|The Story of Mankind|
|by Hendrik Willem Van Loon|
|Relates the story of western civilization from earliest times through the beginning of the twentieth century, with special emphasis on the people and events that changed the course of history. Portrays in vivid prose the achievements of mankind in the areas of art and discovery, as well as the political forces leading to the modern nation-states. Richly illustrated with drawings by the author. Winner of the first Newbery Award in 1922, The Story of Mankind has introduced generations of children to the pageant of world history. Ages 10-14 |
A CHAPTER OF ART
 WHEN a baby is perfectly healthy and has had enough to eat
and has slept all it wants, then it hums a little tune to show how
happy it is. To grown-ups this humming means nothing. It
sounds like "goo-zum, goo-zum, goo-o-o-o-o," but to the baby
it is perfect music. It is his first contribution to art.
As soon as he (or she) gets a little older and is able to sit
up, the period of mud-pie making begins. These mud-pies do
not interest the outside world. There are too many million
babies, making too many million mud-pies at the same time.
But to the small infant they represent another expedition into
the pleasant realm of art. The baby is now a sculptor.
At the age of three or four, when the hands begin to obey
the brain, the child becomes a painter. His fond mother gives
him a box of coloured chalks and every loose bit of paper is
rapidly covered with strange pothooks and scrawls which represent
houses and horses and terrible naval battles.
Soon however this happiness of just "making things"
comes to an end. School begins and the greater part of the
day is filled up with work. The business of living, or rather
the business of "making a living," becomes the most important
event in the life of every boy and girl. There is little time left
for "art" between learning the tables of multiplication and the
past participles of the irregular French verbs. And unless
the desire for making certain things for the mere pleasure of
 creating them without any hope of a practical return be very
strong, the child grows into manhood and forgets that the
first five years of his life were mainly devoted to art.
Nations are not different from children. As soon as the
cave-man had escaped the threatening dangers of the long and
shivering ice-period, and had put his house in order, he began
to make certain things which he thought beautiful, although
they were of no earthly use to him in his fight with the wild
animals of the jungle. He covered the walls of his grotto with
pictures of the elephants and the deer which he hunted, and
out of a piece of stone, he hacked the rough figures of those
women he thought most attractive.
As soon as the Egyptians and the Babylonians and the
Persians and all the other people of the east had founded
their little countries along the Nile and the Euphrates, they
began to build magnificent palaces for their kings, invented
bright pieces of jewellery for their women and planted gardens
which sang happy songs of colour with their many bright flowers.
Our own ancestors, the wandering nomads from the distant
Asiatic prairies, enjoying a free and easy existence as
fighters and hunters, composed songs which celebrated the
mighty deeds of their great leaders and invented a form of
poetry which has survived until our own day. A thousand years
later, when they had established themselves on the Greek mainland,
and had built their "city-states," they expressed their
joy (and their sorrows) in magnificent temples, in statues, in
comedies and in tragedies, and in every conceivable form of
The Romans, like their Carthaginian rivals, were too busy
administering other people and making money to have much
love for "useless and unprofitable" adventures of the spirit.
They conquered the world and built roads and bridges but they
borrowed their art wholesale from the Greeks. They invented
certain practical forms of architecture which answered the
demands of their day and age. But their statues and their histories
and their mosaics and their poems were mere Latin
imi-  tations of Greek originals. Without that vague and
hard-to-define something which the world calls "personality," there can
be no art and the Roman world distrusted that particular sort
of personality. The Empire needed efficient soldiers and
tradesmen. The business of writing poetry or making pictures
was left to foreigners.
Then came the Dark Ages. The barbarian was the proverbial
bull in the china-shop of western Europe. He had no use
for what he did not understand. Speaking in terms of the year
1921, he liked the magazine covers of pretty ladies, but threw
the Rembrandt etchings which he had inherited into the ash-can.
Soon he came to learn better. Then he tried to undo the
damage which he had created a few years before. But the
ash-cans were gone and so were the pictures.
