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Ancient Civilisation
by [?]


FOOTNOTE: {5} This lecture was given in America in 1874.

FOOTNOTE: {6} This lecture and the two preceding ones,
being published after the author’s death, have not had
the benefit of his corrections.

There is a theory abroad in the world just now about the origin of the human race, which has so many patent and powerful physiological facts to support it that we must not lightly say that it is absurd or impossible; and that is, that man’s mortal body and brain were derived from some animal and ape-like creature. Of that I am not going to speak now. My subject is: How this creature called man, from whatever source derived, became civilised, rational, and moral. And I am sorry to say that there is tacked on by many to the first theory, another which does not follow from it, and which has really nothing to do with it, and it is this: That man, with all his wonderful and mysterious aspirations, always unfulfilled yet always precious, at once his torment and his joy, his very hope of everlasting life; that man, I say, developed himself, unassisted, out of a state of primaeval brutishness, simply by calculations of pleasure and pain, by observing what actions would pay in the long run and what would not; and so learnt to conquer his selfishness by a more refined and extended selfishness, and exchanged his brutality for worldliness, and then, in a few instances, his worldliness for next- worldliness. I hope I need not say that I do not believe this theory. If I did, I could not be a Christian, I think, nor a philosopher either. At least, if I thought that human civilisation had sprung from such a dunghill as that, I should, in honour to my race, say nothing about it, here or elsewhere.

Why talk of the shame of our ancestors? I want to talk of their honour and glory. I want to talk, if I talk at all, about great times, about noble epochs, noble movements, noble deeds, and noble folk; about times in which the human race–it may be through many mistakes, alas! and sin, and sorrow, and blood-shed–struggled up one step higher on those great stairs which, as we hope, lead upward towards the far-off city of God; the perfect polity, the perfect civilisation, the perfect religion, which is eternal in the heavens.

Of great men, then, and noble deeds I want to speak. I am bound to do so first, in courtesy to my hearers. For in choosing such a subject I took for granted a nobleness and greatness of mind in them which can appreciate and enjoy the contemplation of that which is lofty and heroic, and that which is useful indeed, though not to the purses merely or the mouths of men, but to their intellects and spirits; that highest philosophy which, though she can (as has been sneeringly said of her) bake no bread, she–and she alone, can at least do this–make men worthy to eat the bread which God has given them.

I am bound to speak on such subjects, because I have never yet met, or read of, the human company who did not require, now and then at least, being reminded of such times and such personages–of whatsoever things are just, pure, true, lovely, and of good report, if there be any manhood and any praise to think, as St. Paul bids us all, of such things, that we may keep up in our minds as much as possible a lofty standard, a pure ideal, instead of sinking to the mere selfish standard which judges all things, even those of the world to come, by profit and by loss, and into that sordid frame of mind in which a man grows to believe that the world is constructed of bricks and timber, and kept going by the price of stocks.