MIDDLE AGES

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MIDDLE AGES ; that period, in the history of Europe, which begins with the final destruction of the Roman empire, and, by some historians, is considered to end with the reformation ; by others, with the discovery of America ; by others, with the conquest of Constantinople ; and again, by some, with the invention of the art of printing ; all of which may be right, according to the special purpose of the historian. In general, it may be said, the middle ages embrace that period of history in which the feudal system was established and developed, down to the most prominent events which necessarily led to its overthrow, though its consequences and influence are still very observable in the states of Europe. (See Feudal System, and Chivalry.) The first centuries of the middle ages are often termed the dark ages, a name which they certainly deserve. Still, however, the destruction of the Roman institutions, by the irruption of barbarous tribes, is often unduly lamented, and the beneficial consequences, attending it overlooked. True it is, that many of the acquisitions, which had cost mankind ages of toil and labor, were lost in the general wreck, and only regained by the efforts of many successive generations; the flowers of civilization were trampled under foot by barbarous warriors; the civil developement of society suffered a most severe shock ; those nations to which Roman civilization had extended previous to the great invasion of the Teutonic tribes, were thrown back, in a great measure, to their primeval barbarism,* and the unruly passion for individual independence in the northern tribes, greatly retarded the developement of public and private law, and, in some countries, has entirely prevented a regular civil constitution. Though we admit all this, we ask whether those who deplore the irruption of the barbarians, are well aware of the enormous degree to which Roman civilization had degenerated ? While, however, the injury which the world suffered from the destruction of Roman civilization, has been often overrated, there is, an the other hand, a class of persons, who laud the condition of Europe during the rudeness of the feudal ages, in a spirit of romantic exaggeration,* These, nations, in point of civil institutions, had undoubtedly advanced much beyond the German tribes, whom the victories of Arminius (which preserved < them independent of Rome) had, at the same time, prevented from receiving the benefits of the Roman law and social organization. much like that of certain philosophers, who have treated the savage state as that oest fitte.d to nourish and preserve virtue, the one showing ignorance of history, the other of man. Any one may speculate as he pleases on such subjects, but such speculations are foreign to the spirit of history, whose proper office is to state facts, and show, the influence of past ages on the succeeding. The feudal system filled Europe with powerful barons, possessing large landed estates, anoT commanding the services of numerous armed adherents, and with inferior lords, protected by the former. They were all possessors of land, with arms perpetually in their hands, too proud to follow any laws except those of honor, which they had themselves created, and despising all men of peaceful occupations as ignoble, created to obey and to serve. If, therefore, the classes not belonging to the military caste wished to preserve their independence, they could succeed only by union, which would afford them the means of mutual protection, and enable them to exercise their various callings unmolested, and thereby acquire wealth in money and goods, which would serve as a counterpoise to the landed possessions of the feudal aristocracy. This necessity gave rise to cities. Small cultivators, at first under the protection and superintendence of the counts, bishops and abbots, to whom they subsequently became so formidable, arose, and attained (particularly in the eleventh century) through their own industry and skill, to a state of prosperity, which enabled them to purchase their freedom, and soon to obtain it by force. They did not remain stationary; but small states began to grow into great ones; and the most of them became so bold as to acknowledge no superior except the highest authority of the country to which they belonged. Strong, high walls, impenetrable by the rude military art of the time, secured, in conjunction with the valor of the citizens, the freedom of the cities, and protected them from the tyrants of the land; wellordered civil institutions preserved peace and prosperity within, and were secured by the wealth acquired by trade and manufacturing industry. Many of the nobility themselves, attracted by the good order and prosperity of the cities, established themselves there, and were ambitious of obtaining the offices of government in these commonwealths. In fact, they soon usurped the exclusive possession of them, in many of *he cities. The looser the social organization in any state, and the more intolerable the pride of the nobility, the greater became the prosperity and power of the cities, which grew, at length, so great that, in Germany and Italy, these republics were formidable even to the emperor. In Arragon, the third estate was fully developed as early as the twelfth century. In England the cities, in conjunction with the barons, obtained the Magna Chartar'm 1215, and, in France, they