Now, at the very moment when this faith, innocence, and ingenuity were on the point of springing up into their fruitage, comes the Northern invasion; of the real character of which you can gain a far truer estimate by studying Alfred's former resolute contest with and victory over the native Norman in his paganism, than by your utmost endeavours to conceive the character of the afterwards invading Norman, disguised, but not changed, by Christianity. The Norman could not, in the nature of him, become a Christian at all; and he never did;—he only became, at his best, the enemy of the Saracen. What he was, and what alone he was capable of being, I will try to-day to explain.
And here I must advise you that in all points of history relating to the period between 800 and 1200, you will find M. Viollet le Duc, incidentally throughout his 'Dictionary of Architecture,' the best-informed, most intelligent, and most thoughtful of guides. His knowledge of architecture, carried down into the most minutely practical details,—(which are often the most significant), and embracing, over the entire surface of France, the buildings even of the most secluded villages; his artistic enthusiasm, balanced by the acutest sagacity, and his patriotism, by the frankest candour, render his analysis of history during that active and constructive period the most valuable known to me, and certainly, in its field, exhaustive. Of the later nationality his account is imperfect, owing to his professional interest in the mere science of architecture, and comparative insensibility to the power of sculpture;—but of the time with which we are now concerned, whatever he tells you must be regarded with grateful attention.
I introduce, therefore, the Normans to you, on their first entering France, under his descriptive terms of them.
[Footnote 12: Article "Architecture," vol. i., p. 138.]
"As soon as they were established on the soil, these barbarians became the most hardy and active builders. Within the space of a century and a half, they had covered the country on which they had definitely landed, with religious, monastic, and civil edifices, of an extent and richness then little common. It is difficult to suppose that they had brought from Norway the elements of art, but they were possessed by a persisting and penetrating spirit; their brutal force did not want for grandeur. Conquerors, they raised castles to assure their domination; they soon recognized the Moral force of the clergy, and endowed it richly. Eager always to attain their end, when once they saw it, they never left one of their enterprises unfinished, and in that they differed completely from the Southern inhabitants of Gaul. Tenacious extremely, they were perhaps the only ones among the barbarians established in France who had ideas of order; the only ones who knew how to preserve their conquests, and compose a state. They found the remains of the Carthaginian arts on the territory where they planted themselves, they mingled with those their national genius, positive, grand, and yet supple."
[Footnote 13: They had brought some, of a variously Charybdic, Serpentine, and Diabolic character.—J.R.]
Supple, 'Delie,'—capable of change and play of the mental muscle, in the way that savages are not. I do not, myself, grant this suppleness to the Norman, the less because another sentence of M. le Duc's, occurring incidentally in his account of the archivolt, is of extreme counter-significance, and wide application. "The Norman arch," he says, "is never derived from traditional classic forms, but only from mathematical arrangement of line." Yes; that is true: the Norman arch is never derived from classic forms. The cathedral, whose aisles you saw or might have seen, yesterday, interpenetrated with light, whose vaults you might have heard prolonging the sweet divisions of majestic sound, would have been built in that stately symmetry by Norman law, though never an arch at Rome had risen round her field of blood,—though never her Sublician bridge had been petrified by her Augustan pontifices. But the decoration, though not the structure of those arches, they owed to another race, whose words they stole without understanding, though three centuries before, the Saxon understood, and used, to express the most solemn majesty of his Kinghood,—
"EGO, EDGAR, TOTIVS ALBIONIS"—
not Rex, that would have meant the King of Kent or Mercia, not of England,—no, nor Imperator; that would have meant only the profane power of Rome, but BASILEVS, meaning a King who reigned with sacred authority given by Heaven and Christ.
[Footnote 14: Of Oxford, during the afternoon service.]
[Footnote 15: See the concluding section of the lecture.]
With far meaner thoughts, both of themselves and their powers, the Normans set themselves to build impregnable military walls, and sublime religious ones, in the best possible practical ways; but they no more made books of their church fronts than of their bastion flanks; and cared, in the religion they accepted, neither for its sentiments nor its promises, but only for its immediate results on national order.
As I read them, they were men wholly of this world, bent on doing the most in it, and making the best of it that they could;—men, to their death, of Deed, never pausing, changing, repenting, or anticipating, more than the completed square, [Greek: 'aneu psogou], of their battle, their keep, and their cloister. Soldiers before and after everything, they learned the lockings and bracings of their stones primarily in defence against the battering-ram and the projectile, and esteemed the pure circular arch for its distributed and equal strength more than for its beauty. "I believe again," says M. le Duc, "that the feudal castle never arrived at its perfectness till after the Norman invasion, and that this race of the North was the first to apply a defensive system under unquestionable laws, soon followed by the nobles of the Continent, after they had, at their own expense, learned their superiority."
[Footnote 16: Article "Chateau," vol. iii, p. 65.]
The next sentence is a curious one. I pray your attention to it. "The defensive system of the Norman is born of a profound sentiment of distrust and cunning, foreign to the character of the Frank." You will find in all my previous notices of the French, continual insistance upon their natural Franchise, and also, if you take the least pains in analysis of their literature down to this day, that the idea of falseness is to them indeed more hateful than to any other European nation. To take a quite cardinal instance. If you compare Lucian's and Shakespeare's Timon with Moliere's Alceste, you will find the Greek and English misanthropes dwell only on men's ingratitude to themselves, but Alceste, on their falsehood to each other.
Now hear M. le Duc farther:
"The castles built between the tenth and twelfth centuries along the Loire, Gironde, and Seine, that is to say, along the lines of the Norman invasions, and in the neighbourhood of their possessions, have a peculiar and uniform character which one finds neither in central France, nor in Burgundy, nor can there be any need for us to throw light on (faire ressortir) the superiority of the warrior spirit of the Normans, during the later times of the Carlovingian epoch, over the spirit of the chiefs of Frank descent, established on the Gallo-Roman soil." There's a bit of honesty in a Frenchman for you!
