Holy Mother Church, linked in sordid wedlock to governments and thrones, numbered among her servants a host of the worldly and the proud, whose service of God was but the service of themselves,--and many, too, who in the sophistry of the human heart, thought themselves true soldiers of Heaven, while earthly pride, interest, and passions were the life-springs of their zeal. This mighty Church of Rome, in her imposing march along the high road of history, heralded as infallible and divine, astounds the gazing world with prodigies of contradiction: now the protector of the oppressed, now the right arm of tyrants; now breathing charity and love, now dark with the passions of Hell; now beaming with celestial truth, now masked in hypocrisy and lies; now a virgin, now a harlot; an imperial queen, and a tinselled actress. Clearly, she is of earth, not of heaven; and her transcendently dramatic life is a type of the good and ill, the baseness and nobleness, the foulness and purity, the love and hate, the pride, passion, truth, falsehood, fierceness, and tenderness, that battle in the restless heart of man.
All the romantic historians regarded Spain and New France as grim historical exhibits of the
Roman Church's influence on government and society. Both countries, one should remember, were
ruins, almost unique as antiprogressive phenomena; and both had tried to remain exclusively
Catholic, giving large policy-making powers to religious orders and leaders of the Church. To the
progressive nineteenth-century historian the lesson seemed plain: "Whoever wishes to be made well
acquainted with the morbid anatomy of governments," Macaulay said, "whoever wishes to know
how great states may be made feeble and wretched, should study the history of Spain.''1 One cannot understand the treatment of Catholicism
The historians' religious and political heritage made it difficult for them to understand a total commitment to piety, a total religious conviction. Not only as admirers of the natural but as Unitarians, they had almost no use for theology, and they leaned toward what Joseph Haroutunian has called "moralism" rather than toward "piety." Perhaps the best example of this religious attitude is the story of Prescott's reexamination of Christian doctrine after his four-year-old daughter's death in 1829. In his first entry describing this project, Prescott resolved "to prosecute this examination with perfect impartiality" and to avoid being "influenced by the present state of my feelings" except as they led him "to give the subject a more serious attention." To insure his "sober impartiality," he called in his father, because he was confident that an experienced judge would be severely critical in evaluating Biblical testimony.2 This faith that a civil judge was the best man to determine the validity of divine testimony exemplifies the reversal of emphasis that had occurred in New England between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. The burden of proof had been placed on the Bible.
Prescott reopened the question almost a decade later, after the first part of Andrews Norton's
Evidences of the Genuineness of the Gospels had been published. Although he wrote in his
journal that Norton had done more to authenticate "the gospels as a whole than any other modern
writer except Lardner or Paley," the arguments of other writers forced him to doubt the historicity
of miracles. Both Prescott's language and his conclusions emphasize the vast difference between
the religious Unitarian's habits of mind and those of the orthodox Protestant or Catholic. "The
cautious inquirer," he said, "has a right to demand far stronger testimony for the truth
Reliance on works, or morality, seemed to be the only answer: "To do well, act justly, to fear and to love God--and our neighbor as ourselves--in these are the essence of religion.... For what we can believe we are not responsible (supposing we examine candidly and patiently). For what we do, we shall indeed be held accountable." One must concentrate on following "the code of morals" preached by Jesus and for all else "'Wait the great teacher Death, and God adore."' In the same year (1837) Prescott announced these conclusions to the world in his introductory chapter on Castile. Even before the Castilian people had been duped into supporting the persecution of the Moors, the corrupt morals of the clergy and some nobles had "confused" the people's "moral perceptions." From these superiors the people learned, Prescott said, "to attach an exclusive value to external rites, to the forms rather than the spirit of Christianity; estimating the piety of men by their speculative opinions, rather than their practical conduct."4
Most of the language quoted here refers to Protestants, even to Unitarians. The "orthodox" who
demand "blind faith" and who are characterized by "credulity and superstition" are orthodox
Calvinists, not Catholics. And the last two epithets apply equally to Unitarians who demand more
faith than the "cautious inquirer" can give. Bancroft, referring to the orthodox Unitarians' position
on miracles, even condemned Unitarian "bigotry."5 It is important
to notice the wide range of beliefs over
In his study of the Jeffersonians' attitude toward metaphysics, Daniel J. Boorstin has said that they were able to "view the disputes of metaphysicians and theologians with detached amusement or indifference, because it is easy to tolerate anarchy in a realm where one has never really entered and which one is glad to see discredited." In the same way, it was easy for Motley to announce his impartiality in the Preface to his two volumes on the Arminian-Calvinist battle for control of the Netherlands. If "practical conduct" was the criterion of piety, and if theology was, as Motley said, "a maze whence there was no issue," then one's religious convictions were relatively unimportant. Motley recognized that the controversy over Barneveld was still alive, but he was apparently unaware that his own allegiance to Unitarian principles made him a partisan. His bias against Calvinist doctrines (a bias that appears plainly in his history) is not so important here as is its basis. He was almost wholly incapable of understanding the force of strong doctrinal loyalty, and, like some economic determinists of a later generation, he suspected the evidence of those loyalties and sought other motives.6
Throughout his Life of Barneveld Motley deprecates theological interest as a waste of
time or an expression of ridiculous vanity. He dismisses James I as a pedant who wanted "to turn a
throne into a pulpit, and amaze mankind with his learning." Even in his account of the Arminian
controversy at Leyden, Motley skims over the theological details; he merely says that a schism
resulted from the Calvinists' claim that they were the true church, and he announces that the debates
accomplished "the usual result of confirming both parties in the conviction that to each alone
belonged exclusively the truth." The issue of "absolute predestination" is a "theological quibble";
Motley says a great deal about "theological hatred," but in discussing the issues themselves he
concentrates on the relationship between church and state, relegating the "five points" of the
Remonstrants and the seven of the Contra-Remonstrants to a footnote. After a brief, extremely
simplified statement of these issues, he promises that "there shall be no more setting forth of these
subtle and finely wrought abstractions in our pages. We aspire not to the lofty heights of theological
that out of this arid field of controversy so plentiful a harvest of hatred and civil convulsion could have ripened. More practical than the insoluble problems, whether repentance could effect salvation, and whether dead infants were hopelessly damned, was the question who should rule both Church and State.
For one who does not believe in damnation the question of how to avoid it is naturally impractical. Motley's moral is not that either side was right but that this was no time for "the great Protestant party in the Netherlands to tear itself to pieces for a theological subtlety, about which good Christians might differ without taking each other by the throat."7
All the romantic historians believed that the mission of Protestantism was to encourage intellectual and political liberty. Motley said that "liberty of thought" was "the only [lesson] worth learning of the reformation." Parkman criticized the early Puritans for being "unfaithful to the principle of freedom," for appealing to Liberty and then closing "the door against her," for grafting "on a stock of freedom . . . a scion of despotism." "All Protestantism," he said, "is an appeal from priestly authority to the right of private judgment."8
Of the four historians, only the transcendentalist Bancroft expressed a personal view of piety which emphasizes the sovereignty of God. In a letter to George Ripley during the Revival of 1857 he condemned superstitious people who, by praying for special favors, "demand of God to break his own laws, which his providence necessarily upholds." The true believer, he said, tries to "bring his own will into harmony with the divine will. Piety studies the law, obeys the law, loves the law, and through perfect obedience becomes perfectly free. For liberty is the daughter of necessity." This attitude bore some fruit in Bancroft's interpretation of Jonathan Edwards; ignoring Edwards' harsher doctrines, he insisted that Edwards had given Calvinism its "political euthanasia" by proclaiming universal love as the highest virtue. But the law with which Bancroft's believer had to harmonize his will was natural law, which every man could perceive and obey. And "justification by faith alone" meant to Bancroft intellectual freedom.9 He was no more willing than were the other three historians to endorse an "artificial" religion or submission to the doctrines of theologians.
