RATIONALISM IN EUROPE.
THE INDUSTRIAL HISTORY OF RATIONALISM.
The history of labour is only second in importance to the history of knowledge. The estimate in which industry is held, the principles by which it is regulated, and the channels in which it is directed, not merely determine the material prosperity of nations, but also invariably contribute to the formation of a type of character, and in consequence to a modification of opinions. In the course of the present work I have more than once had occasion to refer to the influence of the industrial spirit upon Rationalism, but I have thought it advisable to reserve its full discussion for a separate chapter, in which the relation between the two evolutions will be clearly manifested, and the importance of commerce both as a disintegrating and constructive agent will be established.
If we examine from an industrial point of view the old civilisation, which was sinking rapidly into dissolution when Christianity arose, we shall at once perceive that slavery was the central fact upon which it rested. Whenever, in a highly-organised society, this institution is prominent, it will impart a special cast to the national character, and will in some respects invert the normal conditions of development. For labour, being identified with ignominy, will become distasteful to all classes, and wealth will be speedily accumulated in the hands of a few. Where slavery exists there is no middle class, little or no manufacturing or commercial enterprise. The slaveowner possesses the means of rapidly amassing wealth, while the freeman who is not a slaveowner, being shut out from nearly every path of industry, and being convinced that labour is a degradation, will be both demoralised and impoverished. At the same time a strong military spirit will usually be encouraged, both because the energies of men find no other sphere of action, and because in such a condition of society conquest is the chief path to wealth. In some respects the consequences of all this will appear very fascinating. A high military enthusiasm being engendered, the nation which cherishes slavery will usually prove victorious in its conflicts with the commercial communities around it. It will produce many great warriors, many splendid examples of military devotion. A combination of the high mettle of the soldier and of a chivalrous contempt for trade and the trading spirit will impart an aristocratic and refined tone to the national manners, while the national intellect will be diverted from utilitarian inventions and pursuits, and will be concentrated on sublime speculations and works of beauty. But as soon as the first energy of the conquering spirit has passed away, the hollowness of such a civilisation becomes apparent. The increase of wealth, which in a free nation strengthens the middle classes and gives a new impulse to commercial enterprise, in a slave nation produces only luxury and vice; and the habit of regarding multitudes as totally destitute of rights, combined with the military spirit that is general, gives that vice a character of the most odious ferocity. [1:223]
It is of course possible that the intervention of other influences may modify this type of character, and may retard and in some degree prevent the downfall it produces; but in as far as slavery is predominant, in so far will these tendencies be displayed. In the ancient civilisation they were developed to the full extent. From a very early period the existence of slavery had produced, both in Greece and Rome, a strong contempt for commerce and for manual labour, which was openly professed by the ablest men, and which harmonised well with their disdain for the more utilitarian aspects of science. Among the Botians those who had defiled themselves with commerce were excluded for ten years from all offices in the State. Plato pronounced the trade of a shopkeeper to be a degradation to a freeman, and he wished it to be punished as a crime. Aristotle, who asserted so strongly the political claims of the middle classes, declared, nevertheless, that in a perfect State no citizen should exercise any mechanical art. Xenophon and Cicero were both of the same opinion. Augustus condemned a senator to death because he had debased his rank by taking part in a manufacture. The single form of labour that was held in honour was agriculture; and in the earlier and simpler periods of the national history, while slaves were still few and luxury was unknown, this pursuit proved a sufficient vent for the pacific energies of the people. But when the number and wealth of the population had been multiplied, when a long series of victories had greatly increased the multitude of slaves, and when the political privileges of a Roman citizen had been widely extended, all classes flocked within the walls, the surrounding country fell entirely into the hands of the aristocracy, and either remained uncultivated or was cultivated only by slaves, [1:225] and the task of supplying the overgrown city with corn devolved chiefly upon the colonies. Within the city a vast half-military population, sufficiently powerful to control the government, and intent only upon enjoyment, paralysed the energies of the empire, and destroyed every trace of its ancient purity. 'Bread and the games of the circus' was the constant demand; every other consideration was sacrificed to grant it; and industry, in all its departments, was relinquished to the slaves.
If we compare the condition of the ancient with that of the modern slaves, we shall find that they were in some respects profoundly different. The modern slave-trade was an atrocity unknown to the ancients, nor was there then the difference of race and colour that now prevents a fusion of the free and the enslaved classes. Aristotle, the greatest of all the advocates of slavery, recommended masters to hold out the prospect of future emancipation to their slaves; and we know that in the latter days of the Roman Empire the manumission of old slaves was very general, and of those who were not old, by no means rare. Besides this, the great development of commerce enabling the modern slaveowners to command every description of luxury in exchange for the produce of unskilled slave-labour, they have usually, in order to guard against rebellion, adopted the policy of brutalising their slaves by enforced ignorance -- to such an extent that it is actually penal, in the majority of the Slave States of America, to teach a slave to read. In the ancient civilisations, on the other hand, the slave produced all the articles of refinement and luxury, conducted the most difficult forms of labour, and often exercised the most important professions. His mind was therefore very frequently cultivated to the highest point, and his value was proportioned to his intelligence. Terence, Epictetus, Publius Syrus, and many other writers were slaves, as were also some of the leading physicians, and many of the most distinguished sculptors. It should be remembered, too, that while modern slavery was from the beginning an evil, slavery among the ancients was at first an unmingled blessing -- an important conquest of the spirit of humanity. When men were altogether barbarous they killed their prisoners; when they became more merciful they preserved them as slaves. [1:226]
Still, in the latter days of the republic, and during the empire, the sufferings of the slaves were such that it is impossible to read them without a shudder. The full ferocity of the national character was directed against them. They were exposed to wild beasts, or compelled to fight as gladiators; they were often mutilated with atrocious cruelty; they were tortured on the slightest suspicion, they were crucified for the most trivial offences. If a master was murdered all his slaves were tortured; if the perpetrator remained undiscovered all were put to death, and Tacitus relates a case in which no less than 400 suffered for a single undiscovered criminal. We read of one slave who was crucified for having stolen a quail, and of another who was condemned to be thrown to the fish for having broken a crystal vase. Juvenal describes a lady of fashion gratifying a momentary caprice by ordering a slave to be crucified. [2:226]
It was in this manner that the old civilisation, which rested on conquest and on slavery, had passed into complete dissolution, the free classes being altogether demoralised, and the slave classes exposed to the most horrible cruelties. At last the spirit of Christianity moved over this chaotic society, and not merely alleviated the evils that convulsed it, but alto reorganised it on a new basis. It did this in three ways; it abolished slavery, it created charity, it inculcated self-sacrifice.
In the first of these tasks Christianity was powerfully assisted by two other agents. It is never possible for the moral sense to be entirely extinguished; and, by a law which is constantly manifested in history, we find that those who have emancipated themselves from the tendencies of an evil age often attain a degree of moral excellence that had not been attained in ages that were comparatively pure. The latter days of pagan Rome exhibit a constant decay of religious reverence and of common morality; but they also exhibit a feverish aspiration towards a new religion, and a finer sense of the requirements of a high morality than had been displayed in the best days of the republic. We have a striking instance of the first of these tendencies in that sudden diffusion of the worship of Mithra, which was one of the most remarkable of the antecedents of Christianity. About seventy years before the Christian era this worship was introduced into Italy, as Plutarch tells us, by some Cilician pirates; and at a time when universal scepticism seemed the dominant characteristic of the Roman intellect, it took such firm root that for 200 years it continued to flourish, to excite the warmest enthusiasm, and to produce a religious revival in the centre of a population that appeared entirely depraved. In the same way, about the time when Nero ascended the throne and when the humanity of the masses had sunk to the lowest ebb, there appeared in the centre of paganism a powerful reaction in favour of the suffering classes, of which Seneca was the principal exponent, but which was more or less reflected in the whole of the literature of the time. Seneca recurred to the subject again and again, and for the first time in Rome he very clearly and emphatically enforced the duties of masters to their slaves, and the existence of a bond of fraternity that no accidental difference of position could cancel. Nor was the movement confined to the writings of moralists. A long series of enactments by Nero, Claudius, Antonine, and Adrian gave the servile class a legal position, took the power of life and death out of the hands of the masters, prevented the exposure of slaves when old and infirm on an island of the Tiber (where they had often been left to die), forbade their mutilation or their employment as gladiators, and appointed special magistrates to receive their complaints. What was done was, no doubt, very imperfect and inadequate, but it represented a tendency of which Christianity was the continuation. [1:228]
A second influence favourable to the slaves came into action at a later period: I mean the invasion of the barbarians, who have been justly described as the representatives of the principle of personal liberty in Europe. [2:228] Slavery was not, indeed, absolutely unknown among them, but it was altogether exceptional and entirely uncongenial with their habits. Prisoners of war, criminals, or men who had gambled away their liberty, were the only slaves, and there is no reason to believe that servitude was hereditary. Whenever, therefore, these tribes obtained an ascendency, they contributed to the destruction of slavery.
