Page:Evolution and Ethics.djvu/38

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29
MODERN PESSIMISM AND OPTIMISM

physical and moral conditions, and finally converge to practically the same end.

The Vedas and Homeric epos set before us a world of rich and vigorous life, full of joyous fighting men

That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine . . . .


and who were ready to brave the very Gods themselves when their blood was up. A few centuries pass away, and under the influence of civilization, the descendants of these men are 'sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought'—frank pessimists, or at best, make-believe optimists. The courage of the warlike stock may be as hardly tried as before, perhaps more hardly, but the enemy is self. The hero has become a monk. The man of action is replaced by the quietist, whose highest aspiration is to be the passive instrument of the divine Reason. By the Tiber, as by the Ganges, ethical man admits that the cosmos is too strong for him; and destroying every bond which ties him to it by ascetic discipline, he seeks salvation in absolute renunciation. (18)


Modern thought is making a fresh start from the base whence Indian and Greek philosophy set out; and, the human mind being very much what it was six and twenty centuries ago, there is no ground for wonder if it presents indications of a tendency to move along the old lines to the same results.

We are more than sufficiently familiar with modern pessimism, at least as a speculation; for I cannot