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Kophetua the Thirteenth

118 pages
Library of Alexandria
The outburst of political speculation which followed the Renaissance is well known to us by its remarkable literature. True it is that the greater part of it is long since dead and sleeps in peace, save where every now and then its ghosts are scared by a literary historian. But this obscurity only adds to its interest, and increases at once the charm, the safety, and the credit we may enjoy in discussing it. For the ordinary Englishman perhaps the only work of the class which is still really alive is the delightful political romance of Sir Thomas More. Yet to those who love the dustier shelves of libraries long ranks of its comrades will be not unfamiliar, standing guard as it were over the memory of an intellectual movement as vigorous and creative as any the world has seen. It is to the more daring and fantastic of these works that this chapter in the history of philosophy owes its charm and freshness. So entrancing indeed are they that those double traitors to humanity, who not only write books, but write books about books, have led us to look upon these ponderous folios as the only mark the movement has left on history, and we are apt to forget that it also had its practical side. Yet that side not only had an existence, but it was even more romantic and fanciful than the other. For many of the pregnant seeds from the tree of political knowledge, which the strong breath of the Renaissance was wafting over Europe, fell on good ground, where pedantry did not spring up and choke them. There were many cultivated earnest gentlemen of that time in whose chivalrous hearts they alighted, and whose imagination was so stirred with the new ideas, that they actually attempted to carry them into practice. Coming as the movement did contemporaneously with the dayspring of colonial enterprise, it naturally suggested itself to these high-souled scholars to leave the corruption and oppression of the old countries which it was hopeless to reform, and sailing away with a little community of kindred souls in whom the new spirit breathed, to found in some distant land a colony, where a polity established in pure reason should grow to be a model to the world. Many of these attempts were complete failures at once, nearly all were more or less short-lived, and by the end of the last century there was not one so prosperous as the African colony of Oneiria. Lying as it did in that remote and little-known corner of the world which is watered by the Drâa and its tributaries, and is intersected by the spurs of the Anti-Atlas, it had been able to enjoy after its first struggle for existence the repose of a well-earned obscurity. There was no one who envied it anything, and consequently it had no enemy, nor even an importunate friend to seek its alliance and lead it into scrapes. The half savage Shelluhs, who sparsely occupied the country, were soon content to remain as tributaries under their own chiefs, in the more inaccessible parts of the mountains, and to leave the teeming valleys and table-lands to the newcomers. Through the Canary Islands the colony kept up a small but regular trade with Western Europe. The exports were of a very mixed nature, but chiefly consisted of dates. As the country was practically self-supporting, the imports were comparatively simple. They were confined to books, works of art, and clothes of the latest mode. For it was the pride of Oneiria, as with most other colonies of the time, that, notwithstanding its remote position, it floated on the surface of European opinion; and so freely did it indulge in this delicious conviction, that it is to be feared it grew but too often to an actual intemperance, and at the time of which I speak there is no doubt that Oneiria sometimes caricatured the fantasies of a fantastic age. Internally Oneiria was almost as unruffled as in its foreign relations.