Summary of Universal History

The period thus rapidly described, which begins with the animal globules preying on the plant globules in the primeval sea, and which ends with the conquest by the carnivorous shepherds of the vegetable eaters in the river plains, may be termed the Period of War. Throughout that period mind was developed by necessity. The lower animals merely strive to live, to procure females, and to rear their young. It is so ordered by Nature, that by so striving to live they develop their physical structure; they obtain faint glimmerings of reason; they think and deliberate, they sympathise and love; they become Man. In the same way the primeval men have no other object than to keep the clan alive. It is so ordered by Nature, that, in striving to preserve the existence of the clan, they not only acquire the arts of agriculture, domestication, and navigation; they not only discover fire, and its uses in cooking, in war, and in metallurgy; they not only detect the hidden properties of plants, and apply them to save their own lives from disease, and to destroy their enemies in battle; they not only learn to manipulate Nature, and to distribute water by machinery; but they also, by means of the long life-battle, are developed into moral beings: they live according to the Golden Rule, in order that they may exist, or, in other words, they do exist because they live according to the Golden Rule. They have within them innate affections, which are as truly weapons as the tiger's teeth and the serpent's fang; which belong, therefore, to the Period of War. Their first laws, both social and religious, are enacted only as war measures. The laws relating to marriage and property are intended to increase the fertility and power of the clan; the laws relating to religion are intended to preserve the clan from the fury of the gods, against whom, at an earlier period, they actually went to war. But out of this feeling of sympathy, which arose in necessity, arises a secondary sentiment, the love of esteem; and hence wars, which at first were waged merely in self-defence, or to win food- grounds and females necessary for the subsistence and perpetuation of the clan, are now waged for superfluities, power, and the love of glory; commerce, which was founded in necessity, is continued for the acquisition of ornaments and luxuries; science, which at first was a means of life, provides wealth, and is pursued for fame; music and design, which were originally instincts of the hand and voice, are developed into arts. It is therefore natural for man to endeavour to better himself in life, that he may obtain the admiration of his comrades. He desires to increase his means or to win renown in the professions and the arts. Thus man presses upon man, and the whole mass rises in knowledge, in power, and in wealth. But owing to the division of classes resulting from war, and also from the natural inequality of man, the greater part of the human population could not obey their instinctive aspirations; they were condemned to remain stationary and inert. By means of caste, slavery, the system of privileged classes, and monopolies, the people were forbidden to raise themselves in life; they were doomed to die as they were born. But that they might not be altogether without hope, they were taught by their rulers that they would be rewarded with honour and happiness in a future state. The Egyptian fellah received the good tidings that there was no caste after death; the Christian serf was consoled with the text, that the poor would inherit the kingdom of heaven. This long and gloomy period of the human race may be entitled Religion. History is confined to the upper classes. All the discoveries, and inventions, and exploits of ancient times are due to the efforts of an aristocracy; not only the Persians and Hindus, but also the Greeks and the Romans, were merely small societies of gentlemen reigning over a multitude of slaves. The virtues of the lower classes were loyalty, piety, obedience.

The third period is that of Liberty: it belongs only to Europe and to modern times. A middle class of intelligence and wealth arises between the aristocracy and the plebeians. They contend with the monopolies of caste and birth; they demand power for themselves; they espouse the cause of their poorer brethren; they will not admit that equality in heaven is a valid reason for inequality on earth; they deny that the aristocracy of priests know more of divine matters than other men; they interpret the sacred books for themselves, and translate them into the vulgar tongue; they separate religion from temporal government, and reduce it to a system of metaphysics and morality. It is in this period that we are at present. Loyalty to the king has been transformed into patriotism; and piety, or the worship of God, will give way, to the reverence of law and the love of mankind. Thus the mind will be elevated, the affections deepened and enlarged; morality, ceasing to be entangled with theology, will be applied exclusively to virtue.

It is difficult to find a title for the fourth period, as we have as yet no word which expresses at the same time the utmost development of mind and the utmost development of morals. I have chosen the word Intellect, because by the education of the intellect the moral sense is of necessity improved. In this last period the destiny of Man will be fulfilled. He was not sent upon the earth to prepare himself for existence in another world; he was sent upon earth that he might beautify it as a dwelling, and subdue it to his use; that he might exalt his intellectual and moral powers until he had attained perfection, and had raised himself to that ideal which he now expresses by the name of God, but which, however sublime it may appear to our weak and imperfect minds, is far below the splendour and majesty of that power by whom the universe was made.

 

 

We shall now leave the darkness of the primeval times, and enter the theatre of history. The Old World is a huge body, with its head buried in eternal snows; with the Atlantic on its left, the Pacific on its right, the Indian Ocean between its legs. The left limb is sound and whole; its foot is the Cape of Good Hope. The right limb has been broken and scattered by the sea; Australia and the Archipelago are detached; Asia has been amputated at the thigh. The lower extremities of this Old World are covered for the most part with thorny thickets and with fiery plains. The original natives were miserable creatures, living chiefly on insects and shells, berries and roots; casting the boomerang and the bone-pointed dart; abject, naked, brutish, and forlorn. We pass up the body in its ancient state; through the marsh of Central Africa, with its woolly-haired blacks upon the left, and through the jungles of India, with its straight-haired blacks upon the right; through the sandy wastes of the Sahara, and the broad Asiatic tablelands; through the forest of Central Europe, the Russian steppes, and the Siberian plains, until we arrive at the frozen shores of the open Polar Sea. The land is covered with fields of snow, on which white bears may be seen in flocks like sheep. Ice mountains tower in the air, and, as the summer approaches, glide into the ocean and sail towards the south, The sky is brightened by a rosy flame, which utters a crisp and crackling sound. All else is silent, nature is benumbed. The signs of human habitations are rare; sometimes a tribe of Esquimaux may be perceived, dwelling in snow huts, enveloped in furs, driving sledges with teams of dogs, tending their herds of reindeer on the moss-grounds, or dashing over the cold waters in their canoes to hunt the walrus and the seal.

This gloomy region, where the year is divided into one day and one night, lies entirely outside the stream of history. We descend through the land of the pine to the land of the oak and beech. Huge woods and dismal fens covered Europe in the olden time; by the banks of dark and sullen rivers the beavers built their villages; the bears and the wolves were the aristocracy of Europe; men paid them tribute in flesh and blood. A people, apparently of Tartar origin, had already streamed into this continent from Asia; but the true aborigines were not extinct; they inhabited huts built on piles in the lakes of Switzerland; they herded together in mountain caves. They were armed only with stone weapons; but they cultivated certain kinds of grain, and had tamed the reindeer, the ox, the boar, and the dog. In ancient history Europe has no place. Even the lands to the south of the Alps were inhabited by savages at a time when Asia was in a civilised condition.