increased, in consequence, from the circumstance that Louis the Fat and his successors, particularly Philip the Fair, 200 years after him, found it their best policy to protect them against the nobility, and thereby increase their own means of resisting that order. But the cities of these countries never attained the importance of those of Germany and Italy. What single cities could not accomplish, was effected by the union of several; as the league of the Lombard cities in Italy; the Hanseatic, Rhenish and Suabian leagues, in Germany (see Italy, and Hanseatic League), appeared, at the same time, as great.and formidable powers. Under the protection of such associations, and sheltered by the walls of the cities, all arts and trades, and eveiy kind of civilization, made rapid progress. Many of the important inventions, which we now prize so highly, originated among the citizens of these small free states, or were suggested by their active commercial and manufacturing spirit. With constitutions similar to those of antiquity, the same spirit appeared to be awakened; all the virtues and vices of Athens, Sparta and Rome, are found in the free states of Italy, where even the climate resembled that of the republics which had perished 1500 years before. There was the same love of country, strict morals, and valor, the same (but more violent) party contests, the same changes of administration, and ambitious intrigues, the same (though differently directed) love of arts and knowledge. But the communities were not exempt from the influence of the domineering spirit of the times, which they opposed. The overwhelming power of individuals, so dangerous to all free states, became, through this spirit, doubly formidable, and compelled the oppressed portion of the citizens, in the same distress which had given rise to their parent city, to have recourse to the same means of relief. They bound themselves together for the protection of their rights.. Such associations, usually formed among people of the same trade and having for their object, next to security from external enemies, me mamte nance of internal order in these stormy times, were called corporations, or guilds, and were under the direction of a master. The strictest regulations appeared necessary for the attainment of this object. No one, without serving an apprenticeship of years, and advancing through certain degrees, could become a member. At a later period, admission into the corporation was purchased by individuals who did not follow the business of the members, but wished to share in the advantages of the associations. For in the fourteenth century, the corporations became so powerful as to obtain almost exclusive possession of the government of the cities, which, until this period, the nobility had mostly retained in their own hands. The corporations now taught them that, as they contributed not to the prosperity of the city by their industiy, it d not become them to govern it. The nobility, so far as they continued in the city after this removal from power, preserved themselves in close connexion, and those who resided in the country formed confederacies against the power of the cities. Associations which, to the best men, appeared the only means of security from the disorders of the time, became so universal, that, almost every where, persons of the same trade or profession were closely united, and had certain laws and regulations among themselves. Knowledge itself, in the universities, was obliged to do homage to this spirit, and the liberal arts themselves, in the latter part of the middle ages, were fettered by the restraints of corporations (see Mastersingers), so that knowledge as well as arts was prevented from attaining that perfection which the secure life of the city seemed to promise them; for nothing more impedes their progress than that pedantry, those prescriptive and compulsory rules,that idolatrous veneration for old institutions, which are inseparable from such associations. So also the most remarkable institution of that time, its characteristic productionchivalryexhibited all the peculiarities of the corporations. War was the profession of the nobles. No one of their order, who was not a knight, could bear a lance or comrnand cavalry; and the services of years, as an attendant or squire, were necessary to entitle even one of the highest order to be dubbed a knight. But squire, knight and baron were all inspired with the same spirit of honor, pride, love and devotion. The religious zeal of the middle ages produced actions almost inconceivable to tne cooler spirit of our time. We see hundreds of youths and maidens, in the flower of their age, shutting themselves up in gloomy walls, or retiring, to wild deserts, and spending their lives in prayer and penance ; we yearly see, thousands, barefoot and fasting, travelling many hundred miles, over sea and land, to pray at the grave of their Master; we see hundreds of thousands thronging thither, from age to age, with the cross and sword, at the risk of life, to deliver the Holy Land from the pollution of infidels. This enthusiastic spirit was peculiarly suitable to soften the ferocity of the age; but ambitious men artfully turned it to their own selfish purposes. Intolerance, the destruction of the Jews and heretics, the luxurious splendor of the papal court, and the allembracing system of the hierarchy were the unhappy fruits of this mistaken spirit. In opposition to the