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But a mode of acquiring a familiar and systematic initiation into the general circle of the arts and sciences was still felt desirable for the body of the people; a sort of rudimental education, by which they might be able to assist and appropriate the knowledge that was flowing around them in every direction; that might call forth their own energies and resources, and reflect with increased lustre the light in which they were walking. And hence have arisen these scientific schools which are now commonly known by the name of Institutions; and especially, if I mistake not, the school I have the honour of addressing. An establishment of this kind, to be perfect, should be possessed of a library adequate to every inquiry—a laboratory and a museum of equal extent, and a course of instruction commensurate with the whole circle of the sciences. Such an establishment, however, is not to be expected; and especially in our own country, where the government is seldom solicited for assistance, and the sole endowment results from the joint patronage and contribution of individuals. All that remains for us, therefore, is to make the best use of the means that are in our power, and to carry them to the utmost extent they will reach; and I can honestly congratulate the members of the Institution before me with having, in this respect, conscientiously acted up to the fullest limits of their duty, and of having rather set an example than followed one; for it is a matter of notoriety to the world at large, that there is no other Institution in which the same measure of income has heen extended to the same measure of acquiring knowledge, whether by books or by lectures.
ON THE MIDDLE OR DARK AGES.
If we examine the history of Europe in a literary point of view, we shall find it consist of three distinct periods—an era of light, of darkness, and of light restored. To the first of these periods I directed your attention in the preceding lecture. We noticed the general state of literature and the mode of education adopted in Greece and Rome, at the most splendid epochs of these celebrated republics, and briefly compared them with the means of acquiring knowledge in our own day; and we at the same time glanced rapidly at the intervening space, or middle period; or rather only touched upon a few of its leading features, from an impossibility of compressing even a miniature sketch of its history into the limits of a single lecture; though it may be remembered that I threw out a pledge of returning to the subject on the present occasion, and of investigating it in a more regular detail. A part of that pledge I shall now, by your permission, endeavour to redeem; by taking a survey of the general literature, or ignorance of mankind, which characterized that wonderful era which has usually been described by the name of the Dark, or Middle Ages; and which extends from the fall of Rome before the barbarous arms of the Goths, in the fifth century, to the fall of Constantinople before the equally barbarous arms of the Turks, in the fifteenth century; thus comprising a long afflictive night of not less than a thousand years; yet occasionally illuminated by stars of the first magnitude and splendour: and big with the important events of the sack of Alexandria and the destruction of its library; the triumph and establishment of the Saracens, and their expulsion from Spain; the devastation of Europe, and the overthrow of its ancient governments in favour of the feudal system, by successive currents of barbarians from the north-west of Asia, pouring down under the various names of Alans, Huns, Ostrogoths, and Visigoths, or Eastern and Western Goths; sometimes in separate tides, and sometimes in one united and overflowing flood; the deliriums of chivalry, of romance, and crusading; the introduction of duels and ordeals; of monkery and the inquisition; the separation of the eastern from the western church; and the first gleams of the Reformation, under the fearless and inflexible Wyckliff. And, in our own country, the descent of Hengist on the Isle of Thanet; the establishment of the Saxon octarchy; the general sovereignty of Egbert; the glorious and golden reign of Alfred; the conquest of the Norman invader; the bloody feuds of the houses of York and Lancaster; and their termination, on the union of the two families, after the memorable battle of Bosworth. This will lead us to the fair epoch of the revival of letters under the patronage of Leo X., and the still more commanding influence of the Reformation; a period, however, upon which it will be impossible for us to touch in the course of the present inquiry, though I shall still bear it in memory, and request your attention to it on a subsequent opportunity. The literary taste and pursuits of Rome continued nearly the same under her emperors as during her republican form of government. Athens was still the alma mater of the higher ranks of her youth; and, as she increased in opulence and in luxury, she resigned herself more fully to those Grecian blandishments which were despised under the commonwealth. On the death of Constantius, which took place in our own city of York, in the year of our Lord 306, for even Britain had at this time bowed down, through a large extent of her territory, before the mistress of the world; Constantine, his favourite son, was, agreeably to his father's will, proclaimed emperor in his stead. Galerius, however, who was co-emperor with Constantius, opposed this regulation, and endeavoured to secure the whole of the empire to himself; while various other chieftains taking advantage of the public confusion, not less than four competitors assumed the imperial purple at the same time. It was the good