It is therefore Asia that we must first survey; it is there that the history of books and monuments begins. The Tigris and Euphrates rise in a table-land adjoining the Black Sea, and flow into the Persian Gulf. On the right is a desert extending to the Nile; on the left, a chain of hills. A shepherd people descended from the plateau, occupied the land between the rivers, the plains between the Tigris and the hills, and the alluvial regions at the lower course of the Euphrates. They wandered over the Arabian desert with their flocks and herds, settled in Canaan and Yemen, crossed over into Africa, extended along its northern shores as far as the Atlantic, overspread the Sahara, and made border wars upon the Sudan. In the course of many centuries the various branches of this people diverged from one another. In Barbary and Sahara they were called Berbers; in the valley of the Nile, Egyptians; Arabs, in the desert and in Yemen; Canaanites, in Palestine; Assyrians, in Mesopotamia and the upper regions of the Tigris; Chaldeans or Babylonians, in the lower course of the Euphrates. The Canaanites, the Arabs of Yemen, and the Berbers of Algeria adopted agricultural habits and lived in towns; the Berbers of Sahara, the Bedouins of the Syro-Arabian desert and of the waste regions in Assyria, remained a pastoral and wandering people. But in Chaldea and in Egypt the colonists were placed under peculiar conditions. Famines impelled the shepherds to make war on other tribes; famines impelled the Chaldeans and Egyptians to contend with the Euphrates and the Nile, to domesticate the waters, to store them in reservoirs, and to distribute them, as required, upon the fields. It is not improbable that the Egyptians were men of Babylonia driven by war or by exile into the African deserts; that they were composed of two noble classes, the priests and the military men; that they took with them some knowledge of the arts and sciences, which they afterwards developed into the peculiar Egyptian type; that they found the valley inhabited by a negro race, fishing in papyrus canoes, living chiefly on the lotus root, and perhaps growing doura corn; that they reduced those negroes to slavery, divided them into castes, allowed them to retain in each district the form of animal worship peculiar to the respective tribes:, making such worship emblematical, and blending it with their own exalted creed; and finally, that they married the native women, which would thus account for the dash of the "tar-brush" plainly to be read by the practised eye in the portraits, though not in the conventional faces of the monuments. On the other hand it may he held that Egypt was colonised by a Berber tribe; that its civilisation was entirely indigenous; that the distinction of classes arose from natural selection, and was afterwards petrified by law, and that the negro traits in the Egyptian physiognomy were due to the importation of Ethiopian girls, who have always been favourites in the harems of the East. But whichever of these hypotheses may be true, the essential point is this, that civilisation commenced in the application of mechanics to the cultivation of the fields, and that this science could only have been invented under pressure of necessity.

Let us now pass beyond the Tigris and climb up the hills which bound it on the left. We find ourselves on the steppes of Central Asia, in some parts lying waste in salt and sandy plains, in others clothed with fields of waving grass. Over these broad regions roamed the Turks or Tartars, living on mares' milk, dwelling in houses upon wheels. Beyond the steppes towards the east is another chain of hills, and beyond them lies the Great Plain of China, watered by two majestic rivers, the Yang-tse Kiang and the Hoang Ho. The people of the steppes and the mountains poured down upon this country, subdued the savage aborigines, covered the land with rice fields, irrigated by canals, and established many kingdoms which were afterwards blended into one harmonious and civilised empire.

To the right hand of the Tartar steppes, as you travel towards China, is a lofty table-land, the region of the sources of the Oxus and Jaxartes. Thence descended a people who called themselves the Aryas, or "the noble"; they differed much in appearance from the slit-eyed, smooth-faced, and fleshy-limbed Mongols; and little in appearance, but widely in language, from the people of the table-land of the Tigris and Euphrates. They poured forth in successive streams over Persia, Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, and the whole of Europe from the Danube and the Rhine to the shores of the Atlantic. They also descended on the Punjab, or country of the Indus, where they established their first colony, and thence spread to the region of the Ganges, and over the Deccan. They intermarried much with the native women, but divided the men into servile castes, and kept them in subjection partly by means of an armed aristocracy, partly by means of religious terror.

These then are the elemental lands; China, India, Babylonia, and Egypt. In these countries civilisation was invented; history begins with them. The Egyptians manufactured linen goods, and beautiful glass wares, and drew gold, ivory, and slaves from the Sudan. Babylonia manufactured tapestry and carpets. These people were known to one another only by their products; the wandering Bedouins carried the trade between the Euphrates and the Nile. A caravan route was also opened between Babylon and India via Bokhara or Balkh and Samarkand. India possessed much wealth in precious stones, but the true resources of that country were its vegetable products and the skilful manufactures of the natives. India, to use their own expression, sells grass for gold. From one kind of plant they extracted a beautiful blue dye: from another they boiled a juice, which cooled into a crystal, delicate and luscious to the taste; from another they obtained a kind of wool, which they spun, wove, bleached, glazed, and dyed into fabrics transparent as the gossamer, bright as the plumage of the jungle birds. And India was also the half-way station between China, Ceylon, and the Spice Islands on the one hand: and of the countries of Western Asia on the other. It was enriched not only by its own industry and produce, but by the transit trade as well.

At an early epoch in history, the Chinese became a great navigating people; they discovered America, at least so they say; they freighted their junks with cargoes of the shining fibre, and with musk in porcelain jars; they coasted along the shores of the Pacific, established colonies in Burmah and Siam, developed the spice trade of the Indian Archipelago and the resources of Ceylon, sailed up the shores of Malabar, entered the Persian Gulf, and even coasted as far as Aden and the Red Sea. It was probably from them that the Banians of Gujrat and the Arabs of Yemen acquired the arts of shipbuilding and navigation. The Indian Ocean became a basin of commerce; it was whitened by cotton sails. The Phoenicians explored the desolate waters of the Mediterranean Sea; with the bright red cloth, and the blue bugles, and the speckled beads, they tempted the savages of Italy and Greece to trade; they discovered the silver mines of Spain; they sailed forth through the Straits of Gibraltar, they braved the storms of the Atlantic, opened the tin trade of Cornwall, established the amber diggings of the Baltic. Thus a long thread of commerce was stretched across the Old World from England and Germany to China and Japan. Yet, still the great countries in the central region dwelt in haughty isolation, knowing foreign lands only by their products until the wide conquests and the superb administration of the Persians made them members of the same community. China alone remained outside. Egypt, Babylonia, and India were united by royal roads with half-way stations in Palestine and Bokhara, and with sea-ports in Phoenicia, and on the western coast of Asia Minor That country is a table-land belted on all sides by mountains; but beneath the wall of hills on the western side is a fruitful strip of coast, the estuary land of four rivers which flow into the Mediterranean parallel to one another. That coast is Ionia; and opposite to Ionia lies Greece.