But when the fullest allowance has been made for these influences, it will remain an undoubted fact that the reconstruction of society was mainly the work of Christianity. Other influences could produce the manumission of many slaves, but Christianity alone could effect the profound change of character that rendered possible the abolition of slavery. There are few subjects more striking, and at the same time more instructive, than the history of that great transition. The Christians did not preach a revolutionary doctrine. They did not proclaim slavery altogether unlawful, or, at least, not until the bull of Alexander III. in the twelfth century; but they steadily sapped it at its basis, by opposing to it the doctrine of universal brotherhood, and by infusing a spirit of humanity into all the relations of society. Under Constantine, the old laws for the protection of slaves were reënacted with additional provisions, and the separation of the family of the slave was forbidden. At the same time the servile punishment of crucifixion was abolished; but not so much from motives of humanity as on account of the sacred character it had acquired. Very soon a disposition was manifested on all sides to emancipate slaves, and that emancipation was invariably associated with religion. Sunday was especially recommended as the most appropriate day for the emancipation, and the ceremony almost invariably took place in the church. Gregory the Great set the example of freeing a number of his slaves as an act of devotion; and it soon became customary for sovereigns to do the same thing at seasons of great public rejoicing. Under Justinian the restrictions that had been placed upon emancipation by testament were removed. For a short time the mere resolution to enter a monastery gave liberty to the slave; and the monks, being for the most part recruited from the servile caste, were always ready to facilitate the deliverance of their brethren. Even in religious persecutions this object was remembered. The Jews were early noted as slave-dealers, and among the first and most frequent measures directed against them was the manumission of their Christian slaves. In all the rites of religion the difference between bond and free was studiously ignored, and the clergy invariably proclaimed the act of enfranchisement to be meritorious. [1:230]
By these means an impulse favourable to liberty was imparted to all who were within the influence of the Church. Slavery began rapidly to disappear, or to fade into serfdom. At the same time the Church exerted her powers, with no less effect, to alleviate the sufferings of those who still continued in bondage. In England, especially, all the civil laws for the protection of the theows, or Saxon slaves, appear to have been preceded by, and based upon, the canon law. When, as far as can be ascertained, the power of the master was by law unlimited, we find the Church assuming a jurisdiction on the subject, and directing special penances 'against masters who took from their theows the money they had lawfully earned; against those who slew their theows without judgment or good cause; against mistresses who beat their female theows so that they die within three days; and against freemen who, by order of the lord, kill a theow.' Above all, the whole machinery of ecclesiastical discipline was put in motion to shelter the otherwise unprotected chastity of the female slave. [1:231] That Church which often seemed so haughty and so overbearing in its dealings with kings and nobles, never failed to listen to the poor and to the oppressed, and for many centuries their protection was the foremost of all the objects of its policy.
Yet as long as the old antipathy to labour continued, nothing of any lasting value had been effected. But here, again, the influence of the Church was exerted with unwavering beneficence and success. The Fathers employed all their eloquence in favour of labour; [2:231] but it is to the monks, and especially to the Benedictine monks, that the change is preëminently due. At a time when religious enthusiasm was all directed towards the monastic life as towards the ideal of perfection, they made labour an essential part of their discipline. Wherever they went, they revived the traditions of old Roman agriculture, and large tracts of France and Belgium were drained and planted by their hands. And though agriculture and gardening were the forms of labour in which they especially excelled, they indirectly became the authors of every other. For when a monastery was planted, it soon became the nucleus around which the inhabitants of the neighbourhood clustered. A town was thus gradually formed, civilised by Christian teaching, stimulated to industry by the example of the monks, and protected by the reverence that attached to them. At the same time the ornamentation of the church gave the first impulse to art. The monks of the order of St. Basil devoted themselves especially to painting, and all the mediæval architects whose names have come down to us are said to have been ecclesiastics, till the rise of those great lay companies who designed or built the cathedrals of the twelfth century. A great number of the towns of Belgium trace their origin in this manner to the monks. [1:232] For a long time the most eminent prelates did not disdain manual labour; and it is related of no less a personage than Becket that he was in the habit of labouring during harvest time in the fields with the monks at the monasteries which he visited. [2:232]
By these means the contempt for labour which had been produced by slavery was corrected, and the path was opened for the rise of the industrial classes which followed the Crusades. The ferocity of character that had preceded Christianity, was combated with equal zeal, though not quite equal success, by the organisation of Christian charity.
There is certainly no other feature of the old civilisation so repulsive as the indifference to suffering that it displayed. It is indeed true that in this respect there was a considerable difference between the Greeks and the Romans. In their armaments, in their wars, above all, in the extreme solicitude to guard the interests of orphans and minors that characterised their legislation, [1:233] the former displayed a spirit of humanity for which we look in vain among the latter. Besides this, the political systems of Greece and, in its latter days, of Rome, were so framed that the state in a great measure supplied the material wants of the people, and a poor law of the heaviest kind was, to a certain extent, a substitute for private beneficence. Still there, as elsewhere, purely charitable institutions were absolutely unknown. Except as far as the law interposed, there was no public refuge for the sick or for the destitute. The infant was entirely unprotected; and infanticide having been -- at least in the case of deformed children -- expressly authorised by both Plato and Aristotle, was seldom regarded as a crime. [2:233] The practice of bringing up orphans avowedly for prostitution was equally common. The constant association of human suffering with popular entertainments rendered the popular mind continually more callous.
Very different was the aspect presented by the early Church. Long before the era of persecution had closed, the hospital and the Xenodochion, or refuge for strangers, was known among the Christians. The epitaphs in the catacombs abundantly prove the multitude of foundlings that were sustained by their charity; and when Christianity became the dominant religion, the protection of infants was one of the first changes that was manifested in the laws. [1:234] The frequent famines and the frightful distress caused by the invasion of the barbarians, and by the transition from slavery to freedom, were met by the most boundless, the most lavish benevolence. The Fathers were ceaselessly exhorting to charity, and in language so emphatic that it seemed sometimes almost to ignore the rights of property, and to verge upon absolute communism. [2:234] The gladiatorial games were ceaselessly denounced; but the affection with which they were regarded by the people long resisted the efforts of philanthropists, till, in the midst of the spectacle, the monk Telemachus rushed between the combatants, and his blood was the last that stained the arena. But perhaps the noblest testimony to the extent and the catholicity of Christian charity was furnished by an adversary. Julian exerted all his energies to produce a charitable movement among the Pagans; 'for it is a scandal,' he said, 'that the Galileans should support the destitute, not only of their religion, but of ours.'
In reading the history of that noble efflorescence of charity which marked the first ages of Christianity, it is impossible to avoid reflecting upon the strange destiny that has consigned almost all its authors to obscurity, while the names of those who took any conspicuous part in sectarian history have become household words among mankind. We hear much of martyrs, who sealed their testimony with blood; of courageous missionaries, who planted the standard of the Cross among savage nations and in pestilential climes; but we hear little of that heroism of charity, which, with no precedent to guide it, and with every early habit to oppose it, confronted the most loathsome forms of suffering, and, for the first time in the history of humanity, made pain and hideous disease the objects of a reverential affection. In the intellectual condition of bygone centuries, it was impossible that these things should be appreciated as they deserved. Charity was practised, indeed, nobly and constantly, but it did not strike the imagination, it did not elicit the homage of mankind. It was regarded by the masses as an entirely subordinate department of virtue; and the noblest efforts of philanthropy excited far less admiration than the macerations of an anchorite or the proselytising zeal of a sectarian. Fabiola, that Roman lady who seems to have done more than any other single individual in the erection of the first hospitals; St. Landry, the great apostle of charity in France; even Telemachus himself, are all obscure names in history. The men who organised that vast network of hospitals that overspread Europe after the Crusades have passed altogether from recollection. It was not till the seventeenth century, when modern habits of thought were widely diffused, that St. Vincent de Paul arose and furnished an example of a saint who is profoundly and universally revered, and who owes that reverence to the splendour of his charity. But although it is true that during many centuries the philanthropist was placed upon a far lower level than at present, it is not the less true that charity was one of the earliest, as it was one of the noblest, creations of Christianity; and that, independently of the incalculable mass of suffering it has assuaged, the influence it has exercised in softening and purifying the character, in restraining the passions, and enlarging the sympathies of mankind, has made it one of the most important elements of our civilisation. The precepts and examples of the Gospel struck a chord of pathos which the noblest philosophies of antiquity had never reached. For the first time the aureole of sanctity encircled the brow of sorrow and invested it with a mysterious charm. It is related of an old Catholic saint that, at the evening of a labourious and well-spent life, Christ appeared to him as a man of sorrows, and, commending his past exertions, asked him what reward he would desire. Fame, and wealth, and earthly pleasures had no attraction to one who had long been weaned from the things of sense; yet the prospect of other and spiritual blessings for a moment thrilled the saint with joy; but when he looked upon that sacred brow, still shadowed as with the anguish of Gethsemane, every selfish wish was forgotten, and, with a voice of ineffable love, he answered, 'Lord, that I might suffer most!' [1:236]
The third principle that Christianity employed to correct the evils of a decayed society was the principle of self-sacrifice. We have already seen some of the evils that resulted from the monastic system; but, considered in its proper place, it is not difficult to perceive its use. For the manner in which society attains that moderate and tempered excellence which is most congenial to its welfare is by imperfectly aspiring towards an heroic ideal. In an age, therefore, when the government of force had produced universal anarchy, theologians taught the doctrine of passive obedience. In an age when unbridled luxury had produced an unbridled corruption, they elevated voluntary poverty as a virtue. In an age when the facility of divorce had almost legalised polygamy, they proclaimed, with St. Jerome, that 'marriage peoples earth, but virginity heaven.'
