Early Travels in Palestine: Comprising the Narratives of Arculf

By Thomas Wright | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION.

THE attentive reader of history cannot fail to remark how often, in the confusion of the middle ages, the very movements or principles which seem in themselves most barbarous, or are most strongly tinctured with the darkest shades of superstition, have been those which, in the sequel, gave the strongest impulse to the advancing spirit of civilization which has at length changed that dark past into this bright present It is in the contemplation of this oft-recurring fact, that we trace, more distinctly, perhaps, than in any other, the inscrutable but unerring ways of that higher Providence to whose rule all things are subjected. Few of those duties enjoined by the ancient Romish Church were accompanied with, and seemed to lead to, more abuses and scandals than the pilgrimages to the Holy Land, so natural an attraction to every Christian; few were attended with so much bigotry, and blindness, and uncharitableness, or ended in observances and convictions so grossly superstitious and so degrading to the intelligence of mankind. Yet it was this throwing of people upon the wide and distant scene, on which they were forced into continual intercourse, hostile or friendly, according to the circumstances of the moment, with people of different manners, creed, sentiment, and knowledge, that gradually softened down all prejudices, and paved the way for the entire destruction of that system to which it seemed intended to give support. If the seeds of civilization ever existed in the cloister, they were seeds cast upon the barren rock, and it was not until they were transplanted to another and richer soil, that they began to sprout and give promise of fruit.

Even in this point of view the narrative of those early pilgrimages must possess no ordinary degree of interest, and it gives us no little insight into the history of the march of intellectual improvement to accompany these early travellers in

-vii-

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