Page:The Idea of Progress.djvu/10

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6
THE IDEA

whether we like it or not, no other view of the macrocosm is even tenable. Even if those physicists are right who hold that the universe is running down like a clock, that belief postulates a moment in past time when the clock was wound up; and whatever power wound it up once may presumably wind it up again. The doctrine of cycles was held by Goethe, who, in reply to Eckermann’s remark that 'the progress of humanity seems to be a matter of thousands of years', answered, 'Perhaps of millions. Men will become more clever and discerning, but not better or happier, except for limited periods. I see the time coming when God will take no more pleasure in our race, and must again proceed to a rejuvenated creation. I am sure that the time and hour in the distant future are already fixed for the beginning of this epoch. But we can still for thousands of years enjoy ourselves on this dear old 'playground of ours.' Nietzsche also maintained the law of recurrence, and so did the Danish philosophic theologian Kierkegaard. Shelley’s line poem, 'The world's great age begins anew', is based upon it. Still, I must admit that on the whole the ancients did tend to regard time as the enemy: 'damnosa quid non imminuit dies?' they would have thought the modern notion of human perfectibility at once absurd and impious.

The Dark Ages knew that they were dark, and we hear little talk about progress during those seven centuries which, as far as we can see, might have been cut out of history without any great loss to posterity. The Middle Ages (which we ought never to confuse, with the Dark Ages), though they developed an interesting type of civilization, set their hopes mainly on another world. The Church has never encouraged the belief that this world is steadily improving; the Middle Ages,