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Title: Critical Miscellanies (Vol. 3 of 3) - Essay 10: Auguste Comte
Author: Morley, John, 1838-1923
Language: English
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  Essay 10: Auguste Comte





  Introduction                                                     337

  Influence of Saint Simon                                         340

  Marriage                                                         343

  Serious illness                                                  345

  Official work                                                    347

  Completion of _Positive Philosophy_                              349

  J. S. Mill                                                       350

  Question of Subsidy                                              352

  Money                                                            353

  Literary method                                                  354

  _Hygiène cérébrale_                                              356

  Madame de Vaux                                                   356

  _Positive Polity_                                                358

  Death                                                            359

  Comte's philosophic consistency                                  360

  Early writings                                                   361

  Law of the Three States                                          363

  Classification of sciences                                       366

  The double key of Positive Philosophy                            368

  Criticism on Comte's classification                              369

  Sociological conceptions                                         371

  Method                                                           371

  Decisive importance of intellectual development                  373

  Historical elucidations                                          374

  Their value and popularity                                       374

  Social dynamics in the _Positive Polity_                         375

  The Positivist system                                            376

  The key to social regeneration                                   377

  The Religion of Humanity                                         377

  The Great Being                                                  378

  Remarks on the Religion                                          378

  The worship and discipline                                       380

  The priesthood                                                   381

  Women                                                            382

  Conclusion                                                       383


Comte is now generally admitted to have been the most eminent and
important of that interesting group of thinkers whom the overthrow of
old institutions in France turned towards social speculation. Vastly
superior as he was to men like De Maistre on the one hand, and to men
like Saint Simon or Fourier on the other, as well in scientific
acquisitions as in mental capacity, still the aim and interest of all
his thinking was also theirs, namely, the renovation of the conditions
of the social union. If, however, we classify him, not thus according
to aim, but according to method, then he takes rank among men of a
very different type from these. What distinguishes him in method from
his contemporaries is his discernment that the social order cannot be
transformed until all the theoretic conceptions that belong to it have
been rehandled in a scientific spirit, and maturely gathered up into a
systematic whole along with the rest of our knowledge. This presiding
doctrine connects Comte with the social thinkers of the eighteenth
century,--indirectly with Montesquieu, directly with Turgot, and more
closely than either with Condorcet, of whom he was accustomed to speak
as his philosophic father.

    [1] Reprinted by the kind permission of Messrs. A. and C. Black
        from the new edition of the _Encyclopædia Britannica_.

Isidore-Auguste-Marie-François-Xavier Comte was born in January 1798,
at Montpellier, where his father was a receiver-general of taxes for
the district. He was sent for his earliest instruction to the school
of the town, and in 1814 was admitted to the École Polytechnique. His
youth was marked by a constant willingness to rebel against merely
official authority; to genuine excellence, whether moral or
intellectual, he was always ready to pay unbounded deference. That
strenuous application which was one of his most remarkable gifts in
manhood showed itself in his youth, and his application was backed or
inspired by superior intelligence and aptness. After he had been two
years at the École Polytechnique he took a foremost part in a mutinous
demonstration against one of the masters; the school was broken up,
and Comte like the other scholars was sent home. To the great
dissatisfaction of his parents, he resolved to return to Paris (1816),
and to earn his living there by giving lessons in mathematics.
Benjamin Franklin was the youth's idol at this moment. 'I seek to
imitate the modern Socrates,' he wrote to a school friend, 'not in
talents, but in way of living. You know that at five and twenty he
formed the design of becoming perfectly wise, and that he fulfilled
his design. I have dared to undertake the same thing, though I am not
yet twenty.' Though Comte's character and aims were as far removed as
possible from Franklin's type, neither Franklin nor any man that ever
lived could surpass him in the heroic tenacity with which, in the face
of a thousand obstacles, he pursued his own ideal of a vocation.

For a moment circumstances led him to think of seeking a career in
America, but a friend who preceded him thither warned him of the
purely practical spirit that prevailed in the new country. 'If
Lagrange were to come to the United States, he could only earn his
livelihood by turning land surveyor.' So Comte remained in Paris,
living as he best could on something less than £80 a year, and hoping,
when he took the trouble to break his meditations upon greater things
by hopes about himself, that he might by and by obtain an appointment
as mathematical master in a school. A friend procured him a situation
as tutor in the house of Casimir Périer. The salary was good, but the
duties were too miscellaneous, and what was still worse, there was an
end of the delicious liberty of the garret. After a short experience
of three weeks Comte returned to neediness and contentment. He was not
altogether without the young man's appetite for pleasure; yet when he
was only nineteen we find him wondering, amid the gaieties of the
carnival of 1817, how a gavotte or a minuet could make people forget
that thirty thousand human beings around them had barely a morsel to
eat. Hardship in youth has many drawbacks, but it has the immense
advantage over academic ease of making the student's interest in men
real, and not merely literary.

Towards 1818 Comte became associated as friend and disciple with a man
who was destined to exercise a very decisive influence upon the turn
of his speculation. Henry, count of Saint Simon, was second cousin of
the famous duke of Saint Simon, the friend of the Regent, and author
of the most important set of memoirs in a language that is so
incomparably rich in memoirs. He was now nearly sixty, and if he had
not gained a serious reputation, he had at least excited the curiosity
and interest of his contemporaries by the social eccentricities of his
life, by the multitude of his schemes and devices, and by the
fantastic ingenuity of his political ideas. Saint Simon's most
characteristic faculty was an exuberant imagination, working in the
sphere of real things. Scientific discipline did nothing for him; he
had never undergone it, and he never felt its value. He was an artist
in social construction; and if right ideas, or the suggestion of right
ideas, sometimes came into his head, about history, about human
progress, about a stable polity, such ideas were not the products of
trains of ordered reasoning; they were the intuitional glimpses of the
poet, and consequently as they professed to be in real matter, even
the right ideas were as often as not accompanied by wrong ones.

The young Comte, now twenty, was enchanted by the philosophic veteran.
In after years he so far forgot himself as to write of Saint Simon as
a depraved quack, and to deplore his connection with him as purely
mischievous. While the connection lasted he thought very differently.
Saint Simon is described as the most estimable and lovable of men, and
the most delightful in his relations; he is the worthiest of
philosophers. Even after the association had come to an end, and at
the very moment when Comte was congratulating himself on having thrown
off the yoke, he honestly admits that Saint Simon's influence has been
of powerful service in his philosophic education. 'I certainly,' he
writes to his most intimate friend, 'am under great personal
obligations to Saint Simon; that is to say, he helped in a powerful
degree to launch me in the philosophical direction that I have now
definitely marked out for myself, and that I shall follow without
looking back for the rest of my life.' Even if there were no such
unmistakable expressions as these, the most cursory glance into Saint
Simon's writings is enough to reveal the thread of connection between
the ingenious visionary and systematic thinker. We see the debt, and
we also see that when it is stated at the highest possible, nothing
has really been taken either from Comte's claims as a powerful
original thinker, or from his immeasurable pre-eminence over Saint
Simon in intellectual grasp and vigour and coherence. As high a degree
of originality may be shown in transformation as in invention, as
Molière and Shakespeare have proved in the region of dramatic art. In
philosophy the conditions are not different. _Il faut prendre son
bien où on le trouve._

