The Beginnings of New England by John Fiske

Produced by Charles Franks and PG Distributed Proofreaders THE BEGINNINGS OF NEW ENGLAND OR THE PURITAN THEOCRACY IN ITS RELATIONS TO CIVIL AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY BY JOHN FISKE “The Lord Christ intends to achieve greater matters by this little handful than the world is aware of.” EDWARD JOHNSON, _Wonder-Working Providence of Zion’s Saviour in New
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  • 1889
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Produced by Charles Franks and PG Distributed Proofreaders





“The Lord Christ intends to achieve greater matters by this little handful than the world is aware of.” EDWARD JOHNSON, _Wonder-Working Providence of Zion’s Saviour in New England_ 1654










This book contains the substance of the lectures originally given at the Washington University, St. Louis, in May, 1887, in the course of my annual visit to that institution as University Professor of American History. The lectures were repeated in the following month of June at Portland, Oregon, and since then either the whole course, or one or more of the lectures, have been given in Boston, Newton, Milton, Chelsea, New Bedford, Lowell, Worcester, Springfield, and Pittsfield, Mass.; Farmington, Middletown, and Stamford, Conn.; New York, Brooklyn, and Tarrytown, N.Y.; Philadelphia and Ogontz, Pa.; Wilmington, Del.; Chicago, 111.; San Francisco and Oakland, Cal.

In this sketch of the circumstances which attended the settlement of New England, I have purposely omitted many details which in a formal history of that period would need to be included. It has been my aim to give the outline of such a narrative as to indicate the principles at work in the history of New England down to the Revolution of 1689. When I was writing the lectures I had just been reading, with much interest, the work of my former pupil, Mr. Brooks Adams, entitled “The Emancipation of Massachusetts.”

With the specific conclusions set forth in that book I found myself often agreeing, but it seemed to me that the general aspect of the case would be considerably modified and perhaps somewhat more adequately presented by enlarging the field of view. In forming historical judgments a great deal depends upon our perspective. Out of the very imperfect human nature which is so slowly and painfully casting off the original sin of its inheritance from primeval savagery, it is scarcely possible in any age to get a result which will look quite satisfactory to the men of a riper and more enlightened age. Fortunately we can learn something from the stumblings of our forefathers, and a good many things seem quite clear to us to-day which two centuries ago were only beginning to be dimly discerned by a few of the keenest and boldest spirits. The faults of the Puritan theocracy, which found its most complete development in Massachusetts, are so glaring that it is idle to seek to palliate them or to explain them away. But if we would really understand what was going on in the Puritan world of the seventeenth century, and how a better state of things has grown out of it, we must endeavour to distinguish and define the elements of wholesome strength in that theocracy no less than its elements of crudity and weakness.

The first chapter, on “The Roman Idea and the English Idea,” contains a somewhat more developed statement of the points briefly indicated in the thirteenth section (pp. 85-95) of “The Destiny of Man.” As all of the present book, except the first chapter, was written here under the shadow of the Washington University, I take pleasure in dating it from this charming and hospitable city where I have passed some of the most delightful hours of my life.

St. Louis, April 15, 1889.




When did the Roman Empire come to an end? … 1-3

Meaning of Odovakar’s work … 3

The Holy Roman Empire … 4, 5

Gradual shifting of primacy from the men who spoke Latin, and their descendants, to the men who speak English … 6-8

Political history is the history of nation-making … 8, 9

The ORIENTAL method of nation-making; _conquest without incorporation_ … 9

Illustrations from eastern despotisms … 10

And from the Moors in Spain … 11

The ROMAN method of nation-making; _conquest with incorporation, but without representation_ … 12

Its slow development … 13

Vices in the Roman system. … 14

Its fundamental defect … 15

It knew nothing of political power delegated by the people to representatives … 16

And therefore the expansion of its dominion ended in a centralized Despotism … 16

Which entailed the danger that human life might come to stagnate in Europe, as it had done in Asia … 17

The danger was warded off by the Germanic invasions, which, however, threatened to undo the work which the Empire had done in organizing European society … 17

But such disintegration was prevented by the sway which the Roman Church had come to exercise over the European mind … 18

The wonderful thirteenth century … 19

The ENGLISH method of nation-making; _incorporation with representation_ … 20

Pacific tendencies of federalism … 21

Failure of Greek attempts at federation … 22

Fallacy of the notion that republics must be small … 23

“It is not the business of a government to support its people, but of the people to support their government” … 24

Teutonic March-meetings and representative assemblies … 25

Peculiarity of the Teutonic conquest of Britain … 26, 27

Survival and development of the Teutonic representative assembly in England … 28

Primitive Teutonic institutions less modified in England than in Germany … 29

Some effects of the Norman conquest of England … 30

The Barons’ War and the first House of Commons … 31

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty … 32

Conflict between Roman Idea and English Idea begins to become clearly visible in the thirteenth century … 33

Decline of mediaeval Empire and Church with the growth of modern nationalities … 34

Overthrow of feudalism, and increasing power of the crown … 35

Formidable strength of the Roman Idea … 36

Had it not been for the Puritans, political liberty would probably have disappeared from the world … 37

Beginnings of Protestantism in the thirteenth century … 38

The Cathari, or Puritans of the Eastern Empire … 39

The Albigenses … 40

Effects of persecution; its feebleness in England … 41

Wyclif and the Lollards … 42

Political character of Henry VIII.’s revolt against Rome … 43

The yeoman Hugh Latimer … 44

The moment of Cromwell’s triumph was the most critical moment in history … 45

Contrast with France; fate of the Huguenots … 46, 47

Victory of the English Idea … 48

Significance of the Puritan Exodus … 49



Influence of Puritanism upon modern Europe … 50, 51

Work of the Lollards … 52

They made the Bible the first truly popular literature in England … 53, 54

The English version of the Bible … 54, 55

Secret of Henry VIII.’s swift success in his revolt against Rome … 56

Effects of the persecution under Mary … 57

Calvin’s theology in its political bearings … 58, 59

Elizabeth’s policy and its effects … 60, 61

Puritan sea-rovers … 61

Geographical distribution of Puritanism in England; it was strongest in the eastern counties … 62

Preponderance of East Anglia in the Puritan exodus … 63

Familiar features of East Anglia to the visitor from New England … 64

Puritanism was not intentionally allied with liberalism … 65

Robert Brown and the Separatists … 66

Persecution of the Separatists … 67

Recantation of Brown; it was reserved for William Brewster to take the lead in the Puritan exodus … 68

James Stuart, and his encounter with Andrew Melville … 69

What James intended to do when he became King of England … 70

His view of the political situation, as declared in the conference at Hampton Court … 71

The congregation of Separatists at Scrooby … 72

The flight to Holland, and settlement at Leyden in 1609 … 73

Systematic legal toleration in Holland … 74

Why the Pilgrims did not stay there; they wished to keep up their distinct organization and found a state … 74

And to do this they must cross the ocean, because European territory was all preoccupied … 75

The London and Plymouth companies … 75

First explorations of the New England coast; Bartholomew Gosnold (1602), and George Weymouth (1605) … 76

The Popham colony (1607) … 77

Captain John Smith gives to New England its name (1614) … 78

The Pilgrims at Leyden decide to make a settlement near the Delaware river … 79

How King James regarded the enterprise … 80

Voyage of the Mayflower; she goes astray and takes the Pilgrims to Cape Cod bay … 81

Founding of the Plymouth colony (1620) … 82, 83

Why the Indians did not molest the settlers … 84, 85

The chief interest of this beginning of the Puritan exodus lies not so much in what it achieved as in what it suggested … 86, 87



Sir Ferdinando Gorges and the Council for New England … 88, 89

Wessagusset and Merrymount … 90, 91

The Dorchester adventurers … 92

John White wishes to raise a bulwark against the Kingdom of Antichrist … 93

And John Endicott undertakes the work of building it … 94

Conflicting grants sow seeds of trouble; the Gorges and Mason claims … 94, 95

Endicott’s arrival in New England, and the founding of Salem … 95

The Company of Massachusetts Bay; Francis Higginson takes a powerful reinforcement to Salem … 96

The development of John White’s enterprise into the Company of Massachusetts Bay coincided with the first four years of the reign of Charles I … 97

Extraordinary scene in the House of Commons (June 5, 1628) … 98, 99

The King turns Parliament out of doors (March 2, 1629) … 100

Desperate nature of the crisis … 100, 101

The meeting at Cambridge (Aug. 26, 1629), and decision to transfer the charter of the Massachusetts Bay Company, and the government established under it, to New England … 102

Leaders of the great migration; John Winthrop … 102

And Thomas Dudley … 103

Founding of Massachusetts; the schemes of Gorges overwhelmed … 104

Beginnings of American constitutional history; the question as to self-government raised at Watertown … 105

Representative system established … 106

Bicameral assembly; story of the stray pig … 107

Ecclesiastical polity; the triumph of Separatism … 108

Restriction of the suffrage to members of the Puritan congregational churches … 109

Founding of Harvard College … 110

Threefold danger to the New England settlers in 1636:–

1. From the King, who prepares to attack the charter, but is foiled by dissensions at home … 111-113

2. From religious dissensions; Roger Williams … 114-116 Henry Vane and Anne Hutchinson … 116-119 Beginnings of New Hampshire and Rhode Island … 119-120

3. From the Indians; the Pequot supremacy … 121

First movements into the Connecticut valley, and disputes with the Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam … 122, 123

Restriction of the suffrage leads to disaffection in Massachusetts; profoundly interesting opinions of Winthrop and Hooker … 123, 124

Connecticut pioneers and their hardships … 125

Thomas Hooker, and the founding of Connecticut … 120

The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (Jan 14, 1639); the first written constitution that created a government … 127

Relations of Connecticut to the genesis of the Federal Union … 128

Origin of the Pequot War; Sassacus tries to unite the Indian tribes in a crusade against the English … 129, 130

