The Unseen World and Other Essays
By John Fiske

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[31] History of the United Netherlands: from the Death of William the Silent to the Twelve Years’ Truce, 1609. By John Lothrop Motley, D. C. L. In four volumes. Vols. III. and IV. New York. 1868.

Tandem fit surculus arbor: the twig which Mr. Motley in his earlier volumes has described as slowly putting forth its leaves and rootless, while painfully struggling for existence in a hostile soil, has at last grown into a mighty tree of liberty, drawing sustenance from all lands, and protecting all civilized peoples with its pleasant shade. We congratulate Mr. Motley upon the successful completion of the second portion of his great work; and we think that the Netherlanders of our time have reason to be grateful to the writer who has so faithfully and eloquently told the story of their country’s fearful struggle against civil and ecclesiastical tyranny, and its manifold contributions to the advancement of European civilization.

Mr. Motley has been fortunate in his selection of a subject upon which to write. Probably no century of modern times lends itself to the purposes of the descriptive historian so well as the sixteenth. While on the one hand the problems which it presents are sufficiently near for us to understand them without too great an effort of the imagination, on the other hand they are sufficiently remote for us to study them without passionate and warping prejudice. The contest between Catholicism and the reformed religion—between ecclesiastical autocracy and the right of private investigation—has become a thing of the past, and constitutes a closed chapter in human history. The epoch which begins where Mr. Motley’s history is designed to close—at the peace of Westphalia—is far more complicated. Since the middle of the seventeenth century a double movement has been going on in religion and philosophy, society and politics,—a movement of destruction typified by Voltaire and Rousseau, and a constructive movement represented by Diderot and Lessing. We are still living in the midst of this great epoch: the questions which it presents are liable to disturb our prejudices as well as to stimulate our reason; the results to which it must sooner or later attain can now be only partially foreseen; and even its present tendencies are generally misunderstood, and in many quarters wholly ignored. With the sixteenth century, as we have said, the case is far different. The historical problem is far less complex. The issues at stake are comparatively simple, and the historian has before him a straightforward story.

From the dramatic, or rather from the epic, point of view, the sixteenth century is pre-eminent. The essentially transitional character of modern history since the breaking up of the papal and feudal systems is at no period more distinctly marked. In traversing the sixteenth century we realize that we have fairly got out of one state of things and into another. At the outset, events like the challenge of Barletta may make us doubt whether we have yet quite left behind the Middle Ages. The belief in the central position of the earth is still universal, and the belief in its rotundity not yet, until the voyage of Magellan, generally accepted. We find England—owing partly to the introduction of gunpowder and the consequent disuse of archery, partly to the results of the recent integration of France under Louis XI.—fallen back from the high relative position which it had occupied under the rule of the Plantagenets; and its policy still directed in accordance with reminiscences of Agincourt, and garnet, and Burgundian alliances. We find France just beginning her ill-fated career of intervention in the affairs of Italy; and Spain, with her Moors finally vanquished and a new world beyond the ocean just added to her domain, rapidly developing into the greatest empire which had been seen since the days of the first Caesars. But at the close of the century we find feudal life in castles changed into modern life in towns; chivalric defiances exchanged for over-subtle diplomacy; Maurices instead of Bayards; a Henry IV. instead of a Gaston de Foix. We find the old theory of man’s central position in the universe—the foundation of the doctrine of final causes and of the whole theological method of interpreting nature—finally overthrown by Copernicus. Instead of the circumnavigability of the earth, the discovery of a Northwest passage—as instanced by the heroic voyage of Barendz, so nobly described by Mr. Motley—is now the chief geographical problem. East India Companies, in place of petty guilds of weavers and bakers, bear witness to the vast commercial progress. We find England, fresh from her stupendous victory over the whole power of Spain, again in the front rank of nations; France, under the most astute of modern sovereigns, taking her place for a time as the political leader of the civilized world; Spain, with her evil schemes baffled in every quarter, sinking into that terrible death-like lethargy, from which she has hardly yet awakened, and which must needs call forth our pity, though it is but the deserved retribution for her past behaviour. While the little realm of the Netherlands, filched and cozened from the unfortunate Jacqueline by the “good” Duke of Burgundy, carried over to Austria as the marriage-portion of Lady Mary, sent down to Spain as the personal inheritance of the “prudent” Philip, and by him intolerably tormented with an Inquisition, a Blood-Council, and a Duke of Alva, has after a forty years’ war of independence taken its position for a time as the greatest of commercial nations, with the most formidable navy and one of the best disciplined armies yet seen upon the earth.