secular power, resting on the feudal system, and supported only by armies of vassals, the pope formed, from the archbishops, bishops and priests, still more from the generals of religious orders, provincials, abbots and monks, an immense army, invincible through its power over the conscience, and through the spiritual weapons which belonged to it and to its head. From the general belief in his possession of the power to make happy and unhappy in both worlds, to bind and loose for eternity, the pope ruled, with absolute sway, the minds of Christians. All the kings of the West acknowledged him as the living vicegerent of Christ. Many were vassals to him; many tributary; almost all obedient and subject to him, or, in a short time, victims of a vain resistance. At the time in which little idea was entertained of restraining princes by constitutional laws, and when the spirit of the times allowed them to dare whatever they could do, it was an inestimable advantage that the pope aided the people for centuries in opposition to their usurpations ; but the luxury, cruelty, ambition, and hostility to the diffusion of knowledge, which pervaded the clergy, from the pope down to the lowest mendicant friar, has left a deep stain upon these times. In vain did mer like Arnold of Brescia and the Waldenses, Wickliffe, Huss, and their followers; en deavor to overthrow the hierarchy by reminding the people of the simplicity and purity of the primitive church. They found their contemporaries, accustomed to the supremacy of the church, not yet ripe for freedom of mind, and inattentive to their remonstrances; and their noble endeavors, in a great measure, failed. The hierarchy was able to erect new bul warks against new enemies; mendicant orders and the inquisition were instituted to prevent the dawning light of the thirteenth century from entering the kingdom of darkness; excommunications and interdicts held Christendom in terror; till at length, when the signs of the times, the diffusion of a free spirit of investigation, the establishment of a more rational order in monarchies, and the cooling of religious enthusiasm, announced that the middle ages weredrawing to a close, Luther proclaimed that Europe would no longer be held in leadingstrings. The ages of which we have been speaking, so full of battles and adventures, of pride and daring, of devotion and love, must have been poetic times. The knights were particularly disposed to poetic views by lives spent between battle and love, festive pomp and religious exercises. Hence we see poets first appearing among the knights in the twelfth century. In southern France, where chivalry was first established, we see the first sparks of modern poetry. The Provencal Troubadours, who principally sung at the court of Berengarius of Toulouse, are the founders of it. Soon after them, the French Trouveres (menetners) and the German Minnesingers sang in their mother tongue ; the Italians at first, from mistrust of their vulgar tongue, in the Provencal; and the English, from the same cause, in the French language. But the minstrels soon formed, among the latter also, a national poetry; and the Italians, at a later period, after the great Dante brought the Tuscan dialect into honor, obtained, by the improvement of it, a high poetic fame. In Spain, the Catalonian poetry was the same as the Provencal, but the Castilian and Portuguese borrowed more from the Arabians. With lyric poetry the epic was also developed in great beauty and power. Its mystic tone, its indefinite longing for something more elevated than the realities of earth,, en title us to distinguish this epic from the ancient, by the name of romantic. (See Romantic.) The romantic epics of the middle ages are mostly confined to three cycles of stories. Italy remained a stranger to these, but her great Dante was worth them all, and stood high above them, though the tone of love and devotion which predominates in his poem, sprung from the character of the times. The first of these cycles of stories is the truly German JYibelungen, and the stories of Siegfried, Mila, Dietrich of Berne, Otnit, Hugdietritch and Wolfdielrich, and other heroes of the time of the general migrationof the nations, which belong to it. iNext to these stories stand the equally old tales of the British king Arthur, his Round Table, and the Sangraal, which, in accordance with old British or Cymric fables, were sung in France, and afterwards by German minstrels, and to which Titurel, Parzival, Tristan, Iwain, Lohengrin, Gawain, Daniel of Blumenthal, the Enchanter Meiiin, and others belong. To these two was added a third, originally French, collection of stories, of Charlemagne and his Peers, of Roland, the Enchanter Malegys, and the Four Sons of Haymon. The romance of Amadis de Gaul belongs peculiarly to the Spanish, and to neither* of these three collections. (See Chivalry.) Besides these subjects, the poetic appetite of the middle ages seized upon the historic events of ancient and modern times, particularly the deeds of Alexander the Great, and the crusades, likewise upon Scripture history, and even upon the subjects of the ancient epics of Homer and Virgil, for newr poetical works. But wrhether from political causes, or, as we believe, from the downfall of chivalry, and from an increasing spirit of reflection, the last centuries of the middle ages were highly unfavorable to poetiy. The voice of the minstrel was almost entirely silent in Germany, France