Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/332

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320
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

out we ought to learn from this that our higher aspirations should bid us brave death itself if, by a voluntary martyrdom only, we can so hasten on the triumph of "the good, the beautiful, and the true."

But this transformed princess, as also the Sleeping Beauty, Riquet with the Tuft, and Beauty and the Beast, all may alike serve to image forth an aspect of the Cosmos which is particularly interesting to us to-day. They all indicate, by some astonishing transformation, how every one and everything is affected through new conditions of environment, how change pervades the universe, and how all of us must undergo a process of evolution, though not, by any means, one in the entirely beneficent direction, nor with the rapidity these fairy tales indicate. But rapidity is essentially a relative term; and so the swift sword-stroke of the one prince or the awakening kiss of the other can quite well symbolize the slow, as well as rapid, processes of the natural world.

That universal and unceasing process of change which goes on throughout the Cosmos must affect the mind as well as the body of every one of us. Nor could a reasonable man wish that it were altogether otherwise with him, since "to cease to change is to cease to live. But we naturally shrink from decay, and should do so from mental degradation, while evolution (as above said, and as every one knows) is not universally or necessarily beneficent. Among the many evils around us (the existence of which none but an irrational optimist will deny) are the results of evolution in certain minds—minds which, in the battle of life, have become more and more morally degraded and intellectually darkened, and so continue till the end.

We might, in truth, put forward as an argument in favor of a brute element in our being, the fact that increasing years so often fail, in men as in monkeys, to produce any visible increase of "sweetness and light." On the other hand, we are most of us fortunate enough to know men in whom long life has served to ripen the most precious mental fruits.

It is the process of evolution in the mind which should above all things interest us. The great cosmic process considered as evolving suns and planets and bringing forth vegetal and sentient life is of course a wonderful and admirable process. Yet it is nothing to the formation of a single self-conscious being. So far as our knowledge extends, it is true that

"In Nature there is nothing great but man:
In man there is nothing great but mind."

Phases in the development of one human intelligence must therefore form a really nobler object of study than that of myriads of stellar orbs devoid of intellect.