[Excerpted from Philip Van Ness Myers, Mediæval and Modern History (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1905), pp. 251-274]
THE BEGINNINGS OF THE RENAISSANCE
The Renaissance defined.-- By the term Renaissance (" New Birth"), used in its narrower sense, is meant that new enthusiasm for classical literature, learning, and art which sprang up in Italy towards the close of the Middle Ages, and which during the course of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries gave a new culture to Europe. [By many writers the term is employed in a still narrower sense than this, being used to designate merely the revival of classical art; but this is to depreciate the most important phase of a many-sided development. The Renaissance was essentially an intellectual movement. It is this intellectual quality which gives it so large a place in universal history]
Using the word in a somewhat broader sense, we may define the Renaissance as the reentrance into the world of that secular, inquiring, self-reliant spirit which characterized the life and culture of classical antiquity. This is simply to say that under the influence of the intellectual revival the men of Western Europe came to think and feel, to look upon life and the outer world, as did the men of ancient Greece and Rome; and this again is merely to say that they ceased to think and feel as mediaeval men and began to think and feel as modern men.
The Crusades in their Relation to the Renaissance.-- Many agencies conspired to bring in the Renaissance. Among these were the Crusades. These long-sustained enterprises . . . contributed essentially to break the mental lethargy that had fallen upon the European mind, and to awaken in the nations of Western Europe the spirit of a new life. Before the Crusades closed, the way of the Renaissance was already prepared. In every territory of human activity the paths along which advances were to be made by the men of coming generations had been marked out, and in many directions trodden by the eager feet of the pioneers of the new life and culture.
The Development of Vernacular Literatures as an Expression of the New Spirit.--The awakening of this new spirit in the Western nations is especially observable in the growth and development of their vernacular literatures. It was, speaking broadly, during and just after the crusading centuries that the native tongues of Europe found a voice,--began to form literatures of their own. . . . As soon as their forms became somewhat settled, then literature was possible, and all these speeches bud and blossom into song and romance. In Spain the epic poem of the Cid, a reflection of Castilian chivalry, forms the beginning of Spanish literature; in the south of France the Troubadours fill the land with the melody of their love songs; in the north the Trouveurs recite the stirring romances of Charlemagne and his paladins, of King Arthur and the Holy Grail; in Germany the harsh strains of the Nibelungenlied are followed by the softer notes of the Minnesingers; in Italy Dante sings his Divine Comedy in the pure mellifluous tongue of Tuscany, and creates a language for the Italian race; in England Chaucer writes his Canterbury Tales and completes the fusion of Saxon and Norman into the English tongue.
This growth of native literatures foreshadowed the approaching Renaissance; for there was in them a note of freedom, a note of protest against mediaeval asceticism and ecclesiastical restraint. And at the same time that this literary development heralded the coming intellectual revival it hastened its advance; for the light songs, tales, and romances of these vernacular literatures, unlike the learned productions of the Schoolmen, which were in Latin and addressed only to a limited class, appealed to the masses and thus stirred the universal mind and heart of Europe.
Town Life and Lay Culture.--The spirit of the new life was nourished especially by the air of the great cities. In speaking of