Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/283

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CIVILIZATION AND SCIENCE.

levees, or the sinking of the soil by volcanic action. Many a tract of waste-land in Italy, which in former times was thickly populated, would still be productive were it not that the dragon of malaria keeps watch on the golden fleece of the grain-harvest. The south of Spain did not become barren till after Christian intolerance had driven out the industrious Moors, and Gothic laziness had permitted their irrigation-canals to become choked up. Wherever, therefore, sterility was not produced by irresistible natural agencies, it was not the cause, but rather the result, of the decay of the state. Under more favorable political conditions, the ancient fertility of the soil might be restored, but the evils of deforestation, as we see in Provence, can hardly ever be repaired.

It was not because the soil of the Mediterranean countries was impoverished in phosphoric acid and potash that the ancient civilization went to ruin, but because that civilization was built on the quicksand of aesthetics and speculativism, which was quickly swept away by the tide of barbarian invasion. Suppose the legionaries had been armed with flint-lock muskets, instead of the pilum, and that, instead of the catapult and the ballista, the Romans possessed even such artillery as was employed during the sixteenth century. Would not all the migrant hordes, from the Cimbri and the Teutones down to the Vandals, have been sent back home with broken heads? True, the Romans beat back the Teutones with the pilum alone, for, even with equal arms on both sides, the superior military science, backed by higher mental and bodily development, ever prevails over undisciplined masses of men. But, had fire-arms taken the place of the pilum, the Romans would always have triumphed over the barbarians, even without a Marius, and without such terrible efforts as at Aquas Sextiæ. It is vain to speculate in history about what would have happened under altered circumstances. So much, however, is clear, that, had not the ancients neglected to win for themselves that absolute mastery over brute force which the subjugation of Nature and the progressive improvement of industrial skill always insure, the two ethnic elements of the "Nibelungenlied," namely, Northern heroes and horsemen from the steppes of Asia, would have been powerless against the Roman Empire, though its rottenness stunk to heaven. And, had the ancients developed their inventiveness sufficiently to originate the art of printing, then, despite the invasions of the barbarians, we should not have to lament evermore the loss of so many a masterpiece of poet, orator, and historian.

 

IV.—The Scholastico-Ascetic Period.

But the ancient culture succumbed. The night of the middle ages settled down upon those shores of the Mediterranean once illumined with the splendor of all that is grand and beautiful. To this was added a peculiar fatality which made the intellectual ruin more complete, and