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THE MIDDLE AGES.
THE DARK AGES.
Our clock strikes when there is a change from hour to hour; but no hammer in the Horologe of Time peals through the universe, when there is a change from Era to Era. — Carlyle.
Many considerable portions of time, especially before the twelfth century, may justly be deemed so barren of events worthy of remembrance, that a single sentence or paragraph is often sufficient to give the character of entire generations, and of long dynasties of obscure kings. — Hallam.
It cost Europe a thousand years of barbarism to escape the fate of China. — Macaulay.
The period intervening between the fall of the "Western Eoman Empire (476) and the discovery of America by Columbus (1492), say from the fifth to the fifteenth century, is usually spoken of as the Middle Ages, or more concisely as the Middle Age. It is marked by many and great events, such as the institutions of feudalism and chivalry, the growth of municipalities, the crusades, the rise of the papal power, the invention of printing, the revival of learning, maritime discovery, etc., all which will be referred to in the proper places. The first five centuries of this period, say from the fall of Eome to the year 1000, are often known as the Dark Ages, because European society was then to appearance in a more benighted and semi-barbarous conditipn than either immediately before or since that time. The name Dark Ages is sometimes applied to nearly the whole period 500-1500.
This is, indeed, the character of the Dark Age: it was a chaos of all the elements; the childhood of all the systems; a universal jumble; in which even strife itself was neither permanent nor systematic. — Guizot. v
Writers innumerable have declaimed on the night of the Middle Ages, — on the deluge of barbarism which, under the Goths, flooded the world, — on the torpor of the human intellect, under the combined pressure of savage violence and priestly superstition; yet this was precisely the period when the minds of men, deprived of external vent, turned inwards on themselves; and that the learned and thoughtful, shut out from any active part in society by the general prevalence of military violence, sought, in the solitude of the cloister, employment in reflecting on the mind itself, and the general causes which, under its guidance, operated upon society. The influence of this great change, in the direction of thought, at once appeared when knowledge, liberated from the monastery and the university, again took its place among the affairs of men. — Alison.
It is an exaggeration also to attribute to the Germanic invasions the retardation of intellectual development during the Middle Ages; for the decline was taking place for centuries before the invasions were of any engrossing importance. — Oomte.
The three centuries under consideration, the Middle Ages, were, in point of fact, one of the most brutal, most ruffianly epochs in history, one of those wherein we encounter most crimes and violence, wherein the public peace was most incessantly troubled, and wherein the greatest licentiousness in morals prevailed. Nevertheless it cannot be denied that side by side with these gross and barbarous morals, this social disorder, there existed knightly morality and knightly poetry. We have moral records confronting ruffianly deeds; and the contrast is shocking, but real. It is exactly this contrast which makes the great and fundamental characteristic of the Middle Ages. — Guizot.
The Dark Ages, as the period of Catholic ascendency is justly called, do undoubtedly display many features of great and genuine excellence. In active benevolence, in the spirit of reverence, in loyalty, m cooperative habits, they far transcend the noblest ages of pagan antiquity, while in that humanity which shrinks from the infliction oi suffering, they were superior to Eoman, and in their respect for chastity, to Greek civilization. On the other hand, they rank immeasurably below the best pagan civilizations in civic and patriotic virtues, in the love of liberty, in the number and splendor of the great characters they produced, in the dignity and beauty of the type of character they formed. They had their full share of tumult, anarchy, injustice, and war, and they should probably be placed, in all intellectual virtues, lower than any other period in the history of mankind. A boundless intolerance of all divergence of opinion was united with an equally boundless toleration of all falsehood and deliberate fraud that could favor received opinions. Credulity being taught as a virtue, and all conclusions dictated by authority, a deadly torpor sank upon the human mind, which for many centuries almost suspended its action, and was only broken by the scrutinizing, innovating, and free-thinking habits that accompanied the rise of the industrial republics in Italy. Few men who are not either priests or monks would not have preferred to live in the best days of the Athenian or of the Roman republics, in the age of Augustus or in the age of the Antonines, rather than in any period that elapsed between the triumph of Christianity and the fourteenth century. — Lecky.
