Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/619

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HYPOCRISY AS A SOCIAL ELEVATOR.

progress to the cleansing of the inside also, so as to still keep ahead of those who emulate him by external purification of their culinary utensils. Then their cleanliness as a principle becomes merely a matter of time.

National histories and the portraiture of the great men of the past are all more or less flagrant pieces of hypocrisy. The historians of every nation carefully feed its self-esteem by the assiduous elaboration of everything in its past that is noble, brave, and enlightened, and the equally assiduous obscuration of all that is mean, cowardly, barbarous, and otherwise discreditable. It is true that modern historians have abandoned the ancient practice of tracing the descent of their peoples directly from the immortal gods, but they come as near it as the limitations of modern thought will allow. Invariably they represent their people as of exceptionally distinguished lineage and character and a powerful factor for good from the moment of entrance upon the stage of history. Its soldiers were godlike in courage and devotion; its statesmen divine in purity and wisdom. Higher motives than desire to flatter the national vanity help to actuate the historians in this misrepresentation. They believe that it is best to make out of the past ideals for coming generations to emulate. They desire to stimulate national virtue by high examples.

The truth is, the early history of every great nation is like the early history of men who have risen from the gutter to prominence. There has been a long and dreary period of ignorant—frequently disreputable—struggling of mean abilities, in mean ways, with mean competitors and mean surroundings. Rightly viewed, this is one of the most comforting facts in human history, for it shows that nations, like men, constantly

"rise to higher things,

With their dead selves as stepping-stones."

Take, for example, the history of England. The impression which has been studiously produced upon the mind of the average reader is that that great nation has, ever since the advent of William the Conqueror (if not before), occupied the same proud place at the head of the wealth, power, and civilization of the world that she has for the past century. Nothing could be farther from the truth for at least four centuries after the battle of Hastings. Until usurper Henry VII snatched the scepter from the lifeless hand of usurper Richard III, on Bosworth Field, in 1485, England was a thinly peopled, out-of-the-way island, of almost as little importance to the rest of the world as Venezuela is to-day. Such ignorant, dull, brutalized white men as the Englishmen of the Plantagenet period are not to be found to-day outside of a Russian village, or a community of Hungarian miners