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I. For seventeen centuries a deep and sad thought had weighed upon the spirit of man, first to overwhelm it, then to exalt and to weaken it, never loosing its hold throughout this long space of time. It was the idea of the weakness and decay of the human race. Greek corruption, Roman oppression, and the dissolution of the ancient world, had given rise to it; it, in its turn, had produced a stoical resignation, an epicurean indifference, Alexandrian mysticism, and the Christian hope in the kingdom of God. “The world is evil and lost, let us escape by insensibility, amazement, ecstasy." Thus spoke the philosophers; and religion, coming after, announced that the end was near: “Prepare, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” For a thousand years universal ruin incessantly drove still deeper into their hearts this gloomy thought; and when man in the feudal state raised himself, by sheer force of courage and muscles, from the depths of final imbecility and general misery, he discovered his thought and his work fettered by the crushing idea, which, forbidding a life of nature and worldly hopes, erected into ideals the obedience of the monk and the dreams of fanatics.
It grew ever worse and worse. For the natural result of such a conception, as of the miseries which engender it, and the discouragement which it gives ri, to, is to do away with personal
action, and to replace originality by submission. From the fourth century, gradually the dead letter was substituted for the living faith. Christians resigned themselves into the hands of the clergy, they into the hands of the Pope. Christian opinions were subordinated to theologians, and theologians to the Fathers. Christian faith was reduced to the accomplishment of works, and works to the accomplishment of ceremonies. Religion, fluid during the first centuries, was now congealed into a hard crystal, and the coarse contact of the barbarians had deposited upon its surface a layer of idolatry: theocracy and the Inquisition, the monopoly of the clergy and the prohibition of the Scriptures, the worship of relics and the sale of indulgences began to appear. In place of Christianity, the church; in place of a free creed, enforced orthodoxy; in place of moral fervor, fixed religious practices; in place of the heart and stirring thought, outward and mechanical discipline: such are the characteristics of the middle ages.
Under this constraint thinking society had ceased to think; philosophy was turned into a textbook, and poetry into dotage; and mankind, slothful and crouching, delivering up their conscience and their conduct into the hands of their priests, seemed but as puppets, fit only for reciting a catechism and mumbling over beads.
At last invention makes another start; and it makes it by the efforts of the lay society, which rejected theocracy, kept the State free, and which presently discovered, or re-discovered, one after another, the industries, sciences, and arts. All was renewed; America and the Indies were added to the map of the world; the shape of the earth was ascertained, the system of the universe propounded, modern philology was inaugurated, the experimental sciences set on foot, art and literature shot forth like a harvest, religion was transformed : there was no province of human intelligence and action which was not refreshed and fertilized by this universal effort. It was so great that it passed from the innovators to the laggards, and reformed Catholicism in the face of Protestantism which it formed. It seems as though men had suddenly opened their eyes and seen. In fact they attain a new and superior kind of intelligence. It is the proper
1 See, at Bruges, the pictures of Hemling (fifteenth v). No paintings enable us to understand so well the ecclesiastical piety of the middle age which was altogether like that of the Buddhists.
feature of this age that men no longer make themselves masters of objects by bits, or isolated, or through scholastic or mechanical classifications, but as a whole, in general and complete views, with the eager grasp of a sympathetic spirit, which being placed before a vast object, penetrates it in all its parts, tries it in all its relations, appropriates and assimilates it, impresses upon itself its living and potent image, so life-like and so powerful, that it is fain to translate it into externals through a work of art or an action. An extraordinary warmth of soul, a superabundant and splendid imagination, reveries, visions, artists, believers, founders, creators,—that is what such a form of intellect produces; for to create we must have, as had Luther and Loyola, Michel Angelo and Shakespeare, an idea, not abstract, partial, and dry, but well defined, finished, sensible,-a true creation, which acts inwardly, and struggles to appear to the light. This was Europe's grand age, and the most notable epoch of human growth. To this day we live from its sap, we only carry on its pressure and efforts.
