Jesus Christ, the Founder of Christianity, is himself a good illustration of the sentence. In his own time, he was regarded as a preacher of extra-ordinary doctrine by all except a handful of followers, and was at last hounded to death by his own people.
Yet today he is revered by millions as the world’s greatest religious teacher and moral example, and acknowledged as one of the greatest men of history even by those who do not accept his religion.
The fact is that the greatness of a wise man is really never fully appreciated by his contemporaries. He is like a great mountain, the top of which cannot be seen by dwellers at its foot, but only by those at a distance.
As Christ again said, “No prophet is acceptable in his own country.” Very few understand at first an original thinker, and so they laugh at him and dub him a fool, and perhaps persecute him. But the next generation sees him in his true perfection and, realizing his greatness, revere him as a wise man.
Socrates, the famous Greek philosopher, is another good illustration of the truth of this statement. Except by a few followers, like the philosopher Plato, Socrates was regarded by the Athenians as either a fool or a pestilent nuisance, and was accused of undermining religion and corrupting the youth of Athens.
So strong was the feeling against him that he was eventually condemned to death, and forced to drink the fatal hemlock poison.
His great disciple, Plato, afterwards expounded the principles and philosophy of Socrates in a series of charming books; and for centuries Socrates has been revered as one of the greatest thinkers and noblest characters the world has known.
Many other examples could be given of the same truth. Dr. Jenner, the discoverer of vaccination against small-pox, was ridiculed by the public and excommunicated by the medical profession, when he first announced his discovery.
George Stephenson, the inventor of the locomotive engine, was at first laughed at as a foolish crank; Jules Verne, who prophesied in his novels in the middle of the 19th century the coming of the submarine and the airship, was thought to be a writer of fairy tales for children.