Beacon Lights of History, Volume 3, Part 2
John Lord

Part 2 out of 6

Early English Text Society.


A.D. 1446-1506.


About thirteen hundred years ago, when Attila the Hun, called "the
scourge of God," was overrunning the falling empire of the Romans,
some of the noblest citizens of the small cities of the Adriatic
fled, with their families and effects, to the inaccessible marshes
and islands at the extremity of that sea, and formed a permanent
settlement. They became fishermen and small traders. In process
of time they united their islands together by bridges, and laid the
foundation of a mercantile state. Thither resorted the merchants
of Mediaeval Europe to make exchanges. Thus Venice became rich and
powerful, and in the twelfth century it was one of the prosperous
states of Europe, ruled by an oligarchy of the leading merchants.

Contemporaneous with Dante, one of the most distinguished citizens
of this mercantile mart, Marco Polo, impelled by the curiosity
which reviving commerce excited and the restless adventure of a
crusading age, visited the court of the Great Khan of Tartary,
whose empire was the largest in the world. After a residence of
seventeen years, during which he was loaded with honors, he
returned to his native country, not by the ordinary route, but by
coasting the eastern shores of Asia, through the Indian Ocean, up
the Persian Gulf, and thence through Bagdad and Constantinople,
bringing with him immense wealth in precious stones and other
Eastern commodities. The report of his wonderful adventures
interested all Europe, for he was supposed to have found the
Tarshish of the Scriptures, that land of gold and spices which had
enriched the Tyrian merchants in the time of Solomon,--men supposed
by some to have sailed around the Cape of Good Hope in their three
years' voyages. Among the wonderful things which Polo had seen was
a city on an island off the coast of China, which was represented
to contain six hundred thousand families, so rich that the palaces
of its nobles were covered with plates of gold, so inviting that
odoriferous plants and flowers diffused the most grateful perfumes,
so strong that even the Tartar conquerors of China could not subdue
it. This island, known now as Japan, was called Cipango, and was
supposed to be inexhaustible in riches, especially when the reports
of Polo were confirmed by Sir John Mandeville, an English traveller
in the time of Edward III.,--and with even greater exaggerations,
since he represented the royal palace to be more than six miles in
circumference, occupied by three hundred thousand men.

In an awakening age of enterprise, when chivalry had not passed
away, nor the credulity of the Middle Ages, the reports of this
Cipango inflamed the imagination of Europe, and to reach it became
at once the desire and the problem of adventurers and merchants.
But how could this El Dorado be reached? Not by sailing round
Africa; for to sail South, in popular estimation, was to encounter
torrid suns with ever increasing heat, and suffocating vapors, and
unknown dangers. The scientific world had lost the knowledge of
what even the ancients knew. Nobody surmised that there was a Cape
of Good Hope which could be doubled, and would open the way to the
Indian Ocean and its islands of spices and gold. Nor could this
Cipango be reached by crossing the Eastern Continent, for the
journey was full of perils, dangers, and insurmountable obstacles.

Among those who meditated on this geographical mystery was a
young sea captain of Genoa, who had studied in the University of
Pavia, but spent his early life upon the waves,--intelligent,
enterprising, visionary, yet practical, with boundless ambition,
not to conquer kingdoms, but to discover new realms. Born probably
in 1446, in the year 1470 he married the daughter of an Italian
navigator living in Lisbon; and, inheriting with her some valuable
Portuguese charts and maritime journals, he settled in Lisbon and
took up chart-making as a means of livelihood. Being thus trained
in both the art and the science of navigation, his active mind
seized upon the most interesting theme of the day. His studies and
experience convinced him that the Cipango of Marco Polo could be
reached by sailing directly west. He knew that the earth was
round, and he inferred from the plants and carved wood and even
human bodies that had occasionally floated from the West, that
there must be unknown islands on the western coasts of the
Atlantic, and that this ocean, never yet crossed, was the common
boundary of both Europe and Asia; in short, that the Cipango could
be reached by sailing west. And he believed the thing to be
practicable, for the magnetic needle had been discovered, or
brought from the East by Polo, which always pointed to the North
Star, so that mariners could sail in the darkest nights; and also
another instrument had been made, essentially the modern quadrant,
by which latitude could be measured. He supposed that after
sailing west, about eight hundred leagues, by the aid of compass
and quadrant, and such charts as he had collected and collated, he
should find the land of gold and spices by which he would become
rich and famous.

This was not an absurd speculation to a man of the intellect and
knowledge of Columbus. To his mind there were but few physical
difficulties if he only had the ships, and the men bold enough to
embark with him, and the patronage which was necessary for so novel
and daring an enterprise. The difficulties to be surmounted were
not so much physical as moral. It was the surmounting of moral
difficulties which gives to Columbus his true greatness as a man of
genius and resources. These moral obstacles were so vast as to be
all but insurmountable, since he had to contend with all the
established ideas of his age,--the superstitions of sailors, the
prejudices of learned men, and general geographical ignorance. He
himself had neither money, nor ships, nor powerful friends. Nobody
believed in him; all ridiculed him; some insulted him. Who would
furnish money to a man who was supposed to be half crazy,--
certainly visionary and wild; a rash adventurer who would not only
absorb money but imperil life? Learned men would not listen to
him, and powerful people derided him, and princes were too absorbed
in wars and pleasure to give him a helping hand. Aid could come
only from some great state or wealthy prince; but both states and
princes were deaf and dumb to him. It was a most extraordinary
inspiration of genius in the fifteenth century which created, not
an opinion, but a conviction that Asia could be reached by sailing
west; and how were common minds to comprehend such a novel idea?
If a century later, with all the blaze of reviving art and science
and learning, the most learned people ridiculed the idea that the
earth revolved around the sun, even when it was proved by all the
certitudes of mathematical demonstration and unerring observations,
how could the prejudiced and narrow-minded priests of the time of
Columbus, who controlled the most important affairs of state, be
made to comprehend that an unknown ocean, full of terrors, could be
crossed by frail ships, and that even a successful voyage would
open marts of inexhaustible wealth? All was clear enough to this
scientific and enterprising mariner; and the inward assurance that
he was right in his calculation gave to his character a blended
boldness, arrogance, and dignity which was offensive to men of
exalted station, and ill became a stranger and adventurer with a
thread-bare coat, and everything which indicated poverty, neglect,
and hardship, and without any visible means of living but by the
making and selling of charts.

Hence we cannot wonder at the seventeen years of poverty, neglect,
ridicule, disappointment, and deferred hopes, such as make the
heart sick, which elapsed after Columbus was persuaded of the truth
of his theory, before he could find anybody enlightened enough to
believe in him, or powerful enough to assist him.

Wrapped up in those glorious visions which come only to a man of
superlative genius, and which make him insensible to heat and cold
and scanty fare, even to reproach and scorn, this intrepid soul,
inspired by a great and original idea, wandered from city to city,
and country to country, and court to court, to present the certain
greatness and wealth of any state that would embark in his
enterprise. But all were alike cynical, cold, unbelieving, and
even insulting. He opposes overwhelming, universal, and
overpowering ideas. To have surmounted these amid such protracted
opposition and discouragement constitutes his greatness; and
finally to prove his position by absolute experiment and hazardous
enterprise makes him one of the greatest of human benefactors,
whose fame will last through all the generations of men. And as I
survey that lonely, abstracted, disappointed, and derided man,--
poor and unimportant, so harassed by debt that his creditors seized
even his maps and charts, obliged to fly from one country to
another to escape imprisonment, without even listeners and still
less friends, and yet with ever-increasing faith in his cause,
utterly unconquerable, alone in opposition to all the world,--I
think I see the most persistent man of enterprise that I have read
of in history. Critics ambitious to say something new may rake out
slanders from the archives of enemies, and discover faults which
derogate from the character we have been taught to admire and
venerate; they may even point out spots, which we cannot disprove,
in that sun of glorious brightness, which shed its beneficent rays
over a century of darkness,--but this we know, that, whatever may
be the force of detraction, his fame has been steadily increasing,
even on the admission of his slanderers, for three centuries, and
that he now shines as a fixed star in the constellation of the
great lights of modern times, not alone because he succeeded in
crossing the ocean, when once embarked on it, but for surmounting
the moral difficulties which lay in his way before he could embark
upon it, and for being finally instrumental in conferring the
greatest boon that our world has received from any mortal man,
since Noah entered into the ark.

I think it is Lamartine who has said that truly immortal
benefactors have seldom been able to accomplish their mission
without the encouragement of either saints or women. This is
emphatically true in the case of Columbus. The door to success was
at last opened to him by a friendly and sympathetic friar of a
Franciscan convent near the little port of Palos, in Andalusia.
The sun-burned and disappointed adventurer (for that is what he
was), wearied and hungry, and nearly discouraged, stopped at the
convent-door to get a morsel of bread for his famished son, who
attended him in his pilgrimage. The prior of that obscure convent
was the first who comprehended the man of genius, not so much
because he was an enlightened scholar, but because his pious soul
was full of kindly sympathy, showing that the instincts of love are
kindred to the inspirations of genius. It was the voice of Ali and
Cadijeh that strengthened Mohammed. It was Catherine von Bora who
sustained Luther in his gigantic task. The worthy friar, struck by
the noble bearing of a man so poor and wearied, became delighted
with the conversation of his guest, who opened to him both his
heart and his schemes. He forwarded his plans by a letter to a
powerful ecclesiastic, who introduced him to the Spanish Court,
then one of the most powerful, and certainly the proudest and most
punctilious, in Europe. Ferdinand of Aragon was polite, yet wary
and incredulous; but Isabella of Castile listened more kindly to
the stranger, whom the greatness of his mission inspired with
eloquence. Like the saint of the convent, she and she alone of
her splendid court, divined that there was something to be
heeded in the words of Columbus, and gave her womanly and royal
encouragement, although too much engrossed with the conquest of
Grenada and the cares of her kingdom to pay that immediate
attention which Columbus entreated.

I may not dwell on the vexatious delays and the protracted
discouragements of Columbus after the Queen had given her ear to
his enthusiastic prophecies of the future glories of the kingdom.
To the court and to the universities and to the great ecclesiastics
he was still a visionary and a needy adventurer; and they quoted,
in refutation of his theory, those Scripture texts which were
hurled in greater wrath against Galileo when he announced his
brilliant discoveries. There are, from some unfathomed reason,
always texts found in the sacred writings which seem to conflict
with both science and a profound theology; and the pedants, as well
as the hypocrites and usurpers, have always shielded themselves
behind these in their opposition to new opinions. I will not be
hard upon them, for often they are good men, simply unable to throw
off the shackles of ages of ignorance and tyranny. People should
not be subjected to lasting reproach because they cannot emancipate
themselves from prevailing ideas. If those prejudiced courtiers
and scholastics who ridiculed Columbus could only have seen with
his clearer insight, they might have loaded him with favors. But
they were blinded and selfish and envious. Nor was it until
Columbus convinced his sovereigns that the risk was small for so
great a promised gain, that he was finally commissioned to
undertake his voyage. The promised boon was the riches of Oriental
countries, boundless and magnificent,--countries not to be
discovered, but already known, only hard and perhaps impossible to
reach. And Columbus himself was so firmly persuaded of the
existence of these riches, and of his ability to secure them, and
they were so exaggerated by his imagination, that his own demands
were extravagant and preposterous, as must have seemed to an
incredulous court,--that he, a stranger, an adventurer, almost a
beggar even, should in case of success be made viceroy and admiral
over the unexplored realm, and with a tenth of all the riches he
should collect or seize; and that these high offices--almost regal--
should also be continued not only through his own life, but
through the lives of his heirs from generation to generation, thus
raising him to a possible rank higher than that of any of the dukes
and grandees of Spain.