But by this time, his own art, which he had brought with
him from the east, had developed into something very beautiful
and he made up for his past neglect and indifference by the
so-called "art of the Middle Ages" which as far as northern Europe
is concerned was a product of the Germanic mind and had
borrowed but little from the Greeks and the Latins and nothing
at all from the older forms of art of Egypt and Assyria, not
to speak of India and China, which simply did not exist, as far
as the people of that time were concerned. Indeed, so little
had the northern races been influenced by their southern neighbours
that their own architectural products were completely
misunderstood by the people of Italy and were treated by
them with downright and unmitigated contempt.
You have all heard the word Gothic. You probably associate
it with the picture of a lovely old cathedral, lifting its slender
spires towards high heaven. But what does the word really
It means something "uncouth" and "barbaric"—something
which one might expect from an "uncivilised Goth," a rough
backwoods-man who had no respect for the established rules of
classical art and who built his "modern horrors" to please his
own low tastes without a decent regard for the examples of
the Forum and the Acropolis.
 And yet for several centuries this form of Gothic architecture
was the highest expression of the sincere feeling for art
which inspired the whole northern continent. From a previous
chapter, you will remember how the people of the late Middle
Ages lived. Unless they were peasants and dwelt in villages,
they were citizens of a "city" or "civitas," the old Latin name
for a tribe. And indeed, behind their high walls and their deep
moats, these good burghers were true tribesmen who shared
the common dangers and enjoyed the common safety and prosperity
which they derived from their system of mutual protection.
In the old Greek and Roman cities the market-place, where
the temple stood, had been the centre of civic life. During
the Middle Ages, the Church, the House of God, became such a
centre. We modern Protestant people, who go to our church
only once a week, and then for a few hours only, hardly know
what a mediaeval church meant to the community. Then, before
you were a week old, you were taken to the Church to be
baptised. As a child, you visited the Church to learn the holy
stories of the Scriptures. Later on you became a member
of the congregation, and if you were rich enough you built
yourself a separate little chapel sacred to the memory of the
Patron Saint of your own family. As for the sacred edifice,
it was open at all hours of the day and many of the night. In
a certain sense it resembled a modern club, dedicated to all the
inhabitants of the town. In the church you very likely caught
a first glimpse of the girl who was to become your bride at a
great ceremony before the High Altar. And finally, when the
end of the journey had come, you were buried beneath the
stones of this familiar building, that all your children and their
grandchildren might pass over your grave until the Day of
Because the Church was not only the House of God but
also the true centre of all common life, the building had to be
different from anything that had ever been constructed by
the hands of man. The temples of the Egyptians and the
Greeks and the Romans had been merely the shrine of a local
 divinity. As no sermons were preached before the images of
Osiris or Zeus or Jupiter, it was not necessary that the interior
offer space for a great multitude. All the religious processions
of the old Mediterranean peoples took place in the open. But
in the north, where the weather was usually bad,
most functions were held under the roof of the church.
During many centuries the architects struggled with
this problem of constructing a building that was large
enough. The Roman tradition taught them how to build heavy
stone walls with very small windows lest the walls lose
their strength. On the top of this they then placed a
heavy stone roof. But in the twelfth century, after the
beginning of the Crusades, when the architects had seen the
pointed arches of the Mohammedan builders, the western builders
discovered a new style which gave them their first chance to make
the sort of building which those days of an intense religious
life demanded. And then they developed this strange style upon
which the Italians bestowed the contemptuous name of "Gothic"or barbaric.
They achieved their purpose by inventing a vaulted roof which
was supported by "ribs." But such a roof, if it became
too heavy, was apt to break the walls, just as a man
of three hundred pounds sitting down upon a child's chair
 will force it to collapse. To overcome this difficulty, certain
French architects then began to re-enforce the walls with
"buttresses" which were merely heavy masses of stone against
which the walls could lean while they supported the roof. And
to assure the further safety of the roof they supported the ribs
of the roof by so-called "flying buttresses," a very simple
method of construction which you will understand at once when
you look at our picture.
This new method of construction allowed the introduction
of enormous windows. In the twelfth century, glass was still
an expensive curiosity, and very few private buildings possessed
glass windows. Even the castles of the nobles were
without protection and this accounts for the eternal drafts
and explains why people of that day wore furs in-doors as
well as out.
