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In these, the people, being protected from aggression, and forced to labor by the necessities of abundant populations, made the cultivation of the soil the basis of what little talent for progress they possessed, and gradually but surely developed the science of agriculture to a very considerable extent.
In Chaldea and China, like causes produced like effects.* Great empires arose wherever favored by natural conditions. The necessities of these empires produced agriculture and manufactures in their primitive forms. The pride of princes and the need of governments aided the development of architecture and the discovery and application of political and legal principles. The desire of the priestly class to advance their influence as well as to exercise their energies led them to study the laws of nature, a study which usually ends in forcing the student to pursue it for itself alone, whatever may have been his original incentive.
Human progress, thus carried onward from its primitive stage by the natural results of the social conditions in great empires, aided by the hereditary genius of the peoples forming those empires, advanced till it reached a limit imposed on it by the conditions producing it. At this limit it ceased advancing, and a process of decadence commenced. But while these empires were growing, a people, destined to lead the van of future development, and which had been for past ages gathering physical energy from the warfare and nomad unrest of Central Asia, was migrating in successive waves from its natal seat, and overflowing Europe with the devastating vigor of a deluge. When finally the Aryans settled in their new seats, the European aborigines liad nearly disappeared under the fierce onslaught of their conquerors.
Of all these Aryan invaders the Hellenes finally established themselves under conditions most conducive to civilized advancement. In the mountainous peninsula of Greece, with a genial climate, a remarkably clear atmosphere, with the bright
Quand on considere les civilisations antiques, on les trouve empruntes d'un singulier caractère d'unité dans les institutions, les idées, les mœurs ; une force unique gouverne et décide de tout. - Guizot, p. 34.
waters of the ocean everywhere indenting their shores, their efforts at self-defence aided by mountain barriers, their soil unproductive, necessitating habits of temperance, and preventing thronged populations, divided by natural boundaries into numerous small, aggressive, and emulative communities; they were splendidly situated, not for originating civilization, but for grasping that already produced, and turning their migratory and war-like energies to more useful exercise in advancing the farts of peace.*
Their situation was not only advantageous naturally, but politically. To the south, within easy reach, lay Egypt, with all its great architectural, mechanical, and scientific wealth. On the eastern shore of their seas dwelt the Phænicians, the great maritime and trading people of antiquity, with cities and literary culture only second to those of Egypt. Eastward still, but within easy reach, lay Assyria, the recipient of all the arts and culture of the Chaldeans.
The active minds and hereditary genius of the Greeks soon availed themselves of these conservatories of pre-historic culture surrounding them. In the origin of their enlightenment the influence of all these nations is easily traceable; but they rapidly developed the semi-barbarous civilization of the Nile and the Euphrates to a stage of marvellous development which, at its climax and in its special phase, has never since been equalled.
The world had now gained an impetus which no obstacles could henceforth long overcome, no deluge of barbarism destroy. The stimulus of Grecian thought acted on the Latin mind, and aided by the preceding Etruscan culture, gave the torch of civilization to the rapidly-growing Roman empire. The arms of the legions carried this great gift over the accessible world, moulding a channel of advanced thought for the enlivening flow of the waters of Christianity.
The subsequent physical overflow of barbarians southward reacted in a mental overflow northward. The thought with which these shores were warm penetrated in time the mind of the . German Aryans, and civilized the north. The forest region, so sterile to savage hands, proved fertile to the seeds of southern art and knowledge, and has formed the true cradle of modern progress.
* Taine, Art in Greece.
We have made sufficient premises to perceive that civilization is not a direct sum of the energies of mankind. The problem is far more intricate. Each nation is possessed of a wealth of innate energy. This is mainly employed on objects of temporary advantage. Comparatively small is the portion laid up in that world stock which is to be for the benefit of all the future, and into which falls everything new, be it a new word, a new thought, a new mode. For new things are vital, and grow to unforeseen consequences, and we are daily reaping the fruit grown from seeds of originality planted in the far past. But, while every nation employs some fixed portion of its energy in aiding the progressive movement of mankind, each gives vent to its native vigor in fixed directions, and if we admit here the idea of the correllation of forces, it must be granted that the efforts of certain races, though well directed for their own immediate advantage, have proved ill for the world's advancement by dragging down civilization far towards their own level.
