"I have a theory of my own about what this art of the novel is and how it came into being. To begin with, it does not simply consist of the author's telling a story about the adventures of some other person. On the contrary, it happens because one's own experience of people and things has moved one to an emotion so passionate that it can no longer be shut up in one's own heart. Again and again something in one's own life or in the lives of those around one will seem so important that the thought of letting it pass into oblivion is unbearable. There must never come a time, one feels, when people do not know about it. That is my view of how this art arose."
-- Murasaki Shikibu, in "The Tale of the Genji," the world's first novel. It was about love and intrigue in the royal court of Kyoto, where Shikibu lived. In this passage from the book, she explains how good fiction summons truth. A thousand years later, this notion endures.
"We decree . . . that every freeman shall affirm by oath and compact that he will be loyal to King William both within and without England, that he will preserve with him his lands and honors with all fidelity and defend him against his enemies."
-- William the Conqueror, wresting power from the feudal lords. With this, he created the first nation-state in Europe. The rest of the continent -- and then most of the world -- would
"The Roman Church has never erred, nor can it err until the end of time."
-- Pope Gregory VII, claiming an infallibility ceded to the church by God Himself. Shortly thereafter, the Crusades would begin. The church would remain the most influential social and political power in Europe for the next 500 years.
"Make me a channel of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring love. Where there is injury, your pardon. . . . Oh Master, grant that I may never seek so much to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved as to love with all my soul. . . . Where there is despair in life, let me bring hope. Where there is darkness, only light, and where there is sadness, ever joy.
-- St. Francis of Assisi
Out of the chaos and villainy of the Dark Ages came a flicker of light from a monk's simple prayer for love and service.
"No freeman shall be taken, or imprisoned, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any way harmed, nor will we go upon him nor will we send upon him, except by the legal judgment of his peers or by the law of the land."
-- Magna Carta, Clause 39
The document King John signed at Runnymede (under considerable duress) benefited only a few dozen disgruntled nobles. But it served as the earliest foundation for constitutional government in England and, later, much of the world.
"It is the duty of every Catholic to persecute heretics."
-- Pope Gregory IX
And so was born the Inquisition -- a campaign of terror, without due process or appeal, that destroyed lives and stifled intellectual freedom. Many died in agony, but perhaps the worst effect was the silence of great minds too fearful to speak.
"The light of natural reason, whereby we discern what is good and what is evil, which is the function of the natural law, is nothing else than an imprint on us of the Divine light. It is therefore evident that the natural law is nothing else than the rational creature's participation of the eternal law."
-- Thomas Aquinas, "Summa Theologica"
Aquinas thus reconciled Christian faith with Greek rationalism, which had arrived in Europe after residing for centuries with its Islamic trustees. A leader in the emerging European scholastic movement, Aquinas made a credible case that Christian theology accepted, even demanded, critical thought.
"I never told the half of what I saw."
-- Marco Polo
The Venetian traveler's intriguing dying words echoed for two centuries, ultimately inspiring Christopher Columbus and other explorers to seek a new route to the mysterious East. This turned out to be the most successful failure in the history of mankind.
"Men and women straying from the Catholic faith have abandoned themselves to devils, incubi and succubi, and by their incantations, spells, conjurations, and other accursed offenses have slain infants yet in the mother's womb. . . . They hinder men from performing the sexual act and women from conceiving, whence husbands cannot know their wives nor wives receive their husbands."
-- Pope Innocent VIII, "Summis Desiderantes Affectibus"
This papal bull gave new life to the persecution of persons suspected of satanic possession, and served as the preface to "Malleus Maleficarum" ("The Hammer of Witches") -- a handbook for the discovery and punishment of witches used as a legal reference for centuries to come.
"It is much safer to be feared than loved when one of the two must be lacking. . . . A wise ruler cannot and should not keep his word when such an observance of faith would be to his disadvantage and when the reasons which made him promise are removed. And if men were all good, this rule would not be good; but since men are a sorry lot and will not keep their promises to you, you likewise need not keep your promises to them."
