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Medieval Civilisation: Rise of Towns; the Hansa League; Decay of Feudalism; Art; Invention; the Renaissance or Revival of Learni page 2

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A new intellectual life had given signs of its existence in the study of the Roman law. At a school of civil law at Bologna, in Italy, the code of Justinian was taught early in the i2th century, and rapid progress was made with this study at the Universities of Padua, Naples, and other cities. A new jurisprudence, based upon the Roman system, was created in the Italian municipal towns, and administered by the magistrates chosen by the citizens of those free communities. The Universities of Toulouse and Montpellier had many students devoted to the study of Justinian, and Roman law gained much influence in framing the codes used by the tribunals of France, Germany, and Spain. The first University which rose to high distinction was that of Paris, where the brilliant Abelard, famous for his guilty love of Heloise, was a "schoolman" or scholastic philosopher, noted as a poet, orator, grammarian, logician, mathematician, musician, and theologian, lecturing on several subjects, having St. Bernard among his pupils, and doing much to awaken mankind to regard for intellectual pursuits. The great English Universities of Oxford and Cambridge arose respectively before the Norman Conquest and in the 13th century. The rise of great schools of learning in Germany, at Prague and Leipzig (Leipsic), in 1350 and 1409, may be noted. In Spain the University of Salamanca was founded about the end of the 12th century, and was famous for 300 years. New freedom of thought, the precursor of the Reformation, came with the new life of learning. The pioneers in this movement were, without any clear intention on their own part, the extraordinary beings known as "the Schoolmen" or "Scholastic Philosophers." The - most famous of them had special names from their admirers. St. Anselm, whom we have seen as abbot of Bee in Normandy, and as archbishop of Canterbury, was a theologian aiming at a reasoned system of Christian truth, and is by some regarded as the founder of "scholasticism" or scientific theology. Lombardus, or Peter Lombard, a pupil of Abelard, was called the "Master of Sentences" from the systematic precision of the work in which he classified the opinions of the early fathers of the Church. Alexander de Hales, an Englishman, was styled the "Irrefragable Doctor." Bonaventura, a Franciscan monk of Tuscany, had, from his blameless life and lofty thought, the name of " Seraphic Doctor." The excellent Bradwardine, archbishop of Canterbury, who died of the great plague, the "Black Death," in 1349, a few weeks after his consecration, was known as the "Profound Doctor." Thomas Aquinas was the "Angelic Doctor," and the "Angel of the Schools," and the "Eagle of Divines." Duns Scotus was the "Subtle Doctor." His pupil, William Occam (or Ockham), a Franciscan monk, born at Ockham in Surrey, an eminent logician and disputant, was the "Invincible Doctor," and won honour as a defender of liberty of thought and opinion in the 14th century. These worthy men aimed at reducing the doctrines of the Church to a scientific system, and their efforts to reconcile the dogmas of Christianity with the conclusions of human reason led them into metaphysical discussions so intricate and subtle, so abstruse, and so bewildering to ordinary minds, that some of them have been accused, in burlesque, of trying to settle how many angels could dance at once on the point of a needle. Peace be to their souls! they did much to expose superstition in its native absurdity, and to prepare the way for better things.

