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Renaissance




Definition of Terms Renaissance and Revival of Learning.

Renaissance is a term has recently come into use to indicate a well-known but indefinite space of the time and a certain phase in the development of the European races. On the one hand it denotes the transition from the period of history which we call the Middle Ages to that which we call Modern. On the other hand it implies those changes in the intellectual and moral attitude of the Western nations by transition was characterized. If we insist upon the literal meaning of the word, the Renaissance was a re-birth ; and it is needful to inquire of what it was the re-birth. The metaphor of Renaissance may signify the entrance of the European nations upon a fresh of vital energy in general, implying a fuller consciousness and a freer exercise of faculties than had belonged to the mediaeval period. Or it may mean the resuscitation of simply intellectual activities, stimulated by the revival of antique learning and is application to the arts and literatures of modern peoples. Upon our choice between these two interpretations of the word depend important differences in any treatment of the subject. The former has the disadvantage of making it difficult to separate the Renaissance from other historical phases – the Reformation, for examples with which it ought not to be confounded. The latter has the merit of assigning a specific name to a limited series of events and group of facts, which can be distinguished for the purpose of analysis from other and facts with which they are intimately but not indissolubly connected. In other words, the one definition of Renaissance makes it denote the whole change which came over Europe at the close of the Middle Ages. The other confines it to what was Known by our ancestors as the Revival of Learning. Yet, when we concentrate attention on the recovery of antique culture, we become aware that this was only one phenomenon or symptom of a far wider and more comprehensive alteration in the conditions of the European races. We find it needful to retain both terms, Renaissance and Revival of Learning, and to show the relations between the series of events and facts which they severally imply. The Revival of Learning must be regarded as a function of that vital energy, an organ of that mental evolution, which brought the modern world, with its new conceptions of philosophy and religion, its re-awaked arts and sciences, its firmer grasp on the realities of human nature and the world, its manifold inventions and discoveries, its altered political systems, its expansive and progressive forces, into being. Important as the Revival of Learning undoubtedly was, there are essential factors in the complex called the Renaissance with which it can but remotely be connected. When we analyse the whole group of phenomena which have to be considered, we perceive that some of the most essential have nothing or little to do with the recovery of the classics. These are, briefly speaking, the decay of those great fabrics, church and empire, which ruled the Middle Ages both as ideas and as realities ; the appearance of full-formed nationalities and languages ; the enfeeblement of the feudal system throughout Europe ; the invention and applicable of paper, the mariner’s compass, gunpowder, and printing ; the exploration of continents beyond the ocean ; and the substitution of the Copernican for the Ptolemaic system of astronomy. Europe in fact had been prepared for a thorough-going metamorphosis before that new ideal of human and culture which the Revival of Learning brought to light had been made manifest. It had recovered from the confusion consequent upon the dissolution of the ancient Roman empire. The Teutonic tribes had been Christianized, civilized, and assimilated to the previously Latinized races over whom they exercised the authority of conquerors. Comparative tranquility and material comfort had succeeded to discord and rough living. Modern nationalities defined as separate upon the basis of European federation. The ideas of universal monarchy and of indivisible Christendom, incorporated in the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Church, had so far lost their hold that scope was offered for the introduction of new theories both of state and church which would have seemed visionary or impious to the mediaeval mind. It is therefore obvious that some of the change which began to pass over Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries, has to be adopted. That of Renaissance, Renascimento, or Renascence is sufficient for the purpose, though we have to guard against the tyranny of what is after all a metaphor. We must not suffer it to lead us into rhetoric about the deadness and the darkness of the Middle Ages, or hamper our inquiry with preconceived assumptions that the re-birth in question was in any true sense a return to the irrecoverable pagan past. Nor must we imagine that there was any abrupt break with the Middle Ages. On the contrary, the Renaissance was rather the last stage of the Middle Ages, emerging from ecclesiastical and feudal despotism, developing what was original in mediaeval ideas by the light of classic arts and letters, holding in itself the promise of the modern world. It was therefore a period and a process of transition, fusion, preparation, tentative endeavour. And just at this point the real importance of the revival of learning may be indicated. That rediscovery of the classic past restored the confidence in their own faculties to men striving after spiritual freedom ; revealed the continuity of history and the identity of human nature in spite of diverse creeds and different customs ; held up for emulation master-works of literature, philosophy, and art; provoked inquiry ; encouraged criticism; shattered the narrow mental barriers impose by mediaeval orthodoxy. Humanism, a word which will, often recur in the ensuing paragraphs, denotes a specific bias which the forces librated in the Renaissance took contact with the ancient world, -- the particular form assumed by human self-esteem at that epoch, -- the ideal of life and civilization evolved by the modern nations. It indicates the endeavour of man to reconstitute himself as a free being, not as the thrall of theological despotism, and the peculiar assistance he derived in this effort from Greek and Roman literature, the litterae humaniores, letters leaning rather to the side of man than of divinity.

Method of Treatment

It is now apparent in what sense that Renaissance has to be treated in this article. It will be considered as implying a comprehensive movement of the European intellect and will toward self-emancipation, toward re-assertion of the natural rights of the reason and the senses, toward the conquest of this planet as a place of human occupation, and toward the formation of regulative theories both for states and individuals differing from those of mediaeval times. The revival of learning will be treated as a decisive factor in this process of evolution on a new plan. To exclude the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation whooly from the survey is impossible, as will appear more plainly in the sequel. These terms indicate moments in the whole process of modern history which were opposed, each to the other, and the both to the Renaissance; and it is needful to bear in mind that they have, acientifically speaking, a quite separate existence. Yet if the history of Europe in the 16th century of our era came to be written with the brevity with which we write the history of Europe in the 16th century B.C., it would be difficult at the distance of time implied by that supposition to distinguish the Italian movement of the Renaissance in its origin from the German movement of the Reformation. Both would be seen to have a common starting-point in the reaction against long dominant ideas which were becoming obsolete, and also in the excitation of faculties which had during the same period been accumulating energy.

Chronological Limits

The Renaissance, if we try to regard it as a period, was essentially the transition from one historical stage to another. It cannot therefore be confined within strict chronological limits. This indecision inherent in the nature of a process which involved neither a political revolution nor the promulgation of a new religious creed, but was a gradual metamorphosis of the intellectual and moral state of Europe, is further augmented by the different epochs at which the several nations were prepared to bear their share in it. England, for example, was still feudal and mediaeval when Italy had socially and mentally entered on the modern stadium. A brother of the Black Prince banqueted with Petrarch in the palace of Galeazzo Visconti. That is to say, the founder of Italian humanism, the representative of Italian despotic state-craft, and the companion of Froissart’s heroes met together at a marriage feast. The memories which these names evoke prove how impossible it is to fix boundaries in time for a movement which in 1368 had reached nearly the same point in Italy as it afterwards attained at the close of he 16th century in England. The Renaissance must indeed be viewed mainly as an internal process whereby spiritual energies latent in the Middle Ages were developed into actuality and formed a mental habit for the modern world. The process began in Italy, and gradually extended to the utmost bounds of Europe, producing similar results in every nation, and establishing a common civilization.

The Date 1453

There is one date, however, which may be remembered with advantage as the starting-point in time of the Renaissance, after the departure from the Middle Ages had been definitely and consciously made by the Italians. This is the year 1453, when Constantinople, chosen for his capital by the first Christian emperor of Rome, fell into hands of the Turk. One of the survivals of the old world, the shadow of what had been the Eastern empire, now passed suddenly away. Almost at the same date that visionary revival of the Western empire, which had imposed for six centuries upon the imagination of mediaeval Europe, hampering Italy and impeding the consolidaration of Germany, ceased to reckon among political actualities; while its more robust rival, the Roman Church, seemed likely to sink into the rank of a petty Italian principality. Three lights of mediaeval Christendom, the Eastern empire, the Holy Roman empire, and the papacy, at this point of time severally suffered extinction, mortal enfeeblement, and profound internal transformation. It was demonstrated by the destruction of the Eastern and the dotage of the Western empire, and by the new papal policy which Nicholas V. inaugurated, that the old order of society was about to be superseded. Nothing remained to check those centrifugal forces in state and church which substituted a confederation of rival European powers for the earlier ideal of universal monarchy, and separate religious constitutions for the previous Catholic unity. At the same time the new learning introduced by the earlier humanist awakened free thought, encouraged curiosity, sand prepared the best minds of Europe for speculative audacities from which the schoolmen would have shrunk, and which soon expressed themselves in acts of cosmopolitan importance. The new learning had been received gladly. Its vast significance was hardly understood. Both secular and spiritual potentates delighted in the beauty and fascination of those eloquent words which scholars, poet, and critics uttered –"words indeed, but words which drew armed hosts behind them!"

Dates 1492-1500 and 1530

If we look a little forward to the years 1492-1500, we obtain a second date of great importance. In these years the expedition of Charles VIII. to Naples opened Italy to French, Spanish, and German interferences. The leading nations of Europe began to complete for the prize of the peninsula, and learned meanwhile that culture which the Italians had perfected. In these years the secularization of the papacy was carried to its final point by Alexander VI., and the Reformation became inevitable. The same period was marked by the discovery of America, the explorations of the Indian seas, and the consolidation of the Spanish nationality. It also witnessed the application of printing to the diffusion of knowledge, the revolution effected in military operations buy the use of gunpowder, and the revolution in cosmology which resulted from the Copernican discovery. Thus, speaking roughly, the half century between 1450 and 1500 may be termed the culminating point of the Renaissance. The transition from the mediaeval to the modern order was now secured if not accomplished, and a Rubicon had been crossed from which no retrogression to the past was possible. Looking yet a little farther, to the years 1527 and 1530, a third decisive date is reached. In the first of these years happened the sack of Rome, in the second the pacification of Italy by Charles V. under a Spanish hegemony. The age of the Renaissance was now closed for the land which gave it birth. The Reformation was already imminent.

