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Five Hundred Years' Struggle (1200 A.D. to 1699 A.D.)

between Science, Ignorance, and Superstition.



LL.B. (LONDON), AND HON. LL.D. (St. Andrews)




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27.APR. 92


As the main object of this book is not necessarily selfevident, a word concerning its origin may be pardoned. When writing an Essay—not yet published—under the title of “An Essay on the Social History of Man," I encountered a somewhat formidable difficulty. For the want of a recognised term, I could not, without ample illustration, express an idea present to my mind intelligibly.

That in the social, no less than in the physical history of our race, the doctrine of “Evolution” cannot be ignored, but few would contest. The term “Evolution,” however, when applied to social man, is so obviously indefinite as imperatively to demand careful consideration. Is the material, the moral, the mental, the theological, or what other element of social man intended ? In order to express the class of evolution present to my mind, no other adjective than “spiritual” satisfied me. What I intend by the term “Spiritual Evolution” I have attempted to explain in the introduction. This book is, in short, the illustration of my meaning, and is intended to show the distinction between the labours of individuals and the outcome of their combined efforts.

My difficulty was to get a suitable illustration of the idea expressed by the term “Spiritual Evolution.” I considered various stages in the social life in England, and endeavoured there to find a period that would answer my purpose, but I found that England was too small. Nothing, in short, less than an exhibition of the thoughts and lives of the men of most “light and leading” in Europe, as a whole, would suffice. Fortunately, however, the 500 years A.D. 1200 to A.D. 1699, taking Europe as a whole, appeared for my purpose ample.

How to bring the illustration of my idea satisfactorily before the reader within a reasonable compass was the next difficulty.

When the list of names that, in my opinion, could not be omitted, was complete, I had-keeping my main object in view—to consider how best to deal with each. The early characters, though in some respects no less important than the later, I have ventured to pass over with but little more than mention of their names, the dates when they respectively lived, and the facts that make them elements of the spiritual evolution of the period in question.

The invention of printing is the natural and necessary turning point in the diffusion of knowledge in Europe. When Columbus, who immediately follows, was reached, a pause was made—i.e., his career is more fully stated in order that the reader may be impressed by, and become sensible of, a great change. Machiavelli's “Prince” demanded special notice. Copernicus, though revolutionizing European notions as to the heavenly bodies, has been dealt with briefly. Luther, Rabelais, and Loyola, all bent on religious reform, though each in a manner peculiar to himself, have received the attention that the importance of the labour of each demanded, and that space permitted. The sketches of the lives of Montaigne and Shakespeare have been liberally illustrated by extracts from their writings. A brief digest has been made of Bacon's “Advancement and Proficiency of Learning,” and of his “Novum Organum.” The immortal Harvey has had careful consideration. In the cases respectively of Grotius' “War and Peace,” Hobbes' “Leviathan,” and Locke's “Human Understanding," an attempt has been made to show the construction of those immortal books, or at least important parts of them, and, by extracts, each in its proper place and in the language of the author, to enable the reader to form some conception of the whole. To touch Descarte’s “Method” would be to mar it. It has therefore been translated in full. Pascal's “Provincial. Letters” are equally incapable of analysis. A selection, however, was possible, and two have been chosen and translated to represent the whole. Spinoza required treatment peculiar to himself. Newton, in common with the other astronomers, has been dealt with as briefly as possible, but it is believed sufficiently for the purposes of the general reader. His life, in this book, is a digest of Sir David Brewster's Life of Newton. The notices of the other astronomers are simply copied, word for word, from that book.

The opinion of A, B, or C as to what X, Y, or Z did or said, is doubtless acceptable to many, and possibly sufficient for some; others, however, prefer to know what X, Y, or Z did or said, and when they did what they did, and when they said what they said, that they may be able to draw their own conclusions as to whether it was well done or said. Such persons want facts properly arranged, and want them in such quantities as are reasonably sufficient to prevent their conclusions from being erroneous, at all events from their point of view. It is for such as those that this attempt to supply necessary and sufficient material, with references to sources whence more may be derived if needed, has been made.

Many names might doubtless have been added that are omitted. Blame on that head I must accept. I should, however, be sorry indeed, if with justice it could be said that I have introduced any name that ought to have been omitted, and more especially if, unwittingly, I have shown any bias. By the aid of the two Tables of Contents, the reader will be easily able to refresh his memory as to any point that may have struck him when reading the text.


4, Brick Court, Temple.

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