fortune of Constantine to triumph over all his rivals; and having at length securely seated himself on a throne whose dominion extended over almost the whole of Europe, and a considerable part of Asia and Africa, he resolved upon building a new imperial city, more immediately in the centre of his dominions; and for this purpose chose the spot of the ancient Byzantium, than which the whole globe could not offer a more auspicious situation, whether in regard to climate, commercial intercourse, or defence. The walls of Byzantium rose on the Thracian coast of the Propontis, or modern Sea of Marmora; secured by the key of the Thracian Bosphorus on the left, which gave an entrance to the Euxine, and the whole interior of the north; and by the key of the Hellespont, or Dardanelles, as it is now called, on the right, directly opening into the Archipelago, and communicating with every other part of the world; the whole of civilized Europe lying immediately behind, and Asia and Africa immediately in front; surrounded by all those scenes which had been richest in harvests of Grecian glory, and had chiefly contributed to immortalize the Grecian name. The language was Greek, the country was Greek, and the customs and manners still possessed that mildness and suavity which so peculiarly characterized this polished people; and which, in no inconsiderable degree,have descended to the present hour. The city thus erected the Roman emperor called, after his own name, Constantinople; he removed the court to it from the old metropolis, and by the enormous sums he expended upon it, and the encouragement and patronage he lavished upon settlers of every kind, and especially upon men of letters and artists, he beheld it, in a few years, rivalling the magnificence, and even the extent of Rome itself. He endowed it with the same rights, immunities, and privileges; and established an equal senate, equal magistracies, and other authorities, and declared it to be the metropolis of the East, as Rome was that of the West. Constantinople is also worthy of attention on another account, as being the first city in the world that was dedicated by the authority of the government to the service of the Christian religion. The fact of Constantine's conversion is too important, and the means by wnich it was accomplished too singular, to be passed by on the present occasion; and that I may not be suspected of exaggeration or undue embellishment, I shall give it you in the plain, unvarnished words of the very cautious and authentic writers of the Ancient Universal History. In describing the war in which Constantine was involved with Maxentius, his most powerful competitor for the empire, they thus observe, at the same time giving their authorities, as they proceed, with an indefatigable research, and weighing them with a scrupulous circumspection which has rarely been equalled in later times:—"In this war Providence had something in view, infinitely more important than the rescuing of Rome from the tyranny of Maxentius; nothing less than the delivering of the Church from the cruel persecution under which it had groaned for the space of near three hundred years. Constantine had inherited of his father some love and esteem for the Christians; for the first use he made of his authority was to put a stop to the persecution in the provinces subject to him. However, he had not yet shown any inclination to embrace a religion which he both honoured and esteemed; but in the war with Maxentius, apprehending that he stood in need of an extraordinary assistance from heaven, he began seriously to consider with himself what deity he should implore as his guardian and protector. He revolved in his mind the fallacious answers given by the oracles to other princes, and the success that had attended his father Constantius in all his wars, who despised the many gods worshipped by the Romans, and acknowledged only one Supreme Being. At the same time he observed, that such of his predecessors as had persecuted the Christians, the adorers of this God, had miscarried in most of their undertakings, and perished by an unfortunate and untimely end; whereas his father, who countenanced and protected them, had, in all his wars, been attended with uncommon success, and ended his life in the arms of his children."Upon these considerations he resolved to have recourse to the God of his father, and adhere to him alone. To him, therefore, he addressed himself with great humility and fervour, beseeching him to make himself known to him, and to assist him in his present expedition. Heaven heard his prayer in a manner altogether miraculous; which, however incredible it may appear to some, Eusebius assures us he received from the emperor's own mouth, who solemnly confirmed the truth of it with his oath. As he was marching at the head of his'troops in the open fields, there suddenly appeared to him And The Whole Army, a little after midday, a pillar of light above the sun, in the form of a cross, with this inscription :—
"'CONQUER BY THIS.'*
"The emperor was in great pain about the meaning of this wonderful vision till the following night; when our Saviour, appearing to him, with the same sign that he had seen in the heavens, commanded him to cause such another to be framed, and to make use of it in conquering his enemies. The next morning Constantine imparted to his friends what he had seen; and sending for the ablest artificers and workmen, ordered them to frame a cross of gold and precious stones, according to the directions which he gave them. Constantine being, after the miraculous vision, immutably determined to adore that God alone who had appeared to him, sent for several bishops in order to be instructed by them in the mysteries of their religion, and in several particulars of the late apparition. He hearkened to them with the utmost respect, and believed what they told him of the divinity, incarnation, cross, and death of our Saviour, reading with great attention the Holy Scriptures, and consulting in his doubts the bishops, whom for that purpose he kept constantly about him."f
