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XVIII INTRODUCTION TO VOLUME IV.

There can be little doubt that the human

race has in its general course conformed to

the order of physical nature. The laws of the

material world have held man fast, and determined the extent of his excursions. In no

other fact has this domination of nature over

humankind been more conspicuously exhibited than in the leap which the man of the

fifteenth century, following the path of the

sun, took across the Atlantic. The time

came when he must go. The westward draft

was strong upon him. The electrical currents that girdle the earth, determining its

motion and polar slope, circled also around

the human brain; and the same law which

twists the vine from left to right around the

tree, carried the barques of Columbus and

Cabot to the western verge of the Atlas ocean.

What the destinies of mankind might have

been if no New World had been revealed, it is

needless to conjecture. The question belongs

to the long list of historical ifs which it is not

profitable to consider. In Europe two great

attempts had been made to construct a permanent civilization. In the first place, the

two Southern peninsulas, dropping into the

Mediterranean, had been brought under the

dominion of those forces which humanize

mankind. In Hellas and Italy there was the

light of knowledge and the activity of reason.

After the wreck of Rome, at the close of the

fifth century, the energies of man, roughly

displayed in the coarse body of barbarism,

began to strain towards light and freedom in

the countries north of the Alpine ranges.

During the whole period of the Middle Ages

the slow and toilsome ascent of humanity,

climbing towards the summit of its ancient

renown, may be noted in all those European

States which Winter honors with his snows.

In the eternal and unalterable destiny of

things it was decreed that the third act of the

drama should be witnessed on this side of the

deeps. America was to be the scene of the

newest-let us believe the grandest-display

of human power and aspiration ever exhibited

on this sphere of earth. The story of the revelation of the new field of hope and endeavor

will naturally claim our attention in the

opening paragraphs of what may be called

the recent history of mankind. The period

extending from the beginning of the sixteenth century to the present day has been like a new

youth to the human race-stormy, agitated, dashed with sun and rain, full of warmth and

fecundity and power.

The movement of man across the sea to the

new lands of the West is strangely connected

in time with a corresponding activity in the

world of thought and reason. With the over

throw of paganism in Western Europe, the

system of religion, germinal in the Son of

Mary and the Carpenter, formulated after

wards by Paul and the Apostles, made organic

and aggressive by the genius of Rome, had

been planted amid the ruins of heathenism in

all the countries of Europe. Within these

limits the universality of the system had been

achieved. The three-storied image of the Holy Father

might well symbolize the height and breadth

and depth-not to say the arrogant grandeur

-of that dominion which Cephas, who carried

the famous keys at his girdle, was said to have

planted on the Tiber. That any shock could

break the solidarity of Rome and scatter the

fragments to the left and right, appeared the

most improbable of all chimeras.

But It is the peculiarity of History to surprise and hurl down the impotent logic of

man. In the very day when the bastions of

his greatest syllogism seem more impregnable

than the Hill of Taric, it is doomed and will come down with a crash. So it was in the day of the Lutheran

Reformation. Rome was saying in her heart

"I sit a queen." The dome of St. Peter's

glorified by the genius of Buonarotti, looked

serenely from a cloudless sky. The obedient

kingdoms lay around; nor might it be supposed that the fury of an iron-forger's hammer

could excite even a smile of derision on the

omnipotent face of the Vicar of God.

Considered merely as a secular catastrophe

and without much regard to the beliefs and

doctrines involved in the conflict, the audacious attack of the Reformers on the tremendous structure of Rome, and their long

continued battle with an antagonist that

could only yield with death, must ever constitute one of the most instructive chapters.