The table-land was occupied by an Aryan or Arya nation, from whom bands of emigrants went forth in two directions. The Dorians crossed the Hellespont, and, passing through Thrace, settled in the hill cantons of Northern Greece, and thence spread over the lower parts of the peninsula. The Ionians descended to the fruitful western coast, and thence migrated into Attica, which afterwards sent back colonies to its ancient birth-place. These two people spoke the same language, and were of the same descent; but their characters differed as widely as the cold and barren mountains from the soft and smiling plains. The Dorians were rude in their manners, and laconic in their speech, barbarous in their virtues, morose in their joys. The Ionians lived among holidays, they could do nothing without dance and song. The Dorians founded Sparta, a republic which was in reality a camp, consisting of soldiers fed by slaves. The girls were educated to be viragoes; the boys to bear torture, like the Red Indians, with a smile. The wives were breeding-machines, belonging to the state; a council of elders examined the new-born children, and selected only the finer specimens, in order to keep up the good old Spartan breed. They had no commerce and no arts; they were as filthy in their persons as they were narrow in their minds. But the Athenians were the true Greeks, as they exist at the present day; intellectual, vivacious, inquisitive, shrewd, artistic, patriotic, and dishonest; ready to die for their country, or to defraud it. The Greeks received the first rudiments of knowledge from Phoenicia; the alphabet was circulated throughout the country by means of the Olympian fairs; colonies were sent forth all round the Mediterranean; and those of Ionia and the Delta of the Nile obtained partial access to the arts and sciences of Babylon and Memphis.

The Persian wars developed the genius of the Greeks. The Persian conquests opened to them the University of Egypt. The immense area of the Greek world, extending from the Crimea to the straits of Gibraltar, for at one time the Greeks had cities in Morocco; the variety of ideas which they thus gathered, and which they interchanged at the great festival, where every kind of talent was honoured and rewarded the spirit of noble rivalry, which made city contend with city, and citizen with citizen, in order to obtain an Olympian reputation; the complete freedom from theology in art; the tastes and manners of the land; the adoration of beauty; the nudity of the gymnasium: all these sufficiently explain the unexampled progress of the nation, and the origin of that progress, as in all other cases, is to be found in physical geography. Greece was divided into natural cantons; each state was a fortress; while Egypt, Assyria, India, and China were wide and open plains, which cavalry could sweep, and which peasants with their sickles could not defend. But the rivalry of the Greeks among themselves, so useful to the development of mental life, prevented them from combining into one great nation; and Alexander, although he was a Greek by descent, for he had the right of contending at the Olympian games, conquered the East with an army of barbarians, his Greek troops being merely a contingent.

But the kingdoms of Asia and Egypt were Greek, and in Alexandria the foundations of science were laid. The astrolabes which had been invented by the Egyptians were improved by the Greeks and afterwards by the Arabs, were adapted to purposes of navigation by the Portuguese, and were developed to the sextant of the nineteenth century. The Egyptians had invented the blow-pipe, the crucible, and the alembic; the Alexandrines commenced or continued the pursuit of alchemy, which the Arabs also preserved, and which has since grown into the science of Lavoisier and Faraday. Hippocrates separated medicine from theology; his successors dissected and experimented at Alexandria, learning something no doubt from th Egyptian school; the Arabs followed in a servile manner the medicine of the Greeks, and the modern Europeans obtained from the Canon of Avicenna the first elements of a science which has made much progress, but which is yet in its infancy, and which will some day transform us into new beings. The mathematical studies of the Alexandrines were also serviceable to mankind, and the work of one of their professors is a text-book in this country; they discovered the Precession of the Equinoxes; and the work which they did in Conic Sections enabled Kepler to discover the true laws of the planetary motions. But Alexandria did not possess that liberty which is the true source of continued progress. With slaves below and with despots above, the mind was starved in its roots, and stifled in its bud, dried and ticketed in a museum. The land itself had begun to languish and decay, when a new power arose in the West.

The foot of Italy was lined with Greek towns, and these had spread culture through the peninsula, among a people of a kindred race. They dwelt in cities, with municipal governments, public buildings, and national schools. One Italian city, founded by desperadoes, adopted a career of war; but the brigands were also industrious farmers and wise politicians; they conciliated the cities whom they conquered. Rome became a supreme republic, ruling a number of minor republics, whose municipal prerogatives were left undisturbed, who paid no tribute save military service. The wild Gauls of Lombardy were subdued. The Greeks on the coast were the only foreigners who retained their freedom in the land. They called over Pyrrhus to protect them from the Romans; but the legion conquered the phalanx, the broadsword vanquished the Macedonian spear. The Asiatic Carthaginians were masters of the sea; half Sicily belonged to them; they were, therefore, neighbours of the Romans. They had already menaced the cities of the southern coast; the Romans were already jealous and distrustful; they had now a Monroe doctrine concerning the peninsula: an opportunity occurred, and they stepped out into the world. The first Punic war gave them Sicily, the second Punic war gave them Spain, the third Punic war gave them Africa.

Rome also extended her power towards the East. She did not invade, she did not conquer, she did not ask for presents and taxes, she merely offered her friendship and protection. She made war, it is true, but only on behalf of her allies. And so kingdom after kingdom, province after province, fell into her vast and patient arms. She became at first the arbiter and afterwards the mistress of the world. Her legions halted only on the banks of the Euphrates, and on the shores of the Sahara, where a wild waste of sand and a sea-horizon appeared to proclaim that life was at an end. She entered the unknown world beyond the Alps, established a chain of forts along the banks of the Danube and the Rhine from the Black Sea to the Baltic, covered France with noble cities, and made York a Roman town. The Latin language was planted in all the countries which this people conquered, except in those where Alexander had preceded them. The empire was therefore divided by language into the Greek and Latin world. Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt belonged to the Greek world: Italy, Africa, Spain, and Gaul belonged to the Latin world. But the Roman law was everywhere in force, though not to the extinction of the native laws. In Egypt, for instance, the Romans revived some of the wise enactments of the Pharaohs which had been abrogated by the Ptolemies. The old courts of injustice were swept away. Tribunals were established which resembled those of the English in India. Men of all races, and of all religions, came before a judge of a foreign race, who sat high above their schisms and dissensions, who looked down upon them all with impartial contempt, and who reverenced the law which was entrusted to his care. But the provinces were forced to support not only a court but a city. As London is the market of England, to which the best of all things find their way, so Rome was the market of the Mediterranean world; but there was this difference between the two, that in Rome the articles were not paid for. Money, indeed, might be given, but it was money which had not been earned, and which therefore would come to its end at last.

