The Pleasures of England (1888)/The Pleasures of Deed
THE PLEASURES OF DEED.
ALFRED TO CŒUR DE LION.
IT was my endeavour, in the preceding lecture, to vindicate the thoughts and arts of our Saxon ancestors from whatever scorn might lie coucned under the terms applied to them by Dean Stanley,—'fantastic,' and 'childish.' To-day my task must be carried forward, first, in asserting the grace in fantasy, and the force in infancy, of the English mind, before the Conquest, against the allegations contained in the final passage of Dean Stanley's description of the first founded Westminster; a passage which accepts and asserts, more distinctly than any other equally brief statement I have met with, the to my mind extremely disputable theory, that the Norman invasion was in every respect a sanitary, moral, and intellectual blessing to England, and that the arrow which slew her Harold was indeed the Arrow of the Lord's deliverance.
"The Abbey itself," says Dean Stanley,—"the chief work of the Confessor's life,—was the portent of the mighty future. When Harold stood beside his sister Edith, on the day of the dedication, and signed his name with hers as witness to the Charter of the Abbey, he might have seen that he was sealing his own doom, and preparing for his own destruction. The solid pillars, the ponderous arches, the huge edifice, with triple tower and sculptured stones and storied windows, that arose in the place and in the midst of the humble wooden churches and wattled tenements of the Saxon period, might have warned the nobles who were present that the days of their rule were numbered, and that the avenging, civilizing, stimulating hand of another and a mightier race was at work, which would change the whole face of their language, their manners, their Church, and their commonwealth. The Abbey, so far exceeding the demands of the dull and stagnant minds of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors, was founded not only in faith, but in hope: in the hope that England had yet a glorious career to run; that the line of her sovereigns would not be broken, even when the race of Alfred had ceased to reign."
There must surely be some among my hearers who are startled, if not offended, at being told in the terms which I emphasized in this sentence, that the minds of our Saxon fathers were, although fantastic, dull, and, although childish, stagnant; that farther, in their fantastic stagnation, they were savage,—and in their innocent dulness, criminal; so that the future character and fortune of the race depended on the critical advent of the didactic and disciplinarian Norman baron, at once to polish them, stimulate, and chastise.
Before I venture to say a word in distinct arrest of this judgment, I will give you a chart, as clear as the facts observed in the two previous lectures allow, of the state and prospects of the Saxons, when this violent benediction of conquest happened to them: and especially I would rescue, in the measure that justice bids, the memory even of their Pagan religion from the general scorn in which I used Carlyle's description of the idol of ancient Prussia as universally exponent of the temper of Northern devotion. That Triglaph, or Triglyph Idol, (derivation of Triglaph wholly unknown to me—I use Triglyph only for my own handiest epithet), last set up, on what is now St. Mary's hill in Brandenburg, in 1023, belonged indeed to a people wonderfully like the Saxons,—geographically their close neighbours,—in habits of life, and aspect of native land, scarcely distinguishable from them,—in Carlyle's words, a "strong-boned, iracund, herdsman and fisher people, highly averse to be interfered with, in their religion especially, and inhabiting a moory flat country, full of lakes and woods, but with plenty also of alluvial mud, grassy, frugiferous, apt for the plough"—in all things like the Saxons, except, as I read the matter, in that 'aversion to be interfered with' which you modern English think an especially Saxon character in you,—but which is, on the contrary, you will find on examination, by no means Saxon; but only Wendisch, Czech, Serbic, Sclavic,—other hard names I could easily find for it among the tribes of that vehemently heathen old Preussen—"resolutely worshipful of places of oak trees, of wooden or stone idols, of Bangputtis, Patkullos, and I know not what diabolic dumb blocks." Your English "dislike to be interfered with" is in absolute fellowship with these, but only gathers itself in its places of Stalks, or chimneys, instead of oak trees, round its idols of iron, instead of wood, diabolically vocal now; strident, and sibilant, instead of dumb.