Motley's, Parkman's, and Prescott's view of Puritanism, then, resembled Hawthorne's view and sometimes that of Cooper and Scott. Both Parkman and Motley portray the Calvinist yeoman as a comic figure, a caricature, with more redeeming traits than Cooper's Jason Newcome, but with the same frailties of ridiculous pretension and long-winded disputatiousness that appear in Newcome and in Scott's Douce Davie Deans. Both historians bring forth their best comic rhetoric when describing the Calvinist yeomanry. In two of the best chapters in A Half-Century of Conflict, Parkman presents the siege of Louisbourg in 1744 as "broad farce," and the New Englanders' pretentiousness is an important ingredient in the comedy. Parkman begins with a sardonic chapter on the ridiculous preparations for the expedition, and then moves to the siege itself. Impossible to discipline, the "raw" Yankee soldiers in the camp race, wrestle, pitch quoits, and fish while the battle goes on at the front.
Yet through all these gambols ran an undertow of enthusiasm, born in brains, still fevered from the "Great Awakening." The New England soldier, a growth of sectarian hotbeds, fancied that he was doing the work of God. The army was Israel, and the French were Canaanitish idolaters. Red- hot Calvinism, acting through generations, had modified the transplanted Englishman; and the descendant of the Puritans was never so well pleased as when teaching their duty to other people, whether by pen, voice, or bombshells. The ragged artillerymen, battering the walls of papistical Louisbourg, flattered themselves with the notion that they were champions of gospel truth.
Although this passage clearly reveals the stereotyped view of the Puritan, it tries to describe the Yankee's attitude accurately, and at the same time to judge it. The ultimate effect of Parkman's humor, however, is to increase the Yankee's stature, for his tone changes as the heroic energy and endurance of these pretentious yokels and the timidity and folly of the French give the Yankees an incredible victory.10
As supporting figures in this portrayal of the New England character, Parkman is fortunate to
have General Pepperell's son-in-law--"a thrifty merchant, with a constant eye to business," and
aptly named Nathaniel Sparhawk--and the zealous Parson Moody. Parkman makes the most of both
opportunities for caricature. He introduces Sparhawk's persistent requests for booty when Pepperell
is most worried about restraining his victorious troops. Moody, a notoriously long-winded "village
pope," moves into action at the dinner celebrating the victory. The officers wait fearfully for his
endless invocation, but he surprises them with a brief, two-sentence grace. To achieve his
caricature, Parkman must then draw on "tradition":
The Protestant who claimed to belong to the true church, who demanded state endorsement of a theological system, who denied religious liberty to dissenters from his creed, who gave authority to the clergy--this man betrayed the promise of the Reformation. The right of private judgment was guaranteed by natural law, the separation of church and state was a natural law, and theology was artificial. If the historians condemned these faults in Protestantism less vigorously than they condemned the same faults in Catholicism, the reason was not that the principles were less reprehensible. It was here that the relativism of progressive law was applied most frequently. Motley was lenient in his judgment of Protestant persecution of Catholics because some Catholics had provoked it, because Queen Elizabeth's very life had been threatened by Jesuit conspiracy, because the "rough and unlovely husk of Puritanism" contained the germ of a new freedom. Parkman praised the fruitful energy and manliness of the intolerant Puritans; and Bancroft defended early Puritan intolerance as a necessity to ensure moderation in Protestant progress. That movement had succeeded, Bancroft said, in the Seven Years' War. With characteristic directness in abstracting basic principles from a worldly conflict, he arranged the issues of this war in ascending order: the American question was whether "English Protestantism and popular liberty" or Catholicism and France's "tottering legitimacy" would control the continent; the European question was whether "a Protestant revolutionary kingdom, like Prussia," could survive. But "considered in its unity, as interesting mankind, the question was, Shall the Reformation, developed to the fulness of Free Inquiry, succeed in its protest against the Middle Age?"12
This interpretation, exactly the same as Parkman's, named the worst fault in Catholicism: it was
the Church of the Past. Parkman specified the trouble when he said that the Church was clearly of
earth, not of heaven. For if it was not divine and yet it refused to change, it could only fight against
the natural law of progress. In this struggle, which had lasted for centuries and seemed to be
renewed occasionally even in the nineteenth century, the Church had broken other natural laws. It
had enlisted political support whenever it could, forming unholy alliances with the state to prevent
religious and intellectual freedom; it had entered into "conspiracies" against the people of various
countries; it had even incited ferocious savages to attack Protestant women and children. The
Church is extremely important
The function of Catholicism in these histories can be examined most clearly under two broad headings: the institution and representative characters.
The most telling charge against the institution was that it had permitted external forms to corrupt or consume the religious essence. This objection was first stated in the journals that the historians wrote as young men on the grand tour; later they transferred it--usually with more restraint, but sometimes with less--to the histories themselves. In Rome on Christmas Eve, 1821, Bancroft watched "the display of pretended devotion" and grew "heartily sick of the mockery of religion, & the tireless profusion of ceremonies, which are intended to inspire the Roman with piety." At twenty, Prescott had found it interesting, as the citizen "of a free country, flourishing under the influences of a benign religion, to contemplate the degradation to which human nature may be reduced when oppressed by arbitrary power and papal superstition." Parkman, at the same age, watched "the scum of humanity" pour out of one of the rear gates of Messina; most of the crowd were "literally hung with rags, half hid in dirt, hideous with every imaginable species of deformity," and covered with lice. "The next numerous class" were the priests, "fat and good- looking men" who drew "life and sustenance from these dregs of humanity--just as tall pigweed flourishes on a dunghill.''13
These faults which appeared in the nineteenth century seemed to be merely the logical result of
what had been clear in the sixteenth. Like monarchy and Calvinism, Catholicism had had an
important progressive mission, to spread Christianity through Europe. But it had achieved this
mission before Luther nailed his theses to the door, and its last glorious progressive act was to
inspire Christians to victory at Lepanto. Shocked into action by the Reformation, but "unable to
advance," the Church had
There were many ways of showing in the histories themselves that Catholicism was a religion which raised forms above essence, but underneath all of them lay the assumption that any sensible man could see the faults plainly. In the presentation of both institution and characters the technique was simplification. As natural moral laws were simple, so were natural institutions and characters. Picking from the records of history the clearest contrasts of principle and practice, the historian was able to show plainly the "real" character of reactionary Catholicism.
Motley's Philip II took great care to protect the body of a "saint who had been buried for centuries, while dogs [gnawed] the carcasses of the freshly slain men" of the saint's city and "troopers" drove into "perpetual exile its desolate and mutilated women." Here Motley merely presents an ironic arrangement of documented facts, but when he describes the siege of Harlem, during which the patriots used religious statues to mend breaches in the city's walls, he attacks the Catholics' sincerity. The Dutch had merely sought "a more practical advantage from those sculptured saints than they could have gained by only imploring their interposition"; but the Spaniards, who had been "daily butchering their fellow-beings, and hanging their prisoners in cold blood, affected to shudder at the enormity of [this crime] against graven images." Philip II, ill when a messenger brought in the report that Harlem had capitulated and that two thousand people had been treacherously killed, was cured by the news.15
Bancroft's and Parkman's De Soto brings iron fetters, bloodhounds, monks, and priests to bind, hunt, and convert the Indians. Their Menéndez slaughters Huguenots and then orders that mass be said; he builds a church "on ground still smoking with the blood of a peaceful colony." In Bancroft's Ponce de Leon and De Soto "avarice" and religious zeal are united, and their typical Spanish credulity leads them to folly, crime, and death; superstition and credulity fight against Nature, and Nature wins. Prescott's wretched Jews, expelled from Spain and attacked by rapacious Moors in Africa, return in such numbers that the Spanish priest must baptize them with a "mop"; and the priest is proud of the remarkable Providence which had delivered the Jews from "'their ancient heresies.'"16
There were many variations of this kind of contrast, but almost all of them placed a simple moral alternative against a corrupt religious action. Motley ended a long paragraph on the sale of absolutions with a rhetorical question that had only one "natural" answer: "Was it unnatural that plain people, who loved the ancient Church, should rather desire to see her purged of such blasphemous abuses, than to hear of St. Peter's dome rising a little nearer to the clouds on these proceeds of commuted crime?" Again, when describing the Protestant siege of Paris, he quoted an anti-League source that charged Parisian priests with having condoned the eating of babies as an act preferable to surrendering the city to heretics. At the time, he reported that this charge was mere hearsay; but two hundred pages later, when trying to explain the premature capitulation of Gertruydenberg during a Protestant siege, he used the charge again as a rhetorical weapon:
It was known that even if the public ceremonies of the Catholic Church were likely to be suspended for a time after the surrender, at least the rights of individual conscience and private worship within individual households would be tolerated, and there was no papal legate with fiery eloquence persuading a city full of heroic dupes that it was more virtuous for men and women to eat their own children than to forego one high mass, or to wink at a single conventicle.
