Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

Tuminus suffered a removal. The spirit of the old Roman was extinct. For more than a century the state had been governed, not by men elected by the free suffrage of the citizens, but by the captains of a mercenary soldiery. The very forms of the republic were passing away.

Whenever a statesman perceives the symptoms of national decline, he always endeavours to meet the evil by a recurrence to the early sentiment of the people. This he hopes to revive, and by giving it animation, to infuse new life into the minds of the people. The effort, it is true, is seldom attended with success, but the experiment is invariably attempted. Now, among the earliest developed sentiments of Rome, that of religion was pre-eminent. The distinguishing attribute, perhaps, at first, of the aristocratic portion of that society, it had been gradually adopted as a national sentiment, and to its preservation, as the firmest basis of the Constitution, every Roman was enthusiastically devoted. The first decade of Livy exhibits in a lively manner the practical workings of the religious sentiment. The Romans rejoiced in the protection of the divinities of their city. Regarding themselves as the object of their special favour, they determined to encounter all the hardships attendant on the restoration of their city, destroyed by the hand of the Gauls, rather than expose themselves to the doubtful chance of enjoying equal regard from the divinities of a neighbouring city, the possession of which had cost them a siege of ten years. The deserted houses of Veii were a tempting allurement to their poverty, but the reverence due to their gods prevented them from yielding to it. The same reverence for religion, the peculiar religion of Rome, induced them to reject with ineffable disdain the proffer of a political incorporation with the powerful States of Latium. The indignant Manlius exclaims at the proposal, “Oh, Jupiter, and art thou a captive, to behold in thy consecrated temple a foreign consul and a foreign senate !” And the legend tells us, that the contemptuous sneer of the Latin ambassador against the Roman divinity was instantly visited by a terrible retribution from the hand of the outraged god. Under this influence, two consuls, a father and son, became illustrious from having, on the field of battle, devoted themselves to the infernal gods, to avert from their armies the destruction which appeared to

threaten them in consequence of their haughty rejection of the proposed union. These were some of the many legends connected with the poetical and most captivating portion of Roman history. We naturally cherish all that is romantic and heroic in our own; and every aspiration after national glory is accompanied with a desire to revive and renew the flame which appeared to burn so purely in those blessed times when our history contained no page to raise a blush, no line one would wish unwritten.

The spirit of those good old times had passed away. The overgrown Roman empire no longer responded to the sentiments which had animated the enterprising and religious inhabitant of the banks of the Tiber—but no prominent citizen, to whose guidance were committed the destinies of the state, could forget the proud pages of her early historians. And while he thus ardently longed to rekindle the ancient flame which had led his country to the summit of glory, can it be a subject of wonder that he should look with aversion upon a new religion, which stigmatized as folly and impiety all those manifestations of devotion which, in his imagination, were most to be cherished? We may now, without scruple and without offence, admire the religious devotion of ancient Rome, but it is without the slightest wish to see its revival either there or elsewhere. The long prevalence of the Christian sentiment has enabled us to regard merely as an instructive exhibition of mental and moral phenomena, the religious development of anti-christian ages. But such was not the case with those who have been branded as persecutors, nor with their victims. To the former the ancient religion was a reality, and Christianity a paradox. Whatever claims it might have over the man, it would be requiring too much of the emperor to expect a critical examination of its merits. To him it would be sufficient that it militated in every respect against that which he considered the very essence of the Roman State. It was, therefore, not surprising that he should order its extirpation.

In forming an estimate of persons or events of remote ages or distant countries, we are apt to be misled by the circumstances and prejudices which have moulded our own characters. We make ourselves the central point

from which every thing is to be regarded, by which every thing is to be judged. We make our own ignorance too often the measure of our judgment. We thus complacently pronounce as dark the age which preceded the discovery of America, and contemptuously affect to pity those who lived before the flood of light which is characteristic of modern civilization. And yet Europe is, at this day, studded with the noble monuments of architecture, the product of that age of darkness. The highest aspiration of a modern artist is to imitate them. To surpass, or even to rival them, he feels to be beyond his powers.