Ferdinand and Isabella, however, readily promised all that the
persistent and enthusiastic adventurer demanded, doubtless with the
feeling that there was not more than one chance in a hundred that
he would ever be heard from again, but that this one chance was
well worth all and more than they expended,--a possibility of
indefinite aggrandizement. To the eyes of Ferdinand there was a
prospect--remote, indeed--of adding to the power of the Spanish
monarchy; and it is probable that the pious Isabella contemplated
also the conversion of the heathen to Christianity. It is possible
that some motives may have also influenced Columbus kindred to
this,--a renewed crusade against Saracen infidels, which he might
undertake from the wealth he was so confident of securing. But the
probabilities are that Columbus was urged on to his career by
ambitious and worldly motives also, or else he would not have been
so greedy to secure honors and wealth, nor would have been so
jealous of his dignity when he had attained power. To me Columbus
was no more a saint than Sir Francis Drake was when he so
unscrupulously robbed every ship he could lay his hands upon,
although both of them observed the outward forms of religious
worship peculiar to their respective creeds and education. There
were no unbelievers in that age. Both Catholics and Protestants,
like the ancient Pharisees, were scrupulous in what were supposed
to be religious duties,--though these too often were divorced from
morality. It is Columbus only as an intrepid, enthusiastic,
enlightened navigator, in pursuit of a new world of boundless
wealth, that I can see him; and it was for his ultimate success in
discovering this world, amid so many difficulties, that he is to be
regarded as a great benefactor, of the glory of which no ingenuity
or malice can rob him.

At last he sets sail, August 3, 1492, and, singularly enough, from
Palos, within sight of the little convent where he had received his
first encouragement. He embarked in three small vessels, the
largest of which was less thou one hundred tons, and two without
decks, but having high poops and sterns inclosed. What an
insignificant flotilla for such a voyage! But it would seem that
the Admiral, with great sagacity, deemed small vessels best adapted
to his purpose, in order to enter safely shallow harbors and sail
near the coast.

He sails in the most propitious season of the year, and is aided by
steady trade-winds which waft his ships gently through the unknown
ocean. He meets with no obstacles of any account. The skies are
serene, the sea is as smooth as the waters of an inland lake; and
he is comforted, as he advances to the west, by the appearance of
strange birds and weeds and plants that indicate nearness to the
land. He has only two objects of solicitude,--the variations of
the magnetic needle, and the superstitious fears of his men; the
last he succeeds in allaying by inventing plausible theories, and
by concealing the real distance he has traversed. He encourages
them by inflaming their cupidity. He is nearly baffled by their
mutinous spirit. He is in danger, not from coral reefs and
whirlpools and sunken rocks and tempests, as at first was feared,
but from his men themselves, who clamor to return. It is his faith
and moral courage and fertility of resources which we most admire.
Days pass in alternate hope and disappointment, amid angry clamors,
in great anxiety, for no land appears after he has sailed far
beyond the points where he expected to find it. The world is
larger than even he has supposed. He promises great rewards to the
one who shall first see the unknown shores. It is said that he
himself was the first to discover land by observing a flickering
light, which is exceedingly improbable, as he was several leagues
from shore; but certain it is, that the very night the land was
seen from the Admiral's vessel, it was also discovered by one of
the seamen on board another ship. The problem of the age was at
last solved. A new continent was given to Ferdinand and Isabella.

On the 12th of October Columbus lands--not, however, on the
continent, as he supposed, but on an island--in great pomp, as
admiral of the seas and viceroy of the king, in a purple doublet,
and with a drawn sword in one hand and the standard of Spain in the
other, followed by officers in appropriate costume, and a friar
bearing the emblem of our redemption, which is solemnly planted on
the shore, and the land called San Salvador. This little island,
one of the Bahamas, is not, however, gilded with the anticipated
splendors of Oriental countries. He finds neither gold, nor
jewels, nor silks, nor spices, nor any signs of civilization; only
naked men and women, without any indication of wealth or culture or
power. But he finds a soft and genial climate, and a soil of
unparalleled fertility, and trees and shrubs as green as Andalusia
in spring and birds with every variety of plumage, and insects
glistening with every color of the rainbow; while the natives are
gentle and unsuspecting and full of worship. Columbus is
disappointed, but not discouraged. He sets sail to find the real
Cipango of which he is in search. He cruises among the Bahama
islands, discovers Cuba and Hispaniola (now called Hayti), explores
their coasts, holds peaceful intercourse with the natives, and is
transported with enthusiasm in view of the beauty of the country
and its great capacities; but he sees no gold, only a few ornaments
to show that there is gold somewhere near, if it only could be
found. Nor has he reached the Cipango of his dreams, but new
countries, of which there was no record or suspicion of existence,
yet of vast extent, and fertile beyond knowledge. He is puzzled,
but filled with intoxicating joy. He has performed a great feat.
He has doubtless added indefinitely to the dominion of Spain.

Columbus leaves a small colony on the island of Hispaniola, and
with the trophies of his discoveries returns to Spain, without
serious obstacles, except a short detention in Portugal, whither he
was driven by a storm. His stories fill the whole civilized world
with wonder. He is welcomed with the most cordial and enthusiastic
reception; the people gaze at him with admiration. His sovereigns
rise at his approach, and seat him beside themselves on their
gilded and canopied throne; he has made them a present worthy of a
god. What honors could be too great for such a man! Even envy
pales before the universal exhilaration. He enters into the most
august circles as an equal; his dignities and honors are confirmed;
he is loaded with presents and favors; he is the most marked
personage in Europe; he is almost stifled with the incense of royal
and popular idolatry. Never was a subject more honored and
caressed. The imagination of a chivalrous and lively people is
inflamed with the wildest expectations, for although he returned
with but little of the expected wealth, he has pointed out a land
rich in unfathomed mines.

A second and larger expedition is soon projected. Everybody wishes
to join it. All press to join the fortunate admiral who has added
a continent to civilization. The proudest nobles, with the armor
and horses of chivalry, embark with artisans and miners for another
voyage, now without solicitude or fear, but with unbounded hopes of
wealth,--especially hardy adventurers and broken-down families of
rank anxious to retrieve their fortunes. The pendulum of a
nation's thought swings from the extreme of doubt and cynicism to
the opposite extreme of faith and exhilaration. Spain was ripe for
the harvest. Eight hundred years' desperate contest with the Moors
had made the nation bold, heroic, adventurous. There were no such
warriors in all Europe. Nowhere were there such chivalric virtues.
No people were then animated with such martial enthusiasm, such
unfettered imagination, such heroic daring, as were the subjects of
Ferdinand and Isabella. They were a people to conquer a world; not
merely heroic and enterprising, but fresh with religious
enthusiasm. They had expelled the infidels from Spain; they would
fight for the honor of the Cross in any clime or land.

The hopes held out by Columbus were extravagant; and these
extravagant expectations were the occasion of his fall and
subsequent sorrows and humiliation. Doubtless he was sincere, but
he was infatuated. He could only see the gold of Cipango. He was
as confident of enriching his followers as he had been of
discovering new realms. He was as enthusiastic as Sir Walter
Raleigh a century later, and made promises as rash as he, and
created the same exalted hopes, to be followed by bitter
disappointments; and consequently he incurred the same hostilities
and met the same downfall.

This second expedition was undertaken in seventeen vessels,
carrying fifteen hundred people, all full of animation and hope,
and some of them with intentions to settle in the newly discovered
country until they had made their fortunes. They arrived at
Hispaniola in March, of the year 1493, only to discover that the
men left behind on the first voyage to secure their settlement were
all despoiled or murdered; that the natives had proved treacherous,
or that the Spaniards had abused their confidence and forfeited
their friendship. They were exposed to new hostilities: they found
the climate unhealthy; their numbers rapidly dwindled away from
disease or poor food; starvation stared them in the face, in spite
of the fertility of the soil; dissensions and jealousies arose;
they were governed with great difficulty, for the haughty hidalgoes
were unused to menial labor, and labor of the most irksome kind was
necessary; law and order were relaxed. The blame of disaster was
laid upon the Admiral, who was accused of deceiving them; evil
reports were sent to Spain, accusing him of incapacity, cruelty,
and oppression; gold was found only in small quantities; some of
the leading men mutinied; general discontent arose; the greater
part of the colonists were disabled from sickness and debility; no
gold of any amount was sent back to Spain, only five hundred Indian
slaves to be sold instead, which led to renewed hostilities with
the natives, and the necessity for their subjugation. All of these
evils created bitter disappointment in Spain and discontent with
the measures and government of Columbus himself, so that a
commission of inquiry was sent to Hispaniola, headed by Aguado, who
assumed arrogant authority, and made it necessary for Columbus to
return to Spain without adding essentially to his discoveries. He
sailed around Cuba and Jamaica and other islands, but as yet had
not seen the mainland or found mines of gold or silver.

He landed in Spain, in 1496, to find that his popularity had
declined and the old enthusiasm had grown cold. With him landed a
feeble train of emaciated men, who had nothing to relate but
sickness, hardship, and disappointment. The sovereigns, however,
received him kindly; but he was depressed and sad, and clothed
himself with the habit of a Franciscan friar, to denote his
humility and dejection. He displayed a few golden collars and
bracelets as trophies, with some Indians; but these no longer
dazzled the crowd.

It was not until 1498 that Columbus was enabled to make his third
voyage, having experienced great delay from the general
disappointment. Instead of seventeen vessels, he could collect but
six. In this voyage he reached the mainland,--that part called
Paria, near the mouth of the Orinoco, in South America, but he
supposed it to be an island. It was fruitful and populous, and the
air was sweetened with the perfumes of flowers. Yet he did not
explore the coast to any extent, but made his way to Hispaniola,
where he had left the discontented colony himself broken in health,
a victim of gout, haggard from anxiety, and emaciated by pain. His
splendid constitution was now undermined from his various hardships
and cares.

He found the colony in a worse state than when he left it under the
care of his brother Bartholomew. The Indians had proved hostile;
the colonists were lazy and turbulent; mutiny had broken out;
factions prevailed, as well as general misery and discontent. The
horrors of famine had succeeded wars with the natives. There was a
general desire to leave the settlement. Columbus tried to restore
order and confidence; but the difficulty of governing such a
disorderly set of adventurers was too great even for him. He was
obliged to resort to severities that made him more and more
unpopular. The complaints of his enemies reached Spain. He was
most cruelly misrepresented and slandered; and in the general
disappointment, and the constant drain upon the mother country to
support the colony, his enemies gained the ear of his sovereigns,
and strong doubts arose in their minds about his capacity for
government. So a royal commission was sent out,--an officer named
Bovadilla, with absolute power to examine into the state of the
colony, and supplant, if necessary, the authority of Columbus. The
result was the arrest of Columbus and his brothers, who were sent
to Spain in chains. What a change of fortune! I will not detail
the accusations against him, just, or unjust. It is mournful
enough to see the old man brought home in irons from the world he
had discovered and given to Spain. The injustice and cruelty which
he received produced a reaction, and he was once more kindly
received at court, with the promise that his grievances should be
redressed and his property and dignities restored.

Columbus was allowed to make one more voyage of discovery, but
nothing came of it except renewed troubles, hardships, dangers, and
difficulties; wars with the natives, perils of the sea,
discontents, disappointments; and when at last he returned to
Spain, in 1504,--broken with age and infirmities, after twelve
years of harassing cares, labors, and dangers (a checkered career
of glory and suffering),--nothing remained but to prepare for his
final rest. He had not made a fortune; he had not enriched his
patrons,--but he had discovered a continent. His last days were
spent in disquieting and fruitless negotiations to perpetuate his
honors among his descendants. He was ever jealous and tenacious of
his dignities. Ferdinand was polite, but selfish and cold; nor can
this calculating prince ever be vindicated from the stain of gross
ingratitude. Columbus died in the year 1506, at the age of sixty,
a disappointed man. But honors were ultimately bestowed upon his
heirs, who became grandees and dukes, and intermarried with the
proudest families of Spain; and it is also said that Ferdinand
himself, after the death of the great navigator, caused a monument
to be erected to his memory with this inscription: "To Castile and
Leon Columbus gave a new world." But no man of that century needed
less than Columbus a monument to perpetuate his immortal fame.