Rome lived upon its principal till ruin stared it in the face. Industry is the only true source of wealth, and there was no industry in Rome. By day the Ostia road was crowded with carts and muleteers, carrying to the great city the silks and spices of the East, the marble of Asia Minor, the timber of the Atlas, the grain of Africa and Egypt; and the carts brought nothing out but loads of dung. That was their return cargo. London turns dirt into gold. Rome turned gold into dirt. And how, it may be asked, was the money spent? The answer is not difficult to give. Rome kept open house. It gave a dinner party every day; the emperor and his favourites dined upon nightingales and flamingo tongues, on oysters from Britain, and on fishes from the Black Sea; the guards received their rations; and bacon, wine, oil, and loaves were served out gratis to the people. Sometimes entertainments were given in which a collection of animals as costly as that in Regent's Park was killed for the amusement of the people. Constantine transferred the capital to Constantinople; and now two dinners were given every day. Egypt found the bread for one, and Africa found it for the other. The governors became satraps, the peasantry became serfs, the merchants and land owners were robbed and ruined, the empire stopped payment, the legions of the frontier marched on the metropolis, the dikes were deserted, and then came the deluge.

The empire had been already divided. There was an empire of the West, or the Latin world; there was an empire of the East, or the Greek world. The first was overrun by the Germans, the second by the Arabs. But Constantinople remained unconquered throughout the Dark Ages; and Rome, though taken and sacked, was never occupied by the barbarians. In these two great cities the languages and laws of the classical times were preserved; and from Rome religion was diffused throughout Europe; to Rome a spiritual empire was restored.

The condition of the Roman world at one time bore a curious resemblance to that of China. In each of these great empires, separated by a continent, the principal feature was that of peace. Vast populations dwelt harmoniously together, and were governed by admirable laws. The frontiers of each were threatened by barbarians. The Chinese built a wall along the outskirts of the steppes; the Romans built a wall along the Danube and the Rhine. In China, a man dressed in yellow received divine honours; in Rome, a man dressed in purple received divine honours; in each country the religion was the religion of the state, and the emperor was the representative of God. In each country, also, a religious revolution occurred. A young Indian prince, named Sakya Muni, afflicted by the miseries of human life which he beheld, cast aside his wealth and his royal destiny, became a recluse, and devoted his life to the study of religion. After long years of reading and reflection he took the name of Buddha, or "the Awakened." He declared that the soul after death migrates into another form, according to its deeds and according to its thoughts. This was the philosophy of the Brahmins. But he also proclaimed that all existence is passion, misery, and pain, and that by subduing the evil emotions of the heart the soul will hereafter finally obtain the calm of non-existence, the peaceful Nirvana, the unalloyed, the unclouded Not to Be.

A religion so cheerless, a philosophy so sorrowful, could never have succeeded with the masses of mankind if presented only as a system of metaphysics. Buddhism owed its success to its catholic spirit and its beautiful morality. The men who laboured in the fields had always been taught that the Brahmins were the aristocracy of heaven, and would be as high above them in a future state as they were upon the earth. The holy books which God had revealed were not for them, the poor dark-skinned labourers, to read; burning oil poured into their ears was the punishment by law for so impious an act. And now came a man who told them that those books had not been revealed at all, and that God was no respecter of persons; that the happiness of men in a future state depended, not upon their birth, but upon their actions and their thoughts. Buddhism triumphed for a time in Hindustan, but its success was greatest among the stranger natives in the north-west provinces, the Indo-Scythians and the Greeks. Then came a period of patriotic feeling; the Brahmins preached a war of independence; the new religion was associated with the foreigners, and both were driven out together. But Buddhism became the religion of Ceylon, Burmah, and Siam, and finally entered the Chinese Empire. It suffered and survived bloody persecutions. It became a licensed religion, and spread into the steppes of Tartary among those barbarians by whom China was destined to be conquered. The religion of the Buddhists was transformed; its founder was worshipped as a god; there was a doctrine of the incarnation; they had their own holy books, which they declared to have been revealed; they established convents and nunneries, splendid temples, adorned with images, and served by priests with shaven heads, who repeated prayers upon rosaries, and who taught that happiness in a future state could best be obtained by long prayers and by liberal presents to the Church.

At the period of the importation of Buddhism into China, a similar event occurred in the Roman world. It was the pagan theory that each country was governed by its own gods. The proper religion for each man, said an oracle of Delphi, is the religion of his fatherland. Yet these gods were cosmopolitan; they punished or rewarded foreigners. Imilkon, having offended the Greek gods in the Sicilian wars, made atonement to them when he returned to Carthage: he offered sacrifices in the Phoenician temples, but according to the milder ceremonies of the Greeks. The Philistines sent back the ark with a propitiatory present to Jehovah. Alexander, in Asia Minor, offered sacrifices to the gods of the enemy. The Romans, when they besieged a town, called upon its tutelary god by name, and offered him bribes to give up the town. Rome waged war against the world, but not against the gods; she did not dethrone them in their own countries; she offered them the freedom of the city. Men of all races came to live in Rome; they were allowed to worship their own gods; the religions of the empire were regularly licensed; Egyptian temples and Syrian chapels sprang up in all directions. But though the Romans considered it right that Egyptians should worship Isis, and that Alexandrines should worship Serapis, they justly considered it a kind of treason for Romans to desert their tutelary gods. For this reason, foreign religions were sometimes proscribed. It was also required from the subjects of the empire that they should offer homage to the gods of Rome, and to the genius or spirit of the emperor; not to the man, but to the soul that dwelled within. The Jews alone were exempt from these regulations. It was believed that they were a peculiar people, or rather that they had a peculiar god. While the other potentates of the celestial world lived in harmony together, Jehovah was a sullen and solitary being, who separated his people from the rest of mankind, forbade them to eat or drink with those who were not of their own race, and threatened to punish them if they worshipped any gods but him. On this account the Roman government, partly to preserve the lives of their subjects, and partly out of fear for themselves, believing that Jehovah like the other gods, had always an epidemic at his command, treated the Jews with exceptional indulgence.

These people were scattered over all the world; they had their Ghetto or Petticoat Lane in every great city of the empire; their religion, so superior to that of the pagans, had attracted much attention from the Gentiles. Ovid, in his "Art of Love," counsels the dandy who seeks a mistress to frequent the theatre, or Temple of Isis, or the synagogue on the Sabbath day. But the Jews in Rome, like the Jews in London, did not attempt to make proselytes, and received them with reluctance and distrust. Their sublime faith, divested of its Asiatic customs, was offered to the Romans some Jewish heretics called Christians or Nazarenes.