Precursors of the Renaissance

It must not be imagined that so great a change as that implied by the Renaissance was accomplished without premonitory symptoms and previous endeavours. In the main we mean by it the recovery of freedom for the human sprit after a long period of bondage to oppressive ecclesiastical and political orthoxy, -- a return to the liberal and practical conceptions of the world which the nations of antiquity had enjoyed, but upon a new and enlarged platform. This being so, it was inevitable that the finally successful efforts after self-emancipation should have been anticipated from time to time by strivings within the ages that are known as dark and mediaeval. It is therefore part of the present inquiry to pass in review some of the claimants to be considered precursors of the Renaissance. First of all must be named the Frank in whose lifetime the dual conception of universal church divinely appointed, sacred, and inviolable, began to control the order of European society. Charles the Great lent his forces to the plan of resuscitating the Roman empire at a moment when his own power made him the arbiter of western Europe, when the papacy needed his alliance, and when the Eastern empire had passed under the usurped regency of a female. He modelled a spurious Roman empire, which was surnamed "Holy," in consequence of the diplomatic contract struck by him with the bishop of Rome, and in obedience to the prevailing theological beliefs of Latin Christianity. The Holy so-called Roman but essentially Teutonica empire owed such substance as the fabric possessed to Frankish armies and the sinews of the German people. As a structure composed of divers ill-connected parts it fell to pieces at its builder’s death, leaving little but the incubus of a memory, the fascination of a mighty name, to dominate the mind of mediaeval Europe. As an idea, the empire grew in visionary power, and remained one of the chief obstacles in the way of both Italian and German national cohenrence. Real force was not in it, but rather in that counterpart to its unlimited pretensions, the church, which had evolved it from barbarian night, and which used her own more vital energies for undermining the rival of her creation. Charles the Great, having proclaimed himself successor of the Caesars, was obscurely ambitious of imitating the August also in the sphere of letters. He caused of scheme of humanistic education to be formulated, and gave employment at his court to rhetoricians, of whom Alcuin was the most considerable. But very little came of the revival of learning which Charles is supposed to have encouraged; and the empire he restored was accepted by the mediaeval intellect in a crudely theological and vaguely mystical sprit. We should, however, here remember that the study of Roman law, which was one important precursory symptom of the Renaissance, owed much to mediaeval respect for the empire as a divine institution. This, together with the municipal Italian intolerance of the Lombard and Frankish codes, kept alive the practice and revived the science of Latin jurisprudence at an early period.

Speculation and Heresy in the Middle Ages

Philosophy attempted to free itself from the trammels of theological orthodoxy in the hardly speculations of some schoolmen, notably of Scotus Erigena and Abelard. These innovators found, however, small support, and were defeated by opponents who used the same logical weapons with authority to back them. Nor were the rationalistic opinions of the Averroists without their value, though the church condemned these deviators from her discipline as heretics. Such mediaeval materialists, moreover, had but feeble hold upon the substance of real knowledge. Imperfect acquaintance with authors whom they studied in Latin translations made by Jews from Arabic commentaries on Greek text, together with almost total ignorance of natural laws, condemned them to sterility. Like the other schiomachists of their epoch, they fought with phantoms in a visionary realm. A similar judgment may be passed upon those Paulician, Albigensian, Paterine, and Epicurean dissenters from the Catholic creed who opposed the phalanxes of orthodoxy with frail imaginative weapons, and alarmed established orders in the state by the audacity of their communistic opinions. Physical science struggled into feeble life in the cells of Gerbert and Roger Bacon. But those men were accounted magicians by the vulgar ; and, while the one eventually assumed the tiara, the other was incarcerated in a dungeon. The schools meanwhile resounded still to the interminable dispute upon abstractions. Are only universals real, or has each name a corresponding entity? From the midst of the Franciscans who had persecuted Roger Bacon because he presumed to know more than was consistent with human humility arose John of Parma, adopting and popularizing the mystic prophecy of Joachim of Flora. The reign of the Father is past; the reign of the Son is passing; the reign of the Spirit is at hand. Such was the formula of the Eternal Gospel, which as an unconscious forecast of the Renaissance, has attracted retrospective students by its felicity of adaptation to their historical method. Yet we must remember that their historical method. Yet we must remember that this bold intuition of the abbot Joachin indicated monastic reaction against the tyrannies and corruptions of the church rather than a fertile philosophical conception. The Fraticelli spiritualists, and similar sects who fed their imagination with his doctrine, expired in the flames to which Fra Dolcino , Longino, and Margharita were consigned. To what extent the accusations of profligate morals brought against these reforming sectarians were justified remains doubtful; and the same uncertainty rests upon the alleged iniquities of the Templars. It is only certain that at this epoch the fabric of Catholic faith was threatened with various forms of prophetic and Oriental mysticism, symptomatic of a widespread desire to grasp at something simpler, purer, and less rigid than Latin theology afforded. Devoid of criticism, devoid of sound learning devoid of a firm hold on the realities of life, these heresies passed away without solid results and were forgotten.

Naturalism in Mediaeval Life and Literature

We are too apt to take for granted that the men of the Middle Ages were immersed in meditations on the other world, and that their intellectual exercises were confined to abstractions of the schools, hallucinations of the fancy, allegories, visions. This assumption applies indeed in a broad sense to that period which was dominated by intolerant theology and deprived of positive knowledge. Yet there are abundant signs that the native human instincts, that natural human appetites, remained unaltered and alive beneath the crust of orthodoxy. In the person of a pope like Boniface VIII. Those ineradicable forces of the natural man assumed, if we may trust the depositions of ecclesiastics well acquainted with his life, a form of brutal atheistic cynicism. In the person of an emperor, Fredick II, they emerged under the more agreeable garb of liberal culture and Epicurean skepticism. Frederick dreamed of remodeling society upon a mundane type, which anticipated the large toleration and cosmopolitan enlightenment of he actual Renaissance. But his efforts were defeated by the unrelenting hostility of the church, and by incapacity of his contemporaries to understand his aims. After being forced in his lifetime to submit to authority, he was consigned by Dante to hell. Frederick’s ideal of civilization was derived in a large measure from Provence, where a beautiful culture had prematurely bloomed, filling southern Europe with the perfume of poetry and gently living. Here, if anywhere, it seemed as though the ecclesiastical and feudal fetters of the Middle Ages might be broken, and humanity might enter on a new stage of joyous unimpeded evolution. This was, however, not to be. The church preached Simon de Montfort’s crusade, and organized Dominic’s Inquisition; what Quinet calls the "Renaissance sociale par l’ Amour" was extirpated by sword, fire, famine, and pestilence. Meanwhile the Provencal poets had developed their their modern language with incomparable richness and dexterity, creating forms of verse and modes of emotional expression which determined the latest mediaeval phase of literature in Europe. The naturalism of which we have been speaking found free utterance now in the fabliaux of jongleurs, lyrics of minnesingers, tales of trouvères, romances or Arthur and his knights, -- compositions varied in type and tone, but in all of which sincere passion and real enjoyment of life pierce through the thin veil of chivalrous or of allegory with which they were sometimes conventionally draped. The tales of Lancelot and Tristram, the lives of the troubadours and the Wachtlieder of the minnesingers, sufficiently prove with what sensual freedom a knight loved the lady whom custom and art made him profess to worship as a saint. We do not need to be reminded that Beatrice’s adorex had a wife and children, or that Laura’s poet owned a son and daughter by a concubine, in order to perceive that the mystic passion of chivalry was compatible in the Middle Ages with commonplace matrimony or vulgar illegitimate connexions.

Golardic Poetry

But perhaps the most convincing testimony to the presence of this ineradicable naturalism is afforded by the Latin songs of wandering students, known as Carmina Burana, written by the self styled Goliardi. In these compositions, remarkable for their facile handling of mediaeval Latin rhymes and rhythms, the allegorizing mysticism which envelops chivalrous poetry is discarded. Love is treated from a frankly canal point of view. Bacchus and Venus go hand in hand, ad in the ancient ante-Christian age. The open air enjoyments of the wood, the field, the dance upon the village green, are sung with juvenile lightheartedness. No grave not, warning us that pleasures of this earth are fleeting, that visible world is but a symbol of the invisible, that human life is a probation for the life beyond, interrupt s the tinkling music as of castanets and tripping feet which gives a novel charm to these unique relics of the 13th century. Goliardic poetry is further curious as showing how the classics even at that early period were a fountainhead of pagan inspiration. In the taverns and low places of amusement haunted by those lettered songsters, on the open road and in the forests trodden by their vagrant feet, the deities of Greece and Rome were not in exile, but at home within the hearth of living men. Thus, while Christendom was still preoccupied with the crusades, two main forces of the Renaissance, naturalism and enthusiasm for antique modes of feeling, already brought their latent potency to light, prematurely indeed and precociously, yet with a promise that was destined to kept.

Mediaeval Attitude of Mind

When due regard is paid to these miscellaneous evidences of intellectual and sensual during the Middle Ages, it will be seen that there were by no means lacking elements of native vigour ready to burst forth. What was wanting was not vitality and licence, not audacity of speculation, not lawless instinct or rebellious impulse. It was rather the right touch on life, the right feeling for human independence, the right way of approaching the materials of philosophy, religion, scholarship, and literature, that failed. The courage that is born of knowledge, the calm strength begotten by a positive attitude of mind, face to face will the dominant overshadowing Sphinx of theology, were lacking. We may fairly say that natural and untaught people had more of the just intuition that was needed than learned folk trained in the schools. But these people were rendered licentious in revolt or impotent for salutary action by ignorance, by terror, by uneasy dread of the doom declared for heretics and rebels. The massive vengeance of the church hung over them, like a heavy sword suspended in the cloudy air. Superstition and stupidity hedged them in on every side, so that sorcery and magic seemed the only means of winning power over nature or insight into mysteries surrounding human life. The path from darkness to light was lost; thought was involved in allgory; the study of nature had been perverted into an inept system of grotesque and pious parable-mongering; the pursuit of truth had become a game of wordy dialectics. The other world with its imagined heaven and hell haunted the conscience like a nightmare. However sweet this world seemed, however fair the flash, both world and flesh were theoretically given over to the devil. It was not worth while to master and economize the resources of this earth, to utilize the goods ameliorate the evils of this life, while every one agreed, in theory at any rate, that the present was but a bad prelude to an infinitely worse or infinitely better future. To escape from these preoccupations and prejudices except upon the path of conscious and deliberate sin was impossible for all but minds of rarest quality and courage ; and these were too often reduce to the recantation of their supposed errors no less by some secret clinging sense of guilt than by the church’s iron hand. Man and the actual universe kept on reasserting their rights and claims, announcing their goodliness and delightfulness, in one way or another; but they were always being thrust back again into Cimmerian regions of abstractions, fictions, visions, spectral hopes and fears, in the midst of which the intellect somnambulistically moved upon an unknown way.





