« AnteriorContinuar »
grand, even if hasty, generalization of Martin and Michelet, the profound philosophic insight of Guizot, and the comprehensive and accurate judgment of Sismondi, combine to present the French student with the clarified results of exhaustive research, and bring out the obscurest times into a blaze of light. In our own language nothing which can be called a history of France has heretofore appeared. The puerile compilations of Crowe, Sedley, Mrs. Marcet, etc., were too weak even to excite inquiry enough to correct the erroneous ideas they imparted. However worthy, the late French histories, translations are not enough. Every cultivated nation needs a literature of its own, moulded upon its own peculiarities, clothed in its own idiom, and permeated with its own convictions. The place is open for the most deserving, and we welcome the volume, the title of which stands at the head of this article, as the commencement of a work which bids fair to supply a long-felt want of English literature.
Mr. Godwin has earned an honorable repute in his connection with various literary enterprises. That amid editorial cares, and the engrossing pursuits of business, he should have been persevering enough to master the various knowledge necessary even in the preparation for so important a work, and bold enough to enter upon so formidable a design, will be surprising to those who are unacquainted with his robust mental organization and untiring industry. His intention as stated in the preface, is to relate the events of French history from the earliest times down to the Revolution of 1789, and in the present volume he carries the story to the final division of the empire of Charlemagne, including, therefore, a period of much interest to the inquirer who is fond of tracing in modern nations the characteristics they inherit from the unmixed races of antiquity.
The external appearance of the book is creditable in type and paper, and the proofs seem to have been read with care. We are glad to find it a contrast to the imprint by the same publishers of Mr. Motley's noble and scholarly history of the Rise of the Dutch Republic; than which a more grotesque, inexplicable, and slovenly specimen of typographical errors was never let loose to haunt an author and to horrify sensitive bibliophiles.
We shall now give our readers a general notion of the style and contents of Mr. Godwin's volume, with a few extracts, which may assist them in determining its merits. The first hundred pages are devoted to a description of the primitive Gauls, and to the conquest over them by Julius Cesar. The latter part of the subject has been unconquerably distasteful to us ever since our escape from Professor Anthon's impressive methods of stimulating the youthful mind in its investigations of Cesar's Gallic campaigns. Our remarks will therefore be confined to the Gauls themselves. Though far from forming a single united people, and though their tribes possessed many different customs, they were yet marked by certain general characteristics which are common to Celts, and which seems so imbedded in their nature that time and revolutions have never changed them. Without any elaborate order we will state some of these. The old Gauls were superstitious but not reverential, and were kept to their religious opinions and rites rather by the terrible power which the priests had acquired than by conviction or will. Their reasoning was acute, but marked by hasty generalization and careless analogies. Their morality was by no means strict, and divorce was easy; their social adhesions were strong but mutable; the ties of blood, however, were so much valued (as in most early ages) that the system of clans was in full vigor among them. They were loquacious and noisy in dispute, fond of company, and quick at quarreling, given to excessive indulgence of the passions, impetuous, brave, and warlike. “Always in extremes, there was no limit either to their audacity or their discouragement." How enduring is this Celtic stock, which, after so many destructive processes and foreign graftings, is still so manifest in the modern Frenchman, that the above sentences fit him precisely. Mr. Godwin gives the amusing testimony of an old Roman soldier:
All the Gauls are tall, fair-skinned, golden-haired, and terrible for the fierceness of their eyes. They are greedy of quarrels, great braggarts, and insolent. A whole troop of strangers could scarcely resist a single one of them in a brawl, and particularly if he were assisted by his stalwart, blue-eyed wife, who, gnashing her teeth, distending her neck, brandishing her large snowy arms, and kicking up her heels betimes, will deliver fisticuffs like bolts from the twisted strings of a catapult.-P. 34.
The effect of their warlike habits and division into clans was, as in Scotland, to keep them involved in petty wars, “which produce Gaul before us, wasted, wan, and disheveled, even in the youth and outset of her historical career.” The most striking element of Gallic society was the priesthood, with its subordinate classes of bards and soothsayers, and its inner circle of mysterious high-priests dwelling in the dark forests of oak and gloomy yew. Exempt from public burdens, possessing judicial powers and all the science which existed in the land, the Druids centered in themselves all the sanctity and authority which superstition could acknowledge. They formed a kind of secret organization which extended over the British Isles, and, as Romans and Franks encroached upon them, gradually receded to take a last refuge in the island of Mona. There were associated with them a class of female Druids who were supposed to possess the arts of magic. Their worship consisted of frantic nocturnal dances, or more abandoned rites, recalling the Samothracian orgies :
The Gallic mariner, as he skirted by night the wild reefs of the Armorican seas, often fancied that he heard strange cries and chants, weird melodies, mingling with the wail of the winds and the deep moanings of the waves. On the summit of the misty crags he saw red phantoms gliding, with streaming hair and burning torches, whose flames made the lightnings. These were the Druidesses weaving their magic spells, healing maladies, raising the elements, consulting the dread spirits of fate, or perhaps waiting to receive the souls of the shipwrecked, which the Breton peasant still discerns in the white and fugitive spray, hastening to rejoin their loved and lost companions of the earth.—Pp. 47, 48.