A young man named Joshua or Jesus, a carpenter by trade, believed that the world belonged to the devil, and that God would shortly take it from him, and that he the Christ or Anointed would be appointed by God to judge the souls of men, and to reign over them on earth. In politics he was a leveller and communist, in morals he was a monk; he believed that only the poor and the despised would inherit the kingdom of God. All men who had riches or reputations would follow their dethroned master into everlasting pain. He attacked the church-going, sabbatarian ever-praying Pharisees; he declared that piety was worthless if it were praised on earth. It was his belief that earthly happiness was a gift from Satan, and should therefore be refused. If a man was poor in this world, that was good; he would be rich in the world to come. If he were miserable and despised, he had reason to rejoice; he was out of favour with the ruler of this world, namely Satan, and therefore he would be favoured by the new dynasty. On the other hand, if a man were happy, rich, esteemed, and applauded, he was for ever lost. He might have acquired his riches by industry; he might have acquired his reputation by benevolence, honesty, and devotion; but that did not matter; he had received his reward. So Christ taught that men should sell all that they had and give to the poor; that they should renounce all family ties; that they should let to-morrow take care of itself; that they should not trouble about clothes: did, not God adorn the flowers of the fields? He would take care of them also if they would fold their hands together and have faith, and abstain from the impiety of providing for the future. The principles of Jesus were not conducive to the welfare of society; he was put to death by the authorities; his disciples established a commune; Greek Jews were converted by them, and carried the new doctrines over all the world. The Christians in Rome were at first a class of men resembling the Quakers. They called one another brother and sister; they adopted a peculiar garb, and peculiar forms of speech; the Church was at first composed of women, slaves, and illiterate artisans but it soon became the religion of the people in the towns. All were converted excepting the rustics (pagani) and the intellectual free- thinkers, who formed the aristocracy. Christianity was at first a republican religion; it proclaimed the equality of souls; the bishops were the representatives of God, and the bishops were chosen by the people. But when the emperor adopted Christianity and made it a religion of the state, it became a part of imperial government, and the parable of Dives was forgotten. The religion of the Christians was transformed; its founder was worshipped as a god; there was a doctrine of the incarnation; they had their own holy books, which they declared to have been revealed; they established convents, and nunneries, and splendid temples, adorned with images, and served by priests with shaven heads, who repeated prayers upon rosaries, and who taught that happiness in a future state could best be obtained by long prayers and by liberal presents to the Church. In the Eastern or Greek world, Christianity in no way assisted civilisation, but in the Latin world it softened the fury of the conquerors, it aided the amalgamation of the races. The Christian priests were reverenced by the barbarians, and these priests belonged to the conquered people.

The Church, it is true, was divided by a schism; Ulphilas, the apostle of The Goths, was an Arian; the dispute which had arisen in a lecture- room at Alexandria, between a bishop and a presbyter, was continued on a hundred battle-fields. But the Franks were Catholics, and the Franks became supreme. The Arians were worsted in the conflict of swords as they had formerly been worsted in the conflict of words. The Empire of the West was restored by Charlemagne, who spread Christianity among the Saxons by the sword, and confirmed the spiritual supremacy of Rome. He died, and his dominions were partitioned among kings who were royal only in the name. Europe was divided into castle-states. Savage isolation, irresponsible power: such was the order of the age. Yet still there was a sovereign whom all acknowledged, and whom all to a certain extent obeyed. That sovereign was the Pope of Rome. The men who wore his livery might travel throughout Europe in safety, welcome alike at cottage and castle, paying for their board and lodging with their prayers. If there is a Great Being who listens with pleasure to the prayers of men, it must have been in the Dark Ages that he looked down upon the earth with most satisfaction. That period may be called The Age of the Rosary. From the Shetland Islands to the shores of China, prayers were being strung, and voices were being sonorously raised. The Christian repeated his Paternosters and his credos on beads of holy clay from Palestine; the Persian at Teheran, the negro at Timbuctoo; the Afghan at Kabul, repeated the ninety-nine names of God on beads made of camel bones from Mecca. The Indian prince by the waters of the Ganges muttered his devotions on a rosary of precious stones. The pious Buddhist in Ceylon, and in Ava, and in Pekin, had the beads ever between his fingers, and a prayer ever between his lips.

By means of these great and cosmopolitan religions, all of which possessed their sacred books, all of which enjoined a pure morality, all of which united vast masses of men of different and even hostile nationalities beneath the same religious laws, beneath the same sceptre of an unseen king; all of which prescribed pilgrimage and travel as a pious work, the circulation of life in the human body was promoted; men congregated together at Rome, Jerusalem, Mecca, and Benares. Their minds and morals were expanded. Religious enthusiasm united the scattered princes of Europe into one great army, and poured it on the East. The dukes and counts and barons were ruined; the castle system was extinguished: and the castle serfs of necessity were free. The kings allied themselves with the free and fortified cities, who lent troops to the crown, but who officered those troops themselves; who paid taxes to the crown, but who voted those taxes in constitutional assemblies, and had the power to withhold them if they pleased. Those towns now became not only abodes of industry and commerce, but of learning and the arts. In Italy the ancient culture had been revived. In Italy the towns of the Western Empire had never quite lost their municipal prerogatives. New towns had also arisen, founded in despair and nurtured by calamity. These towns had opened a trade with Constantinople, a great commercial city in which the Arabs had a quarter and a mosque. The Italians were thus led forth into a trade with the Mohammedans, which was interrupted for a time by the Crusades only to be afterwards resumed with redoubled vigour and success. For then new markets were opened for the spices of the East. Pepper became a requisite of European life; and pepper could be obtained from the Italians alone. The Indian trade was not monopolised by a single man, as it was in the lands of the East. It was distributed among an immense population. Wealth produced elegance, leisure, and refinement. There came into existence a large and active-minded class, craving for excitement, and desirous of new things. They hungered and thirsted after knowledge; they were not content with the sterile science of the priests. And when it was discovered that the world of the ancients lay buried in their soil, they were seized with a mania resembling that of treasure-seekers in the East, or of the gold-hunters in the New World.

