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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/32

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

future.[1] Finally, the inevitable penalty of overstimulation, exhaustion, opened the gates of civilization to its great enemy, ennui; the stale and flat weariness when man delights not, nor woman neither—when all things are vanity and vexation, and life seems not worth living except to escape the bore of dying.

Even purely intellectual progress brings about its revenges. Problems settled in a rough-and-ready way by rude men, absorbed in action, demand renewed attention and show themselves to be still unread riddles when men have time to think. The beneficent demon, doubt, whose name is Legion and who dwells among the tombs of old faiths, enters into mankind and thenceforth refuses to be cast out. Sacred customs, venerable dooms of ancestral wisdom, hallowed by tradition and professing to hold good for all time, are put to the question. Cultured reflection asks for their credentials; judges them by its own standards; finally, gathers those of which it approves into ethical systems, in which the reasoning is rarely much more than a decent pretext for the adoption of foregone conclusions.

One of the oldest and most important elements in such systems is the conception of justice. Society is impossible unless those who are associated agree to observe certain rules of conduct toward one another; its stability depends on the steadiness with which they abide by that agreement; and, so far as they waver, that mutual trust which is the bond of society is weakened or destroyed. Wolves could not hunt in packs except for the real, though unexpressed, understanding that they should not attack one another during the chase. The most rudimentary polity is a pack of men living under the like tacit, or expressed, understanding; and having made the very important advance upon wolf society, that they agree to use the force of the whole body against individuals who violate it and in favor of those who observe it. This observance of a common understanding, with the consequent distribution of punishments and rewards according to accepted rules, received the name of justice, while the contrary was called injustice. Early ethics did not take much note of the animus of the violator of the rules. But civilization could not advance far


  1. "Multa bona nostra nobis nocent, timoris enim tormentum memoria reducit, providentia anticipat. Nemo tantum præsentibus miser est." (Seneca, Ep. v, 7.) [Thus many things, really good in themselves, hurt us: for memory recalls and forecast anticipates the torment of fear. No one is wretched from what is present only.—Morell's translation.]

    Among the many wise and weighty aphorisms of the Roman Bacon, few sound the realities of life more deeply than "Multa bona nostra nobis nocent." If there is a soul of good in things evil, it is at least equally true that there is a soul of evil in things good: for things, like men, have "les défants de leurs qualités." It is one of the last lessons one learns from experience, but not the least important, that a heavy tax is levied upon all forms of success, and that failure is one of the commonest disguises assumed by blessings.