« VorigeDoorgaan »
Merida, and others into the interior of the country, seeking an asylum in distant monasteries. The small remaining number, buried in the cloister, awaited the issue of events, resolved to perish in this last sanctuary in the defence and in honour of the holy Catholic faith. The king entered the church, and beholding it despoiled of all its ornaments and deserted by its priests, he prostrated himself in prayer in such grief and anguish of spirit, that bursting into tears, he forgot he might chance to be overheard by some one to whom the very excess of his despair might betray his name. Worn down with hunger of many days' continuance, exhausted with want of rest, and harassed with long and toilsome marches on foot, his strength was completely broken; and his spirits at last giving way, he fell fainting upon the ground, where he remained in a lifeless state, until an old monk happening to pass that way, at last drew near."
The remarkable epoch in which John de Barros, Bernard de Brito, and Jerome Osorio, of whom we shall make mention in the following chapter, produced their several histories, was one, indeed, which we might naturally expect would give birth to the greatest historians of Portugal. The most important revolutions had not only then commenced, but had been accomplished during the lifetime of the existing generation. Kings began to conceive fresh views of aggran
disement; characters endowed with rare talent, arising out of all ranks of society, suddenly opened upon a new career; and events beyond the reach of human calculation had no less deceived the general expectations of the world, than the more confident views and penetration of ordinary policy. The military art, navigation, and commerce, had in every way made such rapid and unexpected progress as nearly to alter their character; while the nation itself had been separated as it were from its former habitudes, and thrown into another range of action in a new world, alive to other fears, to other hopes, and with another destiny in view. There is a strong disposition in the human mind to believe that the events of the past day will likewise be those of the morrow; a kind of indolence seated in the soul seems to reduce mankind rapidly to a level with the order of things under which they happen to live; and this it is that leads them, in judging of their own times, to substitute the routine of practice or custom in the place of reflection. As the course of political events, for the most part, only reaches them to inure them to suffering; as their fortunes, their hopes, and their domestic relations, are alternately torn asunder, either by treaties, by wars, or by revolutions, they most frequently endeavour to banish unhappy reflections; and shunning them with a
sort of alarm, prefer submission to public calamities of whatever kind, yielding as if to an irresistible fatality which lies hidden from their view. For this reason, a long-established government, grown old, and rooted in its customs, has rarely produced good historians. To give birth to such, it is requisite either that a country should be in possession of liberty sufficient to lead men to occupy themselves with its interests, or that some kind of convulsion, overthrowing the foundations of its time-worn institutions, should compel individuals, from motives of suffering, from anxiety and fear, if not from happier views of the future, to inquire into the nature of those proposed to be substituted in their place. The great historians of Greece all belong to the era of the Peloponnesian war; an era so fertile in revolutions; whilst those of Rome did not become celebrated until the more advanced epoch, when the Roman empire, under its despotism, was already tottering to its fall. But the oppression of the human race, under a few sanguinary monsters, compelled people at that period to reflect upon the strange destiny of individuals and of nations. The chief historians of Italy, all of whom were contemporary with Machiavelli, lived to witness the ruin of their country, dating its origin from the invasion of Charles VIII. Those of Portugal ought to be referred, as in truth they do all of them belong, to the
time when the conquest of Asia had been completed by a mere handful of warriors; when these conquests had been followed by the most profligate and boundless corruption; and when the prodigious aggrandisement of the empire, equally without proportion and without any kind of natural relations with its head, already seemed to threaten, in the opinion of all who had learned to reflect, some strange approaching ruin, attended by a series of calamities unheard of before.
Continuation of the Literature of Portugal. Conclusion.
THE various eras that distinguish the literature of the Portuguese are by no means of so marked a character as those belonging to the Spanish. The progress of the former was extremely uniform; and innovations were introduced into it very gradually, extending rarely beyond mere forms, and producing no revolution in taste. Notwithstanding the influence of ages, traces of the same spirit which breathed in the poetry of the earliest Troubadours of Portugal may yet be discovered in the pastoral poets of the present day. But in common with the literature of all other countries, it has not escaped the effect of political changes, and the influence of the government; insomuch, that to appreciate truly its elevation and its decline, we must keep in view, as we have done on other occasions, the successive revolutions of the state. With the Portuguese, as with other nations, we shall have occasion to observe the same phenomenon to which