Fortunately, the art of making coloured glass, with which
the ancient people of the Mediterranean had been familiar,
had not been entirely lost. There was a revival of stained
glass-making and soon the windows of the Gothic churches
told the stories of the Holy Book in little bits of brilliantly
coloured window-pane, which were caught in a long framework
Behold, therefore, the new and glorious house of God,
filled with an eager multitude, "living" its religion as no people
have ever done either before or since! Nothing is considered
too good or too costly or too wondrous for this House of God
and Home of Man. The sculptors, who since the destruction
of the Roman Empire have been out of employment, haltingly
return to their noble art. Portals and pillars and buttresses
and cornices are all covered with carven images of Our Lord
and the blessed Saints. The embroiderers too are set to work
to make tapestries for the walls. The jewellers offer their
highest art that the shrine of the altar may be worthy of complete
adoration. Even the painter does his best. Poor man,
he is greatly handicapped by lack of a suitable medium.
And thereby hangs a story.
The Romans of the early Christian period had covered the
 floors and the walls of their temples and houses with mosaics;
pictures made of coloured bits of glass. But this art had been
exceedingly difficult. It gave the painter no chance to express
all he wanted to say, as all children know who have ever tried to
make figures out of coloured blocks of wood. The art of
mosaic painting therefore died out during the late Middle
Ages except in Russia, where the Byzantine mosaic painters
had found a refuge after the fall of Constantinople and continued
to ornament the walls of the orthodox churches until
the day of the Bolsheviki, when there was an end to the building
Of course, the mediaeval painter could mix his colours with
the water of the wet plaster which was put upon the walls of
the churches. This method of painting upon "fresh plaster"
(which was generally called "fresco" or "fresh" painting)
was very popular for many centuries. To-day, it is as rare
as the art of painting miniatures in manuscripts and among
the hundreds of artists of our modern cities there is perhaps
one who can handle this medium successfully. But during the
Middle Ages there was no other way and the artists were
"fresco" workers for lack of something better. The method
however had certain great disadvantages. Very often the
plaster came off the walls after only a few years, or dampness
spoiled the pictures, just as dampness will spoil the pattern
of our wall paper. People tried every imaginable expedient
to get away from this plaster background. They tried to mix
their colours with wine and vinegar and with honey and with
the sticky white of egg, but none of these methods were satisfactory.
For more than a thousand years these experiments
continued. In painting pictures upon the parchment leaves
of manuscripts the mediaeval artists were very successful. But
when it came to covering large spaces of wood or stone with
paint which would stick, they did not succeed very well.
At last, during the first half of the fifteenth century, the
problem was solved in the southern Netherlands by Jan and
Hubert van Eyck. The famous Flemish brothers mixed their
paint with specially prepared oils and this allowed them to use
 wood and canvas or stone or anything else as a background for
But by this time the religious ardour of the early Middle
Ages was a thing of the past. The rich burghers of the cities
were succeeding the bishops as patrons of the arts. And as
art invariably follows the full dinner-pail, the artists now began
to work for these worldly employers and painted pictures for
kings, for grand-dukes and for rich bankers. Within a very
short time, the new method of painting with oil spread through
Europe and in every country there developed a school of
special painting which showed the characteristic tastes of the
people for whom these portraits and landscapes were made.
In Spain, for example, Velasquez painted court-dwarfs
and the weavers of the royal tapestry-factories, and all sorts
of persons and subjects connected with the king and his court.
But in Holland, Rembrandt and Frans Hals and Vermeer
painted the barnyard of the merchant's house, and they painted
his rather dowdy wife and his healthy but bumptious children
and the ships which had brought him his wealth. In Italy on
the other hand, where the Pope remained the largest patron
of the arts, Michelangelo and Correggio continued to paint
Madonnas and Saints, while in England, where the aristocracy
was very rich and powerful and in France where the
kings had become uppermost in the state, the artists painted
distinguished gentlemen who were members of the government,
and very lovely ladies who were friends of His Majesty.