The schemes of Sassacus are foiled by Roger Williams … 130

The Pequots take the war path alone … 131

And are exterminated … 132-134

John Davenport, and the founding of New Haven … 135

New Haven legislation, and legend of the “Blue Laws” … 136

With the meeting of the Long Parliament, in 1640, the Puritan exodus comes to its end … 137

What might have been … 138, 391



The Puritan exodus was purely and exclusively English … 140

And the settlers were all thrifty and prosperous; chiefly country squires and yeomanry of the best and sturdiest type … 141, 142

In all history there has been no other instance of colonization so exclusively effected by picked and chosen men … 143

What, then, was the principle of selection? The migration was not intended to promote what we call religious liberty … 144, 145

Theocratic ideal of the Puritans … 146

The impulse which sought to realize itself in the Puritan ideal was an ethical impulse … 147

In interpreting Scripture, the Puritan appealed to his Reason … 148, 149

Value of such perpetual theological discussion as was carried on in early New England … 150, 151

Comparison with the history of Scotland … 152

Bearing of these considerations upon the history of the New England confederacy … 153

The existence of so many colonies (Plymouth, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Haven, Rhode Island, the Piscataqua towns, etc.) was due to differences of opinion on questions in which men’s religious ideas were involved … 154

And this multiplication of colonies led to a notable and significant attempt at confederation … 155

Turbulence of dissent in Rhode Island … 156

The Earl of Warwick, and his Board of Commissioners … 157

Constitution of the Confederacy … 158

It was only a league, not a federal union … 159

Its formation involved a tacit assumption of sovereignty … 160

The fall of Charles I. brought up, for a moment, the question as to the supremacy of Parliament over the colonies … 161

Some interesting questions … 162

Genesis of the persecuting spirit … 163

Samuel Gorton and his opinions … 163-165

He flees to Aquedneck and is banished thence … 166

Providence protests against him … 167

He flees to Shawomet, where he buys land of the Indians … 168

Miantonomo and Uncas … 169, 170

Death of Miantonomo … 171

Edward Johnson leads an expedition against Shawomet … 172

Trial and sentence of the heretics … 173

Winthrop declares himself in a prophetic opinion … 174

The Presbyterian cabal … 175-177

The Cambridge Platform; deaths of Winthrop and Cotton … 177

Views of Winthrop and Cotton as to toleration in matters of Religion … 178

After their death, the leadership in Massachusetts was in the hands of Endicott and Norton … 179

The Quakers; their opinions and behavior … 179-181

Violent manifestations of dissent … 182

Anne Austin and Mary Fisher; how they were received in Boston … 183

The confederated colonies seek to expel the Quakers; noble attitude of Rhode Island … 184

Roger Williams appeals to his friend, Oliver Cromwell … 185

The “heavenly speech” of Sir Harry Vane … 185

Laws passed against the Quakers … 186

How the death penalty was regarded at that time in New England … 187

Executions of Quakers on Boston Common … 188, 189

Wenlock Christison’s defiance and victory … 189, 190

The “King’s Missive” … 191

Why Charles II. interfered to protect the Quakers … 191

His hostile feeling toward the New England governments … 192

The regicide judges, Goffe and Whalley … 193, 194

New Haven annexed to Connecticut … 194, 195

Abraham Pierson, and the founding of Newark … 196

Breaking-down of the theocratic policy … 197

Weakening of the Confederacy … 198



Relations between the Puritan settlers and the Indians … 199

Trade with the Indians … 200

Missionary work; Thomas Mayhew … 201

John Eliot and his translation of the Bible … 202

His preaching to the Indians … 203

His villages of Christian Indians … 204

The Puritan’s intention was to deal gently and honourably with the red men … 205

Why Pennsylvania was so long unmolested by the Indians … 205, 206

Difficulty of the situation in New England … 207

It is hard for the savage and the civilized man to understand one another … 208

How Eliot’s designs must inevitably have been misinterpreted by the Indians … 209

It is remarkable that peace should have been so long preserved … 210

Deaths of Massasoit and his son Alexander … 211

Very little is known about the nature of Philip’s designs … 212

The meeting at Taunton … 213

Sausamon informs against Philip … 213

And is murdered … 214

Massacres at Swanzey and Dartmouth … 214

Murder of Captain Hutchinson … 215

Attack on Brookfield, which is relieved by Simon Willard … 216

Fighting in the Connecticut valley; the mysterious stranger at Hadley … 217, 218

Ambuscade at Bloody Brook … 219

Popular excitement in Boston … 220

The Narragansetts prepare to take the war-path … 221

And Governor Winslow leads an army against them … 222, 223

Storming of the great swamp fortress … 224

Slaughter of the Indians … 225

Effect of the blow … 226

Growth of the humane sentiment in recent times, due to the fact that the horrors of war are seldom brought home to everybody’s door … 227, 228

Warfare with savages is likely to be truculent in character … 229

Attack upon Lancaster … 230

Mrs. Rowlandson’s narrative … 231-233

Virtual extermination of the Indians (February to August, 1676) … 233, 234

Death of Canonchet … 234

Philip pursued by Captain Church … 235

Death of Philip … 236

Indians sold into slavery … 237

Conduct of the Christian Indians … 238

War with the Tarratines … 239

Frightful destruction of life and property … 240

Henceforth the red man figures no more in the history of New England, except in frontier raids under French guidance … 241



Romantic features in the early history of New England … 242

Captain Edward Johnson, of Woburn, and his book on “The Wonder-working Providence of Zion’s Saviour in New England” … 243,244

Acts of the Puritans often judged by an unreal and impossible standard … 245

Spirit of the “Wonder-working Providence” … 246

Merits and faults of the Puritan theocracy … 247

Restriction of the suffrage to church members … 248

It was a source of political discontent … 249

Inquisitorial administration of justice … 250

The “Half way Covenant” … 251

Founding of the Old South church … 252

Unfriendly relations between Charles II and Massachusetts … 253

Complaints against Massachusetts … 254

The Lords of Trade … 255

Arrival of Edward Randolph in Boston … 256

Joseph Dudley and the beginnings of Toryism in New England … 257, 258

Charles II. erects the four Piscataqua towns into the royal province of New Hampshire … 259

And quarrels with Massachusetts over the settlement of the Gorges claim to the Maine district … 260

Simon Bradstreet and his verse-making wife … 261

Massachusetts answers the king’s peremptory message … 262

Secret treaty between Charles II. and Louis XIV … 263

Shameful proceedings in England … 264

Massachusetts refuses to surrender her charter; and accordingly it is annulled by decree of chancery, June 21, 1684 … 265

Effect of annulling the charter … 266

Death of Charles II, accession of James II., and appointment of Sir Edmund Andros as viceroy over New England, with despotic powers … 267

The charter oak … 268

Episcopal services in Boston … 268, 269

Founding of the King’s Chapel … 269

The tyranny … 270

John Wise of Ipswich … 271

Fall of James II … 271

Insurrection in Boston, and overthrow of Andros … 272

Effects of the Revolution of 1689 … 273

Need for union among all the northern colonies … 274

Plymouth, Maine, and Acadia annexed to Massachusetts … 275

Which becomes a royal province … 276

And is thus brought into political sympathy with Virginia … 276

The seeds of the American Revolution were already sown, and the spirit of 1776 was foreshadowed in 1689 … 277, 278




It used to be the fashion of historians, looking superficially at the facts presented in chronicles and tables of dates, without analyzing and comparing vast groups of facts distributed through centuries, or even suspecting the need for such analysis and comparison, to assign the date 476 A.D. as the moment at which the Roman Empire came to an end. It was in that year that the soldier of fortune, Odovakar, commander of the Herulian mercenaries in Italy, sent the handsome boy Romulus, son of Orestes, better known as “little Augustus,” from his imperial throne to the splendid villa of Lucullus near Naples, and gave him a yearly pension of $35,000 [6,000 solidi] to console him for the loss of a world. As 324 years elapsed before another emperor was crowned at Rome, and as the political headship of Europe after that happy restoration remained upon the German soil to which the events of the eighth century had shifted it, nothing could seem more natural than the habit which historians once had, of saying that the mighty career of Rome had ended, as it had begun, with a Romulus. Sometimes the date 476 was even set up as a great landmark dividing modern from ancient history. For those, however, who took such a view, it was impossible to see the events of the Middle Ages in their true relations to what went before and what came after. It was impossible to understand what went on in Italy in the sixth century, or to explain the position of that great Roman power which had its centre on the Bosphorus, which in the code of Justinian left us our grandest monument of Roman law, and which for a thousand years was the staunch bulwark of Europe against the successive aggressions of Persian, Saracen, and Turk. It was equally impossible to understand the rise of the Papal power, the all-important politics of the great Saxon and Swabian emperors, the relations of mediaeval England to the Continental powers, or the marvellously interesting growth of the modern European system of nationalities. [Sidenote: When did the Roman Empire come to an end?]

Since the middle of the nineteenth century the study of history has undergone changes no less sweeping than those which have in the same time affected the study of the physical sciences. Vast groups of facts distributed through various ages and countries have been subjected to comparison and analysis, with the result that they have not only thrown fresh light upon one another, but have in many cases enabled us to recover historic points of view that had long been buried in oblivion. Such an instance was furnished about twenty-five years ago by Dr. Bryce’s epoch-making work on the Holy Roman Empire. Since then historians still recognize the importance of the date 476 as that which left the Bishop of Rome the dominant personage in Italy, and marked the shifting of the political centre of gravity from the Palatine to the Lateran. This was one of those subtle changes which escape notice until after some of their effects have attracted attention. The most important effect, in this instance, realized after three centuries, was not the overthrow of Roman power in the West, but its indefinite extension and expansion. The men of 476 not only had no idea that they were entering upon a new era, but least of all did they dream that the Roman Empire had come to an end, or was ever likely to. Its cities might be pillaged, its provinces overrun, but the supreme imperial power itself was something without which the men of those days could not imagine the world as existing. It must have its divinely ordained representative in one place if not in another. If the throne in Italy was vacant, it was no more than had happened before; there was still a throne at Constantinople, and to its occupant Zeno the Roman Senate sent a message, saying that one emperor was enough for both ends of the earth, and begging him to confer upon the gallant Odovakar the title of patrician, and entrust the affairs of Italy to his care. So when Sicambrian Chlodwig set up his Merovingian kingdom in northern Gaul, he was glad to array himself in the robe of a Roman consul, and obtain from the eastern emperor a formal ratification of his rule.