Italy: the Revival of Learning

It is just at this point that the Revival of Learning intervened to determine the course of the Renaissance. Mediaeval students possessed a considerable portion of the Latin classics, though Greek had become in the fullest sense of the phrase a dead language. But what they retained of ancient literature they could not comprehend in the right spirit. Between them and the text of poet or historian hung a veil of mysticism, a vapour of misapprehension. The odour of unsanctity clung around those relics of the pagan past. Men bred in the cloister and the lecture room of the logicians, trained in scholastic disputations, versed in allegorical interpretations of the plainest words and most apparent facts, could not find the key which might unlock those stores of wisdom and of beauty. Petrarch first opened a new method in scholarship, and revealed what we denote as humanism. In his teaching lay the twofold discovery of man and of the world. For humanism, which was the vital element in the Revival of Learning, consists mainly of a just perception of the dignity of man as a rational, volitional, and sentient being, born upon this earth with a right to use’ it and enjoy it. Humanism implied the rejection of those visions of a future and imagined state of souls as the only absolute reality, which had fascinated the imagination of the Middle Ages. It involved a vivid recognition of the goodliness of man and nature, displayed in the great monuments of human power recovered from the past. It stimulated the curiosity of latent sensibilities, provoked fresh inquisition into the groundwork of existence, and strengthened man’s self-esteem by knowledge of what men had thought and felt and done in ages when Christianity was not. It roused a desire to reappropriate the whole abandoned provinces of mundane energy, and a hope to emulate antiquity in works of living loveliness and vigour. The Italians of the 14th century, more precocious than the other European races, were ripe for this emancipation of enslaved intelligence. In the classics they found the food which was required to nourish the new spirit; and a variety of circumstances, among which must be reckoned the pride of a nation boasting of its descent from the Populus Romanus, rendered then apt to fling aside the obstacles that had impeded the free action of the mind though many centuries. Petrarch not only set his country upon the right method of studying the Latin classics, but he also divined the importance of recovering a knowledge of Greek literature. To this task addressed himself ; and he was followed by numerous Italian enthusiasts, who visited Byzantium its fall as the sacred city of a new revelation. The next step was to collect MSS., to hunt out, copy, and preserve the precious relics of the past. In this work of accumulation Guarino and Filelfo, Aurispa and Poggio, took the chief part, aided by the wealth of Italian patricians, merchant-princes, and despots, who were inspired by the sacred thirst for learning. Learning was fashionable and it was passionate, pervading all society with the fervour of romance. For a generation nursed in decadent scholasticism and stereotyped theological formulae it was the fountain of renascent youth, beauty, and freedom, the shape in which the Helen of art and poetry appeared to the ravished eyes of mediaeval Faustus. It was the resurrection of the mightiest spirits of the past. "I go," said Cyriac of Ancona, the indefatigable though uncritical explorer of antiquities, "I go to awake the dead!" This was enthusiasm, this the vitalizing faith, which made the work of scholarship in the 15th century so highly strung and ardent. The men who followed it knew that they were restoring humanity to its birthright after the expatriation of ten centuries. They were instinctively aware that the effort was for liberty of action, thought, and conscience in the future. This conviction made young men leave their loves and pleasures, grave men quit their counting-houses, churchmen desert their missals to crowd the lecture rooms of philologers and rhetoricians. When Greek had been acquired, MSS. Accumulated, libraries and museums formed, came the age of printers and expositors. Aldus Manutius in Italy, Froben in Basel, the Étiennes in Paris, committed to the press what the investigators had recovered. Nor were there wanting at the same time men who dedicated their powers to Hebrew and Oriental erudition, laying, together with the Grecians a basis for those Biblical studies which advanced the Reformation. Meanwhile the languages of Greece and Rome had been so thoroughly appropriated that a final race of scholars, headed by Politian, Pontano, Valla, handled once again in verse and prose both antique dialects, and thrilled the ears of Europe with new-made pagan melodies. The church itself at this epoch lent its influence to the prevalent enthusiasm. Nicholas V. and Leo X., not to mention intervening popes who showed themselves tolerant of humanistic culture, were heroes of the classical revival. Scholarship became the surest path of advancement to ecclesiastical and political honours. Italy was one great school of the new learning at the moment when the German, French, and Spanish nations were invited to her feast.

Nature of Italian Humanism

It will be well to describe briefly, but in detail, what this meeting of the modern with the ancient mind effected over the whole field of intellectual interests. In doing so, we must be careful to remember that the study of the classics did but give a special impulse to pent-up energies which were bound in one way or another to assert their independence. Without the Revival of Learning the direction of those forces would have been different; but that novel intuition into the nature of the world and man which constitutes what we describe as Renaissance must have emerged. As the facts, however, stand before us, if is impossible to dissociate the rejection of the other world as a place to live and act in, the conviction that "the proper study of mankind is man," from humanism. Humanism as it actually appeared in Italy, was positive in its contempt for mediaeval mysticism, invigorated for sensuous enjoyment by contact with antiquity, yet holding in itself the germ of new religious aspirations, profounder science, and sterner probings of the mysteries of life than had been attempted even by ancients. The operation of this humanistic spirit has now to be traced.

Relations of Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio and Villani to the Revival of Learning

It is obvious that Italian literature owed little at the outset to the revival of learning. The Divine Comedy the Canzoniere, and the Decameron were works of monumental art, deriving neither form nor inspiration immediately from the classics, but applying the originality of Italian genius to matter drawn from previous mediaeval sources. Dante showed both in his poem and in his lyrics that he had not abandoned the sphere of contemporary thought. Allegory and theology, the vision and the symbol, still determine the form of masterpieces which for perfection of workmanship and for emancipated force of intellect rank among the highest products of the human mind. Yet they are not mediaeval in the same sense as the song of Roland or the Arthurian cycle. They proved that, though Italy came late into the realm of literature, her action was destined to be decisive and alterative by the introduction of a new spirit, a firmer and more positive grasp on life and art. These qualities she owed to her material prosperity, to her freedom from feudalism, to her secularized church, her commercial nobility, her political independence in a federation of small states. Petrarch and Boccaccio, though they both held the mediaeval doctrine that literature should teach some abstruse truth beneath a veil of fiction, differed from Dante in this that their poetry and prose in the vernacular abandoned both alle-gory and symbol. In their practice they ignored their theory. Petrarch's lyrics continue the Provencal tradition as it had been reformed in Tuscany, with a subtler. and more modern analysis of emotion, a purer and more chastened style, than his masters could boast. Boccaccio's tales, in like manner, continue the tradition of the fabliaux, raising that literary species to the rank of finished art, enriching it with humour, and strengthening its substance by keen insight into all varieties of character. The Canzoniere and the Decameron distinguish themselves from mediaeval literature, not by any return to classical precedents, but by free self-conscious handling of human nature. So much had to be premised in order to make it clear in what relation humanism stood to the Renais-sance, since the Italian work of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio is sufficient to indicate the re-birth of the spirit after ages of apparent deadness. Had the Revival of Learning not intervened it is probable that the vigorous efforts of these writers alone would have inaugurated a new age of European culture. Yet, while noting this reserva-tion of judgment, it must also be remarked that all three felt themselves under some peculiar obligation to the classics. Dante, mediaeval as his temper seems to us, chose Virgil for his guide, and ascribed his mastery of style to the study of Virgilian poetry. Petrarch and Boccaccio were, as we have seen, the pioneers of the new learning. They held their writings in the vernacular cheap, and initiated that contempt for the mother tongue which was a note of the earlier Renaissance. It may further be observed that Giovanni Villani, the first chronicler who used Italian for the compilation of a methodical histor}7, tells us how he was impelled to write by musing on the ruins of Borne and thinking of the vanished greatness of the Latin race. We have therefore to recognize this fact that the four greatest writers of the 14th century, while the Revival of Learning was yet in its cradle, each after his own fashion acknowledged the vivifying touch upon their spirit of the antique genius. They seem to have been conscious that they could not give the desired impulse to modern literature and art without contact with the classics; and, in spite of the splendour of their achievements in Italian, they found no immediate followers upon that path.

Relation of Humanism to Scholarship and Literature

The fascination of pure study was so powerful, the Italians at that epoch were so eager to recover the past, that during tne 15th century we have before our eyes the spectacle of this great nation deviating from the course of development begun in poetry by Dante and Petrarch, in prose by Boccaccio and Villani, into the channels of scholar-ship and antiquarian research. The language of the Canzoniere and Decameron was abandoned for revived Latin and discovered Greek. Acquisition supplanted invention ; imitation of classical authors suppressed originality of style. The energies of the Italian people were devoted to transcribing codices, settling texts, translating Greek books into Latin, compiling grammars, commentaries, encyclopaedias, dictionaries, epitomes, and ephemerides. During this century the best histories—Bruno's and Poggio's annals of Florence, for example—were composed in Latin after the manner of Livy. The best dissertations, Landino's Camaldunenses, Valla's De Voluptate, were laboured imitations of Cicero's Tusculans. The best verses, Pontano's elegies, Politian's hexameters, were in like manner Latin; public orations upon ceremonial occasions were delivered in the Latin tongue ; correspondence, official and familiar, was carried on in the same language; even the fabliaux received, in Poggio's Facetix, a dress of elegant Latinity. The noticeable barrenness of Italian literature at this period is referable to the fact that men of genius and talent devoted themselves to erudition and struggled to express their thoughts and feelings in a speech which was not natural. Yet they were engaged in a work of incalculable importance. At the close of the century the knowledge of Greece and Rome had been reappro-priated and placed beyond the possibility of destruction; the chasm between the old and new world had been bridged ; mediajval modes of thinking and discussing had been superseded; the staple of education, the common culture which has brought all Europe into intellectual agreement, was already in existence. Humanism was now an actuality. Owing to the uncritical veneration for antiquity which then prevailed, it had received a strong tincture of pedantry. Its professors, in their revolt against the Middle Ages, made light of Christianity and paraded paganism. What was even worse from an artistic point of view, they had contracted puerilities of style, vanities of rhetoric, stupidities of wearisome citation. Still, at the opening of the 16th century, it became manifest what fruits of noble quality the Revival of Letters was about to bring forth for modern literature. Two great scholars, Lorenzo de' Medici and Politian, had already returned to the practice of Italian poetry. Their work is the first absolutely modern work,—modern in the sense of having absorbed the stores of classic learning and reproduced those treasures in forms of simple, natural, native beauty. Boiardo occupies a similar position by the fusion of classic mythology with chivalrous romance in his Orlando Innamorato. But the victor's laurels were reserved for Ariosto, whose Orlando Furioso is the purest and most perfect extant example of Renaissance poetry. It was not merely in what they had acquired and assimilated from the classics that these poets showed the transformation effected in the field of literature by humanism. The whole method and spirit of mediaeval art had been abandoned. That of the Cinque Cento is positive, defined, mundane. The deity, if deity there be, that rules in it, is beauty. Interest is confined to the actions, passions, sufferings, and joys of human life, to its pathetic, tragic, humorous, and sentimental incidents. Of the state of souls beyond the grave we hear and are supposed to care nothing. In the drama the pedantry of the Revival, which had not injured romantic literature, made itself perniciously felt. Rules were collected from Horace and Aristotle. Seneca was chosen as the model of tragedy; Plautus and Terence supplied the groundwork of comedy. Thus in the plays of Rucellai, Trissino, Sperone, and other tragic poets, the nobler elements of humanism, considered as a revelation of the world and man, obtained no free development. Even the comedies of the best authors are too observant of Latin precedents, although some pieces of Machiavelli, Ariosto, Aretino, Cecchi, and Gelli are admirable for vivid delinea-tion of contemporary manners.

