Page images

so much new material constantly coming to light, to incite the ambition and to stimulate the industry of the aspiring or conscientious student. There are Mirabeau's correspondence, for example, and the memoirs of Mallet du Pan, and the numerous histories of the departments, to be looked into. There are also the archives of the War-Office at Paris, containing the correspondence of the commanding generals with the ministry, and the secret despatches of the agents of the Convention, all important and all as good as unused. In the Imperial archives are also the voluminous papers of the Committee of Public Safety, which, so far as Sybel knows, have never been examined except by himself, containing, for instance, among other valuable things, the proceedings touching Hebert and Danton, and the first authentic description of the catastrophe of Robespierre.

This new material, with much more, would alone serve to excuse, if it did not compel, Sybel's undertaking. Yet it is not so much to the history of the French Revolution that he devotes himself, as to the more difficult task of clearing up the darkness in which hitherto the part played by Germany in the frightful complications of those years has been involved. The timidity or the tyranny with which the archives of Germany have been shut against the investigations of scholars, have driven the German writers to seek much of their material from those of France, and hence have tended indirectly to lead them to regard the affairs of Germany at this period from a French point of view, as if the history of Europe were identical with that of the French Revolution. In the case of Poland, especially, as Sybel justly complains, the effect of this perversion of the proper point of view is most striking and pernicious, leading his countrymen to adopt French opinions respecting the German losses to France, and Polish prejudices touching the German conquests on the Vistula. He has eagerly seized, therefore, and carefully improved, an opportunity to inspect a collection of letters and despatches exchanged during the years 1790 and 1795 between several of the most distinguished German statesmen and generals, in particular, the correspondence, almost entire, between the Marquis of Luchesini and General von Manstein, the importance of which is indicated by an extract which he gives from a letter from the Dutch ambassador, Van Reede, at Berlin, who writes to his government under date of May 25, 1793: "The centre of all negotiations is at the head-quarters. The ministers of state are entirely ignorant of the intentions of the king. It was expected that Count Haugwitz would have the real direction of affairs here, but, to judge from appearances, nothing of the sort is the case. On the contrary, it is asserted that Manstein alone directs the political and even civil, as well as military affairs."

The historical method of Ranke is substantially followed by Sybel. It is not to narrate events in a dramatic, but to explain them in a political way. It is not the philosophy of history, nor is it the development of that moral or material progress which in Germany is recognized as a distinct science, under the title of the history of culture (Culturgeschichte), and which in England or with us is sometimes ventured upon

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

with an apology, as a possible relief to the dreary monotony of state affairs. Yet the school to which Sybel belongs, however important its function and however able its advocates, is really a one-sided school. It is devoted wholly to political causes and political effects. Those secret under-currents of thought which are silently moving a nation on to rebellious activity, that smothered sense of wrong, long accumulated, which preys upon the hearts of a people till it explodes in a whirlwind of fury, those subtle and malign influences of superstition which swiftly deliver a nation into the hands of the shallowest of demagogues, and that profound unrest at the bottom of all human society, which never leaves it long contented at the feet of the wisest of philosophers, these things the historians of the school we speak of can neither weigh nor understand. They deal with the patent fact; they unravel the web, intricate or criminal, or both, of the diplomacy of contending states; they probe the thoughts and applaud the virtues or scourge the vices of the rival statesmen. With marvellous accuracy they illustrate the connection of events, and explain in their furthest ramifications the consequences of a policy adopted or a principle neglected. Clear-headed and logical, industrious in investigation and patient in thinking, with a sharp, bold way of saying what he means, and stopping when he has said it, anxious for the truth, yet never betrayed into any warmth except when scourging a lie,— Sybel is a striking example at once of the excellences and of the defects of the leading historians of his school. In his lectures at the University in Munich he made no attempt to conceal his liberal sentiments, even in the midst of the Ultramontane prejudice and gloom which brood there. His lectureroom was crowded with all classes of hearers, and the eagerness with which he was heard and the healthy influence which he exerted was the best testimony of his abilities and the best reward of his labors. There were no more pleasant hours to us in Europe than those we spent in listening to his clear and skilful portrayal of that great epic which was wrought and written forever in the history of men between the years 1789 and 1815. Yet, although liberal in his tendencies, there is in Sybel a strong element of conservatism. The unsparing severity with which he exposes the weakness and the littleness of many of the actors in the tragedy of the French Revolution, is akin to the scrupulous exactness with which he analyzes the moral condition of Poland, and the honesty with which he avows his conviction that its fall was owing not more to the assaults of foreign enemies than to its own internal corruption. No people, perhaps, ever exhibited greater personal bravery than the Poles, yet the statistics of Modern Europe contain no more frightful proofs of wide-spread vice and misery than existed, without effort at reform, in that enslaved nation whose unhappy fate it has been so much the fashion to lament.

