The greatness of a wise man is rarely fully appreciated by the people of his own time. He is like a high mountain, the top of which cannot be seen by dwellers at its foot, but only by those at a distance.
As Jesus Christ said, when he visited his native town of Nazareth, and his fellow townsmen “were offended in him”, saying, in contempt, “Is not the carpenter’s son?”-“A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country and in his own house”. Very few at first understand an original thinker; so they laugh at him and dub him a fool, and perhaps persecute him. But the next generation sees him in his true greatness, and reveres him as a wise man.
Jesus Christ himself is a good illustration of this statement. In his own time he was regarded, except by a handful of followers, as an impostor or a madman, and at last was hounded to death by his own people. Yet to-day he is revered by millions as the world’s greatest religious teacher and moral example. Even by those who do not accept Christianity, he is acknowledged as one of the greatest and best men in the world’s history.
Socrates, the famous Greek philosopher, is another good example. Except by a few followers, like Plato, Socrates was regarded by the Athenians as either a fool or a pestilent nuisance. He was at last accused of undermining religion and corrupting the youth of Athens. So strong was the feeling against him that he was condemned to death, and forced to drink the fatal hemlock poison. His great disciple, Plato, afterwards expounded the teaching 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. Galileo was derided and tortured for maintaining that the earth goes round the sun. Columbus was laughed at because he sailed west to reach India in the east.
George Stephenson, the inventor of the locomotive steam-engine, was at first mocked at as a foolish crank. Both Wordsworth and Keats were ridiculed and bitterly attacked by the critics of their day when their first poems were published; yet now they are regarded as among the greatest English poets. These fools of yesterday have become the wise men of to-day.