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THE more cultivated a people become, the more they venerate legends of olden time; not that they accept their utterances as truthful. The very term Legend draws a very broad line between it and History; yet from the origin of recorded time until this day mankind are apt to accept tales and phrases of their heroes and heroines which, if not actually vouched by historic fact, yet from surrounding circumstances lead to the belief that the words are suited to the characters of the persons who are connected with them. Thus “L'état c'est moi" has been put into the mouth of Louis XIV. "Soldiers, thirty centuries look down upon you," are given as the words of Napoleon at the Pyramids. Nelson is supposed to have uttered, "A peerage, or Westminster Abbey"; and Wellington himself never recollected to have exclaimed, "Up, Guards, and at them!" Even the beautiful episode of Highland Jessie at Lucknow, it is very much to be feared, is quite mythical. Thus we see that even at comparatively recent periods legendic creepers have wound themselves round the truthful trunk of history; and yet it is hinted in many quarters, and especially in the Encyclopædic school of French masters, that when legends ceased civilisation began.
No phrase is more frivolously used than the word “civililisation." We talk of civilised peoples, civilised states, civilised cities, civilised men, and civilised manners, and yet it is the most difficult task for the historian or archeologist to point out when civilisation really commenced.
Was Egypt, was Assyria, were Babylon, Palestine, Greece, or Rome civilised? Were Mexico and Peru civilised nations? Is civilisation the self-denial of the many for the benefit of the many? Is it the clustering of human beings in a given radius? Is it the toning down of the brutal instincts of the animal, and the raising up the level of humanity to the model of the ideal ? If so, what is the ideal? And is there one ideal, or are there many ideals? And does the conflict of ideals produce harmony, or is there but one ideal only?
We find in nature the tree, the shrub, the flower, clumps and grasses; there are fields and fens, rock and hill and dalo; the brook, the river, and the ocean. A combination of all these objects in nature we call a beautiful landscape. We go to the desert, and find an interminable sameness, a vista of sand without end, without variety, an eternity of equality, and we call it a wilderness. It seems, then, we call an eternal oneness and endless repetition, a continued and unceasing multiplication of one and the same matter, a wildness or a wilderness.
What do we term harmony in music? Is it the eternal braying of a horn, or the continued strumming of a string, or the ceaseless beating of a drum? We call this discord. The combination of the reed, the string, the horn, the drum, — the blending of sounds each differing in itself, but all working under a single conductor for the same results, produces what we term sweet sound and harmony.
Is it one people alone, then, that contributes to the civilisation of mankind; or the many, each working in that particular sphere to which it was best adapted by the Creator of Nature?
Now it has been the habitual tendency of writers and thinkers of various schools of thought totally to ignore the claims of Semitic literature and culture as one of the
workers in the cause of the education of mankind. monastic authors knew nothing of Semiticism, except that which they obtained through the medium of the Greek and Latin writers, whilst the Voltarian and Encyclopaedic schools of literature looked upon Semiticism as a huge imposture from beginning to end, and vented their spleen upon that literature because they were the authors, they assert, of all that was antagonistic to true culture. Thus, like many great pioneers, Semiticism has seen its views adopted without its name being even recognised in the great work of culture, even as we now see the New World discovered by an indomitable perseverance, and brought to light by the brillani genius of a Columbus, who is denied the just tribute which mankind might have awarded in naming the great continent after him. We find, however, in reality that whilst only a small district is named Columbia the whole continent goes down to futurity with the name of Amerigo, an obscure and undeserving stranger.
It is asserted, on the contrary, that Greece is the mother of all that is good and beautiful. Yet, it may be asked, was not Hellas beautiful? Indeed she was very beautiful. Her language was superb, her sculptures were unequalled, her paintings marvellous. No epic poem has excelled that of Homer. No lyrics are more charming than those of Pindar and Anacreon. No dramas are more soul-stirring than those of Eschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides; nor are there more interesting writers than Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon. There is no orator even who has excelled Demosthenes.
Yet, I boldly assert, the world loves not Greece. I use the word "love" advisedly, in its purer and holier sense. We do certainly love Grecian poetry and Grecian art, as a youth might love a lascivious beauty; he may be enraptured with her wiles, intoxicated by her grace, and enslaved by her charms.
He might follow her from rock to rock, from hill to hill, to the very precipice of ruin, even to ruin itself, as with nymph of the Lurlei. The effect of Grecian literature upon the mind is like that of strong wine, that inflames the heart and causes the brain to swim; that transforms the dismal grotto to a cavern glistening with jewels; that transmutes ragged beggars into gorgeous princes; but, like wine, it leaves the lethargy of blank behind. There is no true virtue, no true fortitude, no true hope, no true resignation. Could any human being for a moment imagine that a Grecian Burns might write a Grecian Cotter's Saturday Night, where
'The cheerfu' supper done, wi' serious face,
The big ha' Bible, ance his father's pride.
His lyart haffets wearing thin and bare;
Those strains that once did sweet in Zion glide,
He wales a portion with judicious care,
And 'Let us worship God!' he says with solemn air.”
But the prose of this poem is that of a Northern family, brought up far away from those glowing scenes described in a sacred Semitic book, of a different race, with different habits and different propensities. When they are bowed down with the many toils, vexations, disappointments and privations that a day brings forth, they read for their consolation and mental refreshment an oriental book written by Semites, written for Semites, and principally describing the action and lives of Semitic peasants, who were the actors in that drama, of which, though the stage was very small, the auditorium is the whole world.
May we not truthfully maintain that the love of mankind towards Semitic literature is a true and healthy one, whilst the love to Hellenic literature is, to say the least, a forced