[Transcriber’s note: page missing in original.] still survives in political methods and habits of thought that will yet be long in dying out. With great political systems, as with typical forms of organic life, the processes of development and of extinction are exceedingly slow, and it is seldom that the stages can be sharply marked by dates. The processes which have gradually shifted the seat of empire until the prominent part played nineteen centuries ago by Rome and Alexandria, on opposite sides of the Mediterranean, has been at length assumed by London and New York, on opposite sides of the Atlantic, form a most interesting subject of study. But to understand them, one must do much more than merely catalogue the facts of political history; one must acquire a knowledge of the drifts and tendencies of human thought and feeling and action from the earliest ages to the times in which we live. In covering so wide a field we cannot of course expect to obtain anything like complete results. In order to make a statement simple enough to be generally intelligible, it is necessary to pass over many circumstances and many considerations that might in one way and another qualify what we have to say. Nevertheless it is quite possible for us to discern, in their bold general outlines, some historic truths of supreme importance. In contemplating the salient features of the change which has now for a long time been making the world more English and less Roman, we shall find not only intellectual pleasure and profit but practical guidance. For in order to understand this slow but mighty change, we must look a little into that process of nation-making which has been going on since prehistoric ages and is going on here among us to-day, and from the recorded experience of men in times long past we may gather lessons of infinite value for ourselves and for our children’s children. As in all the achievements of mankind it is only after much weary experiment and many a heart-sickening failure that success is attained, so has it been especially with nation-making. Skill in the political art is the fruit of ages of intellectual and moral discipline; and just as picture-writing had to come before printing and canoes before steamboats, so the cruder political methods had to be tried and found wanting, amid the tears and groans of unnumbered generations, before methods less crude could be put into operation. In the historic survey upon which we are now to enter, we shall see that the Roman Empire represented a crude method of nation-making which began with a masterful career of triumph over earlier and cruder methods, but has now for several centuries been giving way before a more potent and satisfactory method. And just as the merest glance at the history of Europe shows us Germanic peoples wresting the supremacy from Rome, so in this deeper study we shall discover a grand and far-reaching Teutonic Idea of political life overthrowing and supplanting the Roman Idea. Our attention will be drawn toward England as the battle-ground and the seventeenth century as the critical moment of the struggle; we shall see in Puritanism the tremendous militant force that determined the issue; and when our perspective has thus become properly adjusted, we shall begin to realize for the first time how truly wonderful was the age that witnessed the Beginnings of New England. We have long had before our minds the colossal figure of Roman Julius as “the foremost man of all this world,” but as the seventeenth century recedes into the past the figure of English Oliver begins to loom up as perhaps even more colossal. In order to see these world-events in their true perspective, and to make perfectly clear the manner in which we are to estimate them, we must go a long distance away from them. We must even go back, as nearly as may be, to the beginning of things. [Sidenote: Gradual shifting of primacy from the men who spoke Latin, and their descendants, to the men who speak English]

If we look back for a moment to the primitive stages of society, we may picture to ourselves the surface of the earth sparsely and scantily covered with wandering tribes of savages, rude in morals and manners, narrow and monotonous in experience, sustaining life very much as lower animals sustain it, by gathering wild fruits or slaying wild game, and waging chronic warfare alike with powerful beasts and with rival tribes of men. [Sidenote: Political history is the history of nation-making]

In the widest sense the subject of political history is the description of the processes by which, under favourable circumstances, innumerable such primitive tribes have become welded together into mighty nations, with elevated standards of morals and manners, with wide and varied experience, sustaining life and ministering to human happiness by elaborate arts and sciences, and putting a curb upon warfare by limiting its scope, diminishing its cruelty, and interrupting it by intervals of peace. The story, as laid before us in the records of three thousand years, is fascinating and absorbing in its human interest for those who content themselves with the study of its countless personal incidents, and neglect its profound philosophical lessons. But for those who study it in the scientific spirit, the human interest of its details becomes still more intensely fascinating and absorbing. Battles and coronations, poems and inventions, migrations and martyrdoms, acquire new meanings and awaken new emotions as we begin to discern their bearings upon the solemn work of ages that is slowly winning for humanity a richer and more perfect life. By such meditation upon men’s thoughts and deeds is the understanding purified, till we become better able to comprehend our relations to the world and the duty that lies upon each of us to shape his conduct rightly.

In the welding together of primitive shifting tribes into stable and powerful nations, we can seem to discern three different methods that have been followed at different times and places, with widely different results. In all cases the fusion has been effected by war, but it has gone on in three broadly contrasted ways. The first of these methods, which has been followed from time immemorial in the Oriental world, may be roughly described as _conquest without incorporation._ A tribe grows to national dimensions by conquering and annexing its neighbours, without admitting them to a share in its political life. Probably there is always at first some incorporation, or even perhaps some crude germ of federative alliance; but this goes very little way,–only far enough to fuse together a few closely related tribes, agreeing in speech and habits, into a single great tribe that can overwhelm its neighbours. In early society this sort of incorporation cannot go far without being stopped by some impassable barrier of language or religion. After reaching that point, the conquering tribe simply annexes its neighbours and makes them its slaves. It becomes a superior caste, ruling over vanquished peoples, whom it oppresses with frightful cruelty, while living on the fruits of their toil in what has been aptly termed Oriental luxury. Such has been the origin of many eastern despotisms, in the valleys of the Nile and Euphrates, and elsewhere. Such a political structure admits of a very considerable development of material civilization, in which gorgeous palaces and artistic temples may be built, and perhaps even literature and scholarship rewarded, with money wrung from millions of toiling wretches. There is that sort of brutal strength in it, that it may endure for many long ages, until it comes into collision with some higher civilization. Then it is likely to end in sudden collapse, because the fighting quality of the people has been destroyed. Populations that have lived for centuries in fear of impalement or crucifixion, and have known no other destination for the products of their labour than the clutches of the omnipresent tax-gatherer, are not likely to furnish good soldiers. A handful of freemen will scatter them like sheep, as the Greeks did twenty-three centuries ago at Kynaxa, as the English did the other day at Tel el-Kebir. On the other hand, where the manliness of the vanquished people is not crushed, the sway of the conquerors who cannot enter into political union with them is likely to be cast off, as in the case of the Moors in Spain. There was a civilization in many respects admirable. It was eminent for industry, science, art, and poetry; its annals are full of romantic interest; it was in some respects superior to the Christian system which supplanted it; in many ways it contributed largely to the progress of the human race; and it was free from some of the worst vices of Oriental civilizations. Yet because of the fundamental defect that between the Christian Spaniard and his Mussulman conqueror there could be no political fusion, this brilliant civilization was doomed. During eight centuries of more or less extensive rule in the Spanish peninsula, the Moor was from first to last an alien, just as after four centuries the Turk is still an alien in the Balkan peninsula. The natural result was a struggle that lasted age after age till it ended in the utter extermination of one of the parties, and left behind it a legacy of hatred and persecution that has made the history of modern Spain a dismal record of shame and disaster. [Sidenote: The Oriental method of nation-making]

In this first method of nation-making, then, which we may call the Oriental method, one now sees but little to commend. It was better than savagery, and for a long time no more efficient method was possible, but the leading peoples of the world have long since outgrown it; and although the resulting form of political government is the oldest we know and is not yet extinct, it nevertheless has not the elements of permanence. Sooner or later it will disappear, as savagery is disappearing, as the rudest types of inchoate human society have disappeared.

The second method by which nations have been made may be called the Roman method; and we may briefly describe it as _conquest with incorporation, but without representation_. The secret of Rome’s wonderful strength lay in the fact that she incorporated the vanquished peoples into her own body politic. In the early time there was a fusion of tribes going on in Latium, which, if it had gone no further, would have been similar to the early fusion of Ionic tribes in Attika or of Iranian tribes in Media. But whereas everywhere else this political fusion soon stopped, in the Roman world it went on. One after another Italian tribes and Italian towns were not merely overcome but admitted to a share in the political rights and privileges of the victors. By the time this had gone on until the whole Italian peninsula was consolidated under the headship of Rome, the result was a power incomparably greater than any other that the world had yet seen. Never before had so many people been brought under one government without making slaves of most of them. Liberty had existed before, whether in barbaric tribes or in Greek cities. Union had existed before, in Assyrian or Persian despotisms. Now liberty and union were for the first time joined together, with consequences enduring and stupendous. The whole Mediterranean world was brought under one government; ancient barriers of religion, speech, and custom were overthrown in every direction; and innumerable barbarian tribes, from the Alps to the wilds of northern Britain, from the Bay of Biscay to the Carpathian mountains, were more or less completely transformed into Roman citizens, protected by Roman law, and sharing in the material and spiritual benefits of Roman civilization. Gradually the whole vast structure became permeated by Hellenic and Jewish thought, and thus were laid the lasting foundations of modern society, of a common Christendom, furnished with a common stock of ideas concerning man’s relation to God and the world, and acknowledging a common standard of right and wrong. This was a prodigious work, which raised human life to a much higher plane than that which it had formerly occupied, and endless gratitude is due to the thousands of steadfast men who in one way or another devoted their lives to its accomplishment. [Sidenote: The Roman method of nation-making]