An analytical, sceptical, secular spirit, the exact opposite of mediaeval mysticism, was the outcome of the classical revival. Less and less regard was paid to the worship and doctrines of the Church. In the love of art and literature, ideas arose very diverse from those of Crusaders and ascetics, and-indifference to all that was old and solemn, or that seemed to savour of monkery or feudalism, was accompanied by enthusiasm for things new, fresh, graceful, and clearly apprehended by the senses and the mind. The full outburst of the new light for the intellect of man came early in the 16th century, when a new geographical world, with all its wonders, was revealed, and the students of the glorious literature of Athens were enabled, for the first time, to read in the original Greek, with a text freed from most of its errors and corruptions, the Gospels and Epistles of the human founders of the Christian religion. The Greek language had, during many centuries, been almost forgotten in western Europe. A few of the " Schoolmen " knew a little Greek, but even in Italy the language was almost unknown, and scarcely any quotation from a Greek poet can be found in writers from the 6th to the 14th centuries. Petrarch and Boccaccio were the first restorers of this branch of classical learning, the former being a student of Plato under a scholar from Constantinople, and the latter causing lectures on Homer to be delivered in Florence. Towards the end of the 14th century Greek literature was taught in the great Tuscan city, and at Pavia, Rome, and Venice, by Manuel Chrysoloras, a scholar from Constantinople, who trained a number of pupils that acquired eminence in the Greek language; Poggio Bracciolini, a native of Florence, a man who spent 50 years in the reviving of classical learning, searching convents for manuscripts, and travelling to England and over much of Europe; Guarinus of Verona, Leonardo Bruno, and others. Many Italian scholars went eastwards, and carried home hundreds of Greek manuscripts, and the Turkish attack on Constantinople brought a general revival in the dispersal of men skilled in the ancient tongue. In the isth century Johannes Bessarion, a native of Trebizond who became bishop of Nicsea and a cardinal in the Roman Church, did great things for Greek literature and philosophy, and on his death he left his valuable collection of 600 Greek MSS. to St. Mark's Library at Venice. Theodore Gaza is another eminent man in the same line, who taught Greek at Ferrara, was befriended by Bessarion, and published a Greek grammar. Constantine Lascaris, one of the refugees from Constantinople, laboured under Bessarion's patronage at Rome, Naples, and Messina. His relative John Lascaris, who also took flight from Constantinople to Italy, was employed by Lorenzo de Medici of Florence to collect the works of great Greek authors, and afterwards taught the language at Paris, and became at Rome, under Leo X., superintendent of his Greek press and of a school for young Greeks.

These were days when to be a Greek scholar was the road to high honour as the guest and friend of princes, and the holder of good positions in the Church. In order to complete this interesting and important subject we pass into the 16th century, and note the progress made in our own country. The study of Greek was first introduced into England at the University of Oxford by two distinguished scholars: William Grocyn, a pupil of William of Wykeham's great school at Winchester, who had learnt the language in Italy; and Thomas Linacre, the famous physician, an Oxford student who became a Fellow of All Souls in 1484. As a diplomatist under Henry VII. he was at Bologna, Florence, and Padua. In the Tuscan city he learned Greek, and on his return became tutor to Arthur, Prince of Wales, afterwards lecturing at Oxford. This founder and first president of the College of Physicians was probably the first English doctor of medicine who read Aristotle and Galen in the original Greek, and his Latin translation of the works of the Greek physician won high praise from Erasmus. Archbishop Morton, the trusted friend and minister of Henry VII., was one of the great promoters of the new learning, freely using his wealth in the cause, and being one of the first to discover the wonderful abilities of Thomas More, whom he sent to Oxford to study Greek under Grocyn and Linacre. John Colet, dean of St. Paul's, and founder of St. Paul's School in London, a friend of the illustrious Erasmus, lectured at Oxford on St. Paul's Epistles, valuing Greek chiefly, not because it laid open to him the beauties of Homer and Sophocles, or the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, but because he could read his Greek Testament. The faith and the moral code of Christianity were there found in their original form, free from the mystical glosses of mediaeval theologians. The printing-press was by this time spreading copies of the classical authors over western Europe, and the minds of men, inspired by contact with the best intellectual work of ancient Greece and Rome, attacked every department of knowledge with new vigour. The perfect classical models of style showed the vast importance of literary form, and the free energy of the Greek mind gave the impulse to inquiry which led to the grand discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo in the world of science. The devotees of Greek learning were styled the Humanists, as the ancient classics were called literae humaniores ("the more polite or refined literature") and the Humanities, in opposition to science and philosophy. The effect of the new learning upon religious, or superstitious, belief was such as patrons of letters like Nicholas V. had never contemplated. In Macaulay's words, "Ignorance was the talisman on which their power depended, and that talisman they had themselves broken. They had called in Knowledge as a handmaid to decorate Superstition, and their error produced its natural effect. Minds that were daily nourished with the best literature of Greece and Rome grew too strong to be trammelled by the cobwebs of the scholastic divinity." The classical scholars led the van of the grand assault on spiritual tyranny. Every one of the chief reformers was a Humanist, and in northern Europe almost every distinguished Humanist, according to the measure of his courage and integrity, was a reformer. In Scotland John Knox, George Buchanan, the noble-minded Maitland of Lethington, and Andrew Melville, principal of Glasgow College, were on the same side in religion as many of the most learned "Grecians" in England. On the Continent John Reuchlin, a good scholar both in Greek and Hebrew, a brave opponent of persecutors of the Jews; and Erasmus, one of the greatest men in literature, the pupil in Greek of Linacre, the dear friend of Colet and Sir Thomas More, a professor of Greek at Cambridge, the lifelong foe of monkery, the first editor of a sound text of the New Testament in Greek, the greatest champion of the Revival of Learning, - these eminent men, not openly quarrelling with the established Church-authorities, undermined the position of the Roman See with men of culture by the expression of free thought.

