Imágenes de páginas

to be their due—and we are not to be deterred from this design,
because, in the progress of our inquiries, we may be obliged to
admit the justice of many of those aspersions which were un-
gratefully cast, with no sparing hand in the day of their decay,
on institutions which had, indeed, discharged their office and
become superannuated by the progress of knowledge and infor-
mation, and by a gradual change in all the relations of society, in
the opinions and moral feelings of mankind; but were still emi-
nently entitled to our gratitude for numberless valuable ser-
vices. There is a time for all things; but let us not delight in
"skimming, like the flesh-fly, over what is sound, to detect and
settle on some spot which is tainted ;" let us not join in one
undiscriminating cry against persons and institutions, which
must occupy an important position in history and furnish many
topics for impartial speculation.-Institutions, worn out by
time, are not treated fairly, if they are considered only in those
relations, and at those periods, when their decay was fast ap-
proaching; when numbers were leagued in a common endeavour
to sacrifice the character and fortunes of the minority to the
majority, and when abuses are apt to be placed as prominent-
ly as if they were original characteristics of the system, in-
stead of mere blemishes incidental to almost all establishments,
political or religious, in some stage or other of their existence.
It is easy to exclaim, with the Old Play, in The Monastery ;

“O aye, the monks, the monks, they did the mischief,
Theirs all the grossness, all the superstition
Of a most gross and superstitious age!”

But to such charges we gladly answer, in the energetic language of the same poet,

-“May he be prais’d who sent the healthful tempest,
And scatter'd all these pestilential vapors !
But that we owe them all to yonder harlot,

-Thron'd on the seven hills, with her cup of gold,
We will as soon believe, with kind Sir Roger,
That old Moll White took wing, with cat and broomstick,
And rais'd the last night's thunder.”

It is impossible, we conceive, for instance, to deny the political advantage of establishments which gave refuge and sanctuary to the victims of lawless tyranny, supplied gratuitous ministration to the spiritual wants of their surrounding neighbourhoods, and often breathed the spirit of genuine religion, though clouded by the corruptions of a degenerate superstition; which professed, at any rate, as their ethical code, meekness, self-denial, and charity, and supplied the wants of those whom the world had otherwise left destitute.-“Can we regret,” (to borrow from the forcible observations of Mr. Hallam) “ that there should have been some green spots in the wilderness where the feeble and the persecuted could find refuge? How must this right [of sanctuary] have enhanced the veneration for religious institutions! How gladly must the victims of internal warfare have turned their eyes from the baronial castle, the dread and scourge of the neighbourhood, to those venerable walls, within which not even the clamor of arms could be heard to disturb the chant of holy men, and the sacred service of the altar!”

While we admire, however, the political and, perhaps, in that point of view, temporary benefits which those foundations shed around them, our attention will be more permanently attracted to their literary influence on Europe.-We shall perceive in the cloister not the tomb or charnel-house of learning, but its asylum in times of external gloom and trouble, till a more genial sun should rise, in which the germ of science and literature might expand and blossom.-We shall not always condemn the monastery as the parent and fosterer of idle superstition, but reflect, while the word of censure is on our lips, that the holy edifice alone preserved for ages the records of divine truth, the classic models of antiquity, the treasures of ancient philosophy ;-that to its inhabitants we owe almost all we possess, for a long period, of historical information ;--that even its superstitions, its legends, and idle controversies, supplied the place of patrons to the fine arts, to literature, and philosophy, enlisted, we may own, often in a bad cause, but still preserved by such an application to times when mankind should be better prepared for their culture and application. “ Even then,” in the beautiful language of Mrs. Barbauld, “the Muses with their attendant arts (in strange disguise, indeed, and antique trappings) were not idle in the cloister-Statuary carved a Madonna or a crucifix-Painting illuminated a missal-Eloquence made the panegyric of a saint-and History composed a legend :-still they breathed, and were ready at any happier period to emerge from obscurity with all their native charms and undiminished lustre.”

The lovers of poetry will need no persuasion to engage their approbation of our views. The most expanded imagination has never found prouder, more ennobling subjects to heighten its conceptions or enrich its imagery, than the sublime fabrics of conventual pomp in every period of their existence, whether in the pride of their original magnificence, the interesting progress of gradual decay, or even the last, but most affecting stage of mouldering ruin-and the raptures of enthusi

astic fancy, as well as the pensive breathings of the contemplative muse, owe their highest power over the mind, to the associations which the towering piles of ecclesiastical glory, and the gloomy honors of monumental devotion, have, at all times, kindled in the poet's head and heart.

To conclude these observations, we deprecate the imputation of appearing, in any way, the advocates of the superstitions, the tricks of imposture and fraud, which, more or less, disgraced monastic establishments in common with almost every other institution of an uncivilized age, or of the principles of religion or economy on which they were founded ;-we only protest against trying their merits by considerations and principles which owe much of their truth and expediency to a totally different order of society ;-we deprecate indiscriminate censure against foundations, merely because they may, with the light of the present age, be easily shown to be inconsistent with good government or sound policy, by those who choose to forget that one anomaly is often the most efficient counterbalance of another ;—and we call on all, before they pronounce a sweeping self-sufficient anathema on the weaknesses of their forefathers, to pause, and if they will not go as far as to admit the absolute wisdom of such institutions, at least to give some prominency of relief to the fairer parts of their results, and to allow us to trace the tendency of some even of the most obvious imperfections in the system to the production of great countervailing


