From the shores of classic Greece, the eye of the observer is next directed to imperial Rome, and rests upon the palaces, the temples, the columns, the triumphal arches, which once adorned the seven hills of the “Eternal City.” He contemplates with pleasure, mingled with regret, that bright period in her literary history, distinguished as the Augustan age, when the bard of Mantua tuned his pipe upon the banks of the Tiber. He sees before him that illustrious band of literary men who crowded the court of Augustus, and who, supported by his liberal patronage, were enabled to contribute so much to advance the literary reputation of a people, previously distinguished more for deeds of arms, than for the encouragement of letters and learned men. At no antecedent, and at few subsequent periods, were literary men more munificently rewarded, than during the reign of Augustus. He had overcome his political rivals, and upon the ruins of the ancient republic, had erected the imperial throne, contrary to the wishes of the people. Although his power was supported by armed legions, Augustus judged it prudent to adopt other means to gain the people; hence he extended the hand of patronage to the literary men of the day, who repaid his munificence by extolling his virtues and the mildness of his government--thus, in a great degree, reconciling the people to his usurpations of power, and the extinction of their liberties. Of their merits we shall speak hereafter. A few years subsequent to this period witnessed the decline of Roman power and grandeur, and of learning--the Roman capital became subject to the barbarians of the north—the Gothic hordes who disregarded the refinements of civilization, and overturned and trampled upon the elegant productions of Grecian and Roman art.

The Goth, the Christian, time, war, flood and fire,
Have dwelt upon the seven-hill'd city's pride;
She saw her glories star by star expire,
And up the steep barbarian monarchs ride
Where the car climb'd the capitoi; far and wide
Temple and tower went down, nor left a site:-
Chaos of ruins! who shall trace the void,
O'er the dim fragments cast a lunar light,
And say, "here was, or is" where all is doubly night!

Chil. Har. C. 4. LXXX.

The depression of learning, after christianity became the religion of the Roman empire, is as remarkable, as it is difficult to be accounted for, upon any correct system of reasoning. The obvious tendency of the christian religion, when free to act is, not only to shed abroad a knowledge of salvation, and point to the bright realities of another world, but to enlighten and liberalize the mind, making it the receptacle of science. Unfortu


nately, however, a different spirit prevailed—as soon as the sceptre fell from pagan hands, a persecuting and intolerant spirit pervaded the empire, as a retaliation for the persecutions endured by the christians during the supremacy of pagan powthe

pagan schools were closed, and in a short time all the leaming of the times was confined to the higher clergy, who were as ambitious of temporal, as they were of spiritual, power, Nothing more clearly marks the spirit of the times, than a formal decree of an ecclesiastical council,* which proscribed and persecuted what was called "pagan learning,” that is, the poetry and philosophy of the ancients, and which prohibited even bishops from reading secular books. The stores of ancient learning and wisdom were then mouldering in the cells of monasteries, inaccessible to any but illiterate monks, who, in consequence of their ignorance of even the rudiments of learning, were unable to avail themselves of the treasures within their grasp. The whole circle of monkish literature embraced only the legends of saints and the records of the wonderful miracles of holy martyrs. This age of ignorance continued through the long period of twelve centuries, scarcely a gleam of intellectual light breaking through the dark cloud which hung over it. The princes and nobles of those days, who ought to have been its patrons, were too much devoted to war and warlike amusements, to give themselves much concern on the subject of learning; they had no idea that any kind of knowledge, to be derived from books, was requisite to enable them to fill the eminent stations they occupied; they, therefore, left the pursuits of literature entirely to the dignitaries of the church, who alone were thought to have any occasion for learning; and they were interested in not removing the veil of ignorance, that they might maintain that influence they had, unfortunately for the human family, obtained and exercised. About the middle of the eleventh century, a light burst through the surrounding gloom; feeble, indeed, at first, but gradually extending, until about the middle of the fifteenth century, when learning revived, and found patrons and protectors in the munificent house of Medici, particularly in Cosino de Medici, and his grandson Lorenzo, the magnificent. About this time, also, the art of printing was invented, which, aided by the liberal principles introduced by the reformation, contributed to the general and rapid diffusion of learning. Since then it has continued to flourish in Europe; and having been transplanted into this free and happy country, it has found a congenial soil, where it requires only proper cultivation to bring it to perfect maturity:

In the succeeding pages, we design to present a concise view

* The fourth council of Carthage held A. D. 398.

• of the progress of literature. The subject embraces, it is true, an extensive field, one which we have not the vanity to suppose ourselves capable of exploring and fully unfolding. We do not

hope, nor do we aim to attract, by any novelty of matter or man• ner--we design to give a brief sketch of what we consider an

interesting subject, more particularly for the benefit of those who have neither leisure nor opportunity to examine the subject more at large.





Hieroglyphic and Alphabetic writing. Literature of the Egyptians,

Hebrews and other eastern nations.

The subject of alphabetic writing, that most important invention, to which we are indebted for the preservation of all learning, has given rise to much able, learned and interesting discussion. It has employed the pens of many profound antiquaries, whose peculiar province it is, to penetrate the veil that covers the transactions of past ages; but, notwithstanding all their researches and ingenious speculations, it is unsettled among the learned, where and when it originated—whether it is of divine origin, or a wonderful effort of human ingenuity and invention.

In a literary point of view, writing is the most important invention with which we are acquainted; as we are thus enabled to communicate our thoughts, our feelings and impressions, to each other, when absent, as well as when present, and to transmit to posterity the record of the great events which, from time to time, agitate the natural, moral and political world, as well as important discoveries and improvements in arts and science. Previous to the invention of letters, the knowledge of the history of nations depended upon the frail memory of man, and was

« ForrigeFortsett »