Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

of the fourteenth century, when the “Schism of the West" for a short space awakened men's minds to an examination of political and religious principles and rights. But the early result was backsliding and apathy, if not dismay. A quarrel between the partizans of two claimants to the papal chair, set inquiry on foot both as to temporal and spiritual rule, which might have been expected by a sanguine and inexperienced speculatist to issue in sudden ameliorations and brilliant reforms. But these were to await the era of splendour already pictured in the passage we have first quoted, when the pressure of all that had been tending to a new birth and a revival was to usher into being the art of printing. We shall not, however, further or more closely direct our glimpse at what may be deemed the elements, the landmarks, the harbingers of the modern civilization of Europe ; but which can never be fairly traced nor fully understood without a vigilant and an earnest examination of the institutions, the manners, and the phenomena of the dark ages.

We shall now present some specimens of considerable length, in order to exhibit Sir Robert's manner and cast of thought; and, first of all, when giving a general sketch of the condition of Ge:many, and its progress in the dark

ages : “Of all the great European nations,” he says, “ Germany made the slowest advance in the paths of literature and science. In the disastrous confusion which followed the death of Charlemagne, the few Germans who could pretend to learning were neglected and forgotten ; and when a new stimulus was given to application the course of study ran through a barren and unprofitable field. Schools, indeed, were to be found in the tenth and eleventh centuries at Paderborn, Bamberg, Wurtzburg, and Liege; in the cloisters of the first cathedral, Horace, the great Virgil, Sailust, ar.d Statius were known and respected ; and a nun of Gandersheim excited astonishment by her familiar acquaintance with Terence, and the composition of some sacred dramas after the model of his comedies.. Even the Greek was not wholly unknown ; and Archbishop Bruno, brother of Otho I., was celebrated for his proficiency in that language. But though amidst the silence of monastic seclusion these agreeable and meritorious pursuits might be indulged in, the greater number of those who pretended to learning wasted their energies in less profitable occupations. The German students betook themselves to the universities of Paris or Bologna, where their understandings were bewildered in theological controversies, or encumbered with the Physics of Aristotle and the Edicts of Justinian. Though the seven liberal arts were professedly the objects of admiration, the niceties of grammar and the subtleties of the dialectics engrossed the most exclusive devotion. The simplest phenomena of nature were uncomprehended or unexplained; and an advance in geometry or astronomy was imputed to magic. During the expedition of Otho I. into Calabria, an eclipse of the sun raised an universal belief that the day of judgment had arrived ; and the German warriors sought to elude the terrors of that stupendous event by creeping beneath the baggage and carriages, or secreting

themselves in their empty wine-casks ! This deplorable state of ignorance was little bettered during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries ; but before the commencement of the fifteenth, the empire could boast of the universities of Prague, Vienna, Heidelberg, and Cologne ; and the student was no longer driven to Paris or Bologna. Still, however, in Germany the endless wranglings of school divinity, and the abused refinements of logic, were mistaken for the perfection of ingenuity and science ; whilst the cultivation of the ancients and general literature was pronounced a frivolous and useless pursuit. * * * During the darker period the German language was little cultivated; and works of the most conspicuous merit, as the histories of Witikind and Otho of Freisingen, were veiled in the Latin idiom. The compositions in the native tongue were scarcely more than translations from other languages, or barbarous attempts at rhyme. The reputation of the Troubadours had penetrated the woods of Germany; and during the crusades a taste was imbibed for the wonders of chivalry and romance. But the love-songs of the minstrels died away with the holy wars ; and the people were contented with short and simple ballads, which could be retained with ease, and were therefore more acceptable than long and elaborate poems. Even these were thrown into the shade by the increasing fondness for mimes and buffoons, who wandered about the country, delighting nobles and people with their recitations and antics. The dramatic effect of their contentions in their art acquired for them the greatest popularity ; and whilst the law denounced them as infamous, the princes encouraged them at their courts."

