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The Database of Ornament

Francis Galton has taught us how to measure the strength
of a nation: that is, how to construct a curve, reflecting the
development of those things which make for progress in
physique. Some one will, in course of time, show us how to
measure the mental and emotional, the intellectual and spiritual
life. Then a mathematician will show us how to combine the
hand · curve, the mind curve, and the heart curve into one
composite graphic. That curve, when we get it, will be the
first line of the science of history.

Meanwhile, the fear of statistics is the beginning of nescience.
But even when, in the course of many generations, the statis-
ticians have accumulated sufficient material for an historical
monograph—who will undertake it? Apparently it will have
to be the work of a committee of mathematicians, physicists,
biologists, psychologists, hygienists, statesmen; with educa-
tionists, poets, priests, to look after the higher interests.

Meantime, the benighted inhabitants of the nineteenth century
look into the past and see the ghosts of themselves. And they
call it history. Sometimes they look into the future—for the
same reason that women and some men look into their mirrors.
And this they call prophecy.

What random guesses may be hazarded as to the general

appearance of the curve of human development—its shape,
its sinuosity, its direction? Suppose it were to coincide with
the curve of Probability! Then the fatalists would rejoice
exceedingly; for it would mean that human history is as the
tossing of dice. It would mean that an infinitude of causes are
at work, neutralising each other by their multitudinous inter-
actions. Thus the elemental problem of History would involve
a complexity far beyond man’s power of investigation at his
present stage of evolution.

There are those who imagine the curve of historical develop-
ment to follow the general law of periodicity. They picture a
series of irregular undulations succeeding one another in a
gradual ascent from zero—the arbitrary starting-point where
the curve cuts the time axis, which an audacious calculator
has fixed at somewhere about 250,000 B.C. The troughs and
crests of the wave would, on this hypothesis, represent periods
of climax and reaction—times of Summer activity and Winter
slumber. The rise from trough to crest would reflect successive
Springtimes in the ebb and flow of the seasonal æons.

It must needs be that Springtime in the life-history of a people
should be associated with a rise in the heart curve. For
when a nation’s fancy turns to thoughts of love—then is the
national Springtime. ‘Twas perhaps in the peerless love-songs
of the Ionic singers that Europe awoke first to mature self-
consciousness. Christopher Columbus stumbled upon a con-
tinent from without: Sappho discovered Europe to itself.
Civilised society ignored it till the Hellenic lyrists chanted forth
their awakening notes. Before this the world had looked on
Europe as a bleak battle-ground of barbarians, where poverty
made the hunters into freebooters and the fishermen into
pirates—a mart where metalliferous ores and skins of wild
beasts might be had in barter for beads and bronze arrow-
heads— a recruiting-ground where cream-skinned slaves could
be kidnapped or purcllased. Such was Europe in the eyes of
civilisation before the seventh-sixth century awakening, albeit

the epics of the wandering bards might have foreshadowed
untold potentialities in the prematurely-born cities of the
Argive shepherd chiefs. Yet we can hardly blame the lovers
of literature in Memphis, in Babylon, or in Tyre for not reading
Homer. The Iliad was not put in manuscript until Egypt
had passed into dotage at the end of an active life of three-
score centuries or so, and Chaldea and Phcenicia had been
sucked of their life-blood by half-bred Semitic vampires.

Agree then that the Hellenic lyrists and philosophers,—Thales,
Pythagoras, Heraclitus, and the rest,—of the seventh-sixth
centuries B.C., may be viewed as signalising the first breaking
of the European spirit into mature self-consciousness. What
is the place of the statesmen, the generals, the dramatists,
the sculptors, the artists, of the fifth-fourth centuries B.C.—of
Themistocles and Pericles, Æschylus and Sophocles, Scopas
and Zeuxis—are these organic types or freaks of the age? To
say their names is to think of human action—the poetry of
action, the idealisation of action. The head and the heart had
been ripened for action—the hand curve rose and ascended to
a climax. Is it overstraining the seasonal metaphor to main-
tain that with the fifth-fourth centuries we arrive at a season
of blossoming and fruition—to maintain that this period was
the Summer and harvest-time of the first age of the fully-
awakened European zeitgeist?