The elements of the Renaissance were preserved partly in Rome and the cities of the West, partly in Constantinople, and partly in the East. The Arabs, when they conquered Alexandria, had adopted the physical science of the Greeks, and had added to it the algebra and arithmetic of India. Plato and Aristotle, Galen and Hippocrates, Ptolemy and Euclid, had been translated by the Eastern Christians into Syriac, and thence into the Arabic. But the Arabs had not translated a single Greek historian or poet. These were to he found at Constantinople, where the Greek of the ancients was still spoken in its purity at the court and in the convents though not by the people of the streets. The Greeks also had preserved the arts of their forefathers; though destitute of genius, they at least retained the art of laying on colours, of modelling in clay, and of sculpturing in stone. The great towns of Italy, desirous to emulate the beauties of St. Sophia, employed Greeks to build them cathedrals, and to paint frescoes on their convent walls, and to make them statues for their streets. These Greek strangers established academies of art; and soon the masters were surpassed by their pupils. The Italians disdained to reproduce the figures of the Greek school, with their meagre hands, and sharp pointed feet, and staring eyes. Free institutions made their influence felt even in the arts; the empire of authority was shaken off. The fine arts spread beyond the Alps; they were first adopted and nurtured by the Church, afterwards by the Town. Oil-painting was invented in the North. Masterpieces of the ancients were discovered in the South. Then the artists ceased to paint Madonnas, and children, and saints, and crucifixions. They were touched with the breath of antiquity; they widened their field; their hands were inspired by poetical ideas. It is a significant fact that a Pope should himself conceive the project of pulling down the ancient Basilica of St. Peter, every stone of which was consecrated by a memory, and of erecting in its stead a church on the model of a pagan temple.

The Pope was also urged to set on foot a crusade; not to rescue the sepulchre from the hands of the infidels, but in the hope that the lost writings of the Greeks and Romans might be discovered in the East. For now had arrived the book-hunting age. In the depth of the Dark Ages there had always been ecclesiastics who drew the fire of their genius from the immortal works of the pagan writers. There were also monks who had a passion for translating the writings of the Greeks into Latin; who went to Constantinople and returned with chests full of books, and who, if Greek manuscripts could not otherwise be procured, travelled into Arab Spain, settled at Cordova, and translated the Greek from the Arabic version, together with the works of Averroes and Avicenna. The Greeks, frequently visiting Italy, were invited to give lectures on their literature, and lessons in their language. The revival of Greek was commenced by Boccacio, who copied out Homer with his own hand; and a Greek academy was established at Florence. Petrarch revived the literature of Rome he devoted his life to Cicero and Virgil; he wrote the epitaph of Laura on the margin of the Aeneid; he died with his head pillowed on a book. The Roman law was also revived; as Greeks lectured on literature in Italy, so Italians lectured on law beyond the Alps.

And now began the search for the lost. Pilgrims of the antique wandered through Europe, ransacking convents for the treasures of the past. At this time whatever taste for learning had once existed among the monks appears to have died away. The pilgrims were directed to look in lofts, where rats burrowed under heaps of parchment; or to sift heaps of rubbish lying in the cellar. In such receptacles were found many of those works which are yet read by thousands with delight, and which are endeared to us all by the associations of our boyhood. It was thus that Quintilian was discovered, and, to use the language of the time, was delivered from his long imprisonment in the dungeons of the barbarians. Lucretius was disinterred in Germany; a fragment of Petronius in Britain. Cosmo de' Medici imported books in all languages from all parts of the world. A copyist became Pope, founded the Library of the Vatican, and ordered the translation of the Greek historians and philosophers into Latin. A great reading public now existed; the invention of printing, which a hundred years before would have been useless, spread like fire over Europe, and reduced, by four-fifths, the price of books. The writings of the classical geographers inspired Prince Henry and Columbus. The New World was discovered; the sea-route to India was found. Cairo and Baghdad, the great broker cities between India and Europe, were ruined. As the Indian Ocean, at first the centre of the world, had yielded to the Mediterranean, so now the basin of the Mediterranean was deserted, and the Atlantic became supreme. Italy decayed; Spain and Portugal succeeded to the throne. But those countries were ruined by religious bigotry and commercial monopolies. The trade of Portugal did not belong to the country, but to the court. The trade of Spain was also a monopoly shared between the Crown and certain cities of Castile. The Dutch, the English, and the French obtained free access to the tropical world, and bought the spices of the East with the silver of Peru. And then the great movement for Liberty commenced. All people of the Teutonic race; the Germans, the Swiss, the Dutch, the English and the Scotch, the Danes and the Swedes, cast off the yoke of the Italian supremacy, and some of the superstitions of the Italian creed.

But now a new kind of servitude arose. The kings reduced the burghers of Europe to subjection. The constitutional monarchies of the Middle Ages disappeared. In England alone, owing to its insular position, a standing army was not required for the protection of the land. In England, therefore, the encroachments of the Crown were resisted with success. Two revolutions established the sovereignty of an elected parliament, and saved England from the fate of France. For in that land tyranny had struck its roots far down into the soil, and could not be torn up without the whole land being rent in twain. In Spain, despotism might rule in safety over ignorance; but the French had eaten of the Tree of Knowledge, and they demanded to eat of the Tree of Life. A bread riot became a rebellion; the rebellion became a revolution. Maddened by resistance, frenzied with fear, they made their revolution a massacre. Yet, in spite of mummeries and murders, and irreligious persecutions; in spite of follies perpetrated in the name of Reason, and cruelties committed in the name of Humanity, that revolution regenerated France, and planted principles which spread over the continent of Europe, and which are now bearing fruit in Italy and Spain. With the nineteenth century, a new era of history begins.

 

 

Such then is the plain unvarnished story of the human race. We have traced the stream of history to its source in the dark forest; we have followed it downwards through the steppes of the shepherds and the valleys of the great priest peoples; we have swept swiftly along, past pyramids and pagodas, and the brick-piles of Babylon; past the temples of Ionia, and the amphitheatres of Rome; past castles and cathedrals lying opposite to mosques with graceful minaret and swelling dome; and so, onwards and onwards, till towns rise on both sides of the stream; towns sternly walled with sentinels before the gates; so, onwards and onwards, till the stream widens and is covered with ships large as palaces, and towering with sail; till the banks are lined with gardens and villas; and huge cities, no longer walled, hum with industry, and becloud the air; and deserts or barren hills are no longer to be seen; and the banks recede and open out like arms, and the earth-shores dissolve, and we faintly discern the glassy glimmering of the boundless sea. We shall descend to the mouth of the river, we shall explore the unknown waters which lie beyond the present, we shall survey the course which man has yet to run. But before we attempt to navigate the future, let us return for a moment to the past; let us endeavour to ascertain the laws which direct the movements of the stream, and let us visit the ruins which are scattered on its banks.

