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304.: GROTE’S HISTORY OF GREECE  SPECTATOR, 4 APR., 1846, PP. 327-8 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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GROTE’S HISTORY OF GREECE 
As early as 1823 George Grote, by then an intimate of James Mill and a friend to his younger contemporary, John, had begun work on what was to become his “opus magnum” (as J.S. Mill called it early in its gestation), the History of Greece, 12 vols. (London: Murray, 1846-56). He laid it aside for a decade after his election as M.P. for the City of London in 1832, but resumed it after leaving the Commons in 1841, and by 1843, having also retired from the family bank, was hard at work on the first two volumes. They appeared in 1846, and ten other volumes appeared at intervals until 1856. Mill, who had followed in manuscript at least the early stages of its composition, reviewed the volumes at various stages in their publication: for the Spectator in 1846 he wrote this notice of the first two volumes, in 1847 one of Vols. III and IV (No. 368), in 1849 two of Vols. V and VI (Nos. 380 and 381), and in 1850 one of Vols. VII and VIII (No. 391). He also wrote two major reviews for the Edinburgh: in 1846, of Vols. I and II; and, in 1853, of Vols. IX-XI. For a discussion of Grote’s History and Mill’s responses to it, see CW, Vol. XI (where the two Edinburgh reviews appear), pp. xxviii-xlv and lxxxvi-lxxxix. Though Mill did not incorporate passages from the Spectator review of April 1846 into the Edinburgh one of October 1846, the two have similar structures, many passages are parallel, and there is considerable overlap in the references. In a letter to Harriet Grote of 1 Apr., 1846, Mill remarks on the length of this article, continuing, “I have taken my extracts from the 2nd vol., which has not yet been quoted, I believe, people not having had time to master it. You will see by the article that I like it very much. I was excessively sorry when I got to the end of it, and am impatient for the next volume.” (EL, CW, Vol. XIII, p. 699.) This review, in the “Spectator’s Library” section, headed as title, is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A notice of the first two volumes of Grote’s History of Greece in the Spectator of 4th April 1846”
(MacMinn, p. 59).
mr. grote’s is the first attempt at a philosophical history of Greece. Much as has been done for history in general by German and French writers, we are not aware that Grecian history (except, indeed, that of Grecian literature and art) owes anything to them save antiquarian researches and dissertations; most valuable, it is true, but only as materials for the historian. Our own country has produced two Histories of Greece, which have obtained a certain share of celebrity; Mitford’s, and Bishop Thirlwall’s.1 But Mitford’s narrative, written and published during the wildest height of Antijacobin phrensy,2 is vitiated by an intensity of prejudice against whatever bears the name or semblance of popular institutions, which renders his representation of Grecian phaenomena not only false, but in many particulars the direct contrary of the truth. Athenian institutions, and the great Athenian people, to whom mankind owe a debt such as they owe to no other assemblage of men that ever existed, are studiously degraded by imputing to them not only the faults they really had, but those from which all the monuments of the time conspire to prove that they were peculiarly and preëminently exempt. On the other hand, every creature, however base, who has the single merit in Mr. Mitford’s eyes of possessing despotic power, holds from him a patent of acquittal from all offences ever charged upon him, by whatever weight of testimony. With Mr. Mitford, a vulgar Asiatic Sultan like Xerxes, an unprincipled usurper and tyrant like Dionysius, are specimens of calumniated innocence, Philip of Macedon a pattern of enlightened and kingly virtue;3 while the characters against whom his vituperation is poured out, are a Pericles, a Timoleon,4 a Demosthenes. Besides being saturated with this spirit, the wretched scholarship of the book would have secured its condemnation in a country like Germany, of real learning, though in this country of merely pretended learning it obtained on this score a high reputation, which has even yet not wholly abandoned it.
Dr. Thirlwall’s performance is the work of a thorough scholar, accurately versed in his subject, and entirely free from the prejudices and biases of Mitford. Many of that writer’s misrepresentations he has, though in general silently and always unostentatiously, rectified; and the work altogether is that of an upright, fair, and perfectly impartial narrator. We mean no disrespect when we say that it is not, in a corresponding degree, the production of a thinker. The character of Dr. Thirlwall’s mind has not led him to speculate much, or with any clear and positive result, on the phaenomena of political society. Even his impartiality seems rather that of a person who has no opinion, than of one who has an unbiased opinion. We do not say that an author is to write history with a purpose of bringing out illustrations of his own moral and political doctrines, however correct they may be. He cannot too carefully guard himself against any such temptation. If he yield to it, he becomes an unfaithful historian. If not led to pervert the history, he is led to exhibit in disproportionate relief some particular features of it. But we do say, that the mere facts, even of the most interesting history, are of little value without some attempt to show how and why they came to pass; that a mere narrative of events, without the causes and agencies which gave them birth—a history of Greece, which does not put in evidence the influences of Grecian institutions and of Grecian opinions and feelings—may be a useful work, but is not the history which we look for, and are entitled to demand.
