Page images

Attalus, however, was not long in evincing his incompetency for the duties of the high station to which he had been raised; and in the following year Alaric publicly despoiled him of the ensigns of royalty, and sent them, as the pledge of peace and friendship, to Honorius at Ravenna. Some favourable occurrence, however, happening to turn up in the fortunes of this latter prince, just at that moment, the insolence of his ministers returned with it; and, instead of accepting the friendly overture of Alaric, a body of three hundred soldiers were ordered to sally out of the gates of Ravenna, who surprised and cut in pieces a considerable party of Goths, after which they re-entered the city in triumph. The crime and folly of the court of Ravenna was expiated a third time by the calamities of Rome. Alaric, who now no longer dissembled his appetite for plunder and revenge, appeared in arms under the walls of the capital, and the trembling senate, without any hopes of relief, prepared, by a desperate resistance, to delay the ruin of their country. But they were unable to guard against the secret conspiracy of their slaves and domestics, who, either from birth or interest, were attached to the cause of the enemy. At the hour of midnight, the Salarian gate was silently opened, and the inhabitants were awakened by the tremendous sound of the Gothic trumpet.* In the year 410, eleven hundred and sixty-three years after the foundation of Rome, the imperial city, which had subdued and

[ocr errors]

There is a very eloquent passage referring to this particular subject, in a letter written by Pelagius, the author of the Pelagian heresy, to a Roman lady of the name of DEMETRIAS, and it deserves insertion in this place, were it only to exhibit to the reader a specimen of the superior talents which were possessed by that apostate from the doctrines of grace.

PELAGIUS, wliose original name was Morgan, was a native of Wales, and by profession a monk. He was far advanced in life before he began publicly to propagate his heretical sentiments, and until that period it civilized so considerable a part of mankind, was delivered to the licentious fury of the tribes of Germany and

Scythia, who, during six days, pillaged the city of all | its gold and jewels, stripped the palaces of their splen

did furniture-the sideboards of their massy plate, and the wardrobes of their silk and purple, which were loaded on waggons to follow the march of the Gothic army--the most cruel slaughter was made of the Romans--the streets of the city were filled with dead bodies--the females were delivered up to the brutal lust of the soldiers—and many of the noblest edifices of the city destroyed by fire.

seems that he sustained a blameless reputation; for Augustine, who was cotemporary with bim, and combated all his errors, does him the justice to own that he had the esteem of being a very pions man, and a Christian of no vulgar rank.” Pelagius happened to be at Rome when that city was besieged by the Goths, and was probably a spectator of all that passed during the saching of that metropolis. Soon after it was taken he set sail for Africa, and from thence wrote to the Lady Demetrias the letter, of which the following is an extract, referring to the Gothic invasion.

“ This dismal calamity is but just over, and you yourself are a witness how Rome that commanded the world was astoni-hed at the alarm of the Gothic trumpet, when that barbarous and victorious nation stormed her walls, and made her way through the breach. Where were then the privileges of birth, and the distinctions of quality? Were not all ranks and degrees levelled at that time, and promiscuously buddled together? Every house was then a scene of misery, and equally filled with grief and confusion. The slave and the man of quality were in the same circumstances, and every where the terror of death and slaughter was the same, unless we may say the fright made the greater impression on those who got the most by living. Now, if flesh and blood has such power over our fears, and mortal men can terrify us to this degree, what will become of us when the trumpet sounds from the sky, and the Arch-anged summons us to judgment; when we are not attacked by sword, or lance, or any thing so feeble as a human enemy: but when all the terrors of nature, the artillery of Heaven, and the Militia, if I may so speak, of Almighty God, are let loose upon us ? "-- In the Letters of Augustine, No. 142.