The earlier portion of the middle ages presents the almost unique spectacle of a society that was in all its parts moulded and coloured by theological ideas, and it was natural that when the progress of knowledge destroyed the ascendency of those ideas a universal modification should ensue. But besides this, it is not, I think, difficult to perceive that the industrial condition of Europe at this time contained elements of dissolution. The true incitements to industry must ever be found in its own rewards. The desire of wealth, the multiplied wants and aims of an elaborated civilisation, the rivalry and the ambition of commerce, are the chief causes of its progress. Labour performed as a duty, associated with the worship of voluntary poverty, and with the condemnation of luxury, was altogether abnormal. It was only by the emancipation and development of some of the towns of Italy and Belgium that the industrial spirit became entirely secular, and, assuming a new prominence and energy, introduced an order of tendencies into Europe which gradually encroached upon the domain of theology, and contributed largely towards the Reformation, and towards the rationalism that followed it. But before examining the nature of those tendencies it may be necessary to say a few words concerning the circumstances that gave them birth.
Although the old Roman slavery received its death-blow under the influences I have noticed, some lingering remains of it continued till the twelfth or thirteenth century; [1:238] and the serfdom that followed not only continued much later, but even for a long time absorbed great numbers of the free peasants. The rapacity of the nobles, and the famines that were so frequent during the middle ages, induced the poor to exchange their liberty for protection and for bread; and the custom of punishing all crimes by fines, with the alternative of servitude in case of non-payment, still further increased the evil. At the same time the mildness of the ecclesiastical rule, and also the desire to obtain the advantage of the prayers of the monks, induced many to attach themselves as serfs to the monasteries. [1:239] Although it would be unfair to accuse the Church of abandoning the cause of emancipation, it is probable that this last fact in some degree lessened her zeal. [2:239] The bulk of the population of Europe was emancipated between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries; but the remains of serfdom have even now scarcely disappeared. [3:239] In the towns, however, personal and political liberty was attained much earlier. Something of the old Roman municipal government had lingered faintly in the south of France during the whole of the middle ages; but the complete emancipation was chiefly due to the necessities of sovereigns, who, in their conflicts with the nobles or with other nations, gladly purchased by privileges the assistance of the towns. It is probable that the fact of many of the English kings being usurpers contributed in this way to the emancipation of the English citizens; [4:239] and the struggle between the king and nobles in France, and between the Popes and the emperors in Italy, had a similar effect. Whenever a town was emancipated an impulse was given to industry. The Crusades at last gave the municipal and industrial element an extraordinary prominence. The great sums for which kings and nobles became indebted to the middle classes, the rapid development of navigation, the inventions that were imported into Europe from the East, and, above all, the happy fortune that made the Italian towns the centre of the stream of wealth, had all, in different ways, increased the influence of the towns. In the course of the twelfth century, nearly all which carried on commercial intercourse with Italy had obtained municipal government, and some of those of Belgium, and along the shores of the Baltic, almost equalled the Italian ones in commercial activity. [1:240] At the same time the creation of guilds and corporations of different trades consolidated the advantages that had been gained. For although it is undoubtedly true that in a normal condition of society the system of protection and monopoly, of which the corporations were the very ideal, is extremely unfavourable to production, in the anarchy of the middle ages it was of great use in giving the trading classes a union which protected them from plunder, and enabled them to incline legislation in their favour. Commerce, under their influence, became a great power. A new and secular civilisation was called into being, which gradually encroached upon the ascendency of theological ideas, and introduced a new phase in the development of Europe.
It may be observed, however, that the opposition that at last arose between the theological and the commercial spirits is not exactly what we might at first sight have expected; for in the earlier stages of society they have striking points of affinity. Missionary enterprises and commercial enterprises are the two main agents for the diffusion of civilisation; they commonly advance together, and each has very frequently proved the pioneer of the other. Besides this, the Crusades, which were the chief expression of the religious sentiments of the middle ages, owed their partial success in a great measure to the commercial communities. It was the merchants of Amalfi who, by their traffic, first opened the path for Christians to Jerusalem, and, in conjunction with the other Italian republics, supplied the chief wants of the Crusaders. The spirit that made the Venetian merchants of the thirteenth century stamp the image of Christ upon their coins, and the merchants of Florence impose a tax upon their rich woollen manufactures, in order, with the produce, to erect that noble cathedral which is even now among the wonders of the world, seemed to augur well for their alliance with the Church. Yet the event shows that these expectations were unfounded, and that wherever the type of civilisation was formed mainly by commercial enterprise, there arose a conflict with the theologians.
The first point in which the commercial civilisation came into collision with the Church was the lawfulness of lending money at interest, or, as it was then called, of practising usury.
In the present day, when political economy has been raised to a science, nothing can appear more simple than the position that interest occupies in pecuniary arrangements. We know that, in a society in which great works of industry or public utility are carried on, immense sums will necessarily be borrowed at interest, and that such transactions are usually advantageous both to the lender and the borrower. The first lends his money for the purpose of increasing his wealth by the interest he receives; the second obtains the advantage of disposing of a sum which is sufficient to set in motion a lucrative business, and this advantage more than compensates him for the interest he pays. We know, too, that this interest is not capricious in its amount, but is governed by fixed laws. It usually consists of two distinct elements -- the interest which is the price of money, and what has been termed [1:242] the 'interest of assurance.' The price of money, like the price of most other commodities, is determined by the law of supply and demand. [2:242] It depends upon the proportion between the amount of money that is to be lent and the demands of the borrowers, which proportion is itself influenced by many considerations, but is chiefly regulated in a normal state of society by the amount of wealth and the amount of enterprise. The second kind of interest arises in those cases in which there is some danger that the creditor may lose what he has lent, or in which some penalty, inflicted by law or by public opinion, attaches to the loan. For it is manifest that men will not divert their capital from secure to insecure enterprises unless there is a possibility that they may obtain a larger gain in the latter than in the former, and it is equally manifest that no one will voluntarily take a course that exposes him to legal penalties or to public reproach unless he has some pressing motive for doing so.
If, then, when the law of supply and demand has regulated the rate of interest, the government of the country interposes, and either prohibits all interest or endeavours to fix it at a lower rate; if public opinion stigmatises the lender at interest as infamous, and if religion brands his act as a crime, it is easy from the foregoing principles to perceive what must be the consequence. As long as there are persons who urgently desire to borrow, and persons who possess capital, it is quite certain that the relation of debtor and creditor will continue; but the former will find that the terms have greatly altered to his disadvantage. For the capitalist will certainly not lend without exacting interest, and such interest as is at least equivalent to the profits he would derive if he employed his money in other ways. If the law forbids this, he must either not lend, or lend in a manner that exposes him to legal penalties. A great number, overcome by their scruples or their fears, will adopt the former course, and consequently the amount of money in the community which is to be lent, and which is one of the great regulators of the price of money, will be diminished; while those who venture to incur the risk of infringing human, and, as they believe, Divine laws, and of incurring the infamy attached by public opinion to the act, must be bribed by additional interest. At the same time the furtive character given to the transaction is eminently favourable to imposition. The more therefore law, public opinion, and religion endeavour to lower the current rate of interest, the more that rate will be raised.
But these principles, simple as they may now appear, were entirely unknown to the ancients, and from an extremely early period the exaction of interest was looked upon with disfavour. The origin of this prejudice is probably to be found in the utter ignorance of all uncivilised men about the laws that regulate the increase of wealth, and also in that early and universal sentiment which exalts prodigality above parsimony. At all times and in all nations this preference has been shown, and there is no literature in which it has not been reflected. From the time of Thespis downwards, as Bentham reminds us, there is scarcely an instance in which a lender and a borrower have appeared upon the stage without the sympathies of the audience being claimed for the latter. The more ignorant the people, the more strong will be this prejudice; and it is therefore not surprising that those who were the preëminent representatives of parsimony, who were constantly increasing their wealth in a way that was so different from the ordinary forms of industry, and who often appeared in the odious light of oppressors of the poor, should have been from the earliest times regarded with dislike. Aristotle and many other of the Greek philosophers cordially adopted the popular view; but at the same time money-lending among the Greeks was a common though a despised profession, and was little or not at all molested by authority. Among the Gauls it was placed under the special patronage of Mercury. In Rome also it was authorised by law, though the legislators constantly sought to regulate its terms, and though both the philosophers and the people at large branded the money-lenders as the main cause of the decline of the empire. The immense advantages that capital possesses in a slave-country, and the craving for luxury that was universal, combined with the insecurity produced by general maladministration and corruption, and by frequent tumults created with the express object of freeing the plebeians from their debts, had raised the ordinary rate of interest to an enormous extent; and this, which was in truth a symptom of the diseased condition of society, was usually regarded as the cause. At the same time the extreme severity with which Roman legislation treated insolvent debtors exasperated the people to the highest point against the exacting creditor, while, for the reasons I have already stated, the popular hatred of the usurers and the interference of legislators with their trade still further aggravated the evil. Besides this, it should be observed that when public opinion stigmatises money-lending as criminal, great industrial enterprises that rest upon it will be unknown. Those who borrow will therefore for the most part borrow on account of some urgent necessity, and the fact that interest is wealth made from the poverty of others will increase the prejudice against it.
