« AnteriorContinuar »
Yet it shall be tempest-tost.
Look what I have.-
Wreck'd as homeward he did come.'
Distant and complex objects are rendered distorted and portentous in the morning mists which the rising sun has not yet dispelled.
The Renaissance. - In the moral, as in the physical world, every night brightens into a new day. Ages of sloth are succeeded by periods of energy. First the seed in the soil, then the harvest-in endless recurrence. Nature may sleep, but she will wake again—forever. It is with man as with the planet,-change is identified with existence, never by leaps, ever by steps; revolutionary, periodic; pulsating to the rhythmic law of the universe, that swings to and fro through the immeasurable agitations, like the shuttle of a loom, and weaves a definite and comprehensible pattern into the otherwise chaotic fabric of things. What the Reformation exhibits in the sphere of religion and polities, the Revival of Letters displays in the sphere of culture, art, and science,-the recovered energy and freedom of humanity. Both are effects or phases, each by reaction a stimulant and a cause; the first ethical, the second intellectual; the one Christian, the other classical -- in contrasted language, pagan; either, the acme of a gradual and instinctive process of becoming; neither, as we have seen, without many anticipations and foreshadowings. The Renaissance, however, is commonly understood to be the renovation of the intellect only — that outburst of human intelligence which, abroad in the fifteenth century and at home in the sixteenth, marks an epoch in human growth. What was it in its elements and its origin? — An expansion of natural existence, and a zeal for the civilizations of Greece and Rome, that till the fulness of time had lain essentially inoperative on the Dead Sea shore of the middle-age. It was the resuscitation of the taste, the eloquence, and the song of antiquity; of the gods and heroes of Olympus, of the eternal art and thought of Athens. It was, after a long oblivion, the reappearance, with others high and luminous, of the divine Plato,' who alone among books is entitled to Omar's fanatical compliment to the Koran, — Burn the libraries, for their value is in this volume.' All who went before
were his teachers; all who came after were his debtors. Every thinker of grand proportions is his.' Whoever has given a spiritual expression to truth, has voiced him. Whoever has had vision of the realities of being, has stood in his hallowed lightthe Elizabethans not less. But for the magnitude of his proper genius, Shakespeare would be the most eminent of Platonists. Would you understand the lofty insight, the celestial ardor of the Fairy Queen — first great ideal poem in the English tongue, you must reascend to the serene solitudes of Plato, and watch the lightnings of his imagination playing in the illimitable. His sentences are the corner-stone of speculative schools, the fountainhead of literatures, the culture of nations. "To his doctrines we may hardly allude--the acutest German, the fondest disciple, is at fault.' What renders him immortally noble, and irresistibly attractive to the noble, is his moral aim, his sympathy with truth -- truth arrayed in the unsullied white of heaven. The admirable earnest is the central sun:
*I, therefore, Callicies, am persuaded by these accounts, and consider how I may exhibit my soul before the judge in a healthy condition. Wherefore disregarding the honors that most men value, and looking to the truth, I shall endeavor in reality to live as virtuously as I can; and, when I die, tv die so. And I invite all other men, to the utmost of my power.' Upon this dogma let the pillared firmament rest:
Let us declare the cause which led the Supreme Ordainer to produce and compose the universe. He was good; and he who is good has no kind of envy. Exempt from envy, he wished that all things should be as much as possible like himself. Whosoever, taught by wise men, shall admit this as the prime cause of the origin and foundation of the world, will be in the truth.' And human faith cleave to this, and by it interpret the world:
*All things are for the sake of the good, and it is the cause of everything beautiful.' Impute no ill to the eternal Radiance, however dark the problem of human destiny:
"That which is good is beneficial; is the cause of good. And, therefore, that which is good is not the cause of all which is and happens, but only of that which is as it should be... The good things we ascribe to God, whilst we must seek elsewhere, and not in him, the causes of evil things. Towards this superlative perfection, the holy, the beautiful, the true, let reason lift itself:
"Varvellous beauty! cternal, uncreated, imperishable beauty, free from increase and diminution. . . beanty which has nothing sensible, nothing corporeal, as hands or lace: which does not reside in any being different from itself, in the earth, or the
* Aristotle was his pupil, and the critic of his system.
heavens, or in any other thing, but which exists eternally and absolutely in itself, and by itself; beauty of which every other beauty partakes, without their birth or destruction bringing to it the least increase or diminution.'
Alas! when we would rise, we feel the weight of clay. Our life is double:
*The Deity himself formed the dirine, and he delivered over to his celestial off. spring the task of forming the mortal. These subordinate deities, copying the example of their parent, and receiving from his hands the immortal principle of the human soul, fashioned subsequently to this the mortal body, which they consigned to the soul as a vehicle, and in which they placed another kind of soul, mortal, the seat of violent and fatal affections." All the longing, all the vanity, all the doubt, the sorrow, the travail, of the world, this man felt; and said — what we are only now beginning to discover that the soul had two motive pow
rs. Two winged steeds, he calls them, one princely, the other plebeian; and a charioteer Reason, who endeavors to guide them to the realized vision of the ideal:
Now the winged horses, and the charioteer of the gods are all of them noble, and of noble breed, while ours arc mixed; and we have a charioteer who drives them in a pair, and one of them is noble and of noble origin, and the other is ignoble and of ignoble origin; and, as might be expected, there is a great deal of trouble in managing them.
