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yet practical, with boundless ambition, not to conquer kingdoms, but to discover new realms. Born probably in 1446, in the year 1470 he married the daughter of an Italian navigator living in Lisbon; and, inheriting with her some valuable Portuguese charts and maritime journals, he settled in Lisbon and took up chart-making as a means of livelihood. Being thus trained in both the art and the science of navigation, his active mind seized upon the most interesting theme of the day. His studies and experience convinced him that the Cipango of Marco Polo could be reached by sailing directly west. He knew that the earth was round, and he inferred from the plants and carved wood and even human bodies that had occasionally floated from the West, that there must be unknown islands on the western coasts of the Atlantic, and that this ocean, never yet crossed, was the common boundary of both Europe and Asia; in short, that the Cipango could be reached by sailing west. And he believed the thing to be practicable, for the magnetic needle had been discovered, or brought from the East by Polo, which always pointed to the North Star, so that mariners could sail in the darkest nights; and also another instrument had been made, essentially the modern quadrant, by which latitude could be measured. He supposed that after sailing west, about eight hundred leagues, by the aid of compass and quadrant, and such charts as he had collected and collated, he should find the land of gold and spices by which he would become rich and famous.

This was not an absurd speculation to a man of the intellect and knowledge of Columbus. To his mind there were but few physical difficulties if he only had the ships, and the men bold enough to embark with him, and the patronage which was necessary for so novel and daring an enterprise. The difficulties to be surmounted were not so much physical as moral. It was the surmounting of moral difficulties which gives to Columbus his true greatness as a man of genius and resources. These moral obstacles were so vast as to be all but insurmountable, since he had to contend with all the established ideas of his age,–the superstitions of sailors, the prejudices of learned men, and general geographical ignorance. He himself had neither money, nor ships, nor powerful friends. Nobody believed in him; all ridiculed him; some insulted him. Who would furnish money to a man who was supposed to be half crazy,–certainly visionary and wild; a rash adventurer who would not only absorb money but imperil life? Learned men would not listen to him, and powerful people derided him, and princes were too absorbed in wars and pleasure to give him a helping hand. Aid could come only from some great state or wealthy prince; but both states and princes were deaf and dumb to him. It was a most extraordinary inspiration of genius in the fifteenth century which created, not an opinion, but a conviction that Asia could be reached by sailing west; and how were common minds to comprehend such a novel idea? If a century later, with all the blaze of reviving art and science and learning, the most learned people ridiculed the idea that the earth revolved around the sun, even when it was proved by all the certitudes of mathematical demonstration and unerring observations, how could the prejudiced and narrow-minded priests of the time of Columbus, who controlled the most important affairs of state, be made to comprehend that an unknown ocean, full of terrors, could be crossed by frail ships, and that even a successful voyage would open marts of inexhaustible wealth? All was clear enough to this scientific and enterprising mariner; and the inward assurance that he was right in his calculation gave to his character a blended boldness, arrogance, and dignity which was offensive to men of exalted station, and ill became a stranger and adventurer with a thread-bare coat, and everything which indicated poverty, neglect, and hardship, and without any visible means of living but by the making and selling of charts.

Hence we cannot wonder at the seventeen years of poverty, neglect, ridicule, disappointment, and deferred hopes, such as make the heart sick, which elapsed after Columbus was persuaded of the truth of his theory, before he could find anybody enlightened enough to believe in him, or powerful enough to assist him. Wrapped up in those glorious visions which come only to a man of superlative genius, and which make him insensible to heat and cold and scanty fare, even to reproach and scorn, this intrepid soul, inspired by a great and original idea, wandered from city to city, and country to country, and court to court, to present the certain greatness and wealth of any state that would embark in his enterprise. But all were alike cynical, cold, unbelieving, and even insulting. He opposes overwhelming, universal, and overpowering ideas. To have surmounted these amid such protracted opposition and discouragement constitutes his greatness; and finally to prove his position by absolute experiment and hazardous enterprise makes him one of the greatest of human benefactors, whose fame will last through all the generations of men. And as I survey that lonely, abstracted, disappointed, and derided man,–poor and unimportant, so harassed by debt that his creditors seized even his maps and charts, obliged to fly from one country to another to escape imprisonment, without even listeners and still less friends, and yet with ever-increasing faith in his cause, utterly unconquerable, alone in opposition to all the world,–I think I see the most persistent man of enterprise that I have read of in history. Critics ambitious to say something new may rake out slanders from the archives of enemies, and discover faults which derogate from the character we have been taught to admire and venerate; they may even point out spots, which we cannot disprove, in that sun of glorious brightness, which shed its beneficent rays over a century of darkness,–but this we know, that, whatever may be the force of detraction, his fame has been steadily increasing, even on the admission of his slanderers, for three centuries, and that he now shines as a fixed star in the constellation of the great lights of modern times, not alone because he succeeded in crossing the ocean, when once embarked on it, but for surmounting the moral difficulties which lay in his way before he could embark upon it, and for being finally instrumental in conferring the greatest boon that our world has received from any mortal man, since Noah entered into the ark.

I think it is Lamartine who has said that truly immortal benefactors have seldom been able to accomplish their mission without the encouragement of either saints or women. This is emphatically true in the case of Columbus. The door to success was at last opened to him by a friendly and sympathetic friar of a Franciscan convent near the little port of Palos, in Andalusia. The sun-burned and disappointed adventurer (for that is what he was), wearied and hungry, and nearly discouraged, stopped at the convent-door to get a morsel of bread for his famished son, who attended him in his pilgrimage. The prior of that obscure convent was the first who comprehended the man of genius, not so much because he was an enlightened scholar, but because his pious soul was full of kindly sympathy, showing that the instincts of love are kindred to the inspirations of genius. It was the voice of Ali and Cadijeh that strengthened Mohammed. It was Catherine von Bora who sustained Luther in his gigantic task. The worthy friar, struck by the noble bearing of a man so poor and wearied, became delighted with the conversation of his guest, who opened to him both his heart and his schemes. He forwarded his plans by a letter to a powerful ecclesiastic, who introduced him to the Spanish Court, then one of the most powerful, and certainly the proudest and most punctilious, in Europe. Ferdinand of Aragon was polite, yet wary and incredulous; but Isabella of Castile listened more kindly to the stranger, whom the greatness of his mission inspired with eloquence. Like the saint of the convent, she, and she alone of her splendid court, divined that there was something to be heeded in the words of Columbus, and gave her womanly and royal encouragement, although too much engrossed with the conquest of Grenada and the cares of her kingdom to pay that immediate attention which Columbus entreated.

I may not dwell on the vexatious delays and the protracted discouragements of Columbus after the Queen had given her ear to his enthusiastic prophecies of the future glories of the kingdom. To the court and to the universities and to the great ecclesiastics he was still a visionary and a needy adventurer; and they quoted, in refutation of his theory, those Scripture texts which were hurled in greater wrath against Galileo when he announced his brilliant discoveries. There are, from some unfathomed reason, always texts found in the sacred writings which seem to conflict with both science and a profound theology; and the pedants, as well as the hypocrites and usurpers, have always shielded themselves behind these in their opposition to new opinions. I will not be hard upon them, for often they are good men, simply unable to throw off the shackles of ages of ignorance and tyranny. People should not be subjected to lasting reproach because they cannot emancipate themselves from prevailing ideas. If those prejudiced courtiers and scholastics who ridiculed Columbus could only have seen with his clearer insight, they might have loaded him with favors. But they were blinded and selfish and envious. Nor was it until Columbus convinced his sovereigns that the risk was small for so great a promised gain, that he was finally commissioned to undertake his voyage. The promised boon was the riches of Oriental countries, boundless and magnificent,–countries not to be discovered, but already known, only hard and perhaps impossible to reach. And Columbus himself was so firmly persuaded of the existence of these riches, and of his ability to secure them, and they were so exaggerated by his imagination, that his own demands were extravagant and preposterous, as must have seemed to an incredulous court,–that he, a stranger, an adventurer, almost a beggar even, should in case of success be made viceroy and admiral over the unexplored realm, and with a tenth of all the riches he should collect or seize; and that these high offices–almost regal–should also be continued not only through his own life, but through the lives of his heirs from generation to generation, thus raising him to a possible rank higher than that of any of the dukes and grandees of Spain.

Ferdinand and Isabella, however, readily promised all that the persistent and enthusiastic adventurer demanded, doubtless with the feeling that there was not more than one chance in a hundred that he would ever be heard from again, but that this one chance was well worth all and more than they expended,–a possibility of indefinite aggrandizement. To the eyes of Ferdinand there was a prospect–remote, indeed–of adding to the power of the Spanish monarchy; and it is probable that the pious Isabella contemplated also the conversion of the heathen to Christianity. It is possible that some motives may have also influenced Columbus kindred to this,–a renewed crusade against Saracen infidels, which he might undertake from the wealth he was so confident of securing. But the probabilities are that Columbus was urged on to his career by ambitious and worldly motives chiefly, or else he would not have been so greedy to secure honors and wealth, nor would have been so jealous of his dignity when he had attained power. To me Columbus was no more a saint than Sir Francis Drake was when he so unscrupulously robbed every ship he could lay his hands upon, although both of them observed the outward forms of religious worship peculiar to their respective creeds and education. There were no unbelievers in that age. Both Catholics and Protestants, like the ancient Pharisees, were scrupulous in what were supposed to be religious duties,–though these too often were divorced from morality. It is Columbus only as an intrepid, enthusiastic, enlightened navigator, in pursuit of a new world of boundless wealth, that I can see him; and it was for his ultimate success in discovering this world, amid so many difficulties, that he is to be regarded as a great benefactor, of the glory of which no ingenuity or malice can rob him.

At last he sets sail, August 3, 1492, and, singularly enough, from Palos, within sight of the little convent where he had received his first encouragement. He embarked in three small vessels, the largest of which was less than one hundred tons, and two without decks, but having high poops and sterns inclosed. What an insignificant flotilla for such a voyage! But it would seem that the Admiral, with great sagacity, deemed small vessels best adapted to his purpose, in order to enter safely shallow harbors and sail near the coast.

He sails in the most propitious season of the year, and is aided by steady trade-winds which waft his ships gently through the unknown ocean. He meets with no obstacles of any account. The skies are serene, the sea is as smooth as the waters of an inland lake; and he is comforted, as he advances to the west, by the appearance of strange birds and weeds and plants that indicate nearness to the land. He has only two objects of solicitude,–the variations of the magnetic needle, and the superstitious fears of his men; the last he succeeds in allaying by inventing plausible theories, and by concealing the real distance he has traversed. He encourages them by inflaming their cupidity. He is nearly baffled by their mutinous spirit. He is in danger, not from coral reefs and whirlpools and sunken rocks and tempests, as at first was feared, but from his men themselves, who clamor to return. It is his faith and moral courage and fertility of resources which we most admire. Days pass in alternate hope and disappointment, amid angry clamors, in great anxiety, for no land appears after he has sailed far beyond the points where he expected to find it. The world is larger than even he has supposed. He promises great rewards to the one who shall first see the unknown shores. It is said that he himself was the first to discover land by observing a flickering light, which is exceedingly improbable, as he was several leagues from shore; but certain it is, that the very night the land was seen from the Admiral’s vessel, it was also discovered by one of the seamen on board another ship. The problem of the age was at last solved. A new continent was given to Ferdinand and Isabella.

On the 12th of October Columbus lands–not, however, on the continent, as he supposed, but on an island–in great pomp, as admiral of the seas and viceroy of the king, in a purple doublet, and with a drawn sword in one hand and the standard of Spain in the other, followed by officers in appropriate costume, and a friar bearing the emblem of our redemption, which is solemnly planted on the shore, and the land called San Salvador. This little island, one of the Bahamas, is not, however, gilded with the anticipated splendors of Oriental countries. He finds neither gold, nor jewels, nor silks, nor spices, nor any signs of civilization; only naked men and women, without any indication of wealth or culture or power. But he finds a soft and genial climate, and a soil of unparalleled fertility, and trees and shrubs as green as Andalusia in spring, and birds with every variety of plumage, and insects glistening with every color of the rainbow; while the natives are gentle and unsuspecting and full of worship. Columbus is disappointed, but not discouraged. He sets sail to find the real Cipango of which he is in search. He cruises among the Bahama islands, discovers Cuba and Hispaniola (now called Hayti), explores their coasts, holds peaceful intercourse with the natives, and is transported with enthusiasm in view of the beauty of the country and its great capacities; but he sees no gold, only a few ornaments to show that there is gold somewhere near, if it only could be found. Nor has he reached the Cipango of his dreams, but new countries, of which there was no record or suspicion of existence, yet of vast extent, and fertile beyond knowledge. He is puzzled, but filled with intoxicating joy. He has performed a great feat. He has doubtless added indefinitely to the dominion of Spain.

