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THE LITERATURE OF THE VICTORIAN ERA

by Hugh Walker (1910)

16

Previous Page  ...worldly wisdom of men who stood wholly aloof from mystic excitements and sought for no revelation, in the fiction of the Seven Sages (1)."

There is not in all history a more exact parallel than that which exists between Greece in the sixth century B.C., when thus interpreted, and Western Europe in the nineteenth century A.D. The saying that "history repeats itself" is stupid, if we take it au pied de la lettre; but, read with intelligent freedom, it conveys a profound truth. Substitute for the Ionian philosophy the deistic philosophy of the eighteenth century, for the Orphic religion the Catholic Reaction, and the words written by the historian of the one may be applied with little change to the other. The springs of the opposing movements were in both cases precisely the same. The principal difference is that the danger in the modern case was far less, because philosophy was no longer staggering on infant limbs; but the danger did, and to some extent does still, exist.

There are few things more interesting in literature than the contrasts it so frequently presents; and there is nothing in recent literature which more demands or which will more richly repay investigation than the extraordinary contrast now in question. It goes deep down towards the roots of human nature, which demands satisfaction for the emotions as well as for the intellect. The investigation is necessary, if it were only because we are here in contact with one of the " idols " of the human mind, which, as Bacon long ago pointed out, tends to grasp prematurely at unity. We are prone to forget the wide diversity of human thought. We call certain ages, ages of faith, and others again, ages of reason. When they are employed with due care, the phrases are useful, and have their own important element of truth; but the danger is that they may be supposed to represent the whole truth and the exact truth. This is by no means the case. Patient investigation shows that in the very midst of the ages of faith there was plenty of the rationalising spirit, though from motives of prudence it might refrain from obtruding itself. We have only to look round and observe in order to become convinced that in what is usually ...Next Page

1 Bury's History of Greece, ch. vii. 14.




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