I have just said that they valued religion chiefly for its influence of order in the present world: being in this, observe, as nearly as may be the exact reverse of modern believers, or persons who profess to be such,—of whom it may be generally alleged, too truly, that they value religion with respect to their future bliss rather than their present duty; and are therefore continually careless of its direct commands, with easy excuse to themselves for disobedience to them. Whereas the Norman, finding in his own heart an irresistible impulse to action, and perceiving himself to be set, with entirely strong body, brain, and will, in the midst of a weak and dissolute confusion of all things, takes from the Bible instantly into his conscience every exhortation to Do and to Govern; and becomes, with all his might and understanding, a blunt and rough servant, knecht, or knight of God, liable to much misapprehension, of course, as to the services immediately required of him, but supposing, since the whole make of him, outside and in, is a soldier's, that God meant him for a soldier, and that he is to establish, by main force, the Christian faith and works all over the world so far as he comprehends them; not merely with the Mahometan indignation against spiritual error, but with a sound and honest soul's dislike of material error, and resolution to extinguish that, even if perchance found in the spiritual persons to whom, in their office, he yet rendered total reverence.
Which force and faith in him I may best illustrate by merely putting together the broken paragraphs of Sismondi's account of the founding of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily: virtually contemporary with the conquest of England.
"The Normans surpassed all the races of the west in their ardour for pilgrimages. They would not, to go into the Holy Land, submit to the monotony of a long sea voyage—the rather that they found not on the Mediterranean the storms or dangers they had rejoiced to encounter on their own sea. They traversed by land the whole of France and Italy, trusting to their swords to procure the necessary subsistence, if the charity of the faithful did not enough provide for it with alms. The towns of Naples, Amalfi, Gaeta, and Bari, held constant commerce with Syria; and frequent miracles, it was believed, illustrated the Monte Cassino (St. Benedict again!) on the road of Naples, and the Mount of Angels (Garganus) above Bari." (Querceta Gargani—verily, laborant; now, et orant.) "The pilgrims wished to visit during their journey the monasteries built on these two mountains, and therefore nearly always, either going or returning to the Holy Land, passed through Magna Graecia.
[Footnote 17: I give Sismondi's idea as it stands, but there was no question in the matter of monotony or of danger. The journey was made on foot because it was the most laborious way, and the most humble.]
[Footnote 18: See farther on, p. 110, the analogies with English arrangements of the same kind.]
"In one of the earliest years of the eleventh century, about forty of these religious travellers, having returned from the Holy Land, chanced to have met together in Salerno at the moment when a small Saracen fleet came to insult the town, and demand of it a military contribution. The inhabitants of South Italy, at this time, abandoned to the delights of their enchanted climate, had lost nearly all military courage. The Salernitani saw with astonishment forty Norman knights, after having demanded horses and arms from the Prince of Salerno, order the gates of the town to be opened, charge the Saracens fearlessly, and put them to flight. The Salernitani followed, however, the example given them by these brave warriors, and those of the Mussulmans who escaped their swords were forced to re-embark in all haste.
"The Prince of Salerno, Guaimar III., tried in vain to keep the warrior-pilgrims at his court: but at his solicitation other companies established themselves on the rocks of Salerno and Amalfi, until, on Christmas Day, 1041, (exactly a quarter of a century before the coronation here at Westminster of the Conqueror,) they gathered their scattered forces at Aversa, twelve groups of them under twelve chosen counts, and all under the Lombard Ardoin, as commander-in-chief." Be so good as to note that,—a marvellous key-note of historical fact about the unjesting Lombards, I cannot find the total Norman number: the chief contingent, under William of the Iron Arm, the son of Tancred of Hauteville, was only of three hundred knights; the Count of Aversa's troop, of the same number, is named as an important part of the little army—admit it for ten times Tancred's, three thousand men in all. At Aversa, these three thousand men form, coolly on Christmas Day, 1041, the design of—well, I told you they didn't design much, only, now we're here, we may as well, while we're about it,—overthrow the Greek empire! That was their little game!—a Christmas mumming to purpose. The following year, the whole of Apulia was divided among them.
[Footnote 19: In Lombardy, south of Pavia.]
I will not spoil, by abstracting, the magnificent following history of Robert Guiscard, the most wonderful soldier of that or any other time: I leave you to finish it for yourselves, only asking you to read together with it, the sketch, in Turner's history of the Anglo-Saxons, of Alfred's long previous war with the Norman Hasting; pointing out to you for foci of character in each contest, the culminating incidents of naval battle. In Guiscard's struggle with the Greeks, he encounters for their chief naval force the Venetian fleet under the Doge Domenico Selvo. The Venetians are at this moment undoubted masters in all naval warfare; the Normans are worsted easily the first day,—the second day, fighting harder, they are defeated again, and so disastrously that the Venetian Doge takes no precautions against them on the third day, thinking them utterly disabled. Guiscard attacks him again on the third day, with the mere wreck of his own ships, and defeats the tired and amazed Italians finally!
The sea-fight between Alfred's ships and those of Hasting, ought to be still more memorable to us. Alfred, as I noticed in last lecture, had built war ships nearly twice as long as the Normans', swifter, and steadier on the waves. Six Norman ships were ravaging the Isle of Wight; Alfred sent nine of his own to take them. The King's fleet found the Northmen's embayed, and three of them aground. The three others engaged Alfred's nine, twice their size; two of the Viking ships were taken, but the third escaped, with only five men! A nation which verily took its pleasures in its Deeds.
But before I can illustrate farther either their deeds or their religion, I must for an instant meet the objection which I suppose the extreme probity of the nineteenth century must feel acutely against these men,—that they all lived by thieving.
Without venturing to allude to the raison d'etre of the present French and English Stock Exchanges, I will merely ask any of you here, whether of Saxon or Norman blood, to define for himself what he means by the "possession of India." I have no doubt that you all wish to keep India in order, and in like manner I have assured you that Duke William wished to keep England in order. If you will read the lecture on the life of Sir Herbert Edwardes, which I hope to give in London after finishing this course, you will see how a Christian British officer can, and does, verily, and with his whole heart, keep in order such part of India as may be entrusted to him, and in so doing, secure our Empire. But the silent feeling and practice of the nation about India is based on quite other motives than Sir Herbert's. Every mutiny, every danger, every terror, and every crime, occurring under, or paralyzing, our Indian legislation, arises directly out of our national desire to live on the loot of India, and the notion always entertained by English young gentlemen and ladies of good position, falling in love with each other without immediate prospect of establishment in Belgrave Square, that they can find in India, instantly on landing, a bungalow ready furnished with the loveliest fans, china, and shawls,—ices and sherbet at command,—four-and-twenty slaves succeeding each other hourly to swing the punkah, and a regiment with a beautiful band to "keep order" outside, all round the house.