Columbus leaves a small colony on the island of Hispaniola, and with the trophies of his discoveries returns to Spain, without serious obstacles, except a short detention in Portugal, whither he was driven by a storm. His stories fill the whole civilized world with wonder. He is welcomed with the most cordial and enthusiastic reception; the people gaze at him with admiration. His sovereigns rise at his approach, and seat him beside themselves on their gilded and canopied throne; he has made them a present worthy of a god. What honors could be too great for such a man! Even envy pales before the universal exhilaration. He enters into the most august circles as an equal; his dignities and honors are confirmed; he is loaded with presents and favors; he is the most marked personage in Europe; he is almost stifled with the incense of royal and popular idolatry. Never was a subject more honored and caressed. The imagination of a chivalrous and lively people is inflamed with the wildest expectations, for although he returned with but little of the expected wealth, he has pointed out a land rich in unfathomed mines.

A second and larger expedition is soon projected. Everybody wishes to join it. All press to join the fortunate admiral who has added a continent to civilization. The proudest nobles, with the armor and horses of chivalry, embark with artisans and miners for another voyage, now without solicitude or fear, but with unbounded hopes of wealth,–especially hardy adventurers and broken-down families of rank anxious to retrieve their fortunes. The pendulum of a nation’s thought swings from the extreme of doubt and cynicism to the opposite extreme of faith and exhilaration. Spain was ripe for the harvest. Eight hundred years’ desperate contest with the Moors had made the nation bold, heroic, adventurous. There were no such warriors in all Europe. Nowhere were there such chivalric virtues. No people were then animated with such martial enthusiasm, such unfettered imagination, such heroic daring, as were the subjects of Ferdinand and Isabella. They were a people to conquer a world; not merely heroic and enterprising, but fresh with religious enthusiasm. They had expelled the infidels from Spain; they would fight for the honor of the Cross in any clime or land.

The hopes held out by Columbus were extravagant; and these extravagant expectations were the occasion of his fall and subsequent sorrows and humiliation. Doubtless he was sincere, but he was infatuated. He could only see the gold of Cipango. He was as confident of enriching his followers as he had been of discovering new realms. He was as enthusiastic as Sir Walter Raleigh a century later, and made promises as rash as he, and created the same exalted hopes, to be followed by bitter disappointments; and consequently he incurred the same hostilities and met the same downfall.

This second expedition was undertaken in seventeen vessels, carrying fifteen hundred people, all full of animation and hope, and some of them with intentions to settle in the newly discovered country until they had made their fortunes. They arrived at Hispaniola in March, of the year 1493, only to discover that the men left behind on the first voyage to secure their settlement were all despoiled or murdered; that the natives had proved treacherous, or that the Spaniards had abused their confidence and forfeited their friendship. They were exposed to new hostilities: they found the climate unhealthy; their numbers rapidly dwindled away from disease or poor food; starvation stared them in the face, in spite of the fertility of the soil; dissensions and jealousies arose; they were governed with great difficulty, for the haughty hidalgoes were unused to menial labor, and labor of the most irksome kind was necessary; law and order were relaxed. The blame of disaster was laid upon the Admiral, who was accused of deceiving them; evil reports were sent to Spain, accusing him of incapacity, cruelty, and oppression; gold was found only in small quantities; some of the leading men mutinied; general discontent arose; the greater part of the colonists were disabled from sickness and debility; no gold of any amount was sent back to Spain, only five hundred Indian slaves to be sold instead, which led to renewed hostilities with the natives, and the necessity for their subjugation. All of these evils created bitter disappointment in Spain and discontent with the measures and government of Columbus himself, so that a commission of inquiry was sent to Hispaniola, headed by Aguado, who assumed arrogant authority, and made it necessary for Columbus to return to Spain without adding essentially to his discoveries. He sailed around Cuba and Jamaica and other islands, but as yet had not seen the mainland or found mines of gold or silver.

He landed in Spain, in 1496, to find that his popularity had declined and the old enthusiasm had grown cold. With him landed a feeble train of emaciated men, who had nothing to relate but sickness, hardship, and disappointment. The sovereigns, however, received him kindly; but he was depressed and sad, and clothed himself with the habit of a Franciscan friar, to denote his humility and dejection. He displayed a few golden collars and bracelets as trophies, with some Indians; but these no longer dazzled the crowd.

It was not until 1498 that Columbus was enabled to make his third voyage, having experienced great delay from the general disappointment. Instead of seventeen vessels, he could collect but six. In this voyage he reached the mainland,–that part called Paria, near the mouth of the Orinoco, in South America, but he supposed it to be an island. It was fruitful and populous, and the air was sweetened with the perfumes of flowers. Yet he did not explore the coast to any extent, but made his way to Hispaniola, where he had left the discontented colony, himself broken in health, a victim of gout, haggard from anxiety, and emaciated by pain. His splendid constitution was now undermined from his various hardships and cares.

He found the colony in a worse state than when he left it under the care of his brother Bartholomew. The Indians had proved hostile; the colonists were lazy and turbulent; mutiny had broken out; factions prevailed, as well as general misery and discontent. The horrors of famine had succeeded wars with the natives. There was a general desire to leave the settlement. Columbus tried to restore order and confidence; but the difficulty of governing such a disorderly set of adventurers was too great even for him. He was obliged to resort to severities that made him more and more unpopular. The complaints of his enemies reached Spain. He was most cruelly misrepresented and slandered; and in the general disappointment, and the constant drain upon the mother country to support the colony, his enemies gained the ear of his sovereigns, and strong doubts arose in their minds about his capacity for government. So a royal commission was sent out,–an officer named Bovadilla, with absolute power to examine into the state of the colony, and supplant, if necessary, the authority of Columbus. The result was the arrest of Columbus and his brothers, who were sent to Spain in chains. What a change of fortune! I will not detail the accusations against him, just or unjust. It is mournful enough to see the old man brought home in irons from the world he had discovered and given to Spain. The injustice and cruelty which he received produced a reaction, and he was once more kindly received at court, with the promise that his grievances should be redressed and his property and dignities restored.

Columbus was allowed to make one more voyage of discovery, but nothing came of it except renewed troubles, hardships, dangers, and difficulties; wars with the natives, perils of the sea, discontents, disappointments; and when at last he returned to Spain, in 1504,–broken with age and infirmities, after twelve years of harassing cares, labors, and dangers (a checkered career of glory and suffering),–nothing remained but to prepare for his final rest. He had not made a fortune; he had not enriched his patrons,–but he had discovered a continent. His last days were spent in disquieting and fruitless negotiations to perpetuate his honors among his descendants. He was ever jealous and tenacious of his dignities. Ferdinand was polite, but selfish and cold; nor can this calculating prince ever be vindicated from the stain of gross ingratitude. Columbus died in the year 1506, at the age of sixty, a disappointed man. But honors were ultimately bestowed upon his heirs, who became grandees and dukes, and intermarried with the proudest families of Spain; and it is also said that Ferdinand himself, after the death of the great navigator, caused a monument to be erected to his memory with this inscription: “To Castile and Leon Columbus gave a new world.” But no man of that century needed less than Columbus a monument to perpetuate his immortal fame.

I think that historians belittle Columbus when they would excite our pity for his misfortunes. They insult the dignity of all struggling souls, and make utilitarians of all benefactors, and give false views of success. Few benefactors, on the whole, were ever more richly rewarded than he. He died Admiral of the Seas, a grandee of Spain,–having bishops for his eulogists and princes for his mourners,–the founder of an illustrious house, whose name and memory gave glory even to the Spanish throne. And even if he had not been rewarded with material gains, it was enough to feel that he had conferred a benefit on the world which could scarcely be appreciated in his lifetime,–a benefit so transcendent that its results could be seen only by future generations. Who could adequately pay him for his services; who could estimate the value of his gift? What though they load him to-day with honors, or cast him tomorrow into chains?–that is the fate of all immortal benefactors since our world began. His great soul should have soared beyond vulgar rewards. In the loftiness of his self-consciousness he should have accepted, without a murmur, whatever fortune awaited him. Had he merely given to civilization a new style of buttons, or an improved envelope, or a punch for a railway conductor, or a spring for a carriage, or a mining tool, or a screw, or revolver, or reaper, the inventors of which have “seen millions in them,” and been cheated out of his gains, he might have whimpered over his wrongs. How few benefactors have received even as much as he; for he won dignities, admiration, and undying fame. We scarcely know the names of many who have made grand bequests. Who invented the mariner’s compass? Who gave the lyre to primeval ages, or the blacksmith’s forge, or the letters of the alphabet, or the arch in architecture, or glass for windows? Who solved the first problem of geometry? Who first sang the odes which Homer incorporated with the Iliad? Who first turned up the earth with a plough? Who first used the weaver’s shuttle? Who devised the cathedrals of the Middle Ages? Who gave the keel to ships? Who was the first that raised bread by yeast? Who invented chimneys? But all ages will know that Columbus discovered America; and his monuments are in every land, and his greatness is painted by the ablest historians.

But I will not enlarge on the rewards Columbus received, or the ingratitude which succeeded them, by force of envy or from the disappointment of worldly men in not realizing all the gold that he promised. Let me allude to the results of his discovery.

The first we notice was the marvellous stimulus to maritime adventures. Europe was inflamed with a desire to extend geographical knowledge, or add new countries to the realms of European sovereigns.

Within four years of the discovery of the West India Islands by Columbus, Cabot had sailed past Newfoundland, and Vasco da Gama had doubled the Cape of Good Hope, and laid the foundation of the Portuguese empire in the East Indies. In 1499 Ojeda, one of the companions of Columbus, and Amerigo Vespucci discovered Brazil. In 1500 Cortereal, a Portuguese, explored the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In 1505 Francesco de Almeira established factories along the coast of Malabar. In 1510 the Spaniards formed settlements on the mainland at Panama. In 1511 the Portuguese established themselves at Malacca. In 1513 Balboa crossed the Isthmus of Darien and reached the Pacific Ocean. The year after that, Ponce de Leon had visited Florida. In 1515 the Rio de la Plata was navigated; and in 1517 the Portuguese had begun to trade with China and Bengal. As early as 1520 Cortes had taken Mexico, and completed the conquest of that rich country the following year. In 1522 Cano circumnavigated the globe. In 1524 Pizarro discovered Peru, which in less than twelve years was completely subjugated,–the year when California was discovered by Cortes. In 1542 the Portuguese were admitted to trade with Japan. In 1576 Frobisher sought a North-western passage to India; and the following year Sir Francis Drake commenced his more famous voyages under the auspices of Elizabeth. In 1578 Sir Humphrey Gilbert colonized Virginia, followed rapidly by other English settlements, until before the century closed the whole continent was colonized either by Spaniards, or Portuguese, or English, or French, or Dutch. All countries came in to share the prizes held out by the discovery of the New World.

Colonization followed the voyages of discovery. It was animated by the hope of finding gold and precious stones. It was carried on under great discouragements and hardships and unforeseen difficulties. As a general thing, the colonists were not accustomed to manual labor; they were adventurers and broken-down dependents on great families, who found restraint irksome and the drudgeries of their new life almost unendurable. Nor did they intend, at the outset, permanent settlements; they expected to accumulate gold and silver, and then return to their country. They had sought to improve their condition, and their condition became forlorn. They were exposed to sickness from malaria, poor food, and hardship; they were molested by the natives whom they constantly provoked; they were subject to cruel treatment on the part of royal governors. They melted away wherever they settled, by famine, disease, and war, whether in South or North America. They were discontented and disappointed, and not easily governed; the chieftains quarrelled with each other, and were disgraced by rapacity and cruelty. They did not find what they expected. They were lonely and desolate, and longed to return to the homes they had left, but were frequently without means to return,–doomed to remain where they were, and die. Colonization had no dignity until men went to the New World for religious liberty, or to work upon the soil. The conquest of Mexico and Peru, however, opened up the mining of gold and silver, which were finally found in great abundance. And when the richness of these countries in the precious metals was finally established, then a regular stream of emigrants flocked to the American shores. Gold was at last found, but not until thousands had miserably perished.

