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Beacon Lights of History, Volume VI by John Lord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


* * * * *

A.D. 1452-1498.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


* * * * *

A.D. 1475-1564.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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