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be. Like the Lotus Eaters, we strive to banish thought in this mental intoxication. Alas for us, that the reaction is sometimes greater than we can bear. Such dreams are but the messengers of that indolent philosophy which would persuade us to forget everything but enjoyment, and believe that the
* Dread of something after death,'
is but a mere fiction of some excited brain, fit only to trouble the minds of those who foolishly think that there is an existence beyond the grave.
But there are dreams of another nature-truer and more elevating. They are the visions which come to us, when we are at our times of quiet, when we lay back as I do to-night and conjure up strange fancies from among the elm-leaves, and out of the rustle of the breeze. What a pity that we are so free from superstitions in this New World of ours. It would be worth a great deal if some enterprising Yankee should bring over a ship-load of Brownies and Kobolds, elves and dwarfs, to haunt our nooks and out of the way corners, in order to make some poetry for the masses therefrom. But as we are now, there is no prospect of such a desirable result, and the only sprites of the green wood are a few half-starved Indian demons, who never allow themselves to be distinctly noted and described. And while I think of these, my mind goes back to many an old legend, in which the fairy-folk played prominent parts. The Rhine is rich with them, from the story of the planning of Cologne Cathedral to the dismal tales of the nixie and the nymph of the Lurleyberg. And do not Norseland and Angleland, Germany and France, cherish yet the stories of these strange beings ?
And there be dreams beside all these, courteous reader, which need to be specially dealt with. Did not the stern old Reformer cast inkhorn and ink full in the face of the foul fiend which tempted him ? And shall we, even weak as we are, allow these cheating phantoms to steal away our hearts ? Dreams are but the fabric of thin air, and yet the thoughts which produce them are not to be left free of guard. Think rightly, act rightly, and none but right visions shall ever come. These shapes of evil may have as little real existence as the Mountains of the Moon, or the North-West Passage, but they are just as sternly tugging at our heart strings as if they were in bodily presence. We must remember when our fancies come thickest upon us, to work out from their confusion some ordered whole, else we may justly receive
censure for time misspent and thoughts thrown away. As grand Will Shakspeare has it,
“Nature never lends
Both thanks and use.” It is well written of the hours, on the old sun-dial at Oxford, “Pereunt et Imputantur."
S. W. D.
THE DEFOREST PRIZE ORATION. The Tendency to Decay incident to High Civilization.
BY DANIEL HENRY CHAMBERLAIN, WORCESTER, MASS.
(a.) Progress through conflict.
(a.) Want of physical energy.
(c.) Loss of faith in Ideas and Moral Truths.
ORATION. History, of which civilization is to be regarded as one phase or department, is a motive process, dependent for its life and permanence upon the expansive and forceful nature of underlying ideas and principles. From that sublime hour when the Divine creative fiat ordained the course of nature and opened the initial chapter of human existence, the history of man has formed one continuous line of natural and necessary connections. It has separated itself into epochs; it has been
lifted into the beauty and glory of intellectual and moral eras; or been sunk into the deformity and degradation of benighted and barbarous periods; but epochs, eras and periods are but the articulating points in an unbroken process of expansion. Development, wherein law is supreme and each step has its natural antecedent, is the characteristic of historic life.
But development is not necessarily improvement, and expansion is not to be confounded with progress. In the sphere of nature development is ideal and perfect; in the sphere of human history it is always to some extent imperfect and abnormal. The primary basis of history was displaced or corrupted by the free act of man. In the germinal source of his destiny, conflicting tendencies and opposing forces now take their places, and the stream of human history is thenceforth broken and fretted by antagonisms, convulsions and revolutions. Development is still its law and progress its destiny, but it is a development of decay as well as of growth, and its progress is often checked and turned back in the struggle of its elemental forces.
Civilization is, therefore, at once a conflict and a progress. It is not conflict alone; it is not progress alone. It is such a conflict as involves progress; it is such a progress as has the strife and adjustment of contending forces for its perpetual condition. Progress through conflict, antagonisms working out a higher unity, is the law of the individual and the community. As the harmonies of nature are but the equilibrium of its conflicting agencies, and its outward serenity is purchased by its elemental strife, so are the harmonies of civilization and the stability of society wrought out by their antagonizing elements. The liability to decay and relapse is, therefore, an universal and constant fact in the conflict and advance of civilization.
There are periods, however, in which this general and pervading tendency asserts itself with peculiar distinctness and power. In the infancy of civilization or before the slow and central process of development has become confirmed in an assured and steady progress, we find the downward tendencies and adverse forces strongly and clearly at work. In this early and formative era, civilization meets its first perils and wins its first triumphs. It gradually marshals and unites its scattered powers, combines into one movement its separate elements, and with victorious hand presses on in its benign and upward career.
