Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/92

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gaining a footing on American soil; and in a few years (1572) the massacre of St Bartholomew put an end to the Huguenot designs on Florida.

At this point, where France retires for a time from the stage, leaving England to enter upon it and open the drama of Anglo-American history, we drop the thread of events to resume our survey of the effect produced by the discovery and unveiling of the New World on European ideas and intellectual habits. The complete revolution in geography, which now suddenly revealed to man his gross ignorance in the most elementary field of knowledge—the earth beneath his feet—had a wider effect. It shook the existing system of the sciences, though it had not as yet the effect of shattering it, much less of replacing it by something more nearly in accordance with the truth of things. It produced in many—over and above the suspicion already long harboured in logical minds, that neither the accepted doctrine and practice of the Catholic Church nor any modification of it likely to meet with acceptance in its place, could possibly represent the true construction of God's will revealed in Scripture—that sense of general intellectual insecurity which is best named "scepticism." Charron's future motto, "Que sais-je?," became the leading motive in intellectual conduct. It is impossible to attempt here to trace this movement in its entirety; we can but select three writers, belonging to three successive generations, and all prominent among their contemporaries as pioneers of new paths of thought, and all of whom avowedly derived much of their inspiration from the events briefly noticed above. All three were laymen; a fact not in itself devoid of significance. The writings of ecclesiastics during this period, even in the case of distinguished humanists such as Bembo or Erasmus, show scarcely a trace of the same influence. The control of thought was passing away from the Church. All three, too, were lawyers, and two of them were Lord Chancellors of England. Sir Thomas More, born ten years before the voyage of Colombo, wrote and published his Utopia in 1516, soon after the Pacific had been first descried from a mountain in Darien, and while the Spaniards in the Antilles were gathering the information which led to the conquest of Mexico and Peru, both as yet unknown. This admirable classic of the Renaissance, too keen in its satire and too refined in its feeling to have any practical effect commensurate with the acceptance which it instantly won among cultivated and thoughtful contemporaries, was avowedly suggested by the discovery and settlement of the new Western World. What possibilities of discovery, not merely in the realm of geography, but in that of social organisation, morals, and politics, were laid open by this amazing revelation of a strange world of oceans, islands and continents, covering one-third of the sphere! The extent of America to the westward, with all that lay beyond, was as yet unknown; and More was not exceeding the limits of those possibilities