Front Page Titles (by Subject) TWO PUBLICATIONS ON PLATO 1840 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XI - Essays on Philosophy and the Classics
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TWO PUBLICATIONS ON PLATO 1840 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XI - Essays on Philosophy and the Classics 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XI - Essays on Philosophy and the Classics, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by F.E. Sparshott (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978).
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TWO PUBLICATIONS ON PLATO
London and Westminster Review, XXXIV (Sept., 1840), 489-91, where it appears under “Classical Literature” in the section devoted to “Critical and Miscellaneous Notices”; headed: “Plato: The Apology of Socrates, the Crito, and part of the Phædo; with Notes from Stallbaum, and Schleiermacher’s Introductions [Ed. William Smith].—A Life of Socrates, by Dr. G. Wiggers. Translated from the German, with Notes. Both published by Taylor and Walton. [London,] 1840.” Not republished: signed “A.” Identified in JSM’s bibliography as “A short notice of two publications on Plato, in the Miscellaneous Notices of the Westminster Review for Sept. 1840. (No 67)” (MacMinn, 52). No copy in the Somerville College Library.
For comment on the essay, see the Textual Introduction, lxxxiii above.
Two Publications on Plato
the youth of this country, who are accustomed to devote so large a portion of the time employed in education to the partial and imperfect acquisition of the learned languages, have hitherto received little encouragement to attend to any but the least useful parts of ancient literature; and school-books intended to facilitate the study of even the easier parts of the writings of Plato are still almost a desideratum among us. This deficiency the little publications now under review, so far as they go, are a laudable attempt to supply. The portions of Plato which are selected are those which are, on reasonable grounds, believed to contain the authentic particulars of the trial, last days, and dying moments of Plato’s great master, Socrates. To these the editor has not only added the introductions which that great scholar and divine, Schleiermacher, prefixed to them in his translation of Plato’s works, but has also published in a separate volume a short life of Socrates, by a Dr. Wiggers, of Rostock. This piece of biography is interesting, because whatever relates to Socrates must be so; but Dr. Wiggers cannot be denied to be somewhat of a “Philistine,” as well as (what was less to be expected) occasionally at fault in his knowledge of Athenian institutions. Thus he represents the Council of Five Hundred as the product of popular election, whereas it was really chosen by lot. This oversight leads Dr. Wiggers to undervalue the undeviating consistency of purpose, characteristic of Socrates. To have held any office which was the result of election would have been inconsistent with his avowed principle of abstinence from public affairs; while to accept and discharge functions which devolved upon him by lot, and were therefore compulsory, was the necessary consequence of that other principle no less rigidly adhered to by him, of inflexible obedience to the laws; a principle of which his refusal to make his escape from prison (the subject of the Crito) was so noble an example. Whoever knows what Grecian society was (or indeed any society consisting of an active and spirited people, in an imperfect state of the social union) is well aware that lawlessness, in such a society, is the prevailing mischief, the great moral and political danger to be combated against; and that the duty of obedience to lawful authority, even when unjustly exercised, is a principle to the assertion of which the best of men might not unworthily make the voluntary sacrifice of that life, which he had already perilled in opposition to the very same power when illegally exerted, and which he was so often called upon to lay down at the same bidding for the comparatively petty interest of some frontier dispute.
To Dr. Wiggers’s rather meagre and by no means philosophical performance, the editor has added the life of Socrates by Diogenes Laertius, in the original Greek, and a reprint of Schleiermacher’s excellent dissertation “On the Worth of Socrates as a Philosopher,” translated (and originally published in the Philological Museum)[*] by the Rev. Connop Thirlwall, whom we may now with exultation designate as Bishop Thirlwall. The editor’s own notes, though sparing in number and for the most part only quotations, are not the least valuable part of the book. We cannot help quoting from one of them a noble passage of the great historian Niebuhr, in vindication of the Athenian Demos. For the translation of this passage the English public are also indebted to Bishop Thirlwall, whose History of Greece[†] is throughout conceived in a kindred spirit:
Evil without end may be spoken of the Athenian constitution, and with truth; but the common-place stale declamation of its revilers would be in a great measure silenced, if a man qualified for the task should avail himself of the advanced state of our insight into the circumstances of Athens, to show how even there the vital principle instinctively produced forms and institutions by which, notwithstanding the elements of anarchy contained in the constitution, the commonwealth preserved and regulated itself. No people in history has been so much misunderstood, and so unjustly condemned as the Athenians; with very few exceptions, the old charges of faults and misdeeds are continually repeated. I should say, God shield us from a constitution like the Athenian! were not the age of such states irrevocably gone by, and consequently all fear of it in our own case. As it was, it shows an unexampled degree of noble-mindedness in the nation, that the heated temper of a fluctuating popular assembly, the security afforded to individuals of giving a base vote unobserved, produced so few reprehensible decrees; and that, on the other hand, the thousands among whom the common man had the upper hand, came to resolutions of such self-sacrificing magnanimity and heroism, as few men are capable of except in their most exalted mood, even when they have the honour of renowned ancestors to maintain as well as their own.