Purblind gropings after the devious track of Western civilisation
cannot but lead the historian far astray. Between the fifth-
fourth centuries B.c., and the eleventh-thirteenth centuries A.D.,
is an interval of some I500 years. But the time test is no criterion
of the organic difference between the Europe of the one date
and the Europe of the other. The comparison of the Par-
thenon with the Cathedral of Amiens might be the study of
a lifetime; and as the aged investigator stepped into the
grave, it would be his to proudly reflect that he had learned
enough to enable him to understand what a difficult problem
awaited solution. The difference between Plato’s Republic

and the ideal society of the Holy Catholic Church, is the
difference between x and y—or say between Σδx and Σδy. But
yet amongst the infinitude of divergencies there are some
differences more obvious, perhaps, than others. Plato’s Woman
is a child-bearing man. The Woman of the mediceval church
was a quintessence of the Spiritual Power. And so (like
Holy Mother Church herself) she was a being who gave, in
return for protection and reverence by man, the inspiration
that prompts to right action, and the love that casts out fear.1
Explicitly or implicitly Plato’s Republic was built on slave
labour and was limited by Hellenic exclusiveness. Catholicism
strove to establish a social order in which nor Pariah, nor
Ishmaelite, nor Laodicean, nor Philistine should be found.
And these were to be eliminated by a process not of exclusion
but of inclusion within the circle of the elect. To live without
working, and to work without living, were alike to be rendered
impossible. And the ideal society was to be achieved not by
the strong father-hand but by the gentle mother-heart—that
subtle force of affectionate duty by which the Church then
believed it possible to moralise the actions of public and
private life. To let mother-love have free-play—that is
one rendering of the mediæval claim for superiority of the
spiritual over the temporal power.

The celibate priest was the incarnation of mother-love in the
muscular person of a wise father. He was, or was to be, the
living synthesis of hand, mind, and heart; of the physical, the
intellectual, the emotional; of faith, hope, and charity. Here
was, or was to be, trinity in unity; unity in trinity.

Such were the ideals of the Mediæval Catholic Church. Now
the educational value of an ideal depends on its unrealisability
—no noble man being a hero to his own conscience. So let us
not whip the Church with the gambling Pope and the uxorious
1 The Woman of Catholic chivalry is to be distinguished from the incarnation of Satan,
which Woman was to the early Christian Fathers, and from the idolised divinity which
she was to the Catholic writers and artists of the Renaissance.

abbot—of whom indeed we should hear less if we were more
instructed in the physiology of Church history, and left its
pathology to the specialists, who could use the knowledge to
advantage. Let us rather count the derelicts of ecclesiasticism
as a standing humiliation to the pride of the individual man,
and a compliment to the idealism of the Church—which is the
collective man.

What is to be the seasonal interpretation of this period of two
hundred and fifty years (1000-I250 A.D.)?—this period which
gave birth to the seventh Gregory and the third Innocent,
Godfrey of Bouillon and St. Louis of France, St. Bernard
and St. Francis—which achieved the Crusades and the
Gothic Cathedral, Chivalry and the Grey Friars—which con-
sciously and honestly attempted to organise industry, to
moralise society and to govern Europe by an infinite dispersion
of local authority concerted and graduated to culminate and
balance in the final sup remacy of the Holy See? What is the
locus of this quarter millennium in the composite curve of
human progress? And what the direction and behaviour of
the Western curve since the Hellenic ascent?

The legions of Rome, the peace of Rome, her roads, her
jurisprudence, her functionaries—gave to the western world
a oneness, a community of interests which made possible a
common religion, a universal church. The perfected Roman
administration afforded to the Catholic priesthood a model
of organisation without which the Christians might have
remained a dissenting sect amongst a Pagan people.

That which the precepts and examples of the stoical philosophers
had splendidly failed to do, the simple heroism of the
Christian Martyrs accomplished—though at some sacrifice
of principle, it may be, and with some loss of the joyousness of
the nature-worshipper. The heart of Europe was awakened

to the higher nobility of a religion of justice, mercy, and self-

The free-born farmers of Germany and the sons of the indepen-
dent fisher-folk of Scandinavia, led into the sunny South by
chiefs of towering individuality, broke the chains of Roman
slavery and prepared the ground for the growth of modern
industry with its crops and its weeds—at times like to devour
the crops there!

A rush of Arab shepherds led by religious fanatics against
her southern frontiers, woke Europe out of a prolonged wintry
torpor, brought fresh knowledge of men and things from the
far East, and—strange fate—reopened the long sealed storehouse
of Greek speculation and Greek science.

Thus a long story of awakenings and slumberings, of seed-
times and harvest, of blossoming Summers and fallow Winters,
in the interval between the Hellenic and the medireval ascent.
But the most wide-spread awakening of all was effected by the
trumpet-notes of the Catholic Church. And if the mediæval
mind curve did not rise to the level of Greek times, yet the
mediæval heart curve towered far higher than the Greek
had ever gone. A rise in the heart curve we associate
  with Springtime. Thus, mayhap, there is a sense in
   which we may look upon the period of Catholic
    chivalry as a Spring, part of whose Summer and
               Autumn has yet to come.

                                                                                                V. V. BRANFORD.


MLA citation:

Branford, Victor. “Awakenings in History.” The Evergreen; A Northern Seasonal, vol. 1 Spring 1895, pp. 85-90.Evergreen Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2016-2018. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019.