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repeats himself, unfolds artless developments, forgets to concentrate his passion or his idea. He begins a jest, and scarcely ends/ it. He dilutes a bright coloring in a monotonous stanza. His voice is like that of a boy breaking into manhood. At first a manly and firm accent is maintained, then a shrill sweet sound shows that his growth is not finished, and that his strength is subject to weakness. Chaucer sets out as if to quit the middle age; but in the end he is there still. To-day he composes the Canterbury Tales; yesterday he was translating the Roman de la Rose. To-day he is studying the complicated machinery of the heart, discovering the issues of primitive education or of the ruling disposition, and creating the comedy of manners; tomorrow he will have no pleasure but in curious events, smooth allegories, amorous discussions, imitated from the French, or learned moralities from the ancients. Alternately he is an observer and a trouvère; instead of the step he ought to have advanced, he has but made a half-step.
Who has prevented him, and the others who surround him ? We meet with the obstacle in the tales he has translated of Melibeus, of the Parson, in his Testament of Love ; in short, so long as he writes verse, he is at his ease; as soon as he takes to prose, a sort of chain winds around his feet and stops him. His imagination is free, and his reasoning a slave. The rigid scholastic divisions, the mechanical manner of arguing and replying, the ergo, the Latin quotations, the authority of Aristotle and the Fathers, come and weigh down his budding thought. His native invention disappears under the discipline imposed. The servitude is so heavy that even in the work of one of his contemporaries, the Testament of Love, which, for a long time, was believed to be written by Chaucer, amid the most touching plaints and the most smarting pains, the beautiful ideal lady, the heavenly mediator who appears in a vision, Love, sets her theses, establishes that the cause of a cause is the cause of the thing caused, and reasons as pedantically as they would at Oxford. In what can talent, even feeling, end, when it is kept down by such shackles ? What succession of original truths and new doctrines could be found and proved, when in a moral tale, like that of
Her goodly looking gladed all the prees,
Melibeus and his wife Prudence, it was thought necessary to establish a formal controversy, to quote Seneca and Job, to forbid tears, to bring forward the weeping Christ to authorize tears, to enumerate every proof, to call in Solomon, Cassiodorus, and Cato; in short, to write a book for schools ? The public cares only for pleasant and lively thoughts; not serious and general ideas; these latter are for a special class only. As soon as Chaucer gets into a reflective mood, straightway Saint Thomas, Peter Lombard, the manual of sins, the treatise on definition and syllogism, the army of the ancients and of the Fathers, descend from their glory, enter his brain, speak in his stead; and the trouvère's pleasant voice becomes the dogmatic and sleep-inspiring voice of a doctor. In love and satire he has experience, and he invents; in what regards morality and philosophy he has learning, and copies. For an instant, by a solitary leap, he entered upon the close observation, and the genuine study of man; he could not keep his ground, he did not take his seat, he took a poetic excursion; and no one followed him. The level of the century is lower; he is on it himself for the most part. He is in the company of narrators like Froissart, of elegant speakers like Charles of Orléans, of gossipy and barren verse-writers like Gower, Lydgate, and Occleve. There is no fruit, but frail and fleeting blossom, many useless branches, still more dying or dead branches; such is this literature. And why? Because it had no longer a root; after three centuries of effort, a heavy instrument cut it underground. This instrument was the Scholastic Philosophy.
VI. Beneath every literature there is a philosophy. Beneath every work of art is an idea of nature and of life; this idea leads the poet. Whether the author knows it or not, he writes in order to exhibit it; and the characters which he fashions, like the events which he arranges, only serve to bring to light the dim creative conception which raises and combines them. Underlying Homer appears the noble life of heroic paganism and of happy Greece. Underlying Dante, the sad and violent life of fanatical Catholicism and of the much-hating Italians. From either we might draw a theory of man and of the beautiful. It is so with others; and this is how, according to the variations, the birth,
blossoms, decline, or sluggishness of the master-idea, literature varies, is born, flourishes, degenerates, comes to an end. Whoever plants the one, plants the other: whoever undermines the one, undermines the other. Place in all the minds of any age a new grand idea of nature and life, so that they feel and produce it with their whole heart and strength, and you will see them, seized with the craving to express it, invent forms of art and groups of figures. Take away from these minds every grand new idea of nature and life, and you will see them; deprived of the craving to express all-important thoughts, copy, sink into silence, or rave.
What has become of these all-important thoughts? What labor worked them out ? What studies nourished them ? The laborers did not lack zeal. In the twelfth century the
energy their minds was admirable. At Oxford there were thirty thousand scholars. No building in Paris could contain the crowd of Abelard's disciples; when he retired to solitude, they accompanied him in such a multitude that the desert became a town. No difficulty repulsed them. There is a story of a young boy, who, though beaten by his master, was wholly bent on remaining with him, that he might still learn. When the terrible encyclopedia of Aristotle was introduced, though disfigured and unintelligible, it was devoured. The only question presented to them, that of universals, so abstract and dry, so embarrassed by Arabic obscurities and Greek subtilties, during centuries, was seized upon eagerly. Heavy and awkward as was the instrument supplied to them, I mean syllogism, they made themselves masters of it, rendered it still more heavy, plunged it into every object and in every direction. They constructed monstrous books, in great numbers, cathedrals of syllogism, of unheard of architecture, of prodigious finish, heightened in effect by intensity of intellectual power, which the whole sum of human labor has only twice been able to match. These young and valiant minds thought they had found the temple of truth; they rushed at it headlong, in legions, breaking in the doors, clambering over the walls, leaping into the interior, and so found themselves at the bottom
1 Under Proclus and under Hegel. Duns Scotus, at the age of thirty-one, died, leaving beside his sermons and commentaries, twelve folio volumes, in a small close handwriting, in a style like Hegel's, on the same subject as Proclus treats of. Similarly with Saint Thomas and the whole train of schoolmen. No idea can be formed of such a labor before handling the books themselves.
