Bismarck, Garibaldi, Darwin, George Eliot, and Mill; of Byron, Shelley, and Carlyle we know– even more than we should wish to know. Going to a rather earlier date we come to Dr. Johnson, who, through the pious care of the biographer, is as familiar to us as our nearest friends.
But while the world knows much of some of its greatest men, there are others of whom it knows little. There are many men of the very highest moral character whose names are not even recorded in history.
While fully recognizing the moral greatness of Buddha and Socrates, we may be perfectly certain that past ages have produced many men and women equal to them in virtue, who do not happen to have won for themselves a position in the history of the world.
The same remarks apply to greatness of intellect. We may be quite sure that in the villages of England and of other countries many “mute inglorious Miltons” have lived and died in obscurity, because through want of education they have had no chance of expressing in a literary form their imaginative visions.
Many other men, well fitted by their characters to be leaders of men, have been deprived by their circumstances of any opportunity of distinguishing themselves on the theatre of the world, and have had no wider scope for their great abilities than that afforded by the insignificant village in which they were born.
When an inhabitant of the small island of Seriphus tauntingly remarked to The mistakes, “If you had been born in Seriphus, you would never have been great,” the great Athenian replied, “Neither would you have been great, had you been born an Athenian. “By his answer The mistocles seemed to acknowledge the truth of the remark of the Seriphian.
But he might with good reason have disputed it, and maintained that if he had been born at Seriphus, he would have been equally great, although he might have had no chance of displaying his great abilities to the world.
It must be added that even some of those men whose greatness is thoroughly recognised all over the civilized world are little more than names in spite of their great reputation. The most conspicuous instances of this are Shakespeare, and the author or authors of the Iliad and Odyssey.
All that is known of the life of the greatest dramatist of the world may be written down in a few- lines- while the authorship of the great epic poems of ancient Greece is a question that will probably remain unsettled to the end of the world. A similar veil of obscurity envelops the great poets who composed the Ramayana and Mahabharata.