OYS and girls—and grown folks also—often turn first
to the last chapter of a book, before reading it, to
see how it "ends." At times this is a good idea; for
when we know the end of a story, we can often better
understand it as it is told. This then is what we will
do in this book. We will first see what the "end" of
the story of the Middle Ages is; then, as we read, we
shall better understand how that end was brought about.
When Columbus in the year 1492 returned from his voyage
of discovery, a keen rivalry began among the Old World
nations for the possession of the New World.
Expedition followed expedition; Spaniards, Portuguese,
French, English, and later the Dutch and Swedes,—all
began to strive with one another for the wealth and
dominion of the new-found lands; and American
history—our own history—begins.
But who were these Spaniards and Portuguese, these
Englishmen and Frenchmen, these Dutchmen and Swedes?
In the old days when the might and power of Rome ruled
over the world, we hear nothing of
 them. Whence had
they come? Were they entirely new peoples who had had
no part in the old world of the Greeks and Romans?
Were they the descendants of the old peoples over whom
the Emperors had ruled from the city of the Seven
Hills? Or did they arise by a mingling of the old and
the new? Then, if they were the result of a mingling,
where had the new races dwelt during the long years
that Rome was spreading her empire over the known
world? When and how had the mingling taken place?
What, too, had become of
"The Glory that was Greece, the grandeur that was Rome"?
Why was America not
discovered and settled before? What were the customs,
the ideas, the institutions which these peoples brought
with them when they settled here? In short, what had
been the history and what was the condition of the
nations which, after 1492, began the struggle for the
mastery of the New World?
To such questions it is the aim of this book to give an
answer. It will try to show how the power of Rome fell
before the attacks of German barbarians, and how, in
the long course of the Middle Ages, new peoples, new
states, a new civilization, arose on the ruins of the
At the beginning of the period Rome was old and worn
out with misgovernment and evil living. But planted in
this dying Rome there was the new and vigorous
Christian Church which was to draw up into itself all
that was best and strongest of the old world. The
Germans were rude and uncivilized, but they
 were strong
in mind and body, and possessed some ideas about
government, women, and the family which were better
than the ideas of the Romans on these subjects.
When the Germans conquered the Romans, and settled
within the bounds of the Empire, it might well have
seemed that the end of the world was come. Cities were
plundered and destroyed; priceless works of art were
dashed to pieces; and the inhabitants of many lands
were slain or enslaved. For nearly a thousand years
Europe did not entirely recover from the shock; and the
period which immediately follows the invasions of the
barbarians is so dreary and sad that historians have
called it "the Dark Ages."
But what was best in the old Greek and Roman
civilization did not wholly perish. The Christian
Church, too, grew steadily stronger, and sought to
soften and civilize the rude Germans. The Germans, in
turn, did not lose their vigor or their good ideas. At
last from the combination of all these elements a new
civilization arose,—stronger, better, and capable of
higher development than the old,—and the Middle Ages
were past. Then and only then could—and did—the new
nations, which meanwhile had slowly been forming, set
out on their careers of discovery and exploration which
have made our New World possible.
So, we may say, the Middle Ages were the period when
Europe became Europe, and made ready to found new
Europes in America, in Australia, and in Africa. It
was the growing-time for all the great harvest which
has come since that time.