Here Motley implied that restriction to "private worship" is no more inconvenient to the Catholic than to the Protestant; and that the alternative to eating one's children was not surrendering the true faith and the city to heretics, but forgoing one high mass.17
Such distortions demonstrate that on the subject of Catholicism Motley was often the extreme rather than the representative of the four historians. Within the bounds of honesty, however, all four used the same technique of simplified contrasts. Motley, too, tried to state fairly the issue of toleration, and he made it very clear that he opposed persecution of Catholics as well as of Protestants. He was simply unable, it seems, to understand or respect the Catholic's or "the red-hot Calvinist's" view of the alternatives. Convinced that the age of cathedrals had given way to the age of good works, he could not "dare censure in very severe language" the "havoc" wrought "among stocks and stones" by Dutch iconoclasts who had hurt no living people. For this desecration had occurred "in a land where so many living men and women, of more value than many statues, had been slaughtered by the inquisition."18
The most striking of the simplified contrasts revealed the artificiality of Catholic ideas by
presenting them in conflict with the mind of the simple man. Variations of this device had been
used in other contrasts, as in
In this dramatic meeting of formalist and barbarian, both savage and missionary (as well as the latter's religion) show up badly. But whether the reflection on the savage is good or bad, the result almost always reflects unfavorably on the missionary or his religion. The Indian cannot understand Catholic Christianity; his artless questions, by their very naïveté, expose the fallacies in Catholicism. If the savage does not ask the right question, the historian may even supply it for him. Prescott's Montezuma, high-priest of a cannibalistic religion, "may have, perhaps, thought it was not more monstrous to feed on the flesh of a fellow creature, than on that of the Creator himself." The hypothesis shows the "barbarian's" inability to comprehend "abstruse" doctrines, and it characterizes the doctrine itself.20
Parkman's Jesuits in North America turns the same doctrine against the missionaries, but as a part of a much more elaborately ironic scheme. The Jesuit mission to the Hurons is having difficulties. Even in the distress of a smallpox epidemic, converts who really comprehend the religion are very hard to find. "Nature [triumphs] over Grace" when a Huron woman chooses to go to Hell, "if my children are there, as you say."
No admirer of the Indian's mental capacity, Parkman also points out that in other Indians this same refusal comes from the inherent worldliness of the race's imagination, which leads the savage to argue: No hunting; no heaven. Some Indians, however, have nobler motives for rejecting Paradise, and one retort quoted by Parkman hits almost providentially on a major fault that the historians believed that Catholicism encourages: the blight of indolence. "I will not go," an Indian declares. "It is not good to be lazy."21
The theme of these episodes is more than the Jesuits' repeated failure, "cheaply as they offered
salvation, . . . to find a purchaser." Parkman emphasizes not only the Indian's intractability but the
cheapness of the offer. The succession of amusing, sometimes pathetic misunderstandings shows
the irony of the entire Catholic effort to Christianize the Indian, the
In later chapters, especially one called "Persecution," the number of such ironies accumulates impressively for Parkman's doubly didactic purpose. One "half-instructed neophyte," misunderstanding the idea of the Eucharist, spreads the story that the priests have hidden a corpse in their houses, and that this is what has "infected the country." The pictures that the Jesuits have brought to facilitate conversion have the opposite effect when a painting of the Last Judgment becomes "an object of the utmost terror" to the Indians. Parkman then writes a telling summary to show how the priests' best objects of wonder (a clock, for example) and the highest truths they have brought with them are turned against them. The final irony is the Indians' charge that the Jesuits' "sorceries" have caused a smallpox epidemic. For the Jesuits, of course, have bravely complained of Indian sorcery, and they attribute their persecution to "the fury of the Devil."23
Whether or not one is offended by this method of displaying a religious doctrine, one cannot deny that in these passages Parkman has achieved excellent dramatic irony. He writes frankly as a "heretic" and, like Prescott and Motley, for a predominantly heretical audience. His characters do not know the meaning that their actions will convey to the audience; by a skillful presentation of their speeches, Parkman makes that meaning very clear. His method differs from Motley's juxtaposition of brutality to human beings and solicitude for "stocks and stones." In Parkman's book the results are ironic even within the framework of the Jesuits' conscious purpose, and he does not attack the Jesuits' sincerity. Sometimes, though rarely, he points explicitly to the larger irony that he expects non-Catholics to see so clearly. After arguing that the Indians' primary motive for interest in Christianity was a desire for good "medicine," he remarks that the Jesuits "themselves, indeed, firmly believed that saints and angels were always at hand with temporal succors for the faithful."24
In the face of the Indians' hostility to their own welfare, even the best Jesuits resorted to the
"duplicity" that the historians considered characteristic of the order. They baptized dying infants
surreptitiously and lied to suspicious parents who asked questions. Although he admired the "self-sacrificing zeal" demonstrated by this risky behavior, Parkman deplored the method; the "nimble-fingered" baptisms seemed like the work of pickpockets.25
From the bloodhounds, fetters, and monks of De Soto, through the heroic but ironically fruitless missions of the Jesuits, to the half-century of conflict in the eighteenth century, Catholic missionaries had meant to bring Christianity to the Indians. A major purpose of Parkman's contrasts of "priest and pagan" was to show that the result was always failure, often positive harm. He summed up the moral in one sentence in Count Frontenac and New France. Noting that some French officers had invited their Indian allies to burn and eat their Iroquois prisoners, Parkman described the burning and then wrote: " 'It was the mission of Canada,' says a Canadian writer, 'to propagate Christianity and civilization.'"27
Bancroft used the Indian-Catholic contrast to emphasize the virtues of the simple mind. Despite
the Indians' paganism, Bancroft said, "belief was free; there was no monopoly of science, no close
priesthood." He compared the Indians who had resisted De Soto to the Athenians "in the days of
Themistocles"; and he often put quotation marks around the words "the Christians" when referring
to the Spaniards. By stressing the quiet resolution of those Indians who had deliberately led the
Motley had no Indians at his historical disposal, but he had "Philip the tyrant's" heir: "Philip the simpleton." The ignorant dupe of his own political favorite, Philip III was a man whose entire "stock of erudition" consisted of a few phrases in French, Italian, and Flemish, and the Catholic catechism. But "he was as devout as a monk of the middle ages," and he liked to shoot rabbits while the Duke of Lerma governed the empire and grew rich by peculation. With commendable sensitivity, Motley confessed that it would be cruel to unearth a "simpleton's" character merely for ridicule; but it was instructive, he insisted, to see what kind of character could be given absolute power under a despotic system. Nor could he resist combining all of these characteristics (including the rabbit-shooting) with an allusion to the Catholic "superstition" of his own time, in order to show the ridiculousness of Catholic doctrine. "In one respect," he confessed, Philip III "was in advance of his own age. In his devotion to the Madonna he claimed the same miraculous origin [sic] for her mother as for herself. . . . He had frequent interviews with doctors of divinity on the subject, and instructed many bishops to urge upon the pope the necessity of proclaiming the virginity of the Virgin's mother."29
The image of Catholicism as a religion appears in these histories in extremely distorted form. The distinguishing features of the religion--as they appeared to the historians--stand out much more prominently than do the tenets common to Catholicism and Protestantism. Aside from any intentional or unintentional bias, one major reason for this distortion is that the peculiarities of the religion against which the historians objected were naturally those that appeared as distinctly Catholic in ideological conflicts. The peculiar features of anti-Protestant and antidemocratic reaction were the doctrines or "myths" most useful and, it must have seemed, most relevant to these histories. Thus ultramontanism, the Inquisition, the privileges and claims of priests, the intercession of saints, the Immaculate Conception, transubstantiation, faith in the value of relics, the confessional, rituals, the need to baptize dying infants--these are the Catholic ideas that receive the most attention. All of these, moreover, appear most frequently in connection with reactionary political action. They all belong in the category of "superstitions"--a word by which all four historians, at one time or another, characterized Catholic belief.30
The power of this distortion is magnified by the literary devices that the historians employed, by their emphasis on moral conduct, and above all by the large number of evil or contemptible people who had acted, at one time or another, in the name of the religion. Consider Motley's portrayal of Henry of Valois, the cowardly, effeminate king. An important ingredient in the portrait is his use of relics and his punctilious observance of religious forms:
Now sauntering, full-dressed, in the public promenades, with ghastly little death's heads strung upon his sumptuous garments, and fragments of human bones dangling among his orders of knighthood--playing at cup and ball as he walked, and followed by a few select courtiers who gravely pursued the same exciting occupation--now presiding like a queen of beauty at a tournament to assign the prize of valour, and now, by the advice of his mother, going about the streets in robes of penitence, telling his beads as he went, that the populace might be edified by his piety, and solemnly offering up prayers in the churches that the blessing of an heir might be vouchsafed to him--Henry of Valois seemed straining every nerve in order to bring himself and his great office into contempt.
