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VI. M. DE FÉNELON . . . . . .
Light-hearted heroine of tragic story! .
Immortal and indomitable France.
+ APPRECIATION of the theory that there are no gaps in history, no definitely drawn boundary lines to prevent the merging of successive generations, though helpful in many directions, yet brings in its train one practical difficulty. It may be expressed in a question: How shall the student of a special period—and life is too short, capacity too limited for any adequate treatment by one individual of the whole—know. where to begin? This question proposes itself at the outset of such an inquiry as the present. The best answer that can be given in the particular instance is perhaps this, the student should begin with a brief consideration of the revival of learning which occurred in all the most civilised countries of Europe as they drew themselves slowly out of that partial twilight which, lit though it was sparsely by “bright particular stars,” stole over the nations after the collapse of the Roman Empire.
The word Renaissance has been used often with too little accuracy. The period to which the name belongs really began in Italy with Petrarch and Dante in the 14th century; whence it spread later on to England and to France.
Yet, there had been a kind of false dawn in England under Alfred the Great, in France under Charlemagne. Moreover, in the 14th century itself, some few straggling rays from Petrarch's lamp reached the Courts of Charles V and Charles VI of France. But that was a feeble revival, limited almost entirely to a few scholars, and killed all too soon by internecine strife and foreign wars.
The Renaissance proper began in Italy in the 14th century, reached England next, then France in the 15th, and spread into Holland, Belgium and Germany, wherewith the names of Erasmus and Philip Melancthon are for ever linked.
The first period of humanism in Italy was, in one sense, a reproduction of the first youth of European intellectual life. It is, at least so we must believe, only through the limitations of human capacity, and hence of human knowledge, that the world and its history can ever even seem to consist of disjoined parts. The history of the world, to an intelligence sufficiently capacious to grasp it, would, we must suppose, appear continuous and interrelated as to its parts both in time and space. We are justified in supposing this, because the continuity and interrelation increase obviously with every addition to our knowledge of the past, with every improvement in the means of communication. No doubt, as time passes on, and scholarship is more and more able to reveal the secrets of the past, it will be shewn that Greece was deeply indebted to the East. But practically, for the student of education to-day, it is reasonable to regard ancient Greece as a main, even if intermediate, source of European intellectual life.
The Greeks, if we may so express it, had everything to do. It fell to them to reconstruct an alphabet, to formulate grammar: to write down their thoughts in manuscripts, to form libraries and to found schools.
It is when we regard Greece from this point of view, that we see that the first period of Italian humanism was, in some respects, a reproduction of this earlier era of intellectual activity; a time devoted to the collection of the raw materials of knowledge, specially of manuscripts. In such periods there is behind the material activity, which every one can see, a spiritual energy, inspiration : it precedes and is essential to the other. Men will not seek for anything, whatever that thing may be-knowledge, gold, lions, butterflies or what not-unless something, someone, has kindled their interest, fired their enthusiasm.