t Rom. Hist, b. fit. ch. xxv. vol. xv. p. 554, 8vo. edit. 1747. The account is taken from Eusebius; and by some writers, who find it easier to ridicule than 1o weigh te*timony, it has been cailed a pious fiction; but with what justice, the foltowing remarks will sufficiently show. First, Constantine and Eusebius are allowed by. all parties to have been men of general honesty and intelligence, to give them no higher cha
This extraordinary event having preceded his determination to build a new metropolis, he expressly dedicated the city, as I have already observed, when on the point of being completed, to the service of the religion he had so lately embraced: solemnly consecrating it, in conformity with the custom of the times, to the Virgin Mary, according to Cedrenus, but according to Eusebius, to the God of Martyrs. Upon his death-bed Constantine divided the empire into five parts; his three sons and two of his nephews being allowed to share the imperial domains between them. The building of Constantinople was a severe blow to the splendour and opulence of Rome; and this partition of the imperial authority was an equal blow to the extent and integrity of the empire at large. The tributary nations of every quarter, as soon as they found that the consolidated force of the empire was thus frittered away, were in arms, with a view of regaining their liberty or of enlarging their boundaries. The Franks and other German tribes broke into Gaul; the Sarmatians into Pannonia, or what is now called Hungary; the Picts, Scots, and Saxons, into Britain; and the Austrians into Africa. To oppose this general ravage, the imperial dominions were once more consolidated, and not long afterward, in the reign of Valentinian, who admitted his brother Valens to an equal participation in the purple with himself, regularly divided into two distinct empires, under the names of the Eastern or Greek, and the Western or Latin empire; the former comprehending lHyrium and Pannonia, or Sclavonia and Hungary as they are now denominated, Thrace, Macedon, Greece, Asia Minor, Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and all the eastern provinces, having Constantinople for its metropolis; and the latter embracing Gaul, Italy, Africa, Spain, and Britain, its metropolis being ancient Rome. The greater degree of energy manifested by the successors to the Eastern empire preserved its boundaries for a considerable period of time free from much mutilation; but the empire of the West, in which Rome, though once more encouraged by the presence and patronage of a splendid court, was never able to recover from the blow it had received by the building of Constantinople, continued to droop from its first establishment. Its successes were few and trivial, and such as rather tended to invite new hordes of barbarians into the heart of its fairest provinces than to deter from aggression by examples of signal vengeance and severity. The tide of incursion, as I have already observed, flowed almost entirely from the north. Beyond the Tanais, and immediately crossing the Imaus or Caf of the Caucasus, extending nearly from the banks of this river to the Sea of Japan, lay scattered, at the commencement of the Christian era, a variety of tribes unknown to the conquering sword of the Roman legions, and distinguished by the names of Vandals, Sueves, Alans, Goths, Huns, Turks, and Tartars. Of all these the Huns appear to have given the earliest proofs of restlessness and love of power: they first pressed forward upon the Goths,
racier. Secondly, Constantlne declares that the vision of the cross and of the pillar of light were beheld hy lite whole army as well as by himself. Thirdly, Eusebius affirms that he gave an account of the whole to the artists for whom he immediafely sent, on the morning alter his explanatory dream, to construct a standard ornamented with a copy of rhe golden cross he had beheld and enriched with jewels, according to the direction he gave them. Fourthly, he tells us that Constantine narrated the same statement to the bishops whom he had assembled to give him spiritual advice on the occasion. And fifthly, that he afterward gave the whole history of it, in like manner, in his own person, to Eusebius himself; and confirmed ihe narration with an oath. All this may, indeed, be said to be nothing more than the declaration of Eusebius alone; but when we add to these remarks, sixthly, that Eusebius published his account in the general face of those to whom he asserts that the emperor communicated it at the lime, and in the face of hundreds, perhaps of thousands of the army, who he also asserts beheld the glorious vision, the cross and its motto, as well as Ihe emperor; and that not an individual ventured to step forward and contradict him: and when, lastly, we take into consideration the undisputed fact, thnl the figure of the cross portrayed in the pillar of light was rr oied, together with its motto, and placed on every banner of the imperial army from this time forth; aoj that all the branches of the imperial family became converts to Christianity from the same period; —when nil lhe?e points are taken into consideration, a case is ntnde ortt, not only that sufficiently vindicates the veracity of Eusebius. but that probably demands a more mhaculous power to shut the heart against its admission, than that of the miracle which is its subject-matter. See Euseb. Vit. Const, lib. i cap. xavll.—xaxi. p. 421—423.