The reactionary Catholic was vulnerable to this kind of treatment because of the objects of his prayer. Motley rarely neglected the opportunity to use a prayer for some ridiculous blessing--such as an heir for Henry III or Philip II, which any manly man could come by without special prayer; or a victory over heretics, which no man less energetic than they could possibly win.31
The first unsuccessful attempt to assassinate William of Orange gave Motley a perfect opportunity of this kind, and he used the evidence (supplied by Dutch Protestants, but apparently not contradicted elsewhere) to create two powerful symbols of the warring religions. By observing chronological order and withholding the assassin's name, he was able to describe the man's possessions before revealing the name, which had been discovered only after an examination of his papers. The description of the papers enabled Motley to cram into one paragraph nearly every kind of "superstition" which was used to describe Catholic villains in the histories. Immediately after noticing the pistol and poniard which lay on the floor beside the dead man, Motley turned to his other possessions:
In his pockets were an Agnus Dei, a taper of green wax, two bits of hareskin, two dried toads--which were supposed to be sorcerers' charms--a Jesuit catechism, a prayer-book, a pocketbook containing two Spanish bills of exchange--one for two thousand, and one for eight hundred and seventy-seven crowns--and a set of
writing tablets. These last were covered with vows and pious invocations, in reference to the murderous affair which the writer had in hand. He had addressed fervent prayers to the Virgin Mary, to the Angel Gabriel, to the Saviour, and to the Saviour's Son--"as if," says the Antwerp chronicler, with simplicity, "the Lord Jesus had a son"--that they might all use their intercession with the Almighty towards the certain and safe accomplishment of the contemplated deed. Should he come off successful and unharmed, he solemnly vowed to fast a week on bread and water. Furthermore, he promised to Christ a "new coat of costly pattern"; to the Mother of God, at Guadalupe, a new gown; to Our Lady of Montserrat, a crown, a gown, and a lamp; and so on through a long list of similar presents thus contemplated for various shrines. The poor fanatical fool had been taught by deeper villains than himself that his pistol was to rid the world of a tyrant, and to open his own pathway to Heaven, if his career should be cut short on earth. To prevent so undesirable a catastrophe to himself, however, his most natural conception had been to bribe the whole heavenly host, from the Virgin Mary downwards, for he had been taught that absolution for murder was to be bought and sold like other merchandise. He had also been persuaded that, after accomplishing the deed, he would become invisible.32
The forcefulness of the gruesome caricature does not depend on this symbol alone. In Juan Jauregy and his intended victim one sees the symbols of reaction and Reformation, forms and essence. Beside this product of Catholic "superstition" and corruption, who has been taught to buy absolution with bribes for the heavenly host, stands the Christ-like image of William himself. Although shot point-blank by a pistol ball that went into his neck and out through the roof of his mouth, carrying two teeth with it; although his beard and hair were on fire; William, before falling, had shouted: 'Do not kill him--I forgive him my death!"33
The most damning fault in Catholicism was that, in its career of opposition to freedom, its
agents were so often "deep villains"--kings, politicians, priests. The Church's most consistently
damaging agent was the priest; the encouragement of priestcraft was its most unnatural act, from
which grew such others as the crimes of the Inquisition. But before considering the priest, one
should remember that the historians were consistent in their anticlerical emphasis. Gauls, Aztecs,
Moors, Calvinists--all were duped at times by the self-interested authoritarianism of priests. In his
volumes on Barneveld, Motley, who had made the Gauls' submission to priestcraft one of their
determining traits, referred to Dutch Calvinists as the "sacerdotal element," and as the "priesthood."
Prescott, who criticized the same faults in Aztecs and Peruvians, praised Bancroft for "showing up
the good old times of witchcraft and priestcraft" in Massachusetts; Bancroft's chapter on
Parkman was very careful to place his discussion of priestcraft explicitly in this framework. He was led to a generalization about priests by the reflection that the "social atmosphere" of Quebec under the seventeenth-century Jesuits was "more suffocating" than that of Puritan New England itself. In a paragraph reminiscent of Hawthorne, he insisted that "no degree of personal virtue is a guaranty against the evils which attach to the temporal rule of ecclesiastics." He admitted that the "fervent and conscientious priest" burns "with love and devotion to Christ and his immaculate Mother," and that this piety leads him to work strenuously for the salvation of "every rash wanderer." But the crucial issue, as in politics, was authority, and here Parkman made the mistake of all four historians, and of many Protestants before and since:
And while he, the priest, yields reverence and obedience to the Superior, in whom he sees the representative of the Deity, it behooves him, in his degree, to require obedience from those whom he imagines that God has confided to his guidance. His conscience, then, acts in perfect accord with the love of power innate in the human heart. These allied forces mingle with a perplexing subtlety; pride, disguised even from itself, walks in the likeness of love and duty; and a thousand times on the pages of history we find Hell beguiling the virtues of Heaven to do its work. The instinct of domination is a weed that grows rank in the shadow of the temple, climbs over it, possesses it, covers its ruin, and feeds on its decay. The unchecked sway of priests has always been the most mischievous of tyrannies; and even were they all well-meaning and sincere, it would be so still.35
This frank statement is as earnest an attempt at impartiality as any that appears in the romantic histories. Despite the exaggeration of the priest's idea of his legitimate authority, it would be hard to question Parkman's good faith; and one should notice that history gave Parkman many examples of priests who had demanded complete temporal and spiritual obedience of their wards. But just as important as the emphasis on authority in this paragraph is the emphasis on psychology. Parkman, it seems, found it hard to describe an entirely devoted Catholic without making some psychological comment on the devotee's mixed motives--some comment that questioned the whole basis of Catholic piety. The best of his priests and nuns had been misled not by their love of authority, but by other earthly needs of the human heart; the worst had been motivated by greed, bigotry and "the instinct of domination."
Consider the Jesuit martyr Brébeuf, "that masculine apostle of the Faith--the Ajax of the mission," and his associate Charles Garnier. In describing them Parkman set the pattern for his psychological interpretation of Catholic martyrs; at the same time, he suggested a judgment of religious orders which typifies all the historians' interpretation of priestcraft:
Nature had given [Brébeuf] all the passions of a vigorous manhood, and religion had crushed them, curbed them, or tamed them to do her work,--like a damned-up torrent, sluiced and guided to grind and saw and weave for the good of man.
