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history of mankind, the reign of Charles V., the extraordinary characters of the ruling pontiffs, and the prominent part which they took in the affairs of Europe, have familiarized the least diligent readers of history with the names and the acts of Alexander VI., of Julius II., and of Leo X. The late Mr. Roscoe's life of the latter pontiff, though, from its feebler and less finished execution, it disappointed the expectations raised by that of Lorenzo de' Medici, filled up some part of this great chasm in our history. But, after the Protestant nations of Europe had seceded from the dominion of Rome, they seem to have taken no great interest in the state of the Papacy; they cared not to inquire by what hands the thunders of the Vatican were wielded, now that they were beyond their sphere : so that they scarcely perceived the effects of the Reformation itself upon the Papal system, the secret revolution in the court of Rome and in the whole of its policy, the different relation assumed by the Papal power towards that part of Europe which still acknowledged its authority.
This extraordinary fact, of the silent retirement of the Papal power almost entirely within its ecclesiastical functions ; the complete subordination of the temporal interests of the Pope, as an Italian prince, to those of his spiritual supremacy ; the renovation of the Papal energy in its contracted dominion over Southern Europe and its foreign possessions ; its confirmed and consolidated power in the countries which had not rejected its supremacy, from the higher personal character of the pontiffs, who, from this time, if darkened, to our judgement, by the varying shades of bigotry, were invariably men of high moral character, and of earnest and serious piety; the extension of its influence by the activity of the Religious Orders, more particularly the new institution of the Jesuits; the assumption of the general education of the people by this most skilfully organized and sagaciously administered community ;-these subjects have been first placed in a clear and attractive point of view by Professor Ranke. If we should find a fault in the history before us, it would be that on which
we are most rarely called upon to animadvert, especially in German writers. Brevity is an offence against which our statutes are seldom put in force. Still where the author has made such laborious and extensive researches, and where his subject possesses so much inherent interest, we could have wished at times that he was less rapid, concise, and compressed
—we could have borne greater fulness of development, a more detailed exposition of the course of events, and of the motives of the influential agents—more of the life and circumstance of history. In many parts the present reads like a bold and vigorous outline for a larger work. But, having exhausted our critical fastidiousness on this point, we have only the more gratifying duty of expressing our high estimate of the value of the present volume, and our confident reliance on the brilliant promise of those which are to follow. To the high qualifications of profound research, careful accuracy, great fairness and candour, with a constant reference to the genius and spirit of each successive age, common to the historians of Germany, Mr. Ranke adds the charm of a singularly lucid, terse, and agreeable style. We do not scruple to risk our judgement on this point, which it is sometimes thought presumptuous in any one but a native to pronounce; as we are inclined to think, that for an historical style, which, above all others, demands fluency, vivacity, and perspicuity, there can be no testimony more valuable than the pleasure and facility with which it is read by foreigners.
Mr. Ranke is, we believe, the colleague of Mr. von Raumer in the historical department at the University of Berlin; and there can be no better proof of the wisdom with which the higher as well as the lower system of Prussiam education is conducted, than the selection, or indeed the command, of two such men as connected with this distinguished province of public instruction.