When the subject came under the notice of the Fathers and of the mediæval writers, it was treated with unhesitating emphasis. All the pagan notions of the iniquity of money-lending were unanimously adopted, strengthened by the hostility to wealth which early Christianity constantly inculcated, and enforced with such a degree of authority and of persistence that they soon passed into nearly every legislative code. Turgot and some other writers of the eighteenth century have endeavoured to establish a distinction between more or less rigorous theologians on this subject. In fact, however, as any one who glances over the authorities that have been collected by the old controversialists on the subject may convince himself, there was a perfect unanimity on the general principles connected with usury till the casuists of the seventeenth century, although there were many controversies about their special applications. [1:246] A radical misconception of the nature of interest ran through all the writings of the Fathers, of the mediæval theologians, and of the theologians of the time of the Reformation, and produced a code of commercial morality that appears with equal clearness in the Patristic invectives, in the decrees of the Councils, and in nearly every book that has ever been written on the Canon Law. The difference between theologians was not in what they taught, but in the degree of emphasis with which they taught it. There were no doubt times in which the doctrine of the Church fell into comparative desuetude: there were times when usury was very generally practised, and not very generally condemned. There are even a few examples of Councils which, without in any degree justifying usury, contented themselves with expressly censuring priests who had practised it. [2:246] But at the same time there is a long unbroken chain of unequivocal condemnations, extending from the period of the Fathers to the period of the Reformation.
The doctrine of the Church has been involved in some little obscurity on account of the total change that has taken place during the last three centuries in the meaning of the word usury, and also on account of the many subtleties with which the casuists surrounded it; but if the reader will pardon a somewhat pedantic array of definitions, it will be easy in a few words to disentangle it from all ambiguity.
Usury, then, according to the unanimous teaching of the old theologians, consisted of any interest that was exacted by the lender from the borrower solely as the price of the loan. [1:247] Its nature was, therefore, entirely independent of the amount that was asked, and of the civil laws upon the subject. Those who lent money at three per cent. were committing usury quite as really as those who lent it at forty per cent., [1:248] and those who lent money at interest in a country where there was no law upon the subject as those who lent it in defiance of the most stringent prohibitions. [2:248] It is not, however, to be inferred from this that everything of the nature of interest was forbidden. In the first place, there was the case of permanent alienation of capital. A man might deprive himself for ever of a certain sum, and receive instead an annual revenue; for in this case he was not receiving the price of a loan, as a loan implies the ultimate restitution of that which had been lent. There is some reason to believe that this modification was introduced at a late period, when the rise of industrial enterprises had begun to show the ruinous character of the doctrine of usury; but at all events the distinction was generally adopted, and became the cornerstone of a large amount of legislation. [3:248] In the next place, there were certain cases in which a lender might claim interest from his debtor -- not as the price of the loan, not as a rent exacted for the use of money -- but on other grounds which were defined by theologians, and which were, or were at least believed to be, entirely distinct. [1:249] Such were the cases known among the schoolmen under the titles of 'damnum emergens' and 'lucrum cessans.' If a man was so situated that, by withdrawing a portion of his capital from the business in which he was engaged, he would suffer a palpable and unquestionable loss, and if for the purpose of assisting his neighbour he consented to withdraw a certain sum, he might stipulate a compensation for the loss he thus incurred. He was not lending money for the purpose of gaining money by the transaction, and the interest he exacted was solely a compensation for a loss he had actually sustained. In the same way, if a man was able to apply money to a purpose that would bring a certain gain, and if he consented to divert a certain sum from this channel in order to lend it to a friend, it was generally (but by no means always) [2:249] believed that he might receive an exact equivalent for the sacrifice he had unquestionably made. The question, too, of insurances was early raised, and created a cloud of the most subtle distinctions: so, too, did those great lending societies, which were founded in Italy by Bernardin de Feltre, under the title of 'Monti di Pietà,' for the purpose of counteracting the usury of the Jews. Their object was to lend money to the poor without interest, but very soon a small sum was exacted in return, in addition to what had been lent. This was very naturally stigmatised as usury, because, as we have seen, usury was entirely irrespective of the amount that was asked; but some theologians maintained, and Leo X. at last decided by a bull, that this exaction was not usurious, because it was simply a fee for the payment of the officials connected with the establishments, and not the price of the loan. [1:250]
These examples will serve to show the general character that controversies on usury assumed. Above all the complications and subtleties with which the subject was surrounded, one plain intelligible principle remained -- the loan of money was an illicit way of acquiring wealth. In other words, any one who engaged in any speculation in which the increase of his capital by interest was the object had committed usury, and was therefore condemned by the Church. It is said that after the twelfth century the lawfulness of usury was a popular tenet among the Greeks; [2:250] but before this time the teaching of theologians on the subject seems to have been perfectly unanimous, and with this exception it continued to be so till the Reformation. Usury was not only regarded as an ecclesiastical crime, but was also, as far as the Church could influence the legislators, a civil one, and it was especially singled out as one that should be investigated with torture. [3:250]
Such then was the doctrine of theologians. It remains to examine for a moment the arguments on which it was based. The first of these in the present day appears very startling. It was said that usury, however moderate, is one of those crimes, like murder or robbery, that are palpably contrary to the law of nature. This was shown by the general consent of all nations against it, and also by a consideration of the nature of money; for 'all money is sterile by nature,' [1:251] and therefore to expect profit from it is absurd. The essence of every equitable loan is, that precisely that which was lent should be returned; and therefore, as Lactantius maintained, and as the mediæval moralists unanimously repeated, to exact interest is a species of robbery. It is true that it might naturally occur to the minds even of mediæval theologians that houses or horses were sometimes lent at a fixed rent, which was paid notwithstanding their restitution. But this difficulty was answered by a very subtle distinction, which if it was not originated was at least chiefly developed by St. Thomas Aquinas. The use of a horse may be distinguished, at least by the intellect, from the horse itself. Men borrow a horse and afterwards restore it, but the usage of the horse has been a distinct advantage, for which they may lawfully pay; but in the case of money, which is consumed in the usage, the thing itself has no value distinct from its usage. When therefore a man restores the exact sum he has borrowed, he has done all that can be required of him, because to make him pay for the usage of this money is to make him pay for a thing that does not exist, or, perhaps more correctly, to make him pay twice for the same thing, and is therefore, said St. Thomas, dishonest. [1:252]
This was one branch of the argument; the other was derived from authority. The political economy of the Fathers was received with implicit faith, and a long series of passages of Scripture were cited which were universally regarded as condemnatory of usury. [2:252] As it is quite certain that commercial and industrial enterprise cannot be carried on on a large scale without borrowing, and as it is equally certain that these loans can only be effected by paying for them in the shape of interest, it is no exaggeration to say that the Church had cursed the material development of civilisation. As long as her doctrine of usury was believed and acted on, the arm of industry was paralysed, the expansion of commerce was arrested, and all the countless blessings that have flowed from them were withheld. [1:253] As, however, it is impossible for a society that is even moderately civilised to continue without usury, we find, from a very early period, a certain antagonism existing on this subject between the civil law and the Church. The denunciations of the Fathers were soon succeeded by a long series of Councils which unanimously condemned usurers, and the canonical law is crowded with enactments against them; but at the same time kings found it constantly necessary to borrow for the equipment of their armies, and they very naturally shrank from suppressing a class to which they had recourse. Edward the Confessor indeed in England, St. Lewis in France, [2:253] and a few other sovereigns of remarkable piety, took this extreme step; but generally usury, though not altogether recognised, was in some degree connived at. Besides, to lend was esteemed much more sinful than to borrow, [1:254] and in the earlier part of the middle ages the usurers were almost exclusively Jews, who had no scruples on the subject, and who had adopted this profession partly because of the great profits they could derive from it, and partly because it was almost the only one open to them. It was not till the close of the eleventh century that Christian money-lenders became numerous, and the rise of this class was the immediate consequence of the commercial development of the Italian republics. The Lombards soon became the rivals of the Jews; [2:254] the merchants of Florence carried on usury to a still greater extent, [3:254] and for the first time this was done openly, with the full sanction both of law and public opinion. From Italy usury passed to France and England; [4:254] and the Third Council of the Lateran, [5:254] which was convened by Alexander III., in 1179, complained that it had so increased that it was almost everywhere practised. The same Council endeavoured to arrest it by decreeing that no notorious and impenitent usurer should be admitted to the altar, should be absolved at the hour of death, or should receive Christian burial. [1:255] All this, however, was in vain: the expansion of commercial enterprise became every year more marked, and the increase of usury was its necessary consequence.