The mines of Mexico and Peru undoubtedly enriched Spain, and filled Europe with envy and emulation. A stream of gold flowed to the mother country, and the caravels which transported the treasures of the new world became objects of plunder to all nations hostile to Spain. The seas were full of pirates. Sir Francis Drake was an undoubted pirate, and returned, after his long voyage around the world, with immense treasure, which he had stolen. Then followed, with the eager search after gold and silver, a rapid demoralization in all maritime countries.

It would be interesting to show how the sudden accumulation of wealth by Spain led to luxury, arrogance, and idleness, followed by degeneracy and decay, since those virtues on which the strength of man is based are weakened by sudden wealth. Industry declined in proportion as Spain became enriched by the precious metals. But this inquiry is foreign to my object.

A still more interesting inquiry arises, how far the nations of Europe were really enriched by the rapid accumulation of gold and silver. The search for the precious metals may have stimulated commercial enterprise, but it is not so clear that it added to the substantial wealth of Europe, except so far as it promoted industry. Gold is not wealth; it is simply the exponent of wealth. Real wealth is in farms and shops and ships,–in the various channels of industry, in the results of human labor. So far as the precious metals enter into useful manufactures, or into articles of beauty and taste, they are indeed inherently valuable. Mirrors, plate, jewelry, watches, gilded furniture, the adornments of the person, in an important sense, constitute wealth, since all nations value them, and will pay for them as they do for corn or oil. So far as they are connected with art, they are valuable in the same sense as statues and pictures, on which labor has been expended. There is something useful, and even necessary, besides food and raiment and houses. The gold which ornamented Solomon’s temple, or the Minerva of Phidias, or the garments of Leo X., had a value. The ring which is a present to brides is a part of a marriage ceremony. The golden watch, which never tarnishes, is more valuable inherently than a pewter one, because it remains beautiful. Thus when gold enters into ornaments deemed indispensable, or into manufactures which are needed, it has an inherent value,–it is wealth.

But when gold is a mere medium of exchange,–its chief use,–then it has only a conventional value; I mean, it does not make a nation rich or poor, since the rarer it is the more it will purchase of the necessaries of life. A pound’s weight of gold, in ancient Greece, or in Mediaeval Europe, would purchase as much wheat as twenty pounds’ weight will purchase to-day. If the mines of Mexico or Peru or California had never been worked, the gold in the civilized world three hundred years ago would have been as valuable for banking purposes, or as an exchange for agricultural products, as twenty times its present quantity, since it would have bought as much as twenty times the quantity will buy to-day. Make diamonds as plenty as crystals, they would be worth no more than crystals, if they were not harder and more beautiful. Make gold as plenty as silver, it would be worth no more than silver, except for manufacturing purposes; it would be worth no more to bankers and merchants. The vast increase in the production of the precious metals simply increased the value of the commodities for which they were exchanged. A laborer can purchase no more bread with a dollar to-day than he could with five cents three hundred years ago. Five cents were really as much wealth three hundred years ago as a dollar is to-day. Wherein, then, has the increase in the precious metals added to the wealth of the world, if a twentieth part of the gold and silver now in circulation would buy as much land, or furniture, or wheat, or oil three hundred years ago as the whole amount now used as money will buy to-day? Had no gold or silver mines been discovered in America, the gold and silver would have appreciated in value in proportion to the wear of them. In other words, the scarcer the gold and silver the more the same will purchase of the fruits of human industry. So industry is the wealth, not the gold. It is the cultivated farms and the manufactures and the buildings and the internal improvements of a country which constitute its real wealth, since these represent its industry,–the labor of men. Mines, indeed, employ the labor of men, but they do not furnish food for the body, or raiment to wear, or houses to live in, or fuel for cooking, or any purpose whatever of human comfort or necessity,–only a material for ornament; which I grant is wealth, so far as ornament is for the welfare of man. The marbles of ancient Greece were very valuable for the labor expended on them, either for architecture or for ornament.

Gold and silver were early selected as useful and convenient articles for exchange, like bank-notes, and so far have inherent value as they supply that necessity; but if a fourth part of the gold and silver in existence would supply that necessity, the remaining three-fourths are as inherently valueless as the paper on which bank-notes are printed. Their value consists in what they represent of the labors and industries of men.

Now Spain ultimately became poor, in spite of the influx of gold and silver from the American mines, because industries of all kinds declined. People were diverted from useful callings by the mighty delusion which gold discoveries created. These discoveries had the same effect on industry, which is the wealth of nations, as the support of standing armies has in our day. They diverted men from legitimate callings. The miners had to be supported like soldiers; and, worse, the sudden influx of gold and silver intoxicated men and stimulated speculation. An army of speculators do not enrich a nation, since they rob each other. They cause money to change hands; they do not stimulate industry. They do not create wealth; they simply make it flow from one person to another.

But speculations sometimes create activity in enterprise; they inflame desires for wealth, and cause people to make greater exertions. In that sense the discovery of American mines gave a stimulus to commerce and travel and energy. People rushed to America for gold: these people had to be fed and clothed. Then farmers and manufacturers followed the gold-hunters; they tilled the soil to feed the miners. The new farms which dotted the region of the gold-diggers added to the wealth of the country in which the mines were located. Colonization followed gold-digging. But it was America that became enriched, not the old countries from which the miners came, except so far as the old countries furnished tools and ships and fabrics, for doubtless commerce and manufacturing were stimulated. So far, the wealth of the world increased; but the men who returned to riot in luxury and idleness did not stimulate enterprise. They made others idle also. The necessity of labor was lost sight of.

And yet if one country became idle, another country may have become industrious. There can be but little question that the discovery of the American mines gave commerce and manufactures and agriculture, on the whole, a stimulus. This was particularly seen in England. England grew rich from industry and enterprise, as Spain became poor from idleness and luxury. The silver and gold, diffused throughout Europe, ultimately found their way into the pockets of Englishmen, who made a market for their manufactures. It was not alone the precious metals which enriched England, but the will and power to produce those articles of industry for which the rest of the world parted with their gold and silver. What has made France rich since the Revolution? Those innumerable articles of taste and elegance–fabrics and wines–for which all Europe parted with their specie; not war, not conquest, not mines. Why till recently was Germany so poor? Because it had so little to sell to other nations; because industry was cramped by standing armies and despotic governments.

One thing is certain, that the discovery of America opened a new field for industry and enterprise to all the discontented and impoverished and oppressed Europeans who emigrated. At first they emigrated to dig silver and gold. The opening of mines required labor, and miners were obliged to part with their gold for the necessaries of life. Thus California in our day has become peopled with farmers and merchants and manufacturers, as well as miners. Many came to America expecting to find gold, and were disappointed, and were obliged to turn agriculturists, as in Virginia. Many came to New England from political and religious motives. But all came to better their fortunes. Gradually the United States and Canada became populated from east to west and from north to south. The surplus population of Europe poured itself into the wilds of America. Generally the emigrants were farmers. With the growth of agricultural industry were developed commerce and manufactures. Thus, materially, the world was immensely benefited. A new continent was opened for industry. No matter what the form of government may be,–I might almost say no matter what the morals and religion of the people may be,–so long as there is land to occupy, and to be sold cheap, the continent will fill up, and will be as densely populated as Europe or Asia, because the natural advantages are good. The rivers and the lakes will be navigated; the products of the country will be exchanged for European and Asiatic products; wealth will certainly increase, and increase indefinitely. There is no calculating the future resources and wealth of the New World, especially in the United States. There are no conceivable bounds to their future commerce, manufactures, and agricultural products. We can predict with certainty the rise of new cities, villas, palaces, material splendor, limited only to the increasing resources and population of the country. Who can tell the number of miles of new railroads yet to be made; the new inventions to abridge human labor; what great empires are destined to rise; what unknown forms of luxury will be found out; what new and magnificent trophies of art and science will gradually be seen; what mechanism, what material glories, are sure to come? This is not speculation. Nothing can retard the growth of America in material wealth and glory. The splendid external will call forth more panegyrics than the old Roman world which fancied itself eternal. The tower of the new Babel will rise to the clouds, and be seen in all its glory throughout the earth and sea. No Fourth of July orator ever exaggerated the future destinies of America in a material point of view. No “spread-eagle” politician even conceived what will be sure to come.

And what then? Grant the most indefinite expansion,–the growth of empires whose splendor and wealth and power shall utterly eclipse the glories of the Old World. All this is probable. But when we have dwelt on the future material expansion; when we have given wings to imagination, and feel that even imagination cannot reach the probable realities in a material aspect,–then our predictions and calculations stop. Beyond material glories we cannot count with certainty. The world has witnessed many powerful empires which have passed away, and left “not a rack behind.” What remains of the antediluvian world?–not even a spike of Noah’s ark, larger and stronger than any modern ship. What remains of Nineveh, of Babylon, of Thebes, of Tyre, of Carthage,–those great centres of wealth and power? What remains of Roman greatness even, except in laws and literature and renovated statues? Remember there is an undeviating uniformity in the past history of nations. What is the simple story of all the ages?–industry, wealth, corruption, decay, and ruin. What conservative power has been strong enough to arrest the ruin of the nations of antiquity? Have not material forces and glories been developed and exhibited, whatever the religion and morals of the fallen nations? Cannot a country grow materially to a certain point, under the most adverse influences, in a religious and moral point of view? Yet for lack of religion and morals the nations perished, and their Babel-towers were buried in the dust. They perished for lack of true conservative forces; at least that is the judgment of historians. Nobody doubts the splendor of the material glories of the ancient nations. The ruins of Baalbec, of Palmyra, of Athens, prove this, to say nothing of history. The material glories of the ancient nations may be surpassed by our modern wonders; but yet all the material glories of the ancient nations passed away.

Now if this is to be the destiny of America,–an unbounded material growth, followed by corruption and ruin,–then Columbus has simply extended the realm for men to try material experiments. Make New York a second Carthage, and Boston a second Athens, and Philadelphia a second Antioch, and Washington a second Rome, and we simply repeat the old experiments. Did not the Romans have nearly all we have, materially, except our modern scientific inventions?

But has America no higher destiny than to repeat the old experiments, and improve upon them, and become rich and powerful? Has she no higher and nobler mission? Can she lay hold of forces that the Old World never had, such as will prevent the uniform doom of nations? I maintain that there is no reason that can be urged, based on history and experience, why she should escape the fate of the nations of antiquity, unless new forces arise on this continent different from what the world has known, and which have a conservative influence. If America has a great mission to declare and to fulfil, she must put forth altogether new forces, and these not material. And these alone will save her and save the world. It is mournful to contemplate even the future magnificent material glories of America if these are not to be preserved, if these are to share the fate of ancient wonders. It is obvious that the real glory of America is to be something entirely different from that of which the ancients boasted. And this is to be moral and spiritual,–that which the ancients lacked.

This leads me to speak of the moral consequences of the discovery of America,–infinitely grander than any material wonders, of which the world has been full, of which every form of paganism has boasted, which nearly everywhere has perished, and which must necessarily perish everywhere, without new forces to preserve them.

In a moral point of view scarcely anything good immediately resulted, at least to Europe, by the discovery of America. It excited the wildest spirit of adventure, the most unscrupulous cupidity, the most demoralizing speculation. It created jealousies and wars. The cruelties and injustices inflicted on the Indians were revolting. Nothing in the annals of the world exceeds the wickedness of the Spaniards in the conquest of Peru and Mexico. That conquest is the most dismal and least glorious in human history. We see in it no poetry, or heroism, or necessity; we read of nothing but its crimes. The Jesuits, in their missionary zeal, partly redeemed the cruelties; but they soon imposed a despotic yoke, and made their religion pay. Monopolies scandalously increased, and the New World was regarded only as spoil. The tone of moral feeling was lowered everywhere, for the nations were crazed with the hope of sudden accumulations. Spain became enervated and demoralized.

On America itself the demoralization was even more marked. There never was such a state of moral degradation in any Christian country as in South America. Three centuries have passed, and the low state of morals continues. Contrast Mexico and Peru with the United States, morally and intellectually. What seeds of vice did not the Spaniards plant! How the old natives melted away!

And then, to add to the moral evils attending colonization, was the introduction of African slaves, especially in the West Indies and the Southern States of North America. Christendom seems to have lost the sense of morality. Slavery more than counterbalances all other advantages together. It was the stain of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Not merely slaves, but the slave-trade, increase the horrors of the frightful picture. America became associated, in the minds of Europeans, with gold-hunting, slavery, and cruelty to Indians. Better that the country had remained undiscovered than that such vices and miseries should be introduced into the most fertile parts of the New World.

