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Medieval Civilisation: Rise of Towns; the Hansa League; Decay of Feudalism; Art; Invention; the Renaissance or Revival of Learni page 3

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In literature, the greatest Italians of the period have been already given. In England, our first great poet, Chaucer, was contemporary with our first great prose-writer, Wyclif, both flourishing somewhat later than Petrarch and Boccaccio. In French, Villehardouin, very early in the 13th century, wrote the Conquete de Constantinople (the Latin conquest) in admirable style - vigorous, graphic, and direct. Froissart, in the 15th, and Philippe de Comines, were reflective and picturesque historians, while Charles d'Orleans and Villon were the chief lyric poets. The German Nibelungen Lied has been already noticed. In the 14th and 15th centuries the national Teutonic literature was chiefly in the hands of the Meistersanger, or artisan-poets and we may also note the Volkslieder, or national ballads, and the satirist Sebastian Brandt, who deals with the follies and vices of his day in the Ship of Fools, published in 1494-Mediaeval times have transmitted to the moderns one glory, at least, in which they can never be surpassed-their noble and stately or graceful and beautiful, architectural models. In was in the 12th and following centuries that there arose in France and England, Belgium and Holland, Germany, Italy, and Spain, the cathedrals and abbeys which display so much varied excellence of general composition, along with all the beauties attached to intricacy of parts, elegance of form, and skilful use of light and shade. The rounded arch of the severe and massive Norman style gave way to the pointed arch of the Gothic, a style of building which soon displayed the profusion of ornament seen in the cathedrals of Amiens and other French towns. The cathedrals of Milan and Cologne, the latter of which has been only recently completed, belong to the 15th century. The Milan work is a wonder, a dream in white marble, bristling with pinnacles and statues, and without a rival in its own way. Some of the Flemish Hotels de Ville, or Town Halls, are exquisite in design and ornamentation. In Italy, the Tuscan Romanesque style is seen in the cathedral of Pisa, begun in the 11th century, being a basilica with round arches and colonnades of pillars. The Italian Gothic is displayed in the cathedrals of Siena, Bologna, and Florence. At Venice, architecture passed from the Byzantine style, in the 13th century, into that of the pointed arch, and a special kind of Gothic arose. The beautiful palaces along the Grand Canal have details of both styles.

Our last topics in dealing with medieval history are the mariner's compass and the art of printing. The use of the magnetic needle, which appears to have been known in Asia at a remote period, is believed to have been known in Europe, in the form of the compass, in the 12th century, by independent discovery, and not by importation from China, and it may have been used in western Europe in the 14th century. It is needless to point out the connection between its adaptation as a steering-guide and the progress of geographical discovery in great oceans. Printing, in some forms, was known in China many centuries, and in Europe for some ages, before the invention of the movable metal types which gave the art its wide practical value. A controversy of the utmost bitterness has gone on for over four centuries concerning the invention of such printing in Europe. Into this matter it would be profitless to enter, and no certainty can be attained. We can only safely affirm that the art began to be practised, about the middle of the 15th century, in Germany or Holland, and that it spread with such rapidity that before 1500 there were nearly a score of master-printers in Strasburg, over 20 at Cologne, 17 at Nuremberg, 20 at Augsburg. When the 16th century opened there were printing-houses at over 80 places in northern Europe, over 60 in France and Italy, and above 20 in Spain and Portugal. Caxton brought the art to London in 1476 or 1477, and the powerful instrument for the spread of ideas was soon actively at work at Oxford, Cambridge, and other centres. An intellectual revolution came with the cheapening of books, the increased supply creating its own demand, and the pulpit becoming comparatively powerless in presence of the printing-press. The ecclesiastics could not hinder the dissemination of what orthodoxy held to be poison, and the transient impression produced by oral eloquence was as nothing against the abiding power of printed matter which could be leisurely read and carefully digested. Printing brought reading, and reading brought the Reformation which transformed Europe, and, through Europe, the whole course of modern history.

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