Page images
PDF
EPUB

was needed—uot by exceptional meu, but by the normal monk, priest, or prelate. And St. Catherine of Siena's urgent injunction to her niece, to fly from her confessor the moment her confession was over, is a measure of what had been going on for more than a century before she wrote this. it is a comfort to hear of a few decent and charitable ladies among Salimbene's flock; but he had a poor opinion of women's abilities and deplored their influence. "For woman, whensoever she may." he says, "doth gladly take dominion to herself, as may be seen in Scininni)is. who invented the wearing of breeches. . . . Blessed be God who hath brought me to the end of this matter." Yet it was in these days of irreverence and unscrupulous brutality that a robber-nobleman, stained with every crime, or a profligate lordling of Siena, would burst into sudden tears at the sight of Saint Catherine, would kneel down trembling before her, however hard he had sworn to do the contrary, and would obey her like a wolfish kind of lamb; or that Condottieri, like William Flete and Hawkwood, turned hermits and mystics for her sake.

it is a mistake, however, to imagine, as many have done, that the Middle Ages were inwardly uniform in their belief, however uniform their outward observance might be. Salimbene, himself no Puritan, but honest and religious, enlightens us on this point. The widest latitude was allowed for belief as long as outward discipline was not affected. "it was far less dangerous ... to debate in the schools whether God really existed than to wear publicly and pertinaciously a frock and cowl of any but the orthodox cut." Many men were tortured by religious doubts: others, seeing what the Church was. became indifferent or unbelieving. "For in those days when the Frlars Minor and Preachers

begged alms in France in Christ's name, men gnashed with their teeth ou them; then, before their very faces, they would call some other poor man and give him money and say, Take that in Mahomet's name, for he is stronger than Christ.'" Or there were the intellectual Joachites, the followers of the holy mystic Joachim da Flore. who believed that the Church was not always the same, but must change according to the needs of different ages. As for the various sects among the orthodox, and their wild, often harmful, extravagance, there is no end to them. Lay brothers went about preaching the crudest sensationalism. in 1260, after the great famine, "the Flagellants came through the whole world, and all men . . . noble knights and men of the people, scourged themselves naked in procession through the cities . . . and restored what they had unlawfully taken away, and they confessed their sins so earnestly that the priests had scarce leisure to eat." Earlier still havoc had been wrought by the Boys' Crusade, a regiment of seven thousand children and youths, who vaguely wandered forth expecting "to cross the sea dry-shod from Genoa to the Holy Land, but, becoming scandalously demoralized, they were dispersed and perished miserably." Enterprises such as these were probably not unconnected with a charge brought in England against the Friars for "attracting boys by presents of apples and wine." Stranger still was "the Brother of the Horn," who belonged to no religious order, "but lived after his own conscience ... a simple man and unlearned and of holy innocence. . . . He was like another John the Baptist to behold. . . . He had on his head an Armenian cap. his beard was long and black, and he had a little horn of brass. . . . Terribly did his horn bray at times. His robe was black as sack-cloth of hair." and "thus

clad he went about with his born, preaching and praising Cod . . . and n great multitnde of children followed him. oft-times with branches of trees aud lighted tapera." And equally amazing, though less devout, was tierardino Segarello of Parma, who conceived "the idea of imitating Our Lord's outward actions" and began by putting himself into "a cradle, wrapped in swaddling clothes," Such eccentricities were mainly practised among the people; for as Mr. Coulton tells us, most religious movements proceeded from them. Even the canonization of saints "almost always came from the lower classes," and "Nothing is more false than to suppose that the medieval Church waa disciplined like the present Church of Rome." ln these circumstances, it is not surprising to find that a certain abbot was canonized "whose claims to sanctity, under investigation, reduced themselves to this -that he had fallen down a well in a state of intoxication and so perished." lt 1b more edifying to turn to the living protests against such evils, the personalities of the Saints; and of these none is more convincing than that of the Dominican. St. Catherine of Siena. The way in which this new "Life" of her absorbs one, seeming to transmit her force and charm, is the best proof of the author's excellence. lt would. indeed, be hard to find an historical biography better done. The writer sets before us a picture, clear, candid, and delicate, of the Saint and of her day; and to pioneer men lucidly through the Siena of the fourteenth century is in itself no mean exploit. To many Catherine Benlncasa. the dyer's daughter, born in 1348, is the most attractive Saint in the calendar. She was gay and loving aa well as austere; she was pitiless to herself, but reproached herself for demanding too much, spiritually, from othem. She was also a visionary with