Far other than these, their neighbour Saxons, Jutes and Angles!—tribes between whom the distinctions are of no moment whatsoever, except that an English boy or girl may with grace remember that 'Old England,' exactly and strictly so called, was the small district in the extreme south of Denmark, totally with its islands estimable at sixty miles square of dead flat land. Directly south of it, the definitely so-called Saxons held the western shore of Holstein, with the estuary of the Elbe, and the sea-mark isle, Heligoland. But since the principal temple of Saxon worship was close to Leipsic, we may include under our general term, Saxons, the inhabitants of the whole level district of North Germany, from the Gulf of Flensburg to the Hartz; and, eastward, all the country watered by the Elbe as far as Saxon Switzerland.
Of the character of this race I will not here speak at any length: only note of it this essential point, that their religion was at once more practical and more imaginative than that of the Norwegian peninsula; the Norse religion being the conception rather of natural than moral powers, but the Saxon, primarily of moral, as the lords of natural—their central divine image, Irminsul, holding the standard of peace in her right hand, a balance in her left. Such a religion may degenerate into mere slaughter and rapine; but it has the making in it of the noblest men.
More practical at all events, whether for good or evil, in this trust in a future reward for courage and purity, than the mere Scandinavian awe of existing Earth and Cloud, the Saxon religion was also more imaginative, in its nearer conception of human feeling in divine creatures. And when this wide hope and high reverence had distinct objects of worship and prayer, offered to them by Christianity, the Saxons easily became pure, passionate, and thoughtful Christians; while the Normans, to the last, had the greatest difficulty in apprehending the Christian teaching of the Franks, and still deny the power of Christianity, even when they have become inveterate in its form.
Quite the deepest-thoughted creatures of the then animate world, it seems to me, these Saxon ploughmen of the sand or the sea, with their worshipped deity of Beauty and Justice, a red rose on her banner, for best of gifts, and in her right hand, instead of a sword, a balance, for due doom, without wrath,—of retribution in her left. Far other than the Wends, though stubborn enough, they too, in battle rank,—seven times rising from defeat against Charlemagne, and unsubdued but by death—yet, by no means in that John Bull's manner of yours, 'averse to be interfered with,' in their opinions, or their religion. Eagerly docile on the contrary—joyfully reverent—instantly and gratefully acceptant of whatever better insight or oversight a stranger could bring them, of the things of God or man.
And let me here ask you especially to take account of that origin of the true bearing of the Flag of England, the Red Rose. Her own madness defiled afterwards alike the white and red, into images of the paleness, or the crimson, of death; but the Saxon Rose was the symbol of heavenly beauty and peace.
I told you in my first lecture that one swift requirement in our school would be to produce a beautiful map of England, including old Northumberland, giving the whole country, in its real geography, between the Frith of Forth and Straits of Dover, and with only six sites of habitation given, besides those of Edinburgh and London,—namely, those of Canterbury and Winchester, York and Lancaster, Holy Island and Melrose; the latter instead of Iona, because, as we have seen, the influence of St. Columba expires with the advance of Christianity, while that of Cuthbert of Melrose connects itself with the most sacred feelings of the entire Northumbrian kingdom, and Scottish border, down to the days of Scott—wreathing also into its circle many of the legends of Arthur. Will you forgive my connecting the personal memory of having once had a wild rose gathered for me, in the glen of Thomas the Rhymer, by the daughter of one of the few remaining Catholic houses of Scotland, with the pleasure I have in reading to you this following true account of the origin of the name of St. Cuthbert's birthplace;—the rather because I owe it to friendship of the same date, with Mr. Cockburn Muir, of Melrose.
"To those who have eyes to read it," says Mr. Muir, "the name 'Melrose' is written full and fair, on the fair face of all this reach of the valley. The name is anciently spelt Mailros, and later, Malros, never Mulros; ('Mul' being the Celtic word taken to mean 'bare'). Ros is Rose; the forms Meal or Mol imply great quantity or number. Thus Malros means the place of many roses.
