« AnteriorContinuar »
literature and knowlege, I confess, is less direct, less decisive, and more liable to objection. That it is not, however, without its weight, the following facts and observations will evince.
Few persons are, I believe, apprised how great was the danger, that every work of Grecian and Roman literature would have been destroyed in the dark ages, a long and melancholy period; when the Barbarians of the North and the East, and the equally illiterate Mahometans of the South, issuing from the morass, or the forest, or the desert, laid waste and subdued every province and every city of the Roman empire, excepting Constantinople and its immediate environs. Independently also of the calamitous effects, resulting from a permanent anarchy and perpetual wars61, the state of society and manners strongly tended to precipitate the inhabitants of the Western world into a total ignorance of letters. Scarcely was there any middle rank of citizens. Now knowlege, it is well known, is least cultivated by those in the highest and those in the lowest ranks of life: and the \ifont of it, says Dr. Henry, ' was occasioned by the extreme dissipation of the former, who spent almost all their time, when they were not engaged in war, in rural diversions or domestic riots; and by the no less extreme depression of the latter, who were doomed to perpetual servitude and hard labor*3. 'If,' says a Scottish historian of greater celebrity and greater genius, 'men do not enjoy the protection of regular government, together with the expectation of personal security, which naturally flows from it, they never attempt to make progress in science.—In less than a century after the barbarous nations settled in their new conquests, almost all the effects of the knowlege and civility, which the Romans had spread through Europe, disappeared.—The barbarous nations were not only illiterate, but regarded literature with contempt. They
62 On the depredations of the barbarians see vol. II. from p. 55. to 67, ofv the present work.
63 Hist of Great Britain, 8vo. vol. VI. p. 169.
found the inhabitants of all the provinces of the empire, sunk in effeminacy, and averse to war. Such a character was the object of scorn to an high-spirited and gallant race of men.—This degeneracy of manners illiterate barbarians imputed to their love of learning. Even after they settled in the countries which they had conquered, they would not permit their children to be instructed in any science; "for (said they) instruction in the sciences tends to corrupt, enervate, and depress the mind; and he who has been accustomed to tremble under the rod of a pedagogue, will never look on a sword or spear with an undaunted eye.64"— The whole history of th'e middle age makes it evident, that war was the sole profession of gentlemen, and the only object attended to in their education65.'
Literature is now superior to contingencies. To annihilate it, is equally beyond the power of barbarians and the efforts of princes. But, from the beginning of the vth to the conclusion of the xiiith century, its existence was precarious and insecure. Indeed, even at the commencement of this period, when no great number of books had been destroyed, they were comparatively scarce, as paper was not invented, nor the art of printing discovered. In England, for instance, so many books, says Dr. Henry, had been carried away, or they had been 'so entirely destroyed by the Scots, Picts, and Saxons, that it is a little uncertain, whether there was so much as one book left in England before the arrival of Augustin.' And ' we are,' says Dr. Henry, ' assured by the illustrious Roger Bacon, that there were not above four persons among the Latins, in his time, who understood Greek66.'
After regretting the fate of the ' libraries which have been involved in the ruin of the Roman empire,' Mr. Gib
64 Procopius de Bello Gothor. lib. I. p. 4.
65 Dr. Robertson's Vi&w of the Progress of Society in Europe, 8vo. p. .21, 234, 385.
66 Hist, of Great Britain, vol. IV. p. 20, 81; vol. VIII. p. 188.
Vol. II. oo
bon says, 'when I seriously compute the lapse of ages, the waste of ignorance, and the calamities of war, our treasures, rather than our losses, are the object of my surprise. —We should gratefully remember, that the mischances of time and accident have spared the classic works to which the suffrage of antiquity had adjudged the first place of genius and glory: the teachers of ancient knowlege, who are still extant, had perused and compared the writings of their predecessors; nor can it fairly be presumed, that any important truth, any useful discovery in art or nature, has been snatched away from the curiosity of modern ages'7.'
But what was the cause, that so many invaluable remains of the literature of Greece and Rome were rescued from destruction, amidst the demolition of cities, the downfal of nations, and the overthrow of arts and languages? Of the writings and the languages of Egypt and Carthage scarcely the faintest vestige is now any where to be found; though they were two of the states most distinguished in ancient times for population and power, for opulence and civilization. The latter have perished, and the former have been preserved; and Christianity has been the cause of their preservation. Let us trace its history, and that of the institutions to which it gave birth; and we shall, though aware of the lasting and widely diffused depredations of the barbarous nations, cease to feel with Mr. Gibbon any surprise at the extent of our literary treasures.