“The sacred taper's light is gone,
Grey moss has clad the altar-stone,
The holy image is o'erthrown,

The bell has ceas'd to toll.
The long-ribb'd aisles are burst and shrunk;
The holy shrine to ruip sunk,
Departed is the pious monk,

God's blessing on his soul!" But that sacred taper, (we are proud to reflect) before it expired, lit the flame of a more pure and rational devotion—that altar-stone preserved and sanctified amidst barbarous nations and times, a worship corrupted, indeed, but under any shape conducive to the best and dearest interests of humanity-the holy image, in its rudest form, stimulated the humble devotee to the revival and cultivation of the fine arts—those long-ribbed aisles and holy shrines remain the wonder and admiration of posterity, the unrivalled models of majestic grandeur and sublimity

-and many a pious monk has, indeed, deserved the blessing which we breathe over his remains, as the historian and philoso

pher of his age, and the benefactor not only of his day and country, but of all time.

With all our esteem, however, for monastic institutions, and our desire to see ample justice done to their merits, we are not inclined to dispute that many of their failings, and we may add their innocent peculiarities, afford a legitimate mark for the arrows of ridicule.-We have never refused to participate in the merriment, excited by the thousand humorous tales of welldirected satire which characterized the æra of the Reformation, as well as the two or three preceding centuries; and we shall not refuse to do justice even to the motives of those who exerted an equally powerful though less charitable talent, in convincing the world, that the time had arrived when such establishments, however advantageous they might have been in other stages of society, had lost almost all their usefulness, and were becoming only the cloaks of hypocrisy and vice. We need not call our reader's attention to these works : many of them must be fresh in every one's recollection; they have, like Don Quixote, survived the temporary purpose in which they originated: but the little work which heads this article has lately fallen in our way, and we have wished to introduce it to our readers, being as we believe very little known, though it has considerable merit, at any rate for the novelty of its conception.

The author, a German Baron, who exerted his talents in a work on Conchology, here deviates from the usual course of his researches into the treasures of nature, for the purpose of an excursion into the animal kingdom; and has conceived the notion of applying the Linnæan system to analysing, classifying, and describing the nature, dress, and habits of the living lumber, by which he considered his country infested under the appellation of Monks.

With this view, he offers very modestly, not a complete system, but an attempt, a Specimen Monachologia, in which he endeavours to show the practicability of reducing, into a scientific form and nomenclature, a race of infinite variety and complexity.

His object is thus avowed, in a motto selected from Linnaus de noxa insectorum.

“ I exceedingly rejoice, that in my country, considerable attention should have been excited, among other studies, to investigating, describing, and distinguishing (monastic) insects.—Unless so pleasing an idea misleads my judgment, I should foretell that in the result we shall every where perceive the most perfect skill and wisdom, even in the formation of the meanest things and if with this pious view we bend our attention to the subject, it is my opinion, that we shall discover remedies for all the mischiefs that are occasioned by insects, (monks) of every sort; moreover that we may hope to succeed in turning them, as well as other things, by the divine favor and assistance, to those uses, and which if we could always discover them, would lead us to a conviction, that no part of creation exists otherwise, than for an useful and beneficent purpose.”

Then follows a Latin address to the reader, which we shall thus translate.

“Ever since philosophy was purged from the sophisms of the peripatetics, and the trifling of the middle ages, and restored to that state of primitive dignity which becomes the mother of all the arts, the study of natural history has excited great attention. The ablest men have felt the attractions of this most delightful science, and have cultivated and freed it from the load of idle fable by which it was obscured: they have more accurately examined the various classes of natural productions, the substances which vegetate on the face of the earth, or form within its bowels; have communicated the progress of their discoveries to the world; and have so developed and illustrated, in philosophical treatises, the substances which nourish, protect, or heal us from our diseases, that little remains to be done, except, as at the conclusion of the harvest, to pick up here and there the scattered ears of corn that the reapers have left.

“ This would be abundantly manifest, if I were merely to mention the men who have deserved well at our hands, for collecting, defining, and distributing the various works of nature, or indeed, only to enumerate the names of those who have handled a single class, or a solitary genus of organic bodies. But I will not conceal from the candid reader, that I (who have ever felt the strongest impulse towards similar pursuits) had made up my mind, that nearly all the materials for writing on the subjects were exhausted, and that there was scarcely any thing, with the whole detail of which we were not intimately acquainted; when by some accident I fell upon the memorable saying of Solon, Know thyself!

“ Prompted by this golden precept, I directed my attention to man, and an inquiry into his nature and physiology: I compared with him the various anthropomorphic species, when, behold, I unexpectedly detected a new genus, which intimately connects man, the most perfect of created beings, with the ape, the most foolish of animals, and occupies the great hiatus between the two; I allude to the Monk, a genus which appears in the form of man, although widely different in essential particulars.

“I by no means wish to reflect on the inadvertency of those, who profess to cultivate the science of natural history, and yet have neglected, to the present hour, to examine the tribe of monks which every where swarms under their very noses; for the monks' assumption of the human countenance and figure easily excuses error, and when men, whose knowledge is acknowledged by all, have overlooked the subject, there will be no difficulty in obtaining pardon for a similar omission in the more humble votaries of science. I cannot, however, for

« AnteriorContinuar »