Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 1.djvu/174

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164
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

treated as relatively unimportant. Nay, the like happens when the boy passes into the hands of his classical master, at home or elsewhere. "Arms and the man" form the end of the story as they form its beginning. After the mythology, which of course is all-essential, come the achievements of rulers and soldiers from Agamemnon down to Cæsar: what knowledge is gained of social organization, manners, ideas, morals, being such only as the biographical statements involved. And the value of the knowledge is so ranked that while it would be a disgrace to be wrong about the amours of Zeus, and while ignorance concerning the battle of Marathon would be discreditable, it is excusable to know little or nothing of the social arrangements that preceded Lycurgus or the origin and functions of the Areopagus.

Thus the great-man theory of history finds everywhere a ready-prepared conception—is, indeed, but the definite expression of that which is latent in the thoughts of the savage, tacitly asserted in all early traditions, and taught to every child by multitudinous illustrations. The glad acceptance it meets with has sundry more special causes. There is, first, this universal love of personalities, which, active in the aboriginal man, dominates still—a love seen in the child which asks you to tell it a story, meaning, thereby, somebody's adventures; a love gratified in adults by police-reports, court-news, divorce-cases, accounts of accidents, and lists of births, marriages, and deaths; a love displayed even by conversations in the streets, where fragments of dialogue, heard in passing, prove that mostly between men, and always between women, the personal pronouns recur every instant. If you want roughly to estimate any one's mental calibre, you cannot do it better than by observing the ratio of generalities to personalities in his talk—how far simple truths about individuals are replaced by truths abstracted from numerous experiences of man and things. And, when you have thus measured many, you find but a scattered few likely to take any thing more than a biographical view of human affairs.

In the second place, this great-man theory commends itself as promising instruction along with gratification. Being already fond of hearing about people's sayings and doings, it is pleasant news that, to understand the course of civilization, you have only to read diligently the lives of conspicuous men. What can be a more acceptable doctrine than that while you are satisfying an instinct not very remotely allied to that of the village gossip—while you are receiving through print, instead of orally, remarkable facts concerning notable persons—you are gaining that knowledge which will make clear to you why things have happened thus or thus in the world, and will prepare you for forming a right opinion on each question coming before you as a citizen?

And then, in the third place, the interpretation of things thus given is so beautifully simple—seems so easy to comprehend. Providing you ere content with conceptions that are out of focus, as most people's