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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/488

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

The result of the combat was religiously believed to be "the judgment of God" between the parties.

We have said that in those ages no science existed. Let us add that it was then universally taken for certain truth that the earth was flat; that the skies were a dome of hard adamant, which inclosed and covered the world like the walls and roof of a building; that the stars were occult beings having good or evil influences over men; that the winds and the floods, the rain and the crops were either special dispensations of Providence, independent of any original design or law, or were, when unfavorable, the act of evil spirits or magical operations. The monuments of Roman architecture were allowed to go to ruin. The art of building had been almost forgotten, and was limited to the erection of rough and uncouth fortresses and walls suited to keep men and horsemen at bay. These were usually located on the tops of almost inaccessible rocks. The people lived in huts; they ate with their hands; food was cooked without pots or kettles, on the embers, or roasted on spits. Candles were unknown, stockings were unknown, clothing was made of dressed skins, and, though some woven fabrics were made by means of hand-looms, they were so inferior that the ordinary stuffs worn by the people of the present day would have been then considered as luxurious finery fit for a king to wear.

We forgot also to mention, in relation to the trial by battle, that the lawyers of those days did not gain their suits by means of evidence, authorities quoted out of books, and speeches or arguments addressed to the courts; but the lawyers were men-at-arms, expert in the use of the sword, the lance, the mace, and the b√Ęton; and the parties, when they were able, would hire them to fight out the case in the arena as gladiators. Thus the case would be decided in favor of him whose lawyer beat, or cut down, or unhorsed his adversary's lawyer. Those were indeed the days when might was right.

Our object in giving this sketch of the state of civilization in the eighth and ninth centuries is, to contrast the condition of society then with what it is now, and to inquire how mankind could emerge from that order of things to the present stage of human progress. By what means were barbarism, universal ignorance, and superstition to be overcome? From whom was the first light to come? Who was to take the first step toward a better order or higher knowledge?

The impediments were of the most formidable character. Everybody was ignorant except the few clerks, or clergymen, we have mentioned, and even the range of their knowledge, beyond theology, was very limited. All around them was darkness, and naught indicated even a gleam of light or liberty.

By whom or when was the first step taken? By the very clerks or book-men we have mentioned, during the reign of Charlemagne in France, and that of Alfred in England. Long had they labored in the solitude of their cloisters to enlarge the scope of their learning. As-