Imágenes de páginas

and compressed. The traditions of the heathen world had not been violently broken up, but impoverished and exhausted. Enough remained to shoot up again. But what remained, watched over by the jealous eye of the church, lay sleeping in monasteries and universities, like a seed laid in store during winter; which, before it sprouts, waits for the genial influence of a better season.

A thing wholly forsaken in those times was the study of Greek. It is known, that, in the schools, when some words of that unknown language occurred in a Latin author, they used to say, Græcum est ; non legitur : “It is Greek, and must not be read.” Even at the end of the fourteenth century, the most active promoter of the revival of letters, the admirable Petrarch, pressed on his lips the text of Homer's poems, which he at last possessed, but was not able to understand. Now, do not think that there was nothing more, in this letting alone of Greek, than the ignorance of a foreign language; that is to say, of some thousands of words, which carry nothing but themselves to the mind, and can be easily supplied by phrases of another origin. It was not only the language of Greece, that had fallen into oblivion ; it was a thing much more important, much more precious, than the finest idioms in the world : I mean, the Hellenic spirit, the fruit of that long labour of thought, during an entire age, and that, perhaps, the most noble and fertile in the history of mankind. Think, indeed, of what the spirit of Greece was, and of the wide gap which its absence left in the disinherited world.

Greece shadows forth, in the history of civilization, an admirable thing, —the natural feeling of beauty. The most striking feature of the Hellenic race is the spontaneousness of its development. Everything in it is original and native. If you except some few ideas borrowed, and common to all nations, connecting together all the branches of the family, these masters owe nothing to anyone, but to their own refined sense, and to their skies, mountains, and seas. The thought springs from their souls, as a flower from its stem. Their artless creeds are the faithful mirror of the surrounding objects. They catch hold of rature with their eyes and their fancy; and this first impression becomes their religion, worship, science, and poetry. Even the errors, prejudices, and limits of their minds still retain the gracefulness of natural blemishes. A young and ever-blooning nation, -like Apollo, its radiant image,-they spread over the world, which they contemplate, something of their own youthfulness. The gods appear to them through the azure of their wonderful sky. Nature has for them motherly smiles, and childish terrors, which she soon kisses away. That sea, all silvered with light, all intersected with islands, and limited by continents on every side, has lost its dreadful majesty. It is no longer the awful image of infi ty. To please fortunate Greece, old ocean has laid aside his crown of glory; he lovingly clasps the flowery Cyclades in his beautiful blue waves, still thrilling for the birth of the goddess of beauty.

The everlasting attraction of ancient Greece proceeds from ber being at once natural and refined. Everything is siinple, and without any intricacy,

in the Greek society. In their wars, individual gullantry is all-powerful ; in their commonwealths, the government is a science attainable by common sense. They cast lots to appoint the magistrates; and the orator is the true sovereign. Learning is not overloaded with ponderous erudition, not chained down by traditions and the exigencies of caste. Free from bygones, delusions, and pre-engagements, it springs with confidence toward the con, quest of the world, still retaining, in its investigations, the rashness and enthusiasm of poetry. Art, at last, (art, which, at its first step, is chiefly the expression of fancy and feeling,) reached perfection among those men that were all feeling and ingenuous emotion. Look at the monuments of their architecture, and acknowledge that even their ruins are more beautiful than our masterpieces. Let an Athenian artist draw a mere line, and it will be one of grace and beauty. Let him sketch the shaft of a column, or the horizontal ground of a peristyle, and two thousand years afterwards that immortal line, that imperishable curve, will be the model and the despair of our artists.

And, in their Belles Lettres, how many masterpieces, how many marvels, from Homer down to Theocritus, from Herodotus to Plutarch! I shall only observe, that, in spite of the diversity of their subjects and geniuses, all the Greek writers have a common character; I mean, that of exquisite naturalness,—the justness of their ideas, language, and proportions. Nature speaks thus, when nature speaks well. And that nice taste, that feeling of what is suitable, is not, among them, the effect of long trials. Greece was endowed with it from her infancy: it is, as Fenelon says, s the gentle simplicity of a newborn world.”

Now, that instinctive feeling of beauty and of proportion, that highest inspiration of the art, which had already dwindled away in great and majestic Rome, (the city of ambition, conquest, and law,) was wholly extinguished in the pious darkness of the middle ages. How melancholy everything looks in this barbarous world ! How withered is the imagination of man!

