Imágenes de páginas
[blocks in formation]

such plays as 'Everyman' and 'Lusty Juventus,' cannot fail to be struck with their resemblances. Such personages as “Good Counsel,” “Abominable Living,” “Hypocrasie,” in the play, are of the same family as those in the 'Progress.' The stout Protestantism of both is at once edifying and amusing. An utter contempt for "holy stocks and holy stones, holy clouts and holy bones," as the play has it, animates them all. And it can hardly be doubted that the immortal tinker, in the carnal days when he played at tipcat and romped with the girls on the village green at Elstow, indulged himself in the edification of witnessing these dramatic representations.

As to the passage from this dramatic phase to the real, in Real plays. which the character and actions of man are portrayed, to the speare. exclusion of the supernatural, it is only necessary to allude with brevity-indeed, it is only necessary to recall one name, and that one name is Shakspeare. He stands, in his relations to English literature, in the same position that the Greek sculptors stood with respect to ancient art, embodying conceptions of humanity in its various attributes with indescribable skill, and with an exquisite agreement to nature.

Not without significance is it that we find mystery in the The pulpit pulpit and mystery on the stage. They appertain to social in- stage. fancy. Such dramas as those I have alluded to, and many others that, if space had permitted, might have been quoted, were in unison with the times. The abbeys were boasting of such treasures as the French hood of the Virgin, “her smocke or shifte," the manger in which Christ was laid, the spear which pierced his side, the crown of thorns. The transition from this to the following stage is not without its political attendants, the prohibition of interludes containing anything against the Church of Rome, the royal proclamation against preaching out of one's own brain, the appearance of the Puritan upon the national stage, an increasing acerbity of habit and sanctimoniousness of demeanour.

With peculiar facility we may, therefore, through an examination of the state of the drama, determine national mental condition. The same may be done by a like examination of the state of the pulpit. Whoever will take the trouble to



papers and



Newspapers ; Coffee-Houses. compare the results together cannot fail to observe how remarkably they correspond.

Such was the state of the literature of amusement; as to political literature, even at the close of the period we are considering, it could not be expected to flourish after the judges

had declared that no man could publish political news except News he had been duly authorized by the Crown. Newspapers were,

however, beginning to be periodically issued, and, if occasion called for it, broadsides, as they were termed, were added. In addition, news-letters were written by enterprising individuals in the metropolis, and sent to rich persons who subscribed for them; they then circulated from family to family, and doubtless enjoyed a privilege which has not descended to their printed contemporary, the newspaper, of never becoming stale. Their authors compiled them from materials picked up in the gossip of the coffee-houses. The coffee-houses, in a non-reading community, were quite an important political as well as social institution. They were of every kind, Prelatical, Popish, Puritan, Scientific, Literary, Whig, Tory. Whatever a man's notions might be, he could find in London, in a double sense, a coffee-honse to his taste. In towns of considerable importance the literary demand was insignificant; thus it is said that the father of Dr. Johnson, the lexicographer, havked books from town to town, and was accustomed to open a stall in Birmingham on market-days, and it is added that this supply

of literature was equal to the demand. Liberty of The liberty of the press has been of slow growth. Scarcely slowly se

had printing been invented, when it was found necessary everywhere to place it under some restraint, as was, for instance, done by Rome in her Index Expurgatorius of prohibited books, and the putting of printers who had offended under the ban ; the action of the University of Paris, alluded to on page 193 of this volume, was essentially of the same kind. In England, at first, the press was subjected to the common law; the Crown judges themselves determined the offence, and could

punish the offender with fine, imprisonment, or even death. Its present Within the last century this power of determination has been

taken from them, and a jury must decide, not only on the fact,

the press



Contrast between


Liberty of the Press.

243 but also on the character of the publication, whether libellous, seditious, or otherwise offensive. The press thus came to be a reflector of public opinion, casting light back upon the public; yet, as with other reflectors, a portion of the illuminating power is lost. The restraints under which it is laid are due, not so much to the fear that liberty would degenerate into licence, for public opinion would soon correct that; they are rather connected with the necessities of the social state.