Although Brébeuf appears as a hero, the lofty position of naturalness and vigorous manhood in Parkman's hierarchy of virtues suggests an adverse judgment of an order and a Church that require a man to make such a sacrifice. Beside Brébeuf in this scene, standing "in strange contrast," was the frail, beardless Garnier, extremely sensitive, saintly from boyhood. "The affections of his sensitive nature," Parkman said, "severed from earthly objects, found relief in ardent adoration of the Virgin Mary." Although he said that only psychologists could account for the Jesuit "visions" and their quest for martyrdom, Parkman repeatedly explained Catholic piety in these terms. "A subtle element of romance" pervaded Marquette's devotion to the Virgin, toward whom he turned "the longings of a sensitive heart, divorced from earth"; and the female "enthusiast" was also capable of sublimation, exemplified in the love of Marie de l'Incarnation for Christ.36
Despite the "enormous spiritual pride" of Sister Marie, these characters stand among the finest examples of Catholic piety in all the romantic histories. Yet even these descriptions of heroic piety lead, in Parkman's Jesuits, to a pathetic example of the "stifling" of Nature. The widowed Marie de l'Incarnation, wanting to be married to Christ, resisted the desire for a long time because of her love for her young son; "but at last, fortified by her confessor, she left him to his fate, took the vows, and immured herself with the Ursulines of Tours." Her son, "frenzied by his desertion," came to the convent "screaming to the horrified nuns to give him back his mother." The moral of abandoning one's natural duty for an illusory spiritual one becomes clear when Parkman reports that the boy fell "into bad company" and ran away from his guardian; it is the moral taught by the Quaker mother's behavior in Hawthorne's story "The Gentle Boy."
But Parkman directs his final criticism against the artificial power of the confessor. When she
heard that her son had run away, "the wretched mother, torn with anguish, hastened for consolation
to her confessor." This
As a contrast to this story, the supremacy of the natural, even in piety, becomes perfectly clear some twenty pages later in Parkman's description of Marguerite de Bourgeoys. Considering the quality of her piety and the way in which Parkman wanted to use it, he was very fortunate that her portrait had survived into the nineteenth century; for, by indulging in conventional abstraction, he was able to observe that "her face is a mirror of frankness, loyalty, and womanly tenderness." This comment introduces his description of her character. Such features as these cannot introduce a zealot, and her essential traits naturally follow: "good sense, conscientiousness, and a warm heart." With this sound basis her piety has to be natural:
She had known no miracles, ecstasies or trances; and though afterwards, when her religious susceptibilities had reached a fuller development, a few such are recorded of her, yet even the Abbé Faillon, with the best intentions, can credit her with but a meagre allowance of these celestial favors. Though in the midst of visionaries, she distrusted the supernatural, and avowed her belief that, in His government of the world, God does not often set aside its ordinary laws. Her religion was of the affections, and was manifested in an absorbing devotion to duty. She had felt no vocation to the cloister, but had taken the vow of chastity, and was attached, as an externe, to the Sisters of the Congregation of Troyes, who were fevered with eagerness to go to Canada. Marguerite, however, was content to wait until there was a prospect that she could do good by going; and it was not till the year 1653, that, renouncing an inheritance, and giving all she had to the poor, she embarked for the savage scene of her labors.
This was the one fair heroine associated with a religious sisterhood in Parkman's history, and he used her to demonstrate the virtues of natural piety. She was the one pious member of a religious order who could distinguish between "visionary" religion and a "religion of the affections"; she displayed her piety through good works; she was prudent, she remained outside the cloister, she gave all she had to the poor, and her virtue was "unobtrusive."39
The admirable and "lamentable" examples of superhuman Catholic devotion--here and in
Prescott and Motley--point clearly to the same objection that Schiller had made to a change in
control of the Inquisition.
This stifling of the feelings of nature is the key to one of the most ubiquitous stock characters in the histories: the monk. The word priest is often used without any pejorative intent; the word monk, almost never.41 In a system of "natural" values, an unnatural or artificial religion was bad enough; an unnatural man was detestable. The monk who appears repeatedly in these histories originated not so much in historical fact as in literature. His actions and his name may have individualized him, and his actual portrait may have conformed to the literary portrait painted by the historian; but this resemblance, when it occurred, was a fortunate coincidence. Even when no physical characteristics are given, the rhetoric reserved for monks (and, sometimes, for priests) alludes to a picture that the reader already has in mind. The traits are those of Mrs. Radcliffe's Schedoni, of Lewis's Monk, of the Elizabethan stage Jesuit.
Prescott repeated several times the anti-natural explanation of monkish behavior. The
chronicler Mariana was "incompetent" because he was a monk--cut off, as his colleagues were,
"from sympathy with any portion of the species save their own order." Torquemada, a Dominican
friar, was "one of that class . . . who compensate for their abstinence from sensual indulgence, by
giving scope to those deadlier vices of the heart, pride, bigotry, and intolerance, which are no less
opposed to virtue, and far more extensively mischievous to society." And "in every part of the
odious scheme of the Inquisition" it was "easy" to see "the contrivance of the monks, a class of
men, cut off by their profession from the usual sympathies of social life, and who, accustomed to
the tyranny of the confessional, aimed at establishing the same jurisdiction over thoughts, which
secular tribunals have wisely confined to actions."42 That the
monk was frankly recognized as a literary type can be seen in Prescott's final essay on Cardinal
Ximenes. It was his custom to begin
His complexion was sallow; his countenance sharp and emaciated, his nose aquiline; his upper lip projected far over the lower. His eyes were small, deep set in his head, dark, vivid, and penetrating. His forehead ample [sic], and what was remarkable, without a wrinkle, though the expression of his features was somewhat severe. His voice was clear, but not agreeable; his enunciation measured and precise. His demeanor was grave, his carriage firm and erect; he was tall in stature, and his whole presence commanding. His constitution, naturally robust, was impaired by his severe austerities and severer cares; and, in the later years of his life, was so delicate as to be extremely sensible to the vicissitudes and inclemency of the weather.43
The stereotype was so generally accepted that Motley, when describing a villainous Franciscan who did not have the proper physiognomy, was able to make a point of the exception. He compensated for the friar's "visage of more than Flemish frankness" by using serpentine imagery again and again, by calling him "the smooth friar," "the monk," "the Franciscan," "the very smooth Flemish friar." In his novel Morton's Hope a French priest in Canada "was none of your ordinary, well-fed, greasy priests. There was genius in his crafty eye and in his scornful mouth. But it was an evil genius." In his United Netherlands, "rabid" Parisian monks "foamed with rage." Spain, he said, would have been better off if she had expelled half a million mendicant monks instead of half a million Moors. "Evil black eyes," a "dark, restless eye"; "a dark, martial face and dangerous eyes"; a "mean visage," a "meagre" form--these are the features of different villains.44
The romantic histories support Mario Praz's contention that romantic literature "reproduces to
the point of frenzy some of the characteristics of the Elizabethan age." Motley's affection for
Elizabethan characters and Elizabethan prose, the racial overtones in Motley's and Prescott's
strictures on "southern" diplomacy, Prescott's comments on proverbial Neapolitan dishonesty--all
this evidence supports the conclusions of recent scholars about the sixteenth-
and seventeenth-century influence on Melville, Thoreau,
Parkman headed a chapter on Vinal, the villain of Vassal Morton, with a quotation from Iago, and then described Vinal's traits, which included "the courage of the intriguer--a quality quite distinct from the courage of the soldier." Prescott's Alvaro de Luna resembles Iago in his courage and ability, his "insinuating address," his presumptuous insolence, his amazing control of his master (King John of Castile), and the mute impassiveness with which he faces his horrible execution; but Prescott compared him only to Cardinal Wolsey. Motley, on the other hand, liked Othello so much that he not only used its language occasionally in his own prose, but also cast two different historical villains in the role of Iago.46