I cannot see that civilization gained anything, morally, by the discovery of America, until the new settlers were animated by other motives than a desire for sudden wealth. When the country became colonized by men who sought liberty to worship God,–men of lofty purposes, willing to undergo sufferings and danger in order to plant the seeds of a higher civilization,–then there arose new forms of social and political life. Such men were those who colonized New England. And, say what you will, in spite of all the disagreeable sides of the Puritan character, it was the Puritans who gave a new impulse to civilization in its higher sense. They founded schools and colleges and churches. They introduced a new form of political life by their town-meetings, in which liberty was nurtured, and all local improvements were regulated. It was the autonomy of towns on which the political structure of New England rested. In them was born that true representative government which has gradually spread towards the West. The colonies were embryo States,–States afterwards to be bound together by a stronger tie than that of a league. The New England States, after the war of Independence, were the defenders and advocates of a federal and central power. An entirely new political organization was gradually formed, resting equally on such pillars as independent townships and independent States, and these represented by delegates in a national centre.

So we believe America was discovered, not so much to furnish a field for indefinite material expansion, with European arts and fashions,–which would simply assimilate America to the Old World, with all its dangers and vices and follies,–but to introduce new forms of government, new social institutions, new customs and manners, new experiments in liberty, new religious organizations, new modes to ameliorate the necessary evils of life. It was discovered that men might labor and enjoy the fruits of industry in a new mode, unfettered by the restraints which the institutions of Europe imposed. America is a new field in which to try experiments in government and social life, which cannot be tried in the older nations without sweeping and dangerous revolutions; and new institutions have arisen which are our pride and boast, and which are the wonder and admiration of Europe. America is the only country under the sun in which there is self-government,–a government which purely represents the wishes of the people, where universal suffrage is not a mockery. And if America has a destiny to fulfil for other nations, she must give them something more valuable than reaping machines, palace cars, and horse railroads. She must give, not only machinery to abridge labor, but institutions and ideas to expand the mind and elevate the soul,–something by which the poor can rise and assert their rights. Unless something is developed here which cannot be developed in other countries, in the way of new spiritual and intellectual forces, which have a conservative influence, then I cannot see how America can long continue to be the home and refuge of the poor and miserable of other lands. A new and better spirit must vivify schools and colleges and philanthropic enterprises than that which has prevailed in older nations. Unless something new is born here which has a peculiar power to save, wherein will America ultimately differ from other parts of Christendom? We must have schools in which the heart as well as the brain is educated, and newspapers which aspire to something higher than to fan prejudices and appeal to perverted tastes. Our hope is not in books which teach infidelity under the name of science, nor in pulpits which cannot be sustained without sensational oratory, nor in journals which trade on the religious sentiments of the people, nor in Sabbath-school books which are an insult to the human understanding, nor in colleges which fit youth merely for making money, nor in schools of technology to give an impulse to material interests, nor in legislatures controlled by monopolists, nor in judges elected by demagogues, nor in philanthropic societies to ventilate unpractical theories. These will neither renovate nor conserve what is most precious in life. Unless a nation grows morally as well as materially, there is something wrong at the core of society. As I have said, no material expansion will avail, if society becomes rotten at the core. America is a glorious boon to civilization, but only as she fulfils a new mission in history,–not to become more potent in material forces, but in those spiritual agencies which prevent corruption and decay. An infidel professor, calling himself a savant, may tell you that there is nothing certain or great but in the direction of science to utilities, even as he may glory in a philosophy which ignores a creator and takes cognizance only of a creation.

As I survey the growing and enormous moral evils which degrade society, here as everywhere, in spite of Bunker Hills and Plymouth Rocks, and all the windy declamations of politicians and philanthropists, and all the advance in useful mechanisms, I am sometimes tempted to propound inquiries which suggest the old, mournful story of the decline and ruin of States and Empires. I ask myself, Why should America be an exception to the uniform fate of nations, as history has demonstrated? Why should not good institutions be perverted here, as in all other countries and ages of the world? Where has civilization shown any striking triumphs, except in inventions to abridge the labors of mankind and make men comfortable and rich? Is there nothing before us, then, but the triumphs of material life, to end as mournfully as the materialism of antiquity? If so, then Christianity is a most dismal failure, is a defeated power, like all other forms of religion which failed to save. But is it a failure? Are we really swinging back to Paganism? Is the time to be hailed when all religions will be considered by the philosopher as equally false and equally useful? Is there nothing more cheerful for us to contemplate than what the old Pagan philosophy holds out,–man destined to live like brutes or butterflies, and pass away into the infinity of time and space, like inert matter, decomposed, absorbed, and entering into new and everlasting combinations? Is America to become like Europe and Asia in all essential elements of life? Has she no other mission than to add to perishable glories? Is she to teach the world nothing new in education and philanthropy and government? Are all her struggles in behalf of liberty in vain?

We all know that Christianity is the only hope of the world. The question is, whether America is or is not more favorable for its healthy developments and applications than the other countries of Christendom are. We believe that it is. If it is not, then America is only a new field for the spread and triumph of material forces. If it is, we may look forward to such improvements in education, in political institutions, in social life, in religious organizations, in philanthropical enterprise, that the country will be sought by the poor and enslaved classes of Europe more for its moral and intellectual advantages than for its mines or farms; the objects of the Puritan settlers will be gained, and the grandeur of the discovery of a New World will be established.

“What sought they thus afar?
Bright jewels of the mine?
The wealth of seas,–the spoils of war? They sought for Faith’s pure shrine. Ay, call it holy ground,
The soil where first they trod; They’ve left unstained what there they found,– Freedom to worship God.”


Prescott’s Ferdinand and Isabella; Washington Irving; Cabot’s Voyages, and other early navigators; Columbus, by De Costa; Life of Columbus, by Bossi and Spatono; Relations de Quatre Voyage par Christopher Colomb; Drake’s World Encompassed; Murray’s Historical Account of Discoveries; Hernando, Historia del Amirante; History of Commerce; Lives of Pizarro and Cortes; Frobisher’s Voyages; Histories of Herrera, Las Casas, Gomera, and Peter Martyr; Navarrete’s Collections; Memoir of Cabot, by Richard Biddle; Hakluyt’s Voyages; Dr. Lardner’s Cyclopaedia,–History of Maritime and Inland Discovery; Anderson’s History of Commerce; Oviedo’s General History of the West Indies; History of the New World, by Geronimo Benzoni; Goodrich’s Life of Christopher Columbus.


* * * * *

A.D. 1452-1498.


This lecture is intended to set forth a memorable movement in the Roman Catholic Church,–a reformation of morals, preceding the greater movement of Luther to produce a reformation of both morals and doctrines. As the representative of this movement I take Savonarola, concerning whom much has of late been written; more, I think, because he was a Florentine in a remarkable age,–the age of artists and of reviving literature,–than because he was a martyr, battling with evils which no one man was capable of removing. His life was more a protest than a victory. He was an unsuccessful reformer, and yet he prepared the way for that religious revival which afterward took place in the Catholic Church itself. His spirit was not revolutionary, like that of the Saxon monk, and yet it was progressive. His soul was in active sympathy with every emancipating idea of his age. He was the incarnation of a fervid, living, active piety amid forms and formulas, a fearless exposer of all shams, an uncompromising enemy to the blended atheism and idolatry of his ungodly age. He was the contemporary of political, worldly, warlike, unscrupulous popes, disgraced by nepotism and personal vices,–men who aimed to extend not a spiritual but temporal dominion, and who scandalized the highest position in the Christian world, as attested by all reliable historians, whether Catholic or Protestant. However infallible the Catholic Church claims to be, it has never been denied that some of her highest dignitaries have been subject to grave reproaches, both in their character and their influence. Such men were Sixtus IV., Julius II., and Alexander VI.,–able, probably, for it is very seldom that the popes have not been distinguished for something, but men, nevertheless, who were a disgrace to the superb position they had succeeded in reaching.

The great feature of that age was the revival of classical learning and artistic triumphs in sculpture, painting, and architecture, blended with infidel levity and social corruptions, so that it is both interesting and hideous. It is interesting for its triumphs of genius, its dispersion of the shadows of the Middle Ages, the commencement of great enterprises and of a marked refinement of manners and tastes; it is hideous for its venalities, its murders, its debaucheries, its unblushing wickedness, and its disgraceful levities, when God and duty and self-restraint were alike ignored. Cruel tyrants reigned in cities, and rapacious priests fattened on the credulity of the people. Think of monks itinerating Europe to sell indulgences for sin; of monasteries and convents filled, not with sublime enthusiasts as in earlier times, but with gluttons and sensualists, living in concubinage and greedy of the very things which primitive monasticism denounced and abhorred! Think of boys elevated to episcopal thrones, and the sons of popes made cardinals and princes! Think of churches desecrated by spectacles which were demoralizing, and a worship of saints and images which had become idolatrous,–a degrading superstition among the people, an infidel apathy among the higher classes: not infidel speculations, for these were reserved for more enlightened times, but an indifference to what is ennobling, to all vital religion, worthy of the Sophists in the time of Socrates!

It was in this age of religious apathy and scandalous vices, yet of awakening intelligence and artistic glories, when the greatest enthusiasm was manifested for the revived literature and sculptured marbles of classic Greece and Rome, that Savonarola appeared in Florence as a reformer and preacher and statesman, near the close of the fifteenth century, when Columbus was seeking a western passage to India; when Michael Angelo was moulding the “Battle of Hercules with the Centaurs;” when Ficino was teaching the philosophy of Plato; when Alexander VI. was making princes of his natural children; when Bramante was making plans for a new St. Peter’s; when Cardinal Bembo was writing Latin essays; when Lorenzo de’ Medici was the flattered patron of both scholars and artists, and the city over which he ruled with so much magnificence was the most attractive place in Europe, next to that other city on the banks of the Tiber, whose wonders and glories have never been exhausted, and will probably survive the revolutions of unknown empires.

But Savonarola was not a native of Florence. He was born in the year 1452 at Ferrara, belonged to a good family, and received an expensive education, being destined to the profession of medicine. He was a sad, solitary, pensive, but precocious young man, whose youth was marked by an unfortunate attachment to a haughty Florentine girl. He did not cherish her memory and dedicate to her a life-labor, like Dante, but became very dejected and very pious. His piety assumed, of course, the ascetic type, for there was scarcely any other in that age, and he entered a Dominican convent, as Luther, a few years later, entered an Augustinian. But he was not an original genius, or a bold and independent thinker like Luther, so he was not emancipated from the ideas of his age. How few men can go counter to prevailing ideas! It takes a prodigious genius, and a fearless, inquiring mind, to break away from their bondage. Abraham could renounce the idolatries which surrounded him, when called by a supernatural voice; Paul could give up the Phariseeism which-reigned in the Jewish schools and synagogues, when stricken blind by the hand of God; Luther could break away from monastic rules and papal denunciation, when taught by the Bible the true ground of justification,–but Savonarola could not. He pursued the path to heaven in the beaten track, after the fashion of Jerome and Bernard and Thomas Aquinas, after the style of the Middle Ages, and was sincere, devout, and lofty, like the saints of the fifth century, and read his Bible as they did, and essayed a high religious life; but he was stern, gloomy, and austere, emaciated by fasts and self-denial. He had, however, those passive virtues which Mediaeval piety ever enjoined,–yea, which Christ himself preached upon the Mount, and which Protestantism, in the arrogance of reason, is in danger of losing sight of,–humility, submission, and contempt of material gains. He won the admiration of his superiors for his attainments and his piety, being equally versed in Aristotle and the Holy Scriptures. He delighted most in the Old Testament heroes and prophets, and caught their sternness and invective.

He was not so much interested in dogmas as he was in morals. He had not, indeed, a turn of mind for theology, like Anselm and Calvin; but he took a practical view of the evils of society. At thirty years of age he began to preach in Ferrara and Florence, but was not very successful. His sermons at first created but little interest, and he sometimes preached to as few as twenty-five people. Probably he was too rough and vehement to suit the fastidious ears of the most refined city in Italy. People will not ordinarily bear uncouthness from preachers, however gifted, until they have earned a reputation; they prefer pretty and polished young men with nothing but platitudes or extravagances to utter. Savonarola seems to have been discouraged and humiliated at his failure, and was sent to preach to the rustic villagers, amid the mountains near Sienna. Among these people he probably felt more at home; and he gave vent to the fire within him and electrified all who heard him, winning even the admiration of the celebrated Prince of Mirandola. From this time his fame spread rapidly, he was recalled to Florence, 1490, and his great career commenced. In the following year such crowds pressed to hear him that the church of St. Mark, connected with the Dominican convent to which he was attached, could not contain the people, and he repaired to the cathedral. And even that spacious church was filled with eager listeners,–more moved than delighted. So great was his popularity, that his influence correspondingly increased and he was chosen prior of his famous convent.

