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Buckle, Henry Thomas

Buckle, Henry Thomas (1821-1862). an English historian, who, self-educated, as it is called, that is, going to no school and to no university, owed, like many another man of renown, much of his inspiration to his mother, and who must in strictness be judged by what he attempted rather than by what he accomplished. His weak health inclined him to a studious life, and his possession of ample means enabled him to gratify his tastes. But instead of giving himself up to a life of a luxurious dilettantism he addressed himself to no less gigantic a task than that of writing the History of Civilisation in England, and underwent years of assiduous labour in amassing materials for the work. He seems to have had an idea of discovering such fixed and necessary laws of social development as should make it a fixed method; but his own method was far from being scientific, and he displays not only inconsistency, but an inability to admit the force of facts that were hostile to his own theory. His position that scepticism is the main lever in social progress may be true in the same way that it is true that discontent is a great incentive to individual advancement, but what has been called his "physical fatalism" has caused him unduly to exaggerate the force of external conditions. His work did not proceed so far as to enter upon the particular treatment of civilisation in England, nor even so far as to make a general examination of progress in England, Scotland, France, Germany, Spain, and America, which was part of his plan. The first volume of his work appeared in 1857 and the second in 1861, but his health had been impaired by grief at his mother's death, and, after a few months' wandering in Egypt and Palestine, he died of fever at Damascus. Of his other works may be mentioned a lecture delivered at the Royal Institution in 1858, on the Influence of Women on the Progress of Knowledge, and a review of J. S. Mill's Essay on Liberty, in which he adduces as an argument for immortality the yearning for communion with those who are gone, although elsewhere he sets little value-upon the testimony of consciousness. His Miscellaneous and Posthumous Works have been published in 1872 and in 1880.