who, dispossessed of their native regions, bore down upon the Vandals, Sueves, and Alans ; and these, flying before them, entered into Gaul, and from Gaul advanced into Spain; and on being driven from Spain passed over and invaded Africa; thus making way for a farther advance of the Goths and Huns into the centre of the western empire, which they prosecuted sometimes in conjunction and sometimes alone. Hence, even Italy was in several instances overrun, and Rome itself taken and sacked by the Goths under Alaric, towards the beginning of the fifth century; while the Goths themselves were in their turn, about forty years afterward, obliged to fly before the victorious arms of Attila, the Hun rush leader, or to enlist under his banners; a barbarous chieftain, who, descending from the wild and barren mountains of Scythia, spread terror and devastation over almost the whole of Europe; and, possessing a political authority of as extensive a range towards the east, proved a formidable enemy to every sovereign from China to Gaul. The camp of this adventurous and successful soldier, when he was stationary, was pitched on the northern side of the Danube, between the Teiss and the Carpathian mountains; his court was unrivalled in splendour and magnificence, and his empire extended through a range of not less than seven thousand miles in length. On the death of Attila, this enormous but ephemeral empire, which had only " grown with his growth and strengthened with his strength," insensibly crumbled away. "The Huns were melted down into the nations which they conquered; and, if the modern Hungarians be excepted, whose descent from them is rather a plausible conjecture than an historical fact supported by conclusive evidence, few vestiges of them are now discoverable either in Europe or Asia."* The history of the Roman empire from this period may be comprised in a few words. Towards the close of the 5th century, during the reign of Augustulus, who had regained possession of the central provinces, it was overthrown by the Herulians under Odoacer, who were themselves shortly afterward expelled from Italy by Theodoric king of the Ostrogoths. About the year 568, the Lombards, issuing from the mark of Brandenburg, invaded the Higher Italy, as it was named, and founded a powerful state, called the empire of the Lombards; the Middle and Lower Italy being added to the empire of the east by the brilliant conquests of Justinian's celebrated but ill-requited generals Belisarius and Narses. These, however, were afterward wrenched from it, and incorporated into the new empire of the Lombaids; from whom the whole passed, together with almost the entire amplitude of polished Europe, into the hands of Charlemagne, the second sovereign of the second dynasty of the Franks; a people that, having subdued all Gaul, had established themselves in that country for about three centuries already; and had, through the greater part of that period, professed the Christian religion. Charlemagne entered Rome in triumph, and was crowned emperor of the Romans, with great pomp and festivity, towards the close of the eighth century. While such was the series of misfortunes that attended, and at length totally subverted, the western empire, that of the east had to strive with difficulties of another kind, and which produced a still greater change in the political aspect of the world. The nations by whom the successive conquests of Europe had been effected proceeded, as we have already beheld, from different, though contiguous tracts of country, spoke different languages, and were under the command of different leaders. Yet, having originated from a like cradle, from the solitude of mountain-fastnesses, and the savage wild of precipitous scenery, nursed in the midst of snows and howling tempests, they appear to have established, in almost every state which they subdued, nearly the same legislative system: a system known by the name of the Feudal Law, and the introduction of which into Europe constitutes one of the most prominent features of European history.
* Butler, Hor. Bibl. part. il. p. 85.