I think that historians belittle Columbus when they would excite
our pity for his misfortunes. They insult the dignity of all
struggling souls, and make utilitarians of all benefactors, and
give false views of success. Few benefactors, on the whole, were
ever more richly rewarded than he. He died Admiral of the Seas, a
grandee of Spain,--having bishops for his eulogists and princes for
his mourners,--the founder of an illustrious house, whose name and
memory gave glory even to the Spanish throne. And even if he had
not been rewarded with material gains, it was enough to feel that
he had conferred a benefit on the world which could scarcely be
appreciated in his lifetime,--a benefit so transcendent that its
results could be seen only by future generations. Who could
adequately pay him for his services; who could estimate the value
of his gift? What though they load him to-day with honors, or cast
him tomorrow into chains?--that is the fate of all immortal
benefactors since our world began. His great soul should have
soared beyond vulgar rewards. In the loftiness of his self-
consciousness he should have accepted, without a murmur, whatever
fortune awaited him. Had he merely given to civilization a new
style of buttons, or an improved envelope, or a punch for a railway
conductor, or a spring for a carriage, or a mining tool, or a
screw, or revolver, or reaper, the inventors of which have "seen
millions in them," and been cheated out of his gains, he might have
whimpered over his wrongs. How few benefactors have received even
as much as he; for he won dignities, admiration, and undying fame.
We scarcely know the names of many who have made grand bequests.
Who invented the mariner's compass? Who gave the lyre to primeval
ages, or the blacksmith's forge, or the letters of the alphabet, or
the arch in architecture, or glass for windows? Who solved the
first problem of geometry? Who first sang the odes which Homer
incorporated with the Iliad? Who first turned up the earth with a
plough? Who first used the weaver's shuttle? Who devised the
cathedrals of the Middle Ages? Who gave the keel to ships? Who
was the first that raised bread by yeast? Who invented chimneys?
But all ages will know that Columbus discovered America; and his
monuments are in every land, and his greatness is painted by the
ablest historians.

But I will not enlarge on the rewards Columbus received, or the
ingratitude which succeeded them, by force of envy or from the
disappointment of worldly men in not realizing all the gold that he
promised. Let me allude to the results of his discovery.

The first we notice was the marvellous stimulus to maritime
adventures. Europe was inflamed with a desire to extend
geographical knowledge, or add new countries to the realms of
European sovereigns.

Within four years of the discovery of the West India Islands by
Columbus, Cabot had sailed past Newfoundland, and Vasco da Gama had
doubled the Cape of Good Hope, and laid the foundation of the
Portuguese empire in the East Indies. In 1499 Ojeda, one of the
companions of Columbus, and Amerigo Vespucci discovered Brazil. In
1500 Cortereal, a Portuguese, explored the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
In 1505 Francesco de Almeira established factories along the coast
of Malabar. In 1510 the Spaniards formed settlements on the
mainland at Panama. In 1511 the Portuguese established themselves
at Malacca. In 1513 Balboa crossed the Isthmus of Darien and
reached the Pacific Ocean. The year after that, Ponce de Leon had
visited Florida. In 1515 the Rio de la Plata was navigated; and
in 1517 the Portuguese had begun to trade with China and Bengal.
As early as 1520 Cortes had taken Mexico, and completed the
conquest of that rich country the following year. In 1522 Cano
circumnavigated the globe. In 1524 Pizarro discovered Peru, which
in less than twelve years was completely subjugated,--the year when
California was discovered by Cortes. In 1542 the Portuguese were
admitted to trade with Japan. In 1576 Frobisher sought a North-
western passage to India; and the following year Sir Francis Drake
commenced his more famous voyages under the auspices of Elizabeth.
In 1578 Sir Humphrey Gilbert colonized Virginia, followed rapidly
by other English settlements, until before the century closed the
whole continent was colonized either by Spaniards, or Portuguese,
or English, or French, or Dutch. All countries came in to share
the prizes held out by the discovery of the New World.

Colonization followed the voyages of discovery. It was animated by
the hope of finding gold and precious stones. It was carried on
under great discouragements and hardships and unforeseen
difficulties. As a general thing, the colonists were not
accustomed to manual labor; they were adventurers and broken-down
dependents on great families, who found restraint irksome and the
drudgeries of their new life almost unendurable. Nor did they
intend, at the outset, permanent settlements; they expected to
accumulate gold and silver, and then return to their country. They
had sought to improve their condition, and their condition became
forlorn. They were exposed to sickness from malaria, poor food,
and hardship; they were molested by the natives whom they
constantly provoked; they were subject to cruel treatment on the
part of royal governors. They melted away wherever they settled,
by famine, disease, and war, whether in South or North America.
They were discontented and disappointed, and not easily governed;
the chieftains quarrelled with each other, and were disgraced by
rapacity and cruelty. They did not find what they expected. They
were lonely and desolate, and longed to return to the homes they
had left, but were frequently without means to return,--doomed to
remain where they were, and die. Colonization had no dignity until
men went to the New World for religious liberty, or to work upon
the soil. The conquest of Mexico and Peru, however, opened up the
mining of gold and silver, which were finally found in great
abundance. And when the richness of these countries in the
precious metals was finally established, then a regular stream of
emigrants flocked to the American shores. Gold was at last found,
but not until thousands had miserably perished.

The mines of Mexico and Peru undoubtedly enriched Spain, and filled
Europe with envy and emulation. A stream of gold flowed to the
mother country, and the caravels which transported the treasures of
the new world became objects of plunder to all nations hostile to
Spain. The seas were full of pirates. Sir Francis Drake was an
undoubted pirate, and returned, after his long voyage around the
world, with immense treasure, which he had stolen. Then followed,
with the eager search after gold and silver, a rapid demoralization
in all maritime countries.

It would be interesting to show how the sudden accumulation of
wealth by Spain led to luxury, arrogance, and idleness, followed by
degeneracy and decay, since those virtues on which the strength of
man is based are weakened by sudden wealth. Industry declined in
proportion as Spain became enriched by the precious metals. But
this inquiry is foreign to my object.

A still more interesting inquiry arises, how far the nations of
Europe were really enriched by the rapid accumulation of gold and
silver. The search for the precious metals may have stimulated
commercial enterprise, but it is not so clear that it added to the
substantial wealth of Europe, except so far as it promoted
industry. Gold is not wealth; it is simply the exponent of wealth.
Real wealth is in farms and shops and ships,--in the various
channels of industry, in the results of human labor. So far as the
precious metals enter into useful manufactures, or into articles of
beauty and taste, they are indeed inherently valuable. Mirrors,
plate, jewelry, watches, gilded furniture, the adornments of the
person, in an important sense, constitute wealth, since all nations
value them, and will pay for them as they do for corn or oil. So
far as they are connected with art, they are valuable in the same
sense as statues and pictures, on which labor has been expended.
There is something useful, and even necessary, besides food and
raiment and houses. The gold which ornamented Solomon's temple, or
the Minerva of Phidias, or the garments of Leo X., had a value.
The ring which is a present to brides is a part of a marriage
ceremony. The golden watch, which never tarnishes, is more
valuable inherently than a pewter one, because it remains
beautiful. Thus when gold enters into ornaments deemed
indispensable, or into manufactures which are needed, it has an
inherent value,--it is wealth.

But when gold is a mere medium of exchange,--its chief use,--then
it has only a conventional value; I mean, it does not make a nation
rich or poor, since the rarer it is the more it will purchase of
the necessaries of life. A pound's weight of gold, in ancient
Greece, or in Mediaeval Europe, would purchase as much wheat as
twenty pounds' weight will purchase to-day. If the mines of Mexico
or Peru or California had never been worked, the gold in the
civilized world three hundred years ago would have been as valuable
for banking purposes, or as an exchange for agricultural products,
as twenty times its present quantity, since it would have bought as
much as twenty times the quantity will buy to-day. Make diamonds
as plenty as crystals, they would be worth no more than crystals,
if they were not harder and more beautiful. Make gold as plenty as
silver, it would be worth no more than silver, except for
manufacturing purposes; it would be worth no more to bankers and
merchants. The vast increase in the production of the precious
metals simply increased the value of the commodities for which they
were exchanged. A laborer can purchase no more bread with a dollar
to-day than he could with five cents three hundred years ago. Five
cents were really as much wealth three hundred years ago as a
dollar is to-day. Wherein, then, has the increase in the precious
metals added to the wealth of the world, if a twentieth part of the
gold and silver now in circulation would buy as much land, or
furniture, or wheat, or oil three hundred years ago as the whole
amount now used as money will buy to-day? Had no gold or silver
mines been discovered in America, the gold and silver would have
appreciated in value in proportion to the wear of them. In other
words, the scarcer the gold and silver the more the same will
purchase of the fruits of human industry. So industry is the
wealth, not the gold. It is the cultivated farms and the
manufactures and the buildings and the internal improvements of a
country which constitute its real wealth, since these represent its
industry,--the labor of men. Mines, indeed, employ the labor of
men, but they do not furnish food for the body, or raiment to wear,
or houses to live in, or fuel for cooking, or any purpose whatever
of human comfort or necessity,--only a material for ornament; which
I grant is wealth, so far as ornament is for the welfare of man.
The marbles of ancient Greece were very valuable for the labor
expended on them, either for architecture or for ornament.

Gold and silver were early selected as useful and convenient
articles for exchange, like bank-notes, and so far have inherent
value as they supply that necessity; but if a fourth part of the
gold and silver in existence would supply that necessity, the
remaining three-fourths are as inherently valueless as the paper of
which bank-notes are printed. Their value consists in what they
represent of the labors and industries of men.

Now Spain ultimately became poor, in spite of the influx of gold
and silver from the American mines, because industries of all kinds
declined. People were diverted from useful callings by the mighty
delusion which gold discoveries created. These discoveries had the
same effect on industry, which is the wealth of nations, as the
support of standing armies has in our day. They diverted men from
legitimate callings. The miners had to be supported like soldiers;
and, worse, the sudden influx of gold and silver intoxicated men
and stimulated speculation. An army of speculators do not enrich a
nation, since they rob each other. They cause money to change
hands; they do not stimulate industry. They do not create wealth;
they simply make it flow from one person to another.

But speculations sometimes create activity in enterprise; they
inflame desires for wealth, and cause people to make greater
exertions. In that sense the discovery of American mines gave a
stimulus to commerce and travel and energy. People rushed to
America for gold: these people had to be fed and clothed. Then
farmers and manufacturers followed the gold-hunters; they tilled
the soil to feed the miners. The new farms which dotted the region
of the gold-diggers added to the wealth of the country in which the
mines were located. Colonization followed gold-digging. But it
was America that became enriched, not the old countries from which
the miners came, except so far as the old countries furnished tools
and ships and fabrics, for doubtless commerce and manufacturing
were stimulated. So far, the wealth of the world increased; but
the men who returned to riot in luxury and idleness did not
stimulate enterprise. They made others idle also. The necessity
of labor was lost sight of.

And yet if one country became idle, another country may have become
industrious. There can be but little question that the discovery
of the American mines gave commerce and manufactures and
agriculture, on the whole, a stimulus. This was particularly seen
in England. England grew rich from industry and enterprise, as
Spain became poor from idleness and luxury. The silver and gold,
diffused throughout Europe, ultimately found their way into the
pockets of Englishmen, who made a market for their manufactures.
It was not alone the precious metals which enriched England, but
the will and power to produce those articles of industry for which
the rest of the world parted with their gold and silver. What has
made France rich since the Revolution? Those innumerable articles
of taste and elegance--fabrics and wines--for which all Europe
parted with their specie; not war, not conquest, not mines. Why
till recently was Germany so poor? Because it had so little to
sell to other nations; because industry was cramped by standing
armies and despotic governments.