We may take now a closer view of the payments which the principal nations and periods have made into the world's treasury, what coin they have used, and whether time has pronounced it counterfeit or sterling.
The oldest nations of which we have knowledge are so deeply hidden in the dim mists of the past that they can only be seen “as through a glass, darkly.” Every portion of Southern and Central Asia, through untold centuries of prehistoric time, laid up the capital of culture whose interest we are still employing. Language was, on this vast continent, brought to a degree of grammatical perfection to which no modern language can lay claim. Here arose the various religions of the world whose advanced creeds still occupy the mind of man. In India arose metaphysics, lyric poetry, and a complex literature. In Chaldea, astronomy; in Assyria, a considerable advance in grammar, natural history, and statistics. In China, agriculture, architecture, and general science made great progress, and here arose that ideal of perfect government,-so poorly applied in modern China,—the investment of intellect and knowledge with power. In Arabia and Phenicia, commerce and maritime enterprise made remarkable advancement; and in Egypt an Asiatic race developed architecture to a degree which is still the marvel of modern nations.
When the age for the birth of history had arrived, it found the world possessed of a vast treasure of ancient thonght, whose full amount we have now no means of declaring, but which rendered comparatively easy the labors of succeeding nations. Indestructibility is an attribute of thought alone. While towers and temples fall and crumble into dust, an idea will live through the fall and dissolution of empires, and survive in all its pristine beauty to gladden the hearts of yet unborn peoples. Thus, thoughts that arose in the minds of barbarous nomads, tending their flocks and watching the starry skies in ancient Arya, formed the roots of that tree which grew into the magnificent mythology of Greece.
But crossing the dim horizon of time into the domains of settled history, Greece first demands our attention. Glorious was the contribution of this enlightened race to the world's stock of thought. In every phase of the finer elements of human progress the Hellenes attained a development which lifts them to the highest throne of human glory. Art is the motto stamped on the sterling coin of their enlightenment. The poetry, drama, sculpture, oratory, architecture, and language of this rare people, are all deeply pervaded with that artistic spirit which has proved the necessary corrective of the Gothic redundancy of the modern age.
The empire of Alexander gave a fatal blow to the chief glory of Greece. Conquest was his watchword, and Asia fell beneath his sword. This, however, was but a spasmodic effort of military force whose results by no means equalled its brilliancy. But Rome arose, with a national idea similar to the personal idea of Alexander, and in proportion as the life of a nation surpasses that of an individual her conquests exceeded his in permanence of effect. From England to Persia, from the German woods to Sahara, spread the iron civilization of Rome, impressing itself so deeply upon the human soil that all the barbarous deluge of the North failed to wash it out. Rome had no native art. It borrowed largely from conquered Greece, and built a city and a literature in which the roundness and polish of Grecian art is strangely mingled with the directness and vigor of Roman strength. Rome was but a virtuoso, ravaging the world, embellishing its city, and cultivating its mind with the best results of the labor and thought of all mankind, and grasping in its iron hand a thousand fragments of world treasure which were so scattered through the conquered world. Side by side with these advances in art, science, politics, and military skill, morals were being gradually coördinated into systems, and ruling with more and more potency the nations of the world, as they one by one stepped ont of the mental gloom of barbarism into the light of civilization.
Back in time further than history can reach, and at the remotest limits of tradition, we see the great forms of the early teachers of mankind looming, half visible, through the mists of the far past, grand and dim as are the giants of the Brocken to the eyes of wondering travellers. With surprise we find in the works of Confucius and of Zoroaster systems of ethics and moral apothegms equal, in many respects, to any modern teachings; superior, in most respects, to modern morality.* In India both the Buddhists and the Brahmins possessed moral and philosophical ideas which are equally a wonder to us, and which were far above the comprehension and action of their people.
Thus, throughout man's existence, great minds, centuries in advance of their age, have been rising, casting the blinding light of too brilliant truth upon the shrinking world, and passing away apparently without effect upon the purblind worms at their feet. But their grand ideas také root in human literature, if not in human minds, and the time will surely come when the world will grow up to the level of every worthy
* Whitney, p. 195.