The wing is intended to soar aloft and carry that which gravitates downwards into the upper region, which is the dwelling of the gods; and this is that element of the body which is most akin to the divine. Now the divine is beauty, wisdom, and goodness and the like; and by these the wing of the soul is nourished, and grows apace; but when fed upon evil and foulness, and the like, wastes and falls away. Zeus, the mighty lord holding the reins of a winged chariot, leads the way in heaven, ordering all and caring for all; and there follows him the heavenly array of gods and demigods, divided into eleven bands; for only Hestia is left at home in the house of heaven; but the rest of the twelve greater deities march in their appointed order. And they see in the interior of heaven many blessed sights; and there are ways to and fro, along which the happy gods are passing, each one fulfilling his own work; and any one may follow who pleases, for jealousy has no place in the heavenly choir. This is within the heaven. But when they go to feast and festival, then they move right up the steep ascent, and mount the top of the dome of heaven. Now the chariots of the gods, self-balanced, upward glide in obedience to the rein; but the others have a difficulty, for the steed who has evil in him, if he has not been properly trained by the charioteer, gravitates and inclines and sinks towards the earth: and this is the hour of agony and extremest conflict of the soul.... That which follows God best and is likest to him lifts the head of the charioteer into the outer world and is carried round in the revolution, troubled indeed by the steeds, and beholding true being, but hardly; another rises and falls, and Nees, and again fails to see by reason of the unruliness of the steeds. The rest of the souls are also longing after the upper world and they all follow, but not being strong enough they sink into the gulf as they are carried round, plunging, treading on one another, striving to be first; and there is confusion and the extremity of effort, and many of them are lamed or have their wings broken by the ill driving of the charioteers; and all of them after a fruitless toil go away without being initiated into the mysteries of being, and are nursed with the food of opinion. The reason of their great desire to behold the plain of truth is that the food which is suited to the highest part of the soul comes out of that meadow; and the wing on which the soul soars is nourished with this.'
No wonder Platonism is immortal - immortal because its vitality is not that of one or another blood but of human nature.
But the recovered consciousness of Europe - signalized and quickened by the admiration for the antique — was especially marked by a general efflorescence of the beautiful. Among the Greeks, the central conception of art was the glory of the human body. As their mythology passed gradually into the realm of poetry, statues that once were objects of earnest prayer came to be viewed with the glance of the artist or the critic. Reverence was displaced by allegory and imagination; worship of the object, by the worship of form. It was Greece, arisen from the tomb, that in this unique era of human intelligence bequeathed those almost passionate models which have been the wonder and the delight of all succeeding ages. Man, long enveloped in a cowl, awoke to beauty. Painting and sculpture, from being a frigid reproduction of entranced eyes and sunken chests, became instinct with strong and happy life. The attenuated Christ was transformed into 'a crucified Jupiter,' the pale Virgin into a lovely girl, the dried-up saint into a ready athlete. Similar was the transition in architecture. The Gothic style, whose sombre and solemn images had awed barbarian energies to rest, was supplanted by the classic, more gorgeous, gay, and fair, fashioned from the temples of antiquity, and aspiring to an excellence purely æsthetic. With the erection of St. Peter's, the age of cathedrals was passed.
Luxurious Italy, as previously observed, led the way. The fourteenth century was her period of high and original invention
-the age of the sombre Dante, the passionate Petrarch, and the • joyous Boccaccio. The fifteenth was the age of rapturous devo
tion to classic antiquity, when the merchant bartered his rich freights for a few worm-eaten folios, and the gift of manuscripts healed the dissensions of rival states; an age as remarkable for the dispersion of learning as the other had been for the concentration of talent. The sixteenth was the exhilarating Augustan age of the Italian muse, when she had regained her freedom in the court of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and was pouring forth in spontaneous plenty everything brilliant, or fragrant, or nourishing; the age of the mighty Angelo— of the social Ariosto, whose stanzas were sung in the streets and fields — of the solitary Tasso,
whose Jerusalem, broken up into ballads and sung by the gondoliers in Venice, made the air vocal on a tranquil summer evening. It was also, as well as the preceding, an age of adolescence, when men were, and dared to be, themselves for good or for evil. There was no limit to the development of personality. In the midst of all the forms of loveliness was an unbridled laxity in literature and morals. *We must enjoy,' sang Lorenzo: “there is no certainty of to-morrow.' Fair Florence, in Carnival, rung to the thoughtless refrain of 'Naught ye know about to-morrow':
Midas treads a wearier measure:
Naught ye know about to-morrow.' 'Some people,' said Pulci, glancing towards the dark Beyond, “think they will there discover fig-peckers, plucked ortolans, excellent wine, good beds, and therefore they follow the monks, walking behind them. As for us, dear friend, we shall go into the black valley, where we shall hear no more alleluias.' Side by side with the infatuation for harmony and grace, flourished the passion for pleasure and voluptuousness; and the reproach even of indecency lies heavily, in all the nakedness of detail, upon most of the Italian novelists. To the poets, love furnishes the animating impulse; and amid the clouds of amorous incense we rarely discern, with a few honorable exceptions, an ennobling sentiment or a moral purpose. A mistress frowns, and the Florentine lover cries:
*Fire, fire! Ho, water! for my heart's afire!
My heart's a cinder if you do but stay.' He is not elevated, - inflated only and conventional. He desires to give play to his imagination, and to please his facile fair one