[Footnote 20: This was prevented by the necessity for the re-arrangement of my terminal Oxford lectures: I am now preparing that on Sir Herbert for publication in a somewhat expanded form.]
Entreating your pardon for what may seem rude in these personal remarks, I will further entreat you to read my account of the death of Coeur de Lion in the third number of 'Fors Clavigera'—and also the scenes in 'Ivanhoe' between Coeur de Lion and Locksley; and commending these few passages to your quiet consideration, I proceed to give you another anecdote or two of the Normans in Italy, twelve years later than those given above, and, therefore, only thirteen years before the battle of Hastings.
Their division of South Italy among them especially, and their defeat of Venice, had alarmed everybody considerably,—especially the Pope, Leo IX., who did not understand this manifestation of their piety. He sent to Henry III. of Germany, to whom he owed his Popedom, for some German knights, and got five hundred spears; gathered out of all Apulia, Campania, and the March of Ancona, what Greek and Latin troops were to be had, to join his own army of the patrimony of St. Peter; and the holy Pontiff, with this numerous army, but no general, began the campaign by a pilgrimage with all his troops to Monte Cassino, in order to obtain, if it might be, St. Benedict for general.
Against the Pope's collected masses, with St. Benedict, their contemplative but at first inactive general, stood the little army of Normans,—certainly not more than the third of their number—but with Robert Guiscard for captain, and under him his brother, Humphrey of Hauteville, and Richard of Aversa. Not in fear, but in devotion, they prayed the Pope 'avec instance,'—to say on what conditions they could appease his anger, and live in peace under him. But the Pope would hear of nothing but their evacuation of Italy. Whereupon, they had to settle the question in the Norman manner.
The two armies met in front of Civitella, on Waterloo day, 18th June, thirteen years, as I said, before the battle of Hastings. The German knights were the heart of the Pope's army, but they were only five hundred; the Normans surrounded them first, and slew them, nearly to a man—and then made extremely short work with the Italians and Greeks. The Pope, with the wreck of them, fled into Civitella; but the townspeople dared not defend their walls, and thrust the Pope himself out of their gates—to meet, alone, the Norman army.
He met it, not alone, St. Benedict being with him now, when he had no longer the strength of man to trust in.
The Normans, as they approached him, threw themselves on their knees,—covered themselves with dust, and implored his pardon and his blessing.
There's a bit of poetry—if you like,—but a piece of steel-clad fact also, compared to which the battle of Hastings and Waterloo both, were mere boys' squabbles.
You don't suppose, you British schoolboys, that you overthrew Napoleon—you? Your prime Minister folded up the map of Europe at the thought of him. Not you, but the snows of Heaven, and the hand of Him who dasheth in pieces with a rod of iron. He casteth forth His ice like morsels,—who can stand before His cold?
But, so far as you have indeed the right to trust in the courage of your own hearts, remember also—it is not in Norman nor Saxon, but in Celtic race that your real strength lies. The battles both of Waterloo and Alma were won by Irish and Scots—by the terrible Scots Greys, and by Sir Colin's Highlanders. Your 'thin red line,' was kept steady at Alma only by Colonel Yea's swearing at them.
But the old Pope, alone against a Norman army, wanted nobody to swear at him. Steady enough he, having somebody to bless him, instead of swear at him. St. Benedict, namely; whose (memory shall we say?) helped him now at his pinch in a singular manner,—for the Normans, having got the old man's forgiveness, vowed themselves his feudal servants; and for seven centuries afterwards the whole kingdom of Naples remained a fief of St. Peter,—won for him thus by a single man, unarmed, against three thousand Norman knights, captained by Robert Guiscard!
A day of deeds, gentlemen, to some purpose,—that 18th of June, anyhow.
Here, in the historical account of Norman character, I must unwillingly stop for to-day—because, as you choose to spend your University money in building ball-rooms instead of lecture-rooms, I dare not keep you much longer in this black hole, with its nineteenth century ventilation. I try your patience—and tax your breath—only for a few minutes more in drawing the necessary corollaries respecting Norman art.
[Footnote 21: Given at much greater length in the lecture, with diagrams from Iffley and Poictiers, without which the text of them would be unintelligible. The sum of what I said was a strong assertion of the incapacity of the Normans for any but the rudest and most grotesque sculpture,—Poictiers being, on the contrary, examined and praised as Gallic-French—not Norman.]
How far the existing British nation owes its military prowess to the blood of Normandy and Anjou, I have never examined its genealogy enough to tell you;—but this I can tell you positively, that whatever constitutional order or personal valour the Normans enforced or taught among the nations they conquered, they did not at first attempt with their own hands to rival them in any of their finer arts, but used both Greek and Saxon sculptors, either as slaves, or hired workmen, and more or less therefore chilled and degraded the hearts of the men thus set to servile, or at best, hireling, labour.
In 1874, I went to see Etna, Scylla, Charybdis, and the tombs of the Norman Kings at Palermo; surprised, as you may imagine, to find that there wasn't a stroke nor a notion of Norman work in them. They are, every atom, done by Greeks, and are as pure Greek as the temple of AEgina; but more rich and refined. I drew with accurate care, and with measured profile of every moulding, the tomb built for Roger II. (afterwards Frederick II. was laid in its dark porphyry). And it is a perfect type of the Greek-Christian form of tomb—temple over sarcophagus, in which the pediments rise gradually, as time goes on, into acute angles—get pierced in the gable with foils, and their sculptures thrown outside on their flanks, and become at last in the fourteenth century, the tombs of Verona. But what is the meaning of the Normans employing these Greek slaves for their work in Sicily (within thirty miles of the field of Himera)? Well, the main meaning is that though the Normans could build, they couldn't carve, and were wise enough not to try to, when they couldn't, as you do now all over this intensely comic and tragic town: but, here in England, they only employed the Saxon with a grudge, and therefore being more and more driven to use barren mouldings without sculpture, gradually developed the structural forms of archivolt, which breaking into the lancet, brighten and balance themselves into the symmetry of early English Gothic.