It is no detriment to Comte's fame that some of the ideas which he
recombined and incorporated in a great philosophic structure had their
origin in ideas that were produced almost at random in the incessant
fermentation of Saint Simon's brain. Comte is in no true sense a
follower of Saint Simon, but it was undoubtedly Saint Simon who
launched him, to take Comte's own word, by suggesting to his strong
and penetrating mind the two starting-points of what grew into the
Comtist system--first, that political phenomena are as capable of
being grouped under laws as other phenomena; and second, that the true
destination of philosophy must be social, and the true object of the
thinker must be the reorganisation of the moral, religious, and
political systems. We can readily see what an impulse these
far-reaching conceptions would give to Comte's meditations. There were
conceptions of less importance than these, in which it is impossible
not to feel that it was Saint Simon's wrong or imperfect idea that put
his young admirer on the track to a right and perfected idea. The
subject is not worthy of further discussion. That Comte would have
performed some great intellectual achievement, if Saint Simon had
never been born, is certain. It is hardly less certain that the great
achievement which he did actually perform was originally set in motion
by Saint Simon's conversation, though it was afterwards directly
filiated with the fertile speculations of Turgot and Condorcet. Comte
thought almost as meanly of Plato as he did of Saint Simon, and he
considered Aristotle the prince of all true thinkers; yet their vital
difference about Ideas did not prevent Aristotle from calling Plato

After six years the differences between the old and the young
philosopher grew too marked for friendship. Comte began to fret under
Saint Simon's pretensions to be his director. Saint Simon, on the
other hand, perhaps began to feel uncomfortably conscious of the
superiority of his disciple. The occasion of the breach between them
(1824) was an attempt on Saint Simon's part to print a production of
Comte's as if it were in some sort connected with Saint Simon's
schemes of social reorganisation. Comte was never a man to quarrel by
halves, and not only was the breach not repaired, but long afterwards
Comte, as we have said, with painful ungraciousness took to calling
the encourager of his youth by very hard names.

In 1825 Comte married. His marriage was one of those of which
'magnanimity owes no account to prudence,' and it did not turn out
prosperously. His family were strongly Catholic and royalist, and they
were outraged by his refusal to have the marriage performed other than
civilly. They consented, however, to receive his wife, and the pair
went on a visit to Montpellier. Madame Comte conceived a dislike to
the circle she found there, and this was the too early beginning of
disputes which lasted for the remainder of their union. In the year of
his marriage we find Comte writing to the most intimate of his
correspondents:--'I have nothing left but to concentrate my whole
moral existence in my intellectual work, a precious but inadequate
compensation; and so I must give up, if not the most dazzling, still
the sweetest part of my happiness.' We cannot help admiring the
heroism which cherishes great ideas in the midst of petty miseries,
and intrepidly throws all squalid interruptions into the background
which is their true place. Still, we may well suppose that the sordid
cares that come with want of money made a harmonious life none the
more easy. Comte tried to find pupils to board with him, but only one
pupil came, and he was soon sent away for lack of companions. 'I would
rather spend an evening,' wrote the needy enthusiast, 'in solving a
difficult question, than in running after some empty-headed and
consequential millionaire in search of a pupil.' A little money was
earned by an occasional article in _Le Producteur_, in which he began
to expound the philosophic ideas that were now maturing in his mind.
He announced a course of lectures (1826), which it was hoped would
bring money as well as fame, and which were to be the first dogmatic
exposition of the Positive Philosophy. A friend had said to him, 'You
talk too freely, your ideas are getting abroad, and other people use
them without giving you the credit; put your ownership on record.' The
lectures were intended to do this among other things, and they
attracted hearers so eminent as Humboldt the cosmologist, as Poinsot
the geometer, as Blainville the physiologist.

Unhappily, after the third lecture of the course, Comte had a severe
attack of cerebral derangement, brought on by intense and prolonged
meditation, acting on a system that was already irritated by the
chagrin of domestic failure. He did not recover his health for more
than a year, and as soon as convalescence set in he was seized by so
profound a melancholy at the disaster which had thus overtaken him,
that he threw himself into the Seine. Fortunately he was rescued, and
the shock did not stay his return to mental soundness. One incident of
this painful episode is worth mentioning. Lamennais, then in the
height of his Catholic exaltation, persuaded Comte's mother to insist
on her son being married with the religious ceremony, and as the
younger Madame Comte apparently did not resist, the rite was duly
performed, in spite of the fact that the unfortunate man was at the
time neither more nor less than raving mad. To such shocking
conspiracies against common sense and decency does ecclesiastical
zealotry bring even good men like Lamennais. On the other hand,
philosophic assailants of Comtism have not always resisted the
temptation to recall the circumstance that its founder was once out of
his mind,--an unworthy and irrelevant device, that cannot be excused
even by the provocation of Comte's own occasional acerbity. As has
been justly said, if Newton once suffered a cerebral attack without on
that account forfeiting our veneration for the _Principia_, Comte may
have suffered in the same way, and still not have forfeited our
respect for what is good in the systems of Positive Philosophy and
Positive Polity.

In 1828 the lectures were renewed, and in 1830 was published the first
volume of the _Course of Positive Philosophy_. The sketch and ground
plan of this great undertaking had appeared in 1826. The sixth and
last volume was published in 1842. The twelve years covering the
publication of the first of Comte's two elaborate works were years of
indefatigable toil, and they were the only portion of his life in
which he enjoyed a certain measure, and that a very modest measure, of
material prosperity. In 1833 he was appointed examiner of the boys in
the various provincial schools who aspired to enter the École
Polytechnique at Paris. This and two other engagements as a teacher of
mathematics secured him an income of some £400 a year. He made M.
Guizot, then Louis Philippe's minister, the important proposal to
establish a chair of general history of the sciences. If there are
four chairs, he argued, devoted to the history of philosophy, that is
to say, the minute study of all sorts of dreams and aberrations
through the ages, surely there ought to be at least one to explain the
formation and progress of our real knowledge? This wise suggestion,
which still remains to be acted upon, was at first welcomed, according
to Comte's own account, by Guizot's philosophic instinct, and then
repulsed by his 'metaphysical rancour.'

Meanwhile Comte did his official work conscientiously, sorely as he
grudged the time which it took from the execution of the great object
of his thoughts. We cannot forbear to transcribe one delightful and
touching trait in connection with this part of Comte's life. 'I hardly
know if even to you,' he writes in the expansion of domestic
confidence to his wife, 'I dare disclose the sweet and softened
feeling that comes over me when I find a young man whose examination
is thoroughly satisfactory. Yes, though you may smile, the emotion
would easily stir me to tears if I were not carefully on my guard.'
Such sympathy with youthful hope; in union with the industry and
intelligence that are the only means of bringing the hope to
fulfilment, shows that Comte's dry and austere manner veiled the fires
of a generous social emotion. It was this which made the overworked
student take upon himself the burden of delivering every year from
1831 to 1848 a course of gratuitous lectures on astronomy for a
popular audience. The social feeling that inspired this disinterested
act showed itself in other ways. He suffered the penalty of
imprisonment rather than serve in the national guard; his position was
that though he would not take arms against the new monarchy of July,
yet being a republican he would take no oath to defend it. The only
amusement that Comte permitted himself was a visit to the opera. In
his youth he had been a playgoer, but he shortly came to the
conclusion that tragedy is a stilted and bombastic art, and after a
time comedy interested him no more than tragedy. For the opera he had
a genuine passion, which he gratified as often as he could, until his
means became too narrow to afford even that single relaxation.

