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Tens of thousands of years ago, when the world was even then old, primitive man came into existence. The first men lived in the branches of trees or in their hollow trunks, and sometimes in caves. For food they chased horses or caught fish from the streams along whose shores they lived. If they had clothing, it was the skins of wild beasts. Life was simple, slow, and crude. There were no cities, books, railroads, clocks, newspapers, schools, churches, judges, teachers, automobiles, or elections. Man lived with other animals and was little superior to them. These primitive men are called cave-dwellers.

A resident of modern New York sits down to a breakfast gathered from distant parts of the earth. He spreads out before him his daily newspaper, which tells him what has happened during the last twenty-four hours all over the world. Telegraph wires and ocean cables have flashed these events across thousands of miles into the newspaper offices and there great printing presses have recorded them upon paper. After breakfast he gets into an electric street car or automobile and is carried through miles of space in a very short time to a great steel building hundreds of feet high. He steps into an electric elevator and is whirled rapidly up to his office on the twentieth floor. The postman brings a package of letters which fast-flying mail trains have brought him during the night from far-away places. He reads them and then speaks rapidly to a young woman who makes some crooked marks on paper. After running her fingers rapidly over the keyboard of a little machine, she hands him type-written replies to the letters he has received. A boy brings him a little yellow envelope. In it he finds a message from Seattle or London or Hong Kong or Buenos Ayres sent only a few moments ago. He wishes to talk with a business associate in Boston or St. Louis. Still sitting at his desk, he applies a small tube to his ear and speaks to the man as distinctly and as instantaneously as if he were in the next room. He finds it important to be in Chicago. After luncheon, he boards a train equipped with the conveniences of his own home, sleeps there comfortably, and flies through the thousand miles of distance in time to have breakfast in Chicago the next morning.

What is the difference between the life of the cave-dweller and the life of the modern New Yorker? We call it civilization. It is not at one bound or at one thousand that we pass from the primitive cave to New York City. Civilization is the accumulation of centuries of achievement. It is builded, in the language of Isaiah, "line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little."

Different nations have accomplished different things and have scattered the seeds of these accomplishments among other nations. Certain individuals have seen farther in certain directions than their fellows and have contributed to civilization the results of their vision. Whoever has added to the safety, the happiness, the power, or the convenience of society; whoever discovers a star or a microbe; whoever paints a picture or plants a tree, builds a bridge or fights a righteous battle; whoever makes two ears of corn grow where there grew but one before; whoever lets the light shine in upon a darkened street or a darkened spirit is an agent of civilization.

The history of civilization is largely a history of man's struggle against the forces of nature and of his victory over them. Nature is always saying to man, "Thou shalt not"; and man is always replying, "I will." If diseases lurk in air and water, cures are ready in the mind of man. Nature shoves men apart with lofty mountains; but man drives his iron horse over the mountains or through them. Vast oceans roll and mighty winds blow between continents; but steam laughs at stormy seas. The moon's light is not sufficient for man's purposes and he makes a brighter one. When winter blows his icy breath, man warms himself with coal and fire. The South pours down upon him her scorching summer; but he has learned how to freeze water into ice. Time and space conspire together for human isolation; man conjures with electricity and with it destroys both. The stars seek to hide their secrets behind immeasurable distances; but an Italian gives man a glass that brings the heavens closer before his vision. History tries to conceal itself in the rubbish of ages; but with ink man preserves the past. His asylums, hospitals, churches, schools, libraries, and universities are lights along the shore guiding the human race in its voyage

Product Details

BN ID: 2940013352896
Publisher: Unforgotten Classics
Publication date: 10/01/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 2 MB

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