But even for the first decoration of the archivolt itself, they were probably indebted to the Greeks in a degree I never apprehended, until by pure happy chance, a friend gave me the clue to it just as I was writing the last pages of this lecture.
In the generalization of ornament attempted in the first volume of the 'Stones of Venice,' I supposed the Norman zigzag (and with some practical truth) to be derived from the angular notches with which the blow of an axe can most easily decorate, or at least vary, the solid edge of a square fillet. My good friend, and supporter, and for some time back the single trustee of St. George's Guild, Mr. George Baker, having come to Oxford on Guild business, I happened to show him the photographs of the front of Iffley church, which had been collected for this lecture; and immediately afterwards, in taking him through the schools, stopped to show him the Athena of AEgina as one of the most important of the Greek examples lately obtained for us by Professor Richmond. The statue is (rightly) so placed that in looking up to it, the plait of hair across the forehead is seen in a steeply curved arch. "Why," says Mr. Baker, pointing to it, "there's the Norman arch of Iffley." Sure enough, there it exactly was: and a moment's reflection showed me how easily, and with what instinctive fitness, the Norman builders, looking to the Greeks as their absolute masters in sculpture, and recognizing also, during the Crusades, the hieroglyphic use of the zigzag, for water, by the Egyptians, might have adopted this easily attained decoration at once as the sign of the element over which they reigned, and of the power of the Greek goddess who ruled both it and them.
I do not in the least press your acceptance of such a tradition, nor for the rest, do I care myself whence any method of ornament is derived, if only, as a stranger, you bid it reverent welcome. But much probability is added to the conjecture by the indisputable transition of the Greek egg and arrow moulding into the floral cornices of Saxon and other twelfth century cathedrals in Central France. These and other such transitions and exaltations I will give you the materials to study at your leisure, after illustrating in my next lecture the forces of religious imagination by which all that was most beautiful in them was inspired.
(NOV. 8, 1884.)
THE PLEASURES OF FANCY.
COEUR DE LION TO ELIZABETH
(1189 TO 1558).
In using the word "Fancy," for the mental faculties of which I am to speak to-day, I trust you, at your leisure, to read the Introductory Note to the second volume of 'Modern Painters' in the small new edition, which gives sufficient reason for practically including under the single term Fancy, or Fantasy, all the energies of the Imagination,—in the terms of the last sentence of that preface,—"the healthy, voluntary, and necessary, action of the highest powers of the human mind, on subjects properly demanding and justifying their exertion."
[Footnote 22: Meaning that all healthy minds possess imagination, and use it at will, under fixed laws of truthful perception and memory.]
I must farther ask you to read, in the same volume, the close of the chapter 'Of Imagination Penetrative,' pp. 120 to 130, of which the gist, which I must give as the first principle from which we start in our to-day's inquiry, is that "Imagination, rightly so called, has no food, no delight, no care, no perception, except of truth; it is for ever looking under masks, and burning up mists; no fairness of form, no majesty of seeming, will satisfy it; the first condition of its existence is incapability of being deceived." In that sentence, which is a part, and a very valuable part, of the original book, I still adopted and used unnecessarily the ordinary distinction between Fancy and Imagination—Fancy concerned with lighter things, creating fairies or centaurs, and Imagination creating men; and I was in the habit always of implying by the meaner word Fancy, a voluntary Fallacy, as Wordsworth does in those lines to his wife, making of her a mere lay figure for the drapery of his fancy—
Such if thou wert, in all men's view An universal show, What would my Fancy have to do, My feelings to bestow.
But you will at once understand the higher and more universal power which I now wish you to understand by the Fancy, including all imaginative energy, correcting these lines of Wordsworth's to a more worthy description of a true lover's happiness. When a boy falls in love with a girl, you say he has taken a fancy for her; but if he love her rightly, that is to say for her noble qualities, you ought to say he has taken an imagination for her; for then he is endued with the new light of love which sees and tells of the mind in her,—and this neither falsely nor vainly. His love does not bestow, it discovers, what is indeed most precious in his mistress, and most needful for his own life and happiness. Day by day, as he loves her better, he discerns her more truly; and it is only the truth of his love that does so. Falsehood to her, would at once disenchant and blind him.
[Footnote 23: Vide pp. 124-5.]
In my first lecture of this year, I pointed out to you with what extreme simplicity and reality the Christian faith must have presented itself to the Northern Pagan's mind, in its distinction from his former confused and monstrous mythology. It was also in that simplicity and tangible reality of conception, that this Faith became to them, and to the other savage nations of Europe, Tutress of the real power of their imagination and it became so, only in so far as it indeed conveyed to them statements which, however in some respects mysterious, were yet most literally and brightly true, as compared with their former conceptions. So that while the blind cunning of the savage had produced only misshapen logs or scrawls; the seeing imagination of the Christian painters created, for them and for all the world, the perfect types of the Virgin and of her Son; which became, indeed, Divine, by being, with the most affectionate truth, human.
And the association of this truth in loving conception, with the general honesty and truth of the character, is again conclusively shown in the feelings of the lover to his mistress; which we recognize as first reaching their height in the days of chivalry. The truth and faith of the lover, and his piety to Heaven, are the foundation, in his character, of all the joy in imagination which he can receive from the conception of his lady's—now no more mortal—beauty. She is indeed transfigured before him; but the truth of the transfiguration is greater than that of the lightless aspect she bears to others. When therefore, in my next lecture, I speak of the Pleasures of Truth, as distinct from those of the Imagination,—if either the limits or clearness of brief title had permitted me, I should have said, untransfigured truth;—meaning on the one side, truth which we have not heart enough to transfigure, and on the other, truth of the lower kind which is incapable of transfiguration. One may look at a girl till one believes she is an angel; because, in the best of her, she is one; but one can't look at a cockchafer till one believes it is a girl.
With this warning of the connection which exists between the honest intellect and the healthy imagination; and using henceforward the shorter word 'Fancy' for all inventive vision, I proceed to consider with you the meaning and consequences of the frank and eager exertion of the fancy on Religious subjects, between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries.
Its first, and admittedly most questionable action, the promotion of the group of martyr saints of the third century to thrones of uncontested dominion in heaven, had better be distinctly understood, before we debate of it, either with the Iconoclast or the Rationalist. This apotheosis by the Imagination is the subject of my present lecture. To-day I only describe it,—in my next lecture I will discuss it.