The religion taught by the Druids acknowledged but one Supreme Being, and taught the doctrines of metempsychosis, a future state, the worship of fire, and hatred of images. So firm was the faith of these heathens in an immortality beyond the grave, where they should renew their loved pursuits, that they contracted debts to be paid after their own death, and, like other savages, sacrificed kindred upon the bier of the deceased to bear him company.
Mr. Godwin next treats of Gaul under the Romans. The province experienced the usual effects of Roman sway. Great roads, bridges, temples, and amphitheaters were built, some of which still remain. The Latin language and its rhetoric spread
FOURTH SERIES, VOL. XIII.-9
quickly, and developed much native talent. The accommodating religion of Rome received the Supreme Being of the Druids, and the inferior deities which had been shaped by the ignorance of the people into its Pantheon, and the contact of that loose foreign mythology corrupted the old creed. In the reign of Claudius, probably on some political pretext, the Druids were expelled from Gaul. A few teachers from the Church of Smyrna brought Christianity to Lyons about the year 160, and the records still preserve the names of fifty of the early proselytes. They were soon compelled to testify their faith in the midst of a fierce persecution. Let the historian relate the touching fate of Blandina, one of the earliest victims :
Another victim, whose appearance on the scene was more characteristic of the great social revolution Christianity was affecting, was Blandina--a woman and a slave. Through all the excruciating agonies of the torture, her mistress, who was herself a confessor, watched her in trembling anxiety lest she should be betrayed into some weak concession. But Christianity possessed a living power then which could lift even the lowly slave into a sublimity of heroism. From the cross where, like her heavenly Master, she hung, in the gaze of a frantic rabble, she sang hymns to his praise; when taken down from it, the beasts of the arena refused to do their office, as if their brute natures, softer than those of men, could be awed by such sweet piety; and the intervals between her punishments, twice postponed, she passed in comforting those of her companions who were reserved for a similar fate. The apostates, whom weakness had allowed to retract, were animated by her to a renewed strength, and they counted it their highest joy to be admitted to the prospect of sharing in her sufferings. At last, when she was dragged forth to final execution, on the recurrence of the great festival games which Caligula had instituted on the banks of the Rhone, she met her death, by the horns and feet of a furious wild animal, “like one invited to a wedding banquet.” She was the last to die, but her name became the first in the roll of those saints whom the pious gratitude of the Gallic Church has since raised to the skies.-P. 133.
In spite of persecution Christianity spread rapidly, or, we might be justified in saying, by the help of persecution. For it cannot be doubted that in the trying times of the Church, its loftiest virtues have shone most brightly, and have compelled not only the respect, but the conversion of its enemies. If many weak believers abjured their faith or obtained tolerance by bribes, still the greater portion stood firmly by the religion which had led them from darkness to light, and which was now, through temporal torture and shame, to conduct them to the mansions prepared for them from the foundation of the world. Their constant fervor, meekness, and fortitude, their gentleness and charity even to their persecutors, could not but cause solemn inquiry in the souls of those around them as to what mysterious influence could produce such qualities and sustain them in such awful calamities. History records that such inquiry was occasioned, and that, the true faith multiplied faster than the ashes of the martyrs could be born upon the wind.
But the Church had its own internal difficulties and corruptions to undergo. Innumerable heresies, the misshapen fruit of Oriental and Grecian speculations, were grafted like ugly excrescences upon the simple and practical teachings of Christ. The great tendency of the age became a forgetfulness that the object of the Gospel was to implant in the soul that love to God and man which should work inwardly to purify the heart, and outwardly to virtuous life and active beneficence, and that the bliss of a future existence is but the carrying out and completion of the principles which were operative here. But at this period many minds began to see in the Gospel plan nothing but a tool, which by studious working might open the door of heaven, but was in no way useful below. “Its spiritual graces and manly virtues were more and more confounded with inward ecstasies or external observances.” Immolation of the body, denial of the holiest social affections, abnegation of all family and social ties, would assist, it was earnestly believed, in attaining that divorce from earthly things which was, by a mistaken understanding of the divine teachings, deemed necessary to fit the devotee for heavenly things. Mingled with these ideas were notions derived from “the Gnostic and Manichean heresies themselves,” says Mr. Godwin, “ derived from earlier Indian rigors,” which “ gradually fermented into a dark humor for renouncing the commerce of mankind.”
The contemplative life came to be regarded as the only one consistent with entire purity. Splendid examples, as they were deemed, of pious hardihood, like those of the hermits Paul and Anthony, reproached the
consciences and dazzled the fancies of the susceptible multitude. Emulous crowds broke in upon the scenes of their lonely and heroic triumphs. The caves and the deserts, the savage