One thing is certain, that the discovery of America opened a new
field for industry and enterprise to all the discontented and
impoverished and oppressed Europeans who emigrated. At first they
emigrated to dig silver and gold. The opening of mines required
labor, and miners were obliged to part with their gold for the
necessaries of life. Thus California in our day has become peopled
with farmers and merchants and manufacturers, as well as miners.
Many came to America expecting to find gold, and were disappointed,
and were obliged to turn agriculturists, as in Virginia. Many came
to New England from political and religious motives. But all came
to better their fortunes. Gradually the United States and Canada
became populated from east to west and from north to south. The
surplus population of Europe poured itself into the wilds of
America. Generally the emigrants were farmers. With the growth of
agricultural industry were developed commerce and manufactures.
Thus, materially, the world was immensely benefited. A new
continent was opened for industry. No matter what the form of
government may be,--I might almost say no matter what the morals
and religion of the people may be,--so long as there is land to
occupy, and to be sold cheap, the continent will fill up, and will
be as densely populated as Europe or Asia, because the natural
advantages are good. The rivers and the lakes will be navigated;
the products of the country will be exchanged for European and
Asiatic products; wealth will certainly increase, and increase
indefinitely. There is no calculating the future resources and
wealth of the New World, especially in the United States. There
are no conceivable bounds to their future commerce, manufactures,
and agricultural products. We can predict with certainty the rise
of new cities, villas, palaces, material splendor, limited only to
the increasing resources and population of the country. Who can
tell the number of miles of new railroads yet to be made; the new
inventions to abridge human labor; what great empires are destined
to rise; what unknown forms of luxury will be found out; what new
and magnificent trophies of art and science will gradually be seen;
what mechanism, what material glories, are sure to come? This is
not speculation. Nothing can retard the growth of America in
material wealth and glory. The splendid external will call forth
more panegyrics than the old Roman world which fancied itself
eternal. The tower of the new Babel will rise to the clouds, and
be seen in all its glory throughout the earth and sea. No Fourth
of July orator ever exaggerated the future destinies of America in
a material point of view. No "spread-eagle" politician even
conceived what will be sure to come.

And what then? Grant the most indefinite expansion,--the growth of
empires whose splendor and wealth and power shall utterly eclipse
the glories of the Old World. All this is probable. But when we
have dwelt on the future material expansion; when we have given
wings to imagination, and feel that even imagination cannot reach
the probable realities in a material aspect,--then our predictions
and calculations stop. Beyond material glories we cannot count
with certainty. The world has witnessed many powerful empires
which have passed away, and left "not a rack behind." What remains
of the antediluvian world?--not even a spike of Noah's ark, larger
and stronger than any modern ship. What remains of Nineveh, of
Babylon, of Thebes, of Tyre, of Carthage,--those great centres of
wealth and power? What remains of Roman greatness even, except in
laws and literature and renovated statues? Remember there is an
undeviating uniformity in the past history of nations. What is the
simple story of all the ages?--industry, wealth, corruption, decay,
and ruin. What conservative power has been strong enough to arrest
the ruin of the nations of antiquity? Have not material forces and
glories been developed and exhibited, whatever the religion and
morals of the fallen nations? Cannot a country grow materially to
a certain point, under the most adverse influences, in a religious
and moral point of view? Yet for lack of religion and morals the
nations perished, and their Babel-towers were buried in the dust.
They perished for lack of true conservative forces; at least that
is the judgment of historians. Nobody doubts the splendor of the
material glories of the ancient nations. The ruins of Baalbec, of
Palmyra, of Athens, prove this, to say nothing of history. The
material glories of the ancient nations may be surpassed by our
modern wonders; but yet all the material glories of the ancient
nations passed away.

Now if this is to be the destiny of America,--an unbounded material
growth, followed by corruption and ruin,--then Columbus has simply
extended the realm for men to try material experiments. Make New
York a second Carthage, and Boston a second Athens, and
Philadelphia a second Antioch, and Washington a second Rome, and we
simply repeat the old experiments. Did not the Romans have nearly
all we have, materially, except our modern scientific inventions?

But has America no higher destiny than to repeat the old
experiments, and improve upon them, and become rich and powerful?
Has she no higher and nobler mission? Can she lay hold of forces
that the Old World never had, such as will prevent the uniform doom
of nations? I maintain that there is no reason that can be urged,
based on history and experience, why she should escape the fate of
the nations of antiquity, unless new forces arise on this continent
different from what the world has known, and which have a
conservative influence. If America has a great mission to declare
and to fulfil, she must put forth altogether new forces, and these
not material. And these alone will save her and save the world.
It is mournful to contemplate even the future magnificent material
glories of America if these are not to be preserved, if these are
to share the fate of ancient wonders. It is obvious that the real
glory of America is to be something entirely different from that of
which the ancients boasted. And this is to be moral and
spiritual,--that which the ancients lacked.

This leads me to speak of the moral consequences of the discovery
of America,--infinitely grander than any material wonders, of which
the world has been full, of which every form of paganism has
boasted, which nearly everywhere has perished, and which must
necessarily perish everywhere, without new forces to preserve them.

In a moral point of view scarcely anything good immediately
resulted, at least to Europe, by the discovery of America. It
excited the wildest spirit of adventure, the most unscrupulous
cupidity, the most demoralizing speculation. It created jealousies
and wars. The cruelties and injustices inflicted on the Indians
were revolting. Nothing in the annals of the world exceeds the
wickedness of the Spaniards in the conquest of Peru and Mexico.
That conquest is the most dismal and least glorious in human
history. We see in it no poetry, or heroism, or necessity; we read
of nothing but its crimes. The Jesuits, in their missionary zeal,
partly redeemed the cruelties; but they soon imposed a despotic
yoke, and confirmed their sway. Monopolies scandalously increased,
and the New World was regarded only as spoil. The tone of moral
feeling was lowered everywhere, for the nations were crazed with
the hope of sudden accumulations. Spain became enervated and

On America itself the demoralization was even more marked. There
never was such a state of moral degradation in any Christian
country as in South America. Three centuries have passed, and the
low state of morals continues. Contrast Mexico and Peru with the
United States, morally and intellectually. What seeds of vice did
not the Spaniards plant! How the old natives melted away!

And then, to add to the moral evils attending colonization, was the
introduction of African slaves, especially in the West Indies and
the Southern States of North America. Christendom seems to have
lost the sense of morality. Slavery more than counterbalances all
other advantages together. It was the stain of the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries. Not merely slaves, but the slave-trade,
increase the horrors of the frightful picture. America became
associated, in the minds of Europeans, with gold-hunting, slavery,
and cruelty to Indians. Better that the country had remained
undiscovered than that such vices and miseries should be introduced
into the most fertile parts of the New World.

I cannot see that civilization gained anything, morally, by the
discovery of America, until the new settlers were animated by other
motives than a desire for sudden wealth. When the country became
colonized by men who sought liberty to worship God,--men of lofty
purposes, willing to undergo sufferings and danger in order to
plant the seeds of a higher civilization,--then there arose new
forms of social and political life. Such men were those who
colonized New England. And, say what you will, in spite of all the
disagreeable sides of the Puritan character, it was the Puritans
who gave a new impulse to civilization in the New World. They
founded schools and colleges and churches. They introduced a new
form of political life by their town-meetings, in which liberty was
nurtured, and all local improvements were regulated. It was the
autonomy of towns on which the political structure of new England
rested. In them was born that true representative government which
has gradually spread towards the West. The colonies were embryo
States,--States afterwards to be bound together by a stronger tie
than that of a league. The New England States, after the war of
independence, were the defenders and advocates of a federal and
central power. An entirely new political organization was
gradually formed, resting equally on such pillars as independent
townships and independent States, and these represented by
delegates in a national centre.

So we believe America was discovered, not so much to furnish a
field for indefinite material expansion, with European arts and
fashions,--which would simply assimilate America to the Old World,
with all its dangers and vices and follies,--but to introduce new
forms of government, new social institutions, new customs and
manners, new experiments in liberty, new religious organizations,
new modes to ameliorate the necessary evils of life. It was
discovered that men might labor and enjoy the fruits of industry in
a new mode, unfettered by the restraints which the institutions of
Europe imposed. America is a new field in which to try experiments
in government and social life, which cannot be tried in the older
nations without sweeping and dangerous revolutions; and new
institutions have arisen which are our pride and boast, and which
are the wonder and admiration of Europe. America is the only
country under the sun in which there is self-government,--a
government which purely represents the wishes of the people, where
universal suffrage is not a mockery. And if America has a destiny
to fulfil for other nations, she must give them something more
valuable than reaping machines, palace cars, and horse railroads.
She must give, not only machinery to abridge labor, but
institutions and ideas to expand the mind and elevate the soul,--
something by which the poor can rise and assert their rights.
Unless something is developed here which cannot be developed in
other countries, in the way of new spiritual and intellectual
forces, which have a conservative influence, then I cannot see how
America can long continue to be the home and refuge of the poor and
miserable of other lands. A new and better spirit must vivify
schools and colleges and philanthropic enterprises than that which
has prevailed in older nations. Unless something new is born here
which has a peculiar power to save, wherein will America ultimately
differ from other parts of Christendom? We must have schools in
which the heart as well as the brain is educated, and newspapers
which aspire to something higher than to fan prejudices and appeal
to perverted tastes. Our hope is not in books which teach
infidelity under the name of science, nor in pulpits which cannot
be sustained without sensational oratory, nor in journals which
trade on the religious sentiments of the people, nor in Sabbath-
school books which are an insult to the human understanding, nor in
colleges which fit youth merely for making money, nor in schools of
technology to give an impulse to material interests, nor in
legislatures controlled by monopolists, nor in judges elected by
demagogues, nor in philanthropic societies to ventilate unpractical
theories. These will neither renovate nor conserve what is most
precious in life. Unless a nation grows morally as well as
materially, there is something wrong at the core of society. As I
have said, no material expansion will avail, if society becomes
rotten at the core. America is a glorious boon to civilization,
but only as she fulfils a new mission in history,--not to become
more potent in material forces, but in those spiritual agencies
which prevent corruption and decay. An infidel professor, calling
himself a savant, may tell you that there is nothing certain or
great but in the direction of science to utilities, even as he may
glory in a philosophy which ignores a creator and takes cognizance
only of a creation.

As I survey the growing and enormous moral evils which degrade
society, here as everywhere, in spite of Bunker Hills and Plymouth
Rocks, and all the windy declamations of politicians and
philanthropists, and all the advance in useful mechanisms, I am
sometimes tempted to propound inquiries which suggest the old,
mournful story of the decline and ruin of States and Empires. I
ask myself, Why should America be an exception to the uniform fate
of nations, as history has demonstrated? Why should not good
institutions be perverted here, as in all other countries and ages
of the world? Where has civilization shown any striking triumphs,
except in inventions to abridge the labors of mankind and make men
comfortable and rich? Is there nothing before us, then, but the
triumphs of material life, to end as mournfully as the materialism
of antiquity? If so, then Christianity is a most dismal failure,
is a defeated power, like all other forms of religion which failed
to save. But is it a failure? Are we really swinging back to
Paganism? Is the time to be hailed when all religions will be
considered by the philosopher as equally false and equally useful?
Is there nothing more cheerful for us to contemplate than what the
old Pagan philosophy holds out,--man destined to live like brutes
or butterflies, and pass away into the infinity of time and space,
like inert matter, decomposed, absorbed, and entering into new and
everlasting combinations? Is America to become like Europe and
Asia in all essential elements of life? Has she no other mission
than to add to perishable glories? Is she to teach the world
nothing new in education and philanthropy and government? Are all
her struggles in behalf of liberty in vain?

We all know that Christianity is the only hope of the world. The
question is, whether America is or is not more favorable for its
healthy developments and applications than the other countries of
Christendom are. We believe that it is. If it is not, then
America is only a new field for the spread and triumph of material
forces. If it is, we may look forward to such improvements in
education, in political institutions, in social life, in religious
organizations, in philanthropical enterprise, that the country will
be sought by the poor and enslaved classes of Europe more for its
moral and intellectual advantages than for its mines or farms; the
objects of the Puritan settlers will be gained, and the grandeur of
the discovery of a New World will be established.

"What sought they thus afar?
Bright jewels of the mine?
The wealth of seas,--the spoils of war?
They sought for Faith's pure shrine.
Ay, call it holy ground,
The soil where first they trod;
They've left unstained what there they found,--
Freedom to worship God."