Sybel writes, as he professes to write, from a German point of view, and in that respect his work is of great value. The French Revolution looked at from the other side of the Rhine assumes a different aspect from that it wears in the streets of Paris. The hopes and the fears of surrounding nations, the eagerness with which the new doc

trines were seized and the calamitous fruits they often bore, the tumultuous clamor of the mob and the pitiful gestures of the automaton so long set up to rule it, the noisy fury of shallow radicals and the silent despair of patriot thinkers, the swift marching of the French armies and the slow heaving of the great heart of Germany, are to be learned only on the Rhine and the Danube and the Vistula. And no one cause has tended more to make possible that German unity so long dreamed of by German poets and prayed for by German patriots, than the fear of another irruption of French armies with French doctrines inscribed on their banners, that same fear of uproar and of anarchy, of a political chaos and a moral pestilence, which possesses the better classes of the people in France itself, and drives them into the army of a third Napoleon to escape the possibility of a second Robespierre.

[ocr errors]

THE period of the Renaissance, of humanity as of art, is the one bright memory with which Italy has consoled its grief and cheered its clouded life these three dark centuries past. To us it is an instructive lesson, full of wisdom, if tinged with a certain sadness. And every book upon it carefully, one should add devoutly written, is worth heeding in the days upon which we have fallen, when parricidal hands are laid upon the ark of our polity, — that unity with which we began our career, fortunate thus above all other nations, who could only struggle and sorrow for it through the weary bloody centuries, escaping at last from the barbarism of feudalism only to petrify into the military monarchy of modern Europe.

The work of Jacob Burckhardt * is not an important contribution to our knowledge in a scientific point of view, but it is a useful and suggestive book, its suggestions being chiefly those of facts. The author of it is known to the studious traveller in Italy as the writer of a recent and very good book upon Italian art, which, under the modest title of Cicerone, combines a good deal of thought with a good deal of erudition, and is at once stimulating and useful. This elaborate essay upon the Renaissance is the result, we presume, of further studies in the tempting and inexhaustible fields of Italian history and art. But we have a feeling that it does not do the author justice, that he is capable of something greater. To arrange under various fanciful heads the countless facts gathered in a wide reading of original authorities however important or however indicative of that genuine historical instinct which grasps the characteristic fact in the great dust-heaps of the centuries - is not too write a history, is not a claim even to be an essayist. The writer and the thinker must always go together. Facts are stupid things unless marshalled to support a theory or made to illumine a thought.


[ocr errors]

Our author divides his work into six chapters, the State considered as a work of art, the development of the individual, the revival of the ancient culture, the discovery of the New World and of the

* Die Cultur der Renaissance in Italien. Ein Versuch von JAKOB BURCKHARDT. Basel, Druck und Verlag der Schweighauser'schen Verlagshandlung. 1860.

capacities of the new man in the Old, society and festivals, morals and religion. It is of the revival of the ancient culture only that we have a word to say. It began with the fourteenth century; and with it began that struggle between the Classic and Christian philosophy, if we may so say, which is to be traced in much of the thought of to-day. Petrarch tells us how with Giovanni Colonna he loved to ascend the colossal ruins of Diocletian's baths, and there, in the pure air and deep stillness, to discourse of the classic time and the Christian faith. And all the way down from Petrarch to Gibbon and Niebuhr, the ruins of Rome have been to every reflecting mind the solemn witness at once of the grandeur and the despair of the old civilization. Its vitality faded, -it decayed and passed away. But what element of life it wanted is the curious problem which the philosophic thinker attempts now and then to solve. The philosophy of the Academy is as full of truth and beauty to-day as when Plato discoursed of it among the olive groves of Athens centuries before Rome had reached the summit of its power and its splendor. But the philosophy of the Academy was far from being the controlling element of the ancient life, for it was not its religion, — and it is the character of the religion which in the end determines the character of the civilization. The ancient world may have fallen in pieces, for anything we know, because it failed to receive the thought and accept the life which its few great thinkers tried to infuse into it. But that the ancient philosophy had no practical effect upon the general current and the last results of the ancient life, did not give the direction to the development of its civilization, though it may have sometimes softened its inhumanities,

