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Middle Ages little or no curiosity had been shown about the regions which lay beyond the boundaries of the known world, and the educated Europeans of the fourteenth century knew little more about the distant parts of the earth than the educated Romans had known a thousand years before. But in the fifteenth century, while art and learning were rapidly advancing in Italy, Portugal began to explore those vast regions of the earth that had been so long neglected and unknown. These explorations were due to the energy and perseverance of one man, Prince Henry of Portugal (1394-1460), who won for himself the name of Prince Henry the Navigator. In the early part of the fifteenth century, expeditions sent out by Prince Henry made various discoveries, but in the latter part, through the impulse he had given to exploration, discoveries were made which changed the course of history. In 1486, Diaz, a Portuguese, discovered the Cape of Good Hope. A little later Spain began to take part in the work of exploration and conquest. She furnished Christopher Columbus, an Italian navigator, with ships and men, and in 1492 he showed Europe the way to a new world in the west. Five years later a Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, rounded the Cape of Good Hope and discovered a new road to India. The passion for exploration spread to England. In 1497, the year of the great voyage of Da Gama, Giovanni Cabotto, or John Cabot, as the English called him, a Venetian who had settled in England, discovered the mainland of North America. It is hard for us to imagine the excitement aroused throughout Europe by these and other discoveries. One marvel followed quickly after another, and in less than half a century man learned more about the world in which he dwelt than he had done in thousands of years before.

Printing. - In the fifteenth century, while the Italians were widening the mind and refining the taste of Europe, and while the Portuguese were enlarging men's ideas and arousing their curiosity in regard to the hidden wonders of the earth, the art of printing was invented, perhaps in Holland, and perfected in Germany by Gutenberg. Thus while Europe was alive with new ideas, a means was supplied for their more general diffusion. The invention of printing dates from about the middle of the fifteenth century.

The Reformation. — The Renaissance, using the word in its widest sense, was also an era of spiritual restlessness and religious change. Early in the sixteenth century Germany became the center of that protest against certain practices and doctrines in the Church, which is known as the Reformation. During the Middle Ages, when book-learning was almost entirely confined to the clergy, the mass of the people had accepted just what the Church taught them without doubt or question. But towards the close of the Middle Ages a new spirit gained ground. Men began to think and to investigate for themselves. They were moreover disturbed at the scandals and abuses which prevailed in the Church at that time. The invention of printing greatly contributed to the spread of these new ideas. The Bible was translated so that plain unlearned men and women could read it for themselves. Luther, the great German reformer, braved Pope and Cardinal with the words: “Here I stand, Martin Luther: I cannot do otherwise, God help me.” Thus, the Renaissance became not merely an intellectual, but also a spiritual rebirth. In Italy it was mainly literary and artistic, in Germany it was largely religious; in Italy, men strove to create and enjoy beauty; in Germany, Holland,

England, and France they were absorbed in questions of conscience and of belief.

The Copernican Theory of Astronomy. - Meanwhile, in the midst of all the stir and excitement aroused by changing conditions and novel ideas, man's fundamental conceptions of the physical universe were disturbed or transformed by the astronomical theory of the Prussian astronomer Copernicus (1473-1543). By this theory, the earth, which men had been accustomed to think of as the center of creation, was shown to be but a satellite, revolving, like the other planets, around the central sun. Thus, less than half a century after the discovery of Columbus had forced men to adopt new views of the earth's surface, they were asked to see the whole system of creation with different eyes. The book in which Copernicus put forth his ideas was published in 1543, and while it was some time before his theory was generally accepted, the publication of so radical and daring a view marked the beginning of a new intellectual epoch in Europe.

Summary. — All these and many other great events and discoveries worked together to rouse the nations of Europe to an extraordinary activity. But these events and discoveries, these splendid achievements in art and literature, important as was their influence on Europe, were not themselves the primary cause of the Renaissance. They were rather the result of a change in the spirit of Europe, a sign that the leaders in thought and action had outgrown the restrictions of the Middle Ages, and that they were feeling their way towards a new stage of intellectual development. The men of the Renaissance accomplished new things because they had new ambitions, because they had come to look at life and at the purpose of life in a new way. The Renais

sance had its darker as well as its brighter side, and it must be admitted that these new ideas about life brought many evils and abuses in their train. The holy men of the Middle Ages thought of this world as a place of trial and discipline, they looked upon pleasure and beauty as temptations, and they believed that we must suffer and deny ourselves in this life in order to fit ourselves for the life to come. But with the Renaissance there came a great reaction towards a purely pagan way of feeling. The typical men of the Renaissance, keenly alive to the joy and beauty of the world, believed, like the old Greeks, in getting all the pleasure they could out of this life on earth. In time, unbelief and the unchecked love of pleasure corrupted the splendid art of Italy. On the other hand, the fullness and intensity with which men entered into life, the violence of their emotions, their passionate love of the beautiful, and the variety of their interests, helped to make this one of the great eras in the world's history.


England was slow to respond to the spirit of the Renaissance. It is true that so early as the latter part of the fourteenth century Chaucer was inspired by the beauty and culture of Italy, while his contemporary, Wyclif, in his independence of thought and his daring attacks upon existing evils, was a pioneer of the Reformation. But Chaucer and Wyclif were exceptional men, and it took a long while for the new impulse to touch the whole nation. Chaucer had been in his grave for nearly a hundred years before the new learning really gained a foothold in England: and another hundred years had almost passed before the Renaissance found its fullest and highest expression in English literature.

The slow progress of the Renaissance in England was due to a variety of causes. Among them was the unquiet state of the people, and the preoccupation of many of the great nobles with war or intrigue. For eighty-five years after Chaucer's death, or until the accession of Henry VII in 1485, a large part of England's strength was spent in domestic strife or foreign war. Henry IV, who was on the throne when the fifteenth century opened, was a usurper, and he was threatened with secret plots and open rebellion. His successor, the heroic Henry V, renewed the war with France. This war, after a brilliant beginning, dragged on until nearly the middle of the century. About ten years after the close of the war with France a brutal struggle for the throne was begun between the rival families of York and Lancaster, and from this time to the reign of Henry VII the land had but little rest from plots and civil strife. These wars between two ambitious factions were called the Wars of the Roses (1455–1485), and perhaps it is partly this romantic name which leads us to think of these bloody and selfish quarrels as more noble and heroic than they really were.

The truth is that the rival Kings and their followers were fighting not for England, but for themselves. Never before had the English nobles so disgraced themselves by treachery and falsehood. Brother broke faith with brother, and leaders deserted to the enemy on the very eve of battle. A depraved aristocracy, absorbed in fighting and intrigue, had little time or inclination to become patrons of art and literature. Several of the great nobles, who did take an interest in scholarship in spite of the distractions of the time, and who were exerting their influence to bring in the Italian culture, came to untimely deaths in the midst of their labors.

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