But the central phenomenon of the sixteenth century is the culmination of the Protestant movement in its decisive proclamation by Luther. For nearly three hundred years already the power of the Church had been declining, and its function as a civilizing agency had been growing more and more obsolete. The first great blow at its supremacy had been directed with partial success in the thirteenth century by the Emperor Frederick II. Coincident with this attack from without, we find a reformation begun within, as exemplified in the Dominican and Franciscan movements. The second great blow was aimed by Philip IV. of France, and this time it struck with terrible force. The removal of the Papacy to Avignon, in 1305, was the virtual though unrecognized abdication of its beneficent supremacy. Bereft of its dignity and independence, from that time forth it ceased to be the defender of national unity against baronial anarchy, of popular rights against monarchical usurpation, and became a formidable instrument of despotism and oppression. Through the vicissitudes of the great schism in the fourteenth century, and the refractory councils in the fifteenth, its position became rapidly more and more retrograde and demoralized. And when, in 1530, it joined its forces with those of Charles V., in crushing the liberties of the worthiest of mediaeval republics, it became evident that the cause of freedom and progress must henceforth be intrusted to some more faithful champion. The revolt of Northern Europe, led by Luther and Henry VIII. was but the articulate announcement of this altered state of affairs. So long as the Roman Church had been felt to be the enemy of tyrannical monarchs and the steadfast friend of the people, its encroachments, as represented by men like Dunstan and Becket, were regarded with popular favour. The strength of the Church lay ever in its democratic instincts; and when these were found to have abandoned it, the indignant protest of Luther sufficed to tear away half of Europe from its allegiance.

By the end of the sixteenth century, we find the territorial struggle between the Church and the reformed religion substantially decided. Protestantism and Catholicism occupied then the same respective areas which they now occupy. Since 1600 there has been no instance of a nation passing from one form of worship to the other; and in all probability there never will be. Since the wholesale dissolution of religious beliefs wrought in the last century, the whole issue between Romanism and Protestantism, regarded as dogmatic systems, is practically dead. M. Renan is giving expression to an almost self-evident truth, when he says that religious development is no longer to proceed by way of sectarian proselytism, but by way of harmonious internal development. The contest is no longer between one theology and another, but it is between the theological and the scientific methods of interpreting natural phenomena. The sixteenth century has to us therefore the interest belonging to a rounded and completed tale. It contains within itself substantially the entire history of the final stage of the theological reformation.

This great period falls naturally into two divisions, the first corresponding very nearly with the reigns of Charles V. and Henry VIII., and the second with the age of Philip II. and Elizabeth. The first of these periods was filled with the skirmishes which were to open the great battle of the Reformation. At first the strength and extent of the new revolution were not altogether apparent. While the Inquisition was vigorously crushing out the first symptoms of disaffection in Spain, it at one time seemed as if the Reformers were about to gain the whole of the Empire, besides acquiring an excellent foothold in France. Again, while England was wavering between the old and the new faith, the last hopes of the Reform in Germany seemed likely to be destroyed by the military genius of Charles. But in Maurice, the red-bearded hero of Saxony, Charles found more than his match. The picture of the rapid and desperate march of Maurice upon Innspruck, and of the great Emperor flying for his life at the very hour of his imagined triumph, has still for us an intenser interest than almost any other scene of that age; for it was the event which proved that Protestantism was not a mere local insurrection which a monarch like Charles could easily put down, but a gigantic revolution against which all the powers in the world might well strive in vain.

With the abdication of Charles in 1556 the new period may be said to begin, and it is here that Mr. Motley’s history commences. Events crowded thick and fast. In 1556 Philip II., a prince bred and educated for the distinct purpose of suppressing heresy, succeeded to the rule of the most powerful empire which had been seen since the days of the Antonines. In the previous year a new era had begun at the court of Rome. The old race of pagan pontiffs, the Borgias, the Farneses, and the Medicis, had come to an end, and the papal throne was occupied by the puritanical Caraffa, as violent a fanatic as Robespierre, and a foe of freedom as uncompromising as Philip II. himself. Under his auspices took place the great reform in the Church signalized by the rise of the Jesuits, as the reform in the thirteenth century had been attended by the rise of the Cordeliers and Dominicans. His name should not be forgotten, for it is mainly owing to the policy inaugurated by him that Catholicism was enabled to hold its ground as well as it did. In 1557 the next year, the strength of France was broken at St. Quentin, and Spain was left with her hands free to deal with the Protestant powers. In 1558, by the accession of Elizabeth, England became committed to the cause of Reform. In 1559 the stormy administration of Margaret began in the Netherlands. In 1560 the Scotch nobles achieved the destruction of Catholicism in North Britain. By this time every nation except France, had taken sides in the conflict which was to last, with hardly any cessation, during two generations.

