Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 58.djvu/101

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93
DISCUSSION AND CORRESPONDENCE.

poet's dream and philosopher's speculation to a well-demonstrated scientific theory. Evolution, heredity, environment, have become household words, and their application to history has influenced every one who has had to trace the development of a people, the growth of an institution, or the establishment of a cause." Yet it seems that this has not enabled us to equal the excellence of two or three writers who flourished more than two-thirds of the way back to the dawn of European civilization. Let us at least be frank with ourselves, if such be the fact, and not refuse to recognize the disheartening nature of the conclusion.

There are some iconoclasts, however, who will not accept it; and, if they allowed the barbarian that is in them to speak out, in spite of their high respect and deference for Mr. Rhodes, it would probably assert that there is little hope for the elevation of history to the highest rank of intellectual endeavor by champions so imbued with the spirit of the past. He that would show the subject worth the attention of the most gifted, the strongest and the most penetrating minds can be no worshipper before the marble god of the Classics. He must—difficult as the task would seem to Mr. Rhodes—write history better than Thucydides or Tacitus wrote it. But this is, after all, not so difficult if the proper meaning is given to the words. There are several men living who do it. This I fully believe; and I wish to say that the assertion is made in no spirit of defiance to the standards of my generation, but rather in the spirit of respect for these standards as I see them.

There seems, in fact, to lie some subtle poison in the classics whereby their devotees become intoxicated. Their admiration for the ancient languages and literatures, for the civilizations in which their chosen work lies, appears to grow until they lose faith in the present and depreciate it correspondingly. Modern education, which is aimed to fit, rather than to unfit men for the life they must live, to adjust them to their environment rather than to put them out of harmony therewith, would not be wholly unjustified in entering its caveat for all who undertake the study of Greek and Latin.

"If indeed there haunt
About the moulder'd lodges of the Past
So sweet a voice and vague, fatal to men,
Well needs it we should cram our ears with wool
And so pace by."

These expressions are not prompted by any sympathy with materialism. I am well aware that humanity fed upon such meat will never be great. But must we look back over two thousand years to find ideals—even in the matter of history writing? It will be a sad day, if it ever come, when the teaching of Greek and Latin shall fail in our universities and men shall cease to study them; but it is certainly unnecessary that the classical measuring rod shall be laid to all the dimensions of modern thought. Shall we not be free? Shall there never be a literary mortmain to lift the dead hand of the classics and leave us at liberty to render service where it is due?

Wherein lies the hitherto unequaled excellence of Thucydides and Tacitus? Not in their superior 'accuracy, love of truth and impartiality'; for 'Gibbon and Gardiner among the moderns possess equally the same qualities.' Mr. Rhodes would doubtless deprecate any suggestion of placing his own name in this honorable company, but I believe it would occur at once to those who are familiar with his works. Certainly it is not difficult for the unprejudiced reader to see in him a conscientious and brave fidelity to the truth that can be found in a higher degree in no historian, ancient or modern.

Nor does the advantage of the classical historians lie "in the collection of materials, in criticism and detailed analysis, in the study of cause and effect,