II. When human power is manifested so clearly and in such great works, it is no wonder if the ideal changes, and the old pagan idea reappears. It recurs, bringing with it the worship of beauty and vigor, first in Italy; for this, of all countries in Europe, is the most pagan, and the nearest to the ancient civilization; thence in France and Spain, and Flanders, and even in Germany; and finally in England. How is it propagated ? What revolution of manners reunited mankind at this time, everywhere, under a sentiment which they had forgotten for fifteen hundred years ? Merely that their condition had improved, and they felt it. The idea ever expresses the actual situation, and the creatures of the imagination, like the conceptions of the mind, only manifest the state of society and the degree of its welfare; there is a fixed connection between what man admires and what he is. While misery overwhelms him, while the decadence is visible, and hope shut out, he is inclined to curse his life on earth, and seek consolation in another sphere. As soon as his sufferings are alleviated, his power made manifest, his prospects brightened, he begins once more to love the present life, to be self-confident, to
i Van Orley, Michel Coxcie Franz Floris, the de Vos', the Sadelers, Crispin de Pass, aud the artists of Nuremberg.
love and praise energy, genius, all the effective faculties which labor to procure him happiness. About the twentieth year of Elizabeth's reign, the nobles gave up shield and two-handed sword for the rapier;' a little, almost imperceptible fact, yet vast, for it is like the change which sixty years ago made us give up the sword at court, to leave us with our arms swinging about in our black coats. In fact, it was the close of feudal life, and the beginning of court life, just as to-day court life is at an end, and the democratic reign has begun. With the two-handed swords, heavy coats of mail, feudal keeps, private warfare, permanent disorder, all the scourges of the middle age retired, and faded into the past. The English had done with the Wars of the Roses. They no longer ran the risk of being pillaged to-morrow for being rich, and hung the next day for being traitors; they have no further need to furbish up their armor, make alliances with powerful nations, lay in stores for the winter, gather together men-at-arms, scour the country to plunder and hang others. The monarchy, in England as throughout Europe, establishes peace in the community,; and with peace appear the useful arts. Domestic comfort follows civil security; and man, better furnished in his home, better protected in his hamlet, takes pleasure in his life on earth, which he has changed, and means to change.
Toward the close of the fifteenth century 4 the impetus was given; commerce and the woolen trade made a sudden advance, and such an enormous one that corn-fields were changed into pasture-lands, “whereby the inhabitants of the said town (Manchester) have gotten and come into riches and wealthy livings," so that in 1553, 40,000 pieces of cloth were exported in English ships. It was already the England which we see to-day, a land of green meadows, intersected by hedgerows, crowded with cattle, and abounding in ships-a manufacturing opulent land, with a people of beef-eating toilers, who enrich it while they enrich themselves. They improved agriculture to such an extent that
1 The first carriage was in 1564. It caused much astonishment. Some said that it was “a great sea-shell brought from China;” others, “that it was a temple in which cannibals worshipped the devil.”
2 For a picture of this state of things, see Fenn's Paston Letters.
3 Louis XI. in France, Ferdinand and Isabella in Spain, Henry VII. in England. In Italy the feudal regime ended earlier, by the establishment of republics and principalities.
4 1488, Act of Parliament on Enclosures. 5 A Compendious Examination, 1581, by William Strafford. Act of Parliament, 1541.
in half-a-century the produce of an acre was doubled. They grew so rich that at the beginning of the reign of Charles I. the Commons represented three times the wealth of the Upper House. The ruin of Antwerp by the Duke of Parma2 sent to England "the third part of the merchants and manufacturers, who made silk, damask, stockings, taffetas, and serges.” The defeat of the Armada and the decadence of Spain opened the seas to English merchants. The toiling hive, who would dare, attempt, explore, act in unison, and always with profit, was about to reap its advantages and set out on its voyages, buzzing over the universe.
At the base and on the summit of society, in all ranks of life, in all grades of human condition, this new welfare became visible. In 1534, considering that the streets of London were “very noyous and foul, and in many places thereof very jeopardous to all people passing and repassing, as well on horseback as on foot,” Henry VIII. began the paving of the city. New streets covered the open spaces where the young men used to run races and to wrestle. Every year the number of taverns, theatres, gambling rooms, bear-gardens, increased. Before the time of Elizabeth the country-houses of gentlemen were little more than straw-thatched cottages, plastered with the coarsest clay, lighted only by trellises. “Howbeit," says Harrison (1580), “such as be latelie builded are commonlie either of bricke or hard stone, or both; their roomes large and comelie, and houses of office further distant from their lodgings.” The old wooden houses were covered with plaster, “which, beside the delectable whitenesse of the stuffe itselfe, is laied on so even and smoothlie, as nothing in my judgment can be done with more exact
open admiration shows from what hovels they had escaped. Glass was at last employed for windows, and the bare walls were covered with hangings, on which visitors might see, with delight and astonishment, plants, animals, figures. They began to use stoves, and experienced the unwonted pleasure of
1 Between 1377 and 1588 the increase was from two and a half to five millions.
Elizabeth sent out one hundred and fifty against the Armada. In 1553 was founded a company to trade with Russia. In 1578 Drake circumnavigated the globe. In 1600 the East India Company was founded.
4 Nathan Drake Shakspeare and his Times, 1817, i. v. 72 et passim.