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It is impossible to read the details of Italian life at this period—that is, from the year 1200 to 1500-without being amazed at its incongruities. On the one hand, we have productions of genius, by Leonardo da Vinci, Michael Angelo, and others, surpassing everything of the present day; and we naturally figure to ourselves, that men engaged in such laborious and exquisite works of art, performed their tasks in peace and tranquillity. We know that even literature sickens at the sound of the trumpet; much more should we expect painting and sculpture to do so. A poet like Dante might write a book by snatches on a journey, or in flight; but an artist such as Michael Angelo could not carry his canvas and paint, his marbles and chisels about with him. When we look at the masterpieces of the Italians, we naturally figure to ourselves that they were produced in homes, secure from strife and violence. what is the fact? Probably hardly a week passed without some scene of bloodshed occurring in the street where they dwelt. A man could not leave his house without encountering the risk of being attacked by a band of assassins. The feudal lords, when they came to live in cities, retained all the habits of their castles. "Their houses were fortresses -thick walls, high and narrow windows, a massive door of oak, secured with iron bars, promised to resist more than one attack; and if they were at last forced, a high square tower still served as refuge. From these palaces of the nobles, bands of assassins were often seen issuing to rob or murder citizens, who were treated as enemies; chains were prepared to be thrown across the street, and in an instant to form barricades-behind which were seen ranged several hundred warriors." Such were the scenes which
daily met the eye of the artist or physician: that the power of refined thought should survive the contact with brutal violence, though against preconceived notions, is borne
1 Sismondi. Op. cit.
out by historical evidence. While the surrounding savage life did not destroy the powers of thought or prevent the cultivation of the intellect, for we find, occasionally, a high sensitiveness of the imagination associated with grossness of conduct, such a state of things must have blunted the feelings to human sufferings, and have acted more injuriously on medicine in its peculiarly human relations, than in its scientific aspects. Accordingly, it should not surprise us to find that some of the most distinguished cultivators of anatomy were in the habit of acting in a manner which we should feel to be an outrage on humanity. For example, Gabriel Fallopia, born 1523, and justly celebrated, was in the habit of obtaining criminals from the court to dissect. It is but fair to state, that he poisoned them first, as he tells us in the following remarkable passage:-"For the prince ordered a man to be given us, whom we killed in our fashion, and dissected (quem nostro modo interfecimus et illum anatomizavimus). I gave him two drachms of opium. He, having a quartan ague, had a paroxysm which prevented the opium taking effect. The man, in great exultation, begged of us to try once more, and if he did not then die, to ask the prince to spare his life. We gave him other two drachms of opium, and he died."1
In Italy, the natural savageness of the feudal life was chequered by the genius of art, and modified by the action of a multitude of towns and cities; but in Germany, and in the northern part of France and England, feudalism presented itself simply as one remove from absolute barbarism. The military men who held possession of the lands were hardly better than bands of robbers. "At this epoch, about the twelfth century," says Guizot, "there was war everywhere. . . . Not only were strong castles constructed, but all things were made into fortifications, haunts, and defensive habitation."2 ComGuizot's History of the Civilization of France.
1 G. Fallopii Opera omnia. Frankfort, 1606, p. 532.
panies of Knights took up their abode in the ruins of the Roman amphitheatres at Arles and Nismes, where they fortified themselves, and whence they sallied forth to rob the passing travellers. They must have lived by plunder, as there was no other means of subsistence in their power. In answer to the inquiry of an archbishop, how he would maintain himself and his household upon a barren rock, he pointed significantly to the meeting at the foot of his fortress of four roads' (that was his pursuit of quadrivium) -and yet, even in the heart of this universal violence and reckless disregard of all the claims of general humanity, there was working the inextinguishable spirit of Christianity. Being in its essence spiritual, its high prerogative was, and is, to operate upon the every-day actions of men, and to mould the existing human life into something purer and better. It differs wholly in this respect from the Paganism it superseded. Belief in the gods did not infuse. morality into the Roman empire. What morality there was, came from a different source. But feudalism was affected in its essence by a belief in Christ. Besides inaugurating the great movement of the Crusades, which probably did more to civilize Europe than any other event, -by bringing multitudes under the dominion of an idea or sentiment, the essentially devulgarizing agent in the world, -Christianity found for itself a kind of exponent in chivalry. This, with all its defects, was a religion to these robbers. It was in itself a noble thing; it recognized truth, and reverence for the plighted word, to be of paramount obligation. This is a wonderful step in human progress beyond the Greeks. So also is the high estimate Noble womanhood exercised a
in which women were held.