Of his manner and personal appearance we have the following account
from one who was his pupil:--'Daily as the clock struck eight on the
horologe of the Luxembourg, while the ringing hammer on the bell was
yet audible, the door of my room opened, and there entered a man,
short, rather stout, almost what one might call sleek, freshly shaven,
without vestige of whisker or moustache. He was invariably dressed in
a suit of the most spotless black, as if going to a dinner party; his
white neckcloth was fresh from the laundress's hands, and his hat
shining like a racer's coat. He advanced to the arm-chair prepared for
him in the centre of the writing-table, laid his hat on the left-hand
corner; his snuff-box was deposited on the same side beside the quire
of paper placed in readiness for his use, and dipping the pen twice
into the ink-bottle, then bringing it to within an inch of his nose,
to make sure it was properly filled, he broke silence: "We have said
that the chord AB," etc. For three quarters of an hour he continued
his demonstration, making short notes as he went on, to guide the
listener in repeating the problem alone; then, taking up another
cahier which lay beside him, he went over the written repetition of
the former lesson. He explained, corrected, or commented till the
clock struck nine; then, with the little finger of the right hand
brushing from his coat and waistcoat the shower of superfluous snuff
which had fallen on them, he pocketed his snuff-box, and resuming his
hat, he as silently as when he came in made his exit by the door which
I rushed to open for him.'

In 1842, as we have said, the last volume of the _Positive Philosophy_
was given to the public. Instead of that contentment which we like to
picture as the reward of twelve years of meritorious toil devoted to
the erection of a high philosophic edifice, the author of this great
contribution found himself in the midst of a very sea of small
troubles. And they were troubles of that uncompensated kind that
harass without elevating, and waste a man's spirit without softening
or enlarging it. First, the jar of temperament between Comte and his
wife had become so unbearable that they separated (1842). It is not
expedient for strangers to attempt to allot blame in such cases, for
it is impossible for strangers to know all the deciding circumstances.
We need only say that in spite of one or two disadvantageous facts in
her career which do not concern the public, Madame Comte seems to have
uniformly comported herself towards her husband with an honourable
solicitude for his wellbeing. Comte made her an annual allowance, and
for some years after the separation they corresponded on friendly
terms. Next in the list of the vexations that greeted Comte on
emerging from the long tunnel of philosophising was a lawsuit with his
publisher. The publisher had impertinently inserted in the sixth
volume a protest against a certain foot-note, in which Comte had used
some hard words about M. Arago. Comte threw himself into the suit with
an energy worthy of Voltaire, and he won it. Third, and worst of all,
he had prefixed a preface to the sixth volume, in which he
deliberately went out of his way to rouse the active enmity of the
very men on whom depended his annual re-election to the post of
examiner for the Polytechnic School. The result of this perversity was
that by and by he lost the appointment, and with it one half of his
very modest income. This was the occasion of an episode, which is of
more than merely personal interest.

Before 1842 Comte had been in correspondence with our distinguished
countryman, J. S. Mill. Mr. Mill had been greatly impressed by Comte's
philosophic ideas; he admits that his own _System of Logic_ owes many
valuable thoughts to Comte, and that, in the portion of that work
which treats of the logic of the moral sciences, a radical improvement
in the conceptions of logical method was derived from the _Positive
Philosophy_. Their correspondence, which was extremely full and
copious, and which we may hope will one day be made accessible to the
public, turned principally upon the two great questions of the
equality between men and women, and of the expediency and
constitution of a sacerdotal or spiritual order. When Comte found
himself straitened, he confided the entire circumstances to his
English friend. As might be supposed by those who know the
affectionate anxiety with which Mr. Mill regarded the welfare of any
one whom he believed to be doing good work in the world, he at once
took pains to have Comte's loss of income made up to him, until Comte
should have had time to repair that loss by his own endeavour. Mr.
Mill persuaded Grote, Molesworth, and Raikes Currie to advance the sum
of £240. At the end of the year (that is in 1845) Comte had taken no
steps to enable himself to dispense with the aid of the three
Englishmen. Mr. Mill applied to them again, but with the exception of
Grote, who sent a small sum, they gave Comte to understand that they
expected him to earn his own living. Mr. Mill had suggested to Comte
that he should write articles for the English periodicals, and
expressed his own willingness to translate any such articles from the
French. Comte at first fell in with the plan, but he speedily
surprised and disconcerted Mr. Mill by boldly taking up the position
of 'high moral magistrate,' and accusing the three defaulting
contributors of a scandalous falling away from righteousness and a
high mind. Mr. Mill was chilled by these pretensions; they struck him
as savouring of a totally unexpected charlatanry; and the
correspondence came to an end. For Comte's position in the argument
one feels that there is much to be said. If you have good reason for
believing that a given thinker is doing work that will destroy the
official system of science or philosophy, and if you desire its
destruction, then you may fairly be asked to help to provide for him
the same kind of material freedom that is secured to the professors
and propagators of the official system by the state or by the
universities. And if it is a fine thing for a man to leave money
behind him in the shape of an endowment for the support of a
scientific teacher of whom he has never heard, why should it not be
just as natural and as laudable to give money, while he is yet alive,
to a teacher whom he both knows and approves of? On the other hand,
Grote and Molesworth might say that, for anything they could tell,
they would find themselves to be helping the construction of a system
of which they utterly disapproved. And, as things turned out, they
would have been perfectly justified in this serious apprehension. To
have done anything to make the production of the _Positive Polity_
easier would have been no ground for anything but remorse to any of
the three. It is just to Comte to remark that he always assumed that
the contributors to the support of a thinker should be in all
essentials of method and doctrine that thinker's disciples; aid from
indifferent persons he counted irrational and humiliating. But is an
endowment ever a blessing to the man who receives it? The question is
difficult to answer generally; in Comte's case there is reason in the
doubts felt by Madame Comte as to the expediency of relieving the
philosopher from the necessity of being in plain and business-like
relations with indifferent persons for a certain number of hours in
the week. Such relations do as much as a doctrine to keep egoism
within decent bounds, and they must be not only a relief, but a
wholesome corrective to the tendencies of concentrated thinking on
abstract subjects.

What finally happened was this. From 1845 to 1848 Comte lived as best
he could, as well as made his wife her allowance, on an income of £200
a year. We need scarcely say that he was rigorously thrifty. His
little account books of income and outlay, with every item entered
down to a few hours before his death, are accurate and neat enough to
have satisfied an ancient Roman householder. In 1848, through no fault
of his own, his salary was reduced to £80. M. Littré and others, with
Comte's approval, published an appeal for subscriptions, and on the
money thus contributed Comte subsisted for the remaining nine years of
his life. By 1852 the subsidy produced as much as £200 a year. It is
worth noticing, after the story we have told, that Mr. Mill was one of
the subscribers, and that M. Littré continued his assistance after he
had been driven from Comte's society by his high pontifical airs. We
are sorry not to be able to record any similar trait of magnanimity on
Comte's part. His character, admirable as it is for firmness, for
intensity, for inexorable will, for iron devotion to what he thought
the service of mankind, yet offers few of those softening qualities
that make us love good men and pity bad ones. He is of the type of
Brutus or of Cato--a model of austere fixity of purpose, but
ungracious, domineering, and not quite free from petty bitterness.