During the Middle Age3 man had lived enveloped in a cowl. He had not seen the beaut}' of the world, or had seen it only to cross himself, and turn aside and tell his beads and pray. Like St. Bernard travelling along the shores of Lake Leman, and noticing neither the azure of the waters, nor the luxuriance of the vines, nor the radiance of the mountains with their robe of sun and snow, but bending a thought-burdened forehead over the neck of his mule; even like this monk, humanity had passed, a careful pilgrim, intent on the terrors of sin, death, and judgment, along the highways of the world, and had not known that they were sight-worthy, or that life is a blessing. — J. A. Symonds.
All the fictions of the Middle Age explain themselves as a masked or frolic expression of that which in grave earnest the mind of that period toiled to achieve. Magic, and all that is ascribed to it, is a deep presentiment of the powers of science. The shoes of swiftness, the sword of sharpness, the power of subduing the elements, of using the secret virtues of minerals, of understanding the voices of birds, are the obscure efforts of the mind in a right direction. The preternatural prowess of the hero, the gift of perpetual youth, and the like, are alike the endeavor of the human spirit " to bend the shows of things to the desires of the mind." — Emerson.
In the next place, the great lesson which the Dark Ages exhibit is also that which human life is unhappily at every moment and on every occasion exhibiting, — the abuse of power. The great characteristics of the Dark Ages are the feudal system and the papal power. But consider each; the incidents, as they are termed, of the feudal system; and, again, the doctrines and the decrease of the papal see. Outrageous as many of these may seem, they were still but specimens of the abuse of power. The Dark Ages show human nature under its most unfavorable aspects, but it is still human nature. We see in them the picture of our ancestors, but it is only a more harsh and repulsive portrait of ourselves. — W. Smyth.
Literature, science, taste, were words little in use during the ages which we are contemplating; or, if they occur at any time, eminence in them is ascribed to persons and productions so contemptible, that it appears their true import was little understood. Persons of the highest rank, and in the most eminent stations, could not read or write. . . . The human mind, neglected, uncultivated, depressed, continued in the most profound ignorance. — Robertson.
To a spectator on the spot, it is remarkable that the" events of Roman history, and of Roman life itself, appear not so distant as the Gothic ages which succeeded them. We stand in the Forum, or on the height of the Capitol, and seem to see the Roman epoch close at hand. We forget that a chasm extends between it and ourselves, in which lie all those dark, rude, unlettered centuries, around the birthtime of Christianity, as well as the age of chivalry and romance, the feudal system, and the infancy of a better civilization than that of Rome. Or, if we remember these mediaeval times, they look further off than the Augustan Age. The reason may be, that the old Roman literature survives, and creates for us an intimacy with the classic ages, which we have no means of forming with the subsequent ones.— Hawthorne.
As one by one, at dread Meclea*s strain,
Philosophy, that reached the heavens before,
Shrinks to her hidden cause, and is no more.
Physic of Metaphysic begs defence,
And Metaphysic calls for aid to Sense:
See Mystery to Mathematics fly!
In vain! they gaze, turn giddy, rave, and die.
Instead of referring the events of the external world to space and time, to sensible connection and causation, men attempted to reduce Euch occurrences under spiritual and supersensual relations and dependences; they referred them to superior intelligences, to theological conditions, to past and future events in the moral world, to states of mind and feelings, to the creatures of an imaginary mythology or demonology. And thus their physical Science became Magic, their Astronomy became Astrology, the study of the Composition of bodies became Alchemy, Mathematics became the contemplation of the Spiritual Relations of number and figure, and Philosophy became Theosophy. — William Whewell.
The Middle Ages were a period when everything was broken up, — when each people, each province, each city, and each family tended strongly to maintain its distinct individuality. — De Tocqueville.
The manners of the Middle Ages were, in the most singular sense, compulsory. Enterprising benevolence was produced by general fierceness, gallant courtesy by ferocious rudeness, and artificial gentleness resisted the torrent of natural barbarism. — Mackintosh.
This period, considered as to the state of society, has been esteemed dark through ignorance, and barbarous through poverty and want of refinement. And although this character is much less applicable to the two last centuries of the period than to those which preceded its commencement, yet we cannot expect to feel, in respect of ages at best imperfectly civilized and slowly progressive, that interest which attends a more perfect development of human capacities and more brilliant advances in improvement. The first moiety, indeed, of these ten ages is almost absolutely barren, and presents little but a catalogue of evils. The subversion of the Roman Empire, and devastation of its provinces by barbarous nations, either immediately preceded, or were coincident with the commencement of the middle period. We begin in darkness and calamity; and though the shadows grow fainter as we