The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth

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Author: John Bagnell Bury

5.

Besides the mere nature of time, we have to take into account external circumstances in considering this question.

If the forces of nature are permanent, how are we to explain the fact that in the barbarous centuries after the decline of Rome—the term Middle Ages has not yet come into currency—ignorance was so dense and deep? This breach of continuity is one of the plausible arguments of the advocates of the Ancients. Those ages, they say, were ignorant and barbarous because the Greek and Latin writers had ceased to be read; as soon as the study of the classical models revived there was a renaissance of reason and good taste. That is true, but it proves nothing. Nature never forgot how to mould the head of Cicero or Livy. She produces in every age men who might be great men; but the age does not always allow them to exert their talents. Inundations of barbarians, universal wars, governments which discourage or do not favour science and art, prejudices which assume all variety of shapes—like the Chinese prejudice against dissecting corpses—may impose long periods of ignorance or bad taste.

But observe that, though the return to the study of the ancients revived, as at one stroke, the aesthetic ideals which they had created and the learning which they had accumulated, yet even if their works had not been preserved we should, though it would have cost us many long years of labour, have discovered for ourselves "ideas of the true and the beautiful." Where should we have found them? Where the ancients themselves found them, after much groping.

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Chicago: John Bagnell Bury, "5.," The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth in The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1932), Original Sources, accessed January 24, 2020, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3TD6V7U5WK7ZHKW.

MLA: Bury, John Bagnell. "5." The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth, in The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1932, Original Sources. 24 Jan. 2020. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3TD6V7U5WK7ZHKW.

Harvard: Bury, JB, '5.' in The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth. cited in 1932, The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth, The Macmillan Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 24 January 2020, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3TD6V7U5WK7ZHKW.