Lapas attēli

was not room for any men until they conquered it. It is easy for anyone now to assure himself that this is the true and only correct notion to hold on that matter. If land ever was a boon of Nature to anybody it was given away to the plants and animals long before man appeared here. When man appeared, he simply found a great task awaiting him: the plants and animals might be made to serve him, if he could conquer them; the earth would be his if he could drive off his competitors. He had no charter against Nature, and no rights against her; every hope in his situation had an "if" in itif he could win it.

We look in vain for any physical or metaphysical endowment with which men started the life of the race on earth. We look in vain for any facts to sustain the notion of a state of primitive simplicity and blessedness, or natural rights, or a boon of material goods. All the facts open to us show that man has won on earth everything which he has here by toil, sacrifice, and blood; all the civilization which we possess has been wrought out by work and pain. All the rights, freedom, and social power which we have inherited are products of history. Our institutions are so much a matter of course to us that it is only by academic training that we. learn what they have cost antecedent generations. If serious wledge on this subject were more widespread, probably we should have a higher appreciation of the value of our inheritance, and we should have less flippant discussion of the question: What is all this worth? We should also probably better understand the conditions of successful growth or reform, and have less toleration for schemes of social reconstruction.

Civilization has been of slow and painful growth. Its history has been marked by many obstructions, reactions, and false developments. Whole centuries and generations have lost their chances on earth, passing through human existence, keeping up the continuity of the race, but, for their own part, missing all share in the civilization which had been previously attained, and which ought to have descended to them. It is easy to bring about such epochs of social disease and decline by human passion, folly, blunders, and crime. It is not easy to maintain the advance of civilization; it even seems as if a new danger to it had arisen in our day. Formerly men lived along instinctively, under social conditions and customs, and social developments wrought themselves out by a sort of natural process. Now we deliberate and reflect. Naturally we propose to interfere and manage according to the product of our reflection. It looks as if there might be danger soon lest we should vote away civilization by a plebiscite, in an effort to throw open to everybody this imaginary "Banquet of Life.”

382. Progress and Discontent38

BY THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY It may at first sight seem strange that society, while constantly moving forward with eager speed, should be constantly looking backward with tender regret. But these two propensities, inconsistent as they may appear, can easily be resolved into the same principle. Both spring from our impatience of the state in which we actually are. That impatience, while it stimulates us to surpass preceding generations, disposes us to overrate their happiness. It is, in some sense, unreasonable and ungrateful in us to be constantly discontented with a condition which is constantly improving. But, in truth, there is constant improvement precisely because there is constant discontent. If we were perfectly satisfied with the present, we should cease to contrive, to labor, and to save with a view to the future. And it is natural that, being dissatisfied with the present, we should form

a too favorable estimate of the past. In truth, we are under a deception similar to that which misleads the traveler in the Arabian desert. Beneath the caravan all is dry and bare; but far in advance, and far in the rear, is the semblance of refreshing waters. The pilgrims hasten forward and find nothing but sand an hour before they had seen a lake. They turn their eyes and see a lake where, an hour before, they were toiling through sand. A similar illusion seems to haunt nations through every stage of the long progress from poverty and barbarism to the highest degrees of opulence and civilization. But, if we resolutely chase the mirage backward, we shall find it recede before us into the regions of fabulous antiquity. It is now the fashion to place the Golden Age of England in times when noblemen were destitute of comforts the want of which would be intolerable to a modern footman, when farmers and shopkeepers breakfasted on loaves, the very sight of which would raise a riot in a modern workhouse, when to have a clean shirt once a week was a privilege reserved for the higher class of gentry, when men died faster in the purest country air than they now die in the most pestilential lanes of our towns, and when men died faster in the lanes of our towns than they now die on the coast of Guiana. We, too, shall, in our turn, be outstripped, and in our turn be envied. It may well be, in the twentieth century, that the peasant of Dorsetshire may think himself miserably paid with twenty shillings a week; that the carpenter at Greenwich may receive ten shillings a day; that laboring men may be as little used to dining without meat as they now are to eat rye bread; that sani

* Adapted from History of England, I, chap. iii (1848).

tary police and medical discoveries may have added several more years to the average length of human life; that numerous comforts and luxuries which are now unknown, or confined to a few, may be within the reach of every diligent and thrifty workingman. And yet it may then be the mode to assert that the increase of wealth and the progress of science have benefited the few at the expense of the many, and to talk of the reign of Queen Victoria as the time when England was truly merry England, when all classes were bound together by brotherly sympathy, when the rich did not grind the faces of the poor, and when the poor did not envy the splendor of the rich.

« iepriekšējāTurpināt »