Here Pericles might have said, as when he was mourning for the youth mown down by war, “The year has lost its spring.” To all the calamities of invasion and the feudal systein, are joined the stern teachings, the “salutary” threats, of the church. Down to the year 1000, men lived in terror of the impending end of the world. They durst neither plant nor build, as they expected every morning to be roused, with all the dead, by the trumpet of the archangel. The marvellous of the middle ages is of a severe and sinister greatness. A thousand dreary legends half open the future world, the world beyond the grave. The great poein of the middle ages,

the dark flower of that cold season, is a journey to the supernatural world, to hell, purgatory, and heaven. Allusion is made to the strange and magnificent work of Dante. Is not the earth, indeed, a place of exile, & mournful valley of tears? Heaven alone is the true home. Look at those Gothic piles, which, like an eternal aspiration, spring up in bold towers far from this ground which they hate and despise, instead of spreading gracefully in horizontal lines, like the monuments of Greece. Look

at those lank-sided statues which people the niches and porches of the cathedrals. How ignorant and scornful is the artist, as to the body, and the beauty of form! The only beauty of the middle ages is the beam of thought that pierces through the envelope of flesh, and throws upon the meager image a reflex of infinity.

You have just now seen, ladies and gentlemen, what the middle ages hai lost of the tradition of the ancient world; and you understand the task of the “revival,” which was, of course, to give new life to whatever was good and excellent in Hellenism. But is that all its task ? Is the revival to be nothing else but a renewal of antiquity, an ingenious copy of an obliterated picture? Were this all its work, I dare say it would have been of no great importance and promise. The ages do not repeat themselves; never is a society just the servile image of another. Besides the want of a reviring, the sixteenth century felt the necessity of a transforming. It was not only a revival, but, moreover, an assimilation.

Were the middle ages doomed to perish entirely in their turn? Should they leave nothing in the civilization of mankind? Have those ten laborious and gloomy centuries been quite fruitless ? Far from it: the contrary would, perhaps, be more true. There are few periods of history more original and creative than the middle ages. Such seems to be the law of our nature : the less rich it is in traditions, the more abundant in personal efforts. When the spring of teaching dries up, vital strength is doubly powerful.

Consider, indeed, how many things were created in the middle ages, which antiquity had never known. First, the most wonderful of all,—that which nobody, whatever his religious creed, can exactly estimate, -I mean, the Catholic church. You would, truly, have astonished Aristotle very much, the sage who had collected the constitutions of one hundred and fifty cities or states, had you foretold to him that one day the whole of Europe, though divided into several more or less barbarous states, would dream, and to a certain extent realize the ideal, of a large spiritual society, with its elective chief and magistrates, without any tie but a common faith, without any weapon but speech, any pledge of obedience to the rulers but the voluntary allegiance of the subjects; that that empire would have its Amphictyonic meetings, where the laws of thought, and the creed of mankind, are voted ; that the religion of that state, instead of remaining what religinn was in his age, a body of vain ceremonies, a traffic of incense and favours between men and heaven, would become chiefly a system of morality, more complete than his Ethics; that they would adore the only God in spirit acd in truth; and that, at least in principle, virtue would be the true worship. Had this been said to Aristotle, be sure that great genius would have admired such a constitution, and respectfully written it down at the head of his collection.

Feudalism itself, which I do not like much, and do not at all regret, bad its greatness, as well as its transitory necessity; and it has brought forti fruits, some of which, thanks to God, will outlive the tree that bore them. I shall only cite the feeling of honour. Antiquity knew courage and virtue.

But that dainty flower of virtue and courage-that self-respect of man, which no suspicion must sully, no shade must darken-that sublime superstition which exaggerates the religion of duty-was an offspring of barbarous times. A thing admirable to think of! When, after Charlemagne, all had fallen into chaos, when there was no empire, no right, no public force, then an idea governed Europe, a feeling stood erect instead of a constitution. A knight takes off his gauntlet, lays his right hand between the two hands of another knight, and says to him, “I am thy man.” Such is the foundation of the edifice; the whole feudal society rests upon a given word. The vassal will transgress all the laws of morality, but not the law of honour; he will fearlessly die, to defend his liege lord. The heroes of Homer will flee twenty times, without any shame; Oliver and Roland would die twenty times, rather than fall back a step. And, if those doughty warriors are but sublime lies, the feeling that warms them is the real life of their nation. Their children's children will not fall back more than their sires; and on the days of the greatest misfortunes, in the new defeats of Roncevaux, the companions of another Charlemagne will die, but will not surrender.