Observe, however, that in giving such a history of the mental constitution of nascent Christianity, we have to deal with, and carefully to distinguish, two entirely different orders in its accepted hierarchy:—one, scarcely founded at all on personal characters or acts, but mythic or symbolic; often merely the revival, the baptized resuscitation of a Pagan deity, or the personified omnipresence of a Christian virtue;—the other, a senate of Patres Conscripti of real persons, great in genius, and perfect, humanly speaking, in holiness; who by their personal force and inspired wisdom, wrought the plastic body of the Church into such noble form as in each of their epochs it was able to receive; and on the right understanding of whose lives, nor less of the affectionate traditions which magnified and illumined their memories, must absolutely depend the value of every estimate we form, whether of the nature of the Christian Church herself, or of the directness of spiritual agency by which she was guided.
[Footnote 24: If the reader believes in no spiritual agency, still his understanding of the first letters in the Alphabet of History depends on his comprehending rightly the tempers of the people who did.]
An important distinction, therefore, is to be noted at the outset, in the objects of this Apotheosis, according as they are, or are not, real persons.
Of these two great orders of Saints, the first; or mythic, belongs—speaking broadly—to the southern or Greek Church alone.
The Gothic Christians, once detached from the worship of Odin and Thor, abjure from their hearts all trust in the elements, and all worship of ideas. They will have their Saints in flesh and blood, their Angels in plume and armour; and nothing incorporeal or invisible. In all the Religious sculpture beside Loire and Seine, you will not find either of the great rivers personified; the dress of the highest seraph is of true steel or sound broadcloth, neither flecked by hail, nor fringed by thunder; and while the ideal Charity of Giotto at Padua presents her heart in her hand to God, and tramples at the same instant on bags of gold, the treasures of the world, and gives only corn and flowers; that on the west porch of Amiens is content to clothe a beggar with a piece of the staple manufacture of the town.
On the contrary, it is nearly impossible to find in the imagery of the Greek Church, under the former exercise of the Imagination, a representation either of man or beast which purports to represent only the person, or the brute. Every mortal creature stands for an Immortal Intelligence or Influence: a Lamb means an Apostle, a Lion an Evangelist, an Angel the Eternal justice or benevolence; and the most historical and indubitable of Saints are compelled to set forth, in their vulgarly apparent persons, a Platonic myth or an Athanasian article.
I therefore take note first of the mythic saints in succession, whom this treatment of them by the Byzantine Church made afterwards the favourite idols of all Christendom.
I. The most mythic is of course St. Sophia; the shade of the Greek Athena, passing into the 'Wisdom' of the Jewish Proverbs and Psalms, and the Apocryphal 'Wisdom of Solomon.' She always remains understood as a personification only; and has no direct influence on the mind of the unlearned multitude of Western Christendom, except as a godmother,—in which kindly function she is more and more accepted as times go on; her healthy influence being perhaps greater over sweet vicars' daughters in Wakefield—when Wakefield was,—than over the prudentest of the rarely prudent Empresses of Byzantium.
II. Of St. Catharine of Egypt there are vestiges of personal tradition which may perhaps permit the supposition of her having really once existed, as a very lovely, witty, proud, and 'fanciful' girl. She afterwards becomes the Christian type of the Bride, in the 'Song of Solomon,' involved with an ideal of all that is purest in the life of a nun, and brightest in the death of a martyr. It is scarcely possible to overrate the influence of the conceptions formed of her, in ennobling the sentiments of Christian women of the higher orders;—to their practical common sense, as the mistresses of a household or a nation, her example may have been less conducive.
III. St. Barbara, also an Egyptian, and St. Catharine's contemporary, though the most practical of the mythic saints, is also, after St. Sophia, the least corporeal: she vanishes far away into the 'Inclusa Danae,' and her "Tunis aenea" becomes a myth of Christian safety, of which the Scriptural significance may be enough felt by merely looking out the texts under the word "Tower," in your concordance; and whose effectual power, in the fortitudes alike of matter and spirit, was in all probability made impressive enough to all Christendom, both by the fortifications and persecutions of Diocletian. I have endeavoured to mark her general relations to St. Sophia in the little imaginary dialogue between them, given in the eighth lecture of the 'Ethics of the Dust.'
Afterwards, as Gothic architecture becomes dominant, and at last beyond question the most wonderful of all temple-building, St. Barbara's Tower is, of course, its perfected symbol and utmost achievement; and whether in the coronets of countless battlements worn on the brows of the noblest cities, or in the Lombard bell-tower on the mountains, and the English spire on Sarum plain, the geometric majesty of the Egyptian maid became glorious in harmony of defence, and sacred with precision of symbol.
As the buildings which showed her utmost skill were chiefly exposed to lightning, she is invoked in defence from it; and our petition in the Litany, against sudden death, was written originally to her. The blasphemous corruptions of her into a patroness of cannon and gunpowder, are among the most ludicrous, (because precisely contrary to the original tradition,) as well as the most deadly, insolences and stupidities of Renaissance Art.
IV. St. Margaret of Antioch was a shepherdess; the St. Genevieve of the East; the type of feminine gentleness and simplicity. Traditions of the resurrection of Alcestis perhaps mingle in those of her contest with the dragon; but at all events, she differs from the other three great mythic saints, in expressing the soul's victory over temptation or affliction, by Christ's miraculous help, and without any special power of its own. She is the saint of the meek and of the poor; her virtue and her victory are those of all gracious and lowly womanhood; and her memory is consecrated among the gentle households of Europe; no other name, except those of Jeanne and Jeanie, seems so gifted with a baptismal fairy power of giving grace and peace.
I must be forgiven for thinking, even on this canonical ground, not only of Jeanie Deans, and Margaret of Branksome; but of Meg—Merrilies. My readers will, I fear, choose rather to think of the more doubtful victory over the Dragon, won by the great Margaret of German literature.
V. With much more clearness and historic comfort we may approach the shrine of St. Cecilia; and even on the most prosaic and realistic minds—such as my own—a visit to her house in Rome has a comforting and establishing effect, which reminds one of the carter in 'Harry and Lucy,' who is convinced of the truth of a plaustral catastrophe at first incredible to him, as soon as he hears the name of the hill on which it happened. The ruling conception of her is deepened gradually by the enlarged study of Religious music; and is at its best and highest in the thirteenth century, when she rather resists than complies with the already tempting and distracting powers of sound; and we are told that "cantantibus organis, Cecilia virgo in corde suo soli Domino decantabat, dicens, 'Fiat, Domine, cor meum et corpus meum immaculatum, ut non confundar.'"
