Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/744

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

cestors, wandering with their herds over the plains of Central Asia, encouraged, by the habits and necessities of their lives, that liberty of action and individual freedom which have characterized those of their descendants who by their emigrations have peopled Europe and America. It seems more than probable, also, that this spirit has been strengthened by the natural selection of those individuals as emigrants in whom the feelings of discontent and curiosity were associated with a temperament that neither hesitated through fear nor turned back from obstacles. These it was who braved and triumphed over the natural hardships of an unbroken wilderness and the not less fearful supernatural obstacles which occupy all unknown countries in the minds of uncivilized man. Century after century were these hardy and indomitable characters strengthened by use and transmitted by inheritance. Whether we consider the ancient civilized nations, the rude Germanic tribes, or their modern descendants, illustrations will everywhere be presented of the universal tendency to independence and change among all the Indo-European peoples. We are told by Heeren, in the "Political History of Ancient Greece,"[1] that, "while Asia, during all the changes in its extensive empires, shows only the continued reproduction of despotism, it was in Europe that the germ of political freedom unfolded itself, and, under the most various forms, in so many parts of the same soil, bore the noblest fruits; which again were transplanted thence to other parts of the world." Similar testimony is borne by Hume to the character of the uncivilized tribes of the north of Europe."History of England," chap, iii, appendix. "The government of the Germans," he says, "and that of all the northern nations who established themselves on the ruins of Rome, was always extremely free. . . . The free constitutions then established, however impaired by the encroachments of succeeding princes, still preserve an air of independence and legal administration which distinguish the European nations; and, if that part of the globe maintains sentiments of liberty, honor, equity, and valor superior to the rest of mankind, it owes these advantages chiefly to the seeds implanted by those generous barbarians."

That the modern descendants of these ancient nations and tribes still possess the predominant characters of their ancestors, is sufficiently illustrated by the estimate given by Buckle of his own countrymen. "We, in England," he says, "are a critical, dissatisfied, and captious people, constantly complaining of our rulers, suspecting their schemes, discussing their measures in a hostile spirit, allowing very little power either to the church or to the crown, and managing our own affairs in our own way."[2] By the complete possession of these characters, the American people involuntarily acknowledge their English descent.

It is unnecessary to multiply examples; from the earliest history of our race to the present generation, similar impulses have prevailed

  1. Oxford, 1833, p. 1.
  2. "History of Civilization in England," vol. ii, p. 29.