Page:Primitive Culture Vol 1.djvu/53

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

emblem of Saturn, still continued annually to mow the harvests of Italy; and the human feasts of Læstrigons have never been renewed on the coast of Campania. Since the first discovery of the arts, war, commerce, and religious zeal, have diffused, among the savages of the Old and New World, these inestimable gifts: they have been successively propagated; they can never be lost. We may therefore acquiesce in the pleasing conclusion, that every age of the world has increased, and still increases, the real wealth, the happiness, the knowledge, and perhaps the virtue, of the human race.'[1]

This progression-theory of civilization may be contrasted with its rival, the degeneration-theory, in the dashing invective of Count Joseph de Maistre, written toward the beginning of the 19th century. 'Nous partons toujours,' he says, 'de l'hypothèse banale que l'homme s'est élevé graduellement de la barbarie à la science et à la civilisation. C'est le rêve favori, c'est l'erreur-mère, et comme dit l'école le proto-pseudes de notre siècle. Mais si les philosophes de ce malheureux siècle, avec l'horrible perversité que nous leur avons connue, et qui s'obstinent encore malgré les avertissements qu'ils ont reçus, avaient possédé de plus quelques-unes de ces connaissances qui ont du necessairement appartenir aux premiers hommes, &c.'[2] The degeneration-theory, which this eloquent antagonist of 'modern ideas' indeed states in an extreme shape, has received the sanction of men of great learning and ability. It has practically resolved itself into two assumptions, first, that the history of culture began with the appearance on earth of a semi-civilized race of men, and second, that from this stage culture has proceeded in two ways, backward to produce savages, and forward to produce civilized men. The idea of the original condition of man being one of more or less high culture, must have a certain prominence

  1. Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,' ch. xxxviii.
  2. De Maistre, 'Soirées de St. Pétersbourg,' vol. ii. p. 150.