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became further removed from those land-marks to which we might have referred in aid of our conjectures, clothing everything with the dark mantle of mystery, and leaving us in doubt more perplexing even than ignorance, as to where we were, and whither we were proceeding."*
How true and lively a picture does this description present of the benighted mind, travelling onward, onward, with the current of fashion and opinion: ever thought the best, while always shifting; and all its greater and more permanent changes unperceived by those who look not out of the mist of doubt and ignorance which partially, at all events, envelopes all subjects of human knowledge and occupation.
In the Saturday Magazine, No. 428, for March 2, 1839, there is a frontispiece of about twenty different
* Monk Mason's Description, &c., p. 28.
† In the British Critic, No. 61, pp. 241, 242, there is a forcible passage upon this subject of the effect of habit in opinion.
" When any evil has existed for a great length of time it becomes self-supported and self-defensive. One ramification balances another. Collateral forms of the error, like the bastions of a fortification, furnish mutual protection. A wide-spread contagion corrupts both the ordinary ways of action, and the rules of judgment,-practice as well as theory. Words, works, and thought, are brought into perfect unison. Every avenue of sense and reflection is vitiated. The heresy produces the medium through which it is seen, &c.” “ Error becomes then at last, we say not so specious and plausible, but so absolutely, so sensibly, so demonstrably true, that it is as difficult to doubt one's own existence, as the existence of those manifest axioms and realities with which one's own existence seems inseparably connected, and which appear the very elements of our being, &c.” “ Hence may be seen what a work of works it is to oppose with effect any long standing spirit of error.” The whole passage is worth consulting.
ladies' head-dresses, of the 15th, 16th, and 18th centuries. One only differs from another, throughout, in the oppositeness of absurdity. One is like a coachbox and hammercloth; another like a pyramid; a third is an inverted pyramid, with a fat cushion at top; a fourth has a thick club pigtail; a fifth has lappetts three quarters of a yard long on the sides; another the same at the back; another is square behind the head; another is round at the top of it; in one the face is looking out as if at a tent door; and each and all of them together have much more cushion than head to them.
At one season, about fifty years back, it was the fashion for ladies to have the two sides of their head dressed in different modes; the one side was plain, the other frizzed and curled ad libitum.
Now all these patterns of outward fashion and dress, are just so many parallels and representations of as many fashions of mind and opinion, which have severally prevailed, at so many similar intervals of time, perhaps not much further apart than those at which these different head-dresses have been approved and adopted. Each of these was admired in its time, and thought alone consistent with good taste, and was necessary a walk in good society; and without as great an accommodation to the current opinions of the world, in philosophy and morals, we are equally unfitted to mix with and to pursue our walk creditably in it.
We are not easily made aware of the rapid and sudden effects of fashion, and of its irresistible influence. Even the most violent and the most unwelcome changes, though at first they may be highly offensive, and ridi
culed, are, through example, in a very short time adopted. These are great and rapid it is true, in proportion to the weakness of mind and character of those who are led captive by them; but still we are all weak, and as children, in this respect, and the strongest mind ultimately yields itself their prisoner. Fashion makes every strange thing agreeable and acceptable. The usual process is this :- We at first ridicule a new fashion in dress, and resolve never to adopt it; next, the eye becomes accustomed to it; then it becomes tolerable; soon after, we admire it; and, lastly, we order the very same thing ourselves. It is the same with vice. At first we are disgusted by it; by frequently seeing it, it becomes less offensive in our eyes; next it seems tolerable; then excusable; and very soon after we like and approve; and lastly we practise it.* Again, likewise, in a new science, or theory, or opinion; at first the new style of thought, and reasoning, and language, is difficult and absurd. By the time we have mastered the few first principles, the train of thought becomes intelligible; then ingenious; then curious and interesting; ---at length, when the theory has been completely mastered, the principles are admired and approved, and lauded to the skies as most true and certain, and im
* The lines of Pope will be recollected:
“ Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Essay on Man, 2nd book, 1. 216. See Archdeacon Samuel Wilberforce's Sermon, on the Danger of Depraving the Moral Sense.
portant, and masterly. Lastly, in doctrine and controversy, if fashion will but lay before us, and induce us to give attention to the positions of the least approved and most opposite party, then we shall first listen to them with the smile of pity and incredulity, as to the language of a madman; then we shall begin to understand, and shall confess that at least there is a shape and method in the madness; then the parts will be seen to fit and cohere together, and to form a rational system; then it is a beautiful; then a sublime system; and then at length it sets at nought all other systems, and is absolute truth, and wisdom, and perfection.
Fashion can give an infallible interpretation to a text:-as in the doctrine of the keys, and transubstantiation. Fashion can blind our eyes to a positive command: as when the Jews kept neither the sabbatical year, nor the passover. The feast of tabernacles was never kept from Joshua to Nehemiah.* Fashion can kill or give life to a prophecy or a type. We are now interpreting as of the Jews promises which had for ages been applied to Christians generally. The Mahometans are now giving a spiritual interpretation to the sensual promises and threatenings of their Koran. Ten years ago the Christians were called dogs by the Turks; now they are admired by them and imitated in everything. Ten years since the Roman Catholics and Dissenters were trodden underfoot; since that they have been almost uppermost ;--and the Dissenters, at least, are now very likely to lose all, and more than all their
* Nehem. viii, 17.
ground again. At the same time, the Methodists, not many years since entirely condemned by the Church, are of late years considered to have revived its spirit, and supplied its deficiency. Twenty years since benefices were generally regarded merely as livings, as much the property of the clergy as any estate, the only tenure of which was the duty on a Sunday; but now the spiritual cure is being regarded as the principal, and is extended through every week-day, and the duties of it are wearing out the clergy by excessive labour. Even churchbuilding and almsgiving might become as common and generally esteemed as party spirit and education.
These changes are not all for the better and the wiser; and there is no security in the dismissal and despising of a fashion, that it may not come back, and be as highly approved again, or that the most modern fashion may not be as absurd as any of the preceding. Among the Greek and the Russian priests, the beard is the sign of dignity. In England, we have cut off the beard; and we have since put our judges into wigs : preferring the artificial to the natural ensign of age and gravity. The Chinese despise us for being, as it appears to them, naked; and Lord Amherst was forced to envelope himself in a doctor's robe, in order to present himself with decency to his Celestial Majesty. In 1811, our ladies dressed nearly as tight as our men; but now they swell and bustle themselves out nearly to a Chinese corpulency. Was the use of trunk hose, in which you might carry a wardrobe, a greater absurdity ? The dresses of our great-grandmothers have very nearly returned into use; and even, instead of a hoop, we have