seems to us very clear, and to explain many things. But the mistake of the Middle Age was to confound the thought of Plato with the religion of the ancient world, or the political greatness of Rome. There was a feeling in many of something in it irreconcilable with the religion they professed. And in those for whom the purer sentiments of Plato had a greater fascination than the perversions of the mediaval Christianity there sprang up a painful struggle, which could end only in the tacit rejection of the latter. Hence that theism which found expression in the Academy of Florence, and which breathes through all the converse they loved to hold in the gardens of Lorenzo the Magnificent. Pico, indeed, yielded to the ascetic influence of Savonarola, and Lorenzo from his youth up always professed a belief in the dogmas of Christianity. But the voice of the school they founded and adorned rings out too clear to be mistaken. It was the protest of humanity against those morbid and desolating formulas which were threatening to change the bright earth they loved to live in and look on, into the shambles of an inexorable hierarchy ; - the utterance of that faith, not yet extinguished by the Church, that the visible world was created in love, and was to abide in love till the finite is swallowed up in the infinite.

But the Renaissance is not to be regarded as an isolated phenomenon. It was the product of many causes, not least of the influence of those Greek teachers, priests of the old philosophy, who had cherished it

through so many centuries, driven now from Constantinople, as of old their predecessors from Athens, at the breaking up of the Lower Empire under the deluge of the Ottoman invasion. The ancient civilization did not perish with Rome; the Roman administration and the Roman traditions, together with the Greek philosophy and a certain element of Greek art, had survived in the Byzantine Empire. Thus the philosophy of Plato had lived on, and the disciples who came to teach it in Florence were the legitimate successors, in one long, solemn line of descent from the followers of the master himself. The history of mankind, we forget, seems often to run in parallels. Thus there never was any period intervening between the modern culture and the ancient. The learning of the Greeks was kept sacred in Constantinople till it was carried by Greeks themselves to Italy. And it was not till about the beginning of the Renaissance, it will be remembered, that the ancient Greek tongue began to be corrupted into the modern Romaic, which, under the influence of the undying spirit of Hellenism, is fast purifying itself to serve again the same race in its old seats, not less entitled to our sympathy because emulous, in its new career, of the old glories and the ancient leadership. Yet the cultivation of the Greek philosophy in Italy, at the period of the Renaissance, sprang not so much from any respect for antiquity as from a conviction of its value in clearing the way for the future. It helped man to larger notions, while it counteracted the degrading tendencies of the Church; and it taught the sacredness of thought, when to think was almost to sin, while it replaced the ecclesiastical ideal of misery by the human ideal of love.

[ocr errors]


The political condition of the Italian States was, in many respects, favorable to the development of individual thought and activity, and there was no one of them which did not benefit by the labors, if it did not acknowledge the influence, of the humanists. It has been well said, by a contemporary German thinker, that it is only by the attainment by its writers of a world-wide importance that a people proves its right to be ranked among the nations who have determined the form and assured the success of our civilization. Tried by that rule, Italy may certainly claim a foremost place in the respect of mankind. Sophocles was to the Greeks, and Shakespeare is to us, Dante was to Italy and the world. Yet more than Sophocles or Shakespeare, Dante concerned himself with the political future of his country. With prophetic foresight, he was the first to announce that doctrine which has since sunk so deep into the hearts of Italians, the doctrine of the unity of Italy. For to none was it clearer than to him, that that very rivalry of the Italian States which was the stimulus of their progress contained the seeds of their ruin. And long afterwards, when Charles VIII. crossed the Alps and entered Italy, the ease with which he advanced was a proof both of the weakness wrought by divisions and of the corruption produced by intrigues. From that day to this there has been foreign intervention in Italian affairs, at once the result and the cause of the national decline. But the clouds which have so long darkened the sky, once resplendent with the gorgeous sunrise of the Renaissance, are fast breaking away. Garibaldi fulfils the dream of Dante.

« PreviousContinue »