Mr. Motley, therefore, in describing the rise and progress of the united republic of the Netherlands, is writing not Dutch but European history. On his pages France, Spain, and England make almost as large a figure as Holland itself. He is writing the history of the Reformation during its concluding epoch, and he chooses the Netherlands as his main subject, because during that period the Netherlands were the centre of the movement. They constituted the great bulwark of freedom, and upon the success or failure of their cause the future prospect of Europe and of mankind depended. Spain and the Netherlands, Philip II. and William the Silent, were the two leading antagonists and were felt to be such by the other nations and rulers that came to mingle in the strife. It is therefore a stupid criticism which we have seen made upon Mr. Motley, that, having brought his narrative down to the truce of 1609, he ought, instead of describing the Thirty Years’ War, to keep on with Dutch history, and pourtray the wars against Cromwell and Charles II., and the struggle of the second William of Orange against Louis XIV. By so doing he would only violate the unity of his narrative. The wars of the Dutch against England and France belong to an entirely different epoch in European history,—a modern epoch, in which political and commercial interests were of prime importance, and theological interests distinctly subsidiary. The natural terminus of Mr. Motley’s work is the Peace of Westphalia. After bringing down his history to the time when the independence of the Netherlands was virtually acknowledged, after describing the principal stages of the struggle against Catholicism and universal monarchy, as carried on in the first generation by Elizabeth and William, and in the second by Maurice and Henry, he will naturally go on to treat of the epilogue as conducted by Richelieu and Gustavus, ending in the final cessation of religious wars throughout Europe.

The conflict in the Netherlands was indeed far more than a mere religious struggle. In its course was distinctly brought into prominence the fact which we have above signalized, that since the Roman Church had abandoned the liberties of the people they had found a new defender in the reformed religion. The Dutch rebellion is peculiarly interesting, because it was a revolt not merely against the Inquisition, but also against the temporal sovereignty of Philip. Besides changing their religion, the sturdy Netherlanders saw fit to throw off the sway of their legitimate ruler, and to proclaim the thrice heretical doctrine of the sovereignty of the people. In this one respect their views were decidedly more modern than those of Elizabeth and Henry IV. These great monarchs apparently neither understood nor relished the republican theories of the Hollanders; though it is hardly necessary for Mr. Motley to sneer at them quite so often because they were not to an impossible degree in advance of their age. The proclamation of a republic in the Netherlands marked of itself the beginning of a new era,—an era when flourishing communities of men were no longer to be bought and sold, transferred and bequeathed like real estate and chattels, but were to have and maintain the right of choosing with whom and under whom they should transact their affairs. The interminable negotiations for a truce, which fill nearly one third of Mr. Motley’s concluding volume, exhibit with striking distinctness the difference between the old and new points of view. Here again we think Mr. Motley errs slightly, in calling too much attention to the prevaricating diplomacy of the Spanish court, and too little to its manifest inability to comprehend the demands of the Netherlanders. How should statesmen brought up under Philip II. and kept under the eye of the Inquisition be expected to understand a claim for liberty originating in the rights of the common people and not in the gracious benevolence or intelligent policy of the King? The very idea must have been practically inconceivable by them. Accordingly, they strove by every available device of chicanery to wheedle the Netherlanders into accepting their independence as a gift from the King of Spain. But to such a piece of self-stultification the clear-sighted Dutchmen could by no persuasion be brought to consent. Their independence, they argued, was not the King’s to give. They had won it from him and his father, in a war of forty years, during which they had suffered atrocious miseries, and all that the King of Spain could do was to acknowledge it as their right, and cease to molest them in future. Over this point, so simple to us but knotty enough in those days, the commissioners wrangled for nearly two years. And when the Spanish government, unable to carry on the war any longer without risk of utter bankruptcy, and daily crippled in its resources by the attacks of the Dutch navy, grudgingly a reed to a truce upon the Netherlanders’ terms, it virtually acknowledged its own defeat and the downfall of the principles for which it had so obstinately fought. By the truce of 1609 the republican principle was admitted by the most despotic of governments.

