What name, then, is most appropriate for the divisions thus marked by sudden and violent changes? It seems to me, from their generally accepted meaning, that the word Epoch or Era, both of which have been widely, though indiscriminately, used in geology, is especially applicable here. In their common use, they imply a condition of things determined by some decisive event.
But the old Salem that was once the capital of the state, the Salem of John Endicott and Roger Williams, of stern Puritanism, of terrible witchcraft horrors, and then of the sturdy and vigorous stand in her differences with the mother country, her patriotism through the darkest days, was fast fading away, just as this grand commercial epoch was destined to merge into science and educational fame later on, and give to the world some master spirits.
This was the U.S.S. "Princeton," which marks an epoch as the first screw vessel-of-war. She was followed by the French "Pomone" in 1843, and the English "Amphion" in 1844, for the equipment of which Ericsson's agent in England, Count Von Rosen, received commissions from the French and English governments respectively.
After farther incurring some risk of his life as an Athenian citizen, in consequence of the hostile feelings of the Æginetans, he was conveyed away safely to Athens, about 386 B.C. It was at this period, about 386 B.C., that the continuous and formal public teaching of Plato, constituting as it does so great an epoch in philosophy, commenced.
The eminent Wassman says: "There are numerous fossils of apes, the remains of which are buried in the various strata from the lower Eocene to the close of the alluvial epoch, but not one connecting link has been found between their hypothetical ancestral forms and man at the present time. Darwin says: "When we descend to details, we can prove that not one species has changed."
At the epoch of which we write, you would have noticed in him the coldly resigned air of one who has buried the illusions of his youth and renounced every secret ambition; you would have recognized a discouraged, but not disgusted man, one who still clings to his first projects, more perhaps to employ his faculties than in the hope of a doubtful success.
In short, we have every century except our own a thing which has never been seen at any other epoch: eclecticism is our taste; we take everything we find, this for beauty, that for utility, another for antiquity, still another for its ugliness even, so that we live surrounded by debris, as if the end of the world were at hand.
Scientific tribunals, which should pronounce in the first instance while awaiting the definitive judgment of the public, were one of the requisites of our epoch; and thus, without any formal prescription of its successive regulations, the Academy of Sciences has been gradually led on to appoint committees to examine all the papers that have been presented to it, and to pronounce on their novelty, merit, and importance.
We shall certainly depart before this menacing epoch: the application for our passports was made on our first arrival, and Citizen Liebault, Principal of the Office for Foreign Affairs, who is really very civil, has promised them in a day or two.
It is not too much to say that no contemporary record so intelligent, so independent, so vigorous, so complete, exists of any other remarkable literary epoch. The abbé Raynal, of whom we shall have more to say in a later chapter, had founded this counterpart of a modern review in 1747, and he sent a copy of it in manuscript once a month to anybody who cared to pay three hundred francs a year.