What a curious world is this! When on some autumnal evening, while the rain beats on the window, and the wild wind is whirling the brown leaves through the darkness, you, tired with the day's work, sit cozily beside a if warm tire, thoughts and fancies which have is no place in the busy daytime and the bright sunlight come to you in ceaseless succession. As if from the top of some lofty mountain, or some high place in the blue ether, you can regard the world calmly and philosophically, and man with his arrogance and petty meanness fills you with wonder. How small looks the world, how unimportant and trivial everything connected with it. Why will not man cease struggling and fighting with his fellow men for gold or glory, and, living peacefully and happily, strive rather to solve the eternal riddle, to find out as far as possible what is the law that governs the universe, with all its mighty star-worlds, seen and unseen, compared to which the whole earth on which we live, and which to us seems so vast, is of less account than a drop of water in the great ocean.
How marvelous is modern science, and how it overwhelms us with the thought of our littleness when it points out by the aid of the telescope celestial objects almost infinitely removed in space, and yet proves that once, almost infinitely long ago, all of them must have been connected in one great glowing gaseous nebula; and when it shows us through the microscope the marvels of living nature, in ever-altering forms, how all our boasted knowledge seems swallowed up in an overflowing flood of ignorance. Why cannot men be made to see the wonders around them? Why cannot they be shown that almost all their beliefs are little more than myths, suitable, perhaps, for the dark days of the Middle Ages, when to think was a crime, but useless, or harmful even, in the days illumined by the light of reason, and even now only generally insisted upon when useful to advance their own selfish aims? Why cannot they see that happiness is of more value than riches, and that war, the sworn enemy of Truth, brings nothing but misery and death in its train?
How many nations in the countless, forgotten ages of the world's history have arisen and disappeared? and in the inconceivably greater space of the star-worlds have nations flourished there also, and if so did those men feel love and hatred, joy and sorrow, as we do now? Are they all utterly dead and vanished, or do their spirits exist yet in some form imperceptible to our grosser senses? Shall we, too, soon die and cease to exist, or is there rather some unknown existence for us in the future, where wrongs will be righted, and where misery and crime will be no more?
After thinking of the endless aeons of time which have passed while our universe was being formed, how small, how infinitesimal seems the span of our little lives. "Time comes creeping on by night and day." It seems only the other day since we were children, merrily playing in the sunshine, happy enough, but yet thinking how much happier we should be when we grew up. It seems but yesterday since we first started out in the world, full of youthful ideals, and feeling able speedily to convince mankind of the error of its ways, and to replace all in- justice and wrong-doing by a new and purer form of living. But the years rolled quickly by, and the ideal, instead of coming nearer, seemed to become more and more distant, until we almost doubt if any part of it can be hoped for. Shall we, too, die and leave the world no happier than it was before? In what way are we better than the wise men of long-past ages? Have we got any nearer to solving the eternal mystery of existence? Are we intellectually the superiors of nations now dead and almost forgotten? Who can read Plato and yet feel that we have progressed beyond the highest thought of those times? He recognized, as we do, that truth, beauty, and virtue were the chief things to be desired; and how many philosophers before him, now lost in the mists of antiquity, have recognized the same fact. Or again, take Omar Khayyam, the Persian scientist-poet of the twelfth century, what does he say?
Oh, but the long, long while the world shall last,
Which of our coming and departure heeds
As the sea's self should heed a pebble cast.
And yet we poor conceited men often think that we are of great use in the world, and wonder how things will go on when we have passed behind the veil: fools that we are! Stick a pin in a pond and see what a hole it leaves when you pull it out, and remember how small is your comparative value.
Why does man constantly keep on struggling for a problematical future happiness instead of stopping to enjoy the happiness he already possesses? Can anyone really think, after a careful observation of the things around him, that one man is happier than another because he possesses this world's goods in greater abundance? Are not some of the happiest men to be found amongst those who, though poor in the world's estimation, yet are passing rich in possessing food, shelter, and love? And does not the same remark apply to nations also? Is there not an abundance of food to be had for all, if only men would turn their attention to obtaining it instead of wasting their best energies in inventing new guns, more deadly explosives, and other devices for slaying their brothers? How easy it seems, as you sit dreaming thus, to picture an ideal world; a world in which each man besides living happily himself tries to help others to live happily also; where each and all recognize that goodness, truth, and beauty are the things most to be desired, as true happiness consists in the worship of these and these alone, and where he is accounted greatest who helps most in their pursuit. In such a world would be no need of boundaries, for all mankind would be bound by the feeling of universal brotherhood, a community in which would be no feeling of rivalry, but an all-pervading sentiment of peace and concord, where envy and jealousy would cease to exist, and where justice would be accorded spontaneously to all.
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold,
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
but that it should become credulous, and lose the habit of testing things and inquiring into them, for then it must sink back into savagery.
—William Kingdon Clifford