Prescott's Ferdinand and Isabella; Washington Irving; Cabot's
Voyages, and other early navigators; Columbus, by De Costa; Life of
Columbus, by Bossi and Spatono; Relations de Quatre voyage par
Christopher Colomb; Drake's World Encompassed; Murray's Historical
Account of Discoveries; Hernando, Historia del Amirante; History of
Commerce; Lives of Pizarro and Cortes; Frobisher's Voyages;
Histories of Herrera, Las Casas, Gomera, and Peter Martyr;
Navarrete's Collections; Memoir of Cabot, by Richard Biddle;
Hakluyt's Voyages; Dr. Lardner's Cyclopaedia,--History of Maritime
and Inland Discovery; Anderson's History of Commerce; Oviedo's
General History of the West Indies; History of the New World, by
Geronimo Benzoni; Goodrich's Life of Christopher Columbus.


A. D. 1452-1498.


This lecture is intended to set forth a memorable movement in the
Roman Catholic Church,--a reformation of morals, preceding the
greater movement of Luther to produce a reformation of both morals
and doctrines. As the representative of this movement I take
Savonarola, concerning whom much has of late been written; more, I
think, because he was a Florentine in a remarkable age,--the age of
artists and of reviving literature,--than because he was a martyr,
battling with evils which no one man was capable of removing. His
life was more a protest than a victory. He was an unsuccessful
reformer, and yet he prepared the way for that religious revival
which afterward took place in the Catholic Church itself. His
spirit was not revolutionary, like that of the Saxon monk, and yet
it was progressive. His soul was in active sympathy with every
emancipating idea of his age. He was the incarnation of a fervid,
living, active piety amid forms and formulas, a fearless exposer of
all shams, an uncompromising enemy to the blended atheism and
idolatry of his ungodly age. He was the contemporary of political,
worldly, warlike, unscrupulous popes, disgraced by nepotism and
personal vices,--men who aimed to extend not a spiritual but
temporal dominion, and who scandalized the highest position in the
Christian world, as attested by all reliable historians, whether
Catholic or Protestant. However infallible the Catholic Church
claims to be, it has never been denied that some of her highest
dignitaries have been subject to grave reproaches, both in their
character and their influence. Such men were Sixtus IV., Julius
II., and Alexander VI.,--able, probably, for it is very seldom that
the popes have not been distinguished for something, but men,
nevertheless, who were a disgrace to the superb position they had
succeeded in reaching.

The great feature of that age was the revival of classical learning
and artistic triumphs in sculpture, painting, and architecture,
blended with infidel levity and social corruptions, so that it is
both interesting and hideous. It is interesting for its triumphs
of genius, its dispersion of the shadows of the Middle Ages, the
commencement of great enterprises and of a marked refinement of
manners and tastes; it is hideous for its venalities, its murders,
its debaucheries, its unblushing wickedness, and its disgraceful
levities, when God and duty and self-restraint were alike ignored.
Cruel tyrants reigned in cities, and rapacious priests fattened on
the credulity of the people. Think of monks itinerating to sell
perverted "indulgences"; of monasteries and convents filled, not
with sublime enthusiasts as in earlier times, but with gluttons and
sensualists, living in concubinage and greedy of the very things
which primitive monasticism denounced and abhorred! Think of boys
elevated to episcopal thrones, and the sons of popes made cardinals
and princes! Think of churches desecrated by spectacles which were
demoralizing, and a worship of saints and images which had become
idolatrous,--a degrading superstition among the people, an infidel
apathy among the higher classes: not infidel speculations, for
these were reserved for more enlightened times, but an indifference
to what is ennobling, to all vital religion, worthy of the Sophists
in the time of Socrates!

It was in this age of religious apathy and scandalous vices, yet of
awakening intelligence and artistic glories, when the greatest
enthusiasm was manifested for the revived literature and sculptured
marbles of classic Greece and Rome, that Savonarola appeared in
Florence as a reformer and preacher and statesman, near the close
of the fifteenth century, when Columbus was seeking a western
passage to India; when Michael Angelo was moulding the "Battle of
Hercules with the Centaurs;" when Ficino was teaching the
philosophy of Plato; when Alexander VI. was making princes of his
natural children; when Bramante was making plans for a new St.
Peter's; when Cardinal Bembo was writing Latin essays; when Lorenzo
de' Medici was the flattered patron of both scholars and artists,
and the city over which he ruled with so much magnificence was the
most attractive place in Europe, next to that other city on the
banks of the Tiber, whose wonders and glories have never been
exhausted, and will probably survive the revolutions of unknown

But Savonarola was not a native of Florence. He was born in the
year 1452 at Ferrara, belonged to a good family, and received an
expensive education, being destined to the profession of medicine.
He was a sad, solitary, pensive, but precocious young man, whose
youth was marked by an unfortunate attachment to a haughty
Florentine girl. He did not cherish her memory and dedicate to her
a life-labor, like Dante, but became very dejected and very pious.
His piety assumed, of course, the ascetic type, for there was
scarcely any other in that age, and he entered a Dominican convent,
as Luther, a few years later, entered an Augustinian. But he was
not an original genius, or a bold and independent thinker like
Luther, so he was not emancipated from the ideas of his age. How
few men can go counter to prevailing ideas! It takes a prodigious
genius, and a fearless, inquiring mind, to break away from their
bondage. Abraham could renounce the idolatries which surrounded
him, when called by a supernatural voice; Paul could give up the
Phariseeism which reigned in the Jewish schools and synagogues,
when stricken blind by the hand of God; Luther could break away
from monastic rules and papal denunciation, when taught by the
Bible the true ground of justification,--but Savonarola could not.
He pursued the path to heaven in the beaten track, after the
fashion of Jerome and Bernard and Thomas Aquinas, after the style
of the Middle Ages, and was sincere, devout, and lofty, like the
saints of the fifth century, and read his Bible as they did, and
essayed a high religious life; but he was stern, gloomy, and
austere, emaciated by fasts and self-denial. He had, however,
those passive virtues which Mediaeval piety ever enjoined,--yea,
which Christ himself preached upon the Mount, and which
Protestantism, in the arrogance of reason, is in danger of losing
sight of,--humility, submission, and contempt of material gains.
He won the admiration of his superiors for his attainments and his
piety, being equally versed in Aristotle and the Holy Scriptures.
He delighted most in the Old Testament heroes and prophets, and
caught their sternness and invective.

He was not so much interested in dogmas as he was in morals. He
had not, indeed, a turn of mind for theology, like Anselm and
Calvin; but he took a practical view of the evils of society. At
thirty years of age he began to preach in Ferrara and Florence, but
was not very successful. His sermons at first created but little
interest, and he sometimes preached to as few as twenty-five
people. Probably he was too rough and vehement to suit the
fastidious ears of the most refined city in Italy. People will not
ordinarily bear uncouthness from preachers, however gifted, until
they have earned a reputation; they prefer pretty and polished
young men with nothing but platitudes or extravagances to utter.
Savonarola seems to have been discouraged and humiliated at his
failure, and was sent to preach to the rustic villagers, amid the
mountains near Sienna. Among these people he probably felt more at
home; and he gave vent to the fire within him and electrified all
who heard him, winning even the admiration of the celebrated Prince
of Mirandola. From this time his fame spread rapidly, he was
recalled to Florence, 1490, and his great career commenced. In the
following year such crowds pressed to hear him that the church of
St. Mark, connected with the Dominican convent to which he was
attached, could not contain the people, and he repaired to the
cathedral. And even that spacious church was filled with eager
listeners,--more moved than delighted. So great was his
popularity, that his influence correspondingly increased and he was
chosen prior of his famous convent.

He now wielded power as well as influence, and became the most
marked man of the city. He was not only the most eloquent preacher
in Italy, probably in the world, but his eloquence was marked by
boldness, earnestness, almost fierceness. Like an ancient prophet,
he was terrible in his denunciation of vices. He spared no one,
and he feared no one. He resembled Chrysostom at Constantinople,
when he denounced the vanity of Eudoxia and the venality of
Eutropius. Lorenzo de' Medici, the absolute lord of Florence, sent
for him, and expostulated and remonstrated with the unsparing
preacher,--all to no effect. And when the usurper of his country's
liberties was dying, the preacher was again sent for, this time to
grant an absolution. But Savonarola would grant no absolution
unless Lorenzo would restore the liberties which he and his family
had taken away. The dying tyrant was not prepared to accede to so
haughty a demand, and, collecting his strength, rolled over on his
bed without saying a word, and the austere monk wended his way back
to his convent, unmolested and determined.

The premature death of this magnificent prince made a great
sensation throughout Italy, and produced a change in the politics
of Florence, for the people began to see their political
degradation. The popular discontents were increased when his
successor, Pietro, proved himself incapable and tyrannical,
abandoned himself to orgies, and insulted the leading citizens by
an overwhelming pride. Savonarola took the side of the people, and
fanned the discontents. He became the recognized leader of
opposition to the Medici, and virtually ruled the city.

The Prior of St. Mark now appeared in a double light,--as a
political leader and as a popular preacher. Let us first consider
him in his secular aspect, as a revolutionist and statesman,--for
the admirable constitution he had a principal hand in framing
entitles him to the dignity of statesman rather than politician.
If his cause had not been good, and if he had not appealed to both
enlightened and patriotic sentiments, he would have been a
demagogue; for a demagogue and a mere politician are synonymous,
and a clerical demagogue is hideous.

Savonarola began his political career with terrible denunciations,
from his cathedral pulpit, of the political evils of his day, not
merely in Florence but throughout Italy. He detested tyrants and
usurpers, and sought to conserve such liberties as the Florentines
had once enjoyed. He was not only the preacher, he was also the
patriot. Things temporal were mixed up with things spiritual in
his discourses. In his detestation of the tyranny of the Medici,
and his zeal to recover for the Florentines their lost liberties,
he even hailed the French armies of Charles VIII. as deliverers,
although they had crossed the Alps to invade and conquer Italy. If
the gates of Florence were open to them, they would expel the
Medici. So he stimulated the people to league with foreign enemies
in order to recover their liberties. This would have been high
treason in Richelieu's time,--as when the Huguenots encouraged the
invasion of the English on the soil of France. Savonarola was a
zealot, and carried the same spirit into politics that he did into
religion,--such as when he made a bonfire of what he called
vanities. He had an end to carry: he would use any means. There
is apt to be a spirit of expediency in men consumed with zeal,
determined on success. To the eye of the Florentine reformer, the
expulsion of the Medici seemed the supremest necessity; and if it
could be done in no other way than by opening the gates of his city
to the French invaders, he would open the gates. Whatever he
commanded from the pulpit was done by the people, for he seemed to
have supreme control over them, gained by his eloquence as a
preacher. But he did not abuse his power. When the Medici were
expelled, he prevented violence; blood did not flow in the streets;
order and law were preserved. The people looked up to him as their
leader, temporal as well as spiritual. So he assembled them in the
great hall of the city, where they formally held a parlemento, and
reinstated the ancient magistrates. But these were men without
experience. They had no capacity to govern, and they were selected
without wisdom on the part of the people. The people, in fact, had
not the ability to select their best and wisest men for rulers.
That is an evil inherent in all popular governments. Does San
Francisco or New York send its greatest men to Congress? Do not
our cities elect such rulers as the demagogues point out? Do not
the few rule, even in a Congregational church? If some commanding
genius, unscrupulous or wise or eloquent or full of tricks,
controls elections with us, much more easily could such a man as
Savonarola rule in Florence, where there were no political
organizations, no caucuses, no wirepullers, no other man of
commanding ability. The only opinion-maker was this preacher, who
indicated the general policy to be pursued. He left elections to
the people; and when these proved a failure, a new constitution
became a necessity. But where were the men capable of framing a
constitution for the republic? Two generations of political
slavery had destroyed political experience. The citizens were as
incapable of framing a new constitution as the legislators of
France after they had decimated the nobility, confiscated the
Church lands, and cut off the head of the king. The lawyers
disputed in the town hall, but accomplished nothing.