He now wielded power as well as influence, and became the most marked man of the city. He was not only the most eloquent preacher in Italy, probably in the world, but his eloquence was marked by boldness, earnestness, almost fierceness. Like an ancient prophet, he was terrible in his denunciation of vices. He spared no one, and he feared no one. He resembled Chrysostom at Constantinople, when he denounced the vanity of Eudoxia and the venality of Eutropius. Lorenzo de’ Medici, the absolute lord of Florence, sent for him, and expostulated and remonstrated with the unsparing preacher,–all to no effect. And when the usurper of his country’s liberties was dying, the preacher was again sent for, this time to grant an absolution. But Savonarola would grant no absolution unless Lorenzo would restore the liberties which he and his family had taken away. The dying tyrant was not prepared to accede to so haughty a demand, and, collecting his strength, rolled over on his bed without saying a word, and the austere monk wended his way back to his convent, unmolested and determined.

The premature death of this magnificent prince made a great sensation throughout Italy, and produced a change in the politics of Florence, for the people began to see their political degradation. The popular discontents were increased when his successor, Pietro, proved himself incapable and tyrannical, abandoned himself to orgies, and insulted the leading citizens by an overwhelming pride. Savonarola took the side of the people, and fanned the discontents. He became the recognized leader of opposition to the Medici, and virtually ruled the city.

The Prior of St. Mark now appeared in a double light,–as a political leader and as a popular preacher. Let us first consider him in his secular aspect, as a revolutionist and statesman,–for the admirable constitution he had a principal hand in framing entitles him to the dignity of statesman rather than politician. If his cause had not been good, and if he had not appealed to both enlightened and patriotic sentiments, he would have been a demagogue; for a demagogue and a mere politician are synonymous, and a clerical demagogue is hideous.

Savonarola began his political career with terrible denunciations, from his cathedral pulpit, of the political evils of his day, not merely in Florence but throughout Italy. He detested tyrants and usurpers, and sought to conserve such liberties as the Florentines had once enjoyed. He was not only the preacher, he was also the patriot. Things temporal were mixed up with things spiritual in his discourses. In his detestation of the tyranny of the Medici, and his zeal to recover for the Florentines their lost liberties, he even hailed the French armies of Charles VIII. as deliverers, although they had crossed the Alps to invade and conquer Italy. If the gates of Florence were open to them, they would expel the Medici. So he stimulated the people to league with foreign enemies in order to recover their liberties. This would have been high treason in Richelieu’s time,–as when the Huguenots encouraged the invasion of the English on the soil of France. Savonarola was a zealot, and carried the same spirit into politics that he did into religion,–such as when he made a bonfire of what he called vanities. He had an end to carry: he would use any means. There is apt to be a spirit of Jesuitism in all men consumed with zeal, determined on success. To the eye of the Florentine reformer, the expulsion of the Medici seemed the supremest necessity; and if it could be done in no other way than by opening the gates of his city to the French invaders, he would open the gates. Whatever he commanded from the pulpit was done by the people, for he seemed to have supreme control over them, gained by his eloquence as a preacher. But he did not abuse his power. When the Medici were expelled, he prevented violence; blood did not flow in the streets; order and law were preserved. The people looked up to him as their leader, temporal as well as spiritual. So he assembled them in the great hall of the city, where they formally held a _parlemento_, and reinstated the ancient magistrates. But these were men without experience. They had no capacity to govern, and they were selected without wisdom on the part of the people. The people, in fact, had not the ability to select their best and wisest men for rulers. That is an evil inherent in all popular governments. Does San Francisco or New York send its greatest men to Congress? Do not our cities elect such rulers as the demagogues point out? Do not the few rule, even in a Congregational church? If some commanding genius, unscrupulous or wise or eloquent or full of tricks, controls elections with us, much more easily could such a man as Savonarola rule in Florence, where there were no political organizations, no caucuses, no wirepullers, no other man of commanding ability. The only opinion-maker was this preacher, who indicated the general policy to be pursued. He left elections to the people; and when these proved a failure, a new constitution became a necessity. But where were the men capable of framing a constitution for the republic? Two generations of political slavery had destroyed political experience. The citizens were as incapable of framing a new constitution as the legislators of France after they had decimated the nobility, confiscated the Church lands, and cut off the head of the king. The lawyers disputed in the town hall, but accomplished nothing.

Their science amounted only to an analysis of human passion. All wanted a government entirely free from tyranny; all expected impossibilities. Some were in favor of a Venetian aristocracy, and others of a pure democracy; yet none would yield to compromise, without which no permanent political institution can ever be framed. How could the inexperienced citizens of Florence comprehend the complicated relations of governments? To make a constitution that the world respects requires the highest maturity of human wisdom. It is the supremest labor of great men. It took the ablest man ever born among the Jews to give to them a national polity. The Roman constitution was the fruit of five hundred years’ experience. Our constitution was made by the wisest, most dignified, most enlightened body of statesmen that this country has yet seen, and even they could not have made it without great mutual concessions. No _one_ man could have made a constitution, however great his talents and experience,–not even a Jefferson or a Hamilton,–which the nation would have accepted. It would have been as full of defects as the legislation of Solon or Lycurgus or the Abbe Sieyes. But one man gave a constitution to the Florentines, which they not only accepted, but which has been generally admired for its wisdom; and that man was our Dominican monk. The hand he had in shaping that constitution not only proved him to have been a man of great wisdom, but entitled him to the gratitude of his countrymen as a benefactor. He saw the vanity of political science as it then existed, the incapacity of popular leaders, and the sadness of a people drifting into anarchy and confusion; and, strong in his own will and his sense of right, he rose superior to himself, and directed the stormy elements of passion and fear. And this he did by his sermons from the pulpit,–for he did not descend, in person, into the stormy arena of contending passions and interests. He did not himself attend the deliberations in the town hall; he was too wise and dignified a man for that. But he preached those principles and measures which he wished to see adopted; and so great was the reverence for him that the people listened to his instructions, and afterward deliberated and acted among themselves. He did not write out a code, but he told the people what they should put into it. He was the animating genius of the city; his voice was obeyed. He unfolded the theory that the government of one man, in their circumstances, would become tyrannical; and he taught the doctrine, then new, that the people were the only source of power,–that they alone had the right to elect their magistrates. He therefore recommended a general government, which should include all citizens who had intelligence, experience, and position,–not all the people, but such as had been magistrates, or their fathers before them. Accordingly, a grand council was formed of three thousand citizens, out of a population of ninety thousand who had reached the age of twenty-nine. These three thousand citizens were divided into three equal bodies, each of which should constitute a council for six months and no meeting was legal unless two-thirds of the members were present. This grand council appointed the magistrates. But another council was also recommended and adopted, of only eighty citizens not under forty years of age,–picked men, to be changed every six months, whom the magistrates were bound to consult weekly, and to whom was confided the appointment of some of the higher officers of the State, like ambassadors to neighboring States. All laws proposed by the magistrates, or seigniory, had to be ratified by this higher and selecter council. The higher council was a sort of Senate, the lower council were more like Representatives. But there was no universal suffrage. The clerical legislator knew well enough that only the better and more intelligent part of the people were fit to vote, even in the election of magistrates. He seems to have foreseen the fatal rock on which all popular institutions are in danger of being wrecked,–that no government is safe and respected when the people who make it are ignorant and lawless. So the constitution which Savonarola gave was neither aristocratic nor democratic. It resembled that of Venice more than that of Athens, that of England more than that of the United States. Strictly universal suffrage is a Utopian dream wherever a majority of the people are wicked and degraded. Sooner or later it threatens to plunge any nation, as nations now are, into a whirlpool of dangers, even if Divine Providence may not permit a nation to be stranded and wrecked altogether. In the politics of Savonarola we see great wisdom, and yet great sympathy for freedom. He would give the people all that they were fit for. He would make all offices elective, but only by the suffrages of the better part of the people.

But the Prior of St. Mark did not confine himself to constitutional questions and issues alone. He would remove all political abuses; he would tax property, and put an end to forced loans and arbitrary imposts; he would bring about a general pacification, and grant a general amnesty for political offences; he would guard against the extortions of the rich, and the usury of the Jews, who lent money at thirty-three per cent, with compound interest; he secured the establishment of a bank for charitable loans; he sought to make the people good citizens, and to advance their temporal as well as spiritual interests. All his reforms, political or social, were advocated, however, from the pulpit; so that he was doubtless a political priest. We, in this country and in these times, have no very great liking to this union of spiritual and temporal authority: we would separate and divide this authority. Protestants would make the functions of the ruler and the priest forever distinct. But at that time the popes themselves were secular rulers, as well as spiritual dignitaries. All bishops and abbots had the charge of political interests. Courts of law were presided over by priests. Priests were ambassadors to foreign powers; they were ministers of kings; they had the control of innumerable secular affairs, now intrusted to laymen. So their interference with politics did not shock the people of Florence, or the opinions of the age. It was indeed imperatively called for, since the clergy were the most learned and influential men of those times, even in affairs of state. I doubt if the Catholic Church has ever abrogated or ignored her old right to meddle in the politics of a state or nation. I do not know, but apprehend, that the Catholic clergy even in this country take it upon themselves to instruct the people in their political duties. No enlightened Protestant congregation would endure this interference. No Protestant minister dares ever to discuss direct political issues from the pulpit, except perhaps on Thanksgiving Day, or in some rare exigency in public affairs. Still less would he venture to tell his parishioners how they should vote in town-meetings. In imitation of ancient saints and apostles, he is wisely constrained from interference in secular and political affairs. But in the Middle Ages, and the Catholic Church, the priest could be political in his preaching, since many of his duties were secular. Savonarola usurped no prerogatives. He refrained from meeting men in secular vocations. Even in his politics he confined himself to his sphere in the pulpit. He did not attend the public debates; he simply preached. He ruled by wisdom, eloquence, and sanctity; and as he was an oracle, his utterances became a law.

But while he instructed the people in political duties, he paid far more attention to public morals. He would break up luxury, extravagance, ostentatious living, unseemly dresses in the house of God. He was the foe of all levities, all frivolities, all insidious pleasures. Bad men found no favor in his eyes, and he exposed their hypocrisies and crimes. He denounced sin, in high places and low. He did not confine himself to the sins of his own people alone, but censured those of princes and of other cities. He embraced all Italy in his glance. He invoked the Lord to take the Church out of the hands of the Devil, to pour out his wrath on guilty cities. He throws down a gauntlet of defiance to all corrupt potentates; he predicts the near approach of calamities; he foretells the certainty of divine judgment upon all sin; he clothes himself with the thunders of the Jewish prophets; he seems to invoke woe, desolation, and destruction. He ascribes the very invasion of the French to the justice of retribution. “Thy crimes, O Florence! thy crimes, O Rome! thy crimes, O Italy! are the causes of these chastisements.” And so terrible are his denunciations that the whole city quakes with fear. Mirandola relates that as Savonarola’s voice sounded like a clap of thunder in the cathedral, packed to its utmost capacity with the trembling people, a cold shiver ran through all his bones and the hairs of his head stood on end. “O Rome!” exclaimed the preacher, “thou shalt be put to the sword, since thou wilt not be converted. O Italy! confusion upon confusion shall overtake thee; the confusion of war shall follow thy sins, and famine and pestilence shall follow after war.” Then he denounces Rome: “O harlot Church! thou hast made thy deformity apparent to all the world; thou hast multiplied thy fornications in Italy, in France, in Spain, in every country. Behold, saith the Lord, I will stretch forth my hand upon thee; I will deliver thee into the hands of those that hate thee.” The burden of his soul is sin,–sin everywhere, even in the bosom of the Church,–and the necessity of repentance, of turning to the Lord. He is more than an Elijah,–he is a John the Baptist His sermons are chiefly drawn from the Old Testament, especially from the prophets in their denunciation of woes; like them, he is stern, awful, sublime. He does not attack the polity or the constitution of the Church, but its corruptions. He does not call the Pope a usurper, a fraud, an impostor; he does not attack the office; but if the Pope is a bad man he denounces his crimes. He is still the Dominican monk, owning his allegiance, but demanding the reformation of the head of the Church, to whom God has given the keys of Saint Peter. Neither does he meddle with the doctrines of the Church; he does not take much interest in dogmas. He is not a theologian, but he would change the habits and manners of the people of Florence. He would urge throughout Italy a reformation of morals. He sees only the degeneracy in life; he threatens eternal penalties if sin be persisted in. He alarms the fears of the people, so that women part with their ornaments, dress with more simplicity, and walk more demurely; licentious young men become modest and devout; instead of the songs of the carnival, religious hymns are sung; tradesmen forsake their shops for the churches; alms are more freely given; great scholars become monks; even children bring their offerings to the Church; a pyramid of “vanities” is burned on the public square.