Here was the first great triumph of republicanism over monarchy; and it was not long in bearing fruits. For the Dutch revolution, the settlement of America by English Puritans, the great rebellion of the Commons, the Revolution of 1688, the revolt of the American Colonies, and the general overthrow of feudalism in 1789, are but successive acts in the same drama William the Silent was the worthy forerunner of Cromwell and Washington; and but for the victory which he won, during his life and after his untimely death, the subsequent triumphs of civil liberty might have been long, postponed.

Over the sublime figure of William—saevis tranquillus in undis—we should be glad to dwell, but we are not reviewing the “Rise of the Dutch Republic,” and in Mr. Motley’s present volumes the hero of toleration appears no longer. His antagonist, however,—the Philip whom God for some inscrutable purpose permitted to afflict Europe during a reign of forty-two years,—accompanies us nearly to the end of the present work, dying just in time for the historian to sum up the case against him, and pronounce final judgment. For the memory of Philip II. Mr. Motley cherishes no weak pity. He rarely alludes to him without commenting upon his total depravity, and he dismisses him with the remark that “if there are vices—as possibly there are—from which he was exempt, it is because it is not permitted to human nature to attain perfection in evil.” The verdict is none the less just because of its conciseness. If there ever was a strife between Hercules and Cacus, between Ormuzd and Ahriman, between the Power of Light and the Power of Darkness, it was certainly the strife between the Prince of Orange and the Spanish Monarch. They are contrasted like the light and shade in one of Dore’s pictures. And yet it is perhaps unnecessary for Mr. Motley to say that if Philip had been alive when Spinola won for him the great victory of Ostend, “he would have felt it his duty to make immediate arrangements for poisoning him.” Doubtless the imputation is sufficiently justified by what we know of Philip; but it is uncalled for. We do not care to hear about what the despot might have done. We know what he did do, and the record is sufficiently damning. There is no harm in our giving the Devil his due, or as Llorente wittily says, “Il ne faut pas calomnier meme l’Inquisition.”

Philip inherited all his father’s bad qualities, without any of his good ones; and so it is much easier to judge him than his father. Charles, indeed, is one of those characters whom one hardly knows whether to love or hate, to admire or despise. He had much bad blood in him. Charles the Bold and Ferdinand of Aragon were not grandparents to be proud of. Yet with all this he inherited from his grandmother Isabella much that one can like, and his face, as preserved by Titian, in spite of its frowning brow and thick Burgundian lip, is rather prepossessing, while the face of Philip is simply odious. In intellect he must probably be called great, though his policy often betrayed the pettiness of selfishness. If, in comparison with the mediaeval emperor whose fame he envied, he may justly be called Charles the Little, he may still, when compared to a more modern emulator of Charlemagne,—the first of the Bonapartes,—be considered great and enlightened. If he could lie and cheat more consummately than any contemporary monarch, not excepting his rival, Francis, he could still be grandly magnanimous, while the generosity of Francis flowed only from the shallow surface of a maudlin good-nature. He spoke many languages and had the tastes of a scholar, while his son had only the inclinations of an unfeeling pedagogue. He had an inkling of urbanity, and could in a measure become all things to all men, while Philip could never show himself except as a gloomy, impracticable bigot. It is for some such reasons as these, I suppose, that Mr. Buckle—no friend to despots—speaks well of Charles, and that Mr. Froude is moved to tell the following anecdote: While standing by the grave of Luther, and musing over the strange career of the giant monk whose teachings had gone so far to wreck his most cherished schemes and render his life a failure, some fanatical bystander advised the Emperor to have the body taken up and burned in the market-place. “There was nothing,” says Mr. Froude, “unusual in the proposal; it was the common practice of the Catholic Church with the remains of heretics, who were held unworthy to be left in repose in hallowed ground. There was scarcely, perhaps another Catholic prince who would have hesitated to comply. But Charles was one of nature’s gentlemen. He answered, ’I war not with the dead.’ “ Mr. Motley takes a less charitable view of the great Emperor. His generous indignation against all persecutors makes him severe; and in one of his earlier volumes, while speaking of the famous edicts for the suppression of heresy in the Netherlands, he somewhere uses the word “murder.” Without attempting to palliate the crime of persecution, I doubt if it is quite fair to Charles to call him a murderer. We must not forget that persecution, now rightly deemed an atrocious crime, was once really considered by some people a sacred duty; that it was none other than the compassionate Isabella who established the Spanish Inquisition; and that the “bloody” Mary Tudor was a woman who would not wilfully have done wrong. With the progress of civilization the time will doubtless come when warfare, having ceased to be necessary, will be thought highly criminal; yet it will not then be fair to hold Marlborough or Wellington accountable for the lives lost in their great battles. We still live in an age when war is, to the imagination of some persons, surrounded with false glories; and the greatest of modern generals[32] has still many undiscriminating admirers. Yet the day is no less certainly at hand when the edicts of Charles V. will be deemed a more pardonable offence against humanity than the wanton march to Moscow.