of a moat. Three centuries of labor at the bottom of this black moat added not one idea to the human mind.
For consider the questions which they treat of. They seem to be marching, but are merely marking time. People would say, to see them moil and toil, that they will educe from heart and brain some great original creed, and yet all belief was imposed upon them from the outset. The system was made; they could only arrange and comment upon it. The conception comes not from them, but from Constantinople. Infinitely complicated and subtle as it is, the supreme work of Oriental mysticism and Greek metaphysics, so disproportioned to their young understanding, they exhaust themselves to reproduce it, and moreover burden their unpracticed hands with the weight of a logical instrument which Aristotle created for theory and not for practice, and which ought to have remained in a cabinet of philosophical curiosities, without being ever carried into the field of action. 66 Whether the divine essence engendered the Son, or was engendered by the Father; why the three persons together are not greater than one alone; attributes determine persons, not substance, that is, nature; how properties can exist in the nature of God, and not determine it; if created spirits are local and can be circumscribed ; if God can know more things than He is aware of;" ]—these are the ideas which they moot: what truth could issue thence ? From hand to hand the chimera grows, and spreads wider its gloomy wings. “Can God cause that, the place and body being retained, the body shall have no position, that is, existence in place ?-Whether the impossibility of being engendered is a constituent property of the First Person of the Trinity—Whether identity, similitude, and equality are real relations in God.” 2 Duns Scotus distinguishes three kinds of matter: matter which is firstly first, secondly first, thirdly first. According to him, we must clear this triple hedge of thorny abstractions in order to understand the production of a sphere of brass. Under such a regimen, imbecility soon makes its appearance. Saint Thomas himself considers, “whether the body of Christ arose with its wounds,—whether this body moves with the motion of the host and the chalice in consecration,whether at the first instant of conception Christ had the use of free judgment,—whether Christ was slain by Himself or by
1 Peter Lombard, Book of Sentences. It was the classic of the middle age.
2 Duns Scotus, ed. 1639.
another ?" Do
think you are at the limits of human folly ? Listen. He considers “whether the dove in which the Holy Spirit appeared was a real animal,—whether a glorified body can occupy one and the same place at the same time as another glorified body,—whether in the state of innocence all children were masculine ? I pass over others as to the digestion of Christ, and some still more untranslatable. This is the point reached by the most esteemed doctor, the most judicious mind, the Bossuet of the middle age. Even in this ring of inanities the answers are laid down. Roscellinus and Abelard were excommunicated, exiled, imprisoned, because they swerved from it. There is a complete minute dogma which closes all issues; there is no means of escaping; after a hundred wriggles and a hundred efforts you must come and tumble into a formula. If by mysticism you try to fly over their heads, if by experience you endeavor to creep beneath, powerful talons await you at your exit. The wise man passes for a magician, the enlightened man for a heretic. The Waldenses, the Catharists, the disciples of John of Parma, were burned; Roger Bacon died only just in time, otherwise he might have been burned. Under this constraint men ceased to think; for he who speaks of thought, speaks of an effort at invention, an individual creation, an energetic action. They recite a lesson, or sing a catechism; even in paradise, even in ecstasy and the divinest raptures of love, Dante thinks himself bound to show an exact memory and a scholastic orthodoxy. How then with the rest ? Some, like Raymond Lully, set about inventing an instrument of reasoning to serve in place of the understanding. About the fourteenth century, under the blows of Occam, this verbal science began to totter; they saw that its entities were only words; it was discredited. In 1367, at Oxford, of thirty thousand students, there remained six thousand;2 they still set their “Barbara and Felapton,” but only in the way of routine. Each one in turn mechanically traversed the
1 Utrum angelus diligat se ipsum dilectione naturali vel electiva? Utrum in statu innocentiæ fuerit generatio per coitum ? Utrum omnes fuissent nati in sexu masculino ? Utrum cognitio angeli posset dici matutina et vespertina ? Utrum martyribus aureola debeatur ? Utrum virgo Maria fuerit virgo in concipiendo? Utrum remanserit virgo post partum? The reader
may look out in the text the reply to these last two questions. (S. Thomas, Summa Theologica, ed. 1677.)
? The Rev. Henry Anstey, in his Introduction to Munimenta Academica, Lond. 1868, says that “the statement of Richard of Armagh that there were in the thirteenth century 30,000 scholars at Oxford is almost incredible." P. xlviii.-TR.