Modern History Sourcebook:
On European Civilization and the European Mind, c. 1919, 1922
On European Civilization
"We modern civilizations have learned to recognize that we
are mortal like the others.
"We had heard tell of whole worlds vanished, of empires foundered
with all their men and all their engines, sunk to the inexplorable
depths of the centuries with their gods and laws, their academies
and their pure and applied sciences, their grammars, dictionaries,
classics, romantics, symbolists, their critics and the critics
of their critics. We knew that all the apparent earth is made
of ashes, and that ashes have a meaning. We perceived, through
the misty bulk of history, the phantoms of huge vessels once laden
with riches and learning. We could not count them. But these wrecks,
after all, were no concern of ours.
"Edam, Nineveh, Babylon were vague and splendid names; the
total ruin of these worlds, for us, meant as little as did their
existence. But France, England, Russia,these names, too, are splendid.
And now we see that the abyss of history is deep enough to bury
all the world. We feel that a civilization is fragile as a life.
The circumstances which will send the works of [John] Keats and
the works of [Charles] Baudelaire to join those of Menander (an
ancient Greek poet whose works were lost until the 19th century)
are not at all inconceivable; they are found in the daily papers."
On the European Mind
"The storm has died away, and still we are restless, uneasy,
as if the storm were about to break. Almost all the affairs of
men remain in a terrible uncertainty. We think of what has disappeared,
we are almost destroyed by what has been destroyed; we do not
know what will be born, and we fear the future, not without reason.
We hope vaguely, we dread precisely; our fears are infinitely
more precise than our hopes; we confess that the charm of life
is behind us, abundance is behind us, but doubt and disorder are
in us and with us. There is no thinking man, however shrewd or
learned he may be, who can hope to dominate this anxiety, to escape
from this impression of darkness, to measure the probable duration
of this period when the virtual relations of humanity are disturbed
"We are a very unfortunate generation, whose lot has been
to see the moment of our passage through life coincide with the
arrival of great and terrifying events, the echo of which will
resound through all our lives.
One can say that all the fundamentals of the world have been affected
by the war, or more exactly, by the circumstances of the war;
something deeper has been worn away than the renewable parts of
the machine. You know how greatly the general economic situation
has been disturbed, and the polity of states, and the very life
of the individual; you are familiar with the universal discomfort,
hesitation, apprehension. But among all these injured things is
the Mind. The Mind has indeed been cruelly wounded; its complaint
is heard in the hearts of intellectual man; it passes a mournful
judgment on itself. It doubts itself profoundly." (1922)
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(c)Paul Halsall Aug 1997