If you seek to place yourself in sympathy with Comte it is best to
think of him only as the intellectual worker, pursuing in uncomforted
obscurity the laborious and absorbing task to which he had given up
his whole life. His singularly conscientious fashion of elaborating
his ideas made the mental strain more intense than even so exhausting
a work as the abstract exposition of the principles of positive
science need have been, if he had followed a more self-indulgent plan.
He did not write down a word until he had first composed the whole
matter in his mind. When he had thoroughly meditated every sentence,
he sat down to write, and then, such was the grip of his memory, the
exact order of his thoughts came back to him as if without an effort,
and he wrote down precisely what he had intended to write, without the
aid of a note or a memorandum, and without check or pause. For
example, he began and completed in about six weeks a chapter in the
_Positive Philosophy_ (vol. v. ch. lv.), which would fill forty of the
large pages of the _Encyclopædia Britannica_. Even if his subject had
been merely narrative or descriptive, this would be a very
satisfactory piece of continuous production. When we reflect that the
chapter in question is not narrative, but an abstract exposition of
the guiding principles of the movements of several centuries, with
many threads of complex thought running along side by side all
through the speculation, then the circumstances under which it was
reduced to literary form are really astonishing. It is hardly possible
for a critic to share the admiration expressed by some of Comte's
disciples for his style. We are not so unreasonable as to blame him
for failing to make his pages picturesque or thrilling; we do not want
sunsets and stars and roses and ecstasy; but there is a certain
standard for the most serious and abstract subjects. When compared
with such philosophic writing as Hume's, Diderot's, Berkeley's, then
Comte's manner is heavy, laboured, monotonous, without relief and
without light. There is now and then an energetic phrase, but as a
whole the vocabulary is jejune; the sentences are overloaded; the
pitch is flat. A scrupulous insistence on making his meaning clear led
to an iteration of certain adjectives and adverbs, which at length
deaden the effect beyond the endurance of all but the most resolute
students. Only the profound and stimulating interest of much of the
matter prevents one from thinking of Rivarol's ill-natured remark upon
Condorcet, that he wrote with opium on a page of lead. The general
effect is impressive, not by any virtues of style, for we do not
discern one, but by reason of the magnitude and importance of the
undertaking, and the visible conscientiousness and the grasp with
which it is executed. It is by sheer strength of thought, by the
vigorous perspicacity with which he strikes the lines of cleavage of
his subject, that he makes his way into the mind of the reader; in the
presence of gifts of this power we need not quarrel with an ungainly

Comte pursued one practice which ought to be mentioned in connection
with his personal history, the practice of what he styled _hygiène
cérébrale_. After he had acquired what he considered to be a
sufficient stock of material, and this happened before he had
completed the _Positive Philosophy_, he abstained deliberately and
scrupulously from reading newspapers, reviews, scientific
transactions, and everything else whatever, except two or three poets
(notably Dante) and the _Imitatio Christi_. It is true that his
friends kept him informed of what was going on in the scientific
world. Still this partial divorce of himself from the record of the
social and scientific activity of his time, though it may save a
thinker from the deplorable evils of dispersion, moral and
intellectual, accounts in no small measure for the exaggerated egoism,
and the absence of all feeling for reality, which marked Comte's later

Only one important incident in Comte's life now remains to be spoken
of. In 1845 he made the acquaintance of Madame Clotilde de Vaux, a
lady whose husband had been sent to the galleys for life, and who was
therefore, in all but the legal incidents of her position, a widow.
Very little is known about her qualities. She wrote a little piece
which Comte rated so preposterously as to talk about George Sand in
the same sentence; it is in truth a flimsy performance, though it
contains one or two gracious thoughts. There is true beauty in the
saying--_'It is unworthy of a noble nature to diffuse its pain.'_
Madame de Vaux's letters speak well for her good sense and good
feeling, and it would have been better for Comte's later work if she
had survived to exert a wholesome restraint on his exaltation. Their
friendship had only lasted a year when she died (1846), but the period
was long enough to give her memory a supreme ascendency in Comte's
mind. Condillac, Joubert, Mill, and other eminent men have shown what
the intellectual ascendency of a woman can be. Comte was as
inconsolable after Madame de Vaux's death as D'Alembert after the
death of Mademoiselle L'Espinasse. Every Wednesday afternoon he made a
reverential pilgrimage to her tomb, and three times every day he
invoked her memory in words of passionate expansion. His disciples
believe that in time the world will reverence Comte's sentiment about
Clotilde de Vaux, as it reveres Dante's adoration of Beatrice--a
parallel that Comte himself was the first to hit upon. It is no doubt
the worst kind of cynicism to make a mock in a realistic vein of any
personality that has set in motion the idealising thaumaturgy of the
affections. Yet we cannot help feeling that it is a grotesque and
unseemly anachronism to apply in grave prose, addressed to the whole
world, those terms of saint and angel which are touching and in their
place amid the trouble and passion of the great mystic poet. Only an
energetic and beautiful imagination, together with a mastery of the
rhythm and swell of impassioned speech, can prevent an invitation to
the public to hearken to the raptures of intense personal attachment
from seeming ludicrous and almost indecent. Whatever other gifts Comte
may have had--and he had many of the rarest kind,--poetic imagination
was not among them, any more than poetic or emotional expression was
among them. His was one of those natures whose faculty of deep feeling
is unhappily doomed to be inarticulate, and to pass away without the
magic power of transmitting itself.

Comte lost no time, after the completion of his _Course of Positive
Philosophy_, in proceeding with the _System of Positive Polity_, to
which the earlier work was designed to be a foundation. The first
volume was published in 1851, and the fourth and last in 1854. In
1848, when the political air was charged with stimulating elements, he
founded the Positive Society, with the expectation that it might grow
into a reunion as powerful over the new revolution as the Jacobin Club
had been in the revolution of 1789. The hope was not fulfilled, but a
certain number of philosophic disciples gathered round Comte, and
eventually formed themselves, under the guidance of the new ideas of
the latter half of his life, into a kind of church. In the years 1849,
1850, and 1851, Comte gave three courses of lectures at the Palais
Royal. They were gratuitous and popular, and in them he boldly
advanced the whole of his doctrine, as well as the direct and
immediate pretensions of himself and his system. The third course
ended in the following uncompromising terms--'In the name of the Past
and of the Future, the servants of Humanity--both its philosophical
and its practical servants--come forward to claim as their due the
general direction of this world. Their object is to constitute at
length a real Providence in all departments,--moral, intellectual, and
material. Consequently they exclude once for all from political
supremacy all the different servants of God--Catholic, Protestant, or
Deist--as being at once behindhand and a cause of disturbance.' A few
weeks after this invitation a very different person stepped forward to
constitute himself a real Providence.

In 1852 Comte published the _Catechism of Positivism_. In the preface
to it he took occasion to express his approval of Louis Napoleon's
_coup d'état_ of the 2d of December,--'a fortunate crisis which has
set aside the parliamentary system, and instituted a dictatorial
republic.' Whatever we may think of the political sagacity of such a
judgment, it is due to Comte to say that he did not expect to see his
dictatorial republic transformed into a dynastic empire, and, next,
that he did expect from the Man of December freedom of the press and
of public meeting. His later hero was the Emperor Nicholas, 'the only
statesman in Christendom,'--as unlucky a judgment as that which placed
Dr. Francia in the Comtist Calendar.

In 1857 he was attacked by cancer, and died peaceably on the 5th of
September of that year. The anniversary is always celebrated by
ceremonial gatherings of his French and English followers, who then
commemorate the name and the services of the founder of their
religion. Comte was under sixty when he died. We cannot help
reflecting that one of the worst of all the evils connected with the
shortness of human life is the impatience that it breeds in some of
the most ardent and enlightened minds to hurry on the execution of
projects, for which neither the time nor the spirit of their author is
fully ripe.

