صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

thought, and take into its soul, as a part of its nature, that which has existed but in its brain or in its books.

The time came in which a portion of the world was prepared to accept a higher standard of morality. Christ arose, and by His teachings and example set in motion a mighty circle of influence which gradually drew the nations of Europe within its bounds, and in its youth conquered Rome, the great conqueror. Thenceforth a purer and higher system of ethics prevailed, and the luxury and libertinism of Rome was followed by the lofty ideal of Christian morals.

Next in the East, that nursery of invasion, arose another of those peculiar concentrations of national energy around a central thought, of which history yields so few instances. This was the migration of a vital idea, that dogma of the unity of God which Mohammed has so firmly impressed upon the Saracen mind.

Centuries before, the Buddhistic idea of the equality of man had made a peaceful conquest of Central Asia. This thought of the Arab prophet went out sword in hand, and, like the dead grass before the prairie fire, fell the effete paganisms of Asia and Africa. Fanaticism and the principle of armed proselytism so condensed the national vigor, bodily and mental, of the Arabians, that they became as a mighty engine in the hands of their leaders, and were hurled like a thunderbolt from Spain to India, overflowing nations as old as history and systems more ancient.

A material empire, so rapidly built, was almost as rapidly dismembered. As their central idea lost its vitality, their unity of purpose ended, and the dismayed nations began to make head against their vigorous foe. But strong was the grasp of Islamism, and its mental empire is yet a wide one. In Alexandria the Moslems conquered the last stronghold of Grecian learning, and their energetic mind, yet distended with a new thought, and freed from the conservative logic of habit, became readily porous to this new mental nutriment. Such was the germ of the singular Saracen enlightenment which is the only light in the gloom of the Dark Ages.

The mental invigoration of Gothic Europe sprung not from Rome alone. While night yet lay heavy upon the European mind, the spirit of old Greece had kindled the Arabian intellect into a noonday glow. But it was old wine in new bottles. The Saracen genius is diametrically opposite to that of Greece, replacing the moderate, graceful, delicately rounded forms of Grecian thought with the fantastic, wildly imaginative Asiatic cast of mentality.

Yet the thoughts endured intact in their new dress. The works of the great master-minds of Greece became part of the Saracen literature. The doctrines of Aristotle and Plato were taught in the Saracen cities of Spain, together with the results of Arabian science; and ere Spain, in her brutal self-immolation, had succeeded in driving intellect from her shores, Europe was widely leavened with Saracen thought.

But it is less the channels in which the river of thought flows down through the ages that we care to determine, than the original currents which compose this river, and the constituents of the mighty stream. In it flow, in a dissolved state, the thoughts of ages of human existence, carefully wrought out of the pure ore of God's universe of matter and mind, and cast with a lavish hand into the grand stream which inoves onward forever, digging its channel deep in the soul of mankind.

Ideas have inore force on the human race than all the world's facts. Mental spurs have stirred nations into more vigorous exercise of their innate energies than any of the ordinary strivings for wealth and power. We have seen how an idea flung the Saracen race like a thunderbolt from end to end of the world. The innate force of the people of Arabia was no greater than that of the races they conquered, but, gathered in one grand mass round their central idea; it broke through the divided energies of their foes like a cannon-ball in which every molecule of iron is gathered round a common centre of gravity and motion.

So in the Middle Ages of Europe the mystic supernaturalism of the Germanic races readily lent itself to the insanity of the Crusades, and the force of an idea led wave after wave of the best blood of Europe eastward, only to be dashed to pieces upon the shores of Asia.* Had the Crusaders been animated with the real singleness of purpose of their adversaries, and had their leaders laid down ambition when they took up the cross, there would have been a different history of this wild effort of a superstition-maddened continent.

In the career of Napoleon is the most striking modern instance of what one mind can perform by gathering to its aid the energies of a nation. The people of France, having, after centuries of forced subservience to a feudal system, risen in blind fury and cast its incubus fiercely aside, turned against combined Europe, and vigorously flung itself against the threatening wall of aggression. Alexander and Mohammed had already presented examples of the irresistibility of a properly concentrated national force. Still more remarkable are the achievements of Napoleon when we consider the civilized vigor of the nations against whom he fought. France in his moulding hands became a machine, under whose powerful blows Europe fell. The ocean in the west and winter in the east at length overthrew the Corsican giant. But, as a firebrand will kindle a Gehenna, so his vivid thought had stirred all Europe to enlivening action, enabling it to throw off the traces of the chain of feudalism, and emerge, fresh and vigorous, into the glowing sunburst of the present.

