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If we think of the wonderful improvements in the mechanic arts, we recognize this period as an age of invention. Within a few decades are comprised more numerous and more important inventions than are found in many preceding centuries taken together. Social and industrial life has been thoroughly revolutionized. Think of the wonders accomplished by steam! It has supplied a new motive power, accelerated travel, and built up manufacturing inland towns and cities. Electricity is at present accomplishing scarcely less. It carries our messages, lights our cities, and runs our street railways. The capacity of the printing-press has been vastly increased. While the sewing-machine has taken the place of the needle in the house, the reaper and the mowing-machine have supplanted the sickle and the scythe in the field. The breech-loading and repeating rifle has driven out the muzzle-loading flintlock.
These are but a few of the inventions belonging to the Victorian Age. "A reign," says Justin McCarthy, "which saw in its earlier years the application of the electric current to the task of transmitting messages, the first successful attempts to make use of steam for the business of transatlantic navigation, the general development of the railway system all over these countries, and the introduction of the penny-post, must be considered to have obtained for itself, had it secured no other memorials, an abiding place in history." Many a man still living has seen the entire system of manufacturing, travel, agriculture, and transmission of intelligence completely changed, witnessing a greater transformation than if he had lived through the preceding five centuries.
The present period is an age of scientific investigation and progress. The Baconian spirit prevails; and investigation systematic, minute, and prolonged - has taken the place of empty speculation. In the presence of rapid changes, tradition has lost much of its power; and with their growing intelligence men are less willing to be guided by mere authority. Careful and patient toilers are at work in every department of learning; and nature, questioned as never before, is gradually yielding up her secrets. All the natural sciences - physics, zoology, botany, geology, chemistry, physiology, astronomy - have been wonderfully expanded; Faraday, Tyndall, Darwin, Spencer, and others are honored names in natural science.
The same patient methods of investigation are applied to the study of the mind, the origin of man, the history of the past. The theory of evolution, sometimes with greater or less modification, has been generally accepted, and, like the law of gravitation or the Copernican system, has greatly changed our views of nature and of history. Many old beliefs have been modified or destroyed; but the general result has been to give us greater breadth of thought and a clearer insight into the laws of God.
This is preeminently a practical age, aiming at visible results. The vast resources, which science and invention have placed at our command, are applied in various ways to the comfort and well-being of man. The material wealth of every country is being developed; and daring explorers, supported by private enterprise or royal bounty, are sent to examine unknown regions. Every effort is put forth to make living less costly and more comfortable. No doubt, as is pointed out sometimes, this practical tendency
goes too far, subjecting æsthetic and spiritual interests to material ends. The ideal is, in too great a degree, banished from life. But, in spite of these facts, the practical tendency of our age deserves to be considered one of its many claims to superiority.
It is an age of educational advancement. In England as elsewhere, schools of every class have been multiplied, and education has been brought within the reach of the common people. The methods of instruction are more nearly conformed to the nature of the child, and the subjects of study are designed to fit the pupil for the duties of practical life. In higher education the change is no less remarkable; the traditional curriculum, consisting largely of Latin and Greek, has been greatly expanded, and subjects of immediate practical importance—the modern languages, natural and political science, the mother tongue, and history-receive increased attention. Women now have the advantages of higher education, either in separate or in coeducational colleges.
Intelligence was never so generally diffused. The periodical press exerts an immense influence. Great dailies spread before the people every morning the news of the world. Monthly magazines and reviews, unsurpassed in tasteful form and literary excellence, have been greatly multiplied. They powerfully stimulate literary activity, while cultivating the taste, intelligence, and character of the people. They are often the original vehicles, not only for what is best in fiction, poetry, and criticism, but also for what is most interesting in science and history.
The present is an age of close international relations. Submarine cables and fleet steamers bring the various
nations of the earth close together. They are united by commercial interests. They share in common social, industrial, scientific, and literary interests; and what is true of England in these particulars is substantially true of America or, in a less degree, of France, or of Germany. Christendom has become more homogeneous; culture is more cosmopolitan. With a clearer knowledge of one another, and with common interests fostered by commerce, the nations of the earth have developed kindlier feelings. From time to time they unite in great expositions of their choicest products, and settle minor differences by diplomacy or arbitration.
It is a time of political progress. The democratic principles, announced and defended in America and France at the close of the last century, have become generally diffused. It is now commonly recognized that governments exist, not for sovereigns or favored classes; but for the people. New reform bills have greatly extended the right of suffrage in England, the elective franchise being extended, in certain cases, even to women. The science of government is better understood, and legislative enactments have become more intelligent and equitable. The public administration has become purer. If bribery, self-aggrandizement, and dishonesty still exist, these evils are much less frequent than in former ages. Public men live in the light and are held accountable at the bar of public opinion.
The present period is an era of social progress. The increased facilities of production have greatly cheapened the necessaries of life. Wages have generally increased; and the poor, as well as the rich, live better than ever
before. Women enjoy greater advantages. But, at the same time, there is great social unrest. Many believe that the existing economic conditions are not final. Wasteful wealth sometimes exists by the side of starving poverty. Gigantic combinations of capital, which often abuse their power to wrong the people, are commonly recognized as a serious evil. Great attention is given to the study of economic and sociological questions, which are treated, not only in scientific, but also in fictitious, works.
The religious advancement of the period under consideration is specially noteworthy. The conflict between dogma and science, which at times has been sharp, has not been prejudicial to Christianity. Superstition has become a thing of the past, and the emphasis of religious teaching is now centred upon fundamental and practical truths. The Gospel is looked upon as a rule of life for the present world, and Christ is becoming more and more the conscious ideal of men. The ascetic spirit has given place to an active spirit, which finds the highest service of God in bravely meeting the duties of everyday life. The asperities of religious sects are softening; Jews as well as Roman Catholics are admitted to Parliament; religious tests are abolished at Oxford and Cambridge; Dissenters, since 1880, have had the right to bury in the public churchyards with their own religious services. The Evangelical Alliance and the Young Men's Christian Association are the practical manifestation of the general tendency toward closer union and coöperation among Christian people.
In harmony with the practical tendencies of the age,