In proceeding to give an outline of Comte's system, we shall consider
the _Positive Polity_ as the more or less legitimate sequel of the
_Positive Philosophy_, notwithstanding the deep gulf which so eminent
a critic as Mr. Mill insisted upon fixing between the earlier and the
later work.[2] There may be, as we think there is, the greatest
difference in their value, and the temper is not the same, nor the
method. But the two are quite capable of being regarded, and for the
purposes of an account of Comte's career ought to be regarded, as an
integral whole. His letters when he was a young man of one and twenty,
and before he had published a word, show how strongly present the
social motive was in his mind, and in what little account he should
hold his scientific works, if he did not perpetually think of their
utility for the species. 'I feel,' he wrote, 'that such scientific
reputation as I might acquire would give more value, more weight, more
useful influence to my political sermons.' In 1822 he published a
_Plan of the Scientific Works necessary to Reorganise Society_. In
this opuscule he points out that modern society is passing through a
great crisis, due to the conflict of two opposing movements,--the
first, a disorganising movement owing to the break-up of old
institutions and beliefs; the second, a movement towards a definite
social state, in which all means of human prosperity will receive
their most complete development and most direct application. How is
this crisis to be dealt with? What are the undertakings necessary in
order to pass successfully through it towards an organic state? The
answer to this is that there are two series of works. The first is
theoretic or spiritual, aiming at the development of a new principle
of co-ordinating social relations and the formation of the system of
general ideas which are destined to guide society. The second work is
practical or temporal; it settles the distribution of power and the
institutions that are most conformable to the spirit of the system
which has previously been thought out in the course of the theoretic
work. As the practical work depends on the conclusions of the
theoretical, the latter must obviously come first in order of

    [2] The English reader is specially well placed for
        satisfying such curiosity as he may have about Comte's
        philosophy. Miss Martineau condensed the six volumes of the
        _Philosophie Positive_ into two volumes of excellent English
        (1853); Comte himself gave them a place in the Positivist
        Library. The _Catechism_ was translated by Dr. Congreve in
        1858. The _Politique Positive_ has been reproduced in English
        (Longmans, 1875-1877) by the conscientious labour of Comte's
        London followers. This translation is accompanied by a
        careful running analysis and explanatory summary of contents,
        which make the work more readily intelligible than the
        original. For criticisms, the reader may be referred to Mr.
        Mill's _Auguste Comte and Positivism_; Dr. Bridges's reply to
        Mr. Mill, _The Unity of Comte's Life and Doctrines_ (1866);
        Mr. Herbert Spencer's essay on the Genesis of Science, and
        pamphlet on _The Classification of the Sciences_; Professor
        Huxley's 'Scientific Aspects of Positivism,' in his _Lay
        Sermons_; Dr. Congreve's _Essays Political, Social, and
        Religious_ (1874); Mr. Fiske's _Outlines of Cosmic
        Philosophy_ (1874); Mr. Lewes's _History of Philosophy_, vol.

In 1826 this was pushed further in a most remarkable piece called
_Considerations on the Spiritual Power_--the main object of which is
to demonstrate the necessity of instituting a spiritual power,
distinct from the temporal power and independent of it. In examining
the conditions of a spiritual power proper for modern times, he
indicates in so many terms the presence in his mind of a direct
analogy between his proposed spiritual power and the functions of the
Catholic clergy at the time of its greatest vigour and most complete
independence,--that is to say, from about the middle of the eleventh
century until towards the end of the thirteenth. He refers to De
Maistre's memorable book, _Du Pape_, as the most profound, accurate,
and methodical account of the old spiritual organisation, and starts
from that as the model to be adapted to the changed intellectual and
social conditions of the modern time. In the _Positive Philosophy_,
again (vol. v. p. 344), he distinctly says that Catholicism,
reconstituted as a system on new intellectual foundations, would
finally preside over the spiritual reorganisation of modern society.
Much else could easily be quoted to the same effect. If unity of
career, then, means that Comte from the beginning designed the
institution of a spiritual power and the systematic reorganisation of
life, it is difficult to deny him whatever credit that unity may be
worth, and the credit is perhaps not particularly great. Even the
re-adaptation of the Catholic system to a scientific doctrine was
plainly in his mind thirty years before the final execution of the
_Positive Polity_, though it is difficult to believe that he foresaw
the religious mysticism in which the task was to land him. A great
analysis was to precede a great synthesis, but it was the synthesis on
which Comte's vision was centred from the first. Let us first sketch
the nature of the analysis. Society is to be reorganised on the base
of knowledge. What is the sum and significance of knowledge? That is
the question which Comte's first master-work professes to answer.

The _Positive Philosophy_ opens with the statement of a certain law of
which Comte was the discoverer, and which has always been treated both
by disciples and dissidents as the key to his system. This is the Law
of the Three States. It is as follows. Each of our leading
conceptions, each branch of our knowledge, passes successively through
three different phases; there are three different ways in which the
human mind explains phenomena, each way following the other in order.
These three stages are the Theological, the Metaphysical, and the
Positive. Knowledge, or a branch of knowledge, is in the Theological
state, when it supposes the phenomena under consideration to be due
to immediate volition, either in the object or in some supernatural
being. In the Metaphysical state, for volition is substituted abstract
force residing in the object, yet existing independently of the
object; the phenomena are viewed as if apart from the bodies
manifesting them; and the properties of each substance have attributed
to them an existence distinct from that substance. In the Positive
state inherent volition or external volition and inherent force or
abstraction personified have both disappeared from men's minds, and
the explanation of a phenomenon means a reference of it, by way of
succession or resemblance, to some other phenomenon,--means the
establishment of a relation between the given fact and some more
general fact. In the Theological and Metaphysical state men seek a
cause or an essence; in the Positive they are content with a law. To
borrow an illustration from an able English disciple of Comte:--'Take
the phenomenon of the sleep produced by opium. The Arabs are content
to attribute it to the "will of God." Molière's medical student
accounts for it by a _soporific principle_ contained in the opium. The
modern physiologist knows that he cannot account for it at all. He can
simply observe, analyse, and experiment upon the phenomena attending
the action of the drug, and classify it with other agents analogous in
character' (_Dr. Bridges_).

The first and greatest aim of the Positive Philosophy is to advance
the study of society into the third of the three stages,--to remove
social phenomena from the sphere of theological and metaphysical
conceptions, and to introduce among them the same scientific
observation of their laws which has given us physics, chemistry,
physiology. Social physics will consist of the conditions and
relations of the facts of society, and will have two departments,--one
statical, containing the laws of order; the other dynamical,
containing the laws of progress. While men's minds were in the
theological state, political events, for example, were explained by
the will of the gods, and political authority based on divine right.
In the metaphysical state of mind, then, to retain our instance,
political authority was based on the sovereignty of the people, and
social facts were explained by the figment of a falling away from a
state of nature. When the positive method has been finally extended to
society, as it has been to chemistry and physiology, these social
facts will be resolved, as their ultimate analysis, into relations
with one another, and instead of seeking causes in the old sense of
the word, men will only examine the conditions of social existence.
When that stage has been reached not merely the greater part, but the
whole, of our knowledge will be impressed with one character--the
character, namely, of positivity or scientificalness; and all our
conceptions in every part of knowledge will be thoroughly homogeneous.
The gains of such a change are enormous. The new philosophical unity
will now in its turn regenerate all the elements that went to its own
formation. The mind will pursue knowledge without the wasteful jar and
friction of conflicting methods and mutually hostile conceptions;
education will be regenerated; and society will reorganise itself on
the only possible solid base--a homogeneous philosophy.

