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November 29 , 2010

Thomas Carlyle


There are few cultivated people who do not pretend to have read Mr. Lecky's "History of Rationalism in Europe." That very able work covers the whole of one very important side of modern development. But the picture of the real progress, the real mental and moral improvement of our species during the last few centuries, will not be complete until Mr. Lecky publishes a companion volume entitled "The History of Irrationalism in Europe." The two tendencies, acting together, have been responsible for the whole advancement of the Western world.
Rationalism is, of course, that power which makes people invent sewing machines, understand Euclid, reform vestries, pull out teeth, and number the fixed stars. Irrationalism is that other force, if possible more essential, which makes men look at sunsets, laugh at jokes, go on crusades, write poems, enter monasteries, and jump over hay-cocks. Rationalism is the beneficent attempt to make our institutions and theories fit the world we live in, as clothes fit the wearer. Irrationalism is the beneficent reminder that, at the best, they do not fit. Irrationalism exists to point out that that eccentric old gentleman, "The World," is such a curiously shaped old gentleman that the most perfect coats and waistcoats have an extraordinary way of leaving parts of him out, sometimes whole legs and arms, the existence of which the tailor had not suspected.

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