Relation of Humanism to the Fine Arts

The relation of the plastic arts to the revival of learning to the is similar to that which has been sketched in the case of nne arts ; poetry. Cimabue started with work which owed nothing directly to antiquity. At about the same time Niccola Pisano studied the style of sculpture in fragments of Graeco-Roman marbles. His manner influenced Giotto, who set painting on a forward path. Fortunately for the unim-peded expansion of Italian art, little was brought to light of antique workmanship during the 14th and 15th centuries. The classical stimulus came to painters, sculptors, and architects chiefly through literature. There-fore there was narrow scope for imitation, and the right spirit of humanism displayed itself in a passionate study of perspective, nature, and the nude. Yet we find in the writings of Ghiberti and Alberti, we notice in the master
pieces of these men and their compeers Brunelleschi and Donatello, how even in the 15th century the minds of artists were fascinated by what survived of classic grace and science. Gradually, as the race became penetrated with antique thought, the earlier Christian motives of the arts yielded to pagan subjects. Gothic architecture, which had always flourished feebly on Italian soil, was supplanted by a hybrid Roman style. The study of Vitruvius gave strong support to that pseudo-classic manner, which, when it had reached its final point in Palladio’s work, overspread the whole of Europe and dominated taste during two centuries. But the perfect plastic art of Italy, the pure art of the Cinque Cento, the painting of Raphael, Da Vinci, Titian, and Correggio, the sculpture of Donatello, Michelangelo, and Sansovino, the architecture of Bramante, Omodeo, and the Venetian Lombardi, however much imbued with the spirit of the classical revival, takes rank beside the poetry of Ariosto as a free intelligent product of the Renaissance. That is to say, it is not so much an outcome of studies in antiquity as an exhibition of emancipated modern genius fired and illuminated by the masterpieces of the past. It indicates a separation from the Middle Ages, inasmuch as it is permanently natural. Its religion is joyous, sensuous, dramatic, terrible, but in each and all of its many-sided manifestations strictly human. Its touch on classical mythology is original, rarely imitative or pedantic. The art of the Renaissance was an apocalypse of the beauty of the world and man in unaffected spontaneity, without side thoughts for piety or erudition, inspired by pure delight in loveliness and harmony for their own sakes.

Relation of Humanism to Science and Philosophy

In the fields of science and philosophy humanism wrought similar important changes. Petrarch began by waging relentless war against the logicians and materialists of his own day. With the advance made in Greek studies scholastic methods of thinking fell into contemptuous oblivion. The newly aroused curiosity for nature encouraged men like Alberti, Da Vinci, Toscanelli, and Da Porta to make practical experiments, penetrate the working of physical forces, and invent scientific instruments. Anatomy began to be studied, and the time was not far distant when Titian should lend his pencil to the epoch-making treatise of Vesalius. The Middle Ages had been satisfied with absurd and visionary notions about the world around them, while the body of man was regarded with too much suspicion to be studied. Now the right method of interrogating nature with patience and loving admiration was instituted. At the same time texts of ancient authors supplied hints which led to discoveries so far-reaching in their results as those of Copernicus, Columbus, and Galileo. In philosophy, properly so-called, the humanistic scorn for mediaeval dullness an obscurity swept away theological metaphysics as valueless. But at first little beyond empty rhetoric and clumsy compilation was substituted. The ethical treatises of the scholars are deficient in substance, while Ficino’s attempt to revive Platonism betrays an uncritical conception of his mater’s drift. It was something, however, to have shaken the shackles of ecclesiastical authority; and, even if a new authority, that of the ancients, was accepted in its stead, still progress was being made toward sounder methods of analysis. This is noticeable in Pomponazzo’s system of materialism, based on the interpretation of Aristotle, but revealing a virile spirit of disinterested and unprejudiced research. The thinkers of southern Italy, Telesio, Bruno, and Campanella, at last opened the two chief lines on which modern speculation has since moved. Telesio and Campanella may be termed the predecessors of Bruno was the precursor of the idealistic schools. All there alike strove to disengage their minds from classical as well as ecclesiastical authority proving that the emancipation of the will had been accomplished. It must be added that their writings, like every other product of the Renaissance, except its purest poetry and art, exhibit a hybrid between mediaeval and modern tendencies. Childish ineptitudes are mingled with intuitions of maturest wisdom, and seeds of future thought germinate in the decaying refuse of past systems.

Relation of Humanism to Criticism

Humanism in the earliest stages was uncritical. It absorbed the relics of antiquity with omnivorous appetite, and with very imperfect sense of the distinction between worse and better work. Yet it led in process of time to criticism. The critique of literature began in the lecture room of Politian, in the printing-house of Aldus, and in the school of Vittorino. The critique of Roman law started, under Politian’s auspices, upon a more liberal course than that which had been followed by the powerful but narrow sighted glossators of Bologna. Finally, in the court of Naples arose that most formidable of all critical engines, the critique of established ecclesiastical traditions and spurious historical documents. Valla by one vigorous effort destroyed the False Decretals and exposed the Donation of Constantine to ridicule, paving the way for the polemic carried on against the dubious pretensions of the papal throne by scholars of the Reformation. A similar criticism, conducted less on lines of erudition than of persiflage and irony, ransacked the moral abuses of the church and played around the very foundations of Christianity. This was tolerated with approval by men who repeated Leo X.’s witty epigram : "What profit has not that fable of Christ brought us!" The same critical and philosophic spirit working on the materials of history produced a new science, the honours of which belong to Machiavelli. He showed, on the one side, how the history of a people can be written with a recognition of fixed principles, and at the same time with an artistic feeling for personal and dramatic episodes. On the other side, he addressed himself to the analysis of man considered as a political being, to the anatomy of constitutions and the classification of government, to the study of motives underlying public action, the secrets of success and the causes of failure in the conduct of affairs. The unscrupulous rigour with which he applied his scientific method, and the sinister deductions he thought himself justified in drawing from the results it yielded, excited terror and repulsion. Nevertheless, a department had been added to the intellectual empire of mankind, in which fellow-workers, like Guicciardini at Florence, and subsequently Sarpi at Venice, were not slow to follow the path traced by Machiavelli.

Relation of Humanism to Education

The object of the foregoing paragraphs has been to show in what way the positive, inquisitive, secular, exploratory spirit of the Renaissance, when toned and controlled by humanism, penetrated the regions of literature, art, philosophy, and science. It becomes at this point of much moment to consider how social manners in Italy were modified by the same causes, since the type developed there was in large measure communicated together with the new culture to the rest of Europe. The first subject to be noticed under this heading is education. What has come to be called a classical education was the immediate product of the Italian Renaissance. The universities of Bologna. Padua, and Salerno had been famous through the Middle Ages for the study of law, physics, and medicine; and during the 15th and 16th centuries the two first still enjoyed celebrity in those faculties. But at this period no lecture-rooms were so crowded as those in which professors of antique literature and language read passages from the poets and orators, taught Greek, and commented upon the systems of philosophers. The mediaeval curriculum offered no defined place for the new learning of the Revival, which had indeed no recognized name. Chairs had therefore to be founded under the title of rhetoric, from which men like Chrysoloras and Guarino, Filelfo and Politian, expounded orally to hundreds of eager students form every town of Italy and every nation in Europe their accumulated knowledge of antiquity. One mass of Greek and Roman erudition, including history and metaphysics, law and science, civic institutions and the art of war, mythology and magistracies, metrical systems and oratory, agriculture and astronomy, domestic manners and religious rites, grammar and philology, biography and numismatics formed the miscellaneous subject matter of this so-styled rhetoric. Notes taken at these lectures supplied young scholars with hints for further explorations; and a certain tradition of treating antique authors for the display of general learning as well as for elucidation of their texts, came into vogue, which has determined the method of scholarship for the last three centuries in Europe. The lack of printed books in the first period of the Revival, and the comparative rarity of Greek erudition among students, combined with the intense enthusiasm aroused for the new gospel of the classics, gave special value to the personal teaching of these professors. They journeyed from city to city, attracted by promises of higher pay, and allured by ever-growing laurels of popular fame. Each large town established it public study, academy, or university, similar institutions under varying designations, for exposition of the litterae humaniores. The humanists, or professors of that branch of knowledge, became a class of the highest dignity. They were found in the chanceries of the republics, in the papal curia, in the council chambers of princes, at the headquarters of condottieri, wherever business had to be transacted, speeches to be made, and the work of secretaries to be performed. Furthermore, they undertook the charge of private education, opening schools which displaced the mediaeval system of instruction, and taking engagements as tutors in the families of despots, noblemen, and wealthy merchants. The academy established by Vittorino da Feltre at Mantua under the protection of Gian Francesco Gonzaga for the training of pupils of both sexes, might be chosen as the type of this Italian method. His scholars, who were lodged in appropriate buildings, met daily to hear the master read and comment on the classics. They learned portions of the best authors by heart, exercised themselves in translation from one language to another, and practiced composition in prose and verse. It was Vittorino’s care to see that, while their memories were dully stored with words and facts, their judgment should be formed by critical analysis, attention to style, and comparison of the authors of a decadent age with those who were acknowledged classics. During the hours of recreation suitable physical exercises, as fencing, riding, and gymnastics, were conducted under qualified trainers. From this sketch it will be seen how closely the educational system which came into England during the reigns of the Tudors, and which has prevailed until the present time, was modeled upon the Italian type. English youths who spend their time at Eton between athletic sports and Latin verses, and who take as Ireland with a first class in "Greats" at Oxford, are pursuing the same course of physical and mental discipline as the princes of Gonzaga or Montefeltro in the 15th century.

Relation of Humanism to Fine Manners

The humanists effected a deeply penetrating change is social manners. Through their influence as tutors, professors, orators and courtiers, society was permeated by a fresh ideal of culture. To be a gentleman in Italy meant at this epoch to be a man acquainted with the rediments at least of scholarship, refined in diction, capable or corresponding or of speaking in choice phrases, open to the beauty of the arts, intelligently interested in archaeology, taking for his models of conduct the great men of antiquity rather than the saints of the church. He was also expected to prove himself an adept in physical exercises and in the courteous observances which survived from chivalry. The type is set before us by Castiglione in that book upon the courtier which went the round of Europe in the 16th century. It is further emphasized in a famous passage of the Orlando Innamorato where Boiardo compares the Italian ideal of an accomplished gentleman with the coarser type admired by nations of the north. To this point the awakened intelligence of the Renaissance, instructed by humanism, polished by the fine arts, expanding in genial conditions of diffused wealth, had brought the Italians at a period when the rest of Europe was comparatively barbarous.