Having observed that a severe drawback to the exertions of the learned was the great scarcity of books, which could not be overcome even by the industry of the monks in copying, Sir Robert conducts us to the period when the Germans made that great discovery, the composition of moveable types, although the Italians seizing upon the great idea left the discoverers behind immeasurably. Indeed it was the lustre of Italian refinement, as our author had before observed, that diffused itself over the Alps, brightening the German atmosphere, and by example turning the stream of application in a more pleasing and salutary direction. The general sketch thus proceeds,

“But however deficient in literature and science, Germany attained early proficiency in the mechanical, and even the finer arts. As early as the tenth century architecture engrossed her attention; and her old wooden churches were replaced by others of stone, with roofs of tile, and floors decorated with mosaic. In the next age arose the cathedral of Strasburg; and the stately cathedral of Cologne was founded by the archbishop in 1248. The sacred edifices were further adorned by attempts at carving in marble the effigies of emperors and bishops. Some advance, also, was made towards excellence in painting; the monks delighted to beautify their manuscripts by elaborate and brilliant miniatures; and if we may trust the taste of Luitprand, bishop of Cremona, the hall of Merseburg contained a lively and animated representation of a victory by Henry I.

vol. III. (1841.) NO. IV.

28

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

over the Hungarians. The discovery of the Hartz-mines under Otho I. opened a new field to the ingenuity of the German artists in forging and casting metals; and the churches were enriched by altars and images of gold and silver. In the less elegant arts, Germany was more successful, the natural result of her widely extended trade. Her looms produced excellent linen and woollen cloths; and in many other departments her workmen and manufactures were eagerly sought by the rest of Europe."

The Chief Justice next bestows some vivid sentences upon the general character of the Germans, and their habits as members of society during ages contemporary with those when the institutions he has been noticing were in existence and in vogue. He says,

“The grand features in the lives of the men were their devotion to war and hunting, and their inordinate addiction to drunkenness. To the two first pursuits the German noble was trained almost from his cradle. Taught to excel in horsemanship and the use of arms, he ripened into manhood amidst the contests which called on him to defend his country, or invited him to the luxury of private war; and if not engaged in these tumultuous pleasures, the lists of the tournament stood ready for the display of his valour and dexterity. The extensive forests opened to him a kindred gratification: and in the pursuit and destruction of the wild beasts he experienced a rapturous excitement little short of that produced by contest with his fellow-men. Nor were these violent delights confined to the layman. The priest forgot his peaceful calling, and issued into the field as a warrior or a hunter. By a strange inconsistency indeed, the pleasures of hawks and hounds were frequently forbidden to the clergy, although it remained a part of their feudal duty to sally forth at the call of their lord in a more murderous avocation. By the crafty Greeks and temperate Italians, the single-hearted Germans were continually reproached with their proneness to intoxication, which inflamed their natural rudeness to insanity, and converted their convivial meetings into scenes of strife and bloodshed. That the reproach was far from unmerited cannot be denied; but the vice was of ancient growth in Germany; the hearts of the people were open to hospitality and social feelings; and the Rhine in the eleventh century already yielded those delicious wines which their more barbarous ancestors could only hope for by visiting France or Italy. Their disgraceful excesses were in character with the rugged manners of the Germans, who, unchecked by the beneficial influence of female society, abandoned themselves to the vehemence of their passions, without a tincture of shame for their irrational enjoyments. The nobles, indeed, set an example of rudeness and ferocity, and delighted in the designation of the lion, the bear, or other beasts of prey. A single anecdote may expose the refinement of the eleventh century. After the death of Otho III., Eckhard marquess of Misnia, Bernard duke of Saxony, and Arnolph bishop of Halberstadt, by chance entered a ball at Werl, where a repast was spread for the sisters of the deceased emperor. The three noble intruders unceremoniously seated themselves at the table ; and having devoured all the viands, went their way, leaving the imperial mourners in the utmost confusion."

Our author has elsewhere forcibly contrasted the character of German chivalry with that of the high-born knights of France and Spain who devoted themselves to God and to the ladies, priding themselves on their justice, their sense of honour, and their courtesy. But nothing of this exalted and refined romance marked the hunting, feasting, and drinking nobles or princes of the empire. The castles of the Germans were filled with the spoils of the traveller and the merchant; the daughters of their neighbours and . vassals were dishonoured in their libertine embraces; and they resembled rather the giants of romance than the gallant deliverers of helpless captives, and the protectors of disconsolate damsels. Even in the hour of victory, their avarice triumphed over their humanity; and they loaded their prisoners with fetters and immured them in dungeons, the more certainly to extort an exorbitant ransom." Still, there were redeeming features in their domestic manners; while on great occasions of peaceful display, splendours and magnificence were often characteristics of the barbaric Germans :

