereditary element, but to render it distinct,—to give us an accurate conception of what we may expect, and a good account of the evidence by which we are led to expect it.
Bagehot, Walter. Physics and Politics, or, Thoughts on the application of the principles of "natural selection" and "inheritance" to political society. [Date and place of publication not provided.] [EBook #4350], produced by Steve Harris, Charles Franks and and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team based on page images generously made available by The Internet Archive/Canadian Libraries].
Last modified 25 July 2018