Page:The Idea of Progress.djvu/35

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31
OF PROGRESS

a struggle for existence among ideas, and that those tend to prevail which correspond with the changing needs of humanity. It does not necessarily follow that the ideas which prevail are better morally, or even truer to the laws of Nature, than those which fail. Life is so chaotic, and development so sporadic and one-sided, that a brief and brilliant success may carry with it the seeds of its own early ruin. The great triumphs of humanity have not come all at once. Architecture reached its climax in an age otherwise barbarous; Roman Law was perfected in a dismal age of decline: and the nineteenth century, with its marvels of applied science, has produced the ugliest of all civilizations. There have been notable times of the Spirit of Man—Ages of Pericles, Augustan Ages, Renaissances. The laws which determine these efflorescences are unknown. They may depend on undistinguished periods when force is being stored up. So in individual greatness, the wind bloweth where it listeth. Some of our greatest may have dies unknown, 'carent quia vate sacro'. Emerson indeed tells us that 'One accent of the Holy Ghost The careless world has never lost'. But I should like to know how Emerson obtained this information. The world has not always been 'careless' about its inspired prophets; it has often, as Faust remarks, burnt or crucified them, before they have delivered all their message. The activities of the Race—Spirit have been quite unaccountable. It has stumbled along blindly, falling into every possible pitfall.

The laws of Nature neither promise progress nor forbid it. We could do much to determine our own future; but there has been no consistency about our aspirations, and we have frequently followed false lights, and been disillusioned as much by success as by failure.