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THE LAW OF CIVILIZATION AND DECAY*
EW more melancholy books have been written
than Mr. Brooks Adams's “Law of Civilization and Decay.” It is a marvel of compressed statement. In a volume of less than four hundred pages Mr. Adams singles out some of the vital factors in the growth and evolution of civilized life during the last two thousand years; and so brilliant is his discussion of these factors as to give, though but a glimpse, yet one of the most vivid glimpses ever given, of some of the most important features in the world-life of Christendom. Of some of the features only; for a fundamentally defective point in Mr. Adams's brilliant book is his failure to present certain phases of the life of the nations, phases which are just as important as those which he discusses with such vigorous ability. Furthermore, he disregards not a few facts which would throw light on others, the weight of which he fully recognizes. Both these shortcomings are very natural in a writer who possesses an entirely original point of view, who is the first man to see clearly certain things that to his predecessors have been nebulous, and who writes with a fervent intensity of * The Forum, January, 1897.
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skes. The stry di the Crusades, the one oi tre Exg3h Cost of Icca, and the scorze of the rise of the House Of Ronchid, are mase pieces. Nowhere else is it possible to find in the same compass any de civica of tre Crusaces so perfound in its aspre ciation of the motives behind them, so starting in tre vigor with which the chiei actors, and the chief events, are portrayed. Indeed, one is almost tempted to say that it is in the description of the Crusades that Mr. Adams is at his best. He is dealing with a giant movement of humanity; and he grasps not only the colossal outward manifestations, but also the spirit itself, and, above all, the strange and sinister changes which that spirit underwent. His mere description of the Baronies set up by the Crusaders in the conquered Holy Land, with their loose feudal government, brings them before the reader's eyes as few volumes specially devoted to the subject could. It is difficult to write of a fortress and make a pen-picture which will always stay in the mind; yet this is what Mr. Adams has done in dealing with the grim religious castles, terrible in size and power, which were built by the Knights of the Temple and the Hospital as bulwarks against Saracen might. He is not only a scholar of much research, but a student of art, who is so much more than a mere student as to be thrilled and possessed by what he studies. He shows, with a beauty and vigor of style not unbecoming his subject, how profoundly the art of Europe was affected by the Crusades. It is not every one who can write with equal interest of sacred architecture and military engineering, who can appreciate alike the marvels of Gothic cathedrals and the frowning strength of feudal fortresses, and who furthermore can trace their interrelation.
The story of the taking of Constantinople by the Crusaders who followed the lead of the blind Doge Dandolo is told with an almost brutal ruthlessness quite befitting the deed itself. Nowhere else in the book is Mr. Adams happier in his insistence upon the conflict between what he calls the economic and the imaginative spirits. The incident sets well with his favorite theory of the inevitable triumph of the economic over the imaginative man, as societies grow centralized and the no less inevitable fossilization and ruin of the body politic which this very triumph itself ultimately entails. The history of the English conquest of India is only less vividly told.. Siei : -37 be azei a sce di W. 1-3; -ers's Santos szers be-serier-sida. Se sees W rzes is an achis esse
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carerce 25 Os 51 al aorroral or csagorzate de eccent. These oi nascos. Eke actresscom oss 4 ste martesanson of ere: ill. fars's decite gicony pésloscçocise may be givered from te iact that he places izaz acé reers as ice icons of energy which stand ecospiecesy prescricant; fear in the earlier, acd greed in tre later, stages of erosion from ba-barism to czation. Czation itself he regards treres as the history of the movement from a condition of physical distribution to one of physical concentration. During the earlier stages of this movement the imaginative man—the man who stands in fear of a priesthood-is, in his opinion, the representative type, while with him, and almost equally typical, stand the soldier and the artist. As consolidation advances, the economic man—the man of industry, trade, and capital—tends to supplant the emotional and artistic types of manhood, and finally himself develops along two lines,—“the usurer in his most formidable aspect, and the peasant whose nervous system is best adapted to thrive on scanty nutriment.” These two very unattractive types are, in his belief, the inevitable final products of all civilization, as civilization has hitherto developed; and when they have once been produced there follows either a stationary period, during which the whole body politic gradually ossifies and atrophies, or else a period of utter disintegration.
This is not a pleasant theory; it is in many respects an entirely false theory; but nevertheless there is in it a very ugly element of truth. One does not have to accept either all Mr. Adams's theories or all his facts in order to recognize more than one disagreeable resemblance between the world as it is to-day, and the Roman world under the Empire, or the Greek world under the successors of Alexander. Where he errs is in his failure to appreciate the fundamental differences which utterly destroy any real parallelism between the two sets of cases. Indeed, his zeal in championing his theories leads him at times into positions which are seen at a glance to be untenable.
Probably Mr. Adams's account of the English Reformation, and of Henry VIII and his instruments, is far nearer the truth than Froude's. But his view of the evils upon which the reformers as a whole waged war, and of the spirit which lay behind the real leaders and spurred them on, is certainly less accurate than the view given by Froude in his “Erasmus" and "Council of Trent." It can be