Civics: as Applied Sociology/Part 2/M—The Historic City-Complex
|←L—The City Complied: Town, School, Cloister, and City Proper||Civics: as Applied Sociology
|N—The Evils of The City→|
The criticism may have already arisen in the reader's mind that the "Town" and "School" of our analysis are by no means so simple as we have assumed them. Our surveys of antique towns ever disclose the material survivals, at least the vestiges, of the cloister or the acropolis of the past, of its cathedral or its forum. The processes of our industries, in what is now their daily artisan routine, include, repeat, condense, what were yesterday or longer ago living inventions, each instinct with Promethean fire. The hackneyed ornament of our homes was once glowing with beauty, radiant or dark with symbolism. So it is for our everyday customs and institutions, and so for living languages; our own, perhaps, most of all. These, of course, are facts made familiar by investigators of all orders, from the scholar and antiquary of old, the historian and philologist of yesterday, to the geographer or the sociologist of our own time: witness Mr. Spencer's masterly treatment of their main results. How, then, shall we correlate this process of all things growing old with the analysis of cities above attempted? In other words, how shall we interpret the course of their historic evolution, their renewed growth and decay, progress and degeneracy, their present condition, crowded with residues of the past, with those potentialities which our outline discloses? This is the more necessary since this fourfold analysis applies in principle to all human groupings from the simplest village to the Eternal City. To this, indeed, we have in principle already traced it, onwards from our primitive valley section with its humble hamlets, its fundamental occupations. Returning then to our main diagram, with its four-fold analysis of the City so soon as we have completed this, and carried its progress up to the level of city life proper, we must next turn over the leaf and begin a new page, with place and work and folk once more. This simplest of acts expresses with graphic significance the very process of history; for in closing our diagram page its "Cloister" has been folded down on the "School," our cathedral and forum, our "City" proper upon the "Town." Thus it is that the ideals and the achievements of one day and generation and city are ever melting away, and passing out of sight of the next; so that to the joy or sorrow of the successors the new page seems well nigh bare, though ever there comes faintly through some image or at least blurred suggestion of the fading past. Hence each page of history is a palimpsest. Hence our modern town, even when yesterday but prairie, was no mere vacant site, but was at once enriched and encumbered by the surviving traditions of the past; so that even its new buildings are for the most part but vacant shells of past art, of which now only the student cares to trace the objective annals, much less penetrate to the inner history. So for the decayed Renaissance learning of our schools, for the most part so literally dead since the "Grammarian's Funeral"; and so, too, for the unthinking routines, the dead customs and conventions, and largely too the laws and rituals of our urban lives. Hence, then, it is that for the arrest and the decay of cities we have no need to go for our examples to the ancient East. These processes, like those of individual senility and death, are going on everywhere day by day.
Upon the new page, then, it is but a complexer "Town" and "School" anew: we have no continuing City. This too commonly has existed at its best but for the rare generation which created it, or little longer; though its historic glories, like those of sunset and of after-glow, may long shed radiance and glamour upon its town, and linger in the world's memory long after not only these have faded, but their very folk have vanished, their walls fallen, nay their very site been buried or forgotten. Upon all these degrees of dying, all these faint and fading steps between immortality and oblivion, we may arrange what we call our historic cities. Obviously in the deeper and more living sense the city exists only in actualising itself; and thus to us it is that the ideal city lies ever in the future. Yet it is the very essence of this whole argument that an ideal city is latent in every town. Where shall we in these days find our cloistered retreats to think out such ideals as may be applicable in our time and circumstances: the needed kinetic ethics, the needed synthetic philosophy and science, the needed vision and imagery and expression of them all?