("While the instruments played, Cecilia the virgin sang in her heart only to the Lord, saying, Oh Lord, be my heart and body made stainless, that I be not confounded.")
This sentence occurs in my great Service-book of the convent of Beau-pre, written in 1290, and it is illustrated with a miniature of Cecilia sitting silent at a banquet, where all manner of musicians are playing. I need not point out to you how the law, not of sacred music only, so called, but of all music, is determined by this sentence; which means in effect that unless music exalt and purify, it is not under St. Cecilia's ordinance, and it is not, virtually, music at all.
Her confessed power at last expires amidst a hubbub of odes and sonatas; and I suppose her presence at a Morning Popular is as little anticipated as desired. Unconfessed, she is of all the mythic saints for ever the greatest; and the child in its nurse's arms, and every tender and gentle spirit which resolves to purify in itself,—as the eye for seeing, so the ear for hearing,—may still, whether behind the Temple veil, or at the fireside, and by the wayside, hear Cecilia sing.
[Footnote 25:"But, standing in the lowest place, And mingled with the work-day crowd, A poor man looks, with lifted face, And hears the Angels cry aloud.
"He seeks not how each instant flies, One moment is Eternity; His spirit with the Angels cries To Thee, to Thee, continually.
"What if, Isaiah-like, he know His heart be weak, his lips unclean, His nature vile, his office low, His dwelling and his people mean?
"To such the Angels spake of old— To such of yore, the glory came; These altar fires can ne'er grow cold: Then be it his, that cleansing flame."
These verses, part of a very lovely poem, "To Thee all Angels cry aloud," in the 'Monthly Packet' for September 1873, are only signed 'Veritas.' The volume for that year (the 16th) is well worth getting, for the sake of the admirable papers in it by Miss Sewell, on questions of the day; by Miss A.C. Owen, on Christian Art; and the unsigned Cameos from English History.]
It would delay me too long just now to trace in specialty farther the functions of the mythic, or, as in another sense they may be truly called, the universal, Saints: the next greatest of them, St. Ursula, is essentially British,—and you will find enough about her in 'Fors Clavigera'; the others, I will simply give you in entirely authoritative order from the St. Louis' Psalter, as he read and thought of them.
The proper Service-book of the thirteenth century consists first of the pure Psalter; then of certain essential passages of the Old Testament—invariably the Song of Miriam at the Red Sea and the last song of Moses;—ordinarily also the 12th of Isaiah and the prayer of Habakkuk; while St. Louis' Psalter has also the prayer of Hannah, and that of Hezekiah (Isaiah xxxviii. 10-20); the Song of the Three Children; then the Benedictus, the Magnificat, and the Nunc Dimittis. Then follows the Athanasian Creed; and then, as in all Psalters after their chosen Scripture passages, the collects to the Virgin, the Te Deum, and Service to Christ, beginning with the Psalm 'The Lord reigneth'; and then the collects to the greater individual saints, closing with the Litany, or constant prayer for mercy to Christ, and all saints; of whom the order is,—Archangels, Patriarchs, Apostles, Disciples, Innocents, Martyrs, Confessors, Monks, and Virgins. Of women the Magdalen always leads; St. Mary of Egypt usually follows, but may be the last. Then the order varies in every place, and prayer-book, no recognizable supremacy being traceable; except in relation to the place, or person, for whom the book was written. In St. Louis', St. Genevieve (the last saint to whom he prayed on his death-bed) follows the two Maries; then come—memorable for you best, as easiest, in this six-foil group,—Saints Catharine, Margaret, and Scolastica, Agatha, Cecilia, and Agnes; and then ten more, whom you may learn or not as you like: I note them now only for future reference,—more lively and easy for your learning,—by their French names,
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Such was the system of Theology into which the Imaginative Religion of Europe was crystallized, by the growth of its own best faculties, and the influence of all accessible and credible authorities, during the period between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries inclusive. Its spiritual power is completely represented by the angelic and apostolic dynasties, and the women-saints in Paradise; for of the men-saints, beneath the apostles and prophets, none but St. Christopher, St. Nicholas, St. Anthony, St. James, and St. George, attained anything like the influence of Catharine or Cecilia; for the very curious reason, that the men-saints were much more true, real, and numerous. St. Martin was reverenced all over Europe, but definitely, as a man, and the Bishop of Tours. So St. Ambrose at Milan, and St. Gregory at Rome, and hundreds of good men more, all over the world; while the really good women remained, though not rare, inconspicuous. The virtues of French Clotilde, and Swiss Berthe, were painfully borne down in the balance of visible judgment, by the guilt of the Gonerils, Regans, and Lady Macbeths, whose spectral procession closes only with the figure of Eleanor in Woodstock maze; and in dearth of nearer objects, the daily brighter powers of fancy dwelt with more concentrated devotion on the stainless ideals of the earlier maid-martyrs. And observe, even the loftier fame of the men-saints above named, as compared with the rest, depends on precisely the same character of indefinite personality; and on the representation, by each of them, of a moral idea which may be embodied and painted in a miraculous legend; credible, as history, even then, only to the vulgar; but powerful over them, nevertheless, exactly in proportion to the degree in which it can be pictured and fancied as a living creature. Consider even yet in these days of mechanism, how the dullest John Bull cannot with perfect complacency adore himself, except under the figure of Britannia or the British Lion; and how the existence of the popular jest-book, which might have seemed secure in its necessity to our weekly recreation, is yet virtually centred on the imaginary animation of a puppet, and the imaginary elevation to reason of a dog. But in the Middle Ages, this action of the Fancy, now distorted and despised, was the happy and sacred tutress of every faculty of the body and soul; and the works and thoughts of art, the joys and toils of men, rose and flowed on in the bright air of it, with the aspiration of a flame, and the beneficence of a fountain.