common sense, a rare combination. lt was characteristic of her that when at eight years old she ran away one afternoon to be a hermit she took some bread and a jug of water with her. lest the angels should forget to bring her food, and at nightfall she ran home again for fear of making her parents anxious, Perhaps it was her shrewd insight which gave her so much influence over the young patrician "sparks" of her city, one of whom, Stefano Maconi, became her secretary and remained her devotee—this and her deep human sympathy, which helped to reconcile city with city and family with family. There was one famous occasion when she undertook to make up the fierce fend long existing between the Maconi on one side and the Tolomei and Rinaldini on the other. The three families were to come and conclnde a peace in the Church of San Cristoforo. The Maconi were there, but not the others, Catherine knelt at the altar praying for their arrival, till, drawn by her prayers and against their will, they came. But when they saw her ou her knees, rapt in her devotions, her cause was won and the terrible quarrel at an end. Her hold could never have been so strong had she not suffered herself. There were few spiritual torments she did not know, for doubt, despair, awful imaginings attacked her at intervals all her life, and more especially in the early years of her vocation. Yet when all is said, her power remains a mystery. She must have been what is called "electric." possessed of an abnormal vitality—of that strength which enabled her to nurse the plague-stricken city and even to cure her colleague. Raimondo. When he fell at her feet, a victim of the pest, she held his head between her hands and put hint into a deop sleep which lasted twenty-four hours and left him whole. A stateswoman she never was, beeause, as her biographer says, all her decisions were directed by her dream of an Ideal Church; all things judged in its light Her triumphant bringing back of the Pope (Gregory XI.) from Avignon to Rome was the short-sighted action of a visionary, bearing faction and misery in its train; while her wonderful sway over Gregory and his stormy successor. Urban VI., both of whom depended on the counsels of this unlettered girl, was the personal sway of a woman; and she was quite unable to effect her one desire, the reform of the Church. When Urban summoned her to his side in Rome, she came, against her will, broken in body, suffering, yet undaunted—only to see what she most dreaded, the beginning of the great schism and the setting up of an antiPope; only to die on her plank-bed, with the knowledge that her life's aims were defeated. "In the holy memory" was the form of signature adopted by

The Tlrnpu.

two of her loving followers, when they wrote to each other years after her death.

Should we be thankful to live when we do? Not the least interesting part of Mr. Coulton's "From St Francis to Dante" is its conclusion. He pits the faith of the Middle Ages against the faith of to-day, and his verdict Is in favor of to-day. "Imagination staggers," he says, "at the moral gulf that yawns between that age and ours." He dwells upon the false Idealization of the early centuries which has long prevailed; be sums up the speedy degeneration of the Friars—the growth of the fatal fallacy that faith consists in outward manifestations. We at least know that faith Is only concerned with "the Inward workings of the heart" And so, he ends, we need not be pessimists. We are nearer to the Christian spirit than medieval people—priests or lay

THE SUBURBANS.

Lord Randolph Churchill ended his political career because he had "forgotten Gofichen." The Progressive Party experienced its first defeat In London because it had forgotten the Middle Classes. It recognized, indeed, and estimated not unfairly, the strength of the rich, the Professional Classes. and the bourgeoisie. These three classes are prominent factors in the modern European polity. But it had forgotten the dimensions and latent power of that enormous suburban people which are practically the product of the past half-century, and have so greatly increased, even within the last decade. They are the creations not of the industrial, but of the commercial and business activities of London. They form a homogeneous civilization- detached, self-centred, unostentatious

covering the hills along the northern and southern boundaries of the City, and spreading their conquests over the quiet fields beyond. They are the peculiar product of England and America: and their opinions and ideals are worthy of careful study. It is a life of Security; a life of Sedentary occupation; a life of Respectability; and these three qualities give the key to its special characteristics. It is engaged in ail its working hours in small, crowded offices, under artificial light, doing immense sums, adding up other men's accounts, writing other men's letters. Its male population is sucked into the City at daybreak, and scattered again as darkness falls. Here are the miles and miles of the little red houses in the little silent streets, in number defying imagination, each with its pleasant

drawing-room, its bow window, its little front garden, its high-sounding title —"Acacia Villa," or "Camperdown LiOdge"—attesting unconquered human aspiration. There are many little interests beyond the working hours: here a little green house filled with chrysanthemums, there a tiny grass patch with bordering flowers; there a chickenhouse, here a tennis lawn. The women, with their own domestic servants, now so difficult to get. and so exacting when found, find time hang rather heavy on their hands. But there are excursions to shopping centres in the West End. and pious sociabilities, and the occasional theatre, and the interests of home. The children are jolly, wellfed. Intelligent English children; full of curiosity, at least in the earlier years. Some of them have real gifts of intellect and artistic skill, receiving in the suburban secondary schools the best education which the world is giving to-day. You may see the whole suburbs In August transported to the more genteel of the Southern wateringplaces; the father, perhaps, a little bored; the mother perplexed with the difficulty of cramped lodgings and extortionate prices. But the children are In a magic world, crowding the seashore, full of the elements of delight and happy laughter.