and Spain, even in the fourteenth century ; but Italy had now its Petrarch and Boccaccio,andEngland itsChaucer. In the thirteenth century, there was not a story in the cycles abovementioned, which was not eagerly sung by many poets ; and more than 1400 love songs, by 136 poets of this century, are contained in the Manesse collection alone (see Manesse); but hardly a single poet appeared among the knights, after the fourteenth century. The epic poems of former times gave place to prose romances, in which their stories were diluted, and the lyric poetry, in France and Germany, fell into the rude hands of the Mastersingers (q. v.), who, by a studied, observance of rules, preserved its formal existence. So did it continue till the fifteenth century, which, attentive only 'to the great events that were in preparation, and the struggles which preceded them, and actuated by the spirit of reflection from which they proceeded, was far removed from that free flow of feeling which had given birth to the poetry of the past time It was not till the end of the middle ages, when the early spirit of poetry lived only in remem brance, that Ariosto took the stories of Charlemagne's peers from the nursery, and gave them new dignity. Spain and England received a new national poetry from Cervantes and Shakspeare. But how great is the difference between these creative geniuses, complete masters of their subjects, who poured forth their whole souls in their poetry, so that one knows not which most to admire, the Reeling which inspires, the fancy which adorns, or the understanding wrhich regulates them, "and whose humorous (often ironical) tone proclaims them the offspring of modern times, and thosesimple poets of the middle ages, who took the world as it wTas, and were rather the organs of the spirit of poetry in the people, than independent poets ! Among the arts of the middle ages, architecture was distinguished by its peculiar character. In the noblest buildings of antiquity, the form of the first rude dwellinghouses is not to be mistaken; they appear only as the ' ornamented forms of abodes which necessity created, and can only be called fine buildings; but the Gothic architecture of the middle age was founded on a deep and great conception. This conception, which appears in the union of the grandeur of great masses with the most finished delicacy of parts, was the representation of the world. The other arts, which, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, came from Greece into the Western world, attained their greatest splendor, in the middle ages, upon the Lower Rhine and in Italy. (See German Painting, and Italian Art,) . The weak side of the middle ages is the scientific. The youthful spirit of the time, bent upon action, could not devote itself to a sedentary life and continued study. The efforts of Charlemagne, to encourage science and instruct the people, hardly produced any effect beyond his life ; for they were not in the spirit of the time. Several centuries after him, the German tribes considered no knowledge of use, but that of managing the lance and the steed. The barbarism was so great, that most of the laity, even the most distinguished, could scarcely read or write. He who was instructed in these, was considered a distinguished scholar, and he who obtained more knowledge, particularly in mathematics or natural science, exposed himself to the danger of being burnt as a sorcerer. But the monks, by their retired situation, and the leisure which they enjoyed, as well as by the necessity of some knowledge of the Latin language, which the Roman Catholic ritual required, were driven to a morje literary employment, to which they were educated, ui. the schools of the cathedrals and convents. But their literary labors Were confined to the copying of the old writers, particularly the fathers of the church, and to accounts of the occurrences of the times in meagre chronicles. Nevertheless we are indebted to them. Through their activity the valuable remains of ancient times, materials and incitements to new improvements, have been, in a great measure, preserved to us; and from their annals we gather our only knowledge of the events and manners of that time. Moreover the Latin literature, which wras common to all the people of the. West, not merely in the affairs of the church, but in science and public transactions, produced a certain agreement in their general character, which contributed much to promote intercourse and improvement. The East has no middle age, like that of Europe ; yet the, introduction of Mohammedanism jand the Arabic literature, make epochs there. But as the spirit of man is hostile to a partial developement, in the eleventh century the need of thinking was again felt in Europe; the taste for knowledge awoke, here and there, partly by means of the monasteries, but afterwards through the arts and industry which prevailed in the cities; study was encouraged by Henry II of England, the Hohenstaufen, St. Louis, the Alphonsos and other intellectual princes. From these times (the periods of Lanfranc, Abelard, John of Salisbury, and others), the middle ages produced distinguished individuals, whom the coldness of their contemporaries in the cause of science only urged to a more ardent pursuit of it. Meantime the necessity was felt of defending the doctrines of the church against unbelief and heresy. This led to the sharpening of the intellect by dialectics; hence the church