The Historians' History of the World Vol.1 (of 25) (Illustrations): Prolegomena; Egypt, Mesopotamia

Front Cover
THE TROW PRESS - 299 pages

A complete world history should, properly speaking, begin with the creation of the world as man’s habitat, and should trace every step of human progress from the time when man first appeared on the globe. Unfortunately, the knowledge of to-day does not permit us to follow this theoretical obligation. We now know that the gaps in the history of human evolution as accessible to us to-day, vastly exceed the recorded chapters; that, in short, the period with which history proper has, at present, to content itself, is a mere moment in comparison with the vast reaches of time which, in recognition of our ignorance, we term “prehistoric.” But this recognition of limitations of our knowledge is a quite recent growth—no older, indeed, than a half century. Prior to 1859 the people of Christendom rested secure in the supposition that the chronology of man’s history was fully known, from the very year of his creation. One has but to turn to the first chapter of Genesis to find in the margin the date 4004 B.C., recorded with all confidence as the year of man’s first appearance on the globe. One finds there, too, a brief but comprehensive account of the manner of his appearance, as well as of the creation of the earth itself, his abiding-place. Until about half a century ago, as has just been said, the peoples of our portion of the globe rested secure in the supposition that this record and this date were a part of our definite knowledge of man’s history. Therefore, one finds the writers of general histories of the earlier days of the nineteenth century beginning their accounts with the creation of man, B.C. 4004, and coming on down to date with a full and seemingly secure chronology.

Our knowledge of the world and of man’s history has come on by leaps and bounds since then, with the curious result that to-day no one thinks of making any reference to the exact date of the beginnings of human history,—unless, indeed, it be to remark that it probably reaches back some hundreds of thousands of years. The historian can speak of dates anterior to 4004 B.C., to be sure. The Egyptologist is disposed to date the building of the Pyramids a full thousand years earlier than that. And the Assyriologist is learning to speak of the state of civilisation in Chaldea some 6000 or 7000 years B.C. with a certain measure of confidence. But he no longer thinks of these dates as standing anywhere near the beginning of history. He knows that man in that age, in the centres of progress, had attained a high stage of civilisation, and he feels sure that there were some thousands of centuries of earlier time, during which man was slowly climbing through savagery and barbarism, of which we have only the most fragmentary record. He does not pretend to know anything, except by inference, of the “dawnings of civilisation.” Whichever way he turns in the centres of progress, such as China, Egypt, Chaldea, India, he finds the earliest accessible records, covering at best a period of only eight or ten thousand years, giving evidence of a civilisation already far advanced. Of the exact origin of any one of the civilisations with which he deals he knows absolutely nothing. “The Creation of Man,” with its fixed chronology, is a chapter that has vanished from our modern histories.

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