I will not charge those who declaim about the Athenians as an incurably reckless people, and their republic as hopelessly lost, in the time of Plato, with wilful injustice, for they know not what they do.[‡] But this is a striking instance how imperfect knowledge leads to injustice and calumnies; and why does not every one ask his conscience, whether he is himself capable of forming a sober judgment on every case that lies before him; a man of candour will hear the answer in a voice like that of the genius of Socrates. Let who will clamour and scoff; for myself, should trials be reserved for my old age, and for my children, who will certainly have evil days to pass through, I pray only for as much self-control, as much temperance in the midst of temptation, as much courage in the hour of danger, as much calm perseverance in the consciousness of a glorious resolution which was unfortunate in its issue, as was shown by the Athenian people, considered as one man. We have nothing to do here with the morals of the individuals: but he who, as an individual, possesses such virtues, and withal is guilty of no worse sins in proportion than the Athenians, may look forward without uneasiness to his last hour.
The ancient rhetoricians were a class of babblers, a school for lies and scandal; they fastened many aspersions on nations and individuals. So we hear it echoed from one declamation to another, among the examples of Athenian ingratitude, that Paches was driven to save himself by his own dagger from the sentence of the popular tribunal. How delighted was I last year to find, in a place where no one will look for such a discovery, that he was condemned for having violated free women in Mitylene at its capture. The Athenians did not suffer his services in this expedition, or his merit in averting an alarming danger from them, to screen him from punishment.
The fathers and brothers who, in the epigraph of the thousand citizens who fell as freemen at Chæronea, attested with joy that they did not repent of their determination, for the issue was in the hands of the gods, the resolution the glory of man,—who conferred a crown of gold on the orator[*] by whose advice the unfortunate attempt had been made which cost them the lives of their kinsmen, without asking whether they were provoking the resentment of the conqueror,—the people who, when Alexander, fresh from the ashes of Thebes, demanded the patriots, refused to give them up, and chose rather to await his appearance before their walls,—who, while all who flattered or feared Philip warned them not to irritate him, condemned citizens to death for buying slaves that had fallen into the hands of the Macedonians by the capture of Greek cities which had been hostile to Athens; the people whose needy citizens, though predominant in the assembly, renounced the largess which alone afforded them the luxury of flesh on a few festivals, though on all other days throughout the year they ate nothing but olives, herbs, and onions, with dry bread and salt fish,—who made this sacrifice to raise the means of arming for the national honour;—this people commands my whole heart and my deepest reverence. And when a great man* turned away from this noble and pliable people, though certainly it did not appear every day in its holiday clothes, and was not free from sins and frailties, he incurred a just punishment in the delusion which led him to attempt to wash a blackamoor white; to convert an incorrigible bad subject like Dionysius, and through his means to place philosophy on the throne in the sink of Syracusan luxury and licentiousness; and in the scarcely less flagrant folly of taking an adventurer so deeply tainted with tyranny as Dion, for a hero and an ideal. A man who could hope for success in this undertaking, and despaired of a people like the Athenians, had certainly gone great lengths in straining at gnats and swallowing camels.[†]
[[*] ]Vol. II (1833), 538-55.
[[†] ]Connop Thirlwall, History of Greece, 8 vols. (The Cabinet Cyclopædia, London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1835ff.)
[[‡] ]Cf. Luke, 23:34.
[* ]Plato. [Smith’s note.]
[[†] ]Wiggers, Life of Socrates, pp. lxxvn-lxxviin; Smith’s note quotes Thirlwall’s translation of Niebuhr, “On Xenophon’s Hellenica,” Philological Museum, I (1832), 494-6. The concluding metaphor is from Matthew, 23:24.