In this manner the rise of an industrial civilisation produced a distinct opposition between the practice of Christendom and the teaching of the Church. On the one hand, to lend money at interest became a constant and recognised transaction, and the more the laws of wealth were understood, the more evident it became that it was both necessary and innocent. On the other hand, there was no subject in the whole compass of Catholic theology on which the teaching of the Church was more unequivocal. [2:255] Usury had always been defined as any sum that was exacted as the price of a loan, and it had been condemned with unqualified severity by the Fathers, by a long series of Popes and Councils, by the most eminent of the mediæval theologians, and by the unanimous voice of the Church. The result of this conflict evidently depended on the comparative prevalence of dogmatic and rationalistic modes of thought. As long as men derived their notions of duty from authority and tradition, they would adopt one conclusion; when they began to interrogate their own sense of right, they would soon arrive at another.
The sequel of the history of usury is soon told. The Reformation, which was in a great measure effected by the trading classes, speedily dispelled the illusions on the subject, although the opinions of the Reformers were at first somewhat divided. Melanchthon, Brentius, and (perhaps) Bucer adopted the old Catholic view; [1:256] but Calvin maintained that usury was only wrong when it was exacted in an oppressive manner from the poor, [2:256] and, with admirable good sense, he refused to listen to those who exhorted him to check it by law. In England money-lending was first formally permitted under Henry VIII. [3:256] Somewhat later Grotius discussed it in a liberal though rather hesitating tone, maintaining strongly that it was at least not contrary to the law of nature. [4:256] Two or three other Protestant writers, who are now almost forgotten, appear to have gone still further; but the author to whom the first unequivocal assertion of the modern doctrine of interest is due seems to be Saumaise, [5:256] who, between 1638 and 1640, published three books in its defence. His view was speedily but almost silently adopted by most Protestants, and the change produced no difficulty or hostility to Christianity.
Among the Catholics, on the other hand, the difficulty of discarding the past was very considerable. At the beginning of the sixteenth century the modern distinction between usury and interest had been introduced among laymen, to the great indignation of theologians, [1:257] in order to evade the censure of the canonical law. The casuistry of the Jesuits was soon applied to the subject, and two or three circuitous ways of obtaining interest became popular, which gave rise to long and virulent controversies. [2:257] Early in the eighteenth century three professors of the University of Ingolstadt, named Pichler, Tanner, and Hannold, took a further step, and contended that some forms of undoubted usury might be safely practised if the civil law permitted them; [3:257] and in 1743 a writer named Broedersen wrote a book which seems to have embodied and combined nearly all the leading sentiments of the different schools of laxer theologians. The subject had by this time excited so much agitation that Benedict XIV. deemed it necessary to interpose. He accordingly, as the head of the Catholic Church, issued an encyclical letter, in which he acknowledged that there were occasions when a lender, on special grounds, might claim a sum additional to what he had lent, but refused to pronounce in detail on the merits of the controversies that had been raised concerning particular kinds of loans, and contented himself with laying down authoritatively the doctrine of the Church. That doctrine was that usury is always a sin; that it consists of any sum that is exacted beyond what had been lent, solely on account of the loan; [1:258] and that the fact of this interest being moderate, or being exacted only from a rich man, or in order to further a commercial undertaking, in no degree alters its character. [2:258] This appears to have been the last official utterance of the Church upon the subject, and although isolated theologians for some time attempted to stem the tide, their voices soon died away before the advancing spirit of Rationalism. Year by year what the old theologians had termed usury became more general. The creation of national debts made it the very pillar of the political system. Every great enterprise that was undertaken received its impulse from it, and the immense majority of the wealthy were concerned in it. Yet though it had long been branded as a mortal sin, and though mortal sin implied eternal separation from the Deity and the endurance of eternal and excruciating sufferings, the voice of the Church was silent. The decrees of the Councils remained indeed unchanged; the passages from Scripture and from the Fathers that had so long been triumphantly adduced continued precisely the same; but the old superstition faded steadily and almost silently away, till every vestige of it had disappeared. Laws, indeed, against usury still continued upon the statute book, but they were intended not to prohibit interest, but only to regulate its rate; and as the principles of political economy were elucidated, this too began to pass away. At the close of the seventeenth century, Locke protested strongly against the attempt to reduce interest by law; [1:259] but the full investigation of the subject was reserved for the following century. It was remarked that Catharine of Russia having endeavoured to lower the general rate of interest from six to five per cent., her enactment had the effect of raising it to seven; and that Louis XV., in the same manner, raised it from five to six when intending to reduce it to four. [2:259] In England both Adam Smith and Hume threw a flood of light upon the subject, though neither of them fully perceived the evil of the laws, which the first, indeed, expressly applauded. [1:260] In France, nine years before the 'Wealth of Nations,' Turgot had disclosed most of those evils; and he appears to have clearly seen that interest is not capricious, but bears a fixed relation to the general condition of society. [2:260] At last Bentham, in his famous 'Letters on Usury,' gave what will probably prove a deathblow to a legislative folly that has been in existence for 3,000 years. It has been observed by a Russian political economist that the Starovertsis, and some other dissenters from the Russian Church, still maintain that it is sinful to lend money at interest [3:260] -- perhaps the last representatives of what was for many centuries the unanimous teaching of the Christian Church.
The importance of this episode depends not so much on the question that was immediately at issue -- though that question, as we have seen, was far from being insignificant -- as upon its influence in breaking the authority of the Church. A second way in which the rise of the industrial classes that followed the Crusades tended towards the same object was by uniting nations of different religions in commercial relations. Before this time the intervention of the Pope had been the most effectual agent in regulating national differences, and General Councils formed the highest, and indeed almost the solitary, expression of a European federation. The benign influence of Catholicism was continually exercised in correcting the egotism of a restricted patriotism; and although this benefit was purchased by the creation of an intense animosity towards those who were without, and also by an excessive predominance of ecclesiastical influence, it would be unfair to forget its inestimable value. After the Crusades, however, a new bond of cohesion was called into existence, and nations were grouped upon a new principle. The appointment of consuls in the Syrian towns, to superintend the commercial interests of the Western nations, gave the first great impulse to international diplomacy [1:261] -- an influence which for many centuries occupied an extremely important place in civilisation, but appears now to be steadily waning before the doctrine of the rights of nationalities and before the increasing publicity of politics. The social and intellectual consequences of commercial intercourse were still greater. For while an intense sectarian spirit is compatible with the most transcendent abilities and with the most profound learning, provided those abilities and that learning are directed in a single channel, it can very rarely survive close contact with members of different creeds. When men have once realised the truth that no single sect possesses a monopoly either of virtue or of abilities -- when they have watched the supporters of the most various opinions dogmatising with the same profound conviction, defending their belief with the same energy, and irradiating it with the same spotless purity -- when they have learnt in some degree to assume the standing-point of different sects, to perceive the aspect from which what they had once deemed incongruous and absurd seems harmonious and coherent, and to observe how all the features of the intellectual landscape take their colour from the prejudice of education, and shift and vary according to the point of view from which they are regarded -- when, above all, they have begun to revere and love for their moral qualities those from whom they are separated by their creed, their sense both of the certainty and the importance of their distinctive tenets will usually be impaired, and their intolerance towards others proportionately diminished. The spectacle of the contradictions around them, of the manifest attraction which different classes of opinions possess to different minds, will make them suspect that their own opinions may possibly be false, and even that no one system of belief can be adapted to the requirements of all men; while, at the same time, their growing sense of the moral excellence that may be associated with the most superstitious creed will withdraw their minds from dogmatic considerations. For human nature is so constituted, that, although men may persuade themselves intellectually that error is a damnable crime, the voice of conscience protests so strongly against this doctrine, that it can only be silenced by the persuasion that the personal character of the heretic is as repulsive as his creed. Calumny is the homage which dogmatism has ever paid to conscience. Even in the periods when the guilt of heresy was universally believed, the spirit of intolerance was only sustained by the diffusion of countless libels against the misbeliever, and by the systematic concealment of his virtues. How sedulously theologians at that time laboured in this task, how unscrupulously they maligned and blackened every leading opponent of their views, how eagerly they fanned the flame of sectarian animosity, how uniformly they prohibited those whom they could influence from studying the writings or frequenting the society of men of different opinions from their own, is well known to all who are acquainted with ecclesiastical history. The first great blow to this policy was given by the rise of the commercial classes that followed the Crusades. Orthodox Catholics came into close and amicable connection both with Greeks and with Mohammedans, while their new pursuit made them, for the first time, look with favour upon the Jews. It was these last who in the middle ages were the special objects of persecution, and it was also towards them that the tolerant character of commerce was first manifested.
