Page:The Harvard Classics Vol. 51; Lectures.djvu/41

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31
HISTORY

sance is all the more intense because of the blackness of the intermingling shadows.


THE INDIVIDUALISM OF THE RENAISSANCE

No age can be adequately defined by a short phrase, but it was a happy thought which prompted the statement that the Renaissance was the age of the discovery of man. Add the importance, not only of man in general, but of the individual. It is true that men of marked individuality abounded in the Middle Ages. You have only to think of Gregory the Great, Gregory of Tours, Charlemagne, Liutprand, Abelard, and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. What is new is a general awakening to the fact that the perfection of individuality is so important, and the desire to force your contemporaries and posterity to regard you as different from other men.

It might be said, with a certain amount of exaggeration of course, that the mediaeval man was Plato's dweller in the cave, who succeeded at last in making his escape into the light of day, and so doing became the Renaissance man enraptured by what lay within his field of vision, and allured by the infinite promise of what lay beyond. And as if the actual world cramped him, he must discover ideal realms and live in the past and the future as well as the present.


THE REVIVAL OF CLASSICAL ANTIQUITY

His interest in antiquity is well known. With the ardor of treasure hunters, scholars sought for classical manuscripts and antiquities, in France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and the East, and the enthusiasm excited by their success could not have been greater had they discovered El Dorado. They were generous with their treasures, door after door opening upon antiquity was thrown back, and men swarmed through them eager to become better acquainted with their idols and obtain from them information which their teachers of the Middle Ages were powerless to furnish. Some were so dazzled and docile that, instead of freeing themselves from bondage, they merely chose new masters, but, after all, more gracious ones.

Petrarch, anticipating Andrew Lang, writes letters to dead authors.