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Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres   By: (1838-1918)

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Mont Saint Michel and Chartres

By Henry Adams

With an introduction by Ralph Adams Cram

Editor's Note

From the moment when, through the courtesy of my friend Barrett Wendell, I came first to know Mr. Henry Adams's book, Mont Saint Michel and Chartres, I was profoundly convinced that this privately printed, jealously guarded volume should be withdrawn from its hiding place amongst the bibliographical treasures of collectors and amateurs and given that wide publicity demanded alike by its intrinsic nature and the cause it could so admirably serve.

To say that the book was a revelation is inadequately to express a fact; at once all the theology, philosophy, and mysticism, the politics, sociology, and economics, the romance, literature, and art of that greatest epoch of Christian civilization became fused in the alembic of an unique insight and precipitated by the dynamic force of a personal and distinguished style. A judgment that might well have been biased by personal inclination received the endorsement of many in two continents, more competent to pass judgment, better able to speak with authority; and so fortified, I had the honour of saying to Mr. Adams, in the autumn of 1912, that the American Institute of Architects asked the distinguished privilege of arranging for the publication of an edition for general sale, under its own imprimatur. The result is the volume now made available for public circulation.

In justice to Mr. Adams, it should be said that such publication is, in his opinion, unnecessary and uncalled for, a conclusion in which neither the American Institute of Architects, the publishers, nor the Editor concurs. Furthermore, the form in which the book is presented is no affair of the author, who, in giving reluctant consent to publication, expressly stipulated that he should have no part or parcel in carrying out so mad a venture of faith, as he estimated the project of giving his book to the public.

In this, and for once, his judgment is at fault. Mont Saint Michel and Chartres is one of the most distinguished contributions to literature and one of the most valuable adjuncts to the study of mediaevalism America thus far has produced. The rediscovery of this great epoch of Christian civilization has had issue in many and valuable works on its religion, its philosophy, its economics, its politics, and its art, but in nearly every instance, whichever field has been traversed has been considered almost as an isolated phenomenon, with insufficient reference to the other aspects of an era that was singularly united and at one with itself. Hugh of Saint Victor and Saint Thomas Aquinas are fully comprehensible only in their relationship to Saint Anselm, Saint Bernard, and the development of Catholic dogma and life; feudalism, the crusades, the guilds and communes weave themselves into this same religious development and into the vicissitudes of crescent nationalities; Dante, the cathedral builders, the painters, sculptors, and music masters, all are closely knit into the warp and woof of philosophy, statecraft, economics, and religious devotion; indeed, it may be said that the Middle Ages, more than any other recorded epoch of history, must be considered en bloc, as a period of consistent unity as highly emphasized as was its dynamic force.

It is unnecessary to say that Mr. Adams deals with the art of the Middle Ages after this fashion: he is not of those who would determine every element in art from its material antecedents. He realizes very fully that its essential element, the thing that differentiates it from the art that preceded and that which followed, is its spiritual impulse; the manifestation may have been, and probably was, more or less accidental, but that which makes Chartres Cathedral and its glass, the sculptures of Rheims, the Dies Irae, Aucassin and Nicolette, the Song of Roland, the Arthurian Legends, great art and unique, is neither their technical mastery nor their fidelity to the enduring laws of all great art, though these are singular in their perfection, but rather the peculiar spiritual impulse which informed the time, and by its intensity, its penetrating power, and its dynamic force wrought a rounded and complete civilization and manifested this through a thousand varied channels... Continue reading book >>

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