صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

was introduced and carried to high perfection, and Britain became a granary for the supply of the Roman armies with corn.

Next came the invasion of the Saxons, who, following the dictates of their native courage, seized upon the rich cultivated plains of England as their lawful prey. They did not conquer merely, they colonized also; and one horde after another of their hardy race came over and possessed the country. They did not drive out, but mixed with the conquered Britons. Both races were improved by their intermarriages, and the best qualities of each were transmitted to their descendants.

But the Saxons were not allowed to possess their conquests in peace. Another set of adventurers came to dispute with them the possession of such a prize. The Saxons having, from long disuse, lost some of their aptitude for war, were obliged to yield for a time to the fierce attack of a race of pirates, who, under the name of sea kings, brought their legions from the shores of Scandinavia. The Danes, though rude and fierce, were not destitute of many high qualities, being true descendants of the Caucasian race; and partly by their mixture with the former inhabitants of the soil, and partly by the excitement caused by their mutual struggles, they added materially to the elements of improvement, and the means already at work, by which the English character was finally raised to the height it has since attained.

Last, came the invasion of the Normans, originally a Scandinavian colony, who, to all the native energy of the race from which they sprung, added some of those refinements inseparable from a residence in a rich and productive country. The superiority of the Norman character over that of the mixed race they came among, appears in nothing more strongly than in the short

period of time in which a mere handful, comparatively speaking, of the former, overran and conquered the whole country, and the entire subjugation to which they finally reduced its inhabitants.

Since that time Britain has been free from foreign conquest, but other elements have been incessantly at work, calling into activity the mental energies of its inhabitants, and combining, in every sort of way, to raise, improve, and civilize the national character.

Part of this may be traced to the incessant endeavours of the people, consisting of the mixed races of Britons, Danes, and Saxons, to throw off the iron yoke imposed on them by their Norman conquerors, and to regain that degree of freedom which they had formerly enjoyed under their Saxon kings; struggles which finally issued in the granting of Magna Charta, and the establishment of those privileges of the commons, which have formed the foundation of English liberty.

In the mean time other principles were at work. Christianity, though rudely taught, and imperfectly understood, had, in the midst of all these conquests and revolutions, been silently introduced, and had quietly gained a hold on the feelings and affections of the people. Rude and imperfect as the teaching of Christianity then was, it still contained much that was valuable, and, by its means, a more rational faith and a purer morality became current than that which ever prevailed in heathen times. Its ministers possessed all the learning of the age, and shewed in their lives examples of simplicity and charity. This is an element of improvement of which no heathen nation could ever boast, and, in this respect, our ancestors were more favoured than the greatest empires of antiquity.

Other foreign influences were not wanting to keep up the activity of the faculties, and to forward the


improvement of the race. The gradual encroachment of the Mahometan powers, at last raised a not unreasonable alarm that Christendom might be overwhelmed by the inroads of infidels, and that the Cross might ultimately fall before the armies of the Crescent. The whole Christian world, as if seized by a sudden mania, arose as one man, and Europe poured her countless legions into Asia, for the professed purpose of rescuing from the hands of infidels the possession of the Holy Sepulchre, and of those countries trodden by the footsteps of the Saviour of the world. The avowed purpose was futile, and the success equivocal, and gained by a prodigious sacrifice of blood and treasure; but the demonstration answered an end of far more importance, not contemplated by the immediate actors, though, probably, in part, foreseen by the instigators of the enterprise. The impression made on the followers of Ali was tremendous, and proved to them the utter hopelessness of any attempt to attack the Christian powers within their own territories.

The effect of the Crusades upon the Christians themselves was favourable to national improvement. The universal enthusiasm which they excited, raised into activity many of the nobler attributes of mind, which could not have been called into action during whole ages of less stirring excitement. The reports of those who returned of the exploits of themselves and their companions, their accounts of the countries they had visited, the cities and manners they had beheld, all tended to enlarge the ideas and increase the knowledge even of those who had remained at home, and furnished them with subjects of contemplation, and discoveries more interesting than the low and selfish objects of ordinary life. The result of the whole was, a decided improvement and elevation of the standard of national

manners and national morality, the introduction of a sense of honour, and of a generous attention to the comforts, and a deference to the feelings of the weaker sex, which even yet exercise an influence over most of the nations of Europe.

The effect of these changes on national character appeared in nothing more remarkably than in the alteration which is hereafter visible even in the usages of war. In the wars of conquest carried on by the Edwards and the Henrys in the kingdom of France, amidst all the horrors of such a state of things, there appear here and there gleams of generosity and clemency, tending to soften the distress of the vanquished, and to adorn the laurels of the conquerors with a grace and a humanity unknown in former ages.

But other prospects were soon to open, which directed the attention of Europe to subjects of excitement of a different kind. A new world rose suddenly to view, and the same period saw almost at once a path of access opened in the east and in the west, to regions of which all those objects hitherto considered the rarest and most precious, and forming the chief elements of wealth and splendour, were the native productions. New desires and new objects of ambition arose, and from this period we may date the new turn given to the spirit of enterprise, and the extraordinary energy in the pursuit of wealth, which has since characterized the middle classes in the nations of Europe. From that time their attention ceased to be directed to schemes of mutual conquest, and was turned rather to those vast regions which seemed to offer a boundless field for the gratifications of acquisitiveness. To this cause, and the excitement of the faculties thence arising, are owing much of the progress we have since made in knowledge, in arts and manufactures, and in science. The necessities of navigation have

led us to cultivate astronomy and mathematical science, and the result of our commercial voyages has been to make us acquainted with the different regions of the globe, their climates and productions, to an extent of which former ages had no conception. We have now seen fulfilled to the letter, the saying of the ancient prophet, "Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased."

To all these causes of improvement of our countrymen in mind and knowledge, may be added that which has diffused and disseminated a spirit through the mass. of society different from any that prevailed in ancient times, which has already done much, and promises to effect still more, in promoting every moral and intellectual excellence. The Reformation opened a new light to the faculties of man on the subject of religion, and, instead of confining them to the exercise of a blind faith, and an implicit reliance on a bigoted and interested priesthood, taught them to exercise their own intellects in interpreting the word of God, as contained in the Holy Scriptures, and in applying the doctrines therein contained as a rule of faith and conduct. The Reformation was certainly one of the mightiest revolutions, touching matters of the most important kind, that ever occurred in the history of the human race. And its effect was rendered many times more powerful-and, indeed, increased to an extent that can hardly be appreciated by the discovery which took place about the same time of the art of printing. The breaking up of the monasteries, which immediately, or as a necessary consequence, followed the Reformation, aided by this art, laid open to the world, almost at the same period,


• Greenwich Ohservatory was established by Charles II. for the express purpose of obtaining accurate observations of the places of the stars for the use of the navy.

« السابقةمتابعة »