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About Hesperian student / (Lincoln [Neb.]) 1872-1885 | View Entire Issue (May 2, 1890)
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THE liKSl'KRl Mi,
or Macaulay. The vice and virtue of each succeeding age is
stamped upon it. Words that marl; the ebb and flow of the
tide of humanity, tell of ages of superstition and ignorance,
They portray the degrcdat,ion of man and the awful depths of
his fall. In them, also, truth is seen emerging from a cloud
of blind fanaticism. Right and might are crowned on a com
mon throne; while despotism and oppression crouch at the
feet of liberty. The clanking chains fall from the limbs of
the captive. The darkness of paganism clears away for the
light ot Christianity. Barbarian becomes civilized. The hand
of God is seen guiding the aflairs of incn;and banners of love,
light, and liberty, float as the ensigns of united peoples.
Hut history, written in chronicles or preserved in the
structure of a language, is often a record of that which man
would fain forget. Evil excludes the good; blood stains every
page; inhumanity marks every epoch. The English language,
though fraught with lessons from human history, has yet
gi eater fields for research, a grander mission of intelligence.
Advancing civilization has made it heir to the most illustrious
languages of mankind. The Greek, with its symmetry, pur
ity, and grandeur Latin, combining vigor, grace, and dignity-both
representing the highest types of ancient culture
and refinement, have given their place to the English the
modern representative of Christain civilization. Grecian
beauty and Roman strength have united to make ours the
language of the sublimcst age of history.
Alas, that Greece should have perished! That such arch
itccure as the Parthenon, crowning the Acropolis of Athens,
should crumble to dust, or that the statuary, carved on pil
lar and pediment, should be the shattered relics of such im
perial splendor! Oh, Empire of Rome heir of Grecian culture
magnificent in the luxury of beautiiul gardens and peaceful
villas that thou, too, shouldst be as a dream of the fancy!
The mist of centuries envelops these majestic ruins; their
time tarnished domes fall into decay, but the glory of the age
which they represent is preserved in their languages. Time
may wear away the Parthenon and the Coliseum, but the
beauty and the power of the Greek and Roman tongues will
These were the prevalent languages when Christianity
was introduced, and thus they became the "vehicles of the
truths and revelation." But the spirit of the age was sceptical,
cruel. Noble languages could not save pagan institutions.
The fourth and fifth centuries, with their social and political
upheavals, saw a second Bahcl. Each petty kingdom of
mutilated Europe formed its dialect. The Bible, proclaim
ing peace and good will to men, was lost amid the ruin of
crumbling empires. The needy multitudes knew not its
teachings, felt not its influence. Then Gregory, touched
with sympathy for the blue-eyed Angles on the streets of
Rome, thought to teach them of the humble Nazarene,
and struck the key-note to the pa;an of the modern civilization.
To a promising race he gave Christianity. This faith has
been the guiding influence through the mightiest conflicts of
centuries. It was the power that broke from the Anglo-Saxon
the shackles of ignorance and superstition, and that wrought
his crude speech into a noble language and literature.
From this time forward, the power and influence of our
language increased slowly but grandly. Seven centuries
passed in preparing for a literature. The Norman conquest
came and witli it a higher type of refinement. For a time the
English seemed forgotten. The court, learning, and art
spurned hfs speech. His rich legendary hare promised to be
unsung, his conquest and valor, untold. Feudal lords bound
him to the earth. The fountain of fame was to him as the water
of Tantalus. But it was not to be always thus. The feudal
system of the Norman was a greater evil than his culture was
a blessing. The Englishman hated civilization which did
not civilize. A new era was dawning. Feudalism and chiv
alry noblest institutions of a blinded age could not suppress
the growing influence of that divinely-taught principle the
universal brotherhood of man. Through common interests a
common speech was adopted; and the problem of equality
was solved. The heart of the serf thrilled as he heard his
language ringing through palace halls, enriched by the cul
tured sentiment of a courtly nobility. Thus the river, silently
flowing beneath the rough surface of society, broke forth in
singular sublimity. English literature found a beginning.