"This is precisely the notable characteristic of the neighbourhood. The wild rose is indigenous. There is no nook nor cranny, no bank nor brae, which is not, in the time of roses, ablaze with their exuberant loveliness. In gardens, the cultured rose is so prolific that it spreads literally like a weed. But it is worth suggestion that the word may be of the same stock as the Hebrew rôsh (translated rôs by the Septuagint), meaning chief, principal, while it is also the name of some flower; but of which flower is now unknown. Affinities of rôsh are not far to seek; Sanskrit, Raj(a), Ra(ja)ni; Latin, Rex, Reg(ina.)."
I leave it to Professor Max Muller to certify or correct for you the details of Mr. Cockburn's research,—this main head of it I can positively confirm, that in old Scotch,—that of Bishop Douglas,—the word 'Rois' stands allke for King, and Rose.
Summing now the features I have too shortly specified in the Saxon character,—its imagination, its docility, its love of knowledge, and its love of beauty, you will be prepared to accept my conclusive statement, that they gave rise to a form of Christian faith which appears to me, in the present state of my knowledge, one of the purest and most intellectual ever attained in Christendom;—never yet understood, partly because of the extreme rudeness of its expression in the art of manuscripts, and partly because, on account of its very purity, it sought no expression in architecture, being a religion of daily life, and humble lodging. For these two practical reasons, first;—and for this more weighty third, that the intellectual character of it is at the same time most truly, as Dean Stanley told you, childlike; showing itself in swiftness of imaginative apprehension, and in the fearlessly candid application of great principles to small things. Its character in this kind may be instantly felt by any sympathetic and gentle person who will read carefully the book I have already quoted to you, the Venerable Bede's life of St. Cuthbert; and the intensity and sincerity of it in the highest orders of the laity, by simply counting the members of Saxon Royal families who ended their lives in monasteries.
Now, at the very moment when this faith, innocence, and ingenuity were on the point of springing up into their fruitage, comes the Northern invasion; of the real character of which you can gain a far truer estimate by studying Alfred's former resolute contest with and victory over the native Norman in his paganism, than by your utmost endeavours to conceive the character of the afterwards invading Norman, disguised, but not changed, by Christianity. The Norman could not, in the nature of him, become a Christian at all; and he never did;—he only became, at his best, the enemy of the Saracen. What he was, and what alone he was capable of being, I will try to-day to explain.
And here I must advise you that in all points of history relating to the period between 800 and 1200, you will find M. Viollet le Duc, incidentally throughout his 'Dictionary of Architecture,' the best-informed, most intelligent, and most thoughtful of guides. His knowledge of architecture, carried down into the most minutely practical details,—(which are often the most significant), and embracing, over the entire surface of France, the buildings even of the most secluded villages; his artistic enthusiasm, balanced by the acutest sagacity, and his patriotism, by the frankest candour, render his analysis of history during that active and constructive period the most valuable known to me, and certainly, in its field, exhaustive. Of the later nationality his account is imperfect, owing to his professional interest in the mere science of architecture, and comparative insensibility to the power of sculpture;—but of the time with which we are now concerned, whatever he tells you must be regarded with grateful attention.
I introduce, therefore, the Normans to you, on their first entering France, under his descriptive terms of them.
"As soon as they were established on the soil, these barbarians became the most hardy and active builders. Within the space of a century and a half, they had covered the country on which they had definitely landed, with religious, monastic, and civil edifices, of an extent and richness then little common. It is difficult to suppose that they had brought from Norway the elements of art, but they were possessed by a persisting and penetrating spirit; their brutal force did not want for grandeur. Conquerors, they raised castles to assure their domination; they soon recognized the Moral force of the clergy, and endowed it richly. Eager always to attain their end, when once they saw it, they never left one of their enterprises unfinished, and in that they differed completely from the Southern inhabitants of Gaul. Tenacious extremely, they were perhaps the only ones among the barbarians established in France who had ideas of order; the only ones who knew how to preserve their conquests, and compose a state. They found the remains of the Carthaginian arts on the territory where they planted themselves, they mingled with those their national genius, positive, grand, and yet supple."