And no wonder. A man had appeared at a great crisis in wickedness, and yet while the people were still susceptible of grand sentiments; and this man–venerated, austere, impassioned, like an ancient prophet, like one risen from the dead–denounces woes with such awful tones, such majestic fervor, such terrible emphasis, as to break through all apathy, all delusions, and fill the people with remorse, astonish them by his revelations, and make them really feel that the supernal powers, armed with the terrors of Omnipotence, would hurl them into hell unless they repented.

No man in Europe at the time had a more lively and impressive sense of the necessity of a general reformation than the monk of St. Mark; but it was a reform in morals, not of doctrine. He saw the evils of the day–yea, of the Church itself–with perfect clearness, and demanded redress. He is as sad in view of these acknowledged evils as Jeremiah was in view of the apostasy of the Jews; he is as austere in his own life as Elijah or John the Baptist was. He would not abolish monastic institutions, but he would reform the lives of the monks,–cure them of gluttony and sensuality, not shut up their monasteries. He would not rebel against the authority of the Pope, for even Savonarola supposed that prelate to be the successor of Saint Peter; but he would prevent the Pope’s nepotism and luxury and worldly spirit,–make him once more a true “servant of the servants of God,” even when clothed with the insignia of universal authority. He would not give up auricular confession, or masses for the dead, or prayers to the Virgin Mary, for these were indorsed by venerated ages; but he would rebuke a priest if found in unseemly places. Whatever was a sin, when measured by the laws of immutable morality, he would denounce, whoever was guilty of it; whatever would elevate the public morals he would advocate, whoever opposed. His morality was measured by the declaration of Christ and the Apostles, not by the standard of a corrupt age. He revered the Scriptures, and incessantly pondered them, and exalted their authority, holding them to be the ultimate rule of holy living, the everlasting handbook of travellers to the heavenly Jerusalem. In all respects he was a good man,–a beautiful type of Christian piety, with fewer faults than Luther or Calvin had, and as great an enemy as they to corruptions in State and Church, which he denounced even more fiercely and passionately. Not even Erasmus pointed out the vices of the day with more freedom or earnestness. He covered up nothing; he shut his eyes to nothing.

The difference between Savonarola and Luther was that the Saxon reformer attacked the root of the corruption; not merely outward and tangible and patent sins which everybody knew, but also and more earnestly those false principles of theology and morals which sustained them, and which logically pushed out would necessarily have produced them. For instance, he not merely attacked indulgences, then a crying evil, as peddled by Tetzel and others like him, and all to get money to support the temporal power of the popes or build St. Peter’s church; but he would show that penance, on which indulgences are based, is antagonistic to the doctrine which Paul so forcibly expounded respecting the forgiveness of sins and the grounds of justification. And Luther saw that all the evils which good men lamented would continue so long as the false principles from which they logically sprung were the creed of the Church. So he directed his giant energies to reform doctrines rather than morals. His great idea of justification could be defended only by an appeal to the Scriptures, not to the authority of councils and learned men. So he made the Scriptures the sole source of theological doctrine. Savonarola also accepted the Scriptures, but Luther would put them in the hands of everybody, of peasants even,–and thus instituted private judgment, which is the basal pillar of Protestantism. The Catholic theologians never recognized this right in the sense that Luther understood it, and to which he was pushed by inexorable logic. The Church was to remain the interpreter of the doctrinal and disputed points of the Scriptures.

Savonarola was a churchman. He was not a fearless theological doctor, going wherever logic and the Bible carried him. Hence, he did not stimulate thought and inquiry as Luther did, nor inaugurate a great revolutionary movement, which would gradually undermine papal authority and many institutions which the Catholic Church indorsed. Had he been a great genius, with his progressive proclivities, he might have headed a rebellion against papal authority, which upheld doctrines that logically supported the very evils he denounced. But he was contented to lop off branches; he did not dig up the roots. Luther went to the roots, as Calvin did; as Saint Augustine would have done had there been a necessity in his day, for the theology of Saint Augustine and Calvin is essentially the same. It was from Saint Augustine that Calvin drew his inspiration next after Saint Paul. But Savonarola cared very little for the discussion of doctrines; he probably hated all theological speculations, all metaphysical divinity. Yet there is a closer resemblance between doctrines and morals than most people are aware of. As a man thinketh, so is he. Hence, the reforms of Savonarola were temporary, and were not widely extended; for he did not kindle the intelligence of the age, as did Luther and those associated with him. There can be no great and lasting reform without an appeal to reason, without the assistance of logic, without conviction. The house that had been swept and garnished was re-entered by devils, and the last state was worse than the first. To have effected a radical and lasting reform, Savonarola should have gone deeper. He should have exposed the foundations on which the superstructure of sin was built; he should have undermined them, and appealed to the reason of the world. He did no such thing. He simply rebuked the evils, which must needs be, so long as the root of them is left untouched. And so long as his influence remained, so long as his voice was listened to, he was mighty in the reforms at which he aimed,–a reformation of the morals of those to whom he preached. But when his voice was hushed, the evils he detested returned, since he had not created those convictions which bind men together in association; he had not fanned that spirit of inquiry which is hostile to ecclesiastical despotism, and which, logically projected, would subvert the papal throne. The reformation of Luther was a grand protest against spiritual tyranny. It not only aimed at a purer life, but it opposed the bondage of the Middle Ages, and all the superstitions and puerilities and fables which were born and nurtured in that dark and gloomy period and to which the clergy clung as a means of power or wealth. Luther called out the intellect of Germany, exalted liberty of conscience, and appealed to the dignity of reason. He showed the necessity of learning, in order to unravel and explain the truths of revelation. He made piety more exalted by giving it an intelligent stimulus. He looked to the future rather than the past. He would make use, in his interpretation of the Bible, of all that literature, science, and art could contribute. Hence his writings had a wider influence than could be produced by the fascination of personal eloquence, on which Savonarola relied, but which Luther made only accessory.

Again, the sermons of the Florentine reformer do not impress us as they did those to whom they were addressed. They are not logical, nor doctrinal, nor learned,–not rich in thought, like the sermons of those divines whom the Reformation produced. They are vehement denunciations of sin; are eloquent appeals to the heart, to religious fears and hopes. He would indeed create faith in the world, not by the dissertations of Paul, but by the agonies of the dying Christ. He does not instruct; he does not reason. He is dogmatic and practical. He is too earnest to be metaphysical, or even theological. He takes it for granted that his hearers know all the truths necessary for salvation. He enforces the truths with which they are familiar, not those to be developed by reason and learning. He appeals, he urges, he threatens; he even prophesies; he dwells on divine wrath and judgment. He is an Isaiah foretelling what will happen, rather than a Peter at the Day of Pentecost.

Savonarola was transcendent in his oratorical gifts, the like of which has never before nor since been witnessed in Italy. He was a born orator; as vehement as Demosthenes, as passionate as Chrysostom, as electrical as Bernard. Nothing could withstand him; he was a torrent that bore everything before him. His voice was musical, his attitude commanding, his gestures superb. He was all alive with his subject. He was terribly in earnest, as if he believed everything he said, and that what he said were most momentous truths. He fastened his burning eyes upon his hearers, who listened with breathless attention, and inspired them with his sentiments; he made them feel that they were in the very jaws of destruction, and that there was no hope but in immediate repentance. His whole frame quivered with emotion, and he sat down utterly exhausted. His language was intense, not clothing new thoughts, but riveting old ideas,–the ideas of the Middle Ages; the fear of hell, the judgments of Almighty God. Who could resist such fiery earnestness, such a convulsed frame, such quivering tones, such burning eyes, such dreadful threatenings, such awful appeals? He was not artistic in the use of words and phrases like Bourdaloue, but he reached the conscience and the heart like Whitefield. He never sought to amuse; he would not stoop to any trifling. He told no stories; he made no witticisms; he used no tricks. He fell back on truths, no matter whether his hearers relished them or not; no matter whether they were amused or not. He was the messenger of God urging men to flee as for their lives, like Lot when he escaped from Sodom.

Savonarola’s manner was as effective as his matter. He was a kind of Peter the Hermit, preaching a crusade, arousing emotions and passions, and making everybody feel as he felt. It was life more than thought which marked his eloquence,–his voice as well as his ideas, his wonderful electricity, which every preacher must have, or he preaches to stones. It was himself, even more than his truths, which made people listen, admire, and quake. All real orators impress themselves–their own individuality–on their auditors. They are not actors, who represent other people, and whom we admire in proportion to their artistic skill in producing deception. These artists excite admiration, make us forget where we are and what we are, but kindle no permanent emotions, and teach no abiding lessons. The eloquent preacher of momentous truths and interests makes us realize them, in proportion as he feels them himself. They would fall dead upon us, if ever so grand, unless intensified by passion, fervor, sincerity, earnestness. Even a voice has power, when electrical, musical, impassioned, although it may utter platitudes. But when the impassioned voice rings with trumpet notes through a vast audience, appealing to what is dearest to the human soul, lifting the mind to the contemplation of the sublimest truths and most momentous interests, then there is _real_ eloquence, such as is never heard in the theatre, interested as spectators may be in the triumphs of dramatic art.

But I have dwelt too long on the characteristics of that eloquence which produced such a great effect on the people of Florence in the latter part of the fifteenth century. That ardent, intense, and lofty monk, world-deep like Dante, not world-wide like Shakspeare, Who filled the cathedral church with eager listeners, was not destined to uninterrupted triumphs. His career was short; he could not even retain his influence. As the English people wearied of the yoke of a Puritan Protector, and hankered for their old pleasures, so the Florentines remembered the sports and spectacles and _fetes_ of the old Medicean rule. Savonarola had arrayed against himself the enemies of popular liberty, the patrons of demoralizing excitements, the partisans of the banished Medici, and even the friends and counsellors of the Pope. The dreadful denunciation of sin in high places was as offensive to the Pope as the exposure of a tyrannical usurpation was to the family of the old lords of Florence; and his enemies took counsel together, and schemed for his overthrow. If the irritating questions and mockeries of Socrates could not be endured at Athens, how could the bitter invectives and denunciations of Savonarola find favor at Florence? The fate of prophets is to be stoned. Martyrdom and persecution, in some form or other, are as inevitable to the man who sails against the stream, as a broken constitution and a diseased body are to a sensualist, a glutton, or a drunkard. Impatience under rebuke is as certain as the operation of natural law.

The bitterest and most powerful enemy of the Prior of St. Mark was the Pope himself,–Alexander VI., of the infamous family of the Borgias,–since his private vices were exposed, and by one whose order had been especially devoted to the papal empire. In the eyes of the wicked Pope, the Florentine reformer was a traitor and conspirator, disloyal and dangerous. At first he wished to silence him by soft and deceitful letters and tempting bribes, offering to him a cardinal’s hat, and inviting him to Rome. But Savonarola refused alike the bribe and the invitation. His Lenten sermons became more violent and daring. “If I have preached and written anything heretical,” said this intrepid monk, “I am willing to make a public recantation. I have always shown obedience to my church; but it is my duty to obey God rather than man.” This sounds like Luther at the Diet of Worms; but he was more defenceless than Luther, since the Saxon reformer was protected by powerful princes, and was backed by the enthusiasm of Northern Germans. Yet the Florentine preacher boldly continued his attacks on all hypocritical religion, and on the vices of Rome, not as incidental to the system, but extraneous,–the faults of a man or age. The Pope became furious, to be thus balked by a Dominican monk, and in one of the cities of Italy,–a city that had not rebelled against his authority. He complained bitterly to the Florentine ambassador, of the haughty friar who rebuked and defied him. He summoned a consistory of fourteen eminent Dominican theologians, to inquire into his conduct and opinions, and issued a brief forbidding him to preach, under penalty of excommunication. Yet Savonarola continued to preach, and more violently than ever. He renewed his charges against Rome. He even called her a harlot Church, against whom heaven and earth, angels and devils, equally brought charges. The Pope then seized the old thunderbolts of the Gregories and the Clements, and excommunicated the daring monk and preacher, and threatened the like punishment on all who should befriend him. And yet Savonarola continued to preach. All Rome and Italy talked of the audacity of the man. And it was not until Florence itself was threatened with an interdict for shielding such a man, that the magistrates of the city were compelled to forbid his preaching.