Whoever will examine the condition of England at successive periods during her passage through the Age of Faith will progress in see how slow was her progress, and will perhaps be surprised Faith and to find at its close how small was her advance. The ideas that had served her for so many centuries as a guide had rather obstructed than facilitated her way. But whoever will consider what she has done since she fairly entered on her Age of Reason will remark a wonderful contrast. There has not been a progress in physical conditions only—a securing of better food, better clothing, better shelter, swifter locomotion, the procurement of individual happiness, an extension of the term of life. There has been a great moral advancement. Such atrocities as those mentioned in the foregoing paragraphs are now impossible, and so unlike our own manners that doubtless we read of them at first with incredulity, and with difficulty are brought to believe that these are the things our ancestors did. What a difference between the dilatoriness of the past, its objectless exertions, its unsatisfactory end, and the energy, the well-directed intentions of the present age, which have already yielded results like the prodigies of romance !








THE Age of Reason in Europe was ushered in by an astro

nomical controversy. An astrono Is the earth the greatest and most noble body in the unimical pro

verse, round which, as an immovable centre, the sun, and the various planets, and stars revolve, ministering by their light and other qualities to the wants and pleasures of man, or is it an insignificant orb—a mere point-submissively revolving, among a crowd of compeers and superiors, around a central

The former of these views was authoritatively asserted by the Church; the latter, timidly suggested by a few thoughtful and religious men at first, in the end gathered strength

and carried the day. Its impor Behind this physical question—a mere scientific problem

lay something of the utmost importance—the position of man in the universe. The conflict broke out upon an ostensible issue, but every one saw what was the real point in the dispute.

In the history of the Age of Reason in Europe, which is to of the Age of Reason fill the remaining pages of this book, I am constrained to com

mence with this astronomical controversy, and have therefore been led by that circumstance to complete the survey of the entire period from the same, that is, the scientific point of view. Many different modes of treating it spontaneously pre

tant consequences.


[blocks in formation]


sent themselves; but so vast are the subjects to be brought under consideration, so numerous their connections, and so limited the space at my disposal, that I must give the preference to one which, with sufficient copiousness, offers also precision. Whoever will examine the progress of European intellectual advancement thus far manifested will find that it has concerned itself with three great questions :-1. The ascertainment of the position of the earth in the universe; 2. The history of the earth in time; 3. The position of man among living beings. Under this last is ranged all that he has done in scientific discovery, and all those inventions which are the characteristics of the present industrial age.

Where am I? What am I? we may imagine to have been the first exclamations of the first man awakening to conscious existence. Here, in our Age of Reason, we have been dealing with the same thoughts. They are the same which, as we have seen, occupied Greek intellectual life.

When Halley's comet appeared in 1456, it was described Roman asby those who saw it as an object of “unheard-of magnitude;" ideas. its tail, which shook down “diseases, pestilence, and war” upon earth, reached over a third part of the heavens. It was considered as connected with the progress of Mohammed II., who had just then taken Constantinople. It struck terror into all people. From his seat, invisible to it, in Italy, the sovereign pontiff, Calixtus III., issued his ecclesiastical fulminations ; but the comet in the heavens, like the sultan on the earth, pursued its course undeterred. In vain were all the bells in Europe ordered to be rung to scare it away; in vain was it anathematized; in vain were prayers put up in all directions to stop it. True to its time, it punctually returns from the abysses of space, uninfluenced by anything save agencies of a material kind. A signal lesson for the meditations of every religious man.

Among the clergy there were, however, some who had more More cor. correct cosmic ideas than those of Calixtus. A century before Copernicus, Cardinal de Cusa had partially adopted the helio- some of the centric theory, as taught in the old times by Philolaus, Pythagoras, and Archimedes. He ascribed to the earth a globular

rect ideas among

« AnteriorContinuar »