Lewis, after having been granted Chair of the Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University in 1954, presents his first lecture to shed light on this new responsibility by drawing on a latent misnomer that could perhaps be created by the title of his present position, particularly by placing the terms “Medieval” and “Renaissance” side by side to connote a concurrence in meaning, which according to him, “…by this formula the University was giving official sanction to a change which has been coming over historical opinion within my own lifetime.
Referring to the remarkable yet discreet elimination of the traditional divides between these terms as human’s understanding of these epochs broadens. Such usage of the terms likewise indicates how the perceived invisible divides marking out the disparities between these terms have been overstated (par 3). To this Lewis provides an alternative view saying that, “The actual temporal process…has no divisions, except perhaps those “blessed barriers between day and day”, our sleeps.
Change is never complete, and change never ceases” (Ibid). Nonetheless, placing everything that happens in a lifetime cannot be put in a single continuum otherwise it will create a chasm filled with categorically definable events yet in such circumstance may not be totally identifiable. Hence creating recognizable divisions such as periods for events is inevitable. He then moved on to consider the different periods that have marked the transitions from the Medieval to the Renaissance, namely: 1) between Antiquity and the Dark Ages or the fall of the Empire (par. 5); 2) between the Dark and the Middle Ages (par. 10); 3) towards the end of the seventeenth century (par. 11).
For each perceivable period, he identified significant events such that between the Age of Antiquity and the Dark Ages, particularly in the literary genre, he recounts, the inevitable effect of “the barbarian invasions, the christening of Europe” (par 5), while referring to the observations of Gibbon, most probably that of Edward Gibbon, an “English historian and scholar, the supreme historian of the Enlightenment, who is best-known as the author of the monumental THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE,” (Liukkonen, 2008) who believes that “the material decay of Rome was the effect and symbol of moral decadence” (Ibid). Lewis then suggests that such episodes where imperative that people in earlier days who were able to adapt to the circumstances where no different than the people now and the changes that have happened them would have the same effect to us—“Nothing new had come into the world” (par. 7).
Likewise everything that happens then occurs for a reason and each event is irreversible as it is if it would happen now. As to the episodes between the Dark and the Middle Ages, which Lewis regards as “a period of retrogression: worse houses, worse drains, fewer baths, worse roads, less security” (par. 10), nonetheless, it is during this period that the world reached “a period of widespread and brilliant improvement” (Ibid) (i. e. recovery of Aristotle’s text and its consequent integration by Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas; discovery of alternative solutions to technical problems in Architecture; introduction of rhymed and syllabic verse in place of the old alliterative and assonantal metres which has characterized European poetry for centuries [Ibid]).
Finally, concerning the third boundary within the epochs towards the end of the 17th century, Lewis, as in his explanations on the exigencies in the previous epochs, maintains that such events or changes are prerequisites to impending developments. Thus he concludes: When Watt makes his engine, when Darwin starts monkeying with the ancestry of Man, and Freud with his soul, and the economists with all that is his, then indeed the lion will have got out of its cage. Its liberated presence in our midst will become one of the most important factors in everyone’s daily life (par. 11). One should then perceive circumstances as a priori to succeeding events. Lewis did not stop with this structure though.
He moved on to create a structure that will eventually define the organization of the succeeding epochs, after the Renaissance. To this division, however, Lewis clarifies: “The dating of such things must of course be rather hazy and indefinite. No one could point to a year or a decade in which the change indisputably began, and it has probably not yet reached its peak” (par 12). He then starts drawing the lines between these periods starting off from Scott (par. 13), most probably Sir Walter Scott, “a Scottish writer and poet and considered one of the greatest historical novelists, who lived between 1771 and1832” (“Sir Walter Scott,” n. d. ). Lewis then presents his view on these timelines taking a stance in relation to the political order circumstances.
Thus, “For of a ruler one asks justice, incorruption, diligence, perhaps clemency; of a leader, dash, initiative, and (I suppose) what people call “magnetism” or “personality” (par. 13). Next, he considers the arts as a factor affecting the timelines. At this point he presents his argument concerning the arts, saying: “I do not think that any previous age produced work which was, in its own time, as shatteringly and bewilderingly new as that of the Cubists, the Dadaists, the Surrealists, and Picasso has been in ours” (par. 15), implying the intrinsic worth he attributes to the arts then and now. Thus, “To say that all new poetry was once as difficult as ours is false; to say that any was is an equivocation” (Ibid).
He then proceeds to consider the developments in the timelines placing circumstances in line with the religious aspects of developments where, according to Lewis, there was a time when there was a traditional pre-conceived notion that individuals have the tendency to “relaps[e] into Paganism” (par. 16) or “that the historical process allows mere reversal (Ibid), to which he maintains the idea that circumstances as a priori to succeeding events as irreversible. This he clarifies: It is not what happens. A post-Christian man is not a Pagan; you might as well think that a married woman recovers her virginity by divorce. The post-Christian is cut off from the Christian past and therefore doubly from the Pagan past (par. 16).
In paragraph 17, Lewis finally transitions his structuring of the timelines with the creation of the machines, which he considers “parallel to the great changes by which we divide epochs of pre-history” and where “the latest in advertisements always means best. ” It is during this period that man regards “milestones in life as technological advances”: everything that happens is either directly or indirectly affected by technology. Such factor, according to Lewis, starkly differentiates us from the people in the other timelines and concludes “that it really is the greatest change in the history of Western Man” (par. 18). In the end, he points back to his earlier claim that there really is a great divide between “Medieval” and “Renaissance.
” Nonetheless, somewhere in that divide lies some defining distinctiveness that unify these terms which are “certainly important and perhaps more important than its interior diversities” (par. 19). To end the arguments created or most likely to be created in the presentation of the boundaries or frontier, as Lewis labels them to be, he clarified that he will be using “Old” (Ibid) culture instead. He concludes with an emphasis on the significance of having a deeper understanding of the past for with it one is released from its shackles (par. 21) and a claim that even though there is a great distance that separates men from different epochs or timeless, they can still have a common ground. Thus, Lewis, being a native of the time, is in authority when he said:
It is my settled conviction that in order to read Old Western literature aright you must suspend most of the responses and unlearn most of the habits you have acquired in reading modem literature (par. 22). References: Lewis, C. S. “De Descriptione Temporum” Inaugural Lecture from The Chair of Mediaeval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, 1954. Retrieved April 28, 2009 from http://www. eng. uc. edu/~dwschae/temporum. html Liukkonen, Petri. (2008). “Edward Gibbon (1737-1794). ” Retrieved April 30, 2009 from http://www. kirjasto. sci. fi/egibbon. htm “Sir Walter Scott. ” (n. d. ). Retrieved April 30, 2009 from http://www. online- literature. com/walter_scott/
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