Page images

ed to war, it is the pastime of his life; and, as all the protection be enjoys is that which his own prowess supplies, and as his neighbours are in precisely the same position, he is in the condition of a man who only stands at ease after a military fashion, revelling in the battle charge, and essentially belligerent in his character. Near his castle are one, two, or more villages, which are part of his domains, and over which he exercises almost absolute control. The judge and jury, and moreover the executive of law, all cases of dispute have to be tried by him; and he settles all quarrels between himself and his vassals. His own walled fortress contains the prison cells; and his own paid servants carry out the sentence of the law. The baron was born to this; and in a sense as literal as the sense which even a Robinson Crusoe could attach to the words, he might have sung

“I am monarch of all I survey,

My right there is none to dispute.” Practically, however much of legal prescription or verbal curtailment of power there was, this was the state of things as between a feudal lord and his vassal. In Bernard's time, Europe witnessed, as the result of this system, great injustice, foul oppression; and the peasantry suffered without having the slightest chance of relief or redress by an appeal to disinterested judges.

Among the barons in the neighbourhood of Clairvaux, was the Count of Champagne, who was the grandson of that modest man, William the Conqueror, and in many respects, as for instance in being careless of the rights of others, somewhat resembled him. A vassal, one Humbert, offended his lordship, and was forthwith, without trial or examinativn, banished from his native village, his goods being confiscated to the baron. A houseless wanderer, and his wife and children crying for bread, poor Humbert bethought him of the good monk, Bernard ; and

hastened to tell his tale of, hardship and distress. But then the Count of Champagne was one of the lordly patrons of the monks of Clairvaux. Worldly policy would have dictated non-interference : religious duty exacted the championship of poverty and injured innocence--and it is to the honour of Bernard that he conferred, not with flesh and blood, but with his God, and so manfully battled with the strong in behalf of the down-trodden and weak. Indignant at the wrong which had been perpetrated, Bernard wrote to the count, and among other things pleaded : “Know ye not that it is as easy, aye, and a thousand times easier, for God to cast you out of the heavenly inheritance, than for you to eject Humbert from his patrimony.” It was in this way that the monk stept in between the rich and the poor, acting as the true prophet and the honest minister of God's truth ever have done, the part of mediator, espousing the cause of the helpless, and striving for a rectification of their wrongs. The appeal told upon the baron. He instituted an inquiry; and declared in unequivocal terms the innocence of Humbert. But he did not restore the confiscated property. The good man found it impossible to live upon a vindicated reputation; and as the verdict of his lord neither found food nor shelter for him and his family, he not unnaturally sought the help of his friend the monk a second time. Again, the ear of Bernard was open to the cry of distress, and once more he wrote to the count: “I am indeed unwilling to offend you,” he wrote, “but, must I not fear lest I should offend God, if I neglect the cause of the afflicted? I may not refuse my sympathy to the widow and her orphans, to those whose pitiful lot it is to be orphans during the lifetime of their father." Nor may you, my brother. At the call of the down-trodden and the oppressed, you too should arise, and right valiantly do battle for God and the weak. In this respect I commend to you the example of Bernard, born of a noble family,

and who yet proved as a refuge for the poor distressed, and the succourer of the sons and daughters of affliction. Other instances might be given of the manner in which he championed the common people, but this will suffice to show the character of the man, and the kind of work he did.

The latest breath of this pious and popular monk was devoted to the good of others. There were free cities on the Continent; and these frequently came in conflict with the surrounding barons. Bernard, whose influence was felt in all classes of society, often interposed between the sturdy citizens-even then the bulwark of liberty-and the turbulent soldiers, dubbed knights and barons. The men of Metz became thus embroiled with their warlike neighbours. I need not say that such a civil war necessarily entailed the greatest suffering on the peasantry, interfered with commerce, and often led to considerable bloodshed. On the occasion to which I now allude, there were unusual threatenings of slaughter, and forebodings of wide-spread ruin. Bernard, who had passed his three-score years, and whose debilitated frame seemed ready to fall in pieces, lay dying, when the news of these hostilities reached him. Weak and emaciated though he was, he at once determined to appeal to, and separate, the combatants, re-uniting them in the holy bonds of friendship and of peace. Rousing himself, and taking his pilgrim's staff , he hastened to the scene of conflict

. The contending armies were drawn up in battle array, regarding each other with deadly hate, and preparing for the fatal charge. Bernard commenced his address. Afraid of the effects of his eloquence, and resolved not to surrender their claim, the barons unceremoniously retired to their tents. But the few words they had heard were enough. The homely thrusts of the dying monk, aided as they were by the almost ghostly appearance of the renowned and saintly orator, told upon those wild warriors. In the morning

they rose wiser men, resolved to return the sword to the scabbard, and anxious to make terms with the citizens. And Bernard, having had the satisfaction of restoring peace to the district, and witnessing the reconciliation of the warlike barons and the trading men of Metz, sought again his couch; and there, at the age of sixty-three, breathed out his life in prayer to the God he had served so diligently and so faithfully. "Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the children of God."

Among the lessons of such a life as Bernard's, I place this first—the lesson of Christian charity. I am not prepared to defend all Bernard said, much less all he did. In many of his controversies, he advocated views which I regard as erroneous, and which on every fitting occasion I should be willing to oppose. The second crusade, of which he was the author and the inspiring genius, was worse than a blunder, and must be regarded as one of the most disastrous movements ever set on foot in Europe. Still, who can doubt the godliness of Bernard ? Most heartily do I wish that not a few of us Protestants, who hate Romanism and abuse the Pope, were more like this monk in the self-denying effort for the good of others, and in the practice of those virtues which constitute the Christian character. Far be it from me to proclaim indifference of opinion; but still it will do us all good to remember, especially in the midst of the peroration of a speech against Papists, and at the meetings of our great Protestant societies, that Bernard was a Roman Catholic, a devoted adherent to the Papacy, and every inch a Churchman. To all good men give the right hand of fellowship, whether belonging to this church or to that, or to no church at all.

See, too, what a single life can accomplish. This is an age of organizations. Machinery is all potent. We almost worship societies. It may be that these are doing a good and great work, and in proportion to their

We want,

usefulness I wish them all prosperity. Łowever, to learn more and more the value of what one man can do. Nearly every thing great and eu luring has been the work of single individuals. And I ara persuaded that if we could realize our individuality, instead of losing ourselves in the mass; if we felt that we have a power to put forth, and that we cannot delegate the effort to another; if we thoroughly appreciated the truth that our work can only be done by ourself, and that for the doing or leaving it undone we shall have to account, we should be better and more useful men than we are. Don't say, what can one man do? Bernard was but one man, and yet he did much. I don't say that any of us can take a position equal to his, or attain to influ. ence such as he wielded; but this I say, that if we will only train ourselves as he trained himself; if we will bring our passions and our wills into subjugation to reason and to God; if we will take counsel of the monitor within, the wide world of nature without, and the ever-living Infinite One above us, we shall leave beliind us traces of a good and noble life, for which numbers will bless God. This is the use of biography. Its mission is to inspire us by its revelation of what others have been and done. For this I have lectured on Bernard. Let it not be in vain. But remember that it is, as Longfellow, in his oft-quoted but never threadbare Psalm of Life, says:

“Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us

Footprints in the sands of time ;-
Footprints, that perhaps another,

Sailing o'er life's solemu main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,

Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us, then, be up and doing,

With a heart for any fute;
Still achieving, still pursuing,

Learn to labour and to wait."

« EelmineJätka »