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ART. III.-1. The Cloister Life of the Emperor Charles the By WILLIAM STIRLING. 3rd edition. London,
Chronique de sa Vie intêrieure et de sa V politique, de son Abdication, et de sa Retraite dans le Cloître de Yuste. Par AMÉDÉE PICHOT. Paris, 1854. 8vo. 3. Charles-Quint. Son Abdication, son Séjour, et sa Mort au Monastère de Yuste. Par M. MIGNET. Paris, 1854. 8vo. 4. Retraite et Mort de Charles-Quint au Monastère de Yuste. Lettres inédites d'aprez les originaux conservés dans les Archives Royales de Samancas. Par M. GACHARD. Tome 1er. Bruxelles, Gand, et Leipsig, 1854.
HE influence of individuals on the destinies of the world is generally small. The great majority even of the rulers of mankind merely co-operate in a movement which would have pursued its pre-appointed track as rapidly and as completely if they had never existed. Their work may be well done; but, if they were not there, it would be done just as well by some one else. A few eminent men, whose talents and energy have been aided by fortune, have been able perceptibly to accelerate or perceptibly to retard, the progress of events. Hannibal was among the greatest statesmen, and was perhaps the greatest general, that the world has seen. All that his talents and his energy wielding the whole power of Carthage could do was to delay her fall for a few years. If Rome had not had Hannibal for an opponent she would have subdued Carthage a little sooner if she had not had Cæsar for a leader she would have subdued Gaul a little later. If he had endeavoured to support her republican institutions, they might have lasted until his death. The fall of Carthage, of Gaul, and of the Roman republic were questions merely of time. But circumstances from time to time occur when the balance between two great events, or between two great systems of events, is so equally poised that the impulse given by a single hand may be decisive. If Lycurgus had died in infancy, the whole history of Greece might have been altered, and a change in the fortunes of Greece might have been a change in the fortunes of the world. The Athenian domination might have extended over Sicily and Magna Græcia, Rome might have been stifled in her early adolescence, and who can say what would now be the state of Europe if she had not undergone the Roman domination or
received the Roman law? If the Barbarian invasion had found her a Greek or a Carthaginian empire?
The beginning of the sixteenth century was one of these critical periods. Great forces, material and mental, were then opposed. The events which were to be the result of their conflict have not yet exhausted their influence: they may affect the human race for many centuries to come. And these forces were so nicely balanced that the preponderance of religion or of superstition, of free inquiry or of unreasoning conformity, of France or of Germany, depended on the conduct of Charles V. and of Luther.
There seem to us to be no grounds for supposing that, if Luther had died, in 1506, a novice in the Augustinian convent of Erfurth, the Reformation, such as it now is, would have taken place. At first sight, indeed, it may appear that the corruptions which he attacked were too gross and palpable to endure the improved intelligence of modern Europe. But we must recollect that on his death Protestantism ceased to extend itself. Its limits are now nearly such as he left them. What was Popish in 1546 remains Popish now. Nor is this to be ascribed to inferiority of political institutions or of cultivation. democratic cantons of Switzerland, and the well-governed, industrious Flemings, are as strenuous in their adherence to Roman Catholicism as the despotically ruled Danes have been in their rejection of it.
The most highly civilised portions of the Continent are France, Italy, the Low Couutries, and Germany. Not onefourth of their inhabitants are Protestants. If the inherent vices of Popery have not destroyed it in France; if it has withstood there the learning and wisdom of the seventeenth ceutury, the wit and license of the eighteenth, and the boldness and philosophy of the nineteenth, what right have we to assume that those vices would have been fatal to it in Great Britain?
Nor can the permanence of Roman Catholicism be accounted for by its self-reformation. Without doubt, with the improved decorousness of modern times, some of its grossest practical abuses have been removed or palliated. Indulgencies are no longer on public sale. The morals in monasteries and convents, and those of the secular clergy, are decent: there is less of violent active persecution. But a church which claims to be infallible cannot really reform her doctrines. Every error that she has once adopted becomes stereotyped, every step by which she has diverged from truth is irretrievable. All the worst superstitions of the Romish Church are maintained by her at this instant as stoutly as they were when Luther first renounced her
communion. The prohibition of inquiry, the reliance on legendary traditions, the idolatry of relics, the invocation of Saints, the adoration of the Virgin Mary, the merit ascribed to voluntary suffering, and to premeditated uselessness, the conversion of the Sacraments into charms, of public worship into a magic in'cantation muttered in a dead language, and of the duty of Christian Holiness into fantastic penances, pilgrimages, sca'pularies, and a whole train of superstitious observances worthy of paganism in its worst forms,'* are all in full vigour among many of the Teutonic races and among all the nations whose languages are derived from the Latin. The clergy of France, once the most intelligent defenders of the liberties of the Gallican Church, are now more ultramontane than the Italians.
We repeat our belief that if Luther had not been born, or if he had wanted any one of that wonderful assemblage of moral and intellectual excellences that enabled him to triumph in the most difficult contest that ever was waged by man, if he had had less courage, less self-devotion, less diligence, less sagacity, less eloquence, less prudence, or less sincerity, the Pope would still be the Spiritual ruler of all Western Europe and America, and the peculiar doctrines of Romanism would prevail there, doubted indeed, or disbelieved, or unthought of, by the educated classes, and little understood by the uneducated, but conformed to by all.