The Moral Defects of the Italian Renaissance

This picture has undoubtedly a darker side. Humanism, in its revolt against the Middle Ages, was, as we have seen already, mundane, pagan, irreligious, positive. The Renaissance can, after all, be regarded only as a period of transition, in which much of the good of the past was sacrificed while some of the evil was retained, and neither the bad nor the good of the future was brought clearly into fact. Beneath the surface of brilliant social culture lurked gross appetites and savage passions, unrestrained by mediaeval piety, untutored by modern experience. Italian society exhibited an almost unexampled spectacle of literary, artistic, and courtly refinement crossed by brutalities of lust, treasons, poisonings, assassinations, violence. A succession of worldly pontiffs brought the church into flagrant discord with the principles Christianity. Steeped in pagan learning, emulous of imitating the manners of the ancients, used to think and feel in harmony with Ovid and Theocritus, and at the same time rendered cynical by the corruption of papal Rome, the educated classes lost their grasp upon morality. Political honesty ceased almost to have a name in Italy. The Christian virtues were scorned by the foremost actors and the ablest thinkers of the time, while the antique virtues were themes for rhetoric rather than moving springs of conduct. This is apparent to all students of Machiavelli and Guicciardini, the profoundest analysts of their age, the bitterest satirists of its vices, but themselves infected with its incapacity for moral goodness. Not only were the Italians vitiated ; but they had also become impotent for action and resistance. At the height of the Renaissance the five great powers in the peninsula formed a confederation of independent but mutually attractive and repellent states. Equilibrium was maintained by diplomacy, in which the humanists played a foremost part, casting a network of intrigue over the nation which helped in no small measure to stimulate intelligence and create a common medium of culture, but which accustomed statesmen to believe that everything could be achieved by wire-pulling. Wars were conducted on a showy system by means of mercenaries, who played a safe game in the field and developed a system of bloodless campaigns. Meanwhile the people grew up unused to arms. When Italy between the years 1494 and 1530 became the battlefield of French, German, and Spanish forces, it was seen to what a point of helplessness the political, moral, and social conditions of the Renaissance had brought the nation.

Diffusion of the New Learning from Italy throughout Europe

It was needful to study at some length the main phenomena of the Renaissance in Italy, because the history of almost entirely upon points in which they either adhered to or diverged from the type established there. Speaking broadly, what France, Germany, Spain, and England assimilated from Italy at this epoch was in the first place the new learning, as it was then called. This implied the new conception of human life, the new interest in the material universe, the new method of education, and the new manners, which we have seen to be inseparable form Italian humanism. Under these forms of intellectual enlightenment and polite culture the renascence of the human spirit had appeared in Italy, where it was more than elsewhere connected with the study of classical antiquity. But the audacious exploratory energy which formed the motive force of the Renaissance as distinguished from the Revival of Learning took, as we shall see, very different directions in the several nations who now were sending the flower of their youth to study at the feet of Italian rhetoricians.





The Renaissance ran its course in Italy with strange indifference to consequences. The five great powers, held in equilibrium by Lorenzo de’ Medici, dreamed that the peninsula could be maintained in statu quo by diplomacy. The church saw no danger in encouraging a pseudo pagan ideal of life, violating its own principle of existence by assuming the policy of an aggrandizing secular state, and outraging Christendom openly by its acts and utterances. Society at large was hardly aware that an intellectual force of stupendous magnitude and incalculable explosive power had been created by the new learning. Why should not established institutions proceed upon the delights of existence were augmented, manners polished, arts developed, and a golden age of epicurean ease made decent by a state religion which no one cared to break with because no one was left to regard it seriously? This was the attitude of the Italians when the Renaissance, which they had initiated as a thing of beauty, began to operate as a thing of power beyond the Alps.

Revival of Learning in Germany

Germany was already provided with universities, seven of which had been founded between 1348 and 1409. In these haunts of learning the new studies took root after the year 1440, chiefly through the influence of traveling professors, Peter Luder and Samuel Karoch. German scholars made their way to Lombard and Tuscan lecture-rooms, bringing back the methods of the humanists. Greek, Latin, and Hebrew erudition soon found itself at home on Teutonic soil. Like Italian men of letters, these pioneers of humanism gave a classic turn to their patronymics ; unfamiliar names, Crotus Rubeanus and Pierius Graecus, Capnion and Lupambulus Ganymedes, Cecolampadius and Melanchthon, resounded on the Rhine. A few of the German princes, among whom Maximilian, the prince cardinal Albert of Mainz, Frederick the Wise of Saxony, and Eberhard of Würtemberg deserve mention, exercised a not insignificant influence on letters by the foundation of new universities and the patronage of learned men. The cities of Strasburg, Nuremberg, Augsburg, Basel, became centres of learned coteries, which gathered round scholars like Wimpheling, Brant, Peutinger, Schedel, and Pirckheimer, artists like Dürer and Holbein, printers of he eminence of Froben. Academies in imitation of Italian institutions came into existence, the two most conspicuous, named after the Rhine and Danube, holding their headquarters respectively at Heidelberg and Vienna. Crowned poets, of whom the most eminent was Conrad Celtes Protucius (Pickel!), emulated the fame of Politician and Pontano. Yet, though the Renaissance was thus widely communicated to the centres of German intelligence, it displayed a different from that which it assumed in Italy. Gothic art, which was indigenous in Germany, yielded but little to southern influences. Such work as that of Dürer, Vischer, Cranach, Schöngauer, Holbein, consummate as it was in technical excellence, did not assume Italian forms of loveliness, did not display the paganism of the Latin races. The modification of Gothic architecture by pseudo-Roman elements of style was incomplete. What Germany afterwards took of the Palladian manner was destined to reach it on a circuitous route from France. In like manner the new learning failed to penetrate all classes of society with the rapidity of its expansion in Italy, nor was the new ideal of life and customs so easily substituted for the mediaeval. The German aristocracy, as Aeneas Sylvius had noticed, remained for the most part barbarous, addicted to gross pleasures, contemptuous of culture. The German dialect were too rough to receive that artistic elaboration under antique influences which had been so facile in Tuscany. The doctors of the universities were too wedded to their antiquated manuals and methods, too satisfied with dullness, too proud of titles and diplomas too anxious to preserve ecclesiastical discipline and to repress mental activity, for a genial spirit of humanism to spread freely. Not in Cologne or Tübingen but in Padua and Florence did the German pioneers of the Renaissance acquire their sense of liberal studies. And when they returned home they found themselves encumbered with stupidities, jealousies, and rancours. Moreover, the temper of these more enlightened men was itself opposed to Italian indifference and immorality ; it was pugnacious and polemical, eager to beat down the arrogance of monks and theologians rather than to pursue an ideal of aesthetical self-culture. To a student of the origins of German humanism it is clear that something very different from the Renaissance of Lorenzo de’ Medici and Leo X. was in preparation from the first upon Teutonic soil. Far less plastic and form loving than the Italian, the German intelligence was more penetrative, earnest, disputative, occupied with substantial problems. Starting with theological criticism, proceeding to the stage of solid studies in the three learned languages, German humanism occupied the attention of a widely scattered sect of erudite scholars ; but it did not arouse the interest of the whole nation until it was forced into a violently militant attitude by Pfefferkorn’s attack on Reuchlin. That attempt to extinguish honest thought prepared the Reformation ; and humanism after 1518 was absorbed in politico-religious warfare.

Relation of Humanism to the German Reformation

The point of contact between humanism and the Reformation in Germany has to be insisted on ; for it is just here that the relation of the Reformation to the Renaissance in general makes itself apparent. As the Renaissance had its precursory movements in the mediaeval period, so the German Reformation was preceded by Wickliffe and Huss, by the discontents of the Great Schism, and by the councils of Constance and Basel. These two main steams of modern progress had been proceeding upon different tracks to diverse issues, but they toughed in the studies stimulated by the Revival, and they had a common origin in the struggle of the spirits after self-emanicapition. Johann Reuchlin, who entered the lecture-room of Argyropoulos at Rome in 1482, Erasmus of Rotterdam, who once dwelt at Venice as the house guest of the Aldi, applied their critical knowledge of Hebrew and of Greek to the education and diffusion of the Bible. To the Germans as to all nations of that epoch, the Bible came as a new book, because they now read it for the first time with. Eyes opened by humanism. The touch of the new spirit which had evolved literature, art, and culture in Italy sufficed in Germany to recreate Christianity. This new spirit in Italy emancipated human intelligence by the classics ; in Germany it emancipated the human conscience by the Bible. The indignation excited by Leo X.’s sale of indulgences, the moral rage stirred in Northern hearts by papal abominations in Rome, were external causes which precipitated the schism between Teutonic and Latin Christianity. The Reformation, inspired by the same energy of resuscitated life as the Renaissance, assisted by the same engines of the printing-press and paper, using the same apparatus of scholarship, criticism, literary skill, being in truth another manifestation of the same world-movement under a diverse form, now posed itself as irreconcilable antagonist to Renaissance Italy. It would be difficult to draw any comparison between German and Italian humanists to the disparagement of the former. Reuchlin was no less learned than Pico ; Melanchthon no less humane than Ficino ; Erasmus no less witty, and far more trenchant, than Petrarch ; Ulrich von Hutten no less humorous than Folengo ; Paracelsus no less fantastically learned than Cardano. But the cause in which German intellect and will were enlisted was so different that it is difficult not to make a formal separation between that movement which evolved culture in Italy and that which restored religion in Germany, establishing the freedom of intelligence in the one sphere and the freedom of the conscience in the other. The truth is that the Reformation was the Teutonic Renaissance. It was the emancipation of the reason on a line neglected by the Italians, more important indeed in its political consequences, more weighty in its bearing on rationalistic developments than the Italian Renaissance, but none the less an outcome of the same ground-influences. We have already in this century reached a point at which, in spite of stubborn Protestant dogmatism and bitter Catholic reaction, we can perceive how the ultimate affranchisement of man will be the work of both.

The Catholic Revival in Italy

The German Reformation was incapable of propagating itself in Italy, chiefly for the reason that the intellectual forces which it represented and employed had already found specific outlet in that country. It was not in the nature of the Italians, sceptical and paganized by the Revival, to be keenly interested about questions which seemed to revive the scholastic disputes of the Middle Ages. It was not in their external conditions, suffering as they were from invasions, enthralled by despots, to use the Reformation as a lever for political revolution. Yet when a tumultuary army of so-called Lutherans sacked Rome in 1527 no sober thinker doubted that a new agent had appeared in Europe which would alter the destinies of the peninsula. The Renaissance was virtually closed, so far as it concerned Italy, when Clement VII. and Charles V. struck their compact at Bologna in 1530. This compact ported by papal authority, itself monarchically absolute, which influenced Europe until the outbreak of the Revolution. A reaction immediately set in both against the Renaissance and the Reformation. The council of Trent, opened in 1545 and closed in 1563, decreed a formal purgation of the church, affirmed the fundamental doctrines of Catholicism, strengthened the papal supremacy, and inaugurated that movement of resistance which is known as the Counter-Reformation. The complex onward effort of the modern nations, expressing itself in Italy as Renaissance in Germany as Reformation, had aroused the forces of conservatism. The four main instruments of the reaction were the papacy, which had done so much by its sympathy with the revival to promote the humanistic spirit it now dreaded, the strength of Spain, and two Spanish institutions planted on Roman soil – the Inquisition and the Order of Jesus. The principle contended for and established by this reaction was absolutism as opposed to freedom – monarchical absolutism, papal absolutism, the suppression of energies liberated by the Renaissance and Reformation. The partial triumph of this principle was secure inasmuch as the majority of established powers in church and state felt threatened by the revolutionary opinions afloat in Europe. Renaissance and Reformation were, moreover, already at strife. Both too were spiritual and elastic tendencies toward progress, ideals rather than solid organisms.