Chaucer became the father of English poetry; Wyclif
translated the Bible; and our language began its mission to
Anglo-Saxon civilization is unparalleled in its material
growth, its broad learning, and its social, moral and political
development. Men come and go; and the immortal
products of their genius are their bequests to the world.
The accumulations of art and science make the contributing
nges appear like the rauge of mountain peaks each towering
high above its predecessor in Alpine magnificence. We be
hold and wonder what influences could have produced such
grand results. Did inventive genius alone make the greatness
of America? Has mere strength of arms carried England's
flag into every habitable part of earth? Does Saxon valor,
Saxon ambition, and Saxon firmness account entirely for
the civil and relgious liberty of one half the globe? No.
Transcending all these powerful agencies, the English lan
guage stands out as the exponent of modern civilization. It is
the embodiment of progressive thought, the matchless attain
ment of a progressive age. In its store house of words are
the gems of the classics and the pearls of modern tongues.
It is the key-stone in thcarch of commcic; to-day. In every
battle against tyranny it has furnished the countersigns of
freedom. Magna chartas, declarations of independence,
and emancipation proclamations, are its products. It is the
'language of Bunyan and the Bible1 an argument for the
Christain religion. Would you know its influence to-dav,
destroy it literature, blot out the results of its exis
tence, and think what would be the condition of the world?
Where would be our glorious institutions, our resplendent
civilization, our blood-bought liberties?
Our literature seems boundless like a summer landscape,
we appioach the apparent limit, while Nature keeps unroll
ing her scroll of beauty. English libraries testify to an ele
gance of expression, a vividness of description, a terseness in
narration not to be found elsewhere. Note the stately prose
of Macaulay; the picturesqu delineations of Scott; the rugged
energy of Carlyle. But these are only of thousands who have
made our language shine with sunlit brilliancy. English
literature bears the impress of every advance of education and
morals. Science has given it a vocabulary abreast with her
phenomenal development. Christain philosophy has placed
therein truths never dreamed of by a Plato or an Aristotle.
Here, no lessthan in society, the progress of morals has wit
nessed evolution. The Sensual odes and Bacchanalian songs,
rehearsed at the midnight revels and chanted around the a'
tars of the gods, departed with the civilization that gave their
birth. The pure character, the virtuous teaching, the enno
bling sentiments are now the demands of literary merit and
Grand principles and momentous questions have aroused
the sleeping art of the ancients, and oratory lias burst forth in
this new language. Here it has found its true mission and
achieved its greatest victories. The halls of parliament and of
congress have been fit substitutes for the bema and forum.
The burning eloquence of Burke and Chatham, Henry and
Webster, pleading for freedom, justice and equality, was
never surpassed by the "Orator of Athens" inveighing against
Philip, or the Roman senator thundering against Catilir.e.
Is the poetry of our language excelled by any other? Did
ancient bard ever picture human naturelike Shakespeare? Is
the "Fall of Troy" to be compared with the "Fall of Man?"
Were Achilles and Eneas sublimer heroes than the Fallen
Archangels? Ah! gifted poets have sung and proved that
"From Saxon lips Anacrcon's numbers glide,
As once thay molted on thu Tolan tlilo;
And, fresh transfused, the Iliad thrills again
From Albion's cliffs as o'er Achala's plain I"
As Napolcan marshaled his armed hosts before the pyra
mids of Egypt, he said: "Soldiers, forty centuries look
down upon you." We, to-day, from a height of truth and
liberty, say: Forty centuries look up to us. The crisis of
nations finds our race leading a mightier and a more glorious
civilization than forty centuries have seen. Yet after all this
advancement, this attainment of power, our language seems
only to have begun its mission. The rivulet that gushed from
its fountain has swelled into the great river, and all its useful
new seems yet before it. Greater fields of thought are to be
fertilized; snips of state are to float serenely, sublimely on its
majestic current; it is to broaden into n mighty ocean and
wash every shore of humanity.
To-day the civilized world looks to the Anglo-Saxon, with
his linguistic inheritance, for the solution of every question of
moral reform; Christendom recognizes him as her defender;
heathendom sends forth wails of distress for his sympathy.
This eminence is his because of his eloquence and song in the
triumphant march of human freedom. Thus, as 'through the
ages one increasing purpose runs,' we may see in a veiled but