We must now give a brief glance at other sides of mediaeval progress in civilisation. In domestic architecture we observe the transition from the use of wood to stone and brick, and from the massive baronial strongholds, with mere loopholes for windows on the outer side, to such castle-palaces as Kenilworth and Warwick, Alnwick, Arundel, and Windsor, and beautiful castellated houses like Haddon Hall. Chimneys and glass windows, both unknown to ancient Greece and Rome, were vast improvements. It is in Italy that we must chiefly look for high pictorial art during this period. Great Tuscan painters from the 13th to the 15th centuries were Cimabue, Giotto, Masaccio, Fra Angelico, Filippo Lippi, Ghirlandajo, Botticelli, and, partly in the 16th century, the wonderful genius Leonardo da Vinci, at once a painter, architect, sculptor, engineer, scientific inventor, mathematician, natural philosopher, and accomplished gentleman. His lofty place as an artist is based upon the keen and earnest study of nature; drawing unsurpassed for delicacy; a noble style, and masterly skill in subtle expression, light and shade, modelling and perspective. Venice produced the brothers Gentile and Giovanni Bellini, the latter of whom taught Sebastiano del Piombo, the great Giorgione, and the greater Titian.

Italy had, since the fall of the Western Empire, kept traces of the ancient civilisation in a far greater degree than any other country in western Europe, and the dawn of the new light was seen there long before it appeared in France, Germany, or the British Isles. The cities, as we have seen, held their own against feudal nobles, and enjoyed a large share of republican independence. With this municipal freedom were associated commerce, taste, comfort, and even luxury of life. Wealth, dominion, and knowledge, in the days of the Crusades, came to the commonwealths of the Adriatic and Tuscan seas. Italian ships were in every port of the Mediterranean and the Black Seas, of the Bay of Biscay and of the Channel. Italian "factories," or commercial depots, arose on every shore. Italian money-changers did their business in every thriving town. Manufactures flourished, and banking was established for the convenience of trade. In the 14th century some parts of the fair southern peninsula had reached a very high point of prosperity and civilisation. In the earlier part of that century the annual revenue of Florence exceeded in value that which England and Ireland yielded to Queen Elizabeth at the close of the Tudor age, when the 17th century began. There were 200 factories and 30,000 workmen engaged in the woollen manufacture. There was a large coinage of gold and silver, and 80 banks conducted the commercial business, not merely of the Tuscan city, but of all Europe. The city contained 170,000 people, with schools in which 10,000 children were taught to read, 1,200 studied arithmetic, and 600 received a learned education. Literature and the fine arts were making progress proportionate to that of material prosperity. A new language, the Italian based upon- the old tongue of Rome, rapidly gained the perfection of sweetness and vigour. The Divina Commedia of Dante, the greatest work of imagination which had appeared since the Homeric poems, splendidly displayed the power of the language and the poetical genius of the author who wielded it. Petrarch and Boccaccio, as we have seen, introduced a more profound, liberal, and elegant scholarship, and aroused enthusiasm for the long-forgotten literature of Greece and Rome. The spectacle presented by Italy at this period is in striking contrast to that afforded by England and France, where illiterate masters still oppressed a degraded peasantry. In the north of Europe ignorance and semi-barbarism still largely prevailed, while the south showed opulent and enlightened states, large and splendid cities; "ports, arsenals, villas, museums, libraries, marts filled with every article of comfort and luxury, factories swarming with artisans, the Apennines richly tilled to their summits, the Po wafting the harvests of Lombardy to the granaries of Venice, and carrying back the silks of Bengal and the furs of Siberia to the palaces of Milan." It will be our grievous task shortly to tell how, in the Italian states, precocious maturity paid a penalty in untimely decay, and how the pleasant land of wit and learning, of literary and artistic genius, of wealth and luxury, became a prey to ambitious men who brought upon her people a time of slaughter, famine, beggary, infamy, slavery, and despair.

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