Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/38

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

of mental attitude, showing itself on all sides in unexpected ways. He finds at the same time that all attempts to analyse and account for this change are to a great extent unsatisfactory. After marshalling all the forces and ideas which were at work to produce it, he still feels that there was behind all these an animating spirit which he cannot but most imperfectly catch, whose power blended all else together and gave a sudden cohesion to the whole. This modern spirit formed itself with surprising rapidity, and we cannot fully explain the process. Modern history accepts it as already in existence, and herein has a great advantage. It does not ask the reader to leave the sphere of ideas which he knows. It makes but slight claims on his power of imagination, or on his sympathy with alien modes of thought. He moves at his ease in a world which is already related at every point with the world in which he lives. Things are written clearly for his understanding.

It is of course possible to investigate the causes of this change, and to lay bare the broad lines of difference between the medieval and the modern world. In outward matters, the great distinction is the frank recognition in the latter of nationality, and all that it involves. The remoteness of the Middle Ages is partly due to the technicalities which arose from the persistent attempt to regard international relationships as merely forming part of a universal system of customary law. Motives which we regard as primary had to find expression in complicated methods, and in order to become operative had to wait for a convenient season. A definite conception had been promulgated of a European commonwealth, regulated by rigid principles; and this conception was cherished as an ideal, however much it might be disregarded in actual practice. Practical issues had always to justify themselves by reference to this ideal system, so that it is hard to disentangle them accurately in terms of modern science. This system wore away gradually, and was replaced by the plain issue of a competition between nations, which is the starting point of modern history. This division of history is mainly concerned with the rise and fall of nations, and with an estimate of the contributions made by each to the stock of ideas or experiments which influenced the welfare of mankind.

The growth of national feeling, and its recognition as the dominant force in human affairs, went side by side with a fuller recognition of the individual. The strength of national life depended upon the force of the individuals of whom the nation was composed. International competition implied a development of national sentiment, which needed the aid of each and all. As the individual citizen became conscious of increased importance, he was inclined to turn to criticism of the institutions by which he had previously been kept in a state of tutelage. The Church was the first to suffer from the results of this criticism, and modern history begins with a struggle for liberty on the ground which was the