« PreviousContinue »
inculcate reserve in such speculations. Nevertheless, we may venture to note certain improving influences, connected with their geographical position, at a time when they had no books to study, and no more advanced predecessors to imitate. We may remark, first, that their position made them at once mountaineers and mariners, thus supplying them with great variety of objects, sensations, and adventures; next, that each petty community, nestled apart amidst its own rocks, was sufficiently severed from the rest to possess an individual life and attributes of its own, yet not so far as to subtract it from the sympathies of the remainder; so that an observant Greek, commercing with a great diversity of half-countrymen, whose language he understood, and whose idiosyncrasies he could appreciate, had access to a larger mass of social and political experience than any other man in so unadvanced an age could personally obtain. The Phœnician, superior to the Greek on ship-board, traversed wider distances and saw a greater number of strangers, but had not the same means of intimate communion with a multiplicity of fellows in blood and language. His relations, confined to purchase and sale, did not comprise that mutuality of action and reaction which pervaded the crowd at a Grecian festival. The scene which here presented itself was a mixture of uniformity and variety highly stimulating to the observant faculties of a man of genius, who at the same time, if he sought to communicate his own impressions, or to act upon this mingled and diverse audience, was forced to shake off what was peculiar
to his own town or community, and to put forth matter in harmony with the feelings of all. It is thus that we may explain in part that penetrating apprehension of human life and character, and that power of touching sympathies common to all ages and nations, which surprises us so much in the unlettered authors of the old epic. Such periodical intercommunion of brethren habitually isolated from each other, was the only means then open of procuring for the bard a diversified range of experience, and a many-coloured audience; and it was to a great degree the result of geographical causes. Perhaps among other nations such facilitating causes might have been found, yet without producing any result comparable to the Iliad and Odyssey. But Homer was nevertheless dependent upon the conditions of his age, and we can at least point out those peculiarities in early Grecian society without which Homeric excellence would never have existed, — the geographical position is one, the language another.
J. R. GREEN: THE CONQUEST OF IRELAND
From "A Short History of the English People," London, 1888, pp. 444-451.
This example illustrates the way in which explanation may take any of the forms of writing in the rhetorics. To make you "understand the final conquest of Ireland," Green gives you a brief narrative. This narrative, it will be noticed, is swift, compact; and though graphic, yet it is limited to its special purpose. It should also be pointed out how here, as in all Mr. Green's work, the style is in itself finished and cultivated, and full of the warm feeling of the man who, as Mrs. Green tells us in the Introduction to the final and revised edition, had taken part as a boy in all the ancient customs of the city of Oxford "with excited fancy." It is worth while to quote too what she says of the labor by which this excellence was accomplished. "The sheets were written and re-written, corrected and cancelled and begun again, until it seemed as though revision would never have an end. The book is full of faults,' he declared sorrowfully, which make me almost hopeless of ever learning to write well.'" Green was no isolated instance of patient labor over style, however; we hear the same of most famous writers, from Swift to Newman 1 and Macaulay.
To understand however the final conquest of Ireland, we must retrace our steps to the reign of Henry the Second. The civilization of the island had at that time fallen far below the height which it had reached when its missionaries brought religion and learning to the shores of Northumbria. 1 See p. 379.
Learning had almost disappeared. The Christianity which had been a vital force in the eighth century had died into asceticism and superstition by the twelfth, and had ceased to influence the morality of the people at large. The Church, destitute of any effective organization, was powerless to do the work which it had done elsewhere in Western Europe, or to introduce order into the anarchy of warring tribes. On the contrary, it shared the anarchy around it. Its head, the Coarb or Archbishop of Armagh, sank into the hereditary chieftain of a clan; its bishops were without dioceses, and often mere dependents of the greater monasteries. Hardly a trace of any central authority remained to knit the tribes into a single nation, though the King of Ulster claimed supremacy over his fellow-kings of Munster, Leinster, and Connaught; and even within these minor kingships the regal authority was little more than a name. The one living thing in the social and political chaos was the sept, or tribe, or clan, whose institutions remained those of the earliest stage of human civilization. Its chieftainship was hereditary, but, instead of passing from father to son, it was held by whoever was the eldest member of the ruling family at the time. The land belonging to the tribe was shared among its members, but re-divided among them at certain intervals of years. The practice of "fosterage," or adoption, bound the adopted child more closely to its fosterparents than to its family by blood. Every element of improvement or progress which had been introduced into the island disappeared in the long and
desperate struggle with the Danes. The coast-towns, such as Dublin or Waterford, which the invaders founded, remained Danish in blood and manners, and at feud with the Celtic tribes around them, though sometimes forced by the fortunes of war to pay tribute, and to accept, in name at least, the overlordship of the Irish Kings. It was through these towns however that the intercourse with England, which had ceased since the eighth century, was to some extent renewed in the eleventh. Cut off from the Church of the island by natural antipathy, the Danish coast-cities applied to the See of Canterbury for the ordination of their bishops, and acknowledged a right of spiritual supervision in Lanfranc and Anselm. The relations thus formed were drawn closer by the slave-trade, which the Conqueror and Bishop Wulfstan succeeded for a time in suppressing at Bristol, but which appears to have quickly revived. In the twelfth century Ireland was full of Englishmen, who had been kidnapped and sold into slavery, in spite of royal prohibitions and the spiritual menaces of the English Church. The state of the country afforded a legitimate pretext for war, had a pretext been needed by the ambition of Henry the Second; and within a few months of that King's coronation John of Salisbury was despatched to obtain the Papal sanction for an invasion of the island. The enterprise, as it was laid before Pope Hadrian the Fourth, took the colour of a crusade. The isolation of Ireland from the general body of Christendom, the absence of learning and civilization, the scandalous vices of