This Roman method of nation-making had nevertheless its fatal shortcomings, and it was only very slowly, moreover, that it wrought out its own best results. It was but gradually that the rights and privileges of Roman citizenship were extended over the whole Roman world, and in the mean time there were numerous instances where conquered provinces seemed destined to no better fate than had awaited the victims of Egyptian or Assyrian conquest. The rapacity and cruelty of Caius Verres could hardly have been outdone by the worst of Persian satraps; but there was a difference. A moral sense and political sense had been awakened which could see both the wickedness and the folly of such conduct. The voice of a Cicero sounded with trumpet tones against the oppressor, who was brought to trial and exiled for deeds which under the Oriental system, from the days of Artaxerxes to those of the Grand Turk, would scarcely have called forth a reproving word. It was by slow degrees that the Roman came to understand the virtues of his own method, and learned to apply it consistently until the people of all parts of the empire were, in theory at least, equal before the law. In theory, I say, for in point of fact there was enough of viciousness in the Roman system to prevent it from achieving permanent success. Historians have been fond of showing how the vitality of the whole system was impaired by wholesale slave-labour, by the false political economy which taxes all for the benefit of a few, by the debauching view of civil office which regards it as private perquisite and not as public trust, and–worst of all, perhaps–by the communistic practice of feeding an idle proletariat out of the imperial treasury. The names of these deadly social evils are not unfamiliar to American ears. Even of the last we have heard ominous whispers in the shape of bills to promote mendicancy under the specious guise of fostering education or rewarding military services. And is it not a striking illustration of the slowness with which mankind learns the plainest rudiments of wisdom and of justice, that only in the full light of the nineteenth century, and at the cost of a terrible war, should the most intelligent people on earth have got rid of a system of labour devised in the crudest ages of antiquity and fraught with misery to the employed, degradation to the employers, and loss to everybody? [Sidenote: Its slow development]

These evils, we see, in one shape or another, have existed almost everywhere; and the vice of the Roman system did not consist in the fact that under it they were fully developed, but in the fact that it had no adequate means of overcoming them. Unless helped by something supplied from outside the Roman world, civilization must have succumbed to these evils, the progress of mankind must have been stopped. What was needed was the introduction of a fierce spirit of personal liberty and local self-government. The essential vice of the Roman system was that it had been unable to avoid weakening the spirit of personal independence and crushing out local self-government among the peoples to whom it had been applied. It owed its wonderful success to joining Liberty with Union, but as it went on it found itself compelled gradually to sacrifice Liberty to Union, strengthening the hands of the central government and enlarging its functions more and more, until by and by the political life of the several parts had so far died away that, under the pressure of attack from without, the Union fell to pieces and the whole political system had to be slowly and painfully reconstructed.

Now if we ask why the Roman government found itself thus obliged to sacrifice personal liberty and local independence to the paramount necessity of holding the empire together, the answer will point us to the essential and fundamental vice of the Roman method of nation-making. It lacked the principle of representation. The old Roman world knew nothing of representative assemblies. [Sidenote: It knew nothing of representation]

Its senates were assemblies of notables, constituting in the main an aristocracy of men who had held high office; its popular assemblies were primary assemblies,–town-meetings. There was no notion of such a thing as political power delegated by the people to representatives who were to wield it away from home and out of sight of their constituents. The Roman’s only notion of delegated power was that of authority delegated by the government to its generals and prefects who discharged at a distance its military and civil functions. When, therefore, the Roman popular government, originally adapted to a single city, had come to extend itself over a large part of the world, it lacked the one institution by means of which government could be carried on over so vast an area without degenerating into despotism. [Sidenote: And therefore ended in despotism]

Even could the device of representation have occurred to the mind of some statesman trained in Roman methods, it would probably have made no difference. Nobody would have known how to use it. You cannot invent an institution as you would invent a plough. Such a notion as that of representative government must needs start from small beginnings and grow in men’s minds until it should become part and parcel of their mental habits. For the want of it the home government at Rome became more and more unmanageable until it fell into the hands of the army, while at the same time the administration of the empire became more and more centralized; the people of its various provinces, even while their social condition was in some respects improved, had less and less voice in the management of their local affairs, and thus the spirit of personal independence was gradually weakened. This centralization was greatly intensified by the perpetual danger of invasion on the northern and eastern frontiers, all the way from the Rhine to the Euphrates. Do what it would, the government must become more and more a military despotism, must revert toward the Oriental type. The period extending from the third century before Christ to the third century after was a period of extraordinary intellectual expansion and moral awakening; but when we observe the governmental changes introduced under the emperor Diocletian at the very end of this period, we realize how serious had been the political retrogression, how grave the danger that the stream of human life might come to stagnate in Europe, as it had long since stagnated in Asia.

Two mighty agents, cooperating in their opposite ways to prevent any such disaster, were already entering upon the scene. The first was the colonization of the empire by Germanic tribes already far advanced beyond savagery, already somewhat tinctured with Roman civilization, yet at the same time endowed with an intense spirit of personal and local independence. With this wholesome spirit they were about to refresh and revivify the empire, but at the risk of undoing its work of political organization and reducing it to barbarism. The second was the establishment of the Roman church, an institution capable of holding European society together in spite of a political disintegration that was widespread and long-continued. While wave after wave of Germanic colonization poured over romanized Europe, breaking down old boundary-lines and working sudden and astonishing changes on the map, setting up in every quarter baronies, dukedoms, and kingdoms fermenting with vigorous political life; while for twenty generations this salutary but wild and dangerous work was going on, there was never a moment when the imperial sway of Rome was quite set aside and forgotten, there was never a time when union of some sort was not maintained through the dominion which the church had established over the European mind. When we duly consider this great fact in its relations to what went before and what came after, it is hard to find words fit to express the debt of gratitude which modern civilization owes to the Roman Catholic church. When we think of all the work, big with promise of the future, that went on in those centuries which modern writers in their ignorance used once to set apart and stigmatize as the “Dark Ages”; when we consider how the seeds of what is noblest in modern life were then painfully sown upon the soil which imperial Rome had prepared; when we think of the various work of a Gregory, a Benedict, a Boniface, an Alfred, a Charlemagne; we feel that there is a sense in which the most brilliant achievements of pagan antiquity are dwarfed in comparison with these. Until quite lately, indeed, the student of history has had his attention too narrowly confined to the ages that have been preeminent for literature and art–the so-called classical ages–and thus his sense of historical perspective has been impaired. When Mr. Freeman uses Gregory of Tours as a text-book, he shows that he realizes how an epoch may be none the less portentous though it has not had a Tacitus to describe it, and certainly no part of history is more full of human interest than the troubled period in which the powerful streams of Teutonic life pouring into Roman Europe were curbed in their destructiveness and guided to noble ends by the Catholic church. Out of the interaction between these two mighty agents has come the political system of the modern world. The moment when this interaction might have seemed on the point of reaching a complete and harmonious result was the glorious thirteenth century, the culminating moment of the Holy Roman Empire. Then, as in the times of Caesar or Trajan, there might have seemed to be a union among civilized men, in which the separate life of individuals and localities was not submerged. In that golden age alike of feudal system, of empire, and of church, there were to be seen the greatest monarchs, in fullest sympathy with their peoples, that Christendom has known,–an Edward I., a St. Louis, a Frederick II. Then when in the pontificates of Innocent III. and his successors the Roman church reached its apogee, the religious yearnings of men sought expression in the sublimest architecture the world has seen. Then Aquinas summed up in his profound speculations the substance of Catholic theology, and while the morning twilight of modern science might be discerned in the treatises of Roger Bacon, while wandering minstrelsy revealed the treasures of modern speech, soon to be wrought under the hands of Dante and Chaucer into forms of exquisite beauty, the sacred fervour of the apostolic ages found itself renewed in the tender and mystic piety of St. Francis of Assisi. It was a wonderful time, but after all less memorable as the culmination of mediaeval empire and mediaeval church than as the dawning of the new era in which we live to-day, and in which the development of human society proceeds in accordance with more potent methods than those devised by the genius of pagan or Christian Rome. [Sidenote: The German invaders and the Roman church] [Sidenote: The wonderful thirteenth century]

For the origin of these more potent methods we must look back to the early ages of the Teutonic people; for their development and application on a grand scale we must look chiefly to the history of that most Teutonic of peoples in its institutions, though perhaps not more than half-Teutonic in blood, the English, with their descendants in the New World. The third method of nation-making may be called the Teutonic or preeminently the English method. It differs from the Oriental and Roman methods which we have been considering in a feature of most profound significance; it contains the principle of representation. For this reason, though like all nation-making it was in its early stages attended with war and conquest, it nevertheless does not necessarily require war and conquest in order to be put into operation. Of the other two methods war was an essential part. In the typical Oriental nation, such as Assyria or Persia, we see a conquering tribe holding down a number of vanquished peoples, and treating them like slaves: here the nation is very imperfectly made, and its government is subject to sudden and violent changes. In the Roman empire we see a conquering people hold sway over a number of vanquished peoples, but instead of treating them like slaves, it gradually makes them its equals before the law; here the resulting political body is much more nearly a nation, and its government is much more stable. A Lydian of the fifth century before Christ felt no sense of allegiance to the Persian master who simply robbed and abused him; but the Gaul of the fifth century after Christ was proud of the name of Roman and ready to fight for the empire of which he was a citizen. We have seen, nevertheless, that for want of representation the Roman method failed when applied to an immense territory, and the government tended to become more and more despotic, to revert toward the Oriental type. Now of the English or Teutonic method, I say, war is not an essential part; for where representative government is once established, it is possible for a great nation to be formed by the peaceful coalescence of neighbouring states, or by their union into a federal body. An instance of the former was the coalescence of England and Scotland effected early in the eighteenth century after ages of mutual hostility; for instances of the latter we have Switzerland and the United States. Now federalism, though its rise and establishment may be incidentally accompanied by warfare, is nevertheless in spirit pacific. Conquest in the Oriental sense is quite incompatible with it; conquest in the Roman sense is hardly less so. At the close of our Civil War there were now and then zealous people to be found who thought that the southern states ought to be treated as conquered territory, governed by prefects sent from Washington, and held down by military force for a generation or so. Let us hope that there are few to-day who can fail to see that such a course would have been fraught with almost as much danger as the secession movement itself. At least it would have been a hasty confession, quite uncalled for and quite untrue, that American federalism had thus far proved itself incompetent,–that we had indeed preserved our national unity, but only at the frightful cost of sinking to a lower plane of national life. [Sidenote: The English method of nation-making] [Sidenote: Pacific tendencies of federalism]