The great change in painting, which came about with the
neglect of the old church and the rise of a new class in society,
was reflected in all other forms of art. The invention of printing
had made it possible for authors to win fame and reputation
by writing books for the multitudes. In this way arose
the profession of the novelist and the illustrator. But the
people who had money enough to buy the new books were not
the sort who liked to sit at home of nights, looking at the ceiling
or just sitting. They wanted to be amused. The few minstrels
of the Middle Ages were not sufficient to cover the demand for
entertainment. For the first time since the early Greek
city-  states of two thousand years before, the professional playwright
had a chance to ply his trade. The Middle Ages had
known the theatre merely as part of certain church celebrations.
The tragedies of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries
had told the story of the suffering of our Lord. But
during the sixteenth century the worldly theatre made its
reappearance. It is true that, at first, the position of the
professional playwright and actor was not a very high one.
William Shakespeare was regarded as a sort of circus-fellow
who amused his neighbours with his tragedies and comedies.
But when he died in the year 1616 he had begun to enjoy the
respect of his neighbours and actors were no longer subjects
of police supervision.
William's contemporary, Lope de Vega, the incredible
Spaniard who wrote no less than 1800 worldly and 400 religious
plays, was a person of rank who received the papal approval
upon his work. A century later, Molière, the Frenchman,
was deemed worthy of the companionship of none less
than King Louis XIV.
Since then, the theatre has enjoyed an ever increasing
affection on the part of the people. To-day a "theatre" is part
of every well-regulated city, and the "silent drama" of the
movies has penetrated to the tiniest of our prairie hamlets.
Another art, however, was to become the most popular of
all. That was music. Most of the old art-forms demanded a
great deal of technical skill. It takes years and years of practice
before our clumsy hand is able to follow the commands of
the brain and reproduce our vision upon canvas or in marble.
It takes a life-time to learn how to act or how to write a good
novel. And it takes a great deal of training on the part of the
public to appreciate the best in painting and writing and
sculpture. But almost any one, not entirely tone-deaf, can
follow a tune and almost everybody can get enjoyment out of
some sort of music. The Middle Ages had heard a little music
but it had been entirely the music of the church. The holy
chants were subject to very severe laws of rhythm and harmony
 and soon these became monotonous. Besides, they could not
well be sung in the street or in the market-place.
The Renaissance changed this. Music once more came
into its own as the best friend of man, both in his happiness and
in his sorrows.
The Egyptians and the Babylonians and the ancient Jews
had all been great lovers of music. They had even combined
different instruments into regular orchestras. But the Greeks
had frowned upon this barbaric foreign noise. They liked to
hear a man recite the stately poetry of Homer and Pindar.
They allowed him to accompany himself upon the lyre (the
poorest of all stringed instruments). That was as far as any
one could go without incurring the risk of popular disapproval.
The Romans on the other hand had loved orchestral music at
their dinners and parties and they had invented most of the
instruments which (in very modified form) we use to-day.
The early church had despised this music which smacked too
much of the wicked pagan world which had just been destroyed.
A few songs rendered by the entire congregation were
all the bishops of the third and fourth centuries would tolerate.
As the congregation was apt to sing dreadfully out of key without
the guidance of an instrument, the church had afterwards allowed
the use of an organ, an invention of the second century of our era
which consisted of a combination of the old pipes of Pan and
a pair of bellows.
Then came the great migrations. The last of the Roman
musicians were either killed or became tramp-fiddlers going
from city to city and playing in the street, and begging for
pennies like the harpist on a modern ferry-boat.
 But the revival of a more worldly civilisation in the cities
of the late Middle Ages had created a new demand for musicians.
Instruments like the horn, which had been used only
as signal-instruments for hunting and fighting, were remodelled
until they could reproduce sounds which were agreeable in the
dance-hall and in the banqueting room. A bow strung with
horse-hair was used to play the old-fashioned guitar and before
the end of the Middle Ages this six-stringed instrument
(the most ancient of all string-instruments which dates back
to Egypt and Assyria) had grown into our modern
four-stringed fiddle which Stradivarius and the other Italian violin-
makers of the eighteenth century brought to the height of perfection.
And finally the modern piano was invented, the most wide-spread of all musical instruments, which has followed man into
the wilderness of the jungle and the ice-fields of Greenland.
The organ had been the first of all keyed instruments but the
performer always depended upon the co-operation of some one
who worked the bellows, a job which nowadays is done by electricity.
