I have so often been asked the question: "But how did you come to think of The Scarlet Pimpernel?" And my answer has always been: "It was God's will that I should." And to you moderns, who perhaps do not believe as I do, I will say, "In the chain of my life, there were so many links, all of which tended towards bringing me to the fulfillment of my destiny.
We are like dwarfs [the moderns] sitting on the shoulders of giants [the ancients]. Our glance can thus take in more things and reach farther than theirs. It is not because our sight is sharper nor our height greater than theirs; it is that we are carried and elevated by the high stature of the giants.
Bernard of Chartres
It is imperative to maintain portions of the wilderness untouched so that a tree will rot where it falls, a waterfall will pour its curve without generating electricity, a trumpeter swan may float on uncontaminated water - and moderns may at least see what their ancestors knew in their nerves and blood.
The Byzantines hammered away at their hard and orthodox symbols, because they could not be in a mood to believe that men could take a hint. The moderns drag out into lengths and reels of extravagance their new orthodoxy of being unorthodox, because they also cannot give a hint -- or take a hint. Yet all perfect and well-poised art is really a hint.
Gilbert K. Chesterton
Some are dinning in our ears that we Americans, and moderns generally, are intellectual dwarfs compared with the ancients, or eventhe Elizabethan men. But what is that to the purpose? A living dog is better than a dead lion. Shall a man go and hang himself because he belongs to the race of pygmies, and not be the biggest pygmy that he can? Let every one mind his own business, and endeavor to be what he was made.
Henry David Thoreau
At first critics classified authors as Ancients, that is to say, Greek and Latin authors, and Moderns, that is to say, every post-Classical Author. Then they classified them by eras, the Augustans, the Victorians, etc., and now they classify them by decades, the writers of the '30's, '40's, etc. Very soon, it seems, they will be labeling authors, like automobiles, by the year.
W. H. Auden
It has been observed that a dwarf standing on the shoulders of a giant will see farther than the giant himself; and the moderns, standing as they do on the vantage ground of former discoveries and uniting all the fruits of the experience of their forefathers, with their own actual observation, may be admitted to enjoy a more enlarged and comprehensive view of things than the ancients themselves.
Charles Caleb Colton
In how few words, for instance, the Greeks would have told the story of Abelard and Heloise, making but a sentence of our classical dictionary.... We moderns, on the other hand, collect only the raw materials of biography and history, "memoirs to serve for a history," which is but materials to serve for a mythology.
Henry David Thoreau
I start off with the obvious, that it makes no sense either to believe or to disbelieve in God until a substantial and intelligent definition or concept should be offered. Belief or disbelief is a secondary consideration, contingent on the intelligibility and cogency of the premise; the primal unintelligence or irrationality of moderns is revealed by their eagerness to leap to a conclusion without ever being curious what the hell the original premise was.
It were indeed to be wish'd that our art had been less ingenious, in contriving means destructive to mankind; we mean those instruments of war, which were unknown to the ancients, and have made such havoc among the moderns. But as men have always been bent on seeking each other's destruction by continual wars; and as force, when brought against us, can only be repelled by force; the chief support of war, must, after money, be now sought in chemistry.
The eager or dutiful persons who subject themselves to these tidal waves of the classics and the moderns find everything wonderful in an absent-minded way. The wonder washes over them rather than into them, and one of its effects is to make anything shocking or odd suddenly interesting enough to gain a month's celebrity. And so another by-product of our come-one, come-all policy is the tendency to reward cleverness, not art, and to put one more hurdle in the path of the truly original artist.
From the 5th grade through the 4th year of college, our young people are being indoctrinated with a Marxist philosophy and I am fearful of the harvest. The younger generation is further to the left than most adults realize. The old concepts of our Founding Fathers are scoffed and jeered at by young moderns whose goals appear to be the destruction of integrity and virtue, and the glorification of pleasure, thrills, and self-indulgence.
Ezra Taft Benson
It never occurred to him to be spiritually won over to the enemy. Many moderns, inured to a weak worship of intellect and force, might have wavered in their allegiance under this oppression of a great personality. . . . But this was a kind of modern meanness to which Syme could not sink even in his extreme morbidity. Like any man, he was coward enough to fear great force; but he was not coward enough to admire it.