And now, in the rest of my lecture, I had intended to give you a broad summary of the rise and fall of English art, born under this code of theology, and this enthusiasm of duty;—of its rise, from the rude vaults of Westminster, to the finished majesty of Wells;—and of its fall, from that brief hour of the thirteenth century, through the wars of the Bolingbroke, and the pride of the Tudor, and the lust of the Stewart, to expire under the mocking snarl and ruthless blow of the Puritan. But you know that I have always, in my most serious work, allowed myself to be influenced by those Chances, as they are now called,—but to my own feeling and belief, guidances, and even, if rightly understood, commands,—which, as far as I have read history, the best and sincerest men think providential. Had this lecture been on common principles of art, I should have finished it as I intended, without fear of its being the worse for my consistency. But it deals, on the contrary, with a subject, respecting which every sentence I write, or speak, is of importance in its issue; and I allowed, as you heard, the momentary observation of a friend, to give an entirely new cast to the close of my last lecture. Much more, I feel it incumbent upon me in this one, to take advantage of the most opportune help, though in an unexpected direction, given me by my constant tutor, Professor Westwood. I went to dine with him, a day or two ago, mainly—being neither of us, I am thankful to say, blue-ribanded—to drink his health on his recovery from his recent accident. Whereupon he gave me a feast of good talk, old wine, and purple manuscripts. And having had as much of all as I could well carry, just as it came to the good-night, out he brings, for a finish, this leaf of manuscript in my hand, which he has lent me to show you,—a leaf of the Bible of Charles the Bald!
A leaf of it, at least, as far as you or I could tell, for Professor Westwood's copy is just as good, in all the parts finished, as the original: and, for all practical purpose, I show you here in my hand a leaf of the Bible which your own King Alfred saw with his own bright eyes, and from which he learned his child-faith in the days of dawning thought!
There are few English children who do not know the story of Alfred, the king, letting the cakes burn, and being chidden by his peasant hostess. How few English children—nay, how few perhaps of their educated, not to say learned, elders—reflect upon, if even they know, the far different scenes through which he had passed when a child!
Concerning his father, his mother, and his own childhood, suppose you were to teach your children first these following main facts, before you come to the toasting of the muffin?
His father, educated by Helmstan, Bishop of Winchester, had been offered the throne of the great Saxon kingdom of Mercia in his early youth; had refused it, and entered, as a novice under St. Swithin the monastery at Winchester. From St. Swithin, he received the monastic habit, and was appointed by Bishop Helmstan one of his sub-deacons!
"The quiet seclusion which Ethelwulph's slow capacity and meek temper coveted" was not permitted to him by fate. The death of his elder brother left him the only living representative of the line of the West Saxon princes. His accession to the throne became the desire of the people. He obtained a dispensation from the Pope to leave the cloister; assumed the crown of Egbert; and retained Egbert's prime minister, Alstan, Bishop of Sherborne, who was the Minister in peace and war, the Treasurer, and the Counsellor, of the kings of England, over a space, from first to last, of fifty years.
[Footnote 26: Turner, quoting William of Malmesbury, "Crassioris et hebetis ingenii,"—meaning that he had neither ardour for war, nor ambition for kinghood.]
Alfred's mother, Osburga, must have been married for love. She was the daughter of Oslac, the king's cup-bearer. Extolled for her piety and understanding, she bore the king four sons; dying before the last, Alfred, was five years old, but leaving him St. Swithin for his tutor. How little do any of us think, in idle talk of rain or no rain on St. Swithin's day, that we speak of the man whom Alfred's father obeyed as a monk, and whom his mother chose for his guardian!
Alfred, both to father and mother, was the best beloved of their children. On his mother's death, his father sent him, being then five years old, with a great retinue through France and across the Alps to Rome; and there the Pope anointed him King, (heir-apparent to the English throne), at the request of his father.
Think of it, you travellers through the Alps by tunnels, that you may go to balls at Rome or hells at Monaco. Here is another manner of journey, another goal for it, appointed for your little king. At twelve, he was already the best hunter among the Saxon youths. Be sure he could sit his horse at five. Fancy the child, with his keen genius, and holy heart, riding with his Saxon chiefs beside him, by the Alpine flowers under Velan or Sempione, and down among the olives to Pavia, to Perugia, to Rome; there, like the little fabled Virgin, ascending the Temple steps, and consecrated to be King of England by the great Leo, Leo of the Leonine city, the saviour of Rome from the Saracen.
Two years afterwards, he rode again to Rome beside his father; the West Saxon king bringing presents to the Pope, a crown of pure gold weighing four pounds, a sword adorned with pure gold, two golden images, four Saxon silver dishes; and giving a gift of gold to all the Roman clergy and nobles, and of silver to the people.
[Footnote 27: Turner, Book IV.,—not a vestige of hint from the stupid Englishman, what the Pope wanted with crown, sword, or image! My own guess would be, that it meant an offering of the entire household strength, in war and peace, of the Saxon nation,—their crown, their sword, their household gods, Irminsul and Irminsula, their feasting, and their robes.]
[Footnote 28: Again, what does this mean? Gifts of honour to the Pope's immediate attendants—silver to all Rome? Does the modern reader think this is buying little Alfred's consecration too dear, or that Leo is selling the Holy Ghost?]
No idle sacrifices or symbols, these gifts of courtesy! The Saxon King rebuilt on the highest hill that is bathed by Tiber, the Saxon street and school, the Borgo, of whose miraculously arrested burning Raphael's fresco preserves the story to this day. And further he obtained from Leo the liberty of all Saxon men from bonds in penance;—a first phase this of Magna Charta, obtained more honourably, from a more honourable person, than that document, by which Englishmen of this day, suppose they live, move, and have being.
[Footnote 29: "Quae in eorum lingua Burgus dicitur,—the place where it was situated was called the Saxon street, Saxonum vicum" (Anastasius, quoted by Turner). There seems to me some evidence in the scattered passages I have not time to collate, that at this time the Saxon Burg, or tower, of a village, included the idea of its school.]
How far into Alfred's soul, at seven years old, sank any true image of what Rome was, and had been; of what her Lion Lord was, who had saved her from the Saracen, and her Lion Lord had been, who had saved her from the Hun; and what this Spiritual Dominion was, and was to be, which could make and unmake kings, and save nations, and put armies to flight; I leave those to say, who have learned to reverence childhood. This, at least, is sure, that the days of Alfred were bound each to each, not only by their natural piety, but by the actual presence and appeal to his heart, of all that was then in the world most noble, beautiful, and strong against Death.