Supple, 'Delié,'—capable of change and play of the mental muscle, in the way that savages are not. I do not, myself, grant this suppleness to the Norman, the less because another sentence of M. le Duc's, occurring incidentally in his account of the archivolt, is of extreme counter-significance, and wide application. "The Norman arch," he says, "is never derived from traditional classic forms, but only from mathematical arrangement of line." Yes; that is true: the Norman arch is never derived from classic forms. The cathedral, whose aisles you saw or might have seen, yesterday, interpenetrated with light, whose vaults you might have heard prolonging the sweet divisions of majestic sound, would have been built in that stately symmetry by Norman law, though never an arch at Rome had risen round her field of blood,—though never her Sublician bridge had been petrified by her Augustan pontifices. But the decoration, though not the structure of those arches, they owed to another race,whose words they stole without understanding, though three centuries before, the Saxon understood, and used, to express the most solemn majesty of his Kinghood,—
"EGO EDGAR, TOTIVS ALBIONIS"—
not Rex, that would have meant the King of Kent or Mercia, not of England,—no, nor Imperator; that would have meant only the profane power of Rome, but BASILEVS, meaning a King who reigned with sacred authority given by Heaven and Christ.
With far meaner thoughts, both of themselves and their powers, the Normans set themselves to build impregnable military walls, and sublime religious ones, in the best possible practical ways; but they no more made books of their church fronts than of their bastion flanks; and cared, in the religion they accepted, neither for its sentiments nor its promises, but only for its immediate results on national order.
As I read them, they were men wholly of this world, bent on doing the most in it, and making the best of it that they could;—men, to their death, of Deed, never pausing, changing, repenting, or anticipating, more than the completed square, ἀνευ ψογου, of their battle, their keep, and their cloister. Soldiers before and after everything, they learned the lockings and bracings of their stones primarily in defence against the battering-ram and the projectile, and esteemed the pure circular arch for its distributed and equal strength more than for its beauty. "I believe again," says M. le Duc, "that the feudal castle never arrived at its perfectness till after the Norman invasion, and that this race of the North was the first to apply a defensive system under unquestionable laws, soon followed by the nobles of the Continent, after they had, at their own expense, learned their superiority."
The next sentence is a curious one. I pray your attention to it. "The defensive system of the Norman is born of a profound sentiment of distrust and cunning, foreign to the character of the Frank." You will find in all my previous notices of the French, continual insistance upon their natural Franchise, and also, if you take the least pains in analysis of their literature down to this day, that the idea of falseness is to them indeed more hateful than to any other European nation. To take a quite cardinal instance. If you compare Lucian's and Shakespeare's Timon with Molière's Alceste, you will find the Greek and English misanthropes dwell only on men's ingratitude to themselves, but Alceste, on their falsehood to each other.
Now hear M. le Duc farther:
"The castles built between the tenth and twelfth centuries along the Loire, Gironde, and Seine, that is to say, along the lines of the Norman invasions, and in the neighbourhood of their possessions, have a peculiar and uniform character which one finds neither in central France, nor in Burgundy, nor can there be any need for us to throw light on (faire ressortir) the superiority of the warrior spirit of the Normans, during the later times of the Carlovingian epoch, over the spirit of the chiefs of Frank descent, established on the Gallo-Roman soil." There's a bit of honesty in a Frenchman for you!