Spain in the Renaissance Period: Arts and Letters

The part played by Spain in this period of history was determined in the large measure by external circumstance. The Spaniards became one nation by the conquest Granada and the union of the crowns of Castile and Aragon. The war of national aggrandizement, being in its nature a crusade, inflamed the religious enthusiasm of the people. It was followed by the expulsion of Jews and Moors, and by the establishment of the Inquisition on a solid basis, with powers formidable to the freedom of all Spaniards from the peasant to the throne. These facts explain the decisive action of the Spanish nation on the side of Catholic conservatism, and help us to understand why their brilliant achievements in the field of culture during the 16th century were speedily followed by stagnation. It will be well, in dealing with the Renaissance in Spain, to touch first upon the arts and literature, and then to consider those qualities of character in action whereby the nation most distinguished itself from the rest of Europe. Architecture in Spain, emerging from the Gothic stage, developed an Early Renaissance style of bewildering richness by adopting elements of Arabic and Moorish decoration. Sculpture exhibited realistic vigour of indubitably native stamp ; and the minor plastic crafts were cultivated with success on lines of striking originality. Painting grew form a homely stock, until the work of Velazquez showed that Spanish masters in this branch were fully abreast of their Italian compeers and contemporaries. To dwell here upon the Italianizing versifiers, moralists, and pastoral romancers who attempted to refine the vernacular of the Romancero would be superfluous. They are mainly noticeable us proving that certain coteries in Spain were willing to accept the Italian Renaissance. But the real force of the people was not in this courtly literary style. It expressed itself at last in the monumental work of Don Quixote, which places Cervantes beside Rabelais, Ariosto, and Shakespeare as one of the four supreme exponents of the Renaissance. The affectations of decadent chivalry disappeared before its humour ; the lineaments of a noble nation, animated by the youth of modern Europe emerging from the Middle Ages, were portrayed in its enduring pictures of human experience. The Spanish drama, meanwhile, untrammeled by those false canons of pseudo-classic taste which fettered the theatre in Italy and afterwards in France, rose to an eminence in the hands of Lope de Vega and Calderon which only the English, and the English only in the masterpieces of three or four play wrights, can rival. Camoens, in the Lusiad, if we may here group Portugal with Spain, was the first modern poet to compose an epic on a purely modern theme, vying with Virgil, but not bending to pedantic rules, and breathing the spirit of the age of heroic adventures and almost fabulous discoveries into his melodious numbers. What has chiefly to be noted regarding the achievements of the Spanish race in arts and letters at this epoch is their potent national originality. The revival of learning produced in Spain no slavish imitation as it did in Italy, no formal humanism, and, it may be added, very little of fruitful scholarship. The Renaissance here, as in England, displayed essential qualities of intellectual freedom, delight in life, exultation over rediscovered earth and man. The note of Renaissance work in Germany was still Gothic. This we feel in the penetrative earnestness of Dürer, in the homeliness of Hans Sachs, in the grotesque humour of Eulenspiegel and the Narrenschiff, the somber pregnancy of the Faust legend, the almost stolid mastery of Holbein. It lay not in the German genius to escape from the pre-occupations and the limitations of the Middle-Ages, for this reason mainly that what we call mediaeval was to a very large extent Teutonic. But on the Spanish peninsula, in the masterpieces of Velazquez, Cervantes, Camoens, Calderon, we emerge into an atmosphere of art, definitely national, distinctly modern, where solid natural forms stand before us realistically modelled, with light and shadow on their rounded outlines, and where the airiest creatures of the fancy take shape and weave a dance of rhythmic, light incomparable intricacy. The Spanish Renaissance would in itself suffice, if other witnesses were wanting, to prove how inaccurate is the theory that limits this movement to the revival of learning. Touched by Italian influences, enriched and fortified by the new learning, Spanish genius walked firmly forward on its own path. It was only crushed by forces generated in the nation that produced it, by the Inquisition and by despotic Catholic absolutism.

Exploration of the Ocean

In the history of he Renaissance, Spain and Portugal represent the exploration of the ocean and the colonization of the other hemisphere. The voyages of Columbus and Vespucci to America, the rounding of the Cape by Diaz and the discovery of the sea to India by Vasco da Gama, Cortes’s conquest of Mexico and Pizarro’s conquest of Peru, marked a new era for the human race and inaugurated the modern age more decisively than any other series of events has done. It has recently been maintained that modern European history is chiefly an affair of competition between confederated states for the possession of lands revealed by Columbus and Da Gama. Without challenging or adopting this speculation, it may be safely affirmed that nothing so pregnant of results has happened as this exploration of the globe. To say that it displaced the centre of gravity in politics and commerce, substituting the ocean for the Mediterranean, dethroning Italy her seat of central importance in traffic, depressing the eastern and elevating the western powers of Europe, opening a path for Anglo-Saxon expansiveness, forcing philosophers and statesmen to regard the Occidental nations as a single group in counterpoise to other groups of nations, the European community as one unit correlated to other units of humanity upon this planet, is truth enough to vindicate the vast significance of these discoveries. The Renaissance, far from being the re-birth of antiquity with its civilization confined to the Mediterranean, with its Hercules’ Pillars beyond which lay Cimmerian darkness, was thus effectively the entrance upon a quite incalculably wider stage of life, in which mankind at large has since enacted one great drama.

Dogmatic Catholicism

While Spanish navies were exploring the ocean, and Spanish paladins were overturning empires, Charles V. headed the reaction of Catholicism against reform. Stronger as King of Spain than as emperor, for the empire was little buy a name, he lent the weight of his authority to that system of coercion and repression which enslaved Italy, desolated Germany with war; and drowned the Low Countries in Lord blood. Philip II., with full approval of the Spanish nation, pursued, the same policy in an even stricter spirit. He was powerfully assisted by two institutions, which the national character of Spain expressed itself, the Inquisition and the Society of Jesus. Of the former it is not needful to speak here. But we have to observe that the last great phenomenon of the Spanish Renaissance was Ignatius Loyola, who organized the militia by means of which the church worked her Counter-Reformation. His motto, Perinde ac cadaver, expressed that recognition of absolutism which papacy and monarchy demanded for their consolidation.

France in the Renaissance Period

The logical order of an essay which attempts to show how Renaissance was correlated to Reformation and Counter-Reformation has necessitated the treatment of Italy, Germany, and Spain in succession; for these three nations were the three main agents in the triple process to be analysed. It was due to their specific qualities, and to the diverse circumstances of there external development, that the re-birth of Europe took this form of duplex action on the lines of intellectual and moral progress, followed by reaction against mental freedom. We have now to speak of France, which earliest absorbed the influence of the Italian revival, and of England, which received it latest. The Renaissance may be said to have begun in France with Charles VIII.’s expedition to Naples, and to have continued until the extinction of the house of Valois. Louis XII. And Francis I. spent a considerable portion of their reigns in the attempt to secure possession of the Italian provinces they claimed. Henry II.’s queen was Catherine of the Medicean family ; and her children, Charles IX. and Henry III., were Italianated Frenchmen. Thus the connexion between France and Italy during the period 1494-1589 was continuous. The French passed to and fro across the Alps on military and peaceful expeditions. Italians came to France as courtiers, ambassadors, men of business, captains, and artists. French society assumed a strong Italian colouring, nor were the manners of the court very different from those of an Italian city, except that externally they remained ruder and less polished. The relation between the crown and its great feudatories, the military bias of the aristocracy, and the marked distinction between classes which survived from the Middle Ages, rendered France in many vital points unlike Italy. Yet the annals of that age, and the anecdotes retailed by Brantôme, prove that the royalty and nobility of France had been largely Italianized.

French Architecture

It is said that Louis XII. Brought Fra Giocondo of Verona back with him to France, and founded a school of architects. But we need not have recourse to this legend for the explanation of such Italian influences as were already noticeable in the Renaissance buildings on the Loire. Without determining the French style, Italian intercourse helped to stimulate its formation and development. There are students of the 15th century in France who resent this intrusion of the Italian Renaissance. But they forget that France was bound by inexorable laws of human evolution to obey the impulse which communicated itself to every form of art in Europe. In the school of Fontainebleau, under the patronage of Francis I., that Italian influence made itself distinctly felt ; yet a true French manner had been already formed, which when it was subsequently applied at Paris, preserved a marked national quality. The characteristic of the style developed by Bullant, De l’Orme, and Lescot, in the royal or princely palaces of Chenonceaux, Chambord, Anet, Écouen, Fontaineblean, the Louvre, and elsewhere, is a blending of capricious fancy and inventive richness of decoration with purity of outline and a large sense of the beauty of extended masses. Beginning with the older castles of Touraine, and passing onward to the Tuileries, we trace the passage from the mediaeval fortress to the modern pleasure house, and note how architecture obeyed the demands of that new phenomenon of Renaissance civilization, the court. In the general distribution of parts these monumental buildings express the peculiar conditions which French society assumed under the influence of Francis I. and Diane de Poitiers. In details of execution and harmonic combinations they illustrate the precision, logic, lucidity, and cheerful spirit of the national genius. Here, as in Lombardy, a feeling for serene beauty derived from study of the antique has not interrupted the evolution of a style indigenous to France and eminently characteristic of the French temperament.

French Painting and Sculpture

During the reign of Francis I. several Italian painters of eminence visited France. Among thse Del Rosso, Primaticcio, Del Sarto, and Da Vinci are the most famous. But their example was not productive of a really great school of French painting. It was left for the Poussins and Claude Lorraine in the next century, acting under mingled Italian and Flemish influences, to embody the still active spirit of the classical revival. These three masters were the contemporaries of Corneille, and do not belong to the Renaissance period. Sculpture, on the contrary, in which art, as in architecture, the mediaeval French had been surpassed by no other people of Europe, was practiced with originality and power in the reigns of Henry II. and Francis I. Ponzio and Cellini, who quitted Italy for France, found themselves outrivaled in their own sphere by Jean Goujon, Cousin and Pilon, The decorative sculpture of this epoch, whether combined with architecture or isolated in monumental statuary, ranks for grace and suavity with the best of Sansovino’s. At the same time it is unmistakably inspired by a sense of beauty different from the Italian, -- more piquant and pointed, less languorous, more mannered perhaps, but with less of empty rhythmical effect. All this while, minor arts of enamelling, miniature, glass-painting, goldsmith’s work, jewellery, engraving, tapestry, wood-cracing, pottery, &c., were cultivated with a spontaneity and freedom which proved that France, in the middle point between Flanders and Italy, was able to use both influences without a sacrifice of native tastes. It may indeed be said in general that what is true of France is likewise of all countries which felt the artistic impulses of the Renaissance. Whether we regard Spain, the Netherlands, or Germany at this epoch, we find a national impress stamped upon the products of the plastic and the decorative arts, notwithstanding the prevalence of certain forms derived from the antique and Italy. It was only at a later period that the formalism of pseudo-classic pedantry reduced natural and national originality to a dead unanimity.