The persecution of the Jewish race dates from the very earliest period in which Christianity obtained the direction of the civil power; [1:263] and, although it varied greatly in its character and its intensity, it can scarcely be said to have definitively ceased till the French Revolution. Alexander II., indeed, and three or four other Popes, [1:264] made noble efforts to arrest it, and more than once interposed with great courage, as well as great humanity, to censure the massacres; but the priests were usually unwearied in inciting the passions of the people, and hatred of the Jew was for many centuries a faithful index of the piety of the Christians. Massacred by thousands during the enthusiasm of the Crusades and of the War of the Shepherds, the Jews found every ecclesiastical revival, and the accession of every sovereign of more than usual devotion, occasions for fresh legislative restrictions. Theodosius, St. Lewis, and Isabella the Catholic -- who were probably the three most devout sovereigns before the Reformation -- the Council of the Lateran, which led the religious revival of the thirteenth century, Paul IV., who led that of the sixteenth century, and above all the religious orders, were among their most ardent persecutors. Everything was done to separate them from their fellow-men, to mark them out as the objects of undying hatred, and to stifle all compassion for their sufferings. They were compelled to wear a peculiar dress, and to live in a separate quarter. A Christian might not enter into any partnership with them; he might not eat with them; he might not use the same bath; he might not employ them as physicians; he might not even purchase their drugs. [1:265] Intermarriage with them was deemed a horrible pollution, and in the time of St. Lewis any Christian who had chosen a Jewess for his mistress was burnt alive. [2:265] Even in their executions they were separated from other criminals, and, till the fourteenth century, they were hung between two dogs, and with the head downwards. [3:265] According to St. Thomas Aquinas, all they possessed, being derived from the practice of usury, might be justly confiscated, [1:266] and if they were ever permitted to pursue that practice unmolested, it was only because they were already so hopelessly damned, that no crime could aggravate their condition. [2:266]
Insulted, plundered, hated, and despised by all Christian nations, banished from England by Edward I., and from France by Charles VI., they found in the Spanish Moors rulers who, in addition to that measure of tolerance which is always produced by a high intellectual culture, were probably not without a special sympathy for a race whose pure monotheism formed a marked contrast to the scarcely disguised polytheism of the Spanish Catholics; and Jewish learning and Jewish genius contributed very largely to that bright but transient civilisation which radiated from Toledo and Cordova, and exercised so salutary an influence upon the belief of Europe. But when, in an ill-omened hour, the Cross supplanted the Crescent on the heights of the Alhambra, this solitary refuge was destroyed, the last gleam of tolerance vanished from Spain, and the expulsion of the Jews was determined.
This edict was immediately due to the exertions of Torquemada, who, if he did not suggest it, at least by a singular act of audacity overcame the irresolution of the Queen; [1:267] but its ultimate cause is to be found in that steadily increasing popular fanaticism which made it impossible for the two races to exist together. In 1390, about a hundred years before the conquest of Granada, the Catholics of Seville, being excited by the eloquence of a great preacher, named Hernando Martinez, had attacked the Jews' quarter, and murdered 4,000 Jews, [2:267] Martinez himself presiding over the massacre. About a year later, and partly through the influence of the same eminent divine, similar scenes took place at Valentia, Cordova, Burgos, Toledo, and Barcelona. [3:267] St. Vincent Ferrier, who was then stirring all Spain with his preaching, devoted himself especially to the Jews; and as the people zealously seconded the reasoning of the saint by massacring those who hesitated, many thousands were converted, [1:268] and if they relapsed into Judaism were imprisoned or burned. Scenes of this kind took place more than once during the fifteenth century, and they naturally intensified the traditional hatred, which was still further aggravated by the fact that most of the tax-gatherers were Jews. At last the Moorish war, which had always been regarded as a crusade, was drawing to a close, the religious fervour of the Spanish rose to the highest point, and the Inquisition was established as its expression. Numbers of converted Jews were massacred; others, who had been baptised during past explosions of popular fury, fled to the Moors, in order to practise their rites, and at last, after a desperate resistance, were captured and burnt alive. [2:268] The clergy exerted all their energies to produce the expulsion of the entire race, and to effect this object all the old calumnies were revived, and two or three miracles invented. [1:269]
When we take into consideration all these circumstances, and the condition of public feeling they evince, we can perhaps hardly blame Isabella for issuing the decree of banishment against the Jews; but at the same time it must be acknowledged that history relates very few measures that produced so vast an amount of calamity -- calamities so frightful, that an old historian has scarcely exaggerated them when he describes the sufferings of the Spanish Jews as equal to those of their ancestors after the destruction of Jerusalem. [2:269] In three short months, all unconverted Jews were obliged, under pain of death, to abandon the Spanish soil. [3:269] Although they were permitted to dispose of their goods, they were forbidden to carry either gold or silver from Spain, and this measure made them almost helpless before the rapacity of their persecutors. Multitudes, falling into the hands of the pirates who swarmed around the coast, were plundered of all they possessed, and reduced to slavery; multitudes died of famine or of plague, or were murdered or tortured with horrible cruelty by the African savages, or were cast back by tempests on the Spanish coast. Weak women, driven from luxurious homes among the orange groves of Seville or Granada, children fresh from their mothers' arms, the aged, the sick, and the infirm, perished by thousands. About 80,000 took refuge in Portugal, relying on the promise of the king; but even there the hatred of the Spaniards pursued them. A mission was organised. Spanish priests lashed the Portuguese into fury, and the king was persuaded to issue an edict which threw even that of Isabella into the shade. All the adult Jews were banished from Portugal; but first of all their children below the age of fourteen were taken from them to be educated as Christians. Then, indeed, the cup of bitterness was filled to the brim. The serene fortitude with which the exiled people had borne so many and such grievous calamities gave way, and was replaced by the wildest paroxysms of despair. Piercing shrieks of anguish filled the land. Women were known to fling their children into deep wells, or to tear them limb from limb, rather than resign them to the Christians. When at last, childless and broken-hearted, they sought to leave the land, they found that the ships had been purposely detained, and the allotted time having expired, they were reduced to slavery, and baptised by force. By the merciful intervention of Rome most of them at last regained their liberty, but their children were separated from them forever. A great peal of rejoicing filled the Peninsula, and proclaimed that the triumph of the Spanish priests was complete. [1:270]
Certainly the heroism of the defenders of every other creed fades into insignificance before this martyr people, who for thirteen centuries confronted all the evils that the fiercest fanaticism could devise, enduring obloquy and spoliation and the violation of the dearest ties, and the infliction of the most hideous sufferings, rather than abandon their faith. For these were no ascetic monks, dead to all the hopes and passions of life, but were men who appreciated intensely the worldly advantages they relinquished, and whose affections had become all the more lively on account of the narrow circle in which they were confined. Enthusiasm and the strange phenomena of ecstasy, which have exercised so large an influence in the history of persecution, which have nerved so many martyrs with superhuman courage, and have deadened or destroyed the anguish of so many fearful tortures, were here almost unknown. Persecution came to the Jewish nation in its most horrible forms, yet surrounded by every circumstance of petty annoyance that could destroy its grandeur, and it continued for centuries their abiding portion. But above all this the genius of that wonderful people rose supreme. While those around them were grovelling in the darkness of besotted ignorance; while juggling miracles and lying relics were the themes on which almost all Europe was expatiating; while the intellect of Christendom, enthralled by countless superstitions, had sunk into a deadly torpor, in which all love of enquiry and all search for truth were abandoned, the Jews were still pursuing the path of knowledge, amassing learning, and stimulating progress with the same unflinching constancy that they manifested in their faith. They were the most skilful physicians, the ablest financiers, and among the most profound philosophers; while they were only second to the Moors in the cultivation of natural science. They were also the chief interpreters to Western Europe of Arabian learning. [1:271] But their most important service, and that with which we are now most especially concerned, was in sustaining commercial activity. For centuries they were almost its only representatives. By travelling from land to land till they had become intimately acquainted both with the wants and the productions of each, by practising money-lending on a large scale and with consummate skill, by keeping up a constant and secret correspondence and organising a system of exchange that was then unparalleled in Europe, [1:272] the Jews succeeded in making themselves absolutely indispensable to the Christian community, and in accumulating immense wealth and acquiring immense influence in the midst of their sufferings. When the Italian republics rose to power, they soon became the centres to which the Jews flocked; and under the merchant governments of Leghorn, Venice, Pisa, and Genoa, a degree of toleration was accorded that was indeed far from perfect, but was at least immeasurably greater than elsewhere. The Jews were protected from injury, and permitted to practise medicine and money-lending unmolested, and public opinion, as well as the law, looked upon them with tolerance. [1:273]
The tolerant spirit the commercial classes manifested towards the Jews before the Reformation was displayed with equal clearness towards both Catholics and Protestants in the convulsions that followed it. In addition to the reasons I have already given, there were two causes actively sustaining the predisposition.
In the first place, the industrial character is eminently practical. The habit of mind that distinguishes it leads men to care very little about principles, and very much about results; and this habit has at least a tendency to act upon theological judgments.
In the second place, religious wars and persecutions have always proved extremely detrimental to industry. The expulsions of the Jews and Moors from Spain, and of the Huguenots from France, were perhaps the most severe blows ever directed against the industry of either country; while the nations which on these or similar occasions were wise enough to receive the fugitives, reaped an immediate and an enormous advantage. The commercial genius of the Jewish exiles was one of the elements in the development of Leghorn, Pisa, and Ancona. Amsterdam owes a very large part of its prosperity to the concourse of heretics who had been driven from Bruges and from the surrounding country. The linen manufacture in Ireland, as well as many branches of English industry, were greatly stimulated by the skill and capital of the French refugees. French commerce received a powerful and long-sustained impulse from the good relations Francis I. had established with the Turks. It was not therefore surprising that Amsterdam, and in a less degree the other centres of commercial enterprise, should have been from an early period conspicuous for their tolerance, or that the diffusion of the industrial spirit should have everywhere prepared the way for the establishment of religious liberty.