I have just said that they valued religion chiefly for its influence of order in the present world: being in this, observe, as nearly as may be the exact reverse of modern believers, or persons who profess to be such,—of whom it may be generally alleged, too truly, that they value religion with respect to their future bliss rather than their present duty; and are therefore continually careless of its direct commands, with easy excuse to themselves for disobedience to them. Whereas the Norman, finding in his own heart an irresistible impulse to action, and perceiving himself to be set, with entirely strong body, brain, and will, in the midst of a weak and dissolute confusion of all things, takes from the Bible instantly into his conscience every exhortation to Do and to Govern; and becomes, with all his might and understanding, a blunt and rough servant, knecht, or knight of God, liable to much misapprehension, of course, as to the services immediately required of him, but supposing, since the whole make of him, outside and in, is a soldier's, that God meant him for a soldier, and that he is to establish, by main force, the Christian faith and works all over the world so far as he comprehends them; not merely with the Mahometan indignation against spiritual error, but with a sound and honest soul's dislike of material error, and resolution to extinguish that, even if perchance found in the spiritual persons to whom, in their office, he yet rendered total reverence.
Which force and faith in him I may best illustrate by merely putting together the broken paragraphs of Sismondi's account of the founding of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily: virtually contemporary with the conquest of England.
"The Normans surpassed all the races of the west in their ardour for pilgrimages. They would not, to go into the Holy Land, submit to the monotony of a long sea voyage—the rather that they found not on the Mediterranean the storms or dangers they had rejoiced to encounter on their own sea. They traversed by land the whole of France and Italy, trusting to their swords to procure the necessary subsistence,if the charity of the faithful did not enough provide for it with alms. The towns of Naples, Amalfi, Gaeta, and Bari, held constant commerce with Syria; and frequent miracles, it was believed, illustrated the Monte Cassino, (St. Benedict again!) on the road of Naples, and the Mount of Angels (Garganus) above Bari." (Querecta Gargani—verily, laborant; now, et orant.) "The pilgrims wished to visit during their journey the monasteries built on these two mountains, and therefore nearly always, either going or returning to the Holy Land, passed through Magna Græcia.
"In one of the earliest years of the eleventh century, about forty of these religious travellers, having returned from the Holy Land, chanced to have met together in Salerno at the moment when a small Saracen fleet came to insult the town, and demand of it a military contribution. The inhabitants of South Italy, at this time, abandoned to the delights of their enchanted climate, had lost nearly all military courage, The Salernitani saw with astonishment forty Norman knights, after having demanded horses and arms from the Prince of Salerno, order the gates of the town to be opened, charge the Saracens fearlessly, and put them to flight. The Salernitani followed, however, the example given them by these brave warriors, and those of the Mussulmans who escaped their swords were forced to re-embark in all haste.
"The Prince of Salerno, Guaimar III., tried in vain to keep the warrior-pilgrims at his court: but at his solicitation other companies established themselves on the rocks of Salerno and Amalfi, until, on Christmas Day, 1041, (exactly a quarter of a century before the coronation here at Westminster of the Conqueror,) they gathered their scattered forces at Aversa, twelve groups of them under twelve chosen counts, and all under the Lombard Ardoin, as commander-in-chief." Be so good as to note that,—a marvellous key-note of historical fact about the unjesting Lombards, I cannot find the total Norman number: the chief contingent, under William of the Iron Arm, the son of Tancred of Hauteville, was only of three hundred knights; the Count of Aversa's troop, of the same number, is named as an important part of the little army—admit it for ten times Tancred's, three thousand men in all. At Aversa, these three thousand men form, coolly on Christmas Day, 1041, the design of—well, I told you they didn't design much, only, now we're here, we may as well, while we're about it,—overthrow the Greek empire! That was their little game!—a Christmas mumming to purpose. The following year, the whole of Apulia was divided among them.
I will not spoil, by abstracting, the magnificent following history of Robert Guiscard, the most wonderful soldier of that or any other time: I leave you to finish it for yourselves, only asking you to read together with it, the sketch, in Turner's history of the Anglo-Saxons, of Alfred's long previous war with the Norman Hasting; pointing out to you for foci of character in each contest, the culminating incidents of naval battle. In Guiscard's struggle with the Greeks, he encounters for their chief naval force the Venetian fleet under the Doge Domenico Selvo. The Venetians are at this moment undoubted masters in all naval warfare; the Normans are worsted easily the first day,—the second day, fighting harder, they are defeated again, and so disastrously that the Venetian Doge takes no precautions against them on the third day, thinking them utterly disabled. Guiscard attacks him again on the third day, with the mere wreck of his own ships, and defeats the tired and amazed Italians finally!
