Page:The Harvard Classics Vol. 51; Lectures.djvu/40

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III. THE RENAISSANCE

By Professor Murray Anthony Potter

THE Renaissance followed what is, even now, sometimes called the Dark Ages. The almost inevitable inference is that a period of darkness was succeeded by one of light. The veil of night rent asunder, the world, rejoicing in the sun's rays, with glad energy again took up its work. But much of the darkness of what are more fitly called the Middle Ages is due to the dimness of vision of those who have baptized the period with a forbidding name, and if we called the Renaissance an age of light, is it not because we are dazzled by mere glamour? After all, the Renaissance was the offspring of the Middle Ages, and a child must frequently bear the burdens of its parents.

One of the burdens of the Middle Ages was obscurantism, and obscurantism is that which "prevents enlightenment, or hinders the progress of knowledge and wisdom." Instead of dying at the close of the Middle Ages, it lived through the Renaissance, wary and alert, its eyes ever fixed on those whom it regarded as enemies, falling upon them from ambush when because of age or weakness their courage flagged, and it triumphed in the sixteenth century. It can never die as long as there are men. Neither can superstition die, nor fear, nor inveterate evil passions, which, if they smolder for a time, will unfailingly burst forth and rage with greater fury. If such be your pleasure, you can, with some plausibility, represent the Renaissance as darker than the Middle Ages. Machiavelli,[1] the Medicis, and the Borgias have long been regarded as sin incarnate in odious forms. Making all due allowances for exaggeration and perversion of truth, the Renaissance was not a golden age, and the dramas of horror[2] are something more than the nightmares of a madman. And yet it is a luminous age. The sun has its spots, and the light of the Renais-

  1. For Machiavelli's political ideals, see his "Prince" in Harvard Classics, xxxvi, 5, and Macaulay's essay "Machiavelli" in Harvard Classics, xxvii, 363.
  2. See, for example, Webster's "Duchess of Malfi," in Harvard Classics, xlvii, 753.