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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Summary of the Introduction to ‘The Renaissance’
By Jules Michelet (1798–1874)
 
Translation of Grace Elizabeth King

WHY did the Renaissance arrive three hundred years too late? Why did the Middle Age live three hundred years after its death? Its terrorism, its police, its stakes and fagots, would not have sufficed. The human mind would have shattered everything. Salvation came from the School, from the creation of a great people of reasoners against Reason. The void became fecund, created. Out of the proscribed philosophy was born the infinite legion of wranglers: the serious, violent disputation of emptiness, nothingness. Out of the smothered religion was born the sanctimonious world of reasoning mystics; the art of raving sagely. Out of the proscription of nature and the sciences was brought forth a throng of impostors and dupes, who read the stars and made gold. Immense army of the sons of Eolus, born of wind and puffed out with words. They blew. At their breath, a babel of lies and humbugs, a solid fog, thickened by magic in which reason would not take hold, arose in the air. Humanity sat at the foot, mournful, silent, renouncing truth. If at least, in default of truth, one could attain justice? The king opposes it against the pope. Great tumult, great combat by our gods! And all for nothing. The two incarnations come to an agreement, and all liberty is despaired of. People fall lower than before. The communes have perished; the burgher class is born, and with it a petty prudence. The masses thus deadened, what can great souls effect? Superhuman apparitions to awaken the dead will come, and will do nothing. The people see a Joan of Arc pass by, and say, “Who is that girl?” Dante has built his cathedral, and Brunelleschi is making his calculations for Santa Maria del Fiore. But Boccaccio alone is enjoyed. The goldsmith dominates the architect. The old Gothic church, in extremis, is overlaid with all kinds of little ornaments, crimpings, lace-work, etc. She is tricking herself off, making herself pretty. The persevering cultivation of the false, continued so many centuries, the sustained care to flatten the human brain, has produced its fruit. To the proscribed natural has succeeded the anti-natural, out of which by spontaneous generation is born the monster with two faces: monster of false science, monster of perverse ignorance. The scholastic and the shepherd, the inquisitor and the witch, represent two opposing peoples. Withal the fools in ermine and the fools in rags have fundamentally the same faith,—faith in Evil as the master and prince of this world. Fools, terrified at the triumph of the Devil, burn fools to protect God. Here lies the deepest depth of the darkness. And a half-century passes without printing’s bringing even a little light into it. The great Jewish Encyclopædia, published with its discordance of centuries, schools, and doctrines, confuses at first and complicates the perplexities of the human mind. The fall of Constantinople and Greece’s taking refuge in Europe do not help at all: the arriving manuscripts seek serious readers; the principal ones will not be printed until the following century. Thus great discoveries—machinery, material means, fortuitous aids, all—are still useless. At the death of Louis XI., and during the first years that followed, there is naught that permits one to predict the dawn of a new day. All the honor of it will belong to the soul, to heroic will. A great movement is going to take place—of war and events, confused agitations, vague inspirations. These obscure intimations, coming out of the masses and little understood by them, some one (Columbus, Copernicus, or Luther) will take for himself; alone, will rise and answer, “Here I am.”  1
 
 
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