Gilbert K. Chesterton
Elegant and lucid . . . a pitch-perfect clarion call, issued not with preachy hubris but from a deep place of humility, for awakening to the greatest rewards of living . . . The Road to Character is an essential read in its entirety-Anne Lamott with a harder edge of moral philosophy, Seneca with a softer edge of spiritual sensitivity, E. F. Schumacher for perplexed moderns.
The moderns, carrying little baggage of the kind that Shelly called "merely cultural, " not even living in the traditional air, but breathing into their space helmets a scientific mixture of synthetic gases (and polluted at that) are the true pioneers. Their circuitry seems to include no atavistic domestic sentiment, they have suffered empathectomy, their computers hum no ghostly feedback of Home, Sweet Home. How marvelously free they are! How unutterably deprived!
"The Universe repeats itself, with the possible exception of history." Of all earthly studies history is the only one that does not repeat itself. ... Astronomy repeats itself; botany repeats itself; trigonometry repeats itself; mechanics repeats itself; compound long division repeats itself. Every sum if worked out in the same way at any time will bring out the same answer. ... A great many moderns say that history is a science; if so it occupies a solitary and splendid elevation among the sciences; it is the only science the conclusions of which are always wrong.
Gilbert K. Chesterton
That love, which is the highest joy, which is divine simplicity itself, is not for you moderns, you children of reflection. It works only evil in you. As soon as you wish to be natural, you becomecommon. To you nature seems something hostile; you have made devils out of the smiling gods of Greece, and out of me a demon. You can only exorcise and curse me, or slay yourselves in bacchantic madness before my altar. And if ever one of you has had the courage to kiss my red mouth, he makes a barefoot pilgrimage to Rome in penitential robes and expects flowers to grow from his withered staff, while under my feet roses, violets, and myrtles spring up every hour, but their fragrance does not agree with you. Stay among your northern fogs and Christian incense; let us pagans remain under the debris, beneath the lava; do not disinter us.
Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
The fact that it has nothing else to contribute to human wisdom is no reason to hand religion a free licence to tell us what to do. Which religion, anyway? The one in which we happen to have been brought up? To which chapter, then, of which book of the Bible should we turn-for they are far from unanimous and some of them are odious by any reasonable standards. How many literalists have read enough of the Bible to know that the death penalty is prescribed for adultery, for gathering sticks on the sabbath and for cheeking your parents? If we reject Deuteronomy and Leviticus (as all enlightened moderns do), by what criteria do we then decide which of religion's moral values to accept? Or should we pick and choose among all the world's religions until we find one whose moral teaching suits us? If so, again we must ask, by what criterion do we choose? And if we have independent criteria for choosing among religious moralities, why not cut out the middle man and go straight for the moral choice without the religion?
If the moderns really want a simple religion of love, they must look for it in the Athanasian Creed. The truth is that the trumpet of true Christianity, the challenge of the charities and simplicities of Bethlehem or Christmas Day never rang out more arrestingly and unmistakably than in the defiance of Athanasius to the cold compromise of the Arians. It was emphatically he who really was fighting for a God of Love against a God of colourless and remote cosmic control; the God of the stoics and the agnostics. It was emphatically he who was fighting for the Holy Child against the grey deity of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. He was fighting for that very balance of beautiful interdependence and intimacy, in the very Trinity of the Divine Nature, that draws our hearts to the Trinity of the Holy Family. His dogma, if the phrase be not misunderstood, turns even God into a Holy Family.
All the books were beginning to turn against me. Indeed, I must have been blind as a bat not to have seen it long before, the ludicrous contradiction between my theory of life and my actual experiences as a reader. George MacDonald had done more to me than any other writer; of course it was a pity that he had that bee in his bonnet about Christianity. He was good in spite of it. Chesterton has more sense than all the other moderns put together; bating, of course, his Christianity. Johnson was one of the few authors whom I felt I could trust utterly; curiously enough, he had the same kink. Spenser and Milton by a strange coincidence had it too. Even among ancient authors the same paradox was to be found. The most religious (Plato, Aeschylus, Virgil) were clearly those on whom I could really feed. On the other hand, those writers who did not suffer from religion and with whom in theory my sympathy ought to have been complete - Shaw and Wells and Mill and Gibbon and Voltaire - all seemed a little thin; what as boys we called "tinny". It wasn't that I didn't like them. They were all (especially Gibbon) entertaining; but hardly more. There seemed to be no depth in them. They were too simple. The roughness and density of life did not appear in their books.