Mr. Grote, with equal scholarship to Dr. Thirlwall, and a degree of sympathy with the Greek mind, which some, perhaps, might not have expected from him, has aimed at supplying this grand deficiency, and combining with the interest of the facts themselves, that deeper interest which is only excited when the reader is not merely told the facts but made to understand them. And we already need not hesitate to prophesy, that he will produce a work as much superior in value and merit to Dr. Thirlwall’s as his to Mitford’s. A very small portion of the task is yet performed: he has dealt as yet only with the legends of Greece, and the first dawn of its authentic history; where no consecutive stream of narrative is possible, and the main part of the historian’s business must consist of the discussion of evidence. A writer cannot be put to a severer trial. The most attractive graces of historical composition he has in this stage of the work little or no opportunity of displaying, while his power of rendering his subject interesting is more hardly tasked than in any subsequent part of his progress. But Mr. Grote has stood the test. The reader will find that the discussions about historical evidence have an interest he scarcely expects. The reason is, that principles are evolved in them. They are not special pleadings about this, that, or the other fragment of testimony. They involve great questions respecting the credibility of tradition and the origin of historical beliefs; and by implication, many important laws of human intellect, and many leading characteristics of the Greek mind.
In the complete separation which he makes between Legend and History,5 Mr. Grote is of the school of Niebuhr; if that can be called a school which now comprehends all thinkers. But he arrives at similar conclusions by a path of his own. Niebuhr holds that the early stories of Rome are not history, but poetry.6 Mr. Grote holds those of Greece to be not history, but religion as well as poetry. Homer and Hesiod7 were as much the religious books of the early Greeks, and of the general Grecian public down to a late period, as the Puranas are those of the Hindoos, or even as the Mosaic records were of the Jews. The inspiration of the muse was not in those days a commonplace metaphor. The muse was a real goddess, and the poems were her revelations. Even in the times of Herodotus,8 Thucydides, and Plato, they were the acknowledged authorities on all divine things.
Mr. Grote relates the more important legends in considerable detail; those of the gods, as well as those of the heroes and the heroic age. He places them exactly on a par. He no more thinks that the latter had any historical foundation than that the former had. Both rested on the same evidence, that of the poets or bards. Both are blended together in inextricable union. The stories of the heroes are equally supernatural with those of the gods; and equally a part of religion, the gods being not only always mixed up in them, but the heroes themselves being objects of religious worship. Both were believed with equal implicitness by the hearers, and formed together the body of belief in the mind of a Greek, concerning the origin of the world and of himself, and the nature of the divine government. Some of the heroes may be real personages, some of the events recounted may be real events; but the poems not only do not amount to proof of this, they are not even any evidence of it. If, indeed, there were chiefs in those days who left an enduring name behind them, legends were likely to attach themselves to those names. But even then, the facts recounted may have had no more reference to anything which really happened, than the real exploits of Charlemagne had to the events related of him by Archbishop Turpin, whose Chronicle was also accepted as true history, and pronounced to be such by Pope Calixtus II.9 The idea of rejecting everything supernatural and everything extraordinary and romantic in the legends, under the name of poetic ornament, and preserving the dull caput mortuum as a residuum of historical truth, to be believed on no other evidence than we have for the entire story, Mr. Grote shows to have been a fancy of historians and philosophers of a later age—a kind of Rationalists, unwilling or unable altogether to break with the faith of their fathers, though all the more characteristic and impressive facts of it had become repugnant to the altered tone of their minds. Our space prevents us from giving a specimen of the accumulated argument and evidence by which Mr. Grote, we think irresistibly, enforces this conclusion. We would refer especially to the last two chapters of the first volume, and the second chapter of volume second. For centuries, as he remarks, the history of England was supposed to begin with Brute the Trojan, and was continued through a succession of monarchs down to Julius Caesar;10 the very dates of their accessions being fixed by chronologists. Hardying, Fabyan, Grafton, and Hollinshed,11 all the old chroniclers, believed those tales; and jurists argued on them as undoubtedly historical. The evidence for them was similar to that of the Grecian legends, except that they were not protected against gainsayers by connexion with religion. Hector, Priam, and the Atridae, have, in Mr. Grote’s estimation, precisely the same claim to be considered historical characters as Lear and Locrine. Hercules is at once a god like Zeus and a romantic hero like Amadis de Gaul.12
A chapter is devoted to the delineation of the state of society shown in the Homeric and Hesiodic poems. Another relates to the much-agitated subject of the origin of the Homeric poems themselves. Are they, or is either of them, the work of a single author? Was their original state essentially that in which we now find them? Or are they, according to the bold hypothesis of Wolf and his followers, a compilation made in the times of Pisistratus from the ballads of a preceding age?13 Mr. Grote has, we think, completed the overthrow of the Wolfian paradox. His own theory differs much less from the traditional notion of all antiquity: where it does differ, it is at least plausible, and ingeniously and forcibly supported.
Mr. Grote dates the small beginnings of authentic history from the first recorded Olympiad, 776 In recounting it he has yet made small progress; having only been able to include the history of Sparta and the Peloponnesian Dorians, down to the age of Pisistratus and Croesus.14 Of this the most interesting feature is the legislation of Lycurgus,15 the subject of one of his largest and most important chapters.
Mr. Grote does not consider Lycurgus to be, like Numa,16 a fabulous character; though scarcely any facts can be authentically ascertained concerning him. But there is no doubt that the institutions ascribed to him are of great antiquity, considerably anterior to the first Olympiad; and that they were believed to have been established by one man, on whom the Lacedaemonians conferred the power of legislation, to rescue them from a previous state of intolerable disorder. The institutions lasted in considerable vigour for several centuries, and were the cause of the power and eminence which Sparta attained. Even, however, with such a fact as this, the mythic element is strikingly blended. The tale, which has been universally received on the authority of Plutarch, that Lycurgus redivided the land into equal portions,17 —or, indeed, that equality of