dogmatics, or theology, was formed, from which philosophy at length proceeded. As, in scholastic theology, the dogmas of the church were early received as authority; so, in the domain of laws, the Roman code soon obtained a complete ascendency; and the jurisconsults of that time were never weary in studying it, learning it by heart, and explaining it by glossaries and illustrations. The students of philosophy p irsued the same course with the subtle Aristotle, for whom the middle ages, although acquainted owith him only through Arabic translations, or rifacimentos, had an unbounded respect Unfortunately, however, for the progress of philosophy^ these commentaries, glosses and abridgments occasioned the neglect of the original. When the union of schol nrs, in particular places, gave birth to universities, these received the stamp of the time, both in the corporate character which was given them, and the absorbing interest which was taken in the study of dialectics. Only jurisprudence, theology, and what was called philosophy (which was, in fact, the art of disputing with subtilty upon every subject), were taught; and these sciences, especially since the middle of the twelfth century, had degenerated into a mere tinkling of scholastic sophistry. Medicine, as regards any useful purpose, was taught, at this time, only by some Arabs, and students of Salerno who had been instructed by them; in other respects, it was a slave of astrology, and an object of speculation to ignorant impostors, principally of the Jewish nation. Philology flourished in the time of Lanfranc and Abelard, but was again forgotten in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Notwithstanding the unprofitable character of what was taught at this time, teachers stood in high esteem, and the highest academic rank was considered equal to knighthood. The universities, on theirside, showed themselves worthy such honor by their independence of pope and prince. With all its worthlessness, the disputatious spirit of the time had this good effect, that truths were advanced and maintained in the universities, which were alarming to the vigilant hierarchy; and Luther's theses, in Wittenberg, contributed in no small degree to bring on the reformation, and thereby to the shedding of new light upon science. Yet the reformation did not (as many are inclined to believe) give the first signal for higher intellectual endeavors and freedom of thought; it was rather produced by this striving and this freedom, which had originated some centuries before, with the flight of the Greek scholars from Constantinople, and the invention of the art of printing, had been encouraged by the lovers of science among the princes of Italy, and had shone forth, even in Germany, in the brotherhood of Deventer, in Wessel, Erasmus, Celtes, Reuchlin, and others. But with the appearance of these men, with the rise of the sun of the new day, the romantic twilight of the middle ages faded away.We shall now give briefly the chief epochs of the history of the middle ages, leaving more copious details to the articles on particular countries and men. The formation of separate Germanic states succeeded the. general irruption of the barbarians, and was followed, after some hundred years, by the universal monarchy of Charlemagne.* This had only a short continuance; .but it left the idea of the unity of the whole of Christendom under a spiritual head, and under the temporal protection of the newlyrevived Roman empirean idea which had a powerful influence during the whole of the middle ages. New modifications of the European states after the fall of the Caflovingians: the devastations of new tribes of barbarians ; of the Saracens in the south, of the Normans in the north andwest, and the Hungarians in the east, all of whom, at length, became subject to the Germanic power. Colonies of the Normans in France, Italy and England. From these romantic adventurers especially proceeded the spirit of chivalry which made its way through all Europe. Christianity gained a footing among the Sclavonian tribes. Struggles between the spiritual and secular power convulsed Christendom. The idea of their unity, as well as of knighthood, is ennobled in the crusades, whose success these discords frustrated. Origin of the cities and of the third estate. Commerce with the East, by means of Italy and the Hanse towns. Corruption of the clergy, at two epochs, after Charlemagne and after Gregory VII. Mendicant orders, and the inquisition. Decline of the imperial dignity in Germany and Italy. Desolation of these countries by private warfare. Other kingdoms are now enabled to obtain more solidity. The flourishing of new arts and knowledge. Universities. The popes humbled by their dependence upon France and the great schism. Councils at Constance and Basle. Subjection of the Greek empire; hence the formidableness of the Turkish power to the west of Europe ; and hence, also, the diffusion of learning by the fugitive scholars of Constantinople. Printing. The discovery of the New World, and of a way by sea to the East Indies. Reformation. (See Hallam's View of the State of Europe during the Middle Ages (3d edit., London, 1822); Berington's Literary History of the Middle Ages, etc. (London, 1814); Sismondi's Hist, des Rtpubliques Italiennes (3d edit., Paris, 1825); Ruh's Handhuch der Geschichte des Mittelalters (Berlin, 1818); Rehm's Handhuch der Geschichte des Mittelalters (Marb., 1821 seq., 2 vols.)