[merged small][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

I have been induced to go more into detail on this subject, than I should otherwise have done, for the sake of giving the uninformed reader some general notion of the misery which resulted from the irruption of these Barbarian hordes into the Roman empire; and, because it ultimately proved the means of its subversion ; but it is incompatible with my plan to pursue the matter further than just to add, that new invaders, from regions more remote and barbarous, drove out or exterminated the former colonists, and Europe was successively ravaged, till the countries which had poured forth their myriads, were drained of people, and the sword of slaughter weary of destroying. “If a man were called," says Dr. Robertson, “ to fix upon the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most calamitous and afflicted, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Theodosius the Great (A. D. 395) to the establishment of the Lombards in Italy, (A. D. 571). The contemporary authors, who beheld that scene of desolation, labour, and are at a loss for expression, to describe the horror of it. The scourge of God, The destroyer of nations, are the dreadful epithets by which they distinguish the most noted of the barbarous leaders; and they compare the ruin which they had brought on the world, to the havoc occasioned by earthquakes, conflagrations, or deluges the most formidable and fatal calamities which the imagination of man can conceive.” *

The overwhelming progress of the Barbarians soon diffused its powerful effects throughout every part of Europe. In the course of the fifth century, the Visigoths took possession of Spain; the Franks of Gaul; the Saxons of England; the Huns of Pannonia; the Ostrogoths of Italy, and the adjacent provinces. New governments, laws, languages; new manners, customs, dresses; new names of men and countries prevailed, and an almost total change took place in the state of Europe. It is, no doubt, much to be lamented, that this revolution was the work of nations so little enlightened by science, or polished by civilization ; for the Roman laws, though imperfect, were in general the best that human wisdom had then framed, and its arts and literature infinitely surpassed any thing found among rude nations, or which those who despised them produced for many ages.

* History of Charles V. vol. i. sect. 1. The intelligent reader will not need to be reminded, how well this account of thiðgs corresponds with the striking language of the book of Revelation quoted at the beginning of the last Section, see p. 361.

Many of the Gothic chiefs were men of great talents, and some of them not wholly ignorant of the policy and literature of the Romans; but they were afraid of the contagious influence of Roman example, and they therefore studied to avoid every thing allied to that name, whether hurtful or beneficial. They erected a cottage in the vicinity of a palace, breaking down the stately building, and burying in its ruins the finest works of human ingenuity. They ate out of vessels of wood, and made their captives be served in vessels of silver. They prohibited their children from acquiring a knowledge of literature and of the elegant arts, because they concluded from the dastardly behaviour of the Romans, that learning tends to enervate the mind, and that he who has trembled under the rod of a schoolmaster, will never dare to meet a sword with an undaunted eye. Upon the same principle they rejected the Roman code of laws; it reserved nothing to the vengeance of man--they therefore inferred that it would rob him of his active powers. Nor could they conceive how the person who received an injury could rest satisfied, but by pouring out his fury

upon the author of the injustice. Hence arose all those judicial combats, and private wars which, for many ages, desolated Europe.

In one particular only did these barbarian tribes condescend to conform to the institutions of those different nations among whom they settled, viz. in RELIGION. The conquerors submitted to the religion of the conquered, which at this period, indeed, in its established form, approximated closely to the superstition and idolatry of the ancient heathen. But whatever shades of difference there might be found among the numerous kingdoms into which the Roman Western Empire was at this time divided, whether in the forms of their government, or their civil and political institutions; they unanimously agreed to support the hierarchy of the church of Rome, and to defend and maintain it as the established religion of their respective states. Nor is the circumstance altogether unworthy of notice, that when Alaric forced his entrance into Rome, he issued a proclamation which discovered some regard for the laws of humanity and religion. He encouraged his troops boldly to seize the rewards of valour, and to enrich themselves with the spoils of the citizens, but he exhorted them to spare the lives of the unresisting, and to respect the churches of the apostles St. Peter and St. Paul, as holy and inviolable sanctuaries.*

This is the circumstance which gave rise to that ponderous folio volume of St. Augustine, intitled, “The City of God.” The writer's object is to justify the ways of Providence in the destruction of the Roman greatness; and he celebrates with peculiar satisfaction, this memorable occurrence, while he insultingly challenges his adversaries to produce one similar example of a town taken by storm, in which the fabulous gods of antiqnity had been able to protect either themselves or their deluded votaries--appealing particularly to the examples of Troy, Syracuse, and Tarentum. Had the life of this great luminary been prolonged about half a century beyond this time, he might have beco instructed, by facts and experience, how fallacious his vaunting was. lo

« PreviousContinue »