The _Positive Philosophy_ has another object besides the demonstration
of the necessity and propriety of a science of society. This object is
to show the sciences as branches from a single trunk,--is to give to
science the ensemble or spirit of generality hitherto confined to
philosophy, and to give to philosophy the rigour and solidity of
science. Comte's special object is a study of social physics, a
science that before his advent was still to be formed; his second
object is a review of the methods and leading generalities of all the
positive sciences already formed, so that we may know both what system
of inquiry to follow in our new science, and also where the new
science will stand in relation to other knowledge.

The first step in this direction is to arrange scientific method and
positive knowledge in order, and this brings us to another cardinal
element in the Comtist system, the classification of the sciences. In
the front of the inquiry lies one main division, that, namely, between
speculative and practical knowledge. With the latter we have no
concern. Speculative or theoretic knowledge is divided into abstract
and concrete. The former is concerned with the laws that regulate
phenomena in all conceivable cases; the latter is concerned with the
application of these laws. Concrete science relates to objects or
beings; abstract science to events. The former is particular or
descriptive; the latter is general. Thus, physiology is an abstract
science; but zoology is concrete. Chemistry is abstract; mineralogy is
concrete. It is the method and knowledge of the abstract sciences that
the Positive Philosophy has to reorganise in a great whole.

Comte's principle of classification is that the dependence and order
of scientific study follows the dependence of the phenomena. Thus, as
has been said, it represents both the objective dependence of the
phenomena and the subjective dependence of our means of knowing them.
The more particular and complex phenomena depend upon the simpler and
more general. The latter are the more easy to study. Therefore science
will begin with those attributes of objects which are most general,
and pass on gradually to other attributes that are combined in greater
complexity. Thus, too, each science rests on the truths of the
sciences that precede it, while it adds to them the truths by which it
is itself constituted. Comte's series or hierarchy is arranged as
follows:--(1) Mathematics (that is, number, geometry, and mechanics),
(2) Astronomy, (3) Physics, (4) Chemistry, (5) Biology, (6) Sociology.
Each of the members of this series is one degree more special than the
member before it, and depends upon the facts of all the members
preceding it, and cannot be fully understood without them. It follows
that the crowning science of the hierarchy, dealing with the
phenomena of human society, will remain longest under the influence of
theological dogmas and abstract figments, and will be the last to pass
into the positive stage. You cannot discover the relations of the
facts of human society without reference to the conditions of animal
life; you cannot understand the conditions of animal life without the
laws of chemistry; and so with the rest.

This arrangement of the sciences and the Law of the Three States are
together explanatory of the course of human thought and knowledge.
They are thus the double key of Comte's systematisation of the
philosophy of all the sciences from mathematics to physiology, and his
analysis of social evolution, which is the basis of sociology. Each
science contributes its philosophy. The co-ordination of all these
partial philosophies produces the general Positive Philosophy.
'Thousands had cultivated science, and with splendid success; not one
had conceived the philosophy which the sciences when organised would
naturally evolve. A few had seen the necessity of extending the
scientific method to all inquiries, but no one had seen how this was
to be effected.... The Positive Philosophy is novel as a philosophy,
not as a collection of truths never before suspected. Its novelty is
the organisation of existing elements. Its very principle implies the
absorption of all that great thinkers had achieved; while
incorporating their results it extended their methods.... What
tradition brought was the results; what Comte brought was the
organisation of these results. He always claimed to be the founder of
the Positive Philosophy. That he had every right to such a title is
demonstrable to all who distinguish between the positive sciences and
the philosophy which co-ordinated the truths and methods of these
sciences into a doctrine' (_G. H. Lewes_).

We may interrupt our short exposition here to remark that Comte's
classification of the sciences has been subjected to a vigorous
criticism by Mr. Herbert Spencer. Mr. Spencer's two chief points are
these:--(1) He denies that the principle of the development of the
sciences is the principle of decreasing generality; he asserts that
there are as many examples of the advent of a science being determined
by increasing generality as by increasing speciality. (2) He holds
that any grouping of the sciences in a succession gives a radically
wrong idea of their genesis and their interdependence; no true
filiation exists; no science develops itself in isolation; no one is
independent, either logically or historically. M. Littré, by far the
most eminent of the scientific followers of Comte, concedes a certain
force to Mr. Spencer's objections, and makes certain secondary
modifications in the hierarchy in consequence, while still cherishing
his faith in the Comtist theory of the sciences. Mr. Mill, while
admitting the objections as good, if Comte's arrangement pretended to
be the only one possible, still holds that arrangement as tenable for
the purpose with which it was devised. Mr. Lewes asserts against Mr.
Spencer that the arrangement in a series is necessary, on grounds
similar to those which require that the various truths constituting a
science should be systematically co-ordinated, although in nature the
phenomena are intermingled.

The first three volumes of the _Positive Philosophy_ contain an
exposition of the partial philosophies of the five sciences that
precede sociology in the hierarchy. Their value has usually been
placed very low by the special followers of the sciences concerned;
they say that the knowledge is second-hand, is not coherent, and is
too confidently taken for final. The Comtist replies that the task is
philosophic, and is not to be judged by the minute accuracies of
science. In these three volumes Comte took the sciences roughly as he
found them. His eminence as a man of science must be measured by his
only original work in that department,--the construction, namely, of
the new science of society. This work is accomplished in the last
three volumes of the _Positive Philosophy_ and the second and third
volumes of the _Positive Polity_. The Comtist maintains that even if
these five volumes together fail in laying down correctly and finally
the lines of the new science, still they are the first solution of a
great problem hitherto unattempted. 'Modern biology has got beyond
Aristotle's conception; but in the construction of the biological
science, not even the most unphilosophical biologist would fail to
recognise the value of Aristotle's attempt. So for sociology.
Subsequent sociologists may have conceivably to remodel the whole
science, yet not the less will they recognise the merit of the first
work which has facilitated their labours' (_Congreve_).

We shall now briefly describe Comte's principal conceptions in
sociology, his position in respect to which is held by himself, and by
others, to raise him to the level of Descartes or Leibnitz. Of course
the first step was to approach the phenomena of human character and
social existence with the expectation of finding them as reducible to
general laws as the other phenomena of the universe, and with the hope
of exploring these laws by the same instruments of observation and
verification as had done such triumphant work in the case of the
latter. Comte separates the collective facts of society and history
from the individual phenomena of biology; then he withdraws these
collective facts from the region of external volition, and places them
in the region of law. The facts of history must be explained, not by
providential interventions, but by referring them to conditions
inherent in the successive stages of social existence. This conception
makes a science of society possible. What is the method? It comprises,
besides observation and experiment (which is, in fact, only the
observation of abnormal social states), a certain peculiarity of
verification. We begin by deducing every well-known historical
situation from the series of its antecedents. Thus we acquire a body
of empirical generalisations as to social phenomena, and then we
connect the generalisations with the positive theory of human nature.
A sociological demonstration lies in the establishment of an
accordance between the conclusions of historical analysis and the
preparatory conceptions of biological theory. As Mr. Mill puts
it:--'If a sociological theory, collected from historical evidence,
contradicts the established general laws of human nature; if (to use
M. Comte's instances) it implies, in the mass of mankind, any very
decided natural bent, either in a good or in a bad direction; if it
supposes that the reason, in average human beings, predominates over
the desires or the disinterested desires over the personal,--we may
know that history has been misinterpreted, and that the theory is
false. On the other hand, if laws of social phenomena, empirically
generalised from history, can, when once suggested, be affiliated to
the known laws of human nature; if the direction actually taken by the
developments and changes of human society can be seen to be such as
the properties of man and of his dwelling-place made antecedently
probable, the empirical generalisations are raised into positive laws,
and sociology becomes a science.' The result of this method is an
exhibition of the events of human experience in co-ordinated series
that manifest their own graduated connection.

