Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/403

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CIVILIZATION AND SCIENCE.

road, whose track lies across rivulets of tears and through a sea of blood? Can we discern in political history any steady progress effected by the play of the forces which constitute its subject-matter? Do kings grow wiser, or peoples more sober-minded? On the contrary, does not the lesson taught by history seem to be this, that history teaches no lesson? Till modern times, did humanity steadily and consecutively advance from step to step in liberty, morality, power, art, well-being, and science? Does not the history of which we speak present to our view rather a labor of Sisyphus, and does not the very conception of different periods of civilization imply the downfall of those civilizations?

Alas! we know only too well that this kind of history was for a longtime the only one known to man; and for the mass of people it will continue to be the only one. The mighty game of chance, played for stakes the value of which is known of all men, and the strife of passions it calls forth—this drama, whereof man himself is at once the poet and the performer, irresistibly attracts the ingenuous mind, and is full of the profoundest lessons, however little they may be regarded.

But contemplate for a moment infinite space strewed with nebulae in the chaotic state, with star-clusters and solar systems. Imagine, as an invisible point in this infinity, our own sun as it speeds on into unknown regions of the heavens, surrounded by its planets, each one revolving in its own proper orbit—Jupiter, the giant-planet, with his moons, and Saturn with his rings. Again, imagine our earth, a point in this system, shooting through universal space at the rate of a falling star, and rotating on its axis from morning to night, from night to morning—"mountain and sea borne along in the ever-rapid course of the spheres." Descend, in imagination, into its fiery interior, and learn the great outlines of its history. After ages innumerable, the flood of molten lava at its surface became sufficiently cooled to admit of the existence of life; organisms succeeded one another till, at length, the history of our own race begins in the twilight of fable, now, however, illumined by the discoveries of prehistoric research.

We will call this mode of looking at terrestrial phenomena, opposed as it is to the anthropocentric point of view, the Archimedean perspective, because thereby we in thought take a standpoint beyond the earth, just as Archimedes desired to have a locus standi outside the earth, in order to move it.

How lowly and insignificant do earthly things appear when thus contemplated! How petty now seem all those occurrences which we are wont to regard as so weighty, that we comprehend them under the high-sounding name of "universal history," whereas, in truth, one half of them belong to the history of the wars, and the other half to the history of the hallucinations of only a few civilized nations! How vain and foolish are wars for a patch of land or for blood-stained laurels! In presence of the sublime spectacle of the universe, may we not exhort to reconciliation and harmony the race of man, ever wrangling about piti-