How far are we from that Hellenic spirit which we were contemplating just now? We have glanced over two different worlds, which have succeeded, without understanding or knowing, each other. On one hand, Greece, the world of nature and beauty ; on the other, the middle ages, the world of morality, and of holiness, at least in doctrine. The one is the glorification of life, joy, and the flesh ; the other is the apotheosis of death, suffering, and spirit. These are two kinds of worship that seem to be of the most opposite nature ; the one, of the body ; the other, of the soul. But are not body and soul united in us? Is distinction necessarily a conflict? and would it not be the triumph of civilization to harmonize those two parts of man?

We can now answer the question I asked of myself in the very beginning of this lecture. What is the spirit of the revival of learning ? What part did it perform in the great drama of mankind? The revival is the end of a variance, the reconciliation of two ages which were meant to complete each other. The revival is the confluence where both streams of modern civilization, namely, Hellenism and Christianity, are united.

Though the sixteenth century has found anew,and imitated, and worshipped antiquity, it does not follow that the sixteenth century is by any means antiquity. Differences shine forth everywhere, in politics, in religion, in the arts. Antiquity was republican ; the sixteenth century is monarchial. Antiquity was municipal, each city being a centre, and jealous of its independence; the sixteenth century tends to association. The nations in their alliances seek for a European equilibrium. They retain, from the middle ages, the great recollection of the universality of the church, and want to carry it into the temporal governments. Antiquity had an outward religion, which regulated worship without interfering with consciences; the sixteenth century will enlarge Christianity, and make it its life, reforma


tion, strifes, and, alas! civil wars. It will restore to the religion of the middle ages deep learning, enthusiasm, and martyrs. Antiquity adored the beauty of form, and was generally as heathen in its arts as in its creeds ; the sixteenth century will infuse the spirit into the matter, the soul into the body, feeling into beauty. Tasso will not resemble Homer; and Raffaelle will rise higher than Phidias.

The revival is, then, properly, a reconciliation. With its help, the middle ages, having grown up alone, are connected with antiquity. The orphan humanity has once more found her mother. With what joy that union of both worlds was wrought!

O qui complexus, et gaudia quanta fuêre ! At the outset of the revival, everything is youthfulness, joy, unbounded hope. Europe, released from gloomy theocracy, brightens as under a new

Hear a contemporary :“O ages ! O letters ! ” cries Ulrich von Hotten. “It is a joy to live. No rest for any one. Study thrives, the mind awake. O barbarism, thou art undone. Away, away! ” “ Vigent studia, florent ingenia. O sæculum! O litteræ! Juvat vivere. Accipe laqueum, barbaries ; exilium prospice!

Then all is renewed. Another world, from the end of the Atlantic,stretches out her arms to the old continent. The body of man reveals its mysteries : Vesalius's scalpel points out the road to the genius of Harvey. Printing, that tenth muse, insures immortality to her sisters.

Chance of birth forwards that animation. All the kings are young, at the beginning of the sixteenth century ; Francis the First, Charles the Fifth, Henry the Eighth. The Roman see itself, that throne of old men, receives the young pope, Leo the Tenth. And what a sight does Europe then offer! Brilliant Italy gives the signal. Here is Florence with the Medici, with Politiano, Brunelleschi, and Michel Angelo. Here is Rome, and its youthful court of worldly-minded cardinals, the Bembi, the Bibiena, elegant artists, profane Ciceronians,-how unlike the austere companions of Hildebrand ! The Vatican brightens with all the beams of Olympus: the old tombs of the apostles start with astonishment, under those unknown peristyles, those graceful cupolas, in the shade of those marvellous frescoes, which the heirs and rivals of Apelles conjure up from their geniuses. Let, then, France go, with Charles the Eighth, Louis the Twelfth, and Francis the First, and light her torch at this focus of the arts. Let England prepare to bring forth her gentle Spenser, her immortal Shakspeare. Let Luther lay hold of Europe, and tear it to pieces with his powerful hands : he will arouse, by the wrestling, even the Roman church that he sought to overthrow; and after dreadful fights, and many bloody days, the only conqueror that remains, standing on the battle-field, will be liberty of conscience -inviolability of thought.

What admirable phenomena of history are these revivals, these solderings that knit together again the broken threads of tradition! When barbarism has come and smitten the world, then untiring nature sits down

« AnteriorContinuar »