[32] This was written before the deeds of Moltke had eclipsed those of Napoleon.

Philip II. was different from his father in capacity as a drudging clerk, like Boutwell, is different from a brilliant financier like Gladstone. In organization he differed from him as a boor differs from a gentleman. He seemed made of a coarser clay. The difference between them is well indicated by their tastes at the table. Both were terrible gluttons, a fact which puritanic criticism might set down as equally to the discredit of each of them. But even in intemperance there are degrees of refinement, and the impartial critic of life and manners will no doubt say that if one must get drunk, let it be on Chateau Margaux rather than on commissary whiskey. Pickled partridges, plump capons, syrups of fruits, delicate pastry, and rare fish went to make up the diet of Charles in his last days at Yuste. But the beastly Philip would make himself sick with a surfeit of underdone pork.

Whatever may be said of the father, we can hardly go far wrong in ascribing the instincts of a murderer to the son. He not only burned heretics, but he burned them with an air of enjoyment and self-complacency. His nuptials with Elizabeth of France were celebrated by a vast auto-da-fe. He studied murder as a fine art, and was as skilful in private assassinations as Cellini was in engraving on gems. The secret execution of Montigny, never brought to light until the present century, was a veritable chef d’oeuvre of this sort. The cases of Escobedo and Antonio Perez may also be cited in point. Dark suspicions hung around the premature death of Don John of Austria, his too brilliant and popular half-brother. He planned the murder of William the Silent, and rewarded the assassin with an annuity furnished by the revenues of the victim’s confiscated estates. He kept a staff of ruffians constantly in service for the purpose of taking off Elizabeth, Henry IV., Prince Maurice, Olden-Barneveldt, and St. Aldegonde. He instructed Alva to execute sentence of death upon the whole population of the Netherlands. He is partly responsible for the martyrdoms of Ridley and Latimer, and the judicial murder of Cranmer. He first conceived the idea of the wholesale massacre of St. Bartholomew, many years before Catharine de’ Medici carried it into operation. His ingratitude was as dangerous as his revengeful fanaticism. Those who had best served his interests were the least likely to escape the consequences of his jealousy. He destroyed Egmont, who had won for him the splendid victories of St. Quentin and Gravelines; and “with minute and artistic treachery” he plotted “the disgrace and ruin” of Farnese, “the man who was his near blood-relation, and who had served him most faithfully from earliest youth.” Contemporary opinion even held him accountable for the obscure deaths of his wife Elizabeth and his son Carlos; but M. Gachard has shown that this suspicion is unfounded. Philip appears perhaps to better advantage in his domestic than in his political relations. Yet he was addicted to vulgar and miscellaneous incontinence; toward the close of his life he seriously contemplated marrying his own daughter Isabella; and he ended by taking for his fourth wife his niece, Anne of Austria, who became the mother of his half-idiotic son and successor. We know of no royal family, unless it may be the Claudians of Rome, in which the transmission of moral and intellectual qualities is more thoroughly illustrated than in this Burgundian race which for two centuries held the sceptre of Spain. The son Philip and the grandmother Isabella are both needful in order to comprehend the strange mixture of good and evil in Charles. But the descendants of Philip—two generations of idiocy, and a third of utter impotence—are a sufficient commentary upon the organization and character of their progenitor.