Motley's first Iago was Cardinal Granvelle, who "dealt mainly by insinuation," and who "was apt to conclude his statements with disclaimers upon his own part, and with hopes of improvement in the conduct of the seignors." The letter that Motley used to begin his comparison justifies it completely, and his skillful paraphrase echoes Iago's speeches in the third act of Othello. Motley was aware, moreover, that the intended victim of the intrigue, Count Egmont, reinforced the comparison; for Egmont was a loyal, forthright, and not too prudent soldier whom Philip II eventually executed on the basis of unjustified suspicion. The letter, Motley said, showed the Cardinal's "masterly style of innuendo . . . , by which he was often able to convince his master of the truth of certain statements while affecting to discredit them." It was "characteristic" of Granvelle to "add that, after all, he considered [Egmont] one of the most honest of all, if appearances did not deceive." It is characteristic of Motley that even after this he should make the Othello comparison still more emphatic:
It may be supposed, however, that all these details of a plot which was quite imaginary, were likely to produce more effect upon a mind so narrow and so suspicious as that of Philip, than could the vague assertions of the Cardinal, that in spite of all, he would dare be sworn that he thought the Count honest, and that men should be what they seemed.47
Motley not only continued to use the Othello comparison in later descriptions of
Granvelle, but made it the theme of his treatment of Maurice of Nassau in the Life of
Barneveld. Maurice was the all-conquering general "who found himself at the conclusion of the
truce with his great occupation gone." The very next sentence is a long comment on the "potent
principle" of jealousy; the next, a one-sentence paragraph: "And there were not to
The Iago of this drama is Francis Aertsens. He is not, as Granvelle was, a priest, but in him, too, Iago and the monk coalesce. With his "shrewd" face, his "restless eye," and his "close-fitting skull cap," he has "something the look of a monk, but with the thoroughbred and facile demeanour of one familiar with the world; [he was] stealthy, smooth, and cruel, a man coldly intellectual, who feared no one, loved but few, and never forgot or forgave." It is by this man's "almost devilish acts" that "the imperious, rugged, and suspicious nature" of Maurice has "been steadily wrought upon."49
The use of these stock characters does not, of course, mean that every monk, every member of
a religious order in the histories, is a villain. But when the monk appears as monk, he usually works
for political or social reaction, and his cloth is the garb of a villain. Whatever his virtues, moreover,
all the historians make it clear that his social situation, his religious vows, and his political duty are
artificial forces resistant to natural virtue. These forces act on all priests, and especially on the
Jesuits. If any proof were needed of the similarity of Motley's Catholic clergy to the Elizabethan
Jesuit, one paragraph from the United Netherlands would suffice. Describing the last
attempt to revive in the Netherlands the "blood-dripping edicts against heresy," Motley blamed "the
Jesuits" as instigators of the movement. The paragraph introduces the "last religious murder"
committed in the sixteenth-century Netherlands, the burial alive of a Protestant girl. Preparing to
contrast the heroic girl's constancy with the easy apostasy of Henry IV, Motley wrote a ringing
paragraph on "the Jesuits"--for it was they who "denounced this maid-servant to the civil
authority"--as another contrast to her simple character. He followed a simple rhetorical technique:
to play on the sound of "the Jesuits" while
but the devilish spirit which had inspired them still lived in the persons of the Jesuits, and there were now more Jesuits in the obedient provinces than there had been for years. We have seen that Champagny's remedy for the ills the country was enduring was "more Jesuits." And this, too, was Albert's recipe. Always more Jesuits. And now the time had come when the Jesuits thought that they might step openly with their works into the daylight again. Of late years they had shrouded themselves in comparative mystery, but from their seminaries and colleges had gone forth a plentiful company of assassins against Elizabeth and Henry, Nassau, Barneveld, and others who, whether avowedly or involuntarily, were prominent in the party of human progress. Some important murders had already been accomplished, and the prospect was fair that still others might follow, if the Jesuits persevered. Meantime those ecclesiastics thought that a wholesome example might be set to humbler heretics by the spectacle of a public execution.
Throughout his account of this execution, Motley referred to "the Jesuits" as actors and conspirators, specifying only once--when the martyr walked "between two Jesuits" to the place of execution--the number of Jesuits engaged in any action.50
The prevailing moral trait in the Jesuit, and in almost every priest who worked for reaction, is duplicity. Even in the best of Parkman's Jesuits it begins, as I have said, with the relatively harmless artifice of surreptitious baptism. But Parkman wanted his reader to see in these heroic martyrs the same principle of corruption that in others had produced the worst treachery. He pointed out that their
equivocal morality, . . . built on the doctrine that all means are permissible for saving souls from perdition, and that sin itself is no sin when its object is "the greater glory of God,"--found far less scope in the rude wilderness of the Hurons than among the interests, ambitions, and passions of civilized life. Nor were these men, chosen from the purest of their Order, personally well fitted to illustrate the capabilities of their elastic system.
This was the basic crime of the Jesuit order, the basic fault in Catholic morality, the principle behind the stereotype. "The end justifies the means," "No faith with heretics"--the historians waved these slogans like a bloody shirt. Detail after detail was thrown onto the scales of historical justice to show nineteenth-century readers their results. Despite all the criticisms of "incessant supernaturalism," superstition, and ceremonialism, the main battleground was that of morality.51
One should remember the importance of truthfulness in the historians' list of virtues. The Jesuits are "adepts in dissimulation," and other politically active priests have similar skills. A confessor advises a virgin, whose father will disinherit her if she does not marry, to execute a sham marriage in order to assure her inheritance, and then to take her religious vows; Jesuits advise Acadians to break their oaths of loyalty to the British crown; Jesuits incite Indians to attack English settlers "in time of peace," and some even lead them to battle; "the devilish arts of the Jesuits" change a Prince's moral character; assassins are encouraged by Jesuits; friars try to bribe republican patriots. Popes release kings from "solemn promises"; "the most Catholic king" renounces all his mercantile contracts and takes "God to witness" that it is "to serve his Divine will"; "casuists" approve the breaking of an officer's word of honor; a "zealous missionary" pays Indians a bounty for English scalps and is rewarded for "good service to religion and the state." A Dominican "friar" encourages Pizarro to murder: " 'Set on, at once; I absolve you.'" Missionaries are encouraged to "hound" their Indian and Acadian "flocks" against the English but are advised to avoid being "found out," so that the Governor, "by means of falsehood," can have the attackers "punished as felons." The fact that one Acadian priest keeps his oath to the English crown is so exceptional that his name must be given.52
All these examples are used to show that the political habitat of the priest is the region of intrigue. Nor are they manufactured examples of horror; all but one53 are well documented in the histories. Indeed, a major technique of all four historians was to let a Philip II, a Menéndez, a Granvelle, a Father Piquet, damn himself before posterity with the words from his own private letters. Parkman, moreover, was able to quote Catholic contemporaries who had shared his opinion. One Frenchman had declared that "'nobody . . . was more fit than [Father Le Loutre] to carry discord and desolation into a country.'" And other French officers had written more succinctly: " 'What is not a wicked priest capable of doing?"'54
Second in reprehensibility only to his duplicity is the priest's belief that he should engage in
politics at all. Beside the imagery of diabolical and sinuous winding with which Parkman and
Motley describe duplicity stands the rhetoric of "rabid" foaming, of "goading" and "hounding." The
key to this language, and to the priests' political activity, is the word "fanaticism." Although this
word was also applied to Protestant intolerance, Protestant priestcraft had only a very small part in
these histories, it was not internationally organized, and it did not seem to be so essential to
Protestantism as Catholic priestcraft was to Catholicism. "Superstition"
Prescott reveals the fanatic type in Torquemada. Some wealthy Jews have tried to prevent the expulsion of their "race" from Spain by offering the crown "thirty thousand ducats" toward paying the debts incurred in the Moorish war. Torquemada bursts into the room where Ferdinand and Isabella are talking to the Jewish deputy, and,
drawing forth a crucifix from beneath his mantle, [holds] it up, exclaiming, "Judas Iscariot sold his master for thirty pieces of silver. Your Highnesses would sell him anew for thirty thousand; here he is, take him, and barter him away." So saying, the frantic priest threw the crucifix on the table, and left the apartment. The sovereigns, instead of chastising this presumption, or despising it as a mere freak of insanity, were overawed by it.55
The same "fanatical temper," described in even more violent language, appears in Motley's demagogic Parisian monks and Parkman's demagogic eighteenth-century missionaries.
