Page:The Harvard Classics Vol. 51; Lectures.djvu/44

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34
HISTORY

and others, whose journeys were undertaken with a far different purpose than the mere satisfying of restless curiosity.

Equally practical was the study of the heavens. The stars had long been regarded as flaming beacons in the sky, prophets and guides for man to his ultimate goal. Their influence, benign or malignant, determined the fates of individuals and nations. It behooved the prudent man to consult them, and he studied the hidden workings of nature not only to comprehend them, but to make them serve his purpose. There were many failures, but if the Renaissance is the age of Faust, it is also that of Copernicus.

In the study of the world about him, of the firmament, of the past and the future, the Renaissance man felt his subject was something created. In his turn he took up the role of creator. To escape from an importunate world he called into existence the Arcadia of the pastorals, the fairyland of the adult man. It has almost vanished from our sight, but its music and fragrance still hover in the air. Another manifestation of dissatisfaction with the actual world, more practical, is the creation of ideal commonwealths, Cities of the Sun, or Utopias.[1]


THE WORSHIP OF BEAUTY

The lover of beauty, nowadays shrinks from the Utopias of the Renaissance, but the practical men of that age cherished beauty with an affection we can hardly conceive. It was bone of their bone and flesh of their flesh. It was the one guest ever sure of welcome. Dante, in the tornata of his first ode, says: "Ode! I believe that they shall be but rare who shall rightly understand thy meaning, so intricate and knotty is thy utterance of it. Wherefore, if perchance it come about that thou take thy way into the presence of folk who seem not rightly to perceive it; then I pray thee to take heart again, and say to them, O my beloved lastling: 'Give heed, at least, how beautiful I am.' " They would give heed, and to such extremes did many Renaissance men go in their worship of beauty that they prostituted her and debased themselves. The majority remained sound of heart, and though tortured with doubts, and stumbling again and again, they succeeded in making themselves worthy of communion with God.

  1. See, for example, Sir Thomas More's "Utopia" in H. C., xxxvi, 135.