Another consequence of the rise of the industrial spirit was the decay of the theological ideal of voluntary poverty which had created the monastic system. Immediately after the Crusades we find nearly all Europe rushing with extreme and long-sustained violence into habits of luxury. The return of peace, the contact with the luxurious civilisations of the East, the sudden increase of wealth that followed the first impetus of commerce, had all contributed to the movement. An extraordinary richness of dress was one of its first signs, and was encountered by a long succession of sumptuary laws. At the end of the thirteenth century we find Philip the Fair regulating with the most severe minuteness the number and quality of the dresses of the different classes of his subjects. [1:274] About the middle of the fourteenth century a parliament of Edward III. passed no less than eight laws against French fashions. [2:274] Even in Florence, among the officers of the republic, in the beginning of the fourteenth century, was one especially appointed 'to repress the luxury of women.' [1:275] Bruges, which had then risen to great wealth, became very famous in this respect; and the French king and queen having visited it early in the fourteenth century, it is related that the latter was unable to restrain her tears; for, as she complained, she 'found herself in presence of 600 ladies more queenly than herself.' [2:275] The fearful depopulation that was produced by the black death greatly strengthened the tendency. The wages, and consequently the prosperity, of the working classes rose to an unexampled height, which the legislators vainly tried to repress by fixing the maximum of wages by law; [3:275] while the immense fortunes resulting from the innumerable inheritances, and also that frenzy of enjoyment which is the natural reaction after a great catastrophe, impelled the upper classes to unprecedented excesses of luxury. This new passion was but part of a great change in the social habits of Europe, which was everywhere destroying the old rude simplicity, rendering the interiors of houses more richly and elaborately furnished, creating indoor life, increasing the difference between different ranks, producing a violent thirst for wealth, and making its display one of the principal signs of dignity.
There are few things more difficult to judge than those great outbursts of luxury that meet us from time to time in history, and which, whenever they have appeared, have proved the precursors of intellectual or political change. A sober appreciation of their effects will probably be equally removed from those Spartan, Stoical, or monastic declamations which found their last great representative in Rousseau, and from the unqualified eulogy of luxury in which Voltaire and some of his contemporaries indulged. Political economy, by establishing clearly the distinction between productive and unproductive expenditure, and by its doctrine of the accumulation of capital, has dispelled forever the old illusion that the rich man who lavishes his income in feasts or pageants is contributing involuntarily to the wealth of the community; and history unrolls a long catalogue of nations that have been emasculated or corrupted by increasing riches. But, on the other hand, if luxury be regarded as including all those comforts which are not necessary to the support of life, its introduction is the very sign and measure of civilisation; and even if we regard it in its more common but less definite sense, its increase has frequently marked the transition from a lower to a higher stage. It represents the substitution of new, intellectual, domestic, and pacific tastes for the rude warlike habits of semi-barbarism. It is the parent of art, the pledge of peace, the creator of those refined tastes and delicate susceptibilities that have done so much to soften the friction of life. Besides this, what in one sense is a luxury, soon becomes in another sense a necessary. Society, in a highly civilised condition, is broken up into numerous sections, and each rank, except the very lowest, maintains its position chiefly by the display of a certain amount of luxury. To rise to a higher level in the social scale, or at least to avoid the discomfort and degradation of falling below his original rank, becomes the ambition of every man; and these motives, by producing abstinence from marriage, form one of the principal checks upon population. However exaggerated may have been the apprehensions of Malthus, the controversy which he raised has at least abundantly proved that, when the multiplication of the species is checked by no stronger motive than the natural disinclination of some men to marriage, when the habitual condition of a large proportion of the inhabitants of a country that is already thickly inhabited is so low that they marry fearlessly, under the belief that their children can fare no worse than themselves, when poor-laws have provided a refuge for the destitute, and when no strong religious motive elevates celibacy into a virtue, the most fearful calamities must ensue. [1:277] Looking at things upon a large scale, there seem to be two, and but two adequate, checks to the excessive multiplication of the species: the first consists of physical and moral evils, such as wars, famines, pestilence, and vice, and those early deaths which are so frequent among the poor; the second is abstinence from marriage. In the middle ages, the monastic system, by dooming many thousands to perpetual celibacy, produced this abstinence, and consequently contributed greatly to avert the impending evil. [2:277] It is true that the remedy by itself was very inadequate. It is also true that, considered in its economical aspect, it was one of the worst that could be conceived; for it greatly diminished the productive energies of society, by consigning immense numbers to idleness, and by diffusing a respect for idleness through the whole community. But still the monastic system was in some measure a remedy; and, as it appears to me, the increased elaboration of social life, rendering the passion for wealth more absorbing, was one of the necessary preliminaries of its safe abolition. That elaboration was effected after the Crusades, and the change it has produced is very remarkable. The repressive influence upon population that was once exercised by a religious system resting on the glorification of voluntary poverty, and designed to mortify the natural tendencies of mankind, is now exercised by that increased love of wealth which grows out of the multiplication of secular aims, or, in other words, out of the normal development of society.
But, putting aside the incidental effects of luxury upon population, there can be no doubt that its effects in stimulating the energies of mankind, by investing material advantages with a new attraction, have sometimes been very great and very beneficial. For the love of wealth and the love of knowledge are the two main agents of human progress; and, although the former is a far less noble passion than the latter, although, in addition to the innumerable crimes it has produced, it exercises, when carried to excess, a more than common influence in contracting and indurating the character, it may well be doubted whether it is not, on the whole, the more beneficial of the two. It has produced all trade, all industry, and all the material luxuries of civilisation, and has at the same time proved the most powerful incentive to intellectual pursuits. Whoever will soberly examine the history of inventions, of art, or of the learned professions, may soon convince himself of this. At all events, the two pursuits will usually rise together. The great majority of mankind always desire material prosperity, and a small minority always desire knowledge; but in nations that are undeveloped, or are declining, these desires are unable to overcome the listlessness that is general. There is then no buoyancy in the national character. All lively curiosity, all the fire and energy of enterprise, are unknown. Men may love wealth, and even sacrifice moral principles to attain it, but they are unable to emancipate themselves from the empire of routine, and their languid minds recoil with the same antipathy from novelty, whether it comes to them in the form of industrial enterprise, or of intellectual innovation. This is even now very much the condition of Spain and of some other nations, and during the greater part of the middle ages it was the general condition of Christendom. In such a state of society, the creation of a spirit of enterprise is the very first condition of mental as of material progress; and when it is called into existence in one department, it will soon be communicated to all. The ardent passion for luxury that followed the Crusades -- the new tastes, new ideas, and new fields of enterprise that were suddenly made popular -- produced it in Europe; and the impulse that began in industry was soon felt in knowledge. In the Roman empire, which rested on slavery, luxury produced idleness. In the fourteenth century it stimulated industry, and aroused a strong feeling of opposition to that monastic system, which, by its enormous development, was a serious impediment to progress.
This opposition, which was at first created by the increased energy of laymen, was intensified by the deterioration of the monks. At one time, as I have already observed, they had been the great directors of labour. But when their numbers and their wealth had immensely increased, their first enthusiasm passed away, and multitudes thronged the monasteries simply to escape the burdens of life. Besides this, the priesthood had become intimately allied with the nobles, who are always opposed to the industrial classes. The alliance was in part the result of special circumstances, for the Crusades were directed conjointly by priests and nobles; and it was during the Crusades that the aristocracy obtained its distinct and complete organisation. It was also in part the consequence of a certain harmony which exists between the theological and the aristocratic spirit. Both, raising the past far above the present, regard innovation with extreme dislike, and both measure excellence by a different rule from personal merit.
If I have been fortunate enough to carry the reader with me through the foregoing arguments, the importance of industry in influencing theological development will have become apparent. We have seen that a great religious change is effected not by direct arguments, but by a predisposition to receive them, or, in other words, by a change of sympathies and bias. We have also seen that the industrial spirit which became prominent early in the fourteenth century produced such a change. It did so in three ways. It arose in a society in which the laity were crouching in abject submission to the priesthood, and it developed and raised to honour the practice of money-lending, which the priesthood had invariably anathematised. It arose in a society in which the duty of religious intolerance was regarded as an axiom, and it produced a tendency towards toleration by uniting men of different creeds in amicable intercourse, by elevating to honour on account of their commercial merits the people who were most persecuted on account of their creed, by making men concentrate their attention mainly on practice rather than on theory, and by calling into existence an order of interests which persecution seriously endangered. It, in the last place, made men look with aversion upon the monastic ideal which was the very centre of the prevailing theology. In all these ways it proved the precursor of the Reformation, and in all these ways it harmonised with the spirit of Rationalism.