The sea-fight between Alfred's ships and those of Hasting, ought to be still more memorable to us. Alfred, as I noticed in last lecture, had built war ships nearly twice as long as the Normans', swifter, and steadier on the waves. Six Norman ships were ravaging the Isle of Wight; Alfred sent nine of his own to take them. The King's fleet found the Northmen's embayed, and three of them aground. The three others engaged Alfred's nine, twice their size; two of the Viking ships were taken, but the third escaped, with only five men! A nation which verily took its pleasures in its Deeds.
But before I can illustrate farther either their deeds or their religion, I must for an instant meet the objection which I suppose the extreme probity of the nineteenth century must feel acutely against these men,—that they all lived by thieving.
Without venturing to allude to the raison d'être of the present French and English Stock Exchanges, I will merely ask any of you here, whether of Saxon or Norman blood, to define for himself what he means by the "possession of India." I have no doubt that you all wish to keep India in order, and in like manner I have assured you that Duke William wished to keep England in order. If you will read the lecture on the life of Sir Herbert Edwardes, which I hope to give in London after finishing this course, you will see how a Christian British officer can, and does, verily, and with his whole heart, keep in order such part of India as may be entrusted to him, and in so doing, secure our Empire. But the silent feeling and practice of the nation about India is based on quite other motives than Sir Herbert's. Every mutiny, every danger, every terror, and every crime, occurring under, or paralyzing, our Indian legislation, arises directly out of our national desire to live on the loot of India, and the notion always entertained by English young gentlemen and ladies of good position, falling in love with each other without immediate prospect of establishment in Belgrave Square, that they can find in India, instantly on landing, a bungalow ready furnished with the loveliest fans, china, and shawls,—ices and sherbet at command,—four-and-twenty slaves succeeding each other hourly to swing the punkah, and a regiment with a beautiful band to "keep order" outside, all round the house.
Entreating your pardon for what may seem rude in these personal remarks, I will further entreat you to read my account of the death of Cœur de Lion in the third number of 'Fors Clavigera'—and also the scenes in 'Ivanhoe' between Cœur de Lion and Locksley; and commending these few passages to your quiet consideration, I proceed to give you another anecdote or two of the Normans in Italy, twelve years later than those given above, and, therefore, only thirteen years before the battle of Hastings.
Their division of South Italy among them especially, and their defeat of Venice, had alarmed everybody considerably,—especially the Pope, Leo IX., who did not understand this manifestation of their piety. He sent to Henry III. of Germany, to whom he owed his Popedom, for some German knights, and got five hundred spears; gathered out of all Apulia, Campania, and the March of Ancona, what Greek and Latin troops were to be had, to join his own army of the patrimony of St. Peter; and the holy Pontiff, with this numerous army, but no general, began the campaign by a pilgrimage with all his troops to Monte Cassino, in order to obtain, if it might be, St. Benedict for general.
Against the Pope's collected masses, with St. Benedict, their contemplative but at first inactive general, stood the little army of Normans,—certainly not more than the third of their number—but with Robert Guiscard for captain, and under him his brother, Humphrey of Hauteville, and Richard of Aversa. Not in fear, but in devotion, they prayed the Pope 'avec instance,'—to say on what conditions they could appease his anger, and live in peace under him. But the Pope would hear of nothing but their evacuation of Italy. Whereupon, they had to settle the question in the Norman manner.
The two armies met in front of Civitella, on Waterloo day, 18th June, thirteen years, as I said, before the battle of Hastings. The German knights were the heart of the Pope's army, but they were only five hundred; the Normans surrounded them first, and slew them, nearly to a man—and then made extremely short work with the Italians and Greeks. The Pope, with the wreck of them, fled into Civitella; but the townspeople dared not defend their walls, and thrust the Pope himself out of their gates—to meet, alone, the Norman army.
