Contemporary history is the only genuine and important history, the present is the only object of historical knowledge; what the present is and how, properly conceived, it gives history its unity and justifies the study of what is past (ancient history); all history is our history, and otherwise without meaning or value to us. The history of classical antiquity is the history of the youth of the modern world, of the formation of the now latent but still potent hopes, fears, designs and thoughts which constitute the substratum of the European mind; how this still unites a divided Europe and affords a ground of hope for a restored and deepened union. Our debt to the Greeks: (a) the very notion of civilization, (b) the idea of its realization through knowledge, (c) the ideal of freedom as the inner spirit of true civilization. How the Greeks failed to work all this out in both theory and practice, and how nevertheless they taught their lesson to the world; the services of Greece to the world in the creation of Art, the Sciences, and Philosophy; the Greek ideal of a life beyond ‘civilized’ life, but rendered possible by it, and thus giving to civilized life a new and higher value; defects and merits of this ideal.
The Romans are inheritors of all this; how, while making it more prosaic, they rendered it more practical and more effectually realized it. All this most visible in the Imperial period. The Roman ideal: (a) world-wide peace, (b) secured and maintained by a centralized system of laws issuing from and enforced by a single power. Influence of this ideal on later and modern thought and practice. Causes of its decline and fall: (a) ignorance of the economic substructure of civilized life, (b) neglect of opportunities to extend and defend it, (c) the rise of the idea of nationality. The Revolution as the last great attempt to reinstate the full Roman ideal in its outworn form.
Lessons still to be learned by us from the study of both the success and the failure of Greco-Roman civilization; how the consideration of these may at once sober our expectations and inspire us with hope in the present. The forces which created it still maintain it and show no signs of exhaustion. But that they may continue in effect we must study these forces and learn the lessons the ancient experience of their working conveys, exerting ourselves first to understand Greco-Roman thought and practice and then to better their instruction.
I. The mediaeval world. Geographical extent. Economic structure: its features of uniformity and isolation: the effect of the rise of a national economy on mediaeval society. Linguistic basis. Mediaeval scheme that of a general European system of estates rather than of a balance of powers.