But federalism, with its pacific implications, was not an invention of the Teutonic mind. The idea was familiar to the city communities of ancient Greece, which, along with their intense love of self-government, felt the need of combined action for warding off external attack. In their Achaian and Aitolian leagues the Greeks made brilliant attempts toward founding a nation upon some higher principle than that of mere conquest, and the history of these attempts is exceedingly interesting and instructive. They failed for lack of the principle of representation, which was practically unknown to the world until introduced by the Teutonic colonizers of the Roman empire. Until the idea of power delegated by the people had become familiar to men’s minds in its practical bearings, it was impossible to create a great nation without crushing out the political life in some of its parts. Some centre of power was sure to absorb all the political life, and grow at the expense of the outlying parts, until the result was a centralized despotism. Hence it came to be one of the commonplace assumptions of political writers that republics must be small, that free government is practicable only in a confined area, and that the only strong and durable government, capable of maintaining order throughout a vast territory, is some form of absolute monarchy. [Sidenote: Fallacy of the notion that republics must be small]

It was quite natural that people should formerly have held this opinion, and it is indeed not yet quite obsolete, but its fallaciousness will become more and more apparent as American history is better understood. Our experience has now so far widened that we can see that despotism is not the strongest but wellnigh the weakest form of government; that centralized administrations, like that of the Roman empire, have fallen to pieces, not because of too much but because of too little freedom; and that the only perdurable government must be that which succeeds in achieving national unity on a grand scale, without weakening the sense of personal and local independence. For in the body politic this spirit of freedom is as the red corpuscles in the blood; it carries the life with it. It makes the difference between a society of self-respecting men and women and a society of puppets.

Your nation may have art, poetry, and science, all the refinements of civilized life, all the comforts and safeguards that human ingenuity can devise; but if it lose this spirit of personal and local independence, it is doomed and deserves its doom. As President Cleveland has well said, it is not the business of a government to support its people, but of the people to support their government; and once to lose sight of this vital truth is as dangerous as to trifle with some stealthy narcotic poison. Of the two opposite perils which have perpetually threatened the welfare of political society–anarchy on the one hand, loss of self-government on the other–Jefferson was right in maintaining that the latter is really the more to be dreaded because its beginnings are so terribly insidious. Many will understand what is meant by a threat of secession, where few take heed of the baneful principle involved in a Texas Seed-bill.

That the American people are still fairly alive to the importance of these considerations, is due to the weary ages of struggle in which our forefathers have manfully contended for the right of self-government. From the days of Arminius and Civilis in the wilds of lower Germany to the days of Franklin and Jefferson in Independence Hall, we have been engaged in this struggle, not without some toughening of our political fibre, not without some refining of our moral sense. Not among our English forefathers only, but among all the peoples of mediaeval and modern Europe has the struggle gone on, with various and instructive results. In all parts of romanized Europe invaded and colonized by Teutonic tribes, self-government attempted to spring up. What may have been the origin of the idea of representation we do not know; like most origins, it seems lost in the prehistoric darkness. Wherever we find Teutonic tribes settling down over a wide area, we find them holding their primary assemblies, usually their annual March-meetings, like those in which Mr. Hosea Biglow and others like him have figured. Everywhere, too, we find some attempt at representative assemblies, based on the principle of the three estates, clergy, nobles, and commons. But nowhere save in England does the representative principle become firmly established, at first in county-meetings, afterward in a national parliament limiting the powers of the national monarch as the primary tribal assembly had limited the powers of the tribal chief. It is for this reason that we must call the method of nation-making by means of a representative assembly the English method. While the idea of representation was perhaps the common property of the Teutonic tribes, it was only in England that it was successfully put into practice and became the dominant political idea. We may therefore agree with Dr. Stubbs that in its political development England is the most Teutonic of all European countries,–the country which in becoming a great nation has most fully preserved the local independence so characteristic of the ancient Germans. The reasons for this are complicated, and to try to assign them all would needlessly encumber our exposition. But there is one that is apparent and extremely instructive. There is sometimes a great advantage in being able to plant political institutions in a virgin soil, where they run no risk of being modified or perhaps metamorphosed through contact with rival institutions. In America the Teutonic idea has been worked out even more completely than in Britain; and so far as institutions are concerned, our English forefathers settled here as in an empty country. They were not obliged to modify their political ideas so as to bring them into harmony with those of the Indians; the disparity in civilization was so great that the Indians were simply thrust aside, along with the wolves and buffaloes. [Sidenote: Teutonic March-meetings and representative assemblies]

This illustration will help us to understand the peculiar features of the Teutonic settlement of Britain. Whether the English invaders really slew all the romanized Kelts who dwelt in the island, except those who found refuge in the mountains of Cumberland, Wales, and Cornwall, or fled across the channel to Brittany, we need not seek to decide. It is enough to point out one respect in which the Teutonic conquest was immeasurably more complete in Britain than in any other part of the empire. Everywhere else the tribes who settled upon Roman soil–the Goths, Vandals, Suevi, and Burgundians–were christianized, and so to some extent romanized, before they came to take possession. Even the more distant Franks had been converted to Christianity before they had completed their conquest of Gaul. Everywhere except in Britain, therefore, the conquerors had already imbibed Roman ideas, and the authority of Rome was in a certain sense acknowledged. There was no break in the continuity of political events. In Britain, on the other hand, there was a complete break, so that while on the continent the fifth and sixth centuries are seen in the full midday light of history, in Britain they have lapsed into the twilight of half-legendary tradition. The Saxon and English tribes, coming from the remote wilds of northern Germany, whither Roman missionaries had not yet penetrated, still worshipped Thor and Wodan; and their conquest of Britain was effected with such deadly thoroughness that Christianity was destroyed there, or lingered only in sequestered nooks. A land once christianized thus actually fell back into paganism, so that the work of converting it to Christianity had to be done over again. From the landing of heathen Hengest on the isle of Thanet to the landing of Augustine and his monks on the same spot, one hundred and forty-eight years elapsed, during which English institutions found time to take deep root in British soil with scarcely more interference, as to essential points, than in American soil twelve centuries afterward. [Sidenote: Peculiarity of the Teutonic conquest of Britain]

The century and a half between 449 and 597 is therefore one of the most important epochs in the history of the people that speak the English language. Before settling in Britain our forefathers had been tribes in the upper stages of barbarism; now they began the process of coalescence into a nation in which the principle of self-government should be retained and developed. The township and its town-meeting we find there, as later in New England. The county-meeting we also find, while the county is a little state in itself and not a mere administrative district. And in this county-meeting we may observe a singular feature, something never seen before in the world, something destined to work out vaster political results than Caesar ever dreamed of. This county-meeting is not a primary assembly; all the freemen from all the townships cannot leave their homes and their daily business to attend it. Nor is it merely an assembly of notables, attended by the most important men of the neighbourhood. It is a representative assembly, attended by select men from each township. We may see in it the germ of the British parliament and of the American congress, as indeed of all modern legislative bodies, for it is a most suggestive commentary upon what we are saying that in all other countries which have legislatures, they have been copied, within quite recent times, from English or American models. We can seldom if ever fix a date for the beginning of anything, and we can by no means fix a date for the beginning of representative assemblies in England. We can only say that where we first find traces of county organization, we find traces of representation. Clearly, if the English conquerors of Britain had left the framework of Roman institutions standing there, as it remained standing in Gaul, there would have been great danger of this principle of representation not surviving. It would most likely have been crushed in its callow infancy. The conquerors would insensibly have fallen into the Roman way of doing things, as they did in Gaul. [Sidenote: Survival and development of Teutonic representative assembly in England]

From the start, then, we find the English nationality growing up under very different conditions from those which obtained in other parts of Europe. So far as institutions are concerned, Teutonism was less modified in England than in the German fatherland itself, For the gradual conquest and Christianization of Germany which began with Charles the Great, and went on until in the thirteenth century the frontier had advanced eastward to the Vistula, entailed to a certain extent the romanization of Germany. For a thousand years after Charles the Great, the political head of Germany was also the political head of the Holy Roman Empire, and the civil and criminal code by which the daily life of the modern German citizen is regulated is based upon the jurisprudence of Rome. Nothing, perhaps, could illustrate more forcibly than this sheer contrast the peculiarly Teutonic character of English civilization. Between the eighth and the eleventh centuries, when the formation of English nationality was approaching completion, it received a fresh and powerful infusion of Teutonism in the swarms of heathen Northmen or Danes who occupied the eastern coasts, struggled long for the supremacy, and gradually becoming christianized, for a moment succeeded in seizing the crown. Of the invasion of partially romanized Northmen from Normandy which followed soon after, and which has so profoundly affected English society and English speech, we need notice here but two conspicuous features. First, it increased the power of the crown and the clergy, brought all England more than ever under one law, and strengthened the feeling of nationality. It thus made England a formidable military power, while at the same time it brought her into closer relations with continental Europe than she had held since the fourth century. Secondly, by superposing a new feudal nobility as the upper stratum of society, it transformed the Old-English thanehood into the finest middle-class of rural gentry and yeomanry that has ever existed in any country; a point of especial interest to Americans, since it was in this stratum of society that the two most powerful streams of English migration to America–the Virginia stream and the New England stream–alike had their source. [Sidenote: Primitive Teutonic institutions less modified in England than in Germany]