Their science amounted only to an analysis of human passion. All
wanted a government entirely free from tyranny; all expected
impossibilities. Some were in favor of a Venetian aristocracy, and
others of a pure democracy; yet none would yield to compromise,
without which no permanent political institution can ever be
framed. How could the inexperienced citizens of Florence
comprehend the complicated relations of governments? To make a
constitution that the world respects requires the highest maturity
of human wisdom. It is the supremest labor of great men. It took
the ablest man ever born among the Jews to give to them a national
polity. The Roman constitution was the fruit of five hundred
years' experience. Our constitution was made by the wisest, most
dignified, most enlightened body of statesmen that this country has
yet seen, and even they could not have made it without great mutual
concessions. No ONE man could have made a constitution, however
great his talents and experience,--not even a Jefferson or a
Hamilton,--which the nation would have accepted. It would have
been as full of defects as the legislation of Solon or Lycurgus or
the Abbe Sieyes. But one man gave a constitution to the
Florentines, which they not only accepted, but which has been
generally admired for its wisdom; and that man was our Dominican
monk. The hand he had in shaping that constitution not only proved
him to have been a man of great wisdom, but entitled him to the
gratitude of his countrymen as a benefactor. He saw the vanity of
political science as it then existed, the incapacity of popular
leaders, and the sadness of a people drifting into anarchy and
confusion; and, strong in his own will and his sense of right, he
rose superior to himself, and directed the stormy elements of
passion and fear. And this he did by his sermons from the pulpit,--
for he did not descend, in person, into the stormy arena of
contending passions and interests. He did not himself attend the
deliberations in the town hall; he was too wise and dignified a man
for that. But he preached those principles and measures which he
wished to see adopted; and so great was the reverence for him that
the people listened to his instructions, and afterward deliberated
and acted among themselves. He did not write out a code, but he
told the people what they should put into it. He was the animating
genius of the city; his voice was obeyed. He unfolded the theory
that the government of one man, in their circumstances, would
become tyrannical; and he taught the doctrine, then new, that the
people were the only source of power,--that they alone had the
right to elect their magistrates. He therefore recommended a
general government, which should include all citizens who had
intelligence, experience, and position,--not all the people, but
such as had been magistrates, or their fathers before them.
Accordingly, a grand council was formed of three thousand citizens,
out of a population of ninety thousand who had reached the age of
twenty-nine. These three thousand citizens were divided into three
equal bodies, each of which should constitute a council for six
months and no meeting was legal unless two-thirds of the members
were present. This grand council appointed the magistrates. But
another council was also recommended and adopted, of only eighty
citizens not under forty years of age,--picked men, to be changed
every six months, whom the magistrates were bound to consult
weekly, and to whom was confided the appointment of some of the
higher officers of the State, like ambassadors to neighboring
States. All laws proposed by the magistrates, or seigniory, had to
be ratified by this higher and selecter council. The higher
council was a sort of Senate, the lower council were more like
Representatives. But there was no universal suffrage. The
clerical legislator knew well enough that only the better and more
intelligent part of the people were fit to vote, even in the
election of magistrates. He seems to have foreseen the fatal rock
on which all popular institutions are in danger of being wrecked,--
that no government is safe and respected when the people who make
it are ignorant and lawless. So the constitution which Savonarola
gave was neither aristocratic nor democratic. It resembled that of
Venice more than that of Athens, that of England more than that of
the United States. Strictly universal suffrage is a Utopian dream
wherever a majority of the people are wicked and degraded. Sooner
or later it threatens to plunge any nation, as nations now are,
into a whirlpool of dangers, even if Divine Providence may not
permit a nation to be stranded and wrecked altogether. In the
politics of Savonarola we see great wisdom, and yet great sympathy
for freedom. He would give the people all that they were fit for.
He would make all offices elective, but only by the suffrages of
the better part of the people.

But the Prior of St. Mark did not confine himself to constitutional
questions and issues alone. He would remove all political abuses;
he would tax property, and put an end to forced loans and arbitrary
imposts; he would bring about a general pacification, and grant a
general amnesty for political offences; he would guard against the
extortions of the rich, and the usury of the Jews, who lent money
at thirty-three per cent, with compound interest; he secured the
establishment of a bank for charitable loans; he sought to make the
people good citizens, and to advance their temporal as well as
spiritual interests. All his reforms, political or social, were
advocated, however, from the pulpit; so that he was doubtless a
political priest. We, in this country and in these times, have no
very great liking to this union of spiritual and temporal
authority: we would separate and divide this authority.
Protestants would make the functions of the ruler and the priest
forever distinct. But at that time the popes themselves were
secular rulers, as well as spiritual dignitaries. All bishops and
abbots had the charge of political interests. Courts of law were
presided over by priests. Priests were ambassadors to foreign
powers; they were ministers of kings; they had the control of
innumerable secular affairs, now intrusted to laymen. So their
interference with politics did not shock the people of Florence, or
the opinions of the age. It was indeed imperatively called for,
since the clergy were the most learned and influential men of those
times, even in affairs of state. I doubt if the Catholic Church
has ever abrogated or ignored her old right to meddle in the
politics of a state or nation. I do not know, nor do I believe,
that the Catholic clergy in this our country take it upon
themselves to instruct the people in their political duties. No
enlightened Protestant congregation would endure such interference.
No Protestant minister dares ever to discuss direct political
issues from the pulpit, except perhaps on Thanksgiving Day, or in
some rare exigency in public morality. Still less would he venture
to tell his parishioners how they should vote in town-meetings. In
imitation of ancient saints and apostles, he is wisely constrained
from interference in secular and political affairs. But in the
Middle Ages, and the Catholic Church, the priest could be political
in his preaching, since many of his duties were secular.
Savonarola usurped no prerogatives. He refrained from meeting men
in secular vocations. Even in his politics he confined himself to
his sphere in the pulpit. He did not attend the public debates; he
simply preached. He ruled by wisdom, eloquence, and sanctity; and
as he was an oracle, his utterances became a law.

But while he instructed the people in political duties, he paid far
more attention to public morals. He would break up luxury,
extravagance, ostentatious living, unseemly dresses in the house of
God. He was the foe of all levities, all frivolities, all
insidious pleasures. Bad men found no favor in his eyes, and he
exposed their hypocrisies and crimes. He denounced sin, in high
places and low. He did not confine himself to the sins of his own
people alone, but censured those of princes and of other cities.
He embraced all Italy in his glance. He invoked the Lord to take
the Church out of the hands of the Devil, to pour out his wrath on
guilty cities. He throws down a gauntlet of defiance to all
corrupt potentates; he predicts the near approach of calamities; he
foretells the certainty of divine judgment upon all sin; he clothes
himself with the thunders of the Jewish prophets; he seems to
invoke woe, desolation, and destruction. He ascribes the very
invasion of the French to the justice of retribution. "Thy crimes,
O Florence! thy crimes, O Rome! thy crimes, O Italy! are the causes
of these chastisements." And so terrible are his denunciations
that the whole city quakes with fear. Mirandola relates that as
Savonarola's voice sounded like a clap of thunder in the cathedral,
packed to its utmost capacity with the trembling people, a cold
shiver ran through all his bones and the hairs of his head stood on
end. "O Rome!" exclaimed the preacher, "thou shalt be put to the
sword, since thou wilt not be converted. O Italy! confusion upon
confusion shall overtake thee; the confusion of war shall follow
thy sins, and famine and pestilence shall follow after war." Then
he denounces Rome: "O harlot Church! thou hast made thy deformity
apparent to all the world; thou hast multiplied thy fornications in
Italy, in France, in Spain, in every country. Behold, saith the
Lord, I will stretch forth my hand upon thee; I will deliver thee
into the hands of those that hate thee." The burden of his soul is
sin,--sin everywhere, even in the bosom of the Church,--and the
necessity of repentance, of turning to the Lord. He is more than
an Elijah,--he is a John the Baptist. His sermons are chiefly
drawn from the Old Testament, especially from the prophets in their
denunciation of woes; like them, he is stern, awful, sublime. He
does not attack the polity or the constitution of the Church, but
its corruptions. He does not call the Pope a usurper, a fraud, an
impostor; he does not attack the office; but if the Pope is a bad
man he denounces his crimes. He is still the Dominican monk,
owning his allegiance, but demanding the reformation of the head of
the Church, to whom God has given the keys of Saint Peter. Neither
does he meddle with the doctrines of the Church; he does not take
much interest in dogmas. He is not a theologian, but he would
change the habits and manners of the people of Florence. He would
urge throughout Italy a reformation of morals. He sees only the
degeneracy in life; he threatens eternal penalties if sin be
persisted in. He alarms the fears of the people, so that women
part with their ornaments, dress with more simplicity, and walk
more demurely; licentious young men become modest and devout;
instead of the songs of the carnival, religious hymns are sung;
tradesmen forsake their shops for the churches; alms are more
freely given; great scholars become monks; even children bring
their offerings to the Church; a pyramid of "vanities" is burned on
the public square.

And no wonder. A man had appeared at a great crisis in wickedness,
and yet while the people were still susceptible of grand
sentiments; and this man--venerated, austere, impassioned, like an
ancient prophet, like one risen from the dead--denounces woes with
such awful tones, such majestic fervor, such terrible emphasis, as
to break through all apathy, all delusions, and fill the people
with remorse, astonish them by his revelations, and make them
really feel that the supernal powers, armed with the terrors of
Omnipotence, would hurl them into hell unless they repented.

No man in Europe at the time had a more lively and impressive sense
of the necessity of a general reformation than the monk of St.
Mark; but it was a reform in morals, not of doctrine. He saw the
evils of the day--yea, of the Church itself--with perfect
clearness, and demanded redress. He is as sad in view of these
acknowledged evils as Jeremiah was in view of the apostasy of the
Jews; he is as austere in his own life as Elijah or John the
Baptist was. He would not abolish monastic institutions, but he
would reform the lives of the monks,--cure them of gluttony and
sensuality, not shut up their monasteries. He would not rebel
against the authority of the Pope, for even Savonarola believed
that prelate to be the successor of Saint Peter; but he would
prevent the Pope's nepotism and luxury and worldly spirit,--make
him once more a true "servant of the servants of God," even when
clothed with the insignia of universal authority. He would not
give up auricular confession, or masses for the dead, or prayers to
the Virgin Mary, for these were indorsed by venerated ages; but he
would rebuke a priest if found in unseemly places. Whatever was a
sin, when measured by the laws of immutable morality, he would
denounce, whoever was guilty of it; whatever would elevate the
public morals he would advocate, whoever opposed. His morality was
measured by the declaration of Christ and the Apostles, not by the
standard of a corrupt age. He revered the Scriptures, and
incessantly pondered them, and exalted their authority, holding
them to be the ultimate rule of holy living, the everlasting
handbook of travellers to the heavenly Jerusalem. In all respects
he was a good man,--a beautiful type of Christian piety, with fewer
faults than Luther or Calvin had, and as great an enemy as they to
corruptions in State and Church, which he denounced even more
fiercely and passionately. Not even Erasmus pointed out the vices
of the day with more freedom or earnestness. He covered up
nothing; he shut his eyes to nothing.