Next, as all investigation proceeds from that which is known best to
that which is unknown or less well known, and as, in social states, it
is the collective phenomenon that is more easy of access to the
observer than its parts, therefore we must consider and pursue all
the elements of a given social state together and in common. The
social organisation must be viewed and explored as a whole. There is a
nexus between each leading group of social phenomena and other leading
groups; if there is a change in one of them, that change is
accompanied by a corresponding modification of all the rest. 'Not only
must political institutions and social manners on the one hand, and
manners and ideas on the other, be always mutually connected; but
further, this consolidated whole must be always connected by its
nature with the corresponding state of the integral development of
humanity, considered in all its aspects of intellectual, moral and
physical activity' (_Comte_).

Is there any one element which communicates the decisive impulse to
all the rest,--any predominating agency in the course of social
evolution? The answer is that all the other parts of social existence
are associated with, and drawn along by, the contemporary condition of
intellectual development. The Reason is the superior and preponderant
element which settles the direction in which all the other faculties
shall expand. 'It is only through the more and more marked influence
of the reason over the general conduct of man and of society that the
gradual march of our race has attained that regularity and persevering
continuity which distinguish it so radically from the desultory and
barren expansion of even the highest animal orders, which share, and
with enhanced strength, the appetites, the passions, and even the
primary sentiments of man.' The history of intellectual development,
therefore, is the key to social evolution, and the key to the history
of intellectual development is the Law of the Three States.

Among other central thoughts in Comte's explanation of history are
these:--The displacement of theological by positive conceptions has
been accompanied by a gradual rise of an industrial _régime_ out of
the military _régime;_--the great permanent contribution of
Catholicism was the separation which it set up between the temporal
and the spiritual powers;--the progress of the race consists in the
increasing preponderance of the distinctively human elements over the
animal elements;--the absolute tendency of ordinary social theories
will be replaced by an unfailing adherence to the relative point of
view, and from this it follows that the social state, regarded as a
whole, has been as perfect in each period as the co-existing condition
of humanity and its environment would allow.

The elaboration of these ideas in relation to the history of the
civilisation of the most advanced portion of the human race occupies
two of the volumes of the _Positive Philosophy_, and has been accepted
by competent persons of very different schools as a masterpiece of
rich, luminous, and far-reaching suggestion. Whatever additions it may
receive, and whatever corrections it may require, this analysis of
social evolution will continue to be regarded as one of the great
achievements of human intellect. The demand for the first of Comte's
two works has gone on increasing in a significant degree. It was
completed, as we have said, in 1842. A second edition was published in
1864; a third some years afterwards; and while we write (1876) a
fourth is in the press. Three editions within twelve years of a work
of abstract philosophy in six considerable volumes are the measure of
a very striking influence. On the whole, we may suspect that no part
of Comte's works has had so much to do with this marked success as his
survey and review of the course of history.

The third volume of the later work, the _Positive Polity_, treats of
social dynamics, and takes us again over the ground of historic
evolution. It abounds with remarks of extraordinary fertility and
comprehensiveness; but it is often arbitrary; its views of the past
are strained into coherence with the statical views of the preceding
volume; and so far as concerns the period to which the present writer
happens to have given special attention, it is usually slight and
sometimes random. As it was composed in rather less than six months,
and as the author honestly warns us that he has given all his
attention to a more profound co-ordination, instead of working out the
special explanations more fully, as he had promised, we need not be
surprised if the result is disappointing to those who had mastered the
corresponding portion of the _Positive Philosophy_. Comte explains the
difference between his two works. In the first his 'chief object was
to discover and demonstrate the laws of progress, and to exhibit in
one unbroken sequence the collective destinies of mankind, till then
invariably regarded as a series of events wholly beyond the reach of
explanation, and almost depending on arbitrary will. The present work,
on the contrary, is addressed to those who are already sufficiently
convinced of the certain existence of social laws, and desire only to
have them reduced to a true and conclusive system.'

What that system is it would take far more space than we can afford to
sketch even in outline. All we can do is to enumerate some of its main
positions. They are to be drawn not only from the _Positive Polity_,
but from two other works,--the _Positivist Catechism: a Summary
Exposition of the Universal Religion, in Twelve Dialogues between a
Woman and a Priest of Humanity_; and second, _The Subjective
Synthesis_ (1856), which is the first and only volume of a work upon
mathematics announced at the end of the _Positive Philosophy_. The
system for which the _Positive Philosophy_ is alleged to have been the
scientific preparation contains a Polity and a Religion; a complete
arrangement of life in all its aspects, giving a wider sphere to
Intellect, Energy, and Feeling than could be found in any of the
previous organic types,--Greek, Roman, or Catholic-feudal. Comte's
immense superiority over such præ-Revolutionary Utopians as the Abbé
Saint Pierre, no less than over the group of post-revolutionary
Utopians, is especially visible in his firm grasp of the cardinal
truth that the improvement of the social organism can only be
effected by a moral development, and never by any changes in mere
political mechanism, or any violences in the way of an artificial
redistribution of wealth. A moral transformation must precede any real
advance. The aim, both in public and private life, is to secure to the
utmost possible extent the victory of the social feeling over
self-love, or Altruism over Egoism. This is the key to the
regeneration of social existence, as it is the key to that unity of
individual life which makes all our energies converge freely and
without wasteful friction towards a common end. What are the
instruments for securing the preponderance of Altruism? Clearly they
must work from the strongest element in human nature, and this element
is Feeling or the Heart. Under the Catholic system the supremacy of
Feeling was abused, and the intellect was made its slave. Then
followed a revolt of Intellect against Sentiment. The business of the
new system will be to bring back the Intellect into a condition, not
of slavery, but of willing ministry to the Feelings. The subordination
never was, and never will be, effected except by means of a religion,
and a religion, to be final, must include a harmonious synthesis of
all our conceptions of the external order of the universe. The
characteristic basis of a religion is the existence of a Power without
us, so superior to ourselves as to command the complete submission of
our whole life. This basis is to be found in the Positive stage, in
Humanity, past, present, and to come, conceived as the Great Being.

     A deeper study of the great universal order reveals to us at
     length the ruling power within it of the true Great Being, whose
     destiny it is to bring that order continually to perfection by
     constantly conforming to its laws, and which thus best represents
     to us that system as a whole. This undeniable Providence, the
     supreme dispenser of our destinies, becomes in the natural course
     the common centre of our affections, our thoughts, and our
     actions. Although this Great Being evidently exceeds the utmost
     strength of any, even of any collective, human force, its
     necessary constitution and its peculiar function endow it with
     the truest sympathy towards all its servants. The least amongst
     us can and ought constantly to aspire to maintain and even to
     improve this Being. This natural object of all our activity, both
     public and private, determines the true general character of the
     rest of our existence, whether in feeling or in thought; which
     must be devoted to love, and to know, in order rightly to serve,
     our Providence, by a wise use of all the means which it furnishes
     to us. Reciprocally this continued service, while strengthening
     our true unity, renders us at once both happier and better.

