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Ridpath's History of the World

You are currently in Volume 9 Part 3 on Page 4067 | Pages range from 4067 to 4172

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THE concluding paragraphs of a historical work may well be brief and simple. It is not permitted to the writer of history to moralize at length upon the events which are sketched by his pen. He is forbidden to conjecture, to imagine, to dream. He has learned, albeit against his will, to be humble in the presence of facts. To him the scenery on the shore of the stream that bears him onward-tall trees and giant rocks-must pass but half observed, and for him the sun and the south wind strive in vain to make enticing pictures on the playful eddies of human progress.

None the less, the writer of history may occasionally pause to reflect; he may ever and anon throw out an honest deduction drawn from the events upon which his attention has been fixed. Particularly is this true when he has come to the end. All of a sudden he anchors in the bay of the present, and realizes that his voyage is done. In such a moment there is a natural reversion of thought from its long and devious track across the fields, valleys, and wastes of the past, and a strong disposition to educe some lesson from the events which he has recorded.

The first and most general truth in history is that men ought to be free. If happiness is the end of the human race, then freedom is its condition. And this freedom is not to be a kind of half-escape from thralldom and tyranny, but ample and absolute. The emancipation in order to be emancipation at all, must be complete. To the historian it must ever appear strange that men have been so distrustful of this central principle in the philosophy of human history. It is an astonishing fact that the major part of the energies of mankind have been expended in precisely the opposite way-in the enslavement rather than the liberation of the race. Every generation has sat like a stupid image of Buddha on the breast of its own aspirations, and they who have struggled to break their own and the fetters of their fellow-men have been regarded and treated as the common enemies of human peace and happiness. On the contrary, they have been saviors and benefactors of whom the world has not been worthy. The greatest fallacy with which the human intellect has ever been beguiled is, that the present-whatever age may be called the present-has conceded to men all the freedom which they are fit to enjoy. On the contrary, no age has done so. Every age has been a Czar, and every reformer is threatened with Siberia.

Nevertheless, in the face of all this baleful opposition and fierce hostility to the forward and freedom-seeking movement of the race, the fact remains that to be free is the prime condition of all the greatness, wisdom, and happiness in the world. Whatever force, therefore, contributes to widen the limits which timid fear or selfish despotism has set as the thus-far of freedom, is a civilizing force, and deserves to be augmented by the individual will and personal endeavor of every lover of mankind; and, on the other hand, every force which tends to fix around the teeming brains and restless activities of men one of the so-called "necessary barriers" to their progress and ambition, is a force of barbarism and cruelty, meriting the relentless antagonism of every well-wisher of his kind.

Let it be remembered, then, that the battle is not yet ended, the. victory not yet won. The present is relatively-not absolutely, thanks to the great warriors of humanity-as much the victim of the enslaving forces as was the past; and it is the duty of the philanthropist, the sage, the statesman, to give the best of his life and genius to the work of breaking down, and not imposing, those bulwarks and barriers which superstition and conservatism have

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