Fanaticism, Prescott argued, was even worse than atheism, for while atheism (like superstition) does not require evil social action or blindness to "just moral perceptions, "fanaticism" enjoins the commission of the most revolting crimes as a sacred duty." In the denaturalization of the priest, as Schiller's remark and Prescott's language show, the historians considered no trait more telling than his insensitivity to human suffering. If he was not an active villain, this quality could be revealed through his willingness to regard catechizing children as more important than economic survival. Even Parkman's heroic seventeenth-century Jesuits seemed above Nature in their "unquenchable" desire "to suffer and to die."56 And when they were confronted by the Huron torture of Iroquois captives, they did not "come up to the requirements of modern sensibility." Though "offended" by such atrocities, these Jesuits "were wholly given to the saving of souls," and they had only "scorn" for the corrupt body, which deserved "the worst inflictions that could be put upon it. What were a few hours of suffering to an eternity of bliss or woe?"
This passage expresses the best priest's attitude. When his fancied duty called him to villainous
action, the priest could stage an auto da fé, or connive
Naturally, then, the unnatural qualities in priests and monks enabled the historians to use them regularly as Gothic characters. Even Parkman's image of rank weeds growing in the shadow of the temple suggests the pattern. In scenes of secret execution or deep intrigue; in scenes set in the grim, quiet Escorial from which Philip II tried to govern the world; in wild, dark forest settings where enraged Indians jumped about in shadows cast by their fires; the "frantic priest" or cool "ghostly counsellor" demonstrated his Gothic lineage. His "monastic weeds" or black priestly clothes, his dark complexion, and his "elastic" morality added to the effect. And when the historian could paint devil and priest together, as Parkman did to describe a raid on the Senecas by a party of Frenchmen and Iroquois converts, the Gothic convention could have immense value:
On their left were the Iroquois converts from the missions of Saut St. Louis and the Mountain of Montreal, fighting under the influence of their ghostly prompters against their own countrymen. On the right were the pagan Indians from the west. The woods were full of these painted spectres, grotesquely horrible in horns and tail; and among them flitted the black robe of Father Engleran, the Jesuit of Michillimackinac.58
Besides contrasting the priest with simpler men and with natural feelings and morality, the
historians also exploited his relationship with other Catholic characters. Many of Parkman's heroic
French explorers, from La Salle onward, vehemently oppose the Jesuits, and the Jesuits fight them
with intrigue. In all the histories, moreover, reactionary or corrupt kings are frequently not only
"superstitious" but "priest-ridden" or "priest-led." Louis XI, Ferdinand of Aragon, Louis XIV,
Louis XV, and James I ("Catholic at heart," Motley says) follow disastrous policies in close
cooperation with priestcraft.59 Prescott's representative villain is
Torquemada. Parkman's appears first as Louis XIV and then as Louis XV. The father, Parkman
said, had a clear, free choice between a policy of toleration and progress, and a policy of bigotry
and ruin. He chose the latter, crippled the empire, and helped to cause the French Revolution. The
"manifold ills" of eighteenth-century France were summed up in his grandson. Fearing damnation,
Of all the representative evil men in the histories, however, the one who most closely unites Catholicism and evil is Philip II of Spain. In this amazing character the historian's duty as judge and teacher, the theories of representativeness and of racial inferiority, and the unnatural evils of priestcraft and kingcraft are harmoniously combined. Prescott called him "the most perfect type of the Spanish national character," and Motley showed even more clearly how much this statement meant. In his final arraignment of Philip before "the Judgment-seat of history" he made it very clear, first of all, that despite Philip's accomplishment of more evil than almost any man in history the "fate" of nations "is and ought to be in their own hands." From the very beginning of The Rise of the Dutch Republic, he had emphasized Philip's Spanishness; and although in this last pronouncement on Philip he called the Spanish people "brave and quick-witted," he insisted that "it was certainly the ignorance and superstition of the people on which the Philippian policy was founded"; that both "liberal" and "despotic" institutions grow out of "the national biography and the national character." With monotonous regularity, moreover, Motley had iterated through six volumes his belief that the only good reason for studying the crimes of king, priest, and noble was their instructive value; before sentencing Philip II, he restated this conviction.61
Although Motley said that Philip would not be his "head devil" again in the United
Netherlands, the key to his final verdict, as to his entire presentation of Philip, is the Devil. In
action, Philip has been described as "the great father of lies," as "more dangerous than the Turk," as
a false angel of light who "murdered Christians in the name of Christ," as "the common enemy of
Christendom," and as a man whose "malignity and duplicity" were almost "superhuman."
Throughout the six volumes Philip has acted as an invisible, silent, mysterious manipulator who
controls the fate of others from a distant, secluded writing desk. "The only plausible explanation . . .
of his infamous career [was] that the man really believed himself not a king but a god."62 Obviously in the manner of the Devil, and with a system of bribery
almost as extensive as the Devil's,''63 he has bought the souls of
patriots. He has not "a single virtue"; only the human being's inability to "attain perfection even in
evil" has prevented him from having every possible vice. "Falsehood" is the great basis of his
character, and in direct contrast to William of Orange--who was "overreached only by those to
whom he gave his heart"--he is "false, most of all, to those to whom he
As Philip is diabolical, so is his Church. Motley never lets his reader forget Philip's title of "Most Catholic King" or his exemplary observance of forms. In the final arraignment it is extremely important both that the most powerful churchmen were "dependants" of this devil, and that the Inquisition--which worked mysteriously and punished by burning--was the instrument of his diabolical will:
He never doubted that the extraordinary theological system which he spent his life in enforcing with fire and sword was right, for it was a part of himself. The Holy Inquisition, thoroughly established as it was in his ancestral Spain, was a portion of the working machinery by which his absolute kingship and his superhuman will expressed themselves. A tribunal which performed its functions with a celerity, a certainty, and invisibility resembling the attributes of Omnipotence; which, like the pestilence, entered palace and hovel at will, and which smote the wretch guilty or suspected of heresy with a precision against which no human ingenuity or sympathy could guard--such an institution could not but be dear to his heart.65
The contrast between Motley's diabolical emphasis and Prescott's portrayal of Philip II indicates clearly just how far the romantic historians varied from each other as they worked within the same fundamental system. Prescott and Parkman were willing, and Motley reluctant, to concede that the sixteenth-century Spaniard's desire to convert American Indians had not been hypocritical.66 But, along with Bancroft, all three treated the Spaniard's self-interest and evangelism ironically. The historians differed not on the function of Catholic morality, piety, and characters, but in the severity with which they judged individual actions and characters. As Prescott's remarks on Philip demonstrate, these differences resulted not from fundamental disagreement but from different conceptions of the techniques of judgment and narrative, different points of view required by different subjects, and differences in prose style and temperament.
After he had published the first two volumes of his unfinished History of the Reign of Philip
the Second, Prescott wrote to his friend Pascual Gayangos about the criticisms of his treatment
of Philip. Defending himself against conflicting charges of partiality to Philip and unfairness to
both Philip and the Duke of Alva, he insisted that no one who had read carefully his "remarks on
the Inquisition and the mischief it has caused to unhappy Spain" could call his condemnation of
Philip's persecutions lukewarm.
