Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/604

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and a reaction had begun. Writing about 1540, Paulus Jovius lamented that scholarship had migrated from Italy to Germany. His complaint was somewhat premature; but such a process had indeed set in. The most learned Italian of the next generation, Cardinal Baronius (1538-1607), the author of Annales Ecclesiastici, was unacquainted with Greek. The work accomplished by the Italian Renaissance claims the lasting gratitude of mankind. In the interval between the time of Petrarch and that of Leo X, a space of about a hundred and seventy years, ardent and unceasing labours bridged the gulf between the medieval and the modern world. Latin, the universal language, was purged from barbarism. Latin literature was brought back into the full light of intelligent study. Greek was restored to the West. After centuries of intellectual poverty, men entered once more into possession of the poetry and the eloquence, the wisdom and the wit, bequeathed by ancient Greece and Rome. The period of this revival was one in which the general tone of morality was low; and cynicism, bred partly of abuses in the Church, had wellnigh paralysed the restraining power of religion. Some of the humanists were pagans, not as Seneca was, but as Petronius Arbiter; and, far from suffering in public esteem, enjoyed the applause of princes and prelates. Not a little that was odious or shameful occasionally marked their conduct and disfigured their writings. But it is hardly needful to observe that such exponents of humanism were in no way representative of its essence, or even of its inevitable conditions in a corrupt age. Among the foremost Italian scholars were many exemplars of worthy life and noble character, men whose enthusiasm for letters was joined to moral qualities which compel respect and admiration. And no transient phase of fashionable paganism could mar the distinctive merits of the Italian Renaissance, or affect its permanent results. Italian humanism restored good standards of style in prose and verse, thereby benefiting not classical studies alone, but modern literature as well; it did much for erudition, and prepared the ground for more; it founded literary education of a liberal type; it had a wide outlook, and taught men to regard classical antiquity as a whole, a fruitful stage in the»history of human development. Lastly, it achieved a result even larger than its work for scholarship, by diffusing a new spirit, the foe of obscurantism, the ally of all forces that make for light, for the advancement of knowledge, and for reasonable freedom.

Long before the Renaissance had run its course in Italy, its influences had begun to pass the Alps. But there is one man who, above all others, must be regarded as the herald of humanism in the North. It is the distinction of Erasmus that by the peculiar qualities of his genius, and by the unique popularity of his writings, he prepared the advent of the New Learning, not in his native Holland alone, but throughout Europe. Before indicating the special directions which the