Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 39.djvu/771

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

world—a cosmopolitan who feels the Englishman or the German or the Russian to be his neighbor as much as the man who lives across the way—and if there can be a higher one still, it is that one who, if physical boundaries allowed, could traverse space and find comradeship and attractive society in Mars or the milky way.

Environment is mental as well as physical, and it too has a natural history, and in a given individual the limits of his possibilities are determined for him and not by him. This has been the result of stable institutions in the past upon successive generations, and is exemplified in the history of every people that has been subject to them. From this one may learn either that stable institutions are not desirable, or rather they are to be dreaded and fought against, or else that such stable institutions as history can show are not adapted to humanity if mankind is to have any worthy future. During the two or three centuries embracing the best days of ancient Greece, as looked at from this distance, not only was she troubled with hostility from without and with jealousies within, but nearly every individual, from the greatest to the least of them, was addicted to the grossest immoralities, which we have been and are still taught were not only scandalous and not to be tolerated, but that they are fatal to the existence of society, and so must not be tolerated. Yet Greece was not killed by its bad habits.

Since the time of the revival of learning, all those people that were subject to it sought for other influences than those of their own time and nationality to react upon them. Each one had a barbarian for a neighbor, but in the literature of Greece and Rome they had illustrious examples of men molded in other ways and by different methods, and these became in a measure the ideals toward which mankind should strive. The proper study of mankind was man, but the man studied should be a worthy one. The Catholic bishop declared that all the saints were dead. Inquire in any neighborhood for the wise man, and you will be told that he lives in another town. The ancient glory that could be read about was available for those who aspired for knowledge, and it soon came about that Socrates and Plato and Aristotle, Cicero and Demosthenes, Horace and Lucretius, Xenophon, Herodotus, and the rest became the teachers of western Europe. For most students and teachers it still holds true that a well-edited man, though he has been dead a thousand years, is preferable to an unedited living man, however eminent he may be. It is a great saving of time and of the risk of oversight to the schoolmaster to have the beauties, the grace, the appositeness, the truth, in an author’s works pointed out by another. Until men can get along without models it is well that they choose good ones. Phidias,