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by Hugh Walker (1910)


Previous Page  ...moral or intellectual stimulant must be followed sooner or later by a temporary lowering of spiritual vitality. The example of a St. Francis of Assisi for a time lifts his followers to a height altogether beyond the reach of the ordinary world; but literary satire and the sober documents of history are at one in their testimony that in the sixteenth century their successors had sunk below that world's level.

We see the same law at work in political history. The magnificent panegyric which Thucydides puts into the mouth of Pericles stands in sharp contrast with the laments of Demosthenes a century later for the want of those very qualities which the great historian represents as the special endowment of his countrymen. Both conceptions of the Athenian character are probably just: they are certainly the conceptions of the men best qualified to discover the truth and to express it accurately. But if so, is it not probable that the depression was largely due to reaction from the abnormal energy of the earlier Athenians? A still more familiar instance is to be found in the history of England. We know how deep and sincere were the moral earnestness and the religious feeling of the Puritans; and we know likewise the price which was paid when the Restoration relaxed the strain.

The same principle unquestionably holds in literature; and, as the artistic is the most sensitive of all types of human character, it would not be surprising to find the principle exemplified there more strikingly than anywhere else. We cannot ascribe to accident the fact that in the literatures of Greece, of Spain, of France, of England, the dominant forms have varied from age to age. Now the drama prevails, now the lyric, now the novel; in this generation poetry, in that prose; one century addresses itself mainly to the understanding, another to the imagination. It is no mere coincidence that chivalric romance has so prevailed in Spain, the land of the romantic conflict of Moor and Christian. There is more than bare chance in the fact that the golden age of the drama, par excellence the literature of action, was contemporaneous, alike in Athens and in England, with the period of highest political and individual energy; or again in the fact ...Next Page

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