I will only add that in exhibiting a character like that of P. or Alva I think the historian gains nothing by throwing about hard names and calling the miscreant a demon like Southey and others of that plain spoken school. I think it is better to give a plain narrative of the events, which truly told will best convey its own moral. I don't believe that any one ever rose from the perusal of my pages with a love of P. or Alva either.67
This statement, written in the year Motley's Rise of the Dutch Republic was published, is reasonably accurate. Often, of course, the epithets in Prescott's narrative expressed as plain if not so severe a judgment as Motley's. He not only cast suspicion on "monkish bookmen," but also showed surprise that any priest had seen the merit in Columbus' ideas. Yet he did try to present clearly the Catholic's position--usually reserving his formal judgment for paragraphs that followed his "plain narrative," and for his final review of the subject's character in the conventional obituary essay. He did not call Philip II a demon; he criticized Motley for the unrelieved blackness of his portrayal; and he praised Bancroft for letting the reader "judge for himself" how much "knavery" and how much "fanaticism" motivated the actors in the Salem witchcraft episode.68
Of the other, less theoretical reasons for the difference, the most important is point of view. My
discussion of Prescott's Isabella has already shown that (as Theodore Parker saw immediately)
Prescott was no model of impartiality when defending the fair name of his heroine. Even more
pertinent to the History of Philip the Second is his attitude toward Charles Brockden
Brown. After he had written his complimentary essay on Brown for Sparks's Library of
American Biography, he confessed in his journal that he did not like Brown well enough to
finish reading "one of his novels, unless as a job." But in spite of his own judgment, Prescott said,
the biographer had to present as "favorable a view" of his subject as the evidence allowed. He
hoped that his "halting or overleaping praise" would betray his adverse judgment of Brown "quite
as much as my censure [might have done]."69 Therefore, although
he did criticize with varying severity the faults of Isabella, Ferdinand, Cortés, Pizarro, and
Philip II, one must remember that Prescott wrote Spanish history, that he narrated much of the
action from the Spanish point of view, and that he felt obliged to emphasize
In Motley's histories Spain and Catholic leaders are the enemy. Motley does not mention Philip II in connection with the victory at Lepanto; Prescott describes it as a progressive victory. Motley says little of Spanish literature during Philip's reign; Prescott describes it favorably. Motley uses the Escorial only as a symbol of Philip's egotism and the scene of his mysterious manipulations; Prescott describes it as a monument to his piety, however "gloomy," misguided, and disastrous that piety was. Motley says that Philip had not "a single virtue"; Prescott, who considers Philip pious, treats his independence of the Pope, and some of his administrative changes, as political accomplishments. Motley scorns Philip's "contemptible intellect," his miserable handwriting, his "sluggishness"; for him, Philip's habit of poring over "interminable dispatches" illustrates a pedestrian mind's concern with trivia. Prescott commends Philip's interest in art and architecture, the architectural achievements of his administration; for him, the dispatch-reading and -writing illustrate administrative industry. Motley blames Philip directly for Spanish atrocities at St. Quentin; Prescott says that Philip, "touched" to the "heart," instantly ordered an end to personal violence, although it was impossible to prevent the customary pillage. The "chief amusement" of Motley's Philip is to be "grossly licentious . . . in the common haunts of vice"; his William, on the other hand, is so thoroughly virtuous that the sudden appearance of his "natural son" in the United Netherlands (without comment from Motley) comes as a complete surprise. Prescott's Philip is not licentious; but his William, who has followed Machiavellian rules in arranging his second marriage, is "addicted to gallantries, which continued long enough, it is said, to suggest an apology for the disorderly conduct of his wife."71
The final distinction is stylistic and temperamental. Prescott did not command so explosive a rhetoric as Motley's. Even when both men condemn the same crimes or institutions (the Inquisition and the secret execution of Montigny), Prescott's judgment seems much less severe; their language on these subjects differs more than their opinions. The stronger force of Motley's images and epithets, his vigorous use of alliteration, his long periodic sentences; his use of incremental repetition, of cumulative details, of Elizabethan prose rhythms, and of Saxon monosyllables--these seem to express a much sharper judgment than do Prescott's more stately sentences.
Motley, moreover, seems to have been much more eager to "pitch into"
Up to this time Peter seems a man--a hard-hearted, despotic man, perhaps--but he is still human. He now seems only a machine, a huge engine of unparalleled power, placed upon the earth to effect a certain task, working its mighty arms night and day with ceaseless and untiring energy, crashing through all obstacles, and annihilating everything in its path with the unfeeling precision of gigantic mechanism.72
Prescott never used this kind of image. He did not write of "blood-dripping edicts," he never called a Pope a "querulous dotard," and he wrote no letters about "pitch[ing] into the Duke of Alva and Philip the Second."73 Motley's political speeches, his Civil War letters, and the tone of his histories reveal an intensity of emotional participation--and sometimes a vindictiveness--that one cannot find in the writings of Prescott, whose letters and histories consistently show a temperament more tolerant, more urbane.
I have not included Bancroft in my discussion of the villainous priest, because there is no place in his History for the character. His objections to Catholicism as a religion of forms, and to its reactionary role in the history of progress and the early history of America, are perfectly clear in his History. He was able to bring out the rhetoric of the Reformation for his description of the principles involved in the Seven Years' War; among the medieval sights of which "all Europe had grown weary" were "idlers and beggars, sheltering themselves in sanctuaries," and "the countless monks and priests, whose vows of celibacy tempted to licentiousness." But he had said in his second volume that "priestcraft had no motive to emigrate," and the priestcraft in his History is European priestcraft. The individual priests who do appear in his volumes are the early Jesuit martyrs, whom he praises for their purity and heroic devotion. Some of his corrupted European villains, however, bear the conventional stamp. General William Howe, described immediately after George Washington, has the proper markings: "Six feet tall, of an uncommonly dark complexion, a coarse frame, and a sluggish mould, he was unresistingly ruled by his sensual nature."74
In a letter from Berlin, moreover, Bancroft wrote perhaps the best summary of the romantic historians' treatment of Catholicism. It is an angry letter, one of several he wrote from Berlin during five years when it seemed to him that an ultramontane conspiracy was trying once again to sustain tyranny against natural laws--laws which, in this battle, were defended by Bismarck and Germany.75 The letter repeats in one paragraph nearly all the kinds of objection raised against Catholicism in the romantic histories:
Many, very many, all too many ways lead to Rome. Idleness leads there; for Rome saves the trouble of independent thought. Dissoluteness leads there, for it impairs mental vigor. Conservatism, foolish conservatism, leads there, in the hope that the conservatism of the oldest abuse will be a shield for all abuses. Sensualism leads there, for it delights in parade and magnificent forms. Materialism leads there, for the superstitious can adore an image and think to become purified by bodily torments, hair-shirts, and fastings, turning all religion into acts of the physical organs.76
Bancroft's objection to "bodily torments" is especially interesting, because Parkman criticized the same peculiarity not as materialism but as unnatural unworldliness, a loathing of the flesh. Yet Parkman, too, criticized the excessive materialism in the Catholic missionary's presentation of Christian truth; this appeal to the senses, indeed, was what made the greatest impression on the Indians.77 Catholicism was at the same time too unworldly and too materialistic.
Bancroft's letter is representative not in its vehemence but in its reliance on a belief in intellectual liberty and its assumption that "Rome" opposes this liberty. One must notice, too, that Bancroft was at times more tolerant of Catholic piety; for the most vehement criticisms of Catholicism in the romantic histories were provoked by "unnatural" political policies, by some form of active tyranny, and by historical lapses from simple morality. It was possible, but difficult, to be an "obedient" Catholic and a progressive "Christian." Evidence of the Church's political influence abounded in Spain and New France, two supremely Catholic countries. The one was "the bulwark of the Church, against whose adamantine wall the waves of innovation beat in vain"; the symbols of colonization in the other were "a musket, a rosary, and a pack of beaver skins."78 The one expelled its most industrious population because they were infidels; the other never let them in, because they were heretics. The stifling of free thought, free trade, free immigration--these seemed to be the natural results of a religion that misdirected piety to "images," taught that the end justifies the means, and required its priests to stifle the affections of Nature.