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Looking Backward
by [?]

“The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, And like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff As dreams are made of, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.”

We devote our energies to the propagation of a religion which Reason, that pitiless monarch of the mind, tells us must as inevitably pass as did those of Isis and Bel and Cybele, leaving in the earth’s all-absorbing bosom only a few shattered altars and broken fanes. We are striving to win and wear the immortelles, only to be told that mighty empires have passed from the memory of mankind, and proud kings who may have ruled the world, sunk into the far depths of Time and been forgotten. We divide into classes industrial and sets social and give Pride free rein to vaunt herself, knowing that the hour will surely come when not even a Hilprecht can distinguish between the prince’s ashes and the pauper’s dust–can e’en so much as say, “This cold dead earth, o’er which lizards crawl and from which springs the poisonous worm and noxious weed, once lived and loved.” We busy ourselves about the style of a coat or the cut of a corsage; we dispute anent our faiths and plan new follies; we struggle for wealth that we may flaunt a petty opulence in our fellows’ faces and win the envy of fools–and the span of Life but three score and ten, while a thousand years are but as one tick of the horologe of Time! We quarrel about our political creeds and religious cults, as though it made any difference whether we wore white or yellow badges, sacrificed at the shrine of Jupiter or worshiped in the temples of Jehovah. Why so hot, little man? Look up! Thou seest that sun? ‘Tis the same that shone on this debris when it was the throbbing metropolis of a world. The self-same moon that looks so peacefully down smiled on the midnight tryst in Nippur’s scented groves or Babylon’s hanging gardens; the same stars that now fret Heaven’s black vault with astral fire winked and blinked 11,000 years ago while the sandaled feet of youth, on polished cedar floors, beat out the rhythmic passion of its blood. There too were the Heaven of requited love and the Hell of breaking hearts; there too were women beauteous as the dawn and ambitious men, grasping with eager hands at what they fondly thought the ever-fadeless bays; there too were crowned kings and fashion’s sumptuous courts, chanting priests and tearful penitents–the same farce tragedy of Life and Death. And now an unsightly heap of rubbish marks this once bright theater in which prince and pauper each played his part– marks it, and nothing more. But the sun shines on, and the stars, and the silver moon still draws the restless wave around a rolling world. How small we are, how ephemeral, how helpless in God’s great hand! Is it not strange that we do not cling, each to the others, like shipwrecked mariners riding the stormy waters on some frail raft and looking with dilating eyes into the black abyss?–that we waste our little lives in wild wars and civic strife?–that all our souls are concentrated in that one word, selfishness?–that we have time to hate? If History be Philosophy teaching by example, what lesson does Prof. Hilprecht bring us from the chronicles of those kings who died 5,000 years before that garden was planted “eastward in Eden!”