Page images
PDF
EPUB

preserved the traditions and teachings of the Apostles, than that the same should be discovered by the mere learning or argumentation of a single disputant. If, however, the blessing of Unity is ever to be given to the Church again, and that by the labours of an individual, there is probably no one living so likely to be the instrument of its restoration as Mr. Palmer. His extensive and accurate knowledge enables him to offer rich and varied illustrations from the writings of the universally recognised Fathers of the Church and the Oecumenical Councils, in formation or support of his opinions; and no one has examined the questions of which he treats with more care, or has possessed more opportunities of thoroughly sifting the various disputed points on which he touches. To have spoken more plainly of the Church of England, and to have extended to her, as he might easily have done, his comparison of the East and West, would have been to supply the only serious want in his book; it is, too, a debt due, in some manner, to his own character, and the Communion in which he was baptized, and of which he still continues a nominal member.

[ocr errors]

Art. IV.—The Cloister Life of the Emperor Charles the Fifth. By William Stirling, Author of 'Annals of the Artists of Spain.'' London: Parker & Son. 1852.

The age of folios is past. On a cursory survey of recent literature such will be the probable conclusion, borne out, perhaps, by the appearance of the greater number of private libraries. The gigantic tomes which enshrined the herculean romances of earlier times, are looked upon as intellectual pyramids, into the recesses of which wc should never dream of penetrating. The weighty volumes, in which were stored up treasures immeasurably more precious, the work of the theologian, the philosopher, the historian, are scarcely less repulsive. That which was presented to our forefathers in one goodly folio, must in these days be submitted to the reader through the medium of six or seven octavo volumes. We have known the contrast between ancient and modern taste drawn out at much greater length. They who laboured of old in the field of history, deemed it their natural task to trace out the career of a nation from its commencement to its close: and even this was to work in very narrow limits. The more frequent disposition of later writers is to confine themselves within the bounds of a century or a generation; while the popular method of acquiring historical knowledge is through the biographies of individuals. Every subject is, so to speak, dismembered, and the various portions appropriated by different writers; and English history resolves itself into the lives of our queens or our warriors, our poets or our statesmen or our chancellors. The 'Life and Times' of heroes and philosophers have supplanted the multifarious volumes of the ancient chroniclers. Nor has the change been confined to size and form. The hurry of later days leaves little time for arduous theological labours; and an essay or a sermon displaces the 'Surama totius Theologise' of Aquinas. Modern readers cannot afford to have their minds roused to the painful exertion of long and dry historical researches. Superficial knowledge has met with its advocates; and the history of their country must be presented to Englishmen in a garb resembling not a little the flowery vesture of romance.

All this may be true on the whole: but like every attempt at classification, it can only be accepted in its general outlines. We are not much disposed to admit the inferiority of our own age in intellectual power; and, in any case, this fashion of recent writers, if it be one, has its counterbalancing advantages. There is a greater probability that the work undertaken will be accomplished; less risk of the infelicitous issue which befell the worthy historian, who, proposing to indite the biography of Charles V., was after years of toil overtaken by death while recording the deeds of the Scipios.1 And undoubtedly to those who are engaged in the most assiduous historical study, there are few things which will serve more powerfully to throw a vivid and at the same time truthful colouring over any given period, than the memorials of individuals who therein won themselves a name. Without in any way superseding more extensive research, they bring before us the particular time m all its various aspects; and the details furnish an insight into personal character wholly unattainable in the more extensive province of the historian as distinguished from the biographer.