great influence on the rude fighting life. Take, as a specimen, the following passage from the autobiography of Guibert de Nogent, who lived in the castle of Beauvaisis,
1 Hallam's Middle Ages, Vol. II. p. 134.
in the eleventh century:-"I have said, God of mercy and holiness, that I would return thanks to thee for thy goodness. First, I especially return thanks to thee for having given me a chaste and modest mother, and one filled with fear of thee. With regard to her beauty, I should praise it in a worldly and extravagant manner, did I place it anywhere but in a face armed with a severe chastity. The virtuous expression of my mother, her rare speech, her always tranquil countenance, were not made to encourage the levity of those who beheld her .. and what is very rarely or scarcely ever seen in women of a high rank, she was as jealous of preserving pure the gifts of God, as she was reserved in blaming women who abused them
was far less from experience, than from a kind of awe with which she was inspired from above, that she was accustomed to detect sin. How great were the examples of modesty which she gave! Living in great fear of the Lord, with an equal love for her neighbours, especially those which were poor, she managed us prudently, us and our property;"1 for she was a widow. Thus, in the heart of these feudal castles, there bloomed that exquisite flower, the Christian lady, refining its rude inhabitants, and softening them by its heavenly fragrance. What a contrast her life to theirs!
At that period, the men of the higher classes had but two occupations-war and the chase. The two were closely allied; for war was no longer the science it had been among the Romans; it was rather the fighting of armed marauders. "A very large proportion of the rural nobility lived by robbery." The chase of a merchant or a boar was much the same; both involved conflict, for the merchant, in place of tusks, had a convoy of "lances ;" both were for the sake of booty; and both were regulated by a code of honour. Indeed, we have an instance of a nobleman, one of the family of the Visconti, in the fifteenth century, who so entirely assi1 Guizot's History of the Civilization of France.
milated the human and the bestial chase, that he caused all the criminals to be given up to him, started them in the woods, and hunted them with dogs. When legitimate game -ordinary convicts-ran short, he obtained a supply by denouncing his companions. This passion for the excitement of war and the chase, was a characteristic feature of the age. It supplied the want of scope which otherwise must have made their castles intolerable from ennui, and engendered a satisfaction in a merely animal existence, that entirely disqualified the male inmates for all intellectual pursuits.
The chase may be said to have had its beginning at this period; and it has continued a power in Europe ever since. In the habits it has created and the influence it has exercised in modern social life, is presented a great contrast to the civilized life of Rome. It deserves to be recorded, like chivalry, as a new exhibition of human nature,—not, `of course, the mere hunting and killing of wild animals, which is as old as Nimrod; but in the recog nition of this occupation as characteristic of the noble. Hence comes the expression, the noble sport of fox-hunting, —not that the thing was noble, but that it was the pursuit of nobles. This idea would have been hardly intelligible to a Roman. In a letter from Pliny to Tacitus we have the description of a boar-hunt. "You will laugh, as well you may. Your friend, your Pliny, the man you know so well, even I, have taken three swinging boars. Pliny, say you? Yes, Pliny, the individual Pliny; without any great interruption of my indolence or studies. The nets were spread, and I sat down close to them; but instead of boarspear or javelin, I was armed with my pencil and my pocket-book." "If a thorough-bred fox-hunter," breaks out the indignant translator, Lord Orrery, "were to read the curious narrative contained in this epistle, he would 1 Sismondi. Op. cit.