French Literature

French literature was quick to respond to Renaissance influence. De Comines, the historian of Charles VIII.’s expedition to Naples, differs from the earlier French chroniclers in his way of regarding the world of men and affairs. He has the perspicuity and analytical penetration of a Venetian ambassador. Villon, his contemporary, may rather be ranked, so far as artistic form and use of knowledge are concerned, with poets of the Middle Ages, and in particular with the Goliardi. But he is essentially modern in the vividness of his self-portraiture, and in what we are wont to call realism. Both De Comines and Villon indicate the entrance of a new quality into literature. The Rhétoriqueurs, while protracting mediaeval traditions by their use of allegory and complicated metrical systems, sought to improve the French language by introducing Latinisms. Thus the Revival of Learning began to affect the vernacular in the last years of the 15th century. Marot and his school reacted against this pedantry. The Renaissance displayed itself in their effort to purify the form and diction of poetry. But the decisive revolution was effected by Ronsard and his comrades of the Pléiade. It was their professed object to raise French to a level with the classics, and to acclimatize Italian species of verse. The humanistic movement led these learned writers to engraft the graces of the antique upon their native literature, and to refine it by emulating the lucidity of Petrarch. The result of their endeavour was immediately apparent in the new force added to French rhythm, the new pomp, richness, colouring, and polish conferred upon poetic diction. French style gradually attained to fixity, and the alexandrine came to be recognized as the standard line in poetry. D’Aubigné’s invective and Begnier’s satire, at the 16th century, are as modern as Voltaire’s Meanwhile the drams was emerging from the mediaeval mysteries; and the classical type, made popular by Garnier’s genius, was elaborated, as in Italy, upon the model of Seneca and the canons of the three unities. The tradition thus formed was continued and fortified by the illustrious playwrights of the 17th century. Translation from Greek and Latin into French progressed rapidly at the commencement of this period. It was marked characteristic of the Renaissance in France to appropriate the spoils of Greece and Rome for the profit of the mother tongue. Amyot’s Plutarch and his Daphnis and Chloe rank among the most exquisite examples of beautiful French prose. Prose had now the charm of simplicity combined with grace. To mention Brantôme is to mention the most entertaining of gossips. To speak of Montaigne is to speak of the best as well as the first of essaylists. In all the literary work which has been mentioned, the originality and freshness of the French genius are no less conspicuous than its saturation with the new learning and with Italian studies. But the greatest name of the epoch, the name which is synonymous with the Renaissance in France, has yet to be uttered. That, of course, is Rabelais. His incommensurable and indescribable masterpiece of mingled humour, wisdom, satire, erudition, indecency, profundity, levity, imagination, realism, reflects the whole age in its mirror of hyper-Aristophanic farce. What Ariosto is for Italy, Cervantes for Spain, Erasmus for Holland, Luther for Germany, Shakespeare for England, that is Rabelais for France. The Renaissance cannot be comprehended in its true character without familiarity with these six representatives of its manifold and many-sided inspiration.

French Scholarship. The Reformation in France.

The French Renaissance, so rich on the side of arts and letters, was hardly less rich on the side of classical studies. The revival of learning has a noble muster-roll of names in France: Turnèbe, the patriarch of Hellenistic studies ; the Étiennes of Paris, equaling in numbers, industry, and learning their Venetian rivals ; the two Scaligers ; impassioned Dolet ; eloquent Muret ; learned Cujas ; terrible Calvin ; Ramus, the intrepid antagonist of Aristotle ; De Thou and De Bèze ; ponderous Casaubon ; brilliant young Saumaise. The distinguishing characteristics of French humanism are vivid intelligence, critical audacity and polemical acumen, perspicuity of exposition, learning directed in its applications by logical sense rather than by artistic ideals of taste. Some of the names just mentioned remind us that in France, as in Germany and Holland, the Reformation was closely connected with the revival of learning. Humanism has never been in the narrow sense of that Protestant; still less has it been strictly Catholic. In Italy it fostered a temper of mind decidedly averse to theological speculation and religious earnestness. In Holland and Germany, with Erasmus, Reuchlin, and Melanchthon, it developed types of character, urbane, reflective, pointedly or gently critical, which, left to themselves, would not have plunged the north of Europe into the whirlpool of belligerent reform. Yet none the less was the new learning, through the open spirit of inquiry it nourished, its vindication of the private reason its enthusiasm for republican antiquity, and its proud assertion of the rights of human independence, linked by a strong and subtle chain to that turbid revolt of the individual consciousness against spiritual despotism draped in fallacies and throned upon abuses. To this rebellion we give the name of Reformation. But, while the necessities of antagonism to papal Rome made it assume at first the form of narrow and sectarian opposition, it marked in fact a vital struggle of the intellect towards truth and freedom, involving future results of scepticism and rationalistic audacity from which its earlier champions would have shrunk. It marked, moreover, in the condition of armed resistance against established authority which was forced upon it by the Counter-Reformation, a firm resolve to arrest political liberty, leading in the course of time to a revolution with which the rebellious spirit of the Revival was sympathetic. This being the relation of humanism in general to reform, French learning in particular displayed such innovating boldness as threw many of its most conspicuous professors into the camp at war with Rome. Calvin, a French student of Picard origin, created the type of Protestantism to which the majority of French Huguenots adhered. This too was a moment at which philosophical seclusion was hardly possible. In a nation so tumultuously agitated one side or the other had to be adopted. Those of the French humanists who did not proclaim Huguenot opinions, found themselves obliged with Muretus to lend their talents to the Counter-Reformation, or to suffer persecution for heterodoxy, like Dolet. The church, terrified and infuriated by the progress of reform, suspected learning on its own account. To be an eminent scholar was to be accused of immorality, heresy, and atheism in a single indictment ; and the defence of weaker minds lay in joining the Jesuits, as Heinsius was fain to do. France had already absorbed the earlier Renaissance in an Italianizing spirit before the Reformation made itself felt as a political actuality. This fact, together with the strong Italian bias of the Valois, serves to explain in some degree the reason why the Counter-Reformation entailed those fierce entangled civil wars, massacres of St Bartholomew, murders of the Guises, regicides, treasons, and empoisonments that terminated with the compromise of Henry IV. It is no part of the present subject to analyse the political, religious, and social interests of that struggle. The upshot was the triumph of the Counter-Reformation, and the establishment of its principle, absolutism, as the basis of French government. It was a French king who, when the nation had been reduced to order, uttered the famous word of absolutism, "L’État, c’est moi."

The Netherlands: Flemish and Dutch Painting

The Renaissance in the Low Countries, as elsewhere, had its brilliant age of arts and letters. During the Middle Ages the wealthy free towns of Flanders flourished under conditions not dissimilar to those of the Italian republics. They raised miracles of architectural beauty, which were modified in the 15th and 16th centuries by characteristics elements of the new style. The Van Eycks, followed by Memling, Metsys, Mabuse, Lucas van Leyden, struck out a new path in the revival of painting and taught Europe the secret of oil-colouring. But it was reserved for the 17th century to witness the flower and fruit time of this powerful art in the work of Porbus, Rubens, and Vandyck, in the Dutch schools of landscape and home-life and in the unique masterpieces of Rembrandt. We have a right to connect this later period with the Renaissance, because the distracted state of the Netherlands during the 16th century suspended, which it could not extinguish, their aesthetic development. The various schools of the 17th century, moreover, are animated with the Renaissance spirit no less surely than the Florentine school of the 15th or the Venetian of the 16th. The animals vigour and carnal enjoyment of Rubens, the refined Italianizing beauty of Vandyck, the mystery of light and gloom on Rembrandt’s panels, the love of nature in Ruysdael, Cuyp, and Van Hooghe, with their luminously misty skies, silvery daylight, and broad expanse of landscape, the interest in common life displayed by Terburg, Van Steen, Douw, Ostade, and Teniers, the instincts for the beauty of animals in Potter, the vast sea spaces of Vanderveldt, the grasp on reality, the acute intuition into character in portraits, the scientific study of the world and man, the robust sympathy with natural appetites, which distinguish the whole art of the Low Countries, are a direct emanation from the Renaissance.

French and Dutch Scholarship

The vernacular in the Netherlands profited at first but little by the impulse which raised Italian. Spanish French, and English to the rank of classic languages. But humanism, first of all in its protagonist Erasmus, afterwards in the long list of critical scholars and editors Lipsius, Heinsius, and Grotius, in the printers Elzevir and Plantin, developed itself from the centre of the Leyden university with massive energy, and proved that it was still a motive force of intellectual progress. In the fields of classical learning the students of the Low Countries broke new ground chiefly by methodical collection, classification, and comprehensive criticism of previously accumulated stores. Their works were solid and substantial edifices, forming the substratum for future scholarship. In addition to this they brought philosophy and scientific thoroughness to bear on studies which had been pursued in a more literary spirit. It would, however, be uncritical to pursue this subject further ; for the encyclopaedic labours of the Dutch philologers belong to a period when the Renaissance was overpast. For the same reason it is inadmissible to do more mention the name of Spinoza here.

Dutch Wars of Independence

The Netherlands became the battlefield of Reformation and Counter-Reformation in even a stricter sense than France. Here the antagonistic principles were plainly posed in the course of a struggle against foreign despotism. The conflict ended in the assertion of political independence as opposed to absolute dominion. Europe in large measure owes the modern ideal of political liberty to that spirit of stubborn resistance which broke the power of Spain. Recent history, and in particular the history of democracy, claims for its province the several stages whereby this principle was developed in England and America, and its outburst in the frenzy of the French Revolution. It is enough here to have alluded to the part played by the Low Countries in the genesis of a motive force which may be described as the last manifestation of the Renaissance striving after self-emancipation.

England in the Renaissance Period. Combined Influences of Renaissance and Reformation.

