Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 28.djvu/499

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485
THE MUSKET AS A SOCIAL FORCE.

springs from the ability, and the ability is the fruit of invention. It may seem a strange assertion to many persons, but I believe it can be shown to be true, that the development of the moral nature of man has been as directly dependent upon invention as has his physical comfort.

[To be continued.]

 

THE MUSKET AS A SOCIAL FORCE.
By JOHN McELROY.

WHAT has always greatly puzzled the historical student has been to account for the debasement of the mass of mankind that took place during the long night of the dark ages.

In the lustrous afternoon which preceded that going down of the sun of civilization for a half-score of centuries the people of Europe seemed to be enjoying a fair measure of liberty and self-respect. In decaying Rome they were poor, for the wealth had agglutinated into the hands of the few. In barbaric Germany they were poor, because the wealth had not been created. But they were all free, and highest and lowest stood on a common plane of manhood. In spite of apparent caste distances, the substance of equality was yet a permanent and controlling quality. Everywhere the high and the low were but an arm's length apart, and the arm that measured that distance was a sturdy, manly one, usually quite ready to give and return blows. South of the Alps the proudest noble was within reach of the torch and dagger of the humblest plebeian. North of the great mountains no chief was so powerful as to be beyond the spear-thrust of the meanest of his followers. No man need be wholly abject, for he was always within striking distance of his oppressor. The turbulent Roman proletary resisted encroachment on his rights with riot and insurrection. The brawny Teuton knew no master but his elected chief, whom he deposed with scant ceremony the moment the leader's hand or nerve weakened.

A thousand years later, when day dawned once more, an amazing chasm was found to have opened up between the high and the low. The few were as gods in their power over the lives and property of the many. The low were as abject in their degradation as the beasts that perish.

In each community there had come to be one who lorded it like a wolf in a village of prairie-dogs. He dwelt on a hill-top, in a castle of massive masonry, clad himself in fine raiment, and gormandized, battened, and rioted. Where he was, there was "gude chere in knightlie hall," there were "wassail" and "revel" and "rouse" and all the other fine-named forms of the dull gluttony of feudal days.