The progress of the human race is caused by the mental efforts which are made at first from necessity to preserve life, and secondly from the desire to obtain distinction. In a healthy nation, each class presses into the class which lies above it; the blood flows upwards, and so the whole mass, by the united movements of its single atoms, rises in the scale. The progress of a nation is the sum-total of the progress of the individuals composing it. If certain parts of the body politic are stifled in their growth by means of artificial laws, it is evident that the growth of the whole will be arrested; for the growth of each part is dependent on the growth of all. It is usual to speak of Greece as a free country; and so it was in comparison with Asia. But more than half its inhabitants were slaves; labour was degraded; whatever could be done by thought alone, and by delicate movements of the hands, was carried to perfection; but in physical science the Greeks did little, because little could be done without instruments, and instruments can seldom be invented except by free and intelligent artisans. So the upper part of the Greek body grew; the lower part remained in a base and brutal state, discharging the offices of life, but without beauty and without strength. The face was that of Hyperion; the legs were shrivelled and hideous as those of a satyr. In Asia human laws have been still more fatal to the human progress. In China there is no slavery, and there is no caste; the poorest man may be exalted to the highest station; not birth but ability is the criterion of distinction; appointments are open to the nation, and are awarded by means of competitive examinations. But the Chinese are schoolboys who never grow up; generals and statesmen who incur the displeasure of the Crown are horsed and flagellated in the Eton style, a bamboo being used instead of a birch. The patriarchal system of the steppes has been transferred to the imperial plain. Just as a Chinese town is merely a Tartar camp encircled by earthen walls; just as a Chinese house is merely a Tartar tent, supported by wooden posts and cased with brick, so it is with the government, domestic and official, of that country. Every one is the slave of his father, as it was in the old tent-life; every father is the slave of an official who stands in the place of the old clan chief; and all are slaves of the emperor, who is the viceroy of God. In China, therefore, senility is supreme; nothing is respectable unless it has existed at least a thousand years; foreigners are barbarians, and property is insecure.

In this one phrase the whole history of Asia is contained. In the despotic lands of the East, the peasant who grows more corn than he requires is at once an object of attention to the police; he is reported to the governor, and a charge is laid against him, in order that his grain may be seized. He not only loses the fruit of his toil, but he also receives the bastinado. In the same manner, if a merchant, by means of his enterprise, industry, and talents, amasses a large fortune; he also is arrested and is put to death, that his estate may escheat to the Crown. As the Chinese say, "The elephant is killed for his ivory." This, then, is the secret of Asiatic apathy, and not the heat of the climate, or the inherent qualities of race. Civilised Asia has been always enthralled, because standing armies have always been required to resist the attacks of those warlike barbarians who cover the deserts of Arabia and Tartary, the highlands of Ethiopia and Kabul. Asia, therefore, soon takes a secondary place, and Europe becomes the centre of the human growth. Yet it should not be forgotten that Asia was civilised when Europe was a forest and a swamp. Asia taught Europe its A B C; Asia taught Europe to cipher and to draw; Asia taught Europe the language of the skies, how to calculate eclipses, how to follow the courses of the stars, how to measure time by means of an instrument which recorded with its shadow the station of the sun; how to solve mathematical problems; how to philosophise with abstract ideas. Let us not forget the school in which we learnt to spell, and those venerable halls in which we acquired the rudiments of science and of art.

The savage worships the shades of his ancestors chiefly from selfish fear; the Asiatic follows, from blind prejudice, the wisdom of the ancients, and rejects with contempt all knowledge which was unknown to them. Yet within these superstitions a beautiful sentiment lies concealed. We ought, indeed, to reverence the men of the past, who, by their labours and their inventions, have made us what we are. This great and glorious city in which we dwell, this mighty London, the metropolis of the earth; these streets flowing with eager-minded life, and gleaming with prodigious wealth; these forests of masts, these dark buildings, turning refuse into gold, and giving bread to many thousand mouths; these harnessed elements which whirl us along beneath the ground, and which soon will convey us through the air; these spacious halls, adorned with all that can exalt the imagination or fascinate the sense; these temples of melody; these galleries, exhibiting excavated worlds; these walls covered with books in which dwell the souls of the immortal dead, which, when they are opened, transport us by a magic spell to lands which are vanished and passed away, or to spheres created by the poet's art; which make us walk with Plato beneath the plane trees, or descend with Dante into the dolorous abyss-- to whom do we owe all these? First, to the poor savages, forgotten and despised, who, by rubbing sticks together, discovered fire, who first tamed the timid fawn, and first made the experiment of putting seeds into the ground. And, secondly, we owe them to those enterprising warriors who established nationality, and to those priests who devoted their life-time to the culture of their minds.

There is a land where the air is always tranquil, where Nature wears always the same bright yet lifeless smile; and there, as in a vast museum, are preserved the colossal achievements of the past. Let us enter the sad and silent river; let us wander on its dusky shores. Buried cities are beneath our feet; the ground on which we tread is the pavement of a tomb. See the Pyramids towering to the sky; with men, like insects, crawling round their base; and the Sphinx, couched in vast repose, with a ruined temple between its paws. Since those great monuments were raised, the very heavens have been changed. When the architects of Egypt began their work, there was another polar star in the northern sky, and the Southern Cross shone upon the Baltic shores. How glorious are the memories of those ancient men, whose names are forgotten, for they lived and laboured in the distant and unwritten past. Too great to be known, they sit on the height of centuries and look down on fame. The boat expands its white and pointed wings; the sailors chaunt a plaintive song; the waters bubble around us as we glide past the tombs and temples of the by-gone days. The men are dead, and the gods are dead. Nought but their memories remain. Where now is Osiris, who came down upon earth out of love for men, who was killed by the malice of the Evil One, who rose again from the grave, and became the Judge of the dead? Where now is Isis the mother, with the child Horus on her lap? They are dead; they are gone to the land of the shades. To-morrow, Jehovah, you and your son shall be with them!

Men die, and the ideas which they call gods die too; yet death is not destruction, but only a kind of change. Those strange ethereal secretions of the brain, those wondrously distilled thoughts of ours--do they ever really die? They are embodied into words; and from these words, spoken or written, new thoughts are born within the brains of those who listen or who read. There was a town named Heliopolis; it had a college garden, and a willow hanging over the Fountain of the Sun; and there the professors lectured and discoursed on the Triune God, and the creation of the world, and, the Serpent Evil, and the Tree of Life; and on chaos and darkness, and the shining stars; and there the stone quadrant was pointed to the heavens; and there the laboratory furnace glowed. And in that college two foreign students were received, and went forth learned in its lore. The first created a nation in the Egyptian style; the second created a system of ideas; and, strange to say, on Egyptian soil the two were reunited: the philosophy of Moses was joined in Alexandria to the philosophy of Plato, not only by the Jews, but also by the Christians; not only in Philo Judaeus, but also in the Gospel of St. John.