“ The private lives of the Germans partook of extreme simplicity. The women busied themselves with their looms and distaffs, and ladies of the highest rank did not disdain this primitive occupation. Even the most exalted princes affected no extraordinary state, except upon solemn occasions. We have already seen the unusual pomp which accompanied the princes in their attendance at the diet; and in their own mansions, the court-day of the nobles, and the celebration of a marriage or other domestic festival, called forth every known species of luxury and splendour. Innumerable guests were bidden to the banquets; and if the limits of the house were too narrow for the visitors, the tables were spread, and the dances performed, under the open canopy of the sky. On these occasions men and women displayed the most costly attire, adorned with gold and jewels; and the most magnificent costumes of foreign nations were called in aid of the pageant. In the cities also a spirit of comfort and luxury began to prevail. The houses of the substantial burghers were indicative of increasing riches. Their tables were furnished with cups and vessels of silver; and their wives and daughters were decorated with ornaments of gold. In the churches the splendour of the shrines, the gorgeous vestments of the priests, and the relics made really precious by the aid of pearls and gold, struck amazement into the stranger; and Italy herself might give way to Germany in the magnificence of her sacred decorations."

We now turn for a few seconds, as guided by Sir Robert to Italy, starting at the point when the greatest human monster the world had yet beheld, was elected to the chair of St. Peter, viz. the infamous and atrocious Alexander the Sixth:

“From the tomb of Lorenzo we may hurry past that of Innocent VIII., who survived only a few weeks. His character, if adorned with no brilliant qualities, is unstained by any enormous vice; and the death of the feeble old man must be regarded as a public calamity, since it admitted to the

[ocr errors]

throne one of the most detestable of the human race. On the 11th of August, Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, chancellor of the Church of Rome, was declared to be the new pontiff, having triumphed over his opponent, Giuliano della Rovere, cardinal of St. Peter ad vincula. Borgia was a native of Valentia in Spain, the son of Geffrey Lençol and Isabella Borgia, sister of Calixtus III. He assumed the title of Alexander VI., was crowned with more than usual splendour, and received the acknowledgments of the principal Christian princes. The well-known vehemence of his temper struck terror into his enemies; and Cardinal Giuliano deemed it prudent to retire to Ostia, and afterwards into France. Nothing can more plainly demonstrate the corruption of the sacred college than the choice of such a man as Borgia. Though a priest and cardinal, he openly cohabited with Vanozia, a celebrated courtesan ; and four children, the offspring of his illicit love, were eagerly promoted in the outset of his reign. For Juan, the eldest, he obtained the duchy of Gandia in Spain; Cæsar, the second, he created cardinal; his daughter Lucretia, he gave in marriage to Giovanni Sforza, lord of Pesaro; and for Geffrey, his youngest son, he demanded the hand of Sancia, natural daughter of Alfonso, duke of Calabria. But the court of Naples for a time declined this alliance; and the disappointed pope harboured the bitterest resentment. The crooked policy of Lodovico Sforza speedily held forth to him the prospect of gratifying his vengeance. Though Lodovico had with some plausibility assumed the reins during the minority of his nephew, the mature age of Gian-Galeazzo now deprived him of an excuse for retaining the ducal authority. In vain did the prince demand his rights; and his young duchess Isabella of Naples, daughter of Alfonso, anxiously implored her father and King Ferdinand to wrest the government from the hands of the usurper. But though desirous of assisting his son-in-law, Alfonso had hitherto seen the prudence of avoiding a rupture with Lodovico, and stood too much in awe of the power and rapacity of Venice to dissolve the league set on foot by Lorenzo between Florence, Naples, and Milan. After the death of Lorenzo, the good understanding he had so carefully maintained with Lodovico was endangered by the indiscretion of his son Piero, who succeeded to his authority in Florence, and appeared entirely devoted to the Neapolitan princes. Sforza well perceived his danger in this coalition, and accordingly changed his policy, by entering into a league with Venice and the pope, the avowed enemies of Ferdinand. As the further means of shielding himself from his adversaries, he resolved to strike a blow upon Naples itself, by once more reviving the claims of the house of Anjou, and inciting Charles VIII. king of France, to enforce his rights by the immediate invasion of the kingdom."

What a woful declension in the political condition of Italy at the close of the fifteenth century, and after such strides and peaceful conquests as the following passage beautifully describes :

" The mild and prudent counsels of Lorenzo were withdrawn, and the dark and intriguing spirits of Borgia and Sforza were brought into collision. The peace so happily restored was irreparablv hroken: and the

« ForrigeFortsæt »