By the thirteenth century the increasing power and pretensions of the crown, as the unification of English nationality went on, brought about a result unlike anything known on the continent of Europe; it brought about a resistless coalition between the great nobles, the rural gentry and yeomanry, and the burghers of the towns, for the purpose of curbing royalty, arresting the progress of centralization, and setting up representative government on a truly national scale. This grand result was partly due to peculiar circumstances which had their origin in the Norman conquest; but it was largely due to the political habits generated by long experience of local representative assemblies,–habits which made it comparatively easy for different classes of society to find their voice and use it for the attainment of ends in common. On the continent of Europe the encroaching sovereign had to contend with here and there an arrogant vassal, here and there a high-spirited and rebellious town; in England, in this first great crisis of popular government, he found himself confronted by a united people. The fruits of the grand combination were _first_, the wresting of Magna Charta from King John in 1215, and _secondly_, the meeting of the first House of Commons in 1265. Four years of civil war were required to secure these noble results. The Barons’ War, of the years 1263 to 1267, was an event of the same order of importance as the Great Rebellion of the seventeenth century and the American Revolution; and among the founders of that political freedom which is enjoyed to-day by all English-speaking people, the name of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, deserves a place in our grateful remembrance beside the names of Cromwell and Washington. Simon’s great victory at Lewes in 1264 must rank with Naseby and Yorktown. The work begun by his House of Commons was the same work that has continued to go on without essential interruption down to the days of Cleveland and Gladstone. The fundamental principle of political freedom is “no taxation without representation”; you must not take a farthing of my money without consulting my wishes as to the use that shall be made of it. Only when this principle of justice was first practically recognized, did government begin to divorce itself from the primitive bestial barbaric system of tyranny and plunder, and to ally itself with the forces that in the fulness of time are to bring peace on earth and good will to men. Of all dates in history, therefore, there is none more fit to be commemorated than 1265; for in that year there was first asserted and applied at Westminster, on a national scale, that fundamental principle of “no taxation without representation,” that innermost kernel of the English Idea, which the Stamp Act Congress defended at New York exactly five hundred years afterward. When we think of these dates, by the way, we realize the import of the saying that in the sight of the Lord a thousand years are but as a day, and we feel that the work of the Lord cannot be done by the listless or the slothful. So much time and so much strife by sea and land has it taken to secure beyond peradventure the boon to mankind for which Earl Simon gave up his noble life on the field of Evesham! Nor without unremitting watchfulness can we be sure that the day of peril is yet past. From kings, indeed, we have no more to fear; they have come to be as spooks and bogies of the nursery. But the gravest dangers are those which present themselves in new forms, against which people’s minds have not yet been fortified with traditional sentiments and phrases. The inherited predatory tendency of men to seize upon the fruits of other people’s labour is still very strong, and while we have nothing more to fear from kings, we may yet have trouble enough from commercial monopolies and favoured industries, marching to the polls their hordes of bribed retainers. Well indeed has it been said that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. God never meant that in this fair but treacherous world in which He has placed us we should earn our salvation without steadfast labour. [Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty]

To return to Earl Simon, we see that it was just in that wonderful thirteenth century, when the Roman idea of government might seem to have been attaining its richest and most fruitful development, that the richer and more fruitful English idea first became incarnate in the political constitution of a great and rapidly growing nation. It was not long before the struggle between the Roman Idea and the English Idea, clothed in various forms, became the dominating issue in European history. We have now to observe the rise of modern nationalities, as new centres of political life, out of the various provinces of the Roman world. In the course of this development the Teutonic representative assembly is at first everywhere discernible, in some form or other, as in the Spanish Cortes or the States-General of France, but on the continent it generally dies out. Only in such nooks as Switzerland and the Netherlands does it survive. In the great nations it succumbs before the encroachments of the crown. The comparatively novel Teutonic idea of power delegated by the people to their representatives had not become deeply enough rooted in the political soil of the continent; and accordingly we find it more and more disused and at length almost forgotten, while the old and deeply rooted Roman idea of power delegated by the governing body to its lieutenants and prefects usurps its place. Let us observe some of the most striking features of this growth of modern nationalities. [Sidenote: Conflict between Roman Idea and English Idea begins to become clearly visible in the thirteenth century]

The reader of medieval history cannot fail to be impressed with the suddenness with which the culmination of the Holy Roman Empire, in the thirteenth century, was followed by a swift decline. The imperial position of the Hapsburgs was far less splendid than that of the Hohenstauffen; it rapidly became more German and less European, until by and by people began to forget what the empire originally meant. The change which came over the papacy was even more remarkable. The grandchildren of the men who had witnessed the spectacle of a king of France and a king of England humbled at the feet of Innocent III., the children of the men who had found the gigantic powers of a Frederick II. unequal to the task of curbing the papacy, now beheld the successors of St. Peter carried away to Avignon, there to be kept for seventy years under the supervision of the kings of France. Henceforth the glory of the papacy in its political aspect was to be but the faint shadow of that with which it had shone before. This sudden change in its position showed that the medieval dream of a world-empire was passing away, and that new powers were coming uppermost in the shape of modern nationalities with their national sovereigns. So long as these nationalities were in the weakness of their early formation, it was possible for pope and emperor to assert, and sometimes to come near maintaining, universal supremacy. But the time was now at hand when kings could assert their independence of the pope, while the emperor was fast sinking to be merely one among kings.

As modern kingdoms thus grew at the expense of empire and papacy above, so they also grew at the expense of feudal dukedoms, earldoms, and baronies below. The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were as fatal to feudalism as to world-empire and world-church. A series of wars occurring at this time were especially remarkable for the wholesale slaughter of the feudal nobility, whether on the field or under the headsman’s axe. This was a conspicuous feature of the feuds of the Trastamare in Spain, of the English invasions of France, followed by the quarrel between Burgundians and Armagnacs, and of the great war of the Roses in England. So thorough-going was the butchery in England, for example, that only twenty-nine lay peers could be found to sit in the first parliament of Henry VII in 1485. The old nobility was almost annihilated, both in person and in property; for along with the slaughter there went wholesale confiscation, and this added greatly to the disposable wealth of the crown. The case was essentially similar in France and Spain. In all three countries the beginning of the sixteenth century saw the power of the crown increased and increasing. Its vast accessions of wealth made it more independent of legislative assemblies, and at the same time enabled it to make the baronage more subservient in character by filling up the vacant places with new creations of its own. Through the turbulent history of the next two centuries, we see the royal power aiming at unchecked supremacy and in the principal instances attaining it except in England. Absolute despotism was reached first in Spain, under Philip II.; in France it was reached a century later, under Louis XIV.; and at about the same time in the hereditary estates of Austria; while over all the Italian and German soil of the disorganized empire, except among the glaciers of Switzerland and the dykes of the Netherlands, the play of political forces had set up a host of petty tyrannies which aped the morals and manners of the great autocrats at Paris and Madrid and Vienna. [Sidenote: Increasing power of the crown]

As we look back over this growth of modern monarchy, we cannot but be struck with the immense practical difficulty of creating a strong nationality without sacrificing self-government. Powerful, indeed, is the tendency toward over-centralization, toward stagnation, toward political death. Powerful is the tendency to revert to the Roman, if not to the Oriental method. As often as we reflect upon the general state of things at the end of the seventeenth century–the dreadful ignorance and misery which prevailed among most of the people of continental Europe, and apparently without hope of remedy–so often must we be impressed anew with the stupendous significance of the part played by self-governing England in overcoming dangers which have threatened the very existence of modern civilization. It is not too much to say that in the seventeenth century the entire political future of mankind was staked upon the questions that were at issue in England. To keep the sacred flame of liberty alive required such a rare and wonderful concurrence of conditions that, had our forefathers then succumbed in the strife, it is hard to imagine how or where the failure could have been repaired. Some of these conditions we have already considered; let us now observe one of the most important of all. Let us note the part played by that most tremendous of social forces, religious sentiment, in its relation to the political circumstances which we have passed in review. If we ask why it was that among modern nations absolute despotism was soonest and most completely established in Spain, we find it instructive to observe that the circumstances under which the Spanish monarchy grew up, during centuries of deadly struggle with the Mussulman, were such as to enlist the religious sentiment on the side of despotic methods in church and state. It becomes interesting, then, to observe by contrast how it was that in England the dominant religious sentiment came to be enlisted on the side of political freedom. [Illustration: Had it not been for the Puritans, political liberty would probably have disappeared from the world]

In such an inquiry we have nothing to do with the truth or falsity of any system of doctrines, whether Catholic or Protestant. The legitimate purposes of the historian do not require him to intrude upon the province of the theologian. Our business is to trace the sequence of political cause and effect. Nor shall we get much help from crude sweeping statements which set forth Catholicism as invariably the enemy and Protestantism as invariably the ally of human liberty. The Catholic has a right to be offended at statements which would involve a Hildebrand or a St. Francis in the same historical judgment with a Sigismund or a Torquemada. The character of ecclesiastical as of all other institutions has varied with the character of the men who have worked them and the varying needs of the times and places in which they have been worked; and our intense feeling of the gratitude we owe to English Puritanism need in nowise diminish the enthusiasm with which we praise the glorious work of the mediaeval church. It is the duty of the historian to learn how to limit and qualify his words of blame or approval; for so curiously is human nature compounded of strength and weakness that the best of human institutions are likely to be infected with some germs of vice or folly. [Sidenote: Beginnings of Protestantism in the thirteenth century]