A distinguished historian has inferred the dearth of learning in those ages from the scarcity of books; and this scarcity is inferred from the high value attached to them under certain circumstances. “The price of books," says Robertson, was so high, that persons of moderate fortune could not afford to purchase them. The Countess of Anjou paid for a copy of the Homilies of Haimon, Bishop of Halberstadt, two hundred sheep, five quarters of wheat, and the same quantity of rye and millet.” We cannot indulge in any extravagant notions of the state of learning in Europe during the middle ages ; but if we were disposed to maintain an opinion contrary to that of Dr. Robertson, we would appeal to this very fact to sustain our position. That books were so dear before the art of printing, as to be beyond the reach of the poor, is perhaps indisputably true. But the supposition that the Countess of Anjou paid an ordinary price for the book in question, is altogether untenable. That its price has become a matter of history, proves this. It has been preserved as a fact of no ordinary occurrence, and it only proves that there was something about the book itself which gave it a peculiar value. It is well known that the best efforts of art were frequently employed to adorn and illustrate books. A fact of this kind ought to excite no surprise among us, for it is of frequent occurrence even now. Men are daily seen to pay large prices for books which have no intrinsic value. It may be a unique copy; it may be a particular edition ; a hundred causes operate upon book fanciers, with which the mass even of readers have no sympathy. A worthless book is purchased at an enormous price, and the purchaser congratulates himself on his good fortune. Suppose a stranger, imperfectly ac

quainted with the true state of things, had inferred from the sale of the Duke of Roxburgh's library, a general scarcity of books in England, and a consequently low state of learning. None but a very amiable person would have taken the trouble to point out his error, because it must have been obvious to all but a very unreflecting ob server, that the extravagance into which amateurs rushed on that occasion was the natural consequence of a plethora of literary indulgence.

In all matters connected with the religious history of the middle ages, the historian is compelled to wade through a huge mass of prejudice, and not unfrequently he finds himself obliged to yield to the public sentiment of his age. It is the misfortune of all persons whose knowledge is obtained through the medium of the English language, that they can never escape from the influence of the religious schisms which succeeded the Reformation. These have left tracks deep and perhaps irradicable in the English mind, and such is the holy abhorrence in which the Romish church is held, that, to a thorough English mind, the terms papist and traitor are convertible. And this political influence has had its effect upon private judgment; Romanism is regarded as imposture and sin. Believing that no good thing can come out of Nazareth, they blindly shut their eyes to every thing which may commend the old church, and seem ever to forget that their own religion has been deduced from its doctrines and traditions. The consequence of this rigorously protestant view of history is, that we lose some of the noblest lessons of the middle ages, and are led to form prejudicial views of the only men who gave to those ages character and respectability. Thus, to the protestant, the character of Gregory VII., the celebrated Hildebrand, is one in which appears no redeeming quality to relieve a character which the circumstances of the times and the great object of his life alike contributed to render harsh and austere. To the English mind he is a bold, insolent, ambitious, and cruel voluptuary. His daring opposition to the Emperor of Germany, the establishment of celibacy among the clergy, and his intimacy with the Countess Matilda, are cited in support of the allegations brought against him. It cannot be denied that if a Hildebrand should attempt in our day to revive the scenes enacted by the celebrated Pope of that SERIES, VOL. VI. 11.

3

name, he would soon terminate his career within the walls of a Lunatic Asylum. But the Hildebrand of the eleventh century was successful, and even his success shows how necessary to the times a character like his had become. In the chaotic state of the political world of Europe, there was no refuge for suffering humanity. The right of the strongest was the only acknowledged law. The feudal system was in a state of effervescence, and had not yet developed order out of its apparently inextricable confusion. The church alone afforded any hope of security ; but under the systematic attacks of the German Emperors, even this refuge was in danger of falling into the hands of an unbridled and reckless nobility.

Whatever might be the sins of the church before the time of Hildebrand, or since, there can be no doubt that she was then the sole guardian of all that was really dear to humanity. She might contribute to swell the pomp and revenue of the noble, but she was no less the refuge and shield of the oppressed. In the wide distinction which existed between the different ranks of life, that was the only institution which felt and acknowledged fellowship with all mankind. Vainly did sinful and presumptuous men endeavour to pervert her to be an instrument in the perpetuation of political power; a destiny which seems providential, appeared to hover over her, and turn every untoward incident to the furtherance of the great end which it was her mission to fulfil. Thus when the AngloNorman monarchs hoped to bind the clergy forever to their interests, by exempting them from the jurisdiction of the temporal courts, this very immunity fostered the most serious oppositions which their successors encountered. That which was intended to bribe the Norman hierarchy, becane, in time, the sole privilege of the conquered Saxon. It was in the church only that he could forget that he was an inferior. There only could he feel himself a freeman. Hence when the Anglo-Saxon Becket arrayed himself in opposition to Henry II., he was supported by the prayers and sympathies of a whole race, and the memory of the murdered saint long continued to be hallowed in the minds of the English peasantry.

The church of Rome had not acquired in the time of Hildebrand the power which she wielded when Thomas a Becket figured in her history. The Popes had been held

« ElőzőTovább »