Such was the man who for two generations had been considered the bulwark of the Catholic Church; who, having been at the bottom of nearly all the villany that had been wrought in Europe for half a century, was yet able to declare upon his death-bed that “in all his life he had never consciously done wrong to any one.” At a ripe old age he died of a fearful disease. Under the influence of a typhus fever, supervening upon gout, he had begun to decompose while yet alive. “His sufferings,” says Mr. Motley, “were horrible, but no saint could have manifested in them more gentle resignation or angelic patience. He moralized on the condition to which the greatest princes might thus be brought at last by the hand of God, and bade the Prince observe well his father’s present condition, in order that when he too should be laid thus low, he might likewise be sustained by a conscience void of offence.” What more is needed to complete the disgusting picture? Philip was fanatical up to the point where fanaticism borders upon hypocrisy. He was possessed with a “great moral idea,” the idea of making Catholicism the ruler of the world, that he might be the ruler of Catholicism. Why, it may be said, shall the charge of fanaticism be allowed to absolve Isabella and extenuate the guilt of Charles, while it only strengthens the case against Philip? Because Isabella persecuted heretics in order to save their souls from a worse fate, while Philip burnt them in order to get them out of his way. Isabella would perhaps have gone to the stake herself, if thereby she might have put an end to heresy. Philip would have seen every soul in Europe consigned to eternal perdition before he would have yielded up an iota of his claims to universal dominion. He could send Alva to browbeat the Pope, as well as to oppress the Netherlanders. He could compass the destruction of the orthodox Egmont and Farnese, as well as of the heretical William. His unctuous piety only adds to the abhorrence with which we regard him; and his humility in face of death is neither better nor worse than the assumed humility which had become second nature to Uriah Heep. In short, take him for all in all, he was probably the most loathsome character in all European history. He has frequently been called, by Protestant historians, an incarnate devil; but we do not think that Mephistopheles would acknowledge him. He should rather be classed among those creatures described by Dante as “a Dio spiacenti ed ai nemici sui.”

The abdication of Charles V. left Philip ruler over wider dominions than had ever before been brought together under the sway of one man. In his own right Philip was master not only of Spain, but of the Netherlands, Franche Comte, Lombardy, Naples, and Sicily, with the whole of North and South America; besides which he was married to the Queen of England. In the course of his reign he became possessed of Portugal, with all its vast domains in the East Indies. His revenues were greater than those of any other contemporary monarch; his navy was considered invincible, and his army was the best disciplined in Europe. All these great advantages he was destined to throw to the winds. In the strife for universal monarchy, in the mad endeavour to subject England, Scotland, and France to his own dominion and the tyranny of the Inquisition, besides re-conquering the Netherlands, all his vast resources were wasted. The Dutch war alone, like a bottomless pit, absorbed all that he could pour into it. Long before the war was over, or showed signs of drawing to an end, his revenues were wasted, and his troops in Flanders were mutinous for want of pay. He had to rely upon energetic viceroys like Farnese and the Spinolas to furnish funds out of their own pockets. Finally, he was obliged to repudiate all his debts; and when he died the Spanish empire was in such a beggarly condition that it quaked at every approach of a hostile Dutch fleet. Such a result is not evidence of a statesmanlike ability; but Philip’s fanatical selfishness was incompatible with statesmanship. He never could be made to believe that his projects had suffered defeat. No sooner had the Invincible Armada been sent to the bottom by the guns of the English fleet and the gales of the German Ocean, than he sent orders to Farnese to invade England at once with the land force under his command! He thought to obtain Scotland, when, after the death of Mary, it had passed under the undisputed control of the Protestant noblemen. He dreamed of securing for his family the crown of France, even after Henry, with free consent of the Pope, had made his triumphal entry into Paris. He asserted complete and entire sovereignty over the Netherlands, even after Prince Maurice had won back from him the last square foot of Dutch territory. Such obstinacy as this can only be called fatuity. If Philip had lived in Pagan times, he would doubtless, like Caligula, have demanded recognition of his own divinity.

The miserable condition of the Spanish people under this terrible reign, and the causes of their subsequent degeneracy, have been well treated by Mr. Motley. The causes of the failure of Spanish civilization are partly social and partly economical; and they had been operating for eight hundred years when Philip succeeded to the throne. The Moorish conquest in 711 had practically isolated Spain from the rest of Europe. In the Crusades she took no part, and reaped none of the signal advantages resulting from that great movement. Her whole energies were directed toward throwing off the yoke of her civilized but “unbelieving" oppressors. For a longer time than has now elapsed since the Norman Conquest of England, the entire Gothic population of Spain was engaged in unceasing religious and patriotic warfare. The unlimited power thus acquired by an unscrupulous clergy, and the spirit of uncompromising bigotry thus imparted to the whole nation, are in this way readily accounted for. But in spite of this, the affairs of Spain at the accession of Charles V. were not in an unpromising condition. The Spanish Visigoths had been the least barbarous of the Teutonic settlers within the limits of the Empire; their civil institutions were excellent; their cities had obtained municipal liberties at an earlier date than those of England; and their Parliaments indulged in a liberty of speech which would have seemed extravagant even to De Montfort. So late as the time of Ferdinand, the Spaniards were still justly proud of their freedom; and the chivalrous ambition which inspired the marvellous expedition of Cortes to Mexico, and covered the soil of Italy with Spanish armies, was probably in the main a healthy one. But the forces of Spanish freedom were united at too late an epoch; in 1492, the power of despotism was already in the ascendant. In England the case was different. The barons were enabled to combine and wrest permanent privileges from the crown, at a time when feudalism was strong. But the Spanish communes waited for combined action until feudalism had become weak, and modern despotism, with its standing armies and its control of the spiritual power, was arrayed in the ranks against them. The War of the Communes, early in the reign of Charles V., irrevocably decided the case in favour of despotism, and from that date the internal decline of Spain may be said to have begun.