He met it, not alone, St. Benedict being with him now, when he had no longer the strength of man to trust in.
The Normans, as they approached him, threw themselves on their knees,—covered themselves with dust, and implored his pardon and his blessing.
There's a bit of poetry—if you like,—but a piece of steel-clad fact also, compared to which the battle of Hastings and Waterloo both, were mere boys' squabbles.
You don't suppose, you British schoolboys, that you overthrew Napoleon—you? Your prime Minister folded up the map of Europe at the thought of him. Not you, but the snows of Heaven, and the hand of Him who dasheth in pieces with a rod of iron. He casteth forth His ice like morsels,—who can stand before His cold?
But, so far as you have indeed the right to trust in the courage of your own hearts, remember also—it is not in Norman nor Saxon, but in Celtic race that your real strength lies. The battles both of Waterloo and Alma were won by Irish and Scots—by the terrible Scots Greys, and by Sir' Colin's Highlanders. Your 'thin red line,' was kept steady at Alma only by Colonel Yea's swearing at them.
But the old Pope, alone against a Norman army, wanted nobody to swear at him. Steady enough he, having somebody to bless him, instead of swear at him. St. Benedict, namely; whose (memory shall we say?) helped him now at his pinch in a singular manner,—for the Normans, having got the old man's forgiveness, vowed themselves his feudal servants; and for seven centuries afterwards the whole kingdom of Naples remained a fief of St. Peter,—won for him thus by a single man, unarmed, against three thousand Norman knights, captained by Robert Guiscard!
A day of deeds, gentlemen, to some purpose,—that 18th of June, anyhow.
Here, in the historical account of Norman character, I must unwillingly stop for to-day—because, as you choose to spend your University money in building ball-rooms instead of lecture-rooms, I dare not keep you much longer in this black hole, with its nineteenth century ventilation. I try your patience—and tax your breath—only for a few minutes more in drawing the necessary corollaries respecting Norman art.
How far the existing British nation owes its military prowess to the blood of Normandy and Anjou, I have never examined its genealogy enough to tell you;—but this I can tell you positively, that whatever constitutional order or personal valour the Normans enforced or taught among the nations they conquered, they did not at first attempt with their own hands to rival them in any of their finer arts, but used both Greek and Saxon sculptors, either as slaves, or hired workmen, and more or less therefore chilled and degraded the hearts of the men thus set to servile, or at best, hireling, labour.
In 1874, I went to see Etna, Scylla, Charybdis, and the tombs of the Norman Kings at Palermo; surprised, as you may imagine, to find that there wasn't a stroke nor a notion of Norman work in them. They are, every atom, done by Greeks, and are as pure Greek as the temple of Ægina; but more rich and refined. I drew with accurate care, and with measured profile of every moulding, the tomb built for Roger II. (afterwards Frederick II. was laid in its dark porphyry). And it is a perfect type of the Greek-Christian form of tomb—temple over sarcophagus, in which the pediments rise gradually, as time goes on, into acute angles—get pierced in the gable with foils, and their sculptures thrown outside on their flanks, and become at last in the fourteenth century, the tombs of Verona. But what is the meaning of the Normans employing these Greek slaves for their work in Sicily (within thirty miles of the field of Himera)? Well, the main meaning is that though the Normans could build, they couldn't carve, and were wise enough not to try to, when they couldn't, as you do now all over this intensely comic and tragic town: but, here in England, they only employed the Saxon with a grudge, and therefore being more and more driven to use barren mouldings without sculpture, gradually developed the structural forms of archivolt, which breaking into the lancet, brighten and balance themselves into the symmetry of early English Gothic.
But even for the first decoration of the archivolt itself, they were probably indebted to the Greeks in a degree I never apprehended, until by pure happy chance, a friend gave me the clue to it just as I was writing the last pages of this lecture.