The exaltation of Humanity into the throne occupied by the Supreme
Being under monotheistic systems made all the rest of Comte's
construction easy enough. Utility remains the test of every
institution, impulse, act; his fabric becomes substantially an arch of
utilitarian propositions, with an artificial Great Being inserted at
the top to keep them in their place. The Comtist system is
utilitarianism crowned by a fantastic decoration. Translated into the
plainest English, the position is as follows: 'Society can only be
regenerated by the greater subordination of politics to morals, by the
moralisation of capital, by the renovation of the family, by a higher
conception of marriage, and so on. These ends can only be reached by a
heartier development of the sympathetic instincts. The sympathetic
instincts can only be developed by the Religion of Humanity.' Looking
at the problem in this way, even a moralist who does not expect
theology to be the instrument of social revival, might still ask
whether the sympathetic instincts will not necessarily be already
developed to their highest point, before people will be persuaded to
accept the religion, which is at bottom hardly more than sympathy
under a more imposing name. However that may be, the whole
battle--into which we shall not enter--as to the legitimateness of
Comtism as a religion turns upon this erection of Humanity into a
Being. The various hypotheses, dogmas, proposals, as to the family, to
capital, etc. are merely propositions measurable by considerations of
utility and a balance of expediencies. Many of these proposals are of
the highest interest, and many of them are actually available; but
there does not seem to be one of them of an available kind which could
not equally well be approached from other sides, and even incorporated
in some radically antagonistic system. Adoption, for example, as a
practice for improving the happiness of families and the welfare of
society, is capable of being weighed, and can in truth only be weighed
by utilitarian considerations, and has been commended by men to whom
the Comtist religion is naught. The singularity of Comte's
construction, and the test by which it must be tried, is the transfer
of the worship and discipline of Catholicism to a system in which 'the
conception of God is superseded' by the abstract idea of Humanity,
conceived as a kind of Personality.

And when all is said, the invention does not help us. We have still to
settle what _is_ for the good of Humanity, and we can only do that in
the old-fashioned way. There is no guidance in the conception. No
effective unity can follow from it, because you can only find out the
right and wrong of a given course by summing up the advantages and
disadvantages, and striking a balance, and there is nothing in the
Religion of Humanity to force two men to find the balance on the same
side. The Comtists are no better off than other utilitarians in
judging policy, events, conduct.

The particularities of the worship, its minute and truly ingenious
re-adaptation of sacraments, prayers, reverent signs, down even to the
invocation of a new Trinity, need not detain us. They are said, though
it is not easy to believe, to have been elaborated by way of Utopia.
If so, no Utopia has ever yet been presented in a style so little
calculated to stir the imagination, to warm the feelings, to soothe
the insurgency of the reason. It is a mistake to present a great body
of hypotheses--if Comte meant them for hypotheses--in the most
dogmatic and peremptory form to which language can lend itself. And
there is no more extraordinary thing in the history of opinion than
the perversity with which Comte has succeeded in clothing a
philosophic doctrine, so intrinsically conciliatory as his, in a
shape that excites so little sympathy and gives so much provocation.
An enemy defined Comtism as Catholicism _minus_ Christianity, to which
an able champion retorted by calling it Catholicism _plus_ Science.
Hitherto Comte's Utopia has pleased the followers of the Catholic,
just as little as those of the scientific spirit.

The elaborate and minute systematisation of life, proper to the
religion of Humanity, is to be directed by a priesthood. The priests
are to possess neither wealth nor material power; they are not to
command, but to counsel; their authority is to rest on persuasion, not
on force. When religion has become positive and society industrial,
then the influence of the church upon the state becomes really free
and independent, which was not the case in the Middle Age. The power
of the priesthood rests upon special knowledge of man and nature; but
to this intellectual eminence must also be added moral power and a
certain greatness of character, without which force of intellect and
completeness of attainment will not receive the confidence they ought
to inspire. The functions of the priesthood are of this kind:--To
exercise a systematic direction over education; to hold a consultative
influence over all the important acts of actual life, public and
private; to arbitrate in cases of practical conflict; to preach
sermons recalling those principles of generality and universal harmony
which our special activities dispose us to ignore; to order the due
classification of society. To perform the various ceremonies
appointed by the founder of the religion. The authority of the
priesthood is to rest wholly on voluntary adhesion, and there is to be
perfect freedom of speech and discussion; though, by the way, we
cannot forget Comte's detestable congratulations to the Czar Nicholas
on the 'wise vigilance' with which he kept watch over the importation
of Western books.

From his earliest manhood Comte had been powerfully impressed by the
necessity of elevating the condition of women (see remarkable passage
in his letters to M. Valat, pp. 84-87). His friendship with Madame de
Vaux had deepened the impression, and in the reconstructed society
women are to play a highly important part. They are to be carefully
excluded from public action, but they are to do many more important
things than things political. To fit them for their functions, they
are to be raised above material cares, and they are to be thoroughly
educated. The family, which is so important an element of the Comtist
scheme of things, exists to carry the influence of woman over man to
the highest point of cultivation. Through affection she purifies the
activity of man. 'Superior in power of affection, more able to keep
both the intellectual and the active powers in continual subordination
to feeling, women are formed as the natural intermediaries between
Humanity and man. The Great Being confides specially to them its moral
Providence, maintaining through them the direct and constant
cultivation of universal affection, in the midst of all the
distractions of thought or action, which are for ever withdrawing men
from its influence.... Beside the uniform influence of every woman on
every man, to attach him to Humanity, such is the importance and the
difficulty of this ministry that each of us should be placed under the
special guidance of one of these angels, to answer for him, as it
were, to the Great Being. This moral guardianship may assume three
types,--the mother, the wife, and the daughter; each having several
modifications, as shown in the concluding volume. Together they
form the three simple modes of solidarity, or unity with
contemporaries,--obedience, union, and protection,--as well as the
three degrees of continuity between ages, by uniting us with the past,
the present, and the future. In accordance with my theory of the
brain, each corresponds with one of our three altruistic
instincts,--veneration, attachment, and benevolence.

How the positive method of observation and verification of real facts
has landed us in this, and much else of the same kind, is extremely
hard to guess. Seriously to examine an encyclopædic system, that
touches life, society, and knowledge at every point, is evidently
beyond the compass of such an article as this. There is in every
chapter a whole group of speculative suggestions, each of which would
need a long chapter to itself to elaborate or to discuss. There is at
least one biological speculation of astounding audacity that could be
examined in nothing less than a treatise. Perhaps we have said enough
to show that after performing a great and real service to thought,
Comte almost sacrificed his claims to gratitude by the invention of a
system that, as such, and independently of detached suggestions, is
markedly retrograde. But the world has strong self-protecting
qualities. It will take what is available in Comte, while forgetting
that in his work which is as irrational in one way as Hegel is in


_Printed by_ R. & R. CLARK, LIMITED, _Edinburgh_.

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes:

The transcriber made the following changes to the text to correct
obvious errors:

  1. p. 347, "delighful" changed to "delightful"
  2. p. 382, "'Superior in power of ..." no ending single quote

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