But the triumphant consolidation of the spiritual and temporal powers of despotism, and the abnormal development of loyalty and bigotry, were not the only evil results of the chronic struggle in which Spain had been engaged. For many centuries, while Christian Spain had been but a fringe of debatable border-land on the skirts of the Moorish kingdom, perpetual guerilla warfare had rendered consecutive labour difficult or impracticable; and the physical configuration of the country contributed in bringing about this result. To plunder the Moors across the border was easier than to till the ground at home. Then as the Spaniards, exemplifying the military superiority of the feudal over the sultanic form of social organization, proceeded steadily to recover dominion over the land, the industrious Moors, instead of migrating backward before the advance of their conquerors, remained at home and submitted to them. Thus Spanish society became compounded of two distinct castes,—the Moorish Spaniards, who were skilled labourers, and the Gothic Spaniards, by whom all labour, crude or skilful, was deemed the stigma of a conquered race, and unworthy the attention of respectable people. As Mr. Motley concisely says:—

“The highest industrial and scientific civilization that had been exhibited upon Spanish territory was that of Moors and Jews. When in the course of time those races had been subjugated, massacred, or driven into exile, not only was Spain deprived of its highest intellectual culture and its most productive labour, but intelligence, science, and industry were accounted degrading, because the mark of inferior and detested peoples.”

This is the key to the whole subsequent history of Spain. Bigotry, loyalty, and consecrated idleness are the three factors which have made that great country what it is to-day,—the most backward region in Europe. In view of the circumstances just narrated, it is not surprising to learn that in Philip II.’s time a vast portion of the real estate of the country was held by the Church in mortmain; that forty-nine noble families owned all the rest; that all great estates were held in tail; and that the property of the aristocracy and the clergy was completely exempt from taxation. Thus the accumulation and the diffusion of capital were alike prevented; and the few possessors of property wasted it in unproductive expenditure. Hence the fundamental error of Spanish political economy, that wealth is represented solely by the precious metals; an error which well enough explains the total failure, in spite of her magnificent opportunities, of Spain’s attempts to colonize the New World. Such was the frightful condition of Spanish society under Philip II.; and as if this state of things were not bad enough, the next king, Philip III., at the instigation of the clergy, decided to drive into banishment the only class of productive labourers yet remaining in the country. In 1610, this stupendous crime and blunder—unparalleled even in Spanish history—was perpetrated. The entire Moorish population were expelled from their homes and driven into the deserts of Africa. For the awful consequences of this mad action no remedy was possible. No system of native industry could be created on demand, to take the place of that which had been thus wantonly crushed forever. From this epoch dates the social ruin of Spain. In less than a century her people were riotous with famine; and every sequestered glen and mountain pathway throughout the country had become a lurking-place for robbers. Whoever would duly realize to what a lamentable condition this beautiful peninsula had in the seventeenth century been reduced, let him study the immortal pages of Lesage. He will learn afresh the lesson, not yet sufficiently regarded in the discussion of social problems, that the laws of nature cannot be violated without entailing a penalty fearful in proportion to the extent of the violation. But let him carefully remember also that the Spaniards are not and never have been a despicable people. If Spain has produced one of the lowest characters in history, she has also produced one of the highest. That man was every inch a Spaniard who, maimed, diseased, and poor, broken down by long captivity, and harassed by malignant persecution, lived nevertheless a life of grandeur and beauty fit to be a pattern for coming generations,—the author of a book which has had a wider fame than any other in the whole range of secular literature, and which for delicate humour, exquisite pathos, and deep ethical sentiment, remains to-day without a peer or a rival. If Philip II. was a Spaniard, so, too, was Cervantes.

