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THE NINETEENTH CENTURY.
GENERAL SURVEY. Upon the whole there has been no grander age in the history of the world. It may lack the æsthetic culture of the age of Pericles; the great martial spirit of ancient Rome; the lofty ideals of the age of chivalry. But as we compare the conditions of the present day with those of any period of the past, who can doubt the fact of human progress? The world has grown into a liberty, intelligence, happiness, and morality unknown at any previous time. To be sure, the true golden age has not been reached. That lies, and perhaps far distant, in the future. Many evils in society, in the state, and in the church, need to be corrected. But the advancement during the present century has been marvellously rapid. Let us consider for a moment some of the characteristics of this age.
If we think of the wonderful improvements in the mechanic arts, we recognize this century as an age of invention. Within a few decades are comprised more numerous and more important inventions than are found in many preceding centuries taken together. Think of the wonders accomplished by steam! It has supplied a new motive power, accelerated travel, and built up manufacturing inland towns and cities. Electricity is at present accomplishing scarcely less. It carries our messages and lights
our cities. The capacity of the printing-press has been vastly increased. While the sewing-machine has taken the place of the needle in the house, the reaper and the mowing-machine have supplanted the sickle and the scythe in the field. The breech-loading and repeating rifle has driven out the muzzle-loading flint-lock. Swift armored battle-ships have taken the place of slow, high-decked wooden vessels.
These are but a few of the inventions belonging to our time. Many a man is now living who has seen the entire system of manufacturing, travel, agriculture, and transmission of intelligence, completely revolutionized, seeing more than if he had lived, in some ages of the world, a thousand years.
The present is an age of scientific inquiry. The Baconian spirit prevails. Tradition has lost much of its power; men are not guided by mere authority; the conclusions of empty speculation are little valued. Careful and patient toilers are at work in every department of learning Nature is being questioned as never before. All the natural sciences -- physics, zoology, botany, geology, chemistry, physiology, astronomy -- have been wonderfully expanded.
We are able to penetrate more deeply the mysteries of the world about us. A schoolboy now knows more of the constitution and laws of the physical world than the greatest sages of antiquity. The same patient methods of investigation are applied to the study of the mind, the origin of man, the history of the past, the laws of society. The result is seen in a modification or destruction of many old beliefs; but at the same time it has brought us greater light and a more receptive attitude of mind.
This is pre-eminently a practical age. It aims at visible results. Science and invention have placed vast resources at our command. The Baconian maxim that “knowledge is power” now has abundant exemplification. The material wealth of every country is being developed ; and daring explorers, supported by private enterprise or royal bounty, are sent to examine unknown regions. Railroads are built; mines are opened; towns are established; commerce is encouraged. Every effort is put forth to make living less costly and more comfortable. Food and clothing were never so abundant.
Common-sense reigns. Unwilling to be imposed upon in any way, men strive to see things as they are. Utility is the test applied to everything. Whatever in traditional institutions cannot justify itself by this standard, is slowly undermined and abolished. No doubt this practical tendency sometimes goes too far, subjecting æsthetic and spiritual interests to material gains. The ideal is in too great a degree banished from life. Wealth, luxury, power, become in too many cases the object of men's endeavor, instead of a pure and lofty character. But while attended with this drawback, the practical tendency of our age deserves to be considered one of its claims to superiority.
It is an age of educational advancement. Schools of every class are being multiplied. Education is brought within the reach of common people, and in many countries compulsory attendance is enforced. The methods of instruction are more nearly conformed to the nature of the child, and the subjects of study are designed to fit the pupil for the duties of practical life. In higher education the change is no less remarkable. The traditional curriculum, consisting largely of Latin and Greek, has been greatly expanded. Subjects of great practical importance
the modern languages, natural and political science, the mother tongue, and history -- receive increased attention.
Education is brought into closer relations with practical life. Intelligence was never so generally diffused. The periodical press exerts an immense influence. Not only the news from all parts of the world, but also the leading political, social, scientific, and religious questions of the time, are daily discussed and read in newspapers and magazines. The horizon of thought is greatly broadened for the masses.
It is a time of political advancement. The democratic principles announced and defended in America and France at the close of the last century have become more widely diffused. It is now commonly recognized that governments exist, not for sovereigns or favored classes, but for the people. The right of suffrage has been greatly extended. The science of government is better understood, and legislative enactments have become more intelligent and equitable. The public administration has become purer. If bribery, self-aggrandizement, and dishonesty still exist, these evils are much less frequent than in
Our public men live in the light, and are held accountable at the bar of public opinion.
Wars are becoming less frequent and less barbaric. Minor international differences are usually settled by diplomacy and arbitration. The treatment of the unfortunate and the criminal classes has become more humane. The insane are no longer chained in loathsome cells, the unfortunate debtor is not thrown into jail, a petty criminal is not hanged. As compared with any other period in the