Of no human institution is this more true than of the great medieval church of Gregory and Innocent when viewed in the light of its claims to unlimited temporal and spiritual sovereignty. In striking down the headship of the emperors, it would have reduced Europe to a sort of Oriental caliphate, had it not been checked by the rising spirit of nationality already referred to. But there was another and even mightier agency coming in to curb its undue pretensions to absolute sovereignty. That same thirteenth century which witnessed the culmination of its power witnessed also the first bold and determined manifestation of the Protestant temper of revolt against spiritual despotism. It was long before this that the earliest Protestant heresy had percolated into Europe, having its source, like so many other heresies, in that eastern world where the stimulating thought of the Greeks busied itself with the ancient theologies of Asia. From Armenia in the eighth century came the Manichaean sect of Paulicians into Thrace, and for twenty generations played a considerable part in the history of the Eastern Empire. In the Bulgarian tongue they were known as Bogomilians, or men constant in prayer. In Greek they were called Cathari, or “Puritans.” They accepted the New Testament, but set little store by the Old; they laughed at transubstantiation, denied any mystical efficiency to baptism, frowned upon image-worship as no better than idolatry, despised the intercession of saints, and condemned the worship of the Virgin Mary. As for the symbol of the cross, they scornfully asked, “If any man slew the son of a king with a bit of wood, how could this piece of wood be dear to the king?” Their ecclesiastical government was in the main presbyterian, and in politics they showed a decided leaning toward democracy. They wore long faces, looked askance at frivolous amusements, and were terribly in earnest. Of the more obscure pages of mediaeval history, none are fuller of interest than those in which we decipher the westward progress of these sturdy heretics through the Balkan peninsula into Italy, and thence into southern France, where toward the end of the twelfth century we find their ideas coming to full blossom in the great Albigensian heresy. It was no light affair to assault the church in the days of Innocent III. The terrible crusade against the Albigenses, beginning in 1207, was the joint work of the most powerful of popes and one of the most powerful of French kings. On the part of Innocent it was the stamping out of a revolt that threatened the very existence of the Catholic hierarchy; on the part of Philip Augustus it was the suppression of those too independent vassals the Counts of Toulouse, and the decisive subjection of the southern provinces to the government at Paris. Nowhere in European history do we read a more frightful story than that which tells of the blazing fires which consumed thousand after thousand of the most intelligent and thrifty people in France. It was now that the Holy Inquisition came into existence, and after forty years of slaughter these Albigensian Cathari or Puritans seemed exterminated. The practice of burning heretics, first enacted by statute in Aragon in 1197, was adopted in most parts of Europe during the thirteenth century, but in England not until the beginning of the fifteenth. The Inquisition was never established in England. Edward II. attempted to introduce it in 1311 for the purpose of suppressing the Templars, but his utter failure showed that the instinct of self-government was too strong in the English people to tolerate the entrusting of so much power over men’s lives to agents of the papacy. Mediaeval England was ignorant and bigoted enough, but under a representative government which so strongly permeated society, it was impossible to set the machinery of repression to work with such deadly thoroughness as it worked under the guidance of Roman methods. When we read the history of persecution in England, the story in itself is dreadful enough; but when we compare it with the horrors enacted in other countries, we arrive at some startling results. During the two centuries of English persecution, from Henry IV. to James I., some 400 persons were burned at the stake, and three-fourths of these cases occurred in 1555-57, the last three years of Mary Tudor. Now in a single province of Spain, in the single year 1482, about 2000 persons were burned. The lowest estimates of the number slain for heresy in the Netherlands in the course of the sixteenth century place it at 75,000. Very likely such figures are in many cases grossly exaggerated. But after making due allowance for this, the contrast is sufficiently impressive. In England the persecution of heretics was feeble and spasmodic, and only at one moment rose to anything like the appalling vigour which ordinarily characterized it in countries where the Inquisition was firmly established. Now among the victims of religious persecution must necessarily be found an unusual proportion of men and women more independent than the average in their thinking, and more bold than the average in uttering their thoughts. The Inquisition was a diabolical winnowing machine for removing from society the most flexible minds and the stoutest hearts; and among every people in which it was established for a length of time it wrought serious damage to the national character. It ruined the fair promise of Spain, and inflicted incalculable detriment upon the fortunes of France. No nation could afford to deprive itself of such a valuable element in its political life as was furnished in the thirteenth century by the intelligent and sturdy Cathari of southern Gaul. [Sidenote: The Cathari, or Puritans of the Eastern Empire] [Sidenote: The Albigenses] [Sidenote: Effects of persecution; its feebleness in England]

The spirit of revolt against the hierarchy, though broken and repressed thus terribly by the measures of Innocent III., continued to live on obscurely in sequestered spots, in the mountains of Savoy, and Bosnia, and Bohemia, ready on occasion to spring into fresh and vigorous life. In the following century Protestant ideas were rapidly germinating in England, alike in baron’s castle, in yeoman’s farmstead, in citizen’s shop, in the cloistered walks of the monastery. Henry Knighton, writing in the time of Richard II., declares, with the exaggeration of impatience, that every second man you met was a Lollard, or “babbler,” for such was the nickname given to these free-thinkers, of whom the most eminent was John Wyclif, professor at Oxford, and rector of Lutterworth, greatest scholar of the age. [Sidenote: Wyclif and the Lollards]

The career of this man is a striking commentary upon the difference between England and continental Europe in the Middle Ages. Wyclif denied transubstantiation, disapproved of auricular confession, opposed the payment of Peter’s pence, taught that kings should not be subject to prelates, translated the Bible into English and circulated it among the people, and even denounced the reigning pope as Antichrist; yet he was not put to death, because there was as yet no act of parliament for the burning of heretics, and in England things must be done according to the laws which the people had made. [1] Pope Gregory XI. issued five bulls against him, addressed to the king, the archbishop of Canterbury, and the university of Oxford; but their dictatorial tone offended the national feeling, and no heed was paid to them. Seventeen years after Wyclif’s death, the statute for burning heretics was passed, and the persecution of Lollards began. It was feeble and ineffectual, however. Lollardism was never trampled out in England as Catharism was trampled out in France. Tracts of Wyclif and passages from his translation of the Bible were copied by hand and secretly passed about to be read on Sundays in the manor-house, or by the cottage fireside after the day’s toil was over. The work went on quietly, but not the less effectively, until when the papal authority was defied by Henry VIII., it soon became apparent that England was half-Protestant already. It then appeared also that in this Reformation there were two forces cooperating,–the sentiment of national independence which would not brook dictation from Rome, and the Puritan sentiment of revolt against the hierarchy in general. The first sentiment had found expression again and again in refusals to pay tribute to Rome, in defiance of papal bulls, and in the famous statutes of _praemunire_, which made it a criminal offence to acknowledge any authority in England higher than the crown. The revolt of Henry VIII. was simply the carrying out of these acts of Edward I. and Edward III. to their logical conclusion. It completed the detachment of England from the Holy Roman Empire, and made her free of all the world. Its intent was political rather than religious. Henry, who wrote against Martin Luther, was far from wishing to make England a Protestant country. Elizabeth, who differed from her father in not caring a straw for theology, was by temperament and policy conservative. Yet England could not cease to be Papist without ceasing in some measure to be Catholic; nor could she in that day carry on war against Spain without becoming a leading champion of Protestantism. The changes in creed and ritual wrought by the government during this period were cautious and skilful; and the resulting church of England, with its long line of learned and liberal divines, has played a noble part in history. [Sidenote: Political character of Henry VIII’s revolt against Rome]

But along with this moderate Protestantism espoused by the English government, as consequent upon the assertion of English national independence, there grew up the fierce uncompromising democratic Protestantism of which the persecuted Lollards had sown the seeds. This was not the work of government. [Sidenote: The yeoman, Hugh Latimer]

By the side of Henry VIII. stands the sublime figure of Hugh Latimer, most dauntless of preachers, the one man before whose stern rebuke the headstrong and masterful Tudor monarch quailed. It was Latimer that renewed the work of Wyclif. and in his life as well as in his martyrdom,–to use his own words of good cheer uttered while the fagots were kindling around him,–lighted “such a candle in England as by God’s grace shall never be put out.” This indomitable man belonged to that middle-class of self-governing, self-respecting yeomanry that has been the glory of free England and free America. He was one of the sturdy race that overthrew French chivalry at Crecy and twice drove the soldiery of a tyrant down the slope of Bunker Hill. In boyhood he worked on his father’s farm and helped his mother to milk the thirty kine; he practised archery on the village green, studied in the village school, went to Cambridge, and became the foremost preacher of Christendom. Now the most thorough and radical work of the English Reformation was done by this class of men of which Latimer was the type. It was work that was national in its scope, arousing to fervent heat the strong religious and moral sentiment of the people, and hence it soon quite outran the cautious and conservative policy of the government, and tended to introduce changes extremely distasteful to those who wished to keep England as nearly Catholic as was consistent with independence of the pope. Hence before the end of Elizabeth’s reign, we find the crown set almost as strongly against Puritanism as against Romanism. Hence, too, when under Elizabeth’s successors the great decisive struggle between despotism and liberty was inaugurated, we find all the tremendous force of this newly awakened religious enthusiasm cooperating with the English love of self-government and carrying it under Cromwell to victory. From this fortunate alliance of religious and political forces has come all the noble and fruitful work of the last two centuries in which men of English speech have been labouring for the political regeneration of mankind. But for this alliance of forces, it is quite possible that the fateful seventeenth century might have seen despotism triumphant in England as on the continent of Europe, and the progress of civilization indefinitely arrested. [Sidenote: The moment of Cromwell’s triumph was the most critical moment in history]

In illustration of this possibility, observe what happened in France at the very time when the victorious English tendencies were shaping themselves in the reign of Elizabeth. In France there was a strong Protestant movement, but it had no such independent middle-class to support it as that which existed in England; nor had it been able to profit by such indispensable preliminary work as that which Wyclif had done; the horrible slaughter of the Albigenses had deprived France of the very people who might have played a part in some way analogous to that of the Lollards. Consequently the Protestant movement in France failed to become a national movement. Against the wretched Henry III who would have temporized with it, and the gallant Henry IV who honestly espoused it, the oppressed peasantry and townsmen made common cause by enlisting under the banner of the ultra-Catholic Guises. The mass of the people saw nothing in Protestantism but an idea favoured by the aristocracy and which they could not comprehend. Hence the great king who would have been glad to make France a Protestant country could only obtain his crown by renouncing his religion, while seeking to protect it by his memorable Edict of Nantes. But what a generous despot could grant, a bigoted despot might revoke; and before another century had elapsed, the good work done by Henry IV. was undone by Louis XIV., the Edict of Nantes was set aside, the process of casting out the most valuable political element in the community was carried to completion, and seven percent of the population of France was driven away and added to the Protestant populations of northern Germany and England and America. The gain to these countries and the damage to France was far greater than the mere figures would imply; for in determining the character of a community a hundred selected men and women are more potent than a thousand men and women taken at random. Thus while the Reformation in France reinforced to some extent the noble army of freemen, its triumphs were not to be the triumphs of Frenchmen, but of the race which has known how to enlist under its banner the forces that fight for free thought, free speech, and self-government, and all that these phrases imply. [Sidenote: Contrast with France; fate of the Huguenots]