Spain could not be free, for she violated every condition by which freedom is secured to a people. “Acuteness of intellect, wealth of imagination, heroic qualities of heart and hand and brain, rarely surpassed in any race and manifested on a thousand battle-fields, and in the triumphs of a magnificent and most original literature, had not been able to save a whole nation from the disasters and the degradation which the mere words Philip II. and the Holy Inquisition suggest to every educated mind.” Nor could Spain possibly become rich, for, as Mr. Motley continues, “nearly every law, according to which the prosperity of a country becomes progressive, was habitually violated.” On turning to the Netherlands we find the most complete contrast, both in historical conditions and in social results; and the success of the Netherlands in their long struggle becomes easily intelligible. The Dutch and Flemish provinces had formed a part of the renovated Roman Empire of Charles the Great and the Othos. Taking advantage of the perennial contest for supremacy between the popes and the Roman emperors, the constituent baronies and municipalities of the Empire succeeded in acquiring and maintaining a practical though unrecognized independence; and this is the original reason why Italy and Germany, unlike the three western European communities, have remained fragmentary until our own time. By reason of the practical freedom of action thus secured, the Italian civic republics, the Hanse towns, and the cities of Holland and Flanders, were enabled gradually to develop a vast commerce. The outlying position of the Netherlands, remote from the imperial authorities, and on the direct line of commerce between Italy and England, was another and a peculiar advantage. Throughout the Middle Ages the Flemish and Dutch cities were of considerable political importance, and in the fifteenth century the Netherland provinces were the most highly civilized portion of Europe north of the Alps. For several generations they had enjoyed, and had known how to maintain, civic liberties, and when Charles and Philip attempted to fasten upon them their “peculiar institution,” the Spanish Inquisition, they were ripe for political as well as theological revolt. Natural laws were found to operate on the Rhine as well as on the Tagus, and at the end of the great war of independence, Holland was not only better equipped than Spain for a European conflict, but was rapidly ousting her from the East Indian countries which she had in vain attempted to colonize.

But if we were to take up all the interesting and instructive themes suggested by Mr. Motley’s work, we should never come to an end. We must pass over the exciting events narrated in these last volumes; the victory of Nieuport, the siege of Ostend, the marvellous career of Maurice, the surprising exploits of Spinola. We have attempted not so much to describe Mr. Motley’s book as to indulge in sundry reflections suggested by the perusal of it. But we cannot close without some remarks upon a great man, whose character Mr. Motley seems to have somewhat misconceived.

If Mr. Motley exhibits any serious fault, it is perhaps the natural tendency to TAKE SIDES in the events which he is describing, which sometimes operates as a drawback to complete and thoroughgoing criticism. With every intention to do justice to the Catholics, Mr. Motley still writes as a Protestant, viewing all questions from the Protestant side. He praises and condemns like a very fair-minded Huguenot, but still like a Huguenot. It is for this reason that he fails to interpret correctly the very complex character of Henry IV., regarding him as a sort of selfish renegade whom he cannot quite forgive for accepting the crown of France at the hands of the Pope. Now this very action of Henry, in the eye of an impartial criticism, must seem to be one of his chief claims to the admiration and gratitude of posterity. Henry was more than a mere Huguenot: he was a far-seeing statesman. He saw clearly what no ruler before him, save William the Silent, had even dimly discerned, that not Catholicism and not Protestantism, but absolute spiritual freedom was the true end to be aimed at by a righteous leader of opinion. It was as a Catholic sovereign that he could be most useful even to his Huguenot subjects; and he shaped his course accordingly. It was as an orthodox sovereign, holding his position by the general consent of Europe, that he could best subserve the interests of universal toleration. This principle he embodied in his admirable edict of Nantes. What a Huguenot prince might have done, may be seen from the shameful way in which the French Calvinists abused the favour which Henry—and Richelieu afterwards—accorded to them. Remembering how Calvin himself “dragooned” Geneva, let us be thankful for the fortune which, in one of the most critical periods of history, raised to the highest position in Christendom a man who was something more than a sectarian.

With this brief criticism, we must regretfully take leave of Mr. Motley’s work. Much more remains to be said about a historical treatise which is, on the whole, the most valuable and important one yet produced by an American; but we have already exceeded our limits. We trust that our author will be as successful in the future as he has been in the past; and that we shall soon have an opportunity of welcoming the first instalment of his “History of the Thirty Years’ War.”

  March, 1868.



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