The rich despise the Working People; the Middle Classes fear them. Fear, stimulated by every artifice of a clever campaign, is the strong motive power behind this present uprising. In feverish hordes, the suburbs have swarmed to the polling booth to vote against a truculent Proletariat. The Middle Class elector has become irritated and indignant against working-class legislation. He is tired of the plaint of the unemployed and the insistent crying of the poor. The spectacle of a labor Party triumphant in the House of Commons, with a majority of members of Parliament apparently obedient

to the demands of its leader, and even a House of Lords afraid of it, fills him with profound disgust. The vision of a Keir Hardie in the cartoons—with red tie and defiant beard and cloth cap, and fierce, unquenched thirst for Middle Class property—has become an image of Labor Triumphant, which haunts his waking hours. He has difficulty with the plumber; his wife is harassed by the indifference or insolence of the domestic servant. From a blend of these two he has constructed in Imagination the Image of Democracy —a loud-voiced, independent, arrogant figure, with a thirst for drink and imperfect standards of decency, and a determination to be supported at someone else's expense. Every day, swung high upon embankments or buried deep in tubes underground, he hurries through the region where the creature lives. He gazes darkly from his pleasant hill villa upon the huge and smoky area of tumbled tenements which stretches at his feet. He is dimly distrustful of the forces fermenting In this uncouth laboratory. Every day he anticipates the boiling over of the cauldron. He would never be surprised to find the crowd behind the red flag, surging up his little pleasant pathways, tearing down the railings, trampling the little garden; the "letting in of the jungle" upon the little patch of fertile ground which has been redeemed from the wilderness. And. whatever the future, the present he finds sufficiently intolerable. The people on the hill are heavily taxed (as he thinks) In order that the people of the plain may enjoy good education, cheap trams, parks and playgrounds; even (as in the frantic vision of one newspaper) that they may be taught Socialism In Sunday-schools with parodies of remembered hymns. And the taxes thus extorted—this, perhaps, is the heart of the complaint— are all going to make his own life

harder, to make life more difficult for his children. The man of forty has already sounding in his ears the noise of the clamor of the coming generations. And these coming generations, who are going to push him roughly out of his occupation, and bring his little castle in rums to the ground, are being provided with an equipment for the struggle out of the funds which he himself is compelled to supply. He is paying for his own children's start in life, and he is having extorted from him the price of providing other people's children with as good a start in life, or a better. He has had enough of it. He is turning in desperation to any kind of protection held out to him. His ideals are all towards the top of the scale. He is proud when he is identifying his interests with those of Kensington, and indignant when his interests are identified with those of Poplar. He possesses in full those Progressive desires which are said to be the secret of advance. He wants a little more than he can afford, and is almost always living beyond his income. He has been harassed with debts and monetary complications; and the demands of rent and the rate collector excite in him a kind of impotent fury- In that fury he has turned round suddenly and struck down the party in power, glad to vote against the working man, whom he fears; and for a change, which he hopes may lighten his present burden; and against a Socialism which he cannot understand. The sudden uprising of these populous and hitherto indifferent streets has swept the Progressive Party into disaster. The general effect is that of being suddenly butted by a sheep.

It is no despicable life which has thus silently developed in suburban 1-ondon. It is full of family affection, of cheerfulness, of an almost unlimited patience. Its full meaning to-day and the courses of its future still remain ob

The .Nation.

sctire. Is this to be the type of all civilization when the whole Western world is to become comfortable and tranquil, and progress finds its grave in an unrural suburb? Or is the old shaggy and untamed earth of ours going to shake itself suddenly once again and bring the whole edifice tumbling to the ground? It has no clear reason of its own worth, or its own universe, or the scheme of the life of the world. It is losing its old religions. It still builds churches and chapels of a twentieth century Gothic architecture: St. Aloysius, reputed to be dangerously "High.'' because its curates wear colored scarves; the Baptist Chapel, where the minister maintains the old doctrines of hell and heaven, and wrestles with the sinner for his immortal soul: the Congregational Church, where the minister is abreast with modern culture, and proclaims an easier gospel, and faintly trusts the larger hope. But the whole apparatus of worship seems archaic and unreal to those who have never seen the shaking of the solid ground beneath their feet, or the wonder and terror gf its central fires. There are possibilities of havoc in this ordered and comfortable society which cannot lightly be put by. The old lights have fallen from the sky. and existence has become too complex and crowded for the influences of wide space reaching to a far horizon. Summer and winter pass over these little lamplit streets, to-day the lilac and syringa, to-morrow the scattered autumn leaves, in an experience of tranquillity and repose. But with the ear to the ground there is audible the noise of stranger echoes in the labyrinthine ways which stretch beyond the boundaries of these pleasant places, full of restlessness and disappointment, and tierce longing, with a note of menace in it; not without foreboding to those who desire, in the security of the suburbs, an unending end of the world.

« PreviousContinue »