The difference between Savonarola and Luther was that the Saxon
reformer attacked the root of the corruption; not merely outward
and tangible and patent sins which everybody knew, but also and
more earnestly the special principles of theology and morals which
sustained them, and which logically pushed out would necessarily
have produced them. For instance, he not merely attacked
indulgences, then a crying evil, as peddled by Tetzel and others
like him, for collecting money to support the temporal power of the
popes or build St. Peter's church; but he would show that penance,
on which indulgences are based, is antagonistic to the doctrine
which Paul so forcibly expounded respecting the forgiveness of sins
and the grounds of justification. And Luther saw that all the
evils which good men lamented would continue so long as the false
principles from which they logically sprung were the creed of the
Church. So he directed his giant energies to reform doctrines
rather than morals. His great idea of justification could be
defended only by an appeal to the Scriptures, not to the authority
of councils and learned men. So he made the Scriptures the sole
source of theological doctrine. Savonarola also accepted the
Scriptures, but Luther would put them in the hands of everybody, of
peasants even,--and thus instituted private judgment, which is the
basal pillar of Protestantism. The Catholic theologians never
recognized this right in the sense that Luther understood it, and
to which he was pushed by inexorable logic. The Church was to
remain the interpreter of the doctrinal and disputed points of the

Savonarola was a churchman. He was not a fearless theological
doctor, going wherever logic and the Bible carried him. Hence, he
did not stimulate thought and inquiry as Luther did, nor inaugurate
a great revolutionary movement, which would gradually undermine
papal authority and many institutions which the Catholic Church
indorsed. Had he been a great genius, with his progressive
proclivities, he might have headed a rebellion against papal
authority, which upheld doctrines that logically supported the very
evils he denounced. But he was contented to lop off branches; he
did not dig up the roots. Luther went to the roots, as Calvin did;
as Saint Augustine would have done had there been a necessity in
his day, for the theology of Saint Augustine and Calvin is
essentially the same. It was from Saint Augustine that Calvin drew
his inspiration next after Saint Paul. But Savonarola cared very
little for the discussion of doctrines; he probably hated all
theological speculations, all metaphysical divinity. Yet there is
a closer resemblance between doctrines and morals than most people
are aware of. As a man thinketh, so is he. Hence, the reforms of
Savonarola were temporary, and were not widely extended; for he did
not kindle the intelligence of the age, as did Luther and those
associated with him. There can be no great and listing reform
without an appeal to reason, without the assistance of logic,
without conviction. The house that had been swept and garnished
was re-entered by devils, and the last state was worse than the
first. To have effected a radical and lasting reform, Savonarola
should have gone deeper. He should have exposed the foundations on
which the superstructure of sin was built; he should have
undermined them, and appealed to the reason of the world. He did
no such thing. He simply rebuked the evils, which must needs be,
so long as the root of them is left untouched. And so long as his
influence remained, so long as his voice was listened to, he was
mighty in the reforms at which he aimed,--a reformation of the
morals of those to whom he preached. But when his voice was
hushed, the evils he detested returned, since he had not created
those convictions which bind men together in association;
he had not fanned that spirit of inquiry which is hostile to
ecclesiastical despotism, and which, logically projected, would
subvert the papal throne. The reformation of Luther was a grand
protest against spiritual tyranny. It not only aimed at a purer
life, but it opposed the bondage of the Middle Ages, and all the
superstitious and puerilities and fables which were born and
nurtured in that dark and gloomy period and to which the clergy
clung as a means of power or wealth. Luther called out the
intellect of Germany, exalted liberty of conscience, and appealed
to the dignity of reason. He showed the necessity of learning, in
order to unravel and explain the truths of revelation. He made
piety more exalted by giving it an intelligent stimulus. He looked
to the future rather than the past. He would make use, in his
interpretation of the Bible, of all that literature, science, and
art could contribute. Hence his writings had a wider influence
than could be produced by the fascination of personal eloquence, on
which Savonarola relied, but which Luther made only accessory.

Again, the sermons of the Florentine reformer do not impress us as
they did those to whom they were addressed. They are not logical,
nor doctrinal, nor learned,--not rich in thought, like the sermons
of those divines whom the Reformation produced. They are vehement
denunciations of sin; are eloquent appeals to the heart, to
religious fears and hopes. He would indeed create faith in the
world, not by the dissertations of Paul, but by the agonies of the
dying Christ. He does not instruct; he does not reason. He is
dogmatic and practical. He is too earnest to be metaphysical, or
even theological. He takes it for granted that his hearers know
all the truths necessary for salvation. He enforces the truths
with which they are familiar, not those to be developed by reason
and learning. He appeals, he urges, he threatens; he even
prophesies; he dwells on divine wrath and judgment. He is an
Isaiah foretelling what will happen, rather than a Peter at the Day
of Pentecost.

Savonarola was transcendent in his oratorical gifts, the like of
which has never before nor since been witnessed in Italy. He was a
born orator; as vehement as Demosthenes, as passionate as
Chrysostom, as electrical as Bernard. Nothing could withstand him;
he was a torrent that bore everything before him. His voice was
musical, his attitude commanding, his gestures superb. He was all
alive with his subject. He was terribly in earnest, as if he
believed everything he said, and that what he said were most
momentous truths. He fastened his burning eyes upon his hearers,
who listened with breathless attention, and inspired them with his
sentiments; he made them feel that they were in the very jaws of
destruction, and that there was no hope but in immediate
repentance. His whole frame quivered with emotion, and he sat down
utterly exhausted. His language was intense, not clothing new
thoughts, but riveting old ideas,--the ideas of the Middle Ages;
the fear of hell, the judgments of Almighty God. Who could resist
such fiery earnestness, such a convulsed frame, such quivering
tones, such burning eyes, such dreadful threatenings, such awful
appeals? He was not artistic in the use of words and phrases like
Bourdaloue, but he reached the conscience and the heart like
Whitefield. He never sought to amuse; he would not stoop to any
trifling. He told no stories; he made no witticisms; he used no
tricks. He fell back on truths, no matter whether his hearers
relished them or not; no matter whether they were amused or not.
He was the messenger of God urging men to flee as for their lives,
like Lot when he escaped from Sodom.

Savonarola's manner was as effective as his matter. He was a kind
of Peter the Hermit, preaching a crusade, arousing emotions and
passions, and making everybody feel as he felt. It was life more
than thought which marked his eloquence,--his voice as well as his
ideas, his wonderful electricity, which every preacher must have,
or he preaches to stones. It was himself, even more than his
truths, which made people listen, admire, and quake. All real
orators impress themselves--their own individuality--on their
auditors. They are not actors, who represent other people, and
whom we admire in proportion to their artistic skill in producing
deception. These artists excite admiration, make us forget where
we are and what we are, but kindle no permanent emotions, and teach
no abiding lessons. The eloquent preacher of momentous truths and
interests makes us realize them, in proportion as he feels them
himself. They would fall dead upon us, if ever so grand, unless
intensified by passion, fervor, sincerity, earnestness. Even a
voice has power, when electrical, musical, impassioned, although it
may utter platitudes. But when the impassioned voice rings with
trumpet notes through a vast audience, appealing to what is dearest
to the human soul, lifting the mind to the contemplation of the
sublimest truths and most momentous interests, then there is REAL
eloquence, such as is never heard in the theatre, interested as
spectators may be in the triumphs of dramatic art.

But I have dwelt too long on the characteristics of that eloquence
which produced such a great effect on the people of Florence in the
latter part of the fifteenth century. That ardent, intense, and
lofty monk, world-deep like Dante, not world-wide like Shakspeare,
who filled the cathedral church with eager listeners, was not
destined to uninterrupted triumphs. His career was short; he could
not even retain his influence. As the English people wearied of
the yoke of a Puritan Protector, and hankered for their old
pleasures, so the Florentines remembered the sports and spectacles
and fetes of the old Medicean rule. Savonarola had arrayed against
himself the enemies of popular liberty, the patrons of demoralizing
excitements, the partisans of the banished Medici, and even the
friends and counsellors of the Pope. The dreadful denunciation of
sin in high places was as offensive to the Pope as the exposure of
a tyrannical usurpation was to the family of the old lords of
Florence; and his enemies took counsel together, and schemed for
his overthrow. If the irritating questions and mockeries of
Socrates could not be endured at Athens, how could the bitter
invectives and denunciations of Savonarola find favor at Florence?
The fate of prophets is to be stoned. Martyrdom and persecution,
in some form or other, are as inevitable to the man who sails
against the stream, as a broken constitution and a diseased body
are to a sensualist, a glutton, or a drunkard. Impatience under
rebuke is as certain as the operation of natural law.

The bitterest and most powerful enemy of the Prior of St. Mark was
the Pope himself,--Alexander VI., of the infamous family of the
Borgias,--since his private vices were exposed, and by one whose
order had been especially devoted to the papal empire. In the eyes
of the wicked Pope, the Florentine reformer was a traitor and
conspirator, disloyal and dangerous. At first he wished to silence
him by soft and deceitful letters and tempting bribes, offering to
him a cardinal's hat, and inviting him to Rome. But Savonarola
refused alike the bribe and the invitation. His Lenten sermons
became more violent and daring. "If I have preached and written
anything heretical," said this intrepid monk, "I am willing to make
a public recantation. I have always shown obedience to my church;
but it is my duty to obey God rather than man." This sounds like
Luther at the Diet of Worms; but he was more defenceless than
Luther, since the Saxon reformer was protected by powerful princes,
and was backed by the enthusiasm of Northern Germans. Yet the
Florentine preacher boldly continued his attacks on all
hypocritical religion, and on the vices of Rome, not as incidental
to the system, but extraneous,--the faults of a man or age. The
Pope became furious, to be thus balked by a Dominican monk, and in
one of the cities of Italy,--a city that had not rebelled against
his authority. He complained bitterly to the Florentine
ambassador, of the haughty friar who rebuked and defied him. He
summoned a consistory of fourteen eminent Dominican theologians, to
inquire into his conduct and opinions, and issued a brief
forbidding him to preach, under penalty of excommunication. Yet
Savonarola continued to preach, and more violently than ever. He
renewed his charges against Rome. He even called her a harlot
Church, against whom heaven and earth, angels and devils, equally
brought charges. The Pope then seized the old thunderbolts of the
Gregories and the Clements, and excommunicated the daring monk and
preacher, and threatened the like punishment on all who should
befriend him. And yet Savonarola continued to preach. All Rome
and Italy talked of the audacity of the man. And it was not until
Florence itself was threatened with an interdict for shielding such
a man, that the magistrates of the city were compelled to forbid
his preaching.

The great orator mounted his pulpit March 18, 1498, now four
hundred years ago, and took an affectionate farewell of the people
whom he had led, and appealed to Christ himself as the head of the
Church. It was not till the preacher was silenced by the
magistrates of his own city, that he seems to have rebelled against
the papal authority; and then not so much against the authority of
Rome as against the wicked shepherd himself, who had usurped the
fold. He now writes letters to all the prominent kings and princes
of Europe, to assemble a general council; for the general council
of Constance had passed a resolution that the Pope must call a
general council every ten years, and that, should he neglect to
assemble it, the sovereign powers of the various states and empires
were themselves empowered to collect the scattered members of the
universal Church, to deliberate on its affairs. In his letters to
the kings of France, England, Spain, and Hungary, and the Emperor
of Germany, he denounced the Pope as simoniacal, as guilty of all
the vices, as a disgrace to the station which he held. These
letters seem to have been directed against the man, not against the
system. He aimed at the Pope's ejectment from office, rather than
at the subversion of the office itself,--another mark of the
difference between Savonarola and Luther, since the latter waged an
uncompromising war against Rome herself, against the whole regime
and government and institutions and dogmas of the Catholic Church;
and that is the reason why Catholics hate Luther so bitterly, and
deny to him either virtues or graces, and represent even his
deathbed, as a scene of torment and despair,--an instance of that
pursuing hatred which goes beyond the grave; like that of the
zealots of the Revolution in France, who dug up the bones of the
ancient kings from those vaults where they had reposed for
centuries, and scattered their ashes to the winds.

Savonarola hoped the Christian world would come to his rescue; but
his letters were intercepted, and reached the eye of Alexander VI.,
who now bent the whole force of the papal empire to destroy that
bold reformer who had assailed his throne. And it seems that a
change took place in Florence itself in popular sentiment. The
Medicean party obtained the ascendency in the government. The
people--the fickle people--began to desert Savonarola; and
especially when he refused to undergo the ordeal of fire,--one of
the relics of Mediaeval superstition,--the people felt that they
had been cheated out of their amusement, for they had waited
impatiently the whole day in the public square to see the
spectacle. He finally consented to undergo the ordeal, provided he
might carry the crucifix. To this his enemies would not consent.
He then laid aside the crucifix, but insisted on entering the fire
with the sacrament in his hand. His persecutors would not allow
this either, and the ordeal did not take place.

