Page:In defense of Harriet Shelley, and other essays.djvu/345

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A MAJESTIC LITERARY FOSSIL

IF I were required to guess offhand, and without collusion with higher minds, what is the bottom cause of the amazing material and intellectual ad vancement of the last fifty years, I should guess that it was the modern-born and previously non-existent disposition on the part of men to believe that a new idea can have value. With the long roll of the mighty names of history present in our minds, we are not privileged to doubt that for the past twenty or thirty centuries every conspicuous civilization in the world has produced intellects able to invent and create the things which make our day a wonder; perhaps we may be justified in inferring, then, that the reason they did not do it was that the public reverence for old ideas and hostility to new ones alw r ays stood in their way, and was a wall they could not break down or climb over. The prevailing tone of old books regarding new ideas is one of suspicion and uneasiness at times, and at other times contempt. By contrast, our day is indifferent to old ideas, and even considers that their age makes their value questionable, but jumps at a new idea with enthu siasm and high hope a hope which is high because it has not been accustomed to being disappointed. I make no guess as to just when this disposition was

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