Before we enter on the consideration of Mr. Ranke's history, it is right to give some account of his labours in searching out original sources of information, in order that we may justly appreciate the diligence of the writer, and the authority of his statements. We are the more anxious to do this, because the Professor seems to have derived great advantage from collections, the existence of which, at least to the extent and value described in his preface, is little suspected. Having exhausted the archives of Berlin, Mr. Ranke proceeded to Vienna. Vienna has long been a great centre of European politics. Besides the relations of Austria with Germany—from her connections with Spain, with Belgium, with Lombardy, and with Rome, the Imperial archives have been constantly accumulating their treasures of public documents. The court of Vienna has for a long time had a passion for collecting, amassing, and arranging such papers. The Court Library (Hof-Bibliothek) has been enriched by many important volumes from Modena, and the “invaluable’ Foscarini manuscripts from Venice—the collections of the Doge Marco Foscarini for the continuation of the Italian Chronicles—and a very valuable collection made by Prince Eugene. The Imperial Archives are still richer ; the greater part of the treasures which belonged to Venice have been restored to that city, but there is still a vast stock of papers relating to the history of Venice, original despatches, extracts from the customs of the state, called Rubricaria ; narratives, of some of which no other copy is known to exist; lists of state-officers, chronicles, and diaries. The archives of Vienna were of great value in illustrating the pontificates of Gregory XIII. and Sixtus V. Mr. Ranke's researches were next directed to the Venetian libraries. That of St. Mark is not only valuable for its own proper wealth, but as having received in latter days the wrecks of many old private collections. This last is the department which has been first discovered and explored by Mr. Ranke. Both at Venice and at Rome the nobility took a pride in the collection of familypapers, which, of course, are constantly interwoven with public affairs. In Venice, the great houses almost always possessed a cabinet of manuscripts attached to their libraries; some of these still remain, many were dispersed at the downfall of the
Republic in 1797. At Rome, the great houses, almost invariably the descendants of the Papal families, the Barberinis, the Chigis, the Altieris, the Corsinis, the Albanis, have preserved vast collections relating to the period of their power and splendour. Mr. Ranke describes the importance of these documents as not inferior to those of the Vatican. The free and liberal access to these collections compensated to him for the somewhat restricted use of the Vatican treasures, imposed partly, it should seem, by some mere personal jealousy on the part of Monsignor Maio, the librarian, and partly from the natural reluctance to open at once all the secrets of that mysterions treasure-house to a foreigner and a Protestant. Mr. Ranke, however, observes with some justice on the impolicy of this concealment at the present day, as inquiry can scarcely bring to light things worse than suspicion, thus awakened, will imagine, or than the world is inclined to believe.
The present work, professing to be the History of the Popes during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, properly commences with the two last years of the pontificate of Alexander VI. The prefatory chapters trace with rapidity, but with skill, the development of the Papal power from the establishment of Christianity. Already, before the opening of the sixteenth century, some ominous signs of resistance had menaced the universal autocracy established by Hildebrand and Innocent III. The national spirit in many countries had asserted its independence. In France, in England, in Germany, even in Spain and Portugal, a strong reluctance to the interference of the Papacy in the nomination to the most opulent benefices, and to the grinding taxation of the court of Rome, began to betray itself; and the nation, as represented by its parliament or its nobles, had invariably supported the rebellious sovereign in his struggles against the ecclesiastical despotism. Towards the close of the fifteenth century, new objects of ambition opened upon the minds of the pontiffs. The nepotism, which had hitherto been contented with the accumulation of ecclesiastical benefices, and the spoils of the tributary kingdoms, upon the relatives of the ruling Pontiff, assumed a bolder flight. The state of Italy was tempting, and the Popes not only began to form schemes for the extension of their own temporal dominions, but aspired to found independent principalities in the persons of their relations. Native sovereigns, or at least native republics, now occupied the whole of Italy. The Sforzas on the throne of Milan, and the republic of Venice, ruled in Lombardy; the Medici in Florence, the House of Aragon in Naples. These powers had gradually absorbed many of the smaller states, and had reduced their sovereigns into subjects or feudatories. The subjugation of the turbulent barons of Romagna, and the extension of the Papal territory into a powerful kingdom, offered immediate advantages which might have blinded the wisest of the Pontiffs to its remote and dangerous consequences. But the more fatal ambition of establishing an hereditary sovereignty in their own house led to more immediate and inevitable evil. The succeeding Pontiff found the fairest possessions of the Church alienated; the favourite of one reign became of necessity the deadly enemy of the next; the usurper must be ejected to make room for the present claimants on the Papal bounty. The Pope was thus more and more embroiled with his own vassals, more inextricably entangled in the labyrinthine politics of Italy, more fatally diverted from the higher objects of his temporal policy, as holding the balance between the great sovereigns of Europe. At all events the spiritual ruler of the world sank into a petty Italian prince.
That was indeed a splendid dominion which had been erected over the mind of man by the Gregories and Innocents! Its temporal were always subordinate to its spiritual ends. It was a tyranny which repaid by ample and substantial benefits its demands upon the independence of mankind. It required tribute and homage, but it bestowed order, civilization, and, as far as was possible, in such fierce and warlike times, peace. It was a moral sway, not, like the temporal sovereignties of the time, one of brute force. It had comparatively nothing