If the seal of time were to be the signet of truth, there is no absurdity, oppression, or falsehood that might not be revived as gospel; while the gospel itself would want the more ancient warrant of paganism.
What subsists to-day by violence continues to-morrow by acquiescence, and is perpetuated by tradition; till at last the hoary abuse shakes the gray hairs of antiquity at us, and gives itself out as the wisdom of ages.
History fades into fable; fact becomes clouded with doubt and controversy; the inscription moulders from the tablet; the statue falls from the pedestal. Columns, arches, pyramids,what are they but heaps of sand; and their epitaphs but characters written in the dust?
Consider, for example, and you will find that almost all the transactions in the time of Vespasian differed little from those of the present day. You there find marrying and giving in marriage, educating children, sickness, death, war, joyous holidays, traffic, agriculture, flatterers, insolent pride, suspicions, laying of plots, longing for the death of others, newsmongers, lovers, misers, men canvassing for the consulship and for the kingdom; yet all these passed away, and are nowhere.
Those were good old times, it may be thought, when baron and peasant feasted together. But the one could not read, and made his mark with a sword-pommel, and the other was held as dear as a favorite dog. Pure and simple times were those of our grandfathers, it may be. Possibly not so pure as we may think, however, and with a simplicity ingrained with some bigotry and a good deal of conceit.
Antiquity, what is it else (God only excepted) but mans authority born some ages before us? Now for the truth of things time makes no alteration; things are still the same they are, let the time be past, present, or to come. Those things which we reverence for antiquity what were they at their first birth? Were they false?time cannot make them true. Were they true?time cannot make them more true. The circumstances therefore of time in respect of truth and error is merely impertinent.
Antiquity! thou wondrous charm, what art thou? that, being nothing, art everything! When thou wert, thou wert not antiquity,then thou wert nothing, but hadst a remoter antiquity, as thou calledst it to look back to with blind veneration; thou thyself being to thyself flat, jejune, modern! What mystery lurks in this retroversion? or what half Januses are we, that cannot look forward with the same idolatry with which we forever revert! The mighty future is as nothing, being everything! The past is everything, being nothing!