In the generalization of ornament attempted in the first volume of the 'Stones of Venice,' I supposed the Norman zigzag (and with some practical truth) to be derived from the angular notches with which the blow of an axe can most easily decorate, or at least vary, the solid edge of a square fillet. My good friend, and supporter, and for some time back the single trustee of St. George's Guild, Mr. George Baker, having come to Oxford on Guild business, I happened to show him the photographs of the front of Iffley church, which had been collected for this lecture; and immediately afterwards, in taking him through the schools, stopped to show him the Athena of Ægina as one of the most important of the Greek examples lately obtained for us by Professor Richmond. The statue is (rightly) so placed that in looking up to it, the plait of hair across the forehead is seen in a steeply curved arch. "Why," says Mr. Baker, pointing to it, "there's the Norman arch of Iffley." Sure enough, there it exactly was: and a moment's reflection showed me how easily, and with what instinctive fitness, the Norman builders, looking to the Greeks as their absolute masters in sculpture, and recognizing also, during the Crusades, the hieroglyphic use of the zigzag, for water, by the Egyptians, might have adopted this easily attained decoration at once as the sign of the element over which they reigned, and of the power of the Greek goddess who ruled both it and them.
I do not in the least press your acceptance of such a tradition, nor for the rest, do I care myself whence any method of ornament is derived, if only, as a stranger, you bid it reverent welcome. But much probability is added to the conjecture by the indisputable transition of the Greek egg and arrow moulding into the floral cornices of Saxon and other twelfth century cathedrals in Central France. These and other such transitions and exaltations I will give you the materials to study at your leisure, after illustrating in my next lecture the forces of religious imagination by which all that was most beautiful in them was inspired.
- Turner, vol. i., p. 223.
- Properly plural 'Images'—Irminsul and Irminsula.
- I had not time to quote it fully in the lecture; and in my ignorance, alike of Keltic and Hebrew, can only submit it here to the reader's examination. "The ancient Cognizance of the town confirms this etymology beyond doubt, with customary heraldic precision. The shield bears a Rose; with a Maul, as the exact phonetic equivalent for the expletive. If the herald had needed to express 'bare promontory,' quite certainly he would have managed it somehow. Not only this, the Earls of Haddington were first created Earls of Melrose (1619); and their Shield, quarterly, is charged, for Melrose, in 2nd and 3rd (fesse wavy between) three Roses gu. "Beyond this ground of certainty, we may indulge in a little excursus into lingual affinities of wide range. The root mol is clear enough. It is of the same stock as the Greek mála, Latin mul(tum), and Hebrew m'la. But, Rose? We call her Queen of Flowers, and since before the Persian poets made much of her, she was everywhere Regina Florum. Why should not the name mean simply the Queen, the Chief? Now, so few who know Keltic know also Hebrew, and so few who know Hebrew know also Keltic, that few know the surprising extent of the affinity that exists—clear as day—between the Keltic and the Hebrew vocabularies. That the word Rose may be a case in point is not hazardously speculative."
- Article "Architecture," vol. i., p. 138.
- They had brought some, of a variously Charybdic, Serpentine, and Diabolic character. -J. R.
- Of Oxford, during the afternoon service.
- See the concluding section of the lecture.
- Article "Château," vol. iii., p. 65.
- I give Sismondi's idea as it stands, but there was no question in the matter of monotony or of danger. The journey was made on foot because it was the most laborious way, and the most humble.
- See farther on, p. 110, the analogies with English arrangements of the same kind.
- In Lombardy, south of Pavia.
- This was prevented by the necessity for the re-arrangement of my terminal Oxford lectures: I am now preparing that on Sir Herbert for publication in a somewhat expanded form.
- Given at much greater length in the lecture, with diagrams from Iffley and Poictiers, without which the text of them would be unintelligible. The sum of what I said was a strong assertion of the incapacity of the Normans for any but the rudest and most grotesque sculpture,—Poictiers being, on the contrary, examined and praised as Gallic-French—not Norman.