The work of which the title is prefixed to this article, has certainly not intruded itself on ground already occupied by English writers. Some men, whose lives have exercised a memorable influence on their own and succeeding times, have been fortunate in having had their private characteristics as fully portrayed as their public policy. This good fortune, at least so far as regards the literature of England, has not hitherto been accorded to the Emperor Charles V. To the generality of English readers, the latter days of that great general, mighty ruler, and consummate statesman are known mainly through the pages of Robertson. The impression which his delineation will leave on the mind, is partly wrong, and in part correct. It would in truth have been difficult for him, or for any other historian, to have failed in giving a distinct picture of that commanding mind, which through so long a series of years stood forth the most prominent amongst the greatest spirits of the age. His image, indeed,—as a warrior second to none in his day, a statesman whose intellect could measure itself with the subtlest and keenest statecraft, a ruler whose ready hand seldom failed rightly to turn the helm of government at the moment of need,—stands forth in outlines more than usually distinct; and it would be but a dimness of vision which should not discern its leading features. The personal disposition of the man, his intellectual and moral tastes, the trifles of daily life which have their power even over the greatest of the sons of men, the various littlenesses from which we can scarcely expect the noblest to be free, the several petty traits of character, which, significant of deeper things, attract us or repel,—all these are of necessity removed into the background; their hues are fainter, their forms less palpable; and he must be endued with far more than common power who can fix their fleeting shades on the canvass which is intended to exhibit the broad outlines of national history. But manifestly without these minute details, our idea of the man remains imperfect. The laborious Dr. Lingard has spoken in words little short of contemptuous of that which is termed the Philosophy of History. The learned historian might perhaps in his turn be charged with too servile an attachment to a mere array of facts, and too great a hesitation in combining them for the purposes of inference. But without entering into any defence of the accused science, it may still cause a little surprise when the historian of Charles V. informs us that his work ' aims at representing the transactions 'of his 'reign; not at delineating his private virtues or 'defects.'' And, certainly, the portraiture which he has attempted of his private character in the evening of his days, is as far from the truth as such an avowal would lead us to expect. Unfortunate in the selection of his authorities, and giving the greatest credit to the writer who was the least deserving of it, he has ascribed to the Emperor virtues which he never possessed, and faults with which he is not. chargeable.

1 Cloister Life, p. 190.

To supply this want, by furnishing a picture, carefully minute and finished, of his Cloister Life, of his daily habits, his tastes and pursuits, of all that can bring before us his whole being, is the aim of Mr. Stirling in his present work. It is a portraiture which loses sight of no trait, be it ever so slight, and realizes, so far as description can realize, the little world that for two short years' space was gathered round the quiet monastery of Yuste. We have indeed a profuseness of detail even on most trivial points, which at first sight might appear to furnish just cause lor suspicion. The letters which afforded so abundant a harvest, must be of quite a different kind from the ordinary effusions of courtly writers. To Charles V. there has by no means been wanting a due supply of biographers and eulogists, whose credit in the statement of facts needs little to be called in question. The history of his retirement in the solitude of the Vera, is fully given by Siguenca and Angulo, the former of whom was personally acquainted with many who had known the Emperor, and the latter became prior of Yuste a few months before his death. The Jesuit Ribadeneira has left a minute record of the relations between Charles and the third general of the Order, Francisco Borgia (whom with unnecessary precision Mr. Stirling calls Borja). But by far the most valuable materials are contained in the memoirs of Don Tomas Gonsalez,

Eobertson. Charles V. book xii.

Canon of Plasencia. This work, rich in letters relating to the period, exists unfortunately in manuscript only in the archives of the French Foreign-office. For the paltry sum of 4,000 francs M. Mignet obtained possession of these documents, which had been offered in vain to the government of England. Permitted to examine these manuscripts, Mr. Stirling was denied the liberty of publishing any of the letters contained in them; and they who are curious on the subject must wait until the intention which the government of Louis Philippe entertained, to publish the entire work, be carried into effect,—intentions for the accomplishment of which periodical revolutions are not the most favourable condition. We should gladly hail the publication of these letters. In the meanwhile, the substance of many of them, as given in the present volume, is a welcome contribution to our historical literature.

There are few who have not in their earlier days formed an idea of the personal character of memorable men whose deeds they may chance to have read of. A few touches, a little detail here and there, will £11 up the outline, and the image is fixed on the mind; and even when fuller knowledge has shown the erroneousness of our conceptions, it is difficult to erase the old image from the memory. That such ideas should be deeply impressed on us, is natural. We cannot read of actions which have affected the current of the world's history, without picturing to ourselves the personal character of the doer; and a casual epithet or an apparently trifling incident will do more to stamp a notion on our minds than a long tale of campaigns, or legislation, or diplomacy. Whether the idea be right or otherwise, depends on the sources of information to which we have had access; but there is generally some one leading notion which attaches itself in our mind to a given name. How different is the image evoked by the mention of Leonidas the dauntless, and Theinistocles the prudent; of Nicias the religious, and Alcibiades the godless! It is a happy thing when these early impressions are borne out, not contradicted, by the truth of history. If one who has had access only to the ordinary histories of Charles V. be asked what especial idea he attaches to him in his declining days at Yustc, he will probably reply, that of a superstitious hypochondriac: —1 he great conqueror, the profound statesman, the wise ruler,—this indeed he had been: but all is overclouded by the gloom of conventual asceticism. There is no wonder that it should be so. He is thinking of the darkened chapel, and the dimly burning tapers, and the funereal chant, and the coffin in which with the semblance of death lies a living man; and a few minutes later (he chapel is empty, and the lights burn more faintly and feebly, and still the feigned corpse stirs not in its

« PreviousContinue »