-- Niccolo Machiavelli, "The Prince"
Nice guy, huh? Machiavelli wasn't interested in elevating the human condition. The Florentine statesman was speaking to rulers not about life as it should be but about the way it was. To get and maintain power, he argued, they had to be craftier and operate under a different set of rules -- the ultimate handbook for despots (and some modern politicians).
"In the center of everything the Sun must reside."
-- Nicolaus Copernicus, "De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium" ("On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres")
Using simple mathematics, ignoring what his eyes told him and common sense dictated, this first and greatest of all modern astronomers deduced the unthinkable: that humans were not the center of the heavens. The Polish visionary's nine-word revelation -- ignored for two centuries -- forever changed man's view of his place in the universe, leaving him both alienated and in awe.
"And not to leave any occasion of trouble and difference among our Subjects, we have permitted and do permit to those of the Reformed Religion, to live and dwell in all the Cities and places of this our Kingdom and Countreys under our obedience, without being inquired after, vexed, molested, or compelled to do any thing in Religion, contrary to their Conscience, nor by reason of the same be searched after in houses or places where they live, they comporting themselves in other things as is contained in this our present Edict or Statute."
-- King Henry IV,
Edict of Nantes
In an era when any expressions of faith contrary to official dogma were deemed treason, this was the first official act of religious tolerance by a European power. Specifically it gave French Protestants, or Huguenots, freedom of conscience and political equality with the Catholic majority; but in a larger sense it declared a distaste of religious persecution. Eighty-seven years later it was rescinded, but by then it was too late. The distaste lingered.
"Be it enacted by the authority of this present parliament, that the churchwardens of every parish, to raise weekly or otherwise, by taxation . . . competent sums of money for and towards the necessary relief of the lame, impotent, old, blind, and such other among them being poor and not able to work."
-- English Poor Law of 1601
The mother of all welfare laws, giving rise to the notion that a government has a responsibility to assist its disadvantaged and struggling citizens.
"What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties; in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god; the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?
-- Shakespeare, "Hamlet"
Drawing from what 17th- century poet John Dryden called "a most comprehensive soul," Shakespeare gave audiences the fullest dimensions of man's essence at the dawn of humanism.
"The state of monarchy is the supremest thing upon earth; for kings are not only God's lieutenants upon earth, and sit upon God's throne, but even by God himself they are called gods."
-- James I of England
With this first clear articulation of absolute monarchy, European kings began to usurp from the church the concept of divine right. Later in the century, France's Louis XIV would boldly declare, "I am the state." In Russia, the czars remained all-powerful agents of God until the murder of Nicholas II in 1918 and the fall of the monarchy.
"Never allow children to be without delights."
-- John Amos Comenius,
"The School of Infancy"
In what has been called "the birth of childhood," the Moravian educator advocated an entirely new way of raising and teaching children: by appealing to their natural wonder and stirring their spirits by "kisses and embraces."
"I think, therefore I am."
-- Rene Descartes,
"Discourse on Method"
Perhaps the greatest philosopher of the European Enlightenment and a proponent of the scientific method, Descartes argued that the world could be understood only through subjective experience -- not by the accumulation of conventional knowledge, which he argued could be lies or illusions. Descartes asked the question "How do I know I exist?" -- and decided this: I exist because I am asking this question. Believe nothing you have been told. Shed the ignorance of the past. Think.
1. "Every body continues in its state of rest, or uniform motion in a right line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.
2. "The change in motion is proportional to the motive force impressed; and is made in the direction of the right line in which that force is impressed.
3. "To every action there is always opposed and equal reaction: or, the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts."
-- Isaac Newton, "Principia"
Probably the greatest scientific mind in history, the English mathematician figured out, with these three principles of motion and a fourth of gravity, that the laws of the heavens and the laws of the earth were one and the same. It was math; it could all be calculated, like a giant game of billiards. Newton had figured the angles. His rules would help launch the Industrial Revolution (and later, a rocket to the moon).
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
-- Thomas Jefferson,
Drawing on the Magna Carta and the philosophies of Locke and Rousseau, Jefferson's declaration on human rights was, if not entirely original, elegantly concise and powerful. Its impact was profound, influencing not only the French Revolution, but also revolts against colonial rule in Africa, tyrannies elsewhere and the American civil rights movement.