At last his martyrdom approaches: he is led to prison. The
magistrates of the city send to Rome for absolution for having
allowed the Prior to preach. His enemies busy themselves in
collecting evidence against him,--for what I know not, except that
he had denounced corruption and sin, and had predicted woe. His
two friends are imprisoned and interrogated with him, Fra Domenico
da Pescia and Fra Silvestro Maruffi, who are willing to die for
him. He and they are now subjected to most cruel tortures. As the
result of bodily agony his mind begins to waver. His answers are
incoherent; he implores his tormentors to end his agonies; he cries
out, with a voice enough to melt a heart of stone, "Take, oh, take
my life!" Yet he confessed nothing to criminate himself. What
they wished him especially to confess was that he had pretended to
be a prophet, since he had predicted calamities. But all men are
prophets, in one sense, when they declare the certain penalties of
sin, from which no one can escape, though he take the wings of the
morning and fly to the uttermost parts of the sea.

Savonarola thus far had remained firm, but renewed examinations and
fresh tortures took place. For a whole month his torments were
continuous. In one day he was drawn up by a rope fourteen times,
and then suddenly dropped, until all his muscles quivered with
anguish. Had he been surrounded by loving disciples, like Latimer
at the burning pile, he might have summoned more strength; but
alone, in a dark inquisitorial prison, subjected to increasing
torture among bitter foes, he did not fully defend his visions and
prophecies; and then his extorted confessions were diabolically
altered. But that was all they could get out of him,--that he had
prophesied. In all matters of faith he was sound. The inquisitors
were obliged to bring their examination to an end. They could find
no fault with him, and yet they were determined on his death. The
Government of Florence consented to it and hastened it, for a
Medici again held the highest office of the State.

Nothing remained to the imprisoned and tortured friar but to
prepare for his execution. In his supreme trial he turned to the
God in whom he believed. In the words of the dying Xavier, on the
Island of Sancian, he exclaimed, In te domine speravi, non
confundar in eternum. "O Lord," he prays, "a thousand times hast
thou wiped out my iniquity. I do not rely on my own justification,
but on thy mercy." His few remaining days in prison were passed in
holy meditation.

At last the officers of the papal commission arrive. The tortures
are renewed, and also the examinations, with the same result. No
fault could be found with his doctrines. "But a dead enemy," said
they, "fights no more." He is condemned to execution. The
messengers of death arrive at his cell, and find him on his knees.
He is overpowered by his sufferings and vigils, and can with
difficulty be kept from sleep. But he arouses himself, and passes
the night in prayer, and administers the elements of redemption to
his doomed companions, and closes with this prayer: "Lord, I know
thou art that perfect Trinity,--Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; I know
that thou art the eternal Word; that thou didst descend from heaven
into the bosom of Mary; that thou didst ascend upon the cross to
shed thy blood for our sins. I pray thee that by that blood I may
have remission for my sins." The simple faith of Paul, of
Augustine, of Pascal! He then partook of the communion, and
descended to the public square, while the crowd gazed silently and
with trepidation, and was led with his companions to the first
tribunal, where he was disrobed of his ecclesiastical dress. Then
they were led to another tribunal, and delivered to the secular
arm; then to another, where sentence of death was read; and then to
the place of execution,--not a burning funeral pyre, but a
scaffold, which mounting, composed, calm, absorbed, Savonarola
submitted his neck to the hangman, in the forty-fifth year of his
life: a martyr to the cause of Christ, not for an attack on the
Church, or its doctrines, or its institutions, but for having
denounced the corruption and vices of those who ruled it,--for
having preached against sin.

Thus died one of the greatest and best men of his age, one of the
truest and purest whom the Catholic Church has produced in any age.
He was stern, uncompromising, austere, but a reformer and a saint;
a man who was merciful and generous in the possession of power; an
enlightened statesman, a sound theologian, and a fearless preacher
of that righteousness which exalteth a nation. He had no vices, no
striking defects. He lived according to the rules of the convent
he governed with the same wisdom that he governed a city, and he
died in the faith of the primitive apostles. His piety was
monastic, but his spirit was progressive, sympathizing with
liberty, advocating public morality. He was unselfish,
disinterested, and true to his Church, his conscience, and his
cause,--a noble specimen both of a man and Christian, whose deeds
and example form part of the inheritance of an admiring posterity.
We pity his closing days, after such a career of power and
influence; but we may as well compassionate Socrates or Paul. The
greatest lights of the world have gone out in martyrdom, to be
extinguished, however, only for a time, and then to loom up again
in another age, and burn with inextinguishable brightness to
remotest generations; as examples of the power of faith and truth
in this wicked and rebellious world,--a world to be finally
redeemed by the labors and religion of just such men, whose days
are days of sadness, protest, and suffering, and whose hours of
triumph and exaltation are not like those of conquerors, nor like
those whose eyes stand out with fatness, but few and far between.
"I have loved righteousness, I have hated iniquity," said the great
champion of the Mediaeval Church, "and therefore I die in exile."

In ten years after this ignominious execution, Raphael painted the
martyr among the sainted doctors of the Church in the halls of the
Vatican, and future popes did justice to his memory, for he
inaugurated that reform movement in the Catholic Church itself
which took place within fifty years after his death. In one sense
he was the precursor of Loyola, of Xavier, and of Aquaviva,--those
illustrious men who headed the counter-reformation; Jesuits indeed,
but ardent in piety, and enlightened by the spirit of a progressive
age. "He was the first," says Villari, "in the fifteenth century,
to make men feel that a new light had awakened the human race; and
thus he was a prophet of a new civilization,--the forerunner of
Luther, of Bacon, of Descartes. Hence the drama of his life
became, after his death, the drama of Europe. In the course of a
single generation after Luther had declared his mission, the spirit
of the Church of Rome underwent a change. From the halls of the
Vatican to the secluded hermitages of the Apennines this revival
was felt. Instead of a Borgia there reigned a Caraffa." And it is
remarkable that from the day that the counter-reformation in the
Catholic Church was headed by the early Jesuits, Protestantism
gained no new victories, and in two centuries so far declined in
piety and zeal that the cities which witnessed the noblest triumphs
of Luther and Calvin were disgraced by a boasting rationalism, to
be succeeded again in our times by an arrogance of scepticism which
has had no parallel since the days of Democritus and Lucretius.
"It was the desire of Savonarola that reason, religion, and liberty
might meet in harmonious union, but he did not think a new system
of religious doctrines was necessary."

The influence of such a man cannot pass away, and has not passed
away, for it cannot be doubted that his views have been embraced by
enlightened Catholics from his day to ours,--by such men as Pascal,
Fenelon, and Lacordaire, and thousands like them, who prefer
ritualism and auricular confession, and penance, monasticism, and
an ecclesiastical monarch, and all the machinery of a complicated
hierarchy, with all the evils growing out of papal domination, to
rationalism, sectarian dissensions, irreverence, license, want of
unity, want of government, and even dispensation from the marriage
vow. Which is worse, the physical arm of the beast, or the maniac
soul of a lying prophet? Which is worse, the superstition and
narrowness which darken the mind and the spirit, or that unbounded
toleration which smiles on those audacious infidels who cloak their
cruel attacks on the faith of Christians with the name of a
progressive civilization?--and so far advanced that one of these
new lights, ignorant, perhaps, of everything except of the fossils
and shells and bugs and gases of the hole he has bored in, assumes
to know more of the mysteries of creation and the laws of the
universe than Moses and David and Paul, and all the Bacons and
Newtons that ever lived? Names are nothing; it is the spirit, the
animus, which is everything. It is the soul which permeates a
system, that I look at. It is the Devil from which I would flee,
whatever be his name, and though he assume the form of an angel of
light, or cunningly try to persuade me, and ingeniously argue, that
there is no God. True and good Catholics and true and good
Protestants have ever been united in one thing,--IN THIS BELIEF,
that there is a God who made the heaven and the earth, and that
there is a Christ who made atonement for the sins of the world. It
is good morals, faith, and love to which both Catholics and
Protestants are exhorted by the Apostles. When either Catholics or
Protestants accept the one faith and the one Lord which
Christianity alone reveals, then they equally belong to the grand
army of spiritual warriors under the banner of the Cross, though
they may march under different generals and in different divisions
and they will receive the same consolations in this world, and the
same rewards in the world to come.


Villari's Life of Savonarola; Biographie Universelle; Ranke's
History of the Popes. There is much in "Romola," by George Eliot.
Life of Savonarola, by the Prince of Mirandola.


A.D. 1475-1564.


Michael Angelo Buonarroti--one of the Great Lights of the new
civilization--may stand as the most fitting representative of
reviving art in Europe; also as an illustrious example of those
virtues which dignify intellectual pre-eminence. He was superior,
in all that is sterling and grand in character, to any man of his
age,--certainly in Italy; exhibiting a rugged, stern greatness
which reminds us of Dante, and of other great benefactors; nurtured
in the school of sorrow and disappointment, leading a checkered
life, doomed to envy, ingratitude, and neglect; rarely understood,
and never fully appreciated even by those who employed and honored
him. He was an isolated man; grave, abstracted, lonely, yet not
unhappy, since his world was that of glorious and exalting ideas,
even those of grace, beauty, majesty, and harmony,--the world which
Plato lived in, and in which all great men live who seek to rise
above the transient, the false, and puerile in common life. He was
also an original genius, remarkable in everything he attempted,
whether as sculptor, painter, or architect, and even as poet. He
saw the archetypes of everything beautiful and grand, which are
invisible except to those who are almost divinely gifted; and he
had the practical skill to embody them in permanent forms, so that
all ages may study those forms, and rise through them to the realms
in which his soul lived.

Michael Angelo not only created, but he reproduced. He reproduced
the glories of Grecian and Roman art. He restored the old
civilization in his pictures, his statues, and his grand edifices.
He revived a taste for what is imperishable in antiquity. As such
he is justly regarded as an immortal benefactor; for it is art
which gives to nations culture, refinement, and the enjoyment of
the beautiful. Art diverts the mind from low and commonplace
pursuits, exalts the imagination, and makes its votary indifferent
to the evils of life. It raises the soul into regions of peace and

But art is most ennobling when it is inspired by lofty and
consecrated sentiments,--like those of religion, patriotism, and
love. Now ancient art was consecrated to Paganism. Of course
there were noble exceptions; but as a general rule temples were
erected in honor of heathen deities. Statues represented mere
physical strength and beauty and grace. Pictures portrayed the
charms of an unsanctified humanity. Hence ancient art did very
little to arrest human degeneracy; facilitated rather than retarded
the ruin of states and empires, since it did not stimulate the
virtues on which the strength of man is based: it did not check
those depraved tastes and habits which are based on egotism.

Now the restorers of ancient art cannot be said to have contributed
to the moral elevation of the new races, unless they avoided the
sensualism of Greece and Rome, and appealed purely to those eternal
ideas which the human mind, even under Pagan influences, sometimes
conceived, and which do not conflict with Christianity itself.

In considering the life and labors of Michael Angelo, then, we are
to examine whether, in the classical glories of antiquity which he
substituted for the Gothic and Mediaeval, he advanced civilization
in the noblest sense; and moreover, whether he carried art to a
higher degree than was ever attained by the Greeks and Romans, and
hence became a benefactor of the world.

In considering these points I shall not attempt a minute criticism
of his works. I can only seize on the great outlines, the salient
points of those productions which have given him immortality. No
lecture can be exhaustive. If it only prove suggestive, it has
reached its end.

Michael Angelo stands out in history in the three aspects of
sculptor, painter, and architect; and that too in a country devoted
to art, and in an age when Italy won all her modern glories,
arising from the matchless works which that age produced. Indeed,
those works will probably never be surpassed, since all the
energies of a great nation were concentrated upon their production,
even as our own age confines itself chiefly to mechanical
inventions and scientific research and speculation. What railroads
and telegraphs and spindles and chemical tests and compounds are to
us; what philosophy was to the Greeks; what government and
jurisprudence were to the Romans; what cathedrals and metaphysical
subtilties were to the Middle Ages; what theological inquiries were
to the divines of the seventeenth century; what social urbanities
and refinements were to the French in the eighteenth century,--the
fine arts were to the Italians in the sixteenth century: a fact too
commonplace to dwell upon, and which will be conceded when we bear
in mind that no age has been distinguished for everything, and that


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