The great orator mounted his pulpit March 18, 1498, now four hundred years ago, and took an affectionate farewell of the people whom he had led, and appealed to Christ himself as the head of the Church. It was not till the preacher was silenced by the magistrates of his own city, that he seems to have rebelled against the papal authority; and then not so much against the authority of Rome as against the wicked shepherd himself, who had usurped the fold. He now writes letters to all the prominent kings and princes of Europe, to assemble a general council; for the general council of Constance had passed a resolution that the Pope must call a general council every ten years, and that, should he neglect to assemble it, the sovereign powers of the various states and empires were themselves empowered to collect the scattered members of the universal Church, to deliberate on its affairs. In his letters to the kings of France, England, Spain, and Hungary, and the Emperor of Germany, he denounced the Pope as simoniacal, as guilty of all the vices, as a disgrace to the station which he held. These letters seem to have been directed against the man, not against the system. He aimed at the Pope’s ejectment from office, rather than at the subversion of the office itself,–another mark of the difference between Savonarola and Luther, since the latter waged an uncompromising war against Rome herself, against the whole _regime_ and government and institutions and dogmas of the Catholic Church; and that is the reason why Catholics hate Luther so bitterly, and deny to him either virtues or graces, and represent even his deathbed as a scene of torment and despair,–an instance of that pursuing hatred which goes beyond the grave; like that of the zealots of the Revolution in France, who dug up the bones of the ancient kings from those vaults where they had reposed for centuries, and scattered their ashes to the winds.

Savonarola hoped the Christian world would come to his rescue; but his letters were intercepted, and reached the eye of Alexander VI., who now bent the whole force of the papal empire to destroy that bold reformer who had assailed his throne. And it seems that a change took place in Florence itself in popular sentiment. The Medicean party obtained the ascendency in the government. The people–the fickle people–began to desert Savonarola; and especially when he refused to undergo the ordeal of fire,–one of the relics of Mediaeval superstition,–the people felt that they had been cheated out of their amusement, for they had waited impatiently the whole day in the public square to see the spectacle. He finally consented to undergo the ordeal, provided he might carry the crucifix. To this his enemies would not consent. He then laid aside the crucifix, but insisted on entering the fire with the sacrament in his hand. His persecutors would not allow this either, and the ordeal did not take place.

At last his martyrdom approaches: he is led to prison. The magistrates of the city send to Rome for absolution for having allowed the Prior to preach. His enemies busy themselves in collecting evidence against him,–for what I know not, except that he had denounced corruption and sin, and had predicted woe. His two friends are imprisoned and interrogated with him, Fra Domenico da Pescia and Fra Silvestro Maruffi, who are willing to die for him. He and they are now subjected to most cruel tortures. As the result of bodily agony his mind begins to waver. His answers are incoherent; he implores his tormentors to end his agonies; he cries out, with a voice enough to melt a heart of stone, “Take, oh, take my life!” Yet he confessed nothing to criminate himself. What they wished him especially to confess was that he had pretended to be a prophet, since he had predicted calamities. But all men are prophets, in one sense, when they declare the certain penalties of sin, from which no one can escape, though he take the wings of the morning and fly to the uttermost parts of the sea.

Savonarola thus far had remained firm, but renewed examinations and fresh tortures took place. For a whole month his torments were continuous. In one day he was drawn up by a rope fourteen times, and then suddenly dropped, until all his muscles quivered with anguish. Had he been surrounded by loving disciples, like Latimer at the burning pile, he might have summoned more strength; but alone, in a dark inquisitorial prison, subjected to increasing torture among bitter foes, he did not fully defend his visions and prophecies; and then his extorted confessions were diabolically altered. But that was all they could get out of him,–that he had prophesied. In all matters of faith he was sound. The inquisitors were obliged to bring their examination to an end. They could find no fault with him, and yet they were determined on his death. The Government of Florence consented to it and hastened it, for a Medici again held the highest office of the State.

Nothing remained to the imprisoned and tortured friar but to prepare for his execution. In his supreme trial he turned to the God in whom he believed. In the words of the dying Xavier, on the Island of Sancian, he exclaimed, _In te domine speravi, non confundar in eternum_. “O Lord,” he prays, “a thousand times hast thou wiped out my iniquity. I do not rely on my own justification, but on thy mercy.” His few remaining days in prison were passed in holy meditation.

At last the officers of the papal commission arrive. The tortures are renewed, and also the examinations, with the same result. No fault could be found with his doctrines. “But a dead enemy,” said they, “fights no more.” He is condemned to execution. The messengers of death arrive at his cell, and find him on his knees. He is overpowered by his sufferings and vigils, and can with difficulty be kept from sleep. But he arouses himself, and passes the night in prayer, and administers the elements of redemption to his doomed companions, and closes with this prayer: “Lord, I know thou art that perfect Trinity,–Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; I know that thou art the eternal Word; that thou didst descend from heaven into the bosom of Mary; that thou didst ascend upon the cross to shed thy blood for our sins. I pray thee that by that blood I may have remission for my sins.” The simple faith of Paul, of Augustine, of Pascal! He then partook of the communion, and descended to the public square, while the crowd gazed silently and with trepidation, and was led with his companions to the first tribunal, where he was disrobed of his ecclesiastical dress. Then they were led to another tribunal, and delivered to the secular arm; then to another, where sentence of death was read; and then to the place of execution,–not a burning funeral pyre, but a scaffold, which mounting, composed, calm, absorbed, Savonarola submitted his neck to the hangman, in the forty-fifth year of his life: a martyr to the cause of Christ, not for an attack on the Church, or its doctrines, or its institutions, but for having denounced the corruption and vices of those who ruled it,–for having preached against sin.

Thus died one of the greatest and best men of his age, one of the truest and purest whom the Catholic Church has produced in any age. He was stern, uncompromising, austere, but a reformer and a saint; a man who was merciful and generous in the possession of power; an enlightened statesman, a sound theologian, and a fearless preacher of that righteousness which exalteth a nation. He had no vices, no striking defects. He lived according to the rules of the convent he governed with the same wisdom that he governed a city, and he died in the faith of the primitive apostles. His piety was monastic, but his spirit was progressive, sympathizing with liberty, advocating public morality. He was unselfish, disinterested, and true to his Church, his conscience, and his cause,–a noble specimen both of a man and Christian, whose deeds and example form part of the inheritance of an admiring posterity. We pity his closing days, after such a career of power and influence; but we may as well compassionate Socrates or Paul. The greatest lights of the world have gone out in martyrdom, to be extinguished, however, only for a time, and then to loom up again in another age, and burn with inextinguishable brightness to remotest generations, as examples of the power of faith and truth in this wicked and rebellious world,–a world to be finally redeemed by the labors and religion of just such men, whose days are days of sadness, protest, and suffering, and whose hours of triumph and exaltation are not like those of conquerors, nor like those whose eyes stand out with fatness, but few and far between. “I have loved righteousness, I have hated iniquity,” said the great champion of the Mediaeval Church, “and therefore I die in exile.”

In ten years after this ignominious execution, Raphael painted the martyr among the sainted doctors of the Church in the halls of the Vatican, and future popes did justice to his memory, for he inaugurated that reform movement in the Catholic Church itself which took place within fifty years after his death. In one sense he was the precursor of Loyola, of Xavier, and of Aquaviva,–those illustrious men who headed the counter-reformation; Jesuits, indeed, but ardent in piety, and enlightened by the spirit of a progressive age. “He was the first,” says Villari, “in the fifteenth century, to make men feel that a new light had awakened the human race; and thus he was a prophet of a new civilization,–the forerunner of Luther, of Bacon, of Descartes. Hence the drama of his life became, after his death, the drama of Europe. In the course of a single generation after Luther had declared his mission, the spirit of the Church of Rome underwent a change. From the halls of the Vatican to the secluded hermitages of the Apennines this revival was felt. Instead of a Borgia there reigned a Caraffa.” And it is remarkable that from the day that the counter-reformation in the Catholic Church was headed by the early Jesuits, Protestantism gained no new victories, and in two centuries so far declined in piety and zeal that the cities which witnessed the noblest triumphs of Luther and Calvin were disgraced by a boasting rationalism, to be succeeded again in our times by an arrogance of scepticism which has had no parallel since the days of Democritus and Lucretius. “It was the desire of Savonarola that reason, religion, and liberty might meet in harmonious union, but he did not think a new system of religious doctrines was necessary.”

The influence of such a man cannot pass away, and has not passed away, for it cannot be doubted that his views have been embraced by enlightened Catholics from his day to ours,–by such men as Pascal, Fenelon, and Lacordaire, and thousands like them, who prefer ritualism and auricular confession, and penance, monasticism, and an ecclesiastical monarch, and all the machinery of a complicated hierarchy, with all the evils growing out of papal domination, to rationalism, sectarian dissensions, irreverence, license, want of unity, want of government, and even dispensation from the marriage vow. Which is worse, the physical arm of the beast, or the maniac soul of a lying prophet? Which is worse, the superstition and narrowness which excludes the Bible from schools, or that unbounded toleration which smiles on those audacious infidels who cloak their cruel attacks on the faith of Christians with the name of a progressive civilization?–and so far advanced that one of these new lights, ignorant, perhaps, of everything except of the fossils and shells and bugs and gases of the hole he has bored in, assumes to know more of the mysteries of creation and the laws of the universe than Moses and David and Paul, and all the Bacons and Newtons that ever lived? Names are nothing; it is the spirit, the _animus_, which is everything. It is the soul which permeates a system, that I look at. It is the Devil from which I would flee, whatever be his name, and though he assume the form of an angel of light, or cunningly try to persuade me, and ingeniously argue, that there is no God. True and good Catholics and true and good Protestants have ever been united in one thing,–_in this belief_, that there is a God who made the heaven and the earth, and that there is a Christ who made atonement for the sins of the world. It is good morals, faith, and love to which both Catholics and Protestants are exhorted by the Apostles. When either Catholics or Protestants accept the one faith and the one Lord which Christianity alone reveals, then they equally belong to the grand army of spiritual warriors under the banner of the Cross, though they may march under different generals and in different divisions; and they will receive the same consolations in this world, and the same rewards in the world to come.


Villari’s Life of Savonarola; Biographie Universelle; Ranke’s History of the Popes. There is much in “Romola,” by George Eliot. Life of Savonarola, by the Prince of Mirandola.


* * * * *

A.D. 1475-1564.


Michael Angelo Buonarroti–one of the Great Lights of the new civilization–may stand as the most fitting representative of reviving art in Europe; also as an illustrious example of those virtues which dignify intellectual pre-eminence. He was superior, in all that is sterling and grand in character, to any man of his age,–certainly in Italy; exhibiting a rugged, stern greatness which reminds us of Dante, and of other great benefactors; nurtured in the school of sorrow and disappointment, leading a checkered life, doomed to envy, ingratitude, and neglect; rarely understood, and never fully appreciated even by those who employed and honored him. He was an isolated man; grave, abstracted, lonely, yet not unhappy, since his world was that of glorious and exalting ideas, even those of grace, beauty, majesty, and harmony,–the world which Plato lived in, and in which all great men live who seek to rise above the transient, the false, and puerile in common life. He was also an original genius, remarkable in everything he attempted, whether as sculptor, painter, or architect, and even as poet. He saw the archetypes of everything beautiful and grand, which are invisible except to those who are almost divinely gifted; and he had the practical skill to embody them in permanent forms, so that all ages may study those forms, and rise through them to the realms in which his soul lived.

Michael Angelo not only created, but he reproduced. He reproduced the glories of Grecian and Roman art. He restored the old civilization in his pictures, his statues, and his grand edifices. He revived a taste for what is imperishable in antiquity. As such he is justly regarded as an immortal benefactor; for it is art which gives to nations culture, refinement, and the enjoyment of the beautiful. Art diverts the mind from low and commonplace pursuits, exalts the imagination, and makes its votary indifferent to the evils of life. It raises the soul into regions of peace and bliss.