"Every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it."
-- Adam Smith,
"The Wealth of Nations"
Call it the Capitalist Manifesto, in which the Scottish economist promoted individual wealth, free trade and government non-interference.
"If women be by their constitution slaves and not be allowed to the sharp invigorating air of freedom, they must ever languish like exotics and be reckoned beautiful flaws in nature."
-- Mary Wollstonecraft,
"A Vindication of the Rights of Women"
Wollstonecraft was Frankenstein's grandmother (her daughter, Mary Shelley, created the lumbering monster), but her more important legacy was this: In an era when few entertained the notion of equality for women, and fewer still espoused it publicly, she did so in an unapologetic -- indeed, a nakedly provocative -- fashion.
"A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a `citizen' within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States."
-- Dred Scott v. Sandford
Dehumanization, codified by the U.S. Supreme Court.
THOUGHT, From Page 18
"Whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."
-- Charles Darwin,
in the final line of
"Origin of Species"
He studied tortoises and birds and the slime of the sea and reached a conclusion that humans emerged not in whole from the breath of God, but from a cocktail of primordial ooze. It put man in his place, all right, and began a debate that
"The negroes are evidently a permanent part of the American population. . . . Here they are, four millions of them, and, for weal or for woe, here they must
remain. Their history is parallel to that of the country; but while the history of the later has been cheerful and bright with blessings, theirs has been dark with agonies and curses. . . . Yet the negroes have marvellously survived all the exterminating forces of slavery, and have emerged at the end of two hundred and fifty years of bondage, not morose, misanthropic, and revengeful, but cheerful, hopeful, and forgiving. They now stand before Congress and the country, not complaining of the past, but simply asking for a better future."
-- Frederick Douglass,
"An Appeal to Congress for Impartial Suffrage,"
The true strength of Douglass lay not just in what he said -- many spoke out against slavery and for the enfranchisement of blacks -- but in the way he said it. His literary elegance proved to a racist society that a black man could be brilliant.
". . . The narrow horizon of bourgeois right [can] be fully left behind and society [can] inscribe on its banners: from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."
-- Karl Marx,
"Critique of the
The German economist's egalitarian ideas were ingenious, ennobling and wrong. He did not understand the corrosive power of power. Communism led not only to unprecedented misery and death under totalitarian regimes like Stalin's, but to a perilous cold war.
"The way to make automobiles is to make one automobile like another automobile, to make them all alike, to make them come from the factory just alike."
-- Henry Ford
And so was born the modern factory. For better and worse.
"Can we picture to ourselves a three-dimensional universe which is finite, yet unbounded? The usual answer to this question is `No,' but that is not the right answer."
-- Albert Einstein
The German-born physicist took Newton's billiard table and turned it inside out. His universe was made up not just of space and stuff, but of space and stuff and time, curved by gravity into dimensions previously unimaginable. Open, but closed. Finite, but endless. Dark, but enlightening. Relatively speaking.
"The poor ego . . . serves three severe masters and does what it can to bring their claims and demands into harmony with one another. No wonder that the ego so often fails in its task. Its three tyrannical masters are the external world, the super-ego and the id."
-- Sigmund Freud,
"New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis"
This fantastic journey into the deepest recesses of the mind birthed psychoanalysis. It was either genius or quackery -- we're still a little conflicted on this.
"Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man."
-- Mohandas K. Gandhi
Marshaling conscience as a weapon, the strategy of civil disobedience and passive resistance -- called satyagraha -- thrust a sword into the heart of the British Raj and resulted in the independence of India. A generation later Martin Luther King said: "We may ignore Gandhi at our own risk," launching the American civil rights movement.
"The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent."
-- Kwame Nkrumah
The first president of the first African nation to break its colonial chains, Nkrumah was both bold and prescient. Country by country, colonial rule ended.
"Every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception until death."
-- Rachel Carson, "Silent Spring"
Exposing the dark side of industrial progress, Carson's warning sparked the modern environmental movement and the awareness that man's dominion over the planet could, in time, without intentional malice, kill him off.