In this living Book of God he had learned to read, thus early; and with perhaps nobler ambition than of getting the prize of a gilded psalm-book at his mother's knee, as you are commonly told of him. What sort of psalm-book it was, however, you may see from this leaf in my hand. For, as his father and he returned from Rome that year, they stayed again at the Court of Charlemagne's grandson, whose daughter, the Princess Judith, Ethelwolf was wooing for Queen of England, (not queen-consort, merely, but crowned queen, of authority equal to his own.) From whom Alfred was like enough to have had a reading lesson or two out of her father's Bible; and like enough, the little prince, to have stayed her hand at this bright leaf of it, the Lion-leaf, bearing the symbol of the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
You cannot, of course, see anything but the glittering from where you sit; nor even if you afterwards look at it near, will you find a figure the least admirable or impressive to you. It is not like Landseer's Lions in Trafalgar Square; nor like Tenniel's in 'Punch'; still less like the real ones in Regent's Park. Neither do I show it you as admirable in any respect of art, other than that of skilfullest illumination. I show it you, as the most interesting Gothic type of the imagination of Lion; which, after the Roman Eagle, possessed the minds of all European warriors; until, as they themselves grew selfish and cruel, the symbols which at first meant heaven-sent victory, or the strength and presence of some Divine spirit, became to them only the signs of their own pride or rage: the victor raven of Corvus sinks into the shamed falcon of Marmion, and the lion-heartedness which gave the glory and the peace of the gods to Leonidas, casts the glory and the might of kinghood to the dust before Chalus.
[Footnote 30: 'Fors Clavigera,' March, 1871, p. 19. Yet read the preceding pages, and learn the truth of the lion heart, while you mourn its pride. Note especially his absolute law against usury.]
That death, 6th April, 1199, ended the advance of England begun by Alfred, under the pure law of Religious Imagination. She began, already, in the thirteenth century, to be decoratively, instead of vitally, religious. The history of the Religious Imagination expressed between Alfred's time and that of Coeur de Lion, in this symbol of the Lion only, has material in it rather for all my seven lectures than for the closing section of one; but I must briefly specify to you the main sections of it. I will keep clear of my favourite number seven, and ask you to recollect the meaning of only Five, Mythic Lions.
First of all, in Greek art, remember to keep yourselves clear about the difference between the Lion and the Gorgon.
The Gorgon is the power of evil in heaven, conquered by Athena, and thenceforward becoming her aegis, when she is herself the inflictor of evil. Her helmet is then the helmet of Orcus.
But the Lion is the power of death on earth, conquered by Heracles, and becoming thenceforward both his helmet and aegis. All ordinary architectural lion sculpture is derived from the Heraclean.
Then the Christian Lions are, first, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah—Christ Himself as Captain and Judge: "He shall rule the nations with a rod of iron," (the opposite power of His adversary, is rarely intended in sculpture unless in association with the serpent—"inculcabis supra leonem et aspidem"); secondly, the Lion of St. Mark, the power of the Gospel going out to conquest; thirdly, the Lion of St. Jerome, the wrath of the brute creation changed into love by the kindness of man; and, fourthly, the Lion of the Zodiac, which is the Lion of Egypt and of the Lombardic pillar-supports in Italy; these four, if you remember, with the Nemean Greek one, five altogether, will give you, broadly, interpretation of nearly all Lion symbolism in great art. How they degenerate into the British door knocker, I leave you to determine for yourselves, with such assistances as I may be able to suggest to you in my next lecture; but, as the grotesqueness of human history plans it, there is actually a connection between that last degradation of the Leonine symbol, and its first and noblest significance.
You see there are letters round this golden Lion of Alfred's spelling-book, which his princess friend was likely enough to spell for him. They are two Latin hexameters:—
Hic Leo, surgendo, portas confregit Averni Qui nunquam dormit, nusquam dormitat, in aevum. (This Lion, rising, burst the gates of Death: This, who sleeps not, nor shall sleep, for ever.)
Now here is the Christian change of the Heraclean conquest of Death into Christ's Resurrection. Samson's bearing away the gates of Gaza is another like symbol, and to the mind of Alfred, taught, whether by the Pope Leo for his schoolmaster, or by the great-granddaughter of Charlemagne for his schoolmistress, it represented, as it did to all the intelligence of Christendom, Christ in His own first and last, Alpha and Omega, description of Himself,—
"I am He that liveth and was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore, and have the keys of Hell and of Death." And in His servant St. John's description of Him—
"Who is the Faithful Witness and the First-begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth."
All this assuredly, so far as the young child, consecrated like David, the youngest of his brethren, conceived his own new life in Earth and Heaven,—he understood already in the Lion symbol. But of all this I had no thought when I chose the prayer of Alfred as the type of the Religion of his era, in its dwelling, not on the deliverance from the punishment of sin, but from the poisonous sleep and death of it. Will you ever learn that prayer again,—youths who are to be priests, and knights, and kings of England, in these the latter days? when the gospel of Eternal Death is preached here in Oxford to you for the Pride of Truth? and "the mountain of the Lord's House" has become a Golgotha, and the "new song before the throne" sunk into the rolling thunder of the death rattle of the Nations, crying, "O Christ, where is Thy Victory!"
[Footnote 31: The reference to the Bible of Charles le Chauve was added to my second lecture (page 54), in correcting the press, mistakenly put into the text instead of the notes.]
1. The Five Christmas Days. (These were drawn out on a large and conspicuous diagram.)
These days, as it happens, sum up the History of their Five Centuries.
Christmas Day, 496. Clovis baptized. " " 800. Charlemagne crowned. " " 1041. Vow of the Count of Aversa (Page 80). " " 1066. The Conqueror crowned. " " 1130. Roger II. crowned King of the Two Sicilies.
2. For conclusion of the whole matter two pictures were shown and commented on—the two most perfect pictures in the world.
(1) A small piece from Tintoret's Paradiso in the Ducal Palace, representing the group of St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Gregory, St. Augustine, and behind St. Augustine his mother watching him, her chief joy even in Paradise.
(2) The Arundel Society's reproduction of the Altar-piece by Giorgione in his native hamlet of Castel Franco. The Arundel Society has done more for us than we have any notion of.
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