The insular position of England, combined with the nature of the English people, has allowed us to feel the vibration of European movements later and with less of shock than any of the Continental nations. Before a wave of progress has reached our shores we have had the opportunity of watching it as spectators, and of considering how we shall receive it. Revolutions have passed from the tumultuous states of their into some settled and recognizable state before we have been called upon to cope with them. It was thus that England took the influences of the Renaissance and Reformation simultaneously, and almost at the same time found herself engaged in that struggle with the Counter-Reformation which, crowned by the defeat of the Spanish Armada, stimulated the sense of nationality and developed the naval forces of the race. Both Renaissance and Reformation had been anticipated by at least a century in England. Chaucer’s poetry, which owed so much to Italian examples, gave an early foretaste of the former. Wickliffe’s teaching was a vital moment in the latter. But the French wars, the Wars of the Roses, and the persecution of the Lollards deferred the coming of the new age ; and the year 1536, when Henry VIII. Passed the Act of Supremacy through Parliament, may be fixed as the date when England entered definitively upon a career of intellectual development abreast with the foremost nations of the Continent. The circumstances just now insisted on explain the specific character of the English Renaissance. The Reformation had been adopted by consent of he king, lords and commons ; and this change in the religion, though it was not confirmed without reaction, agitation, and bloodshed, cost the nation comparatively little disturbance. Humanism, before it affected the bulk of the English people, had already permeated Italian and French literature. Classical erudition had been adapted to the needs of modern thought. The hard work of collecting, printing, annotating, and translating Greek and Latin authors had been accomplished. The masterpieces of antiquity had been interpreted and made intelligible. Much of the learning popularized by our poets and dramatists was derived at second hand from modern literature. This does not mean that England was deficient in ripe and sound scholars. More, Colet, Ascham, Cheke, Camden were men whose familiarity with the classics was both intimate and easy. Public schools and universities conformed to the modern methods of study ; nor were there wanting opportunities for youths of humble origin to obtain an education which placed them on a level with Italian scholars. The single case of Ben Jonson sufficiently proves this. Yet learning did not at this epoch become a marked speciality in England. There was no class corresponding to the humanists. It should also be remembered that the best works of Italian literature were introduced into Great Britain together with the classics. Phaer’s Virgil, Chapman’s Homer, Harrington’s Orlando, Marlowe’s Hero and Leander, Fairfax’s Jerusalem Delivered, North’s Plutarch, Hoby’s Courtier—to mention only a few examples—placed English readers simultaneously in possession of the most eminent and representative works of Greece, Rome, and Italy. At the same time Spanish influences reached them through imitators of Guevara and the dramatists ; French influences in the versions of romances ; German influences in popular translations of the Faust legend, Eulenspiegel, and similar productions. The authorized version of the Bible had also been recently given to the people,--so that almost at the same period of time England obtained in the vernacular an extensive library of ancient and modern authors. This was a privilege enjoyed in like measure by no other nation. It sufficiently accounts for the richness and variety of Elizabethan literature, and for the enthusiasm with which the English language was cultivated.

Arts, Letters and the Drama

Speaking strictly, England borrowed little in the region of the arts from other nations, and developed still less that was original. What is called Jacobean architecture marks indeed an interesting stage in the transition from the Gothic style. But, compared with Italian, French, Spanish, German, and Flemish work of a like period, it is both timid and dry. Sculpture was represented in London for a brief space by Torrigiani ; painting by Holbein and Antonio More; music by Italians and Frenchmen of the Chapel Royal. But no Englishmen rose to European eminence in these departments. With literature the case was very different. Wyat and Surrey began by engrafting the forms and graces of Italian poetry upon the native stock. They introduced the sonnet and blank verse. Sidney followed with the sestina and terza rima and with various experiments in metres, none of which took root on English soil. The translators handled the octave stanza. Marlowe gave new vigour to the couplet. The first period of the English Renaissance was one of imitation and assimilation. Academies after the Italian type were founded. Tragedies in the style of Seneca, rivalling Italian and French dramas of the epoch, were produced. Attempts to Latinize ancestral rhythms, similar to those which had failed in Italy and France, were made. Tentative essays in criticism and dissertations on the art of poetry abounded. It seemed as though the Renaissance ran a risk of being throttled in its cradle by superfluity of foreign and pedantic nutriment. But the natural vigour of the English genius resisted influences alien to itself, and showed a robust capacity for digesting the varied diet offered to it. As there was nothing despotic in the temper of the ruling classes, nothing oppressive in English culture, the literature of that age evolved itself freely from the people. It was under these conditions that Spenser gave his romantic epic to the world, a poem which derived its allegory from the Middle Ages, its decorative richness from the Italian Renaissance, its sweetness, purity, harmony, and imaginative splendour from the most poetic nation of the modern world. Under the same conditions the Elizabeth drama, which is its totality is the real exponent of the English Renaissance, came into existence. This drama very early freed itself from the pseudo-classic mannerism which imposed on taste in Italy and France. Depicting feudalism in the vivid colours of an age at war with feudal institutions, breathing into antique histories the breath of actual life, embracing the romance of Italy and Spain, the mysteries of German legend, the fictions of poetic fancy and the facts of daily life, humours of the moment and abstractions of philosophical speculation, in one homogeneous amalgam instinct with intense vitality, this extraordinary birth of time, with Shakespeare for the master of all ages, left a monument of the Renaissance unrivalled for pure creative power by any other product of that epoch. To complete the sketch, we must set Bacon, the expositor of modern scientific method, beside Spenser and Shakespeare, as the third representative of the Renaissance in England. Nor should Raleigh, Drake, Hawkins, the semi-buccaneer of the ocean, be omitted.

English Reaction against Catholicism Monarchical Absolutism and Renaissance Culture

They, following the lead of Portuguese and Spaniards, combating the Counter-Reformation on the seas, opened for England her career of colonization and plantation. All this while the political policy of Tudors and Stewards tended towards monarchical absolutism, while the Reformation in England, modified by contact with the Low Countries during their struggles, was narrowing into strict reactionary intolerance. Puritanism indicated a revolt of the religious conscience of the nation against the arts and manners of the Renaissance, against the encroachments of belligerent Catholicism, against the corrupt and Italianated court of James I., against the absolutist pretensions of his son Charles. In its final manifestation during the Commonwealth, Puritanism won a transient victory over the mundane forces of both Reformation and Renaissance, as these had taken shape in England. It also secured the eventual triumph of constitutional independence. Milton, the greatest humanistic poet of the English race, lent his pen and moral energies during the best years of his life to securing that principle on which modern political systems at present rest. Thus the geographical isolation of England, and the comparatively late adoption by the English of matured Italian and German influences, give peculiar complexity to the phenomena of Reformation and Renaissance simultaneously developed on our island. The period of our history between 1536 and 1642 shows how difficult it is to separate these two factors in the re-birth of Europe, both of which contributed so powerfully to the formation of modern English nationality.

New Political Relations in Europe dating from the Renaissance

It has been impossible to avoid an air or superficiality, and the repetition of facts known to every schoolboy, in this sketch of so complicated a subject as the Renaissance,--embracing many nations, a great variety of topics, and an indefinite period of time. Yet no other treatment was possible upon the lines laid down at the outset, where it was explained why the term Renaissance cannot now be confined to the Revival of Learning and the effect of antique studies upon literary and ideals. The purpose of this article has been to show that, while the Renaissance implied a new way of regarding the material world and human nature, a new conception of man’s destiny and duties on this planet, a new culture and new intellectual perceptions penetrating every sphere of thought and energy, it also involved new reciprocal relations between the members of the European group of nations. The Renaissance closed the Middle Ages and opened the modern ere, -- not merely because the mental and moral ideas which then sprang into activity and owed their force in large measure to be the revival of classical learning were opposed to mediaeval modes of thinking and feeling, but also because the political and international relations specific to it as an age were at variance with fundamental theories of the past. Instead of empire and church, the sun and moon of the mediaeval system, a federation of peoples, separate in type and divergent in interests, yet bound together by common tendencies, common culture, and efforts, came into existence. For obedience to central authority was substituted balance of power. Henceforth the hegemony of Europe attached to no crown imperial or papal, but to the nation which was capable of winning it, in the spiritual region by mental ascendancy, and in the temporal by force.

Conservative and Progressive Parties in Modern Europe

That this is the right way of regarding the subject appears from the events of the first two decades of the 16th century, those years in which the humanistic revival attained its highest point in Italy. Luther published his theses in 1517, sixty-four years after the fall of Constantinople, twenty-three years after the expedition of Charles VIII. to Naples, ten years before the sack of Rome, at a moment when France, Spain, and England had only felt the influences of Italian culture by feebly. From that date forward two parties wrestled for supremacy in Europe, to which may be given the familiar names of Liberalism and Conservatism, the party of progress and the party of established institutions. The triumph of the former was most signal among the Teutonic peoples. The Latin races, championed by Spain and supported by the Papacy, fought the battle of the latter, and succeeded for a time in rolling back the tide of revolutionary conquest. Meanwhile than liberal culture which had been created for Europe by the Italians before the contest of the Reformation began continued to spread, although it was stifled in Italy and Spain, retarded in France and the Low Countries, well nigh extirpated by wars in Germany, and diverted from its course in England by the counter-movement of Puritanism. The auto da fes of Seville and Madrid, the flames to which Bruno, Dolet, and Paleario were flung, the dungeon of Campanella and the seclusion of Galileo, the massacre of St. Bartholomew and the faggots of Smithfield, the desolated plains of Germany and the cruelties of Alva in the Netherlands, disillusioned Europe of those golden dreams which had arisen in the earlier days of humanism, and which had been so pleasantly indulged by Rabelais. In truth the Renaissance was ruled by no Astraea redux, but rather by a severe spirit spirit which brought not peace but a sword, reminding men of sternest duties, testing what of moral force and tenacity was in them, compelling them to strike for the old order or the new, suffering no lukewarm halting between two opinions. That, in spite of retardation and retrogression, the old order of ideas should have yielded to the new all over Europe,—that science should have won firm standing-ground, and political liberty should have struggled through those birth-throes of its origin, -- in the nature of things. Had this not been, the Renaissance or re-birth of Europe would be a term without a meaning.

Literature.—The special articles on the several arts and the literature of modern Europe, and on the biographies of great men mentioned in this essay, will give details of necessity here omitted. It may be useful to indicate a few works upon the Renaissance in general. Burchardt’s Die Cultur der Renaissance in Italien, Michelet’s "Renaissance" (7th vol. of Histoire de France), Voigt’s Wiederbelebung des Classischen Alterhums ; Symonds’s Renaissance in Italy Marc Monnier’s Renaissance de Dante à Luther, Müntz’s Précurseurs de la Renaissance and Renaissance en Italie et en France, and Geigner’s Humanismus und Renaissance in Italien und Deutschland are among the most comprehensive. (J. A. S.)



The above article was written by: John Addington Symonds, M.A.; sometime Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford; author of Introduction to the Study of Dante, Studies of the Greek Poets, The Renaissance in Italy, and of biographies of Sidney, Ben Jonson, Shelley, and Michelangelo.



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