Historia Calamitatusm: The Story of My Misfortunes/Introduction
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The "Historia Calamitatum" of Peter Abelard is one of those human documents, out of the very heart of the Middle Ages, that illuminates by the glow of its ardour a shadowy period that has been made even more dusky and incomprehensible by unsympathetic commentators and the ill-digested matter of "source-books." Like the "Confessions" of St. Augustine it is an authentic revelation of personality and, like the latter, it seems to show how unchangeable is man, how consistent unto himself whether he is of the sixth century or the twelfth - or indeed of the twentieth century. "Evolution" may change the flora and fauna of the world, or modify its physical forms, but man is always the same and the unrolling of the centuries effects him not at all. If we can assume the vivid personality, the enormous intellectual power and the clear, keen mentality of Abelard and his contemporaries and immediate successors, there is no reason why "The Story of My Misfortunes" should not have been written within the last decade.
They are large assumptions, for this is not a period in world history when the informing energy of life expresses itself through such qualities, whereas the twelfth century was of precisely this nature. The antecedent hundred years had seen the recovery from the barbarism that engulfed Western Europe after the fall of Rome, and the generation of those vital forces that for two centuries were to infuse society with a vigour almost unexampled in its potency and in the things it brought to pass. The parabolic curve that describes the trajectory of Mediaevalism was then emergent out of "chaos and old night" and Abelard and his opponent, St. Bernard, rode high on the mounting force in its swift and almost violent ascent.
Pierre du Pallet, yclept Abelard, was born in 1079 and died in 1142, and his life precisely covers the period of the birth, development and perfecting of that Gothic style of architecture which is one of the great exemplars of the period. Actually, the Norman development occupied the years from 1050 to 1125 while the initiating and determining of Gothic consuming only fifteen years, from Bury, begun in 1125, to Saint-Denis, the work of Abbot Suger, the friend and partisan of Abelard, in 1140. It was the time of the Crusades, of the founding and development of schools and universities, of the invention or recovery of great arts, of the growth of music, poetry and romance. It was the age of great kings and knights and leaders of all kinds, but above all it was the epoch of a new philosophy, refounded on the newly revealed corner stones of Plato and Aristotle, but with a new content, a new impulse and a new method inspired by Christianity.
All these things, philosophy, art, personality, character, were the product of the time, which, in its definiteness and consistency, stands apart from all other epochs in history. The social system was that of feudalism, a scheme of reciprocal duties, privileges and obligations as between man and man that has never been excelled by any other system that society has developed as its own method of operation. As Dr. De Wulf has said in his illuminating book "Philosophy and Civilization in the Middle Ages" (a volume that should be read by any one who wishes rightly to understand the