Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Argonauts Not Forgotten

Virginia City, Nevada Territory, 1861. Drawn from nature by Grafton T. Brown; C.C. Kuchel, lithographer. Courtesy of UNR.

by Glenn Franco Simmons

In this excerpted post from "The Comstock Club" by C.C. Goodwin, the men of the Comstock Club are in discussion after dinner, with Mr. Miller addressing the group about whom history remembers: rulers or the ruled workers whose legendary hard work and industriousness gave much of the ruling class engineering marvels and wealth that would humble the Pharaohs (in some cases).

"The names of the kings who compelled the building of the pyramids are mostly matters of conjecture now, but no man who ever gazed upon those piles of stone that have borne unscarred the desert storms that have been breaking upon and around them through the centuries, has failed to think of the tremendous energy of the race that reared those monuments above the sand; reared them so that the abrasion of the ages avails not against them.

California Argonauts. Wikipedia. Public domain.

"One loves to dream of how that race must have looked, there under that sky, while yet the world was young, and while the energy and beauty of youth was upon it. There was no steam power to assist, no power drills, there were only rude, untempered tools. The plain wedge, and the lever in its more effective form, were about all that was known of mechanics; still from the quarries of Syene, far up the Nile, those blocks were wrested, hewed, transported, lifted up and laid in place, and with such mathematical precision was the work performed, that the ebb and flow of the centuries have no effect upon the work. While this material work was going on, in the same realm wise men were putting into a language the alphabet of the sky, tracing out the procession of the stars and solving the mystery of the seasons. When we think of Ancient Egypt, it is not of her kings, but what was wrought out there by brain and hand.

"To-day I was at work on the twenty-four hundred-foot level of the mine. Around me power drills were working, cars were rattling, cages were running; three hundred men were stoping, timbering and rolling cars to and from the chutes and ore-breasts, and in the spectral light I thought it was a scene for a painter.

"But while so thinking, for some reason, there came to me the thought of the one hundred times three hundred men, who, for a generation, worked on a single pyramid; worked without pay days, without so much as a kind word, and on poorer fare than one gets at a fourth-rate miners' boarding house; and, as I reflected over that, our little work here seemed small indeed.

"So, in estimating Greece, we do not pick out a few men or women to remember, but we think of the race that made Thermopylae and Marathon possibilities, of the men who followed Xenophon, of the women who closed their hearts and left their deformed offspring to perish in the woods that Greece should rear no woman who could not bear soldiers, no man who could not bear arms; of the race so finely strung that poetry was born of it; that sculpture and eloquence were so perfected in, that to copy is impossible; that was so susceptible to beauty that it turned justice aside, and yet that was so valiant that it mastered the world.

Only known sculpture of Julius Caesar that was finished in his lifetime. Public domain.

"So of Rome! It is not that the great Julius lived that we call it 'The Imperial Nation.' We stand in awe of it still, not because out of its millions a few superb figures shine. Rather, we think of the valor that from a little nucleus widened until it subdued the world; of the ten thousand fields on which Romans fought and conquered.

"We think how they marshaled their armies, and taught the nations how to lay out camps; how they built roads and aqueducts, that their land might be defended and the Imperial City sustained; how they carved out an architecture of their own which the world still clings to in its most stately edifices; how, from barbarism, they progressed, until they framed a code which is still respected; how, in literature and the arts, they excelled, and how, for a thousand years, they were the concernment of the world.

"So of England. Which merits the greater glory, King John or the stern, half barbarous barons who, with an instinct generations in advance of their age, circled around their sullen king and compelled him to give to them 'the great charter?' Through the thousand years that have succeeded that act, how many individual names can we rescue from the hosts that on that little isle have lived and died? Not many.

"But the grand career of the nation is in the mind forever. How, through struggle after struggle, the advance has been made; struggles that, though full of errors, knew no faltering or despair, until at last, for the world, she became the center and the bulwark of civilization; until in material strength she had no equal; until the sheen of her sails gave light to all the seas, and under her flag signal stations were upreared the world around. We do not remember many men, but there is ever in the mind the thought of English valor and persistence, and the clear judgment which backed the valor by land and sea.

"But we need not go abroad; our own land has examples enough. Not many can call over the names of those who came in the 'Mayflower,' or those who made up the colonies up and down the Atlantic coast. But the spectacle of the 'Mayflower' band kneeling, on their arrival, in the snow and singing a triumphal song, is a picture the tints of which will deepen in splendor with the ages. We need not call over the names of our statesmen and warriors; they give but a slight impression of our race. But when we think how, from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, the woods were made to give place to gardens, fruitful fields and smiling homes; when we think that the majority of those families had each of them less to start with than any one of us gets for a month's labor, and yet how they subdued the land, ... reared and educated and created a literature for their children, until over all the vast expanse there was peace, prosperity, enlightenment and joy, then it is that we begin to grow proud.

"If the Argonauts of the Golden Coast can show that they have wrought as well, they will not be forgotten. Those who succeed them will know that they were preceded by a race that was strong and brave and true, and their memory in the West will be embalmed with the memory of those in the East who, starting under the spray that is tossed from the white surf of the eastern sea, with no capital but pluck, hewed out and embellished the Republic.

"Of course, there have been sorrows; of course, hearts have broken; but there has been much of triumph also. It is something to have a home in this Far West; there is something in the hills, the trees, the free air and action of this region which brings to men thoughts that they would never have had in other lands. It is not bad sometimes for men to leave their books and turn to Nature for instruction. Here of all the world some of the brightest pages of Nature's book are spread open for the reader. And many a man that others pity because they think his heart must be heavy, does not ask that pity; does not feel its need. Those hearts have gathered to themselves delights, which, if not, perhaps, of the highest order, still are very sweet. ..."

No comments:

Post a Comment

Spam comments will not make it to publication, so please do not spam this blog. All comments are moderated. Thank you for your consideration.