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THE NEW AGE

17

Previous Page  ...described as an age of reason there is abundance of the spirit which leads to belief in things beyond and above reason, or even in things contrary to it. It has always been thus, and thus, until human nature is radically changed, it always will be. We have laboriously constructed our system of the universe, we are convinced that we have solved its secrets, there is no mystery beyond which brings us to a pause. But

"Just when we are safest, there's a sunset-touch,
A fancy from a flower-bell, some one's death,
A chorus-ending from Euripides,-
And that's enough for fifty hopes and fears
As old and new at once as nature's self,
To rap and knock and enter in our soul,
Take hands and dance there, a fantastic ring,
Round the ancient idol on his base again,-
The grand Perhaps."

So it proved conspicuously at the opening of the nineteenth century. All the omens seemed to point to the early and complete victory of rationalism. It was in the very air. Not long ago the Goddess of Reason had been throned in France. She was the 'creature of a whole century of work by the ablest minds, - work attended, as it seemed, by the most triumphant results. Hume, with his calm, cold, clear logic, - Gibbon, "the lord of irony," "sapping a solemn creed with solemn sneer (1)," - Voltaire with his piercing wit, his dangerous and deadly power of ridicule, - these were the typical spirits of the eighteenth century. The French Revolution was the tremendous birth which marked their triumph at its close. All forces seemed to be working in harmony towards one end. Science had begun her conquering march, and every fresh discovery with regard to the true nature and constitution of the universe appeared to make the old conception of man's place in it less and less credible. There was scarcely a human being but felt the influence of the forces at work. The ministers of ' religion themselves betrayed it in their conduct. The Church, it ...Next Page

This passage was written before I had read Mr H. A. Beers's extremely able and interesting History of English Romanticism in the Eighteenth Century. I have let it stand, although I have since found that he has used precisely the same quotations in a very similar context.




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