Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/363

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EVOLUTION OF CIVILIZATION AND THE ARTS.

a position in any way superior, have been able to create an individual art free from apparent relationship with anterior models. In less than a century after they conquered the Greco-Roman world, the Moslems had transformed the Byzantine architecture which they adopted, so greatly that it would be impossible to discover by what types they were inspired, if we had not the series of intermediate monuments under our eyes.

Even a people possessing no artistic or literary aptitude may create a high civilization. Such were the Phœnicians, who had no superior gift except their commercial skill. They promoted civilization by bringing different parts of the world into relations, while they produced nothing themselves, and the history of their civilization is nothing but the history of their trade.

There are, finally, people that stand low in all the elements of civilization except art, as the Moguls, whose monuments in India, with hardly anything of the Hindu about them, are so splendid that competent critics have declared them the finest works that have been raised by human hands; but nobody would class the Moguls among the higher races.

It is further to be remarked that, even with the most civilized peoples, the period when art attains its highest degree of development is not usually at the culminating epoch of their civilization. The most perfect works of the Hindus and Egyptians are generally the most ancient; and that remarkable Gothic art, the admirable works of which have never been paralleled, flourished in Europe in the semi-barbarous middle ages. It is, therefore, impossible to judge of the degree of a people's advancement solely by the development of its arts, which constitute only one of the elements of its culture, and that one which has not been shown, any more than has literature, to be the highest. It is, on the contrary, sometimes the case that peoples at the head of civilization—as the Romans in ancient times and the Americans in modern—are weakest in works of art, while other peoples have produced their highest literary and artistic masterpieces in their half-barbarous ages.

The period of individuality in the art of a people appears, therefore, to be a blossoming of its infancy or its youth, and not of its mature age. There are many other evidences that the progress of the arts is not parallel with the advance in the other elements of civilization, but that they have an independent and special evolution. It is a general law that when art has reached a certain level, marked by the creation of high masterpieces, a period of imitation sets in, followed by a period of decadence, both of which are independent of the course of the other elements of civilization. This lasts till some revolution or innovation, the adoption of a new creed, or some like factor intervenes to introduce new elements,