On the other hand, if Charles V. had been able, like the Elector of Saxony and the Landgrave of Hesse, to shake off the prejudices of his early education,-if, like them, he had listened to Luther with candour, and, like them, had been convinced, and, instead of striving to crush the Reformation, had put himself at its head, a train of consequences would have been set in motion not less momentous than those which would have followed the submission or the premature death of Luther.
The Reformation would have spread over the whole of Germany and of the Netherlands. The inhabitants of those vast countries were all eager to throw off the dominion of Rome, and were kept under her yoke only by the tyranny and persecution of Charles. Germany would have remained an empire. It required the enthusiasm of a religious cause to rouse her feudatories to rise against their sovereign, and to force on him a treaty which, in fact, admitted their independence. It was to the treaty of Passau, to the shock then given to the Imperial sovereignty, that the Elector of Brandenburg, a hundred and fifty years after, owed his crown, and the Emperor, who had re
* Whately's Errors of Romanism, Essay vi. sect. 3.
cognised one of his vassals as a king, lost all real authority over the others.
If the whole of Germany and the Low Countries had remained one united body, if the former had not been laid waste by the thirty years' war, and the latter by the war which produced the independence of the United Provinces, such an empire would have been the arbiter of the Continent. Flanders, Alsace, Lorraine, and Franche Compté would have remained German; France would not have been able twice to threaten the independence of Europe; a Bourbon would not now be reigning in Spain.
No country would have gained so much by such a change in the course of events as Spain. In the first place, she would have become Protestant. Few of the phenomena of that remarkable period are more striking than the weakness of the hold which peculiar religious opinions then possessed over the bulk of the people of Europe. Henry VIII., Edward VI., Mary, and Elizabeth, turned the English backwards and forwards, from Romanism to Protestantism, and from Protestantism to Romanism, at the will, we had almost said at the caprice, of the monarch for the time being. The pride of the Roman Catholics had not been roused by the rivalry of a new Church, with bishops, and revenues, and patronage, and power, and rank of its own. The Reformation appeared to them not the introduction of a hostile faith, but a purification of the old one, and wherever it was not persecuted it was adopted.
Ireland may appear to be an exception; but the real sovereigns of the greater part of Ireland were then its native chieftains. Henry VIII. and his immediate successors were hostile pretenders. And it may be added, that the Reformation was not preached to the Celtic Irish. They could not read Latin, and no reformer wrote or preached in Irish.
But if Spain had been Protestant, she would have escaped the Inquisition-the brutalising instrument which more than any other means of misgovernment, more than despotism, or insecurity, or lawlessness, or oppression, has degraded the Spanish mind. She would have escaped the religious wars which wasted her strength for more than sixty years. She would not have been governed by Jesuits and bigots. She would not have been deprived, by the expulsion of the Moors, of the most industrious part of her population. Naples and Sicily, like Spain, would have adopted the faith of their master; and it is probable that Romanism, after lingering for a short time in a portion of France, of Italy, and of Poland, would have gradually died out,
and have been remembered, with magic, astrology, and alchemy, as one of the strange delusions of the dark unreasoning ages.
We cannot but be eager to know more of the men on whose conduct such vast consequences depended. To know how far that conduct was the result of the dispositions implanted in them by nature, and how far of the circumstances in which they were placed. How far it is to be imputed to their advisers, and how far to the solitary working of their own faculties and passions.
We have ample materials to form an estimate of Luther. The business of his life was to write and to talk, and his friends preserved his letters and his conversation with the care, we may say the veneration, which all that came from such a man deserved. In his correspondence and his tisch-reden, we have a fuller and a more detailed revelation of his innermost man than we possess of any other person, with the single exception of Dr. Johnson.
We see his strong conscientiousness, his religious fervour, his impulsive sense of duty, his unwearied diligence, his heroic courage never rushing into rashness; his vivid imagination, checked, though not sufficiently controlled, by his strong reason; and as the result of these passions and faculties, an aggressive force, a power of destruction, which no spiritual reformer, except perhaps Mahomet, ever directed against deeply rooted abuses. We see also a fearful amount of credulity, superstition, intolerance, and violence, to be imputed partly to the ignorance and rough energy of the 16th century, and partly to his severe and confined education, at first in privation, in want, and in beggary, and afterwards among the ascetic observances and dull degrading duties of a monastery.
We see, too, what perhaps was also the result of this education, his deep melancholy, his early and constantly increasing disgust at life, his regrets at not having died in infancy, his despair of improvement; indeed, his expectation that human affairs would go on from bad to worse till the last day, a day which he hoped and believed to be at hand, should close the reign of evil.
Before the publications, the titles of which are prefixed to this article, Charles V. was known to English readers chiefly in the judicious but somewhat pompous pages of Robertson. Robertson remarks that the circumstances transmitted to us with respect to his private deportment and character, are fewer and less interesting than might have been expected from the great number of the authors who have undertaken to write an account of his life. And the little that he himself has related of them is so full of error, that we need not regret that he has not given us more.