'The keys of learning,' says Dr. Jortin, ' are the learned languages, and a grammatical and critical skill in them.—» The New Testament, buing written in Greek, caused Christians to apply themselves to the study of that most copious and beautiful language.' In order to enable them to confute their adversaries, and 'to expose the absurdities of Jewish Traditions, the weakness of Paganism, and the imperfections and insufficiency of Philosophy.—Jewish and Pagan literature were necessary, and what we call philo
logy, or classical erudition6*. And thus the Christians became in learning superior to the Pagans.' In the ' third century, the Latin language was much upon the decline; but the Christians preserved it from sinking into absolute barbarism; and of the Latin Fathers in this and the following ages, it may be affirmed, that most of them wrote as well, at least, as their Pagan contemporaries, and some of them better; for this is a fair way of trying their abilities, and it is not reasonable to expect of them that they should equal Casar or Livy, Sallust or Cicero.'
Pernicious as were many of the effects which flowed from monastic institutions, they were not without their benefits. The monks have 'transmitted to us those Latin and Greek Classics, which we now possess, and which would have perished, had it not been for their labors, and for the libraries contained in the monasteries*9. To them we owe co
68 ' The Christian fathers studied the writings of the ancients, first, to furnish themselves with weapons against their adversaries; next, to support the Christian doctrine, by maintaining its consonancy to reason, and its superiority to the most perfect systems of Pagan wisdom; and, lastly, to adorn themselves with the embellishments of erudition and eloquence. Basil wrote a distinct treatise, upon the benefits which young persons might receive from reading the writings of heathens. His pupil, Gregory Thaumaturgus, in his panegyric on Origen, insists largely upon the same topic; highly commending him for having, after the example of his preceptor Clemens Alexandrinus industriously instructed his pupils in philosophy.' Dr. Enfield's History of Philosophy, drawn up from Brucker's Historia Critica Philosophic, vol. II. p. 276.
69 Similar is the statement of Mosheim. Speaking of the sixth century, he says, ' the liberal arts and sciences would have been totally extinguished, had they not found a place of refuge, such as it was, among the bishops and the monastic orders.' To the monasteries, 'we owe the preservation and possession of all the ancient authors sacred and profane.' Eccl. Hist, vol. I. p. 43^, 438.
'About the beginning of the tenth century, books had,' says Denina, 'become so scarce in Spain, that one and the same copy of the bible, St. Jerome's epistles, and some volumes of rules, offices, and etymologies often served several monasteries' Denina's Ess. on the Revolutions of Literature, p. 73. 'One example,' says Dr. Henry, ' will be sufficient to give the reader some idea of the price ofbooks in England in the seventh century. Benedict Biscop, founder of the monastery of Weremoutb. in pies of the Roman law, of the Theodosian and Justinian Codes; and the Roman laws being adopted, more or less, in Christian nations, and the study of them being honorable and profitable, conduced greatly to the preservation of literature in general, and of the Latin language in particular.'
Had Christianity been suppressed at its first appearance, and no traces of it been left, ' it is,' says Dr. Jortin, 'extremely probable, that the Latin and Greek tongues would have been lost in the revolutions of empire, and the irruptions of Barbarians in the East and in the West; for the old inhabitants would have had no conscientious and religious motives to keep up their languages. And then, together with the Latin and Greek tongues, the knowlege of antiquities, and the ancient writers, would have been destroyed. You may see something of this kind in the present state of Afric, where the Latin tongue is absolutely unknown, although in the fifth century it was spoken there as in Italy. Idolatry and superstition, in some shape or other, would have been the religion of the populace, and the upper sort would have been for the most part Sceptics or Atheists, with a mixture of some Deist?.?
Northumberland, made no fewer than five journeys to Rome to purchase books, vessels, vestments, and other ornaments, for his monastery; by -which he collected a very valuable library; for one book out of which (a volume on cosmography), king Aldfred gave him an estate of eight hides, or as much land as eight ploughs could labor.' Hist, of Gr. Br. vol. IV. p. 204 The following facts are from Dr, Robertson (View of the Progress of Society, &c. p. 281). 'Lupus, abbot of Ferrieres, in a letter to the pope, A. D. 855, beseeches him to lend him a copy of Cicero de Oratore and Quintilians Institutions, " for," says he, " although we have parts of those books, there is no complete copy of them in all France."—' The countess of Anjou paid for a copy of the Homilies of Haimon, bishop of Halberstadt, 200 sheep, 5 quarter? of wheat, and the same quantity of rye and millet.— JSvcn so late as the year 1471, when Louis XI. borrowed the works of Rasis, the Arabian physician, from the faculty of medicine in Paris, he not only deposited in pledge a considerable quantity of plate, but was obliged to procure a nobleman to join with him as surety in a deed, binding himself under a great forfeiture to restore it'