All this is world treasure. Into the mighty treasury of human knowledge every nation must pay its tax. Every display of mental energy, even if misdirected, benefits mankind, for the mistakes and failures of the nations often prove more useful lessons than their successes. The various scientific theories now entertained were reached only through a series of hypotheses, each useful in coördinating the results of former experiment, and narrowing the 'path in which truth should be sought. So the innumerable human attempts at national constitntions, at law, government, language, religion, have, while each more or less ill-directed, supplied the world with a wide range of experience, and by narrowing the chances of going astray, led to juster and more effective systems. Thought has obeyed no rudder in its progress, simply drifting unto the future over the ocean of time. But year by year it has felt the trade winds of human intellect, and in all its vagaries still made headway in the proper

* Le premier caractere des croisades, c'est leur universalité; l'Europe entière y a concouru; elles ont été le premier événement européan, * Rois, seigneurs, pretres, bourgeois, peuple des campagnes, tous prennent aux croisades le meme interet, le meme part.-GUIZOT, page 227.


Of late years a rudder has been applied to this noble ship. The sciences of political economy and socialism have for their object the collating the results of human thought and endeavor from the beginning of history to the present day, the study of man's failures and successes, the mapping out that dark realm of social condition with all the tracks which have yet been discovered running over its surface, showing into what ocean all streams of thought flow, to what end all roads lead. Only in new paths need man now walk blindly; the past is already mapped and illumined.

Into the sea of oblivion much precious freight has sunk. The ocean bottom is not more thickly strewn with wrecks than is time with man's lost wealth. Yet the present is more deeply the debtor of the past than it is willing to acknowledge. We may claim as our own the modes of applying the physical forces of nature from which have sprung so grand results. But vur mental treasures are a heritage from all the past, and however loftily we have built upon them, the foundation was needed ere the building could arise. In language, philosophy, art, science, religion, literature, social economny, government, all those thought-formations to which the printing press has given indestructibility, the past is largely our creditor. For the destructible mechanical results of the present we have ourselves to thank. Only the thought in these inventions is durable. Convulsions of nature may sweep all traces of man's work from the face of the earth. But until idea itself yields to convulsion the world's wealth is secure. From the marriage of man's cultivated energies and the forces of na ture a new world would soon arise upon the ruins of the old.

No longer is war the chief channel in which national ener

gies are concentrated. The mental forces now surpass the physical, and the nations of the present are gaining celebrity from the vigor and success of their campaigns against the dark foe, Ignorance. One by one its strongholds are falling before the onslaught, and step by step the world is pressing towards that horizon over which the sun of a glorious future already shines.

But though physical erections lack the permanence of ideas, and though the various industrial achievements of the past exist but as ruins, yet temporarily the results of industry are world wealth of the inost essential character. The hands and brains of mankind are now employed chiefly in constructive purposes, and the effect of the great energy of the human race, when usefully applied, is being displayed in marvellous results.

Centuries in our day do the work of milleniums of past time. Great as are the thought contributions of the ancient to the modern world, and much as we stand indebted to the thinkers of old for the languages, morals, science, and art they have bequeathed to us, we are much more greatly their debtor for the conditions naturally resulting from their long enduring labors.

Among the most important of these conditions is the establishment of free government, in which every man has full privilege of thought and belief, and protection in the results of his labor. Science was fettered until man become freed from the lash of intolerant bigotry. Long has knowledge fought against ignorance and superstition for the production of this result. Not until the present century has the soul of the thinker been in any proper sense loosened from its bonds. Even yet, it has to lift with it, or be crushed under, a weight of ignorant opposition and social proscription at its every movement upward.

Yet, even this partial freeing of man's hands from the fetters of theological and social conservatism has had a most marvellous result. The human soul, like an arrow from a tense bow, long held back by the strong haud of intolerance, has flowed from the loosened string, and is swiftly gliding up the empyrean of progress.

« السابقةمتابعة »