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1233 FEUDAL ASCENDENCY-FEUDALISM PROPER.

ferocious honesty of the barbarian nature became pledged to the absolute fulfillment of

the law and the prophecies.

Among the prophetic utterances relating

to the future, and indeed above them all,

was that ominous prediction which foretold

the end of the world. The earth and all

that therein dwells were to pass away in

a catastrophe of fire. The universe was to

be rolled up as a scroll. As soon as the

thousand years from the birth of Christ

should be fulfilled, a consuming flame should

wrap the world, and a throne of judgment

should be set in heaven. The Dies Ira, that terrible crisis in the destinies of mankind,

should suddenly flash up through the ashes

of nature; and the cowering ghosts of men,

flocking in spectral shoals from the four

quarters of the burnt up ball, should bow

before the inexorable Judge and receive

the everlasting sentence of their doom.

The effect of this prophecy, accepted

by the barbarians in all its literal horror,

was destructive of all hope and fatal to

all progress. As the end drew nigh, all

general interests ceased. Human life became an individual concern. Each must save

himself in the hour of catastrophe. The

king with his council, the peasant with

his flocks, must both alike forever suffer the pangs of the transforming fire.

In the shadow of this awful foreboding

the race of man sat dumb. The brilliant

activities of former times gave place to

dolor and gloom. A belief in the impotence

and decadence of man became universal.

The vision of the old world, glorious afar

off, full of great cities, splendid works of

art, and marching armies, was dimly seen

in recollection-a beautiful dream of the

delusive past. As for the world which now

lay doomed under the curse, it was ready

by its sins and crimes for its imminent perdition. These gloomy thoughts sank deeper

and deeper into the hearts of the deluded

millions, and they sat in dumb despair awaiting the day of fate.

It was impossible under such a system

of belief that any great human interests

should flourish. That which the mind of

man conceives of as real becomes in some

sense reality. Mankind have bowed to

specters more than they have bowed to

facts. In the tenth century, all classes of people from the king to the serf were haunted

with the belief that the world was soon

to be destroyed, and this belief acted as a

paralysis upon all the energies and aspirations of the people. What was the Empire

of Charlemagne-so reasoned the monks

and fanatics-since the Dies Ira was at

hand? Why should any fabric of human

greatness and folly be longer maintained

in the shadow of the impending catastrophe?

With such a cataclysm just before, the mass book was better than a constitution, and an

ascension robe more important than the robe

of a king.

Added to these general influences were

many special circumstances which contributed

to the political disintegration of Western

Europe. Among the principal of these

may be mentioned the personal character or the later Carlovingians. Nearly all

of these sovereigns were, as individuals,

contemptible. With the exception of

D'Outremer and two or three others, not

a single one of the descendants of Charlemagne had the courage and talents requisite

in a king. Most of them were imbeciles

and blockheads-a second race of Faineants

of the same grade with the Donothings

of the old Merovingians. One of the Carlovingian neuters was the Simple, and another was the Fat. One was the Stammerer,

another the Child. It was impossible that

the old Frankish warriors and their descendants should look with favor upon

this degenerate line of royalty. Here a

duke and there a count came to understand

the simple lesson that nature makes the

great men, and society the man kind. That

artificial loyalty and absurd devotion to

factitious greatness, which had done so

much of old to support the gilded thrones

of the East, found no place in the breasts

of the nobles of the Middle Ages. For a

while they looked on with disdain while

the ridiculous farce was enacted, and then

turned their backs upon the pageant of

the court and struck for independence. As

soon as the swords of a few of the bolder

lords had cleft a passage through the royal

harness and freed themselves from the domination of some kingly simpleton, the less courageous were inspired to do the same. Provinces fell away. Counties became independent. Personal ties, voluntarily assumed,