Commercial enterprise, bearing in its train these intellectual consequences, spread rapidly over Europe. The accidental discovery at Amalfi of a manuscript of Roman laws is said to have produced the navigation laws; [1:281] the invention of the compass rendered long voyages comparatively secure; and every shore, from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, was soon fringed with harbours. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries we find the first mercantile companies established in England. [2:281] At a still earlier period Belgium had entered into relations with more than thirty kingdoms or states. [3:281] The consular system, which emanated from the commercial republics, and which was designed for the special protection of merchants, advanced rapidly in importance. [4:281] As early as the thirteenth century the consuls of Italy, Spain, and France had in most countries acquired an extended and recognised authority, England, in the fourteenth century, followed the example, [5:281] and about the same time the jurisdiction which had formerly been confined to seaports was extended to the towns in the interior. From these consulships, or perhaps from the papal legations which were already known, arose at last the institution of resident ambassadors, which completed the organisation of diplomacy, though its influence was not fully acquired till much later, in the coalitions resulting from the rivalry of Francis and Charles V. [1:282] The Hanseatic League repressed piracy, associated commerce with the first efflorescence of political liberty, and by the treaty of Stralsund, in 1370, made commercial interests preëminent in the North; while in the South the Venetians, anticipating in some measure the doctrines of later economists, sketched the first faint outlines of the laws that govern them. [2:282] At last the Medici appeared, and surrounded industry with the aureoles of genius and of art. For the first time the intellectual capital of Italy was displaced, and Rome itself paled before that new Athens which had arisen upon the banks of the Arno. An aristocracy, formed exclusively from the trading and mercantile classes, [3:282] furnished the most munificent and discerning patrons art had ever found; almost every great intellectual movement was coloured by its influence, and its glory was reflected upon the class from which it sprang.
It may here be advisable to rise for a moment above the industrial movement with which we have hitherto been occupied, and to endeavour to obtain a general conception of the different streams of thought which were at this time shooting across Europe. Such a review, which will be in part a summary of conclusions I have established in previous chapters, will help to show how admirably the industrial movement harmonised with the other tendencies of the age, and also how completely the Reformation was the normal consequence of the new condition of society.
While, then, the development of industry was producing an innovating, tolerant, and anti-monastic spirit, two great revivals of learning were vivifying the intellectual energies of Christendom.
The first consisted of that resuscitation of the classical writings which began about the twelfth century and culminated in the labours of Erasmus and the Scaligers. This revival broke the intellectual unity which had characterised the middle ages. It introduced a new standard of judgment, a new ideal of perfection, a new order of sympathies. Men began to expatiate in an atmosphere of thought where religious fanaticism had never entered, and where the threatenings of the dogmatist were unknown. The spell that had bound their intellects was broken, and the old type of character gradually destroyed. The influence of the movement passed from speculative philosophy to art, which was then the chief organ of religious sentiments, and, under the patronage of the Medici, a profound change took place in both painting and architecture, which intensified the tendency that produced it.
The second revival was produced by the action of Moorish civilisation. It was shown chiefly in an increased passion for natural science, which gradually substituted the conception of harmonious and unchanging law for the conception of a universe governed by perpetual miracles. With this passion for science, astrology rose into extraordinary repute, and it necessarily involved a system of fatalism, which, in its turn, led the way to a philosophy of history. From the same quarter arose many of those pantheistic speculations about the all-pervasive soul of the universe, to which the writers of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries were so passionately addicted. [1:284] In all these ways, Moorish influence contributed to shake the old faith, to produce new predispositions, and thus to prepare the way for the coming change. Roger Bacon, who was probably the greatest natural philosopher of the middle ages, was profoundly versed in Arabian learning, and derived from it many of the germs of his philosophy. [2:284] The fatalism of the astrologers and the pantheism of Averroes tinged some of the most eminent Christian writings long after the dawn of the Reformation. In one respect, Mahometan influence had somewhat anticipated the classical revival. The Mahometan philosophers were intense admirers of Aristotle; and it was chiefly through translations made by the Jews from the Arabic versions, that the knowledge of that philosopher penetrated to Europe.
There was another influence, growing partly out of the industrial development, and partly out of the revival of classical learning, at this time acting upon Europe, which I have not yet had occasion to mention, which many readers will deem far too trivial for notice, but which, nevertheless, appears to me so extremely important, both as a symptom and a cause, that I shall venture, at the risk of being accused of unpardonable digression, to trace some of the leading stages of its progress. I mean that change in the character of public amusements, produced chiefly by the habits of luxury, which took place about the fifteenth century, and which produced the revival of the theatre.
No one can question the immense importance in the intellectual history of mankind of an institution which elicited the dramas of Euripides, Sophocles, Æschylus, Calderon, Lope de Vega, Corneille, Molière, Racine, Voltaire, Goethe, Schiller, Shakspeare, and Ben Jonson, and which has invariably appeared as one of the most conspicuous signs and causes of a rising civilisation. Combining the three great influences of eloquence, of poetry, and of painting, it has probably done more than any other single agent to produce that craving after the ideal, that passionate enthusiasm of intellect, out of which all great works of imagination have sprung. It has been the seed-plot of poetry and romance, and it has exercised a considerable though less direct influence over eloquence. The age of Demosthenes and Æschines was also the age in which the theatre of Athens was the object of such a passionate devotion, that no politician was permitted even to propose the abolition of its subsidy. [1:285] The golden age of Roman eloquence was also the golden age of the Roman theatre, and the connection between acting and eloquence was one of the favourite subjects of the discussions of the time. [2:285] In modern days, Burke declared, in an assembly in no degree inferior to any of Greece or of Rome, that there was probably no orator among those he addressed, who did not owe something of his skill to the acting of Garrick. [1:286] And this amusement, which has ever proved one of the chief delights, and one of the most powerful incentives of genius, had, at the same time, the rare privilege of acting with equal power upon the opposite extreme of intellect, and is even now almost the only link connecting thousands with intellectual pursuits.
But the aspect in which the history of the theatre is most remarkable, is perhaps to be found in its influence upon national tastes. Every one who considers the world as it really exists, and not as it appears in the writings of ascetics or sentimentalists, must have convinced himself that in great towns, where multitudes of men of all classes and characters are massed together, and where there are innumerable strangers separated from all domestic ties and occupations, public amusements of an exciting order are absolutely necessary; and that, while they are often the vehicle and the occasion of evil, to suppress them, as was done by the Puritans of the Commonwealth, is simply to plunge an immense portion of the population into the lowest depths of vice. National tastes, however, vary with the different stages of civilisation, and national amusements undergo a corresponding modification; combats of men and animals being, for the most part, the favourite type in the earlier stages, and dramatic representations in the later ones. The history of amusements is thus important, as a reflection of the history of civilisation, and it becomes still more so when we remember that institutions which are called into existence by a certain intellectual tendency, usually react upon and intensify their cause.
In this, as in most other respects, we find a strong contrast existing between the two leading nations of antiquity. The Athenians, who for a long period repelled gladiatorial spectacles with disgust, were passionately devoted to the drama, which they carried to the very highest point of perfection, and from which they derived no small amount of their intellectual culture. The Romans, on the other hand, who regarded every subject from a military point of view, had long prohibited theatrical representations, except those which formed part of the worship of the gods. The first public theatre was erected by Pompey, and he only evaded the censure of the severe moralists of his time by making it a single story of a building that was ostensibly a temple of Venus. The Stoics, and the representatives of the old republican spirit, denounced the new amusement as calculated to enervate the national character. Public opinion branded actors as infamous, and, as a necessary consequence, they speedily became so. The civilisation of the Empire made the theatre at last extremely popular; but that civilisation was the most corrupt the world had ever seen, and the drama partook of the full measure of its corruption. A few rays of genius from the pens of Seneca, Plautus, or Terence flashed across the gloom; but Rome never produced any dramatists comparable to those of Greece, or any audience at all resembling that which made the theatre ring with indignation because Euripides had inserted an apology for mental reservation into his 'Hippolytus,' or had placed a too ardent panegyric of wealth in the mouth of Bellerophon. After a time the position of an actor became so degraded, that it was made a form of perpetual servitude, [1:288] and no one who had embraced that profession was permitted at any future time to abandon it. The undisguised sensuality reached a point which we can scarcely conceive. Women were sometimes brought naked upon the stage. [2:288] Occasionally an attempt was made to amalgamate theatrical amusements with those bloody spectacles to which the people were so passionately devoted, and the tragedy was closed by the burning of a criminal, who was compelled to personate Hercules. [3:288] At the same time, by a curious association of ideas, the theatre was still intimately connected with religious observances; the temple was often the scene of its orgies, and the achievements of the gods the subject of representation.
It is certainly not surprising that the early writers of Christianity should have directed all their eloquence against such an institution as this. They inveighed against it as the school of profligacy, and a centre of idolatry; and they dwelt, in language which it is impossible to read without emotion, upon the duty of those who might be called, at any moment, to endure for their faith the most horrible forms of torture and of death, abstaining from whatever could enervate their courage or damp their zeal. Mingled with these noble exhortations we find no small amount of that monastic spirit which regards pleasure as essentially evil, and also two or three arguments which perhaps represent the extreme limits of human puerility. Tertullian, having enumerated with great force and eloquence many of the most horrible vices of the theatre, adds that at least the Almighty can never pardon an actor who, in defiance of the evangelical assertion, endeavours, by high-heeled boots, to add a cubit to his stature, and who habitually falsifies his face. [1:289]
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