CHAPTER XII. THE REASONS WHY THE CONSERVATIVE INFLUENCES OF PAGAN CIVILIZATION DID NOT ARREST THE RUIN OF THE ROMAN WORLD.
Moreover, the Greeks and Romans, when they were most virtuous, when they were in a state to produce a civilization, had great obstacles to surmount and difficulties to contend with. These ever develop genius and keep down destructive passions. Strength ever comes through weakness and dependence. This is the stern condition of our moral nature. It is a primeval and unalterable law that man must earn his living by the sweat of his brow, even as woman can only be happy and virtuous when her will is subject to that of her husband. A condition where labor is not necessary engenders idleness, sensuality, indifference to suffering, self-indulgence, and a conventional hardness that freezes the soul. Never, in this world, have more exalted virtues been brought to light than among the Puritans in their cold and dreary settlements in New England, even those which it is the fashion to attribute to congenial climates and sunny skies. The Puritan character was as full of passion as it was of sacrifice. We read of the existence and culture of friendship, love, and social happiness when the country was most sterile, and the difficulty of earning a living greatest. There was an outward starch and acerbity produced by toil and danger. But when people felt they could unbend, they were not icebergs but volcanoes, because the fires which burned unseen were those of the soul. The mirth of wine is maudlin and short-lived. It prompts to no labor, and kindles no sacrifices. It is satanic; it blazes and dies, a horrid mockery, exultant and evanescent. But the joy of homes, the beaming face of forgiveness, the charity which covers a multitude of faults, the assistance rendered in hours of darkness and difficulty, enthusiasm for truth, the aspiration for a higher life, the glorious interchange of thoughts and sentiments, these are well-springs of life, of peace, and of power. Nothing is to be relied upon which does not stimulate the higher faculties of the mind and soul. Ease of living blunts the moral sensibilities, and even the beauty of nature is not appreciated, when "all save the spirit of man is divine." But when men are earnest and true, uncorrupted by the vices of self-interest, and unseduced by the pleasures of factitious life, then even nature, in all her wildness, is a teacher and an inspiration. The grand landscape, the rugged rocks, the mystic forests, and the lofty mountains, barren though they be, bring out higher sentiments than the smiling vineyard, or the rich orange- grove, or the fertile corn-field, where slaves do the labor, and lazy proprietors recline on luxurious couches to take their mid-day sleep, or toy with frivolous voluptuousness. Neither a great nor a rich country is anything, if only pride and folly are fostered; while isolation, poverty, and physical discomfort, if accompanied by piety and resignation, are frequently the highest boons which Providence bestows to keep men in mind of Him. Prosperity may have been the blessing of the old Testament, but adversity is the blessing of the New - the mysterious benediction of Christ and Apostles and martyrs. A rich country does not make great men, except in craft or politics or business calculations; nor is there a more subtle falsehood than that which builds a nation's hope on the extent of its prairies, or the deep soil of its valleys, or the rich mines of its mountains, or the great streams which bear its wealth to the ocean. Mr. Buckle, fallaciously and sophistically, instances - Egypt as peculiarly fortunate and happy, because it possessed the Nile; but all that was glorious in Egypt passed away before authentic history was written, while Greece, with her barren mountains, laid the foundation of all that was valuable in the ancient civilization. What survives of Carthage or Antioch or Tyre that society now cherishes? Yet much may be traced to Greece when the people were poor, and struggling with the waves and the forests. It is not nature that ennobles man; it is man that consecrates nature. The development of mind is greater than the development of material resources. True greatness is not in an easy life, but in the struggle against nature and the victory over adverse influences. Even in our own country, it will be seen that schools and colleges and religious institutions have more frequently flourished when the people were poor and industrious than when they were rich and prodigal. Why has New England produced so many educators? Why is it that so few eminent men of genius and learning have arisen out of the turmoil and vanity of prosperous cities? Why is it that money cannot create a college, and is useless unless there is a vitality among its professors and students? The condition of national greatness is the same as that seen in the rise and fortunes of individuals. Industry, honesty, and patience, are greater than banks and storehouses. Character, even in a wicked and busy city, is of more value than money.
These truths are most emphatically illustrated by the civilization of the Romans. We are attracted by the glitter and the glare of arts and sciences. Let us see what they did for Rome, when Rome became degenerate. Let us review the chapters that have been written in this book. We point with pride to the trophies of genius and strength. We do not disparage them. They were human creations. Let us see how far they had a force to save.
The first great development of genius among the Romans was military strength. We are dazzled by the glory of warlike deeds. We see a grand army, the power of the legions, the science of war. Why did not military organizations save the empire in the hour of trial?
[The Roman armies in the republic.]
[Decline of military virtues.]
[Degeneracy of the legions.]