In view of these facts we may see how tremendous was the question at stake with the Puritans of the seventeenth century. Everywhere else the Roman idea seemed to have conquered or to be conquering, while they seemed to be left as the forlorn hope of the human race. But from the very day when Oliver Cromwell reached forth his mighty arm to stop the persecutions in Savoy, the victorious English idea began to change the face of things. The next century saw William Pitt allied with Frederick of Prussia to save the work of the Reformation in central Europe and set in motion the train of events that were at last to make the people of the Teutonic fatherland a nation. At that same moment the keenest minds in France were awaking to the fact that in their immediate neighbourhood, separated from them only by a few miles of salt water, was a country where people were equal in the eye of the law. It was the ideas of Locke and Milton, of Vane and Sidney, that, when transplanted into French soil, produced that violent but salutary Revolution which has given fresh life to the European world. And contemporaneously with all this, the American nation came upon the scene, equipped as no other nation had ever been, for the task of combining sovereignty with liberty, indestructible union of the whole with indestructible life in the parts. The English idea has thus come to be more than national, it has become imperial. It has come to rule, and it has come to stay. [Sidenote: Victory of the English Idea]

We are now in a position to answer the question when the Roman Empire came to an end, in so far as it can be answered at all. It did not come to its end at the hands of an Odovakar in the year 476, or of a Mahomet II in 1453, or of a Napoleon in 1806. It has been coming to its end as the Roman idea of nation-making has been at length decisively overcome by the English idea. For such a fact it is impossible to assign a date, because it is not an event but a stage in the endless procession of events. But we can point to landmarks on the way. Of movements significant and prophetic there have been many. The whole course of the Protestant reformation, from the thirteenth century to the nineteenth, is coincident with the transfer of the world’s political centre of gravity from the Tiber and the Rhine to the Thames and the Mississippi. The whole career of the men who speak English has within this period been the most potent agency in this transfer. In these gigantic processes of evolution we cannot mark beginnings or endings by years, hardly even by centuries. But among the significant events which prophesied the final triumph of the English over the Roman idea, perhaps the most significant–the one which marks most incisively the dawning of a new era–was the migration of English Puritans across the Atlantic Ocean, to repeat in a new environment and on a far grander scale the work which their forefathers had wrought in Britain. The voyage of the Mayflower was not in itself the greatest event in this migration; but it serves to mark the era, and it is only when we study it in the mood awakened by the general considerations here set forth that we can properly estimate the historic importance of the great Puritan Exodus. [Sidenote: Significance of the Puritan Exodus]



In the preceding chapter I endeavoured to set forth and illustrate some of the chief causes which have shifted the world’s political centre of gravity from the Mediterranean and the Rhine to the Atlantic and the Mississippi; from the men who spoke Latin to the men who speak English. In the course of the exposition we began to catch glimpses of the wonderful significance of the fact that–among the people who had first suggested the true solution of the difficult problem of making a powerful nation without sacrificing local self-government–when the supreme day of trial came, the dominant religious sentiment was arrayed on the side of political freedom and against political despotism. If we consider merely the territorial area which it covered, or the numbers of men slain in its battles, the war of the English parliament against Charles I. seems a trivial affair when contrasted with the gigantic but comparatively insignificant work of barbarians like Jinghis or Tamerlane. But if we consider the moral and political issues involved, and the influence of the struggle upon the future welfare of mankind, we soon come to see that there never was a conflict of more world-wide importance than that from which Oliver Cromwell came out victorious. It shattered the monarchical power in England at a time when monarchical power was bearing down all opposition in the other great countries of Europe. It decided that government by the people and for the people should not then perish from the earth. It placed free England in a position of such moral advantage that within another century the English Idea of political life was able to react most powerfully upon continental Europe. It was the study of English institutions by such men as Montesquieu and Turgot, Voltaire and Rousseau, that gave shape and direction to the French Revolution. That violent but wholesome clearing of the air, that tremendous political and moral awakening, which ushered in the nineteenth century in Europe, had its sources in the spirit which animated the preaching of Latimer, the song of Milton, the solemn imagery of Bunyan, the political treatises of Locke and Sidney, the political measures of Hampden and Pym. The noblest type of modern European statesmanship, as represented by Mazzini and Stein, is the spiritual offspring of seventeenth-century Puritanism. To speak of Naseby and Marston Moor as merely English victories would be as absurd as to restrict the significance of Gettysburg to the state of Pennsylvania. If ever there were men who laid down their lives in the cause of all mankind, it was those grim old Ironsides whose watchwords were texts from Holy Writ, whose battle-cries were hymns of praise. [Sidenote: Influence of Puritanism upon modern Europe]

It was to this unwonted alliance of intense religious enthusiasm with the instinct of self-government and the spirit of personal independence that the preservation of English freedom was due. When James I. ascended the English throne, the forces which prepared the Puritan revolt had been slowly and quietly gathering strength among the people for at least two centuries. The work which Wyclif had begun in the fourteenth century had continued to go on in spite of occasional spasmodic attempts to destroy it with the aid of the statute passed in 1401 for the burning of heretics. The Lollards can hardly be said at any time to have constituted a sect, marked off from the established church by the possession of a system of doctrines held in common. The name by which they were known was a nickname which might cover almost any amount of diversity in opinion, like the modern epithets “free-thinker” and “agnostic.” The feature which characterized the Lollards in common was a bold spirit of inquiry which led them, in spite of persecution, to read Wyclif’s English Bible and call in question such dogmas and rites of the church as did not seem to find warrant in the sacred text. Clad in long robes of coarse red wool, barefoot, with pilgrim’s staff in hand, the Lollard preachers fared to and fro among the quaint Gothic towns and shaded hamlets, setting forth the word of God wherever they could find listeners, now in the parish church or under the vaulted roof of the cathedral, now in the churchyard or market-place, or on some green hillside. During the fifteenth century persecution did much to check this open preaching, but passages from Wyclif’s tracts and texts from the Bible were copied by hand and passed about among tradesmen and artisans, yeomen and plough-boys, to be pondered over and talked about and learned by heart. It was a new revelation to the English people, this discovery of the Bible. Christ and his disciples seemed to come very near when the beautiful story of the gospels was first read in the familiar speech of every-day life. Heretofore they might well have seemed remote and unreal, just as the school-boy hardly realizes that the Cato and Cassius over whom he puzzles in his Latin lessons were once living men like his father and neighbours, and not mere nominatives governing a verb, or ablatives of means or instrument. Now it became possible for the layman to contrast the pure teachings of Christ with the doctrines and demeanour of the priests and monks to whom the spiritual guidance of Englishmen had been entrusted. Strong and self-respecting men and women, accustomed to manage their own affairs, could not but be profoundly affected by the contrast. [Sidenote: Work of the Lollards]

While they were thus led more and more to appeal to the Bible as the divine standard of right living and right thinking, at the same time they found in the sacred volume the treasures of a most original and noble literature unrolled before them; stirring history and romantic legend, cosmical theories and priestly injunctions, profound metaphysics and pithy proverbs, psalms of unrivalled grandeur and pastorals of exquisite loveliness, parables fraught with solemn meaning, the mournful wisdom of the preacher, the exultant faith of the apostle, the matchless eloquence of Job and Isaiah, the apocalyptic ecstasy of St. John. At a time when there was as yet no English literature for the common people, this untold wealth of Hebrew literature was implanted in the English mind as in a virgin soil. Great consequences have flowed from the fact that the first truly popular literature in England–the first which stirred the hearts of all classes of people, and filled their minds with ideal pictures and their every-day speech with apt and telling phrases– was the literature comprised within the Bible. The superiority of the common English version of the Bible, made in the reign of James I., over all other versions, is a fact generally admitted by competent critics. The sonorous Latin of the Vulgate is very grand, but in sublimity of fervour as in the unconscious simplicity of strength it is surpassed by the English version, which is scarcely if at all inferior to the original, while it remains to-day, and will long remain, the noblest monument of English speech. The reason for this is obvious. The common English version of the Bible was made by men who were not aiming at literary effect, but simply gave natural expression to the feelings which for several generations had clustered around the sacred text. They spoke with the voice of a people, which is more than the voice of the most highly gifted man. They spoke with the voice of a people to whom the Bible had come to mean all that it meant to the men who wrote it. To the Englishmen who listened to Latimer, to the Scotchmen who listened to Knox, the Bible more than filled the place which in modern times is filled by poem and essay, by novel and newspaper and scientific treatise. To its pages they went for daily instruction and comfort, with its strange Semitic names they baptized their children, upon its precepts, too often misunderstood and misapplied, they sought to build up a rule of life that might raise them above the crude and unsatisfying world into which they were born. [Sidenote: The English version of the Bible]

It would be wrong to accredit all this awakening of spiritual life in England to Wyclif and the Lollards, for it was only after the Bible, in the translations of Tyndall and Coverdale, had been made free to the whole English people in the reign of Edward VI. that its significance began to be apparent; and it was only a century later, in the time of Cromwell and Milton, that its full fruition was reached. It was with the Lollards, however, that the spiritual awakening began and was continued until its effects, when they came, were marked by surprising maturity and suddenness. Because the Lollards were not a clearly defined sect, it was hard to trace the manifold ramifications of their work. During the terrible Wars of the Roses, contemporary chroniclers had little or nothing to say about the labours of these humble men, which seemed of less importance than now, when we read them in the light of their world-wide results. From this silence some modern historians have carelessly inferred that the nascent Protestantism of the Lollards had been extinguished by persecution under the Lancastrian kings, and was in nowise continuous with modern English Protestantism. Nothing could be more erroneous. The extent to which the Lollard leaven had permeated all classes of English society was first clearly revealed when Henry VIII. made his domestic affairs the occasion for a revolt against the Papacy. Despot and brute as he was in many ways, Henry had some characteristics which enabled him to get on well with his people. He not only represented the sentiment of national independence, but he had a truly English reverence for the forms of law. In his worst acts he relied upon the support of his Parliament, which he might in various ways cajole or pack, but could not really enslave. In his quarrel with Rome he could have achieved but little, had he not happened to strike a chord of feeling to which the English people, trained by this slow and subtle work of the Lollards, responded quickly and with a vehemence upon which he had not reckoned. As if by magic, the fabric of Romanism was broken