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THE CLOSE OF AN ERA
It would be impossible for any informed observer at the present time, in the midst of our Western civilisation, to remain altogether unconscious of the character and dimensions of a vast process of change which, beneath the outward surface of events, is in progress in the world around us. versies, scientific and religious, which filled the nineThe great controteenth century, have broadened out far beyond the narrow boundaries within which the specialists imagined them to be confined. The older antagonists in many of these controversies still continue, as they will doubtless continue to the end, to confront each other in the same attitudes of opposition as at the beginning. But the general mind is no longer closely engaged with the past aspects of these disputes. It is becoming more and more preoccupied with the larger problems beyond, which the new knowledge has brought fully into view, and with the immense social and political issues which are now seen to be ultimately involved.
The precursor of every great period of social and
political reconstruction has invariably been, as John Stuart Mill has pointed out, "a great change in the opinions and modes of thinking of society." There is no era in Western history which can offer any parallel in this respect to the period in which we are living. There is no department of knowledge dealing with man in society, however authoritative its traditions, however exclusive and self-contained its position, which is not separated now by an immense interval from its standpoint fifty years ago. The modern doctrine of evolution is only the last of a long chain of sequences. But the changes which it has already effected in the tendencies of the deeper processes of thought altogether exceed in import any previously experienced. Even its general results have a significance which immediately arrests the attention of the thoughtful observer. The final aspect of authority and completeness which it has given to the work accomplished by a set of revolutionary tendencies in thought, which for four centuries have struggled with the most conservative elements in our civilisation, has so profoundly influenced the average mind, that the culminating effect of the revolution has been felt almost as if the meaning of the whole movement had been compressed into the lifetime of a single generation. The Western intellect has, as it were, passed at last through the initiatory phase of what Hegel called the terrible discipline of self-knowledge. The tendencies which John Addington Symonds. beheld slowly transforming our civilisation-the audacious speculation, the bold explanatory studies, the sound methods of criticism, the free range of the 1 System of Logic, by John Stuart Mill, vi. c. x.