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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/440

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

existing materials, or to give to current words a new meaning. He usually chose the latter, thus laying himself liable to be misunderstood at every turn. His followers were, therefore, in the position of the shorter animals that try to feed on branches as far from the ground as the giraffe does. The result is that although his works have been studied and commented upon for more than twenty centuries, we are still told by some of his enthusiastic devotees, that the master is not fully understood. There is probably a good deal of truth in the assertion, for the reason that our psychic experiences are not only conditioned by our environment, but also by our mental structure. As the former can not be reproduced and as minds of like caliber are a prodigy we probably do not fully comprehend what the ancient thinker meant in not a few passages. The truth of this statement may be made evident by a simple illustration. We hear a certain individual say: "I am happy." Upon inquiry we find that his state of mind is the result of his having plenty of food and drink of a kind exactly suited to his tastes and that he cares for nothing else. Another person uses the same expression whose highest ambition is to possess the means to shine in society, but who is relatively indifferent to food and drink. A third person is a North American Indian, who has after long watching and waiting got into his power a mortal enemy whom he can now torture to his heart's content. With these let us now compare the ecstatic feelings of a Copernicus when after long years of study and reflection he had at last become fully convinced of the truth of the heliocentric system. Although all four have employed exactly the same sentence their meaning was wide, very wide apart. But even in less profound matters we can not fully understand a language unless we are thoroughly familiar with the conditions where it has been developed. In some of its aspects German is German the world over. But what different feelings come into our minds when we take up Schiller's "Tell" in north Germany, or in a foreign land, or among the scenes where the drama is laid! The Platt-Deutsch of the northern plains seems strangely out of place in the mountain region of the south. The converse is equally true. And what a feeble imitation of the real thing is the colloquial German of the United States or the French of Canada! The ancients were aware of this. Herodotus tells us that when the messenger of Cambyses came to Psammeticus, the dethroned king of Egypt, to ask him why he did not shed a tear nor utter a cry when he saw his daughter brought to shame and his son on his way to death, but gave those marks of honor to a beggar, replied: "son of Cyrus, my own misfortunes were too great for tears," and by inference, too great for words. Similarly Malcolm says "Give sorrow words: the grief that doth not speak, Whispers to the heart and bids it break." And again: "Grief that is expressed in words Is slight indeed." Byron also speaks of the "suffocating sense of woe." When