The influence of this early conjunction of the helpful powers of civilization generally outlasts the exigency in which it takes place and renders the social advance more uniform and rapid through many sucVOL. XXVII.
ceeding generations. Life, growth, activity, power, characterize the age which succeeds the early conflicts of civilization, and in the incessant stir and expansion, we may mark the intensest development of character and mind. It is the era of a grand and massive strength of will and purpose, the age of strong faith, of profound earnestness, of boundless energy, and unselfish patriotism.
If now we pass to a later period in this progressive movement, we are met by a change in the relative power and prominence of the social forces. The passionate conflict and struggle of the first era, the earnest severity and ennobling simplicity of the second, are succeeded by an age of accumulated wealth and material abundance, of high social and intellectual refinement, of voluptuous elegance and cloying luxuriance. Upon this fair and placid scene the latent elements of decay reappear, betraying the insecurity and blighting the beauty of the social growth. The impulse imparted by the rude energy and strong ambition of the earlier periods, is no longer sufficient to continue the upward movement against the presence and resistance of the unambitious and selfish character of the age. The unaided natural powers of society have accomplished their bighest work, and the nerves of social ambition and energy are now unstrung. In such a crisis of civilization, the causes and signs of decay appear with unwonted clearness and power.
Put now this theory of the action of the natural forces of civilization, to the test of bistorical fact. Does it form a picture of humanity to which the entire history of man, so far as he is unaffected by supernatural influences, has contributed? The ancient civilizations stand to testify at once the dignity and the corruption, the power and the weakness of human effort and natural forces. Those mighty Asiatic empires with colossal power, trod the same grand and sad round of rude and savage strength, of succeeding order and civil power, of final decay and dissolution. The germs of national life blossomed into outward beauty and glory but contained no enduring vitality, no immortal principle which could arrest the inherent and fatal decline. Egypt was once the lair of barbarism, then the home of learning and philosophy, and now the silent pyramids keep their mournful and eternal watch over the scenes of her long-departed glory. The civilization of the Greeks had its sources in the sturdy strength of the savage Pelasgic race. On this rude and strong foundation grew that wondrous harmony of Strength and Beauty which will be an indestructible and influential factor in all the progress of the race; yet poetry and art, eloquence and philosophy, could not resist the slow and relentless march of that law which gave to decay and ruin all the splendor and perfection of Grecian civilization. The sources of the power and grandeur which Rome embodied, are found in the mingling of a few rude and warlike tribes of central Italy. In that remorseless and splendid career of conquest and empire which followed, these fierce and barbaric elements of national character were sobered into the stern endurance and severe virtue, the intellectual and moral civilization, of the Monarchy and Republic. To this succeeded the physical corruption and luxurious refinement of the Empire and the long and fierce agony of intestine and external conflict. The subtle elements of decay wrought their silent way to the citadel of power, and Rome was conquered before the Vandal and the Goth appeared at her gates.
We find, then, in a general view of History, the confirmation of that theory which regards civilization when under the influence solely of natural forces, as an incessant conflict which must terminate in defeat and ruin. The law of decay in its widest scope embraces every human product which does not embody the sacredness of a Divine idea or the imperishable power of a Divine purpose.
Among the signs and causes of decay which are disclosed by an analysis of the process of civilization, we mention the loss of that physical hardihood and activity wbich the earlier stages of civilization manifested and developed. The strength and permanence of civilization no less than of national power, is largely conditioned upon the vigor and soundness of those physical elements which form the material support of society. The heroic age of every people presents us with a picture of physical energy and endurance. In the first struggles of civilization, in the rough jostling and contention of the early civil process, physical force acts the most prominent part. In the succeeding period of the social advance, the mind asserts and regains its appropriate supremacy. This is the age of a strong and severe culture, an age wherein the æsthetic is sternly subordinated to the intellectual and moral, wherein Truth is preferred before Beauty. But the forces which have wrought out the present state, are pressing society still forward in the paths on which it has entered. The possibility of a lofty and intellectual development is now opened, but along with this freedom from the necessity of physical exertion, comes the fatal love of ease, the spirit of indolence, which paralyzes the nerve and vigor of society and spreads the pall of physical enervation over a hitherto energetic and ambitious people. Thus the emancipation from the severer manual exertion of early civilization, becomes the signal of a new bondage to physical indolence and effeminacy.
Another sign of the tendency to decay which attends high civiliza