For moderns - for us - there is something illicit, it seems, about wasted time, the empty hours of contemplation when a thought unfurls, figures of speech budding and blossoming, articulation drifting like spent petals onto the dark table we all once gathered around to talk and talk, letting time get the better of us. _Just taking our time_, as we say. That is, letting time take us. "Can you say, " I once inquired of a sixty-year old cloistered nun who had lived (vibrantly, it seemed) from teh age of nineteen in her monastery cell, "what the core of contemplative life is?" "Leisure, " she said, without hesitation, her china blue eyes cheerfully steady on me. I suppose I expected her to say, "Prayer." Or maybe "The search for God." Or "Inner peace." Inner peace would have been good. One of the big-ticket items of spirituality. She saw I didn't see. "It takes time to do this, " she said finally. Her "this" being the kind of work that requires abdication from time's industrial purpose (doing things, getting things). By choosing leisure she had bid farewell to the fevered enterprise of getting-and-spending whereby, as the poet said, we lay waste our powers.
And that discovery would betray the closely guarded secret of modern culture to the laughter of the world. For we moderns have nothing of our own. We only become worth notice by filling ourselves to overflowing with foreign customs, arts, philosophies, religions and sciences: we are wandering encyclopaedias, as an ancient Greek who had strayed into our time would probably call us. But the only value of an encyclopaedia lies in the inside, in the contents, not in what is written outside, in the binding or the wrapper. And so the whole of modern culture is essentially internal; the bookbinder prints something like this on the cover: 'Manual of internal culture for external barbarians.' The opposition of inner and outer makes the outer side still more barbarous, as it would naturally be, when the outward growth of a rude people merely developed its primitive inner needs. For what means has nature of repressing too great a luxuriance from without? Only one, -to be affected by it as little as possible, to set it aside and stamp it out at the first opportunity. And so we have the custom of no longer taking real things seriously, we get the feeble personality on which the real and the permanent make so little impression. Men become at last more careless and accommodating in external matters, and the [Pg 34] considerable cleft between substance and form is widened; until they have no longer any feeling for barbarism, if only their memories be kept continually titillated, and there flow a constant stream of new things to be known, that can be neatly packed up in the cupboards of their memory.
As psychologist Bruce Hood writes in his book The Self Illusion, you have an origin story and a sense that you've traveled from youth to now along a linear path, with ups and downs that ultimately made you who you are today. Babies don't have that. That sense is built around events that you can recall and place in time. Babies and small children have what Hood calls 'unconscious knowledge, ' which is to say they simply recognize patterns and make associations with stimuli. Without episodic memories, there is no narrative; and without any narrative, there is no self. Somewhere between ages two and three, according to Hood, that sense of self begins to come online, and that awakening corresponds with the ability to tell a story about yourself based on memories. He points to a study by Alison Gopnik and Janet Astington in 1988 in which researchers presented to three-year-olds a box of candy, but the children were then surprised to find pencils inside instead of sweets. When they asked each child what the next kid would think was in the box when he or she went through the same experiment, the answer was usually pencils. The children didn't yet know that other people have minds, so they assumed everyone knew what they knew. Once you gain the ability to assume others have their own thoughts, the concept of other minds is so powerful that you project it into everything: plants, glitchy computers, boats with names, anything that makes more sense to you when you can assume, even jokingly, it has a sort of self. That sense of agency is so powerful that people throughout time have assumed a consciousness at the helm of the sun, the moon, the winds, and the seas. Out of that sense of self and other selves come the narratives that have kept whole societies together. The great mythologies of the ancients and moderns are stories made up to make sense of things on a grand scale. So strong is the narrative bias that people live and die for such stories and devote whole lives to them (as well as take lives for them).