The musicians therefore looked for a handier and less
circumstantial instrument to assist them in training the pupils
of the many church choirs. During the great eleventh century,
Guido, a Benedictine monk of the town of Arezzo (the
birthplace of the poet Petrarch) gave us our modern system
of musical annotation. Some time during that century, when
there was a great deal of popular interest in music, the first
instrument with both keys and strings was built. It must
have sounded as tinkly as one of those tiny children's pianos
which you can buy at every toy-shop. In the city of Vienna,
the town where the strolling musicians of the Middle Ages
(who had been classed with jugglers and card sharps) had
formed the first separate Guild of Musicians in the year 1288,
the little monochord was developed into something which we
can recognise as the direct ancestor of our modern Steinway.
From Austria the "clavichord" as it was usually called in those
days (because it had "claves" or keys) went to Italy. There
it was perfected into the "spinet" which was so called after
 the inventor, Giovanni Spinetti of Venice. At last during
the eighteenth century, some time between 1709 and 1720,
Bartolomeo Cristofori made a "clavier" which allowed the
performer to play both loudly and softly or as it was said in
Italian, "piano" and "forte." This instrument with certain
changes became our "pianoforte" or piano.
Then for the first time the world possessed an easy and convenient
instrument which could be mastered in a couple of years
and did not need the eternal tuning of harps and fiddles and
was much pleasanter to the ears than the mediaeval tubas, clarinets,
trombones and oboes. Just as the phonograph has given
millions of modern people their first love of music so did the
early "pianoforte" carry the knowledge of music into much
wider circles. Music became part of the education of every well-bred
man and woman. Princes and rich merchants maintained
private orchestras. The musician ceased to be a wandering
"jongleur" and became a highly valued member of the community.
Music was added to the dramatic performances of
the theatre and out of this practice, grew our modern Opera.
Originally only a few very rich princes could afford the expenses
of an "opera troupe." But as the taste for this sort of
entertainment grew, many cities built their own theatres where
Italian and afterwards German operas were given to the unlimited
joy of the whole community with the exception of a few
sects of very strict Christians who still regarded music with
deep suspicion as something which was too lovely to be entirely
good for the soul.
By the middle of the eighteenth century the musical life
of Europe was in full swing. Then there came forward a
man who was greater than all others, a simple organist of the
Thomas Church of Leipzig, by the name of Johann Sebastian
Bach. In his compositions for every known instrument, from
comic songs and popular dances to the most stately of sacred
hymns and oratorios, he laid the foundation for all our modern
music. When he died in the year 1750 he was succeeded by
Mozart, who created musical fabrics of sheer loveliness which
remind us of lace that has been woven out of harmony and
 rhythm. Then came Ludwig van Beethoven, the most tragic
of men, who gave us our modern orchestra, yet heard none of
his greatest compositions because he was deaf, as the result of a
cold contracted during his years of poverty.
Beethoven lived through the period of the great French
Revolution. Full of hope for a new and glorious day, he had
dedicated one of his symphonies to Napoleon. But he lived
to regret the hour. When he died in the year 1827, Napoleon
was gone and the French Revolution was gone, but the steam
engine had come and was filling the world with a sound that
had nothing in common with the dreams of the Third Symphony.
Indeed, the new order of steam and iron and coal and large
factories had little use for art, for painting and sculpture and
poetry and music. The old protectors of the arts, the Church
and the princes and the merchants of the Middle Ages and the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries no longer existed. The
leaders of the new industrial world were too busy and had too
little education to bother about etchings and sonatas and bits
of carved ivory, not to speak of the men who created those
things, and who were of no practical use to the community in
which they lived. And the workmen in the factories listened
to the drone of their engines until they too had lost all taste
for the melody of the flute or fiddle of their peasant ancestry.
The arts became the step-children of the new industrial era.
Art and Life became entirely separated. Whatever paintings
had been left, were dying a slow death in the museums. And
music became a monopoly of a few "virtuosi" who took the
music away from the home and carried it to the concert-hall.
But steadily, although slowly, the arts are coming back into
their own. People begin to understand that Rembrandt and
Beethoven and Rodin are the true prophets and leaders of
their race and that a world without art and happiness resembles
a nursery without laughter.
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