But art is most ennobling when it is inspired by lofty and consecrated sentiments,–like those of religion, patriotism, and love. Now ancient art was consecrated to Paganism. Of course there were noble exceptions; but as a general rule temples were erected in honor of heathen deities. Statues represented mere physical strength and beauty and grace. Pictures portrayed the charms of an unsanctified humanity. Hence ancient art did very little to arrest human degeneracy; facilitated rather than retarded the ruin of states and empires, since it did not stimulate the virtues on which the strength of man is based: it did not check those depraved tastes and habits which are based on egotism.

Now the restorers of ancient art cannot be said to have contributed to the moral elevation of the new races, unless they avoided the sensualism of Greece and Rome, and appealed purely to those eternal ideas which the human mind, even under Pagan influences, sometimes conceived, and which do not conflict with Christianity itself.

In considering the life and labors of Michael Angelo, then, we are to examine whether, in the classical glories of antiquity which he substituted for the Gothic and Mediaeval, he advanced civilization in the noblest sense; and moreover, whether he carried art to a higher degree than was ever attained by the Greeks and Romans, and hence became a benefactor of the world.

In considering these points I shall not attempt a minute criticism of his works. I can only seize on the great outlines, the salient points of those productions which have given him immortality. No lecture can be exhaustive. If it only prove suggestive, it has reached its end.

Michael Angelo stands out in history in the three aspects of sculptor, painter, and architect; and that too in a country devoted to art, and in an age when Italy won all her modern glories, arising from the matchless works which that age produced. Indeed, those works will probably never be surpassed, since all the energies of a great nation were concentrated upon their production, even as our own age confines itself chiefly to mechanical inventions and scientific research and speculation. What railroads and telegraphs and spindles and chemical tests and compounds are to us; what philosophy was to the Greeks; what government and jurisprudence were to the Romans; what cathedrals and metaphysical subtilties were to the Middle Ages; what theological inquiries were to the divines of the seventeenth century; what social urbanities and refinements were to the French in the eighteenth century,–the fine arts were to the Italians in the sixteenth century: a fact too commonplace to dwell upon, and which will be conceded when we bear in mind that no age has been distinguished for everything, and that nations can try satisfactorily but one experiment at a time, and are not likely to repeat it with the same enthusiasm. As the mind is unbounded in its capacities, and our world affords inexhaustible fields of enterprise, the progress of the race is to be seen in the new developments which successively appear, but in which only a certain limit has thus far been reached. Not in absolute perfection in any particular sphere is this progress seen, but rather in the variety of the experiments. It may be doubted whether any Grecian edifice will ever surpass the Parthenon in beauty of proportion or fitness of ornament; or any nude statue show grace of form more impressive than the Venus de Milo or the Apollo Belvedere; or any system of jurisprudence be more completely codified than that systematized by Justinian; or any Gothic church rival the lofty expression of Cologne cathedral; or any painting surpass the holy serenity and ethereal love depicted in Raphael’s madonnas; or any court witness such a brilliant assemblage of wits and beauties as met at Versailles to render homage to Louis XIV.; or any theological discussion excite such a national interest as when Luther confronted Doctor Eck in the great hall of the Electoral Palace at Leipsic; or any theatrical excitement such as was produced on cultivated intellects when Garrick and Siddons represented the sublime conceptions of the myriad-minded Shakspeare. These glories may reappear, but never will they shine as they did before. No more Olympian games, no more Roman triumphs, no more Dodona oracles, no more Flavian amphitheatres, no more Mediaeval cathedrals, no more councils of Nice or Trent, no more spectacles of kings holding the stirrups of popes, no more Fields of the Cloth of Gold, no more reigns of court mistresses in such palaces as Versailles and Fontainbleau,–ah! I wish I could add, no more such battlefields as Marengo and Waterloo,–only copies and imitations of these, and without the older charm. The world is moving on and perpetually changing, nor can we tell what new vanity will next arise,–vanity or glory, according to our varying notions of the dignity and destiny of man. We may predict that it will not be any mechanical improvement, for ere long the limit will be reached,–and it will be reached when the great mass cannot find work to do, for the everlasting destiny of man is toil and labor. But it will be some sublime wonders of which we cannot now conceive, and which in time will pass away for other wonders and novelties, until the great circle is completed; and all human experiments shall verify the moral wisdom of the eternal revelation. Then all that man has done, all that man can do, in his own boastful thought, will be seen, in the light of the celestial verities, to be indeed a vanity and a failure, not of human ingenuity and power, but to realize the happiness which is only promised as the result of supernatural, not mortal, strength, yet which the soul in its restless aspirations never ceases its efforts to secure,–everlasting Babel-building to reach the unattainable on earth.

Now the revival of art in Italy was one of the great movements in the series of human development. It peculiarly characterized the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It was an age of artistic wonders, of great creations.

Italy, especially, was glorious when Michael Angelo was born, 1474; when the rest of Europe was comparatively rude, and when no great works in art, in poetry, in history, or philosophy had yet appeared. He was descended from an illustrious family, and was destined to one of the learned professions; but he could not give up his mind to anything but drawing,–as annoying to his father as Galileo’s experiments were to his parent; as unmeaning to him as Gibbon’s History was to George III.,–“Scribble, scribble, scribble; Mr. Gibbon, I perceive, sir, you are always a-scribbling.” No perception of a new power, no sympathy with the abandonment to a specialty not indorsed by fashions and traditions, but without which abandonment genius cannot easily be developed. At last the father yielded, and the son was apprenticed to a painter,–a degradation in the eyes of Mediaeval aristocracy.

The celebrated Lorenzo de’ Medici was then in the height of power and fame in Florence, adored by Roscoe as the patron of artists and poets, although he subverted the liberties of his country. This over-lauded prince, heir of the fortunes of a great family of merchants, wishing to establish a school for sculpture, filled a garden with statues, and freely admitted to it young scholars in art. Michael Angelo was one of the most frequent and enthusiastic visitors to this garden, where in due time he attracted the attention of the magnificent Lord of Florence by a head chiselled so remarkably that he became an inmate of the palace, sat at the table of Lorenzo, and at last was regularly adopted as one of the Prince’s family, with every facility for prosecuting his studies. Before he was eighteen the youth had sculptured the battle of Hercules with the Centaurs, which he would never part with, and which still remains in his family; so well done that he himself, at the age of eighty, regretted that he had not given up his whole life to sculpture.

It was then as a sculptor that Michael Angelo first appears to the historical student,–about the year 1492, when Columbus was crossing the great unknown ocean to realize his belief in a western passage to India. Thus commercial enterprise began with the revival of art, and was destined never to be separated in its alliance with it, since commerce brings wealth, and wealth seeks to ornament the palaces and gardens which it has created or purchased. The sculptor’s art was not born until piety had already edifices in which to worship God, or pride the monuments in which it sought the glories of a name; but it made rapid progress as wealth increased and taste became refined; as the need was felt for ornaments and symbols to adorn naked walls and empty spaces, especially statuary, grouped or single, of men or animals,–a marble history to interpret or reproduce consecrated associations. Churches might do without them; the glass stained in every color of the rainbow, the altar shining with gold and silver and precious stones, the pillars multiplied and diversified, and rich in foliated circles, mullions, mouldings, groins, and bosses, and bearing aloft the arched and ponderous roof,–one scene of dazzling magnificence,–these could do without them; but the palaces and halls and houses of the rich required the image of man,–and of man not emaciated and worn and monstrous, but of man as he appeared to the classical Greeks, in the perfection of form and physical beauty. So the artists who arose with the revival of commerce, with the multiplication of human wants and the study of antiquity, sought to restore the buried statues with the long-neglected literature and laws. It was in sculptured marbles that enthusiasm was most marked. These were found in abundance in various parts of Italy whenever the vast debris of the ancient magnificence was removed, and were universally admired and prized by popes, cardinals, and princes, and formed the nucleus of great museums.

The works of Michael Angelo as a sculptor were not numerous, but in sublimity they have never been surpassed,–_non multa, sed multum_. His unfinished monument of Julius II., begun at that pontiff’s request as a mausoleum, is perhaps his greatest work; and the statue of Moses, which formed a part of it, has been admired for three hundred years. In this, as in his other masterpieces, grandeur and majesty are his characteristics. It may have been a reproduction, and yet it is not a copy. He made character and moral force the first consideration, and form subservient to expression. And here he differed, it is said by great critics, from the ancients, who thought more of form than of moral expression,–as may be seen in the faces of the Venus de Medici and the Apollo Belvedere, matchless and inimitable as these statues are in grace and beauty. The Laocooen and the Dying Gladiator are indeed exceptions, for it is character which constitutes their chief merit,–the expression of pain, despair, and agony. But there is almost no intellectual or moral expression in the faces of other famous and remarkable antique statues, only beauty and variety of form, such as Powers exhibited in his Greek Slave,–an inferior excellence, since it is much easier to copy the beautiful in the nude statues which people Italy, than to express such intellectual majesty as Michael Angelo conceived–that intellectual expression which Story has succeeded in giving to his African Sibyl. Thus while the great artist retained the antique, he superadded a loftiness such as the ancients rarely produced; and sculpture became in his hands, not demoralizing and Pagan, resplendent in sensual charms, but instructive and exalting,–instructive for the marvellous display of anatomical knowledge, and exalting from grand conceptions of dignity and power. His knowledge of anatomy was so remarkable that he could work without models. Our artists, in these days, must always have before their eyes some nude figure to copy.

The same peculiarities which have given him fame as a sculptor he carried out into painting, in which he is even more remarkable; for the artists of Italy at this period often combined a skill for all the fine arts. In sculpture they were much indebted to the ancients, but painting seems to have been purely a development. In the Middle Ages it was comparatively rude. No noted painter arose until Cimabue, in the middle of the thirteenth century. Before him, painting was a lifeless imitation of models afforded by Greek workers in mosaics; but Cimabue abandoned this servile copying, and gave a new expression to heads, and grouped his figures. Under Giotto, who was contemporary with Dante, drawing became still more correct, and coloring softer. After him, painting was rapidly advanced. Pietro della Francesca was the father of perspective; Domenico painted in oil, discovered by Van Eyck in Flanders, in 1410; Masaccio studied anatomy; gilding disappeared as a background around pictures. In the fifteenth century the enthusiasm for painting became intense; even monks became painters, and every convent and church and palace was deemed incomplete without pictures. But ideal beauty and harmony in coloring were still wanting, as well as freedom of the pencil. Then arose Da Vinci and Michael Angelo, who practised the immutable principles by which art could be advanced; and rapidly following in their steps, Fra Bartolommeo, Fra Angelico, Rossi, and Andrea del Sarto made the age an era in painting, until the art culminated in Raphael and Corregio and Titian. And divers cities of Italy–Bologna, Milan, Parma, and Venice–disputed with Rome and Florence for the empire of art; as also did many other cities which might be mentioned, each of which has a history, each of which is hallowed by poetic associations; so that all men who have lived in Italy, or even visited it, feel a peculiar interest in these cities,–an interest which they can feel in no others, even if they be such capitals as London and Paris. I excuse this extravagant admiration for the wonderful masterpieces produced in that age, making marble and canvas eloquent with the most inspiring sentiments, because, wrapt in the joys which they excite, the cultivated and imaginative man forgets–and rejoices that he can forget–the priests and beggars, the dirty hotels, filthy friars, superstition, unthrift, Jesuitism, which stare ordinary tourists in the face, and all the other disgusting realities which philanthropists deplore so loudly in that degenerate but classical and ever-to-be-hallowed land. For, come what will, in spite of popes and despots it has been the scene of the highest glories of antiquity, calling to our minds saints and martyrs, as well as conquerors and emperors, and revealing at every turn their tombs and broken monuments, and all the hoary remnants of unsurpassed magnificence, as well as preserving in churches and palaces those wonders which were created when Italy once again lived in the noble aspiration of making herself the centre and the pride of the new civilization.

Da Vinci, the oldest of the great masters who immortalized that era, died in 1519, in the arms of Francis I. of France, and Michael Angelo received his mantle. The young sculptor was taken away from his chisel to paint, for Pope Julius II., the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. After the death of his patron Lorenzo, he had studied and done famous work in marble at Bologna, at Rome, and again at Florence. He had also painted some, and with such immediate success that he had been invited to assist Da Vinci in decorating a hall in the ducal palace at Florence. But sculpture was his chosen art, and when called to paint the Sistine Chapel, he implored the Pope that he might be allowed to finish the mausoleum which he had begun, and that Raphael, then dazzling the whole