Beacon Lights of History, Volume 06 eBook

John Lord
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 352 pages of information about Beacon Lights of History, Volume 06.

Madame de Pompadour
After the painting by Fr. Boucher.

John Calvin
From a contemporaneous painting.

Lord Francis Bacon
After the painting by T. Van Somer.

Galileo Galilei
After the painting by J. Sustermans, Uffizi Gallery, Florence.


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A. D. 1265-1321.


The first great genius who aroused his country from the torpor of the Middle Ages was a poet.  Poetry, then, was the first influence which elevated the human mind amid the miseries of a gloomy period, if we may except the schools of philosophy which flourished in the rising universities.  But poetry probably preceded all other forms of culture in Europe, even as it preceded philosophy and art in Greece.  The gay Provencal singers were harbingers of Dante, even as unknown poets prepared the way for Homer.  And as Homer was the creator of Grecian literature, so Dante, by his immortal comedy, gave the first great impulse to Italian thought.  Hence poets are great benefactors, and we will not let them die in our memories or hearts.  We crown them, when alive, with laurels and praises; and when they die, we erect monuments to their honor.  They are dear to us, since their writings give perpetual pleasure, and appeal to our loftiest sentiments.  They appeal not merely to consecrated ideas and feelings, but they strive to conform to the principles of immortal art.  Every great poet is as much an artist as the sculptor or the painter; and art survives learning itself.  Varro, the most learned of the Romans, is forgotten, when Virgil is familiar to every school-boy.  Cicero himself would not have been immortal, if his essays and orations had not conformed to the principles of art.  Even an historian who would live must be an artist, like Voltaire or Macaulay.  A cumbrous, or heavy, or pedantic historian will never be read, even if his learning be praised by all the critics of Germany.

Poets are the great artists of language.  They even create languages, like Homer and Shakspeare.  They are the ornaments of literature.  But they are more than ornaments.  They are the sages whose sayings are treasured up and valued and quoted from age to age, because of the inspiration which is given to them,—­an insight into the mysteries of the soul and the secrets of life.  A good song is never lost; a good poem is never buried, like a system of philosophy, but has an inherent vitality, like the melodies of the son of Jesse.  Real poetry is something, too, beyond elaborate versification, which is one of the literary fashions, and passes away like other fashions unless redeemed by something that arouses the soul, and elevates it, and appeals to the consciousness of universal humanity.  It

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Beacon Lights of History, Volume 06 from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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