Over the bright blue waters, under the soft and tender sky, with the purple sails outspread and roses twining round the mast, with lute and flute resounding from the prow, and red wine poured upon the sea, and thanksgiving to the gods, we enter the Piraeus, and salute with our flag the temple on the hill. Vessels sweep past us, outward bound, laden with statues and paintings, for such are the manufactures of Athens, where the milestones are masterpieces, and the streetwalkers poets and philosophers. Imagine the transports of the young provincial who went to Athens to commence a career of ambition, to make himself a name! What raptures he must have felt as he passed through that City of the Violet Crown with Homer in his bosom, and hopes of another United Greece within his heart! What a banquet of delights, what varied treasures of the mind were spread before him there! He listened first to a speech of Pericles on political affairs, and then to a lecture by Anaxagoras. He was taken to the studio of Phidias and of Polygnotus: he went to a theatre built of Persian masts to see a new tragedy by Sophocles or Euripides, and finished the evening at Aspasia's establishment, with odes of Sappho, and ballads of Anacreon, and sweet-eyed musicians, and intellectual heterae.

So great are the achievements of the Greeks, so deep is the debt which we owe to them, that criticism appears ungrateful or obtuse. It is scarcely possible to indicate the vices and defects of this people without seeming guilty of insensibility or affectation. It is curious to observe how grave and sober minds accustomed to gather evidence with care, and to utter decisions with impartiality, cease to be judicial when Greece is brought before them. She unveils her beauty, and they can only admire: they are unable to condemn. Those who devote themselves to the study of the Greeks become nationalised in their literature, and patriots of their domain, It is indeed impossible to read their works without being impressed by their purity, their calmness, their exquisite symmetry and finish resembling that which is bestowed upon a painting or a statue. But it is not only in the Greek writings that the Greek spirit is contained: it has entered the modern European mind it permeates the world of thought; it inspires the ideas of those who have never read the Greek authors, and who perhaps regard them with disdain. We do not see the foundations of our minds: they are buried in the past. The great books and the great discoveries of modern times are based upon the works of Homer, Plato, Aristotle, and their disciples. All that we owe to Rome we owe to Greece as well, for Italy was a child of Greece. The cities on the southern coast bestowed on the rude natives the elements of culture, and when Rome became famous it was colonised by Grecian philosophers and artists.

To Rome we are indebted for those laws from which our jurisprudence is descended, and to Rome we are indebted for something else besides. We shall not now pause on the Rome, of the Republic, when every citizen was a soldier, and worked in the fields with his own hands; when every temple was the monument of a victory, and every statue the memorial of a hero; when door-posts were adorned with the trophies of war, and halls with the waxen images of ancestors; when the Romans were simple, religious, and severe, and the vices of luxury were yet unknown, and banquets were plain and sociable repasts, where the guests in turn sang old ballads while the piper played. Nor shall we pause on the Rome of Augustus, when East and West were united in peace and with equal rights before the law; when the tyranny of petty princedoms, and the chicanery of Grecian courts of law, and the blood-feuds of families had been destroyed; and the empire was calm and not yet becalmed, and rested a moment between tumult and decay. We shall pass on to a Rome more great and more sublime; a Rome which ruled Europe, but not by arms; a Rome which had no mercenary legions, no Praetorian Guards, and which yet received the tribute of kings, and whose legates exercised the power of proconsuls. In this Rome a man clad in the purple of the Caesars and crowned with the tiara of the Pontifex sent forth his soldiers armed with the crucifix, and they brought nations captive to his feet. Rome became a city of God: she put on a spiritual crown. She cried to the kings, Give! and gold was poured into her exchequers; she condemned a man who had defied her, and he had no longer a place among mankind; she proclaimed a Truce of God, and the swords of robber knights were sheathed; she preached a crusade, and Europe was hurled into Asia. She lowered the pride of the haughty, and she exalted the heart of the poor; she softened the rage of the mighty, she consoled the despair of the oppressed. She fed the hungry, and she clothed the naked; she took children to her arms and signed them with the Cross; she administered the sacraments to dying lips, and laid the cold body in the peaceful grave. Her first word was to welcome, and her last word to forgive.

In the Dark Ages the European States were almost entirely severed from one another; it was the Roman Church alone which gave them one sentiment in common, and which united them within her fold. In those days of violence and confusion, in those days of desolation and despair, when a stranger was a thing which, like a leper or a madman, any one might kill, when every gentleman was a highway robber, when the only kind of lawsuit was a duel, hundreds of men dressed in gowns of coarse dark stuff, with cords round their waists and bare feet, travelled with impunity from castle to castle, preaching a doctrine of peace and good will, holding up an emblem of humility and sorrow, receiving confessions, pronouncing penance or absolutions, soothing the agonies of a wounded conscience, awakening terror in the hardened mind. Parish churches were built: the baron and his vassals chanted together the Kyrie Eleison, and bowed their heads together when the bell sounded and the Host was raised. Here and there in the sombre forest a band of those holy men encamped, and cut down the trees and erected a building which was not only a house of prayer, but also a kind of model farm. The monks worked in the fields, and had their carpenters' and their blacksmiths' shops. They copied out books in a fair hand: they painted Madonnas for their chapel: they composed music for their choir: they illuminated missals: they studied Arabic and Greek: they read Cicero and Virgil: they preserved the Roman Law.

Bright, indeed, yet scanty are these gleams. In the long night of the Dark Ages we look upon the earth, and only the convent and the castle appear to be alive. In the convent the sound of honourable labour mingles with the sound of prayer and praise. In the castle sits the baron with his children on his lap, and his wife, leaning on his shoulder: the troubadour sings, and the page and demoiselle exchange a glance of love. The castle is the home of music and chivalry and family affection. The convent is the home of religion and of art. But the people cower in their wooden huts, half starved, half frozen, and wolves sniff at them through the chinks in the walls. The convent prays, and the castle sings: the cottage hungers, and groans, and dies. Such is the dark night: here and there a star in the heaven: here and there a torch upon the earth: all else is cloud and bitter wind. But now, behold the light glowing in the East: it brightens, it broadens, the day is at hand! The sun is rising, and will set no more: the castle and the convent disappear: the world is illumined: freedom is restored. Italy is a garden, and its blue sea shines with sails. New worlds are discovered, new arts are invented: the merchants enrich Europe, and their sons set her free. In a hall at Westminster, in a redoubt at Bunker Hill, in a tennis court at Versailles, great victories are won, and liberty at last descends even to the poor French peasant growing grey in his furrow, even to the negro picking cotton in the fields. Yet after all, how little has been done! The sun shines as yet only on a corner of the earth: Asia and Africa are buried in the night. And even here in this island, where liberty was born, where wealth is sustained by enterprise and industry, and war comes seldom, and charity abounds, there are yet dark places where the sunlight never enters, and where hope has never been: where day follows day in never-changing toil, and where life leads only to the prison, or the work house, or the grave. Yet a day will come when the whole earth will be as civilised as Europe: a day will come when these dark spots will pass away.

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