Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/146

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ond stage—out of the stage where permanence is most wanted, into that where variability is most wanted; and you cannot comprehend why progress is so slow, till you see how hard the most obstinate tendencies of human nature make that step to mankind.

Of course the nation we are supposing must keep the virtues of its first stage as it passes into the after-stage, else it will he trodden out; it will have lost the savage virtues in getting the beginning of the civilized virtues; and the savage virtues which tend to war are the daily bread of human nature. Carlyle said, in his graphic way, "The ultimate question between every two human beings is, 'Can I kill thee, or canst thou kill me?'" History is strewn with the wrecks of nations which have gained a little progressiveness at the cost of a great deal of hard manliness, and have thus prepared themselves for destruction as soon as the movements of the world gave a chance for it. But these nations have come out of the "preëconomic stage" too soon; they have been put to learn while yet only too apt to unlearn. Such cases do not vitiate, they confirm, the principle that a nation which has just gained variability, without losing legality, has a singular likelihood to be a prevalent nation.

No nation admits of an abstract definition; all nations are beings of many qualities and many sides; no historical event exactly illustrates any one principle; every cause is intertwined and surrounded with a hundred others. The best history is but like the art of Rembrandt: it casts a vivid light on certain selected causes, on those which were best and greatest; it leaves all the rest in shadow and unseen. To make a single nation illustrate a principle, you must exaggerate much and you must omit much. But, not forgetting this caution, did not Rome—the prevalent nation in the ancient world—gain her predominance by the principle on which I have dwelt? In the thick crust of her legality there was hidden a little seed of adaptiveness. Even in her law itself no one can fail to see that, binding as was the habit of obedience, coercive as use and wont at first seem, a hidden impulse of extrication did manage, in some queer way, to change the substance while conforming to the accidents—to do what was wanted for the new time, while seeming to do only what was directed by the old time. And the moral of their whole history is the same: each Roman generation, so far as we know, differs a little—and in the best times often but a very little—from its predecessors. And, therefore, the history is so continuous as it goes, though its two ends are so unlike. The history of many nations is like the stage of the English drama: one scene is succeeded on a sudden by a scene quite different—a cottage by a palace, and a windmill by a fortress. But the history of Rome changes as a good diorama changes: while you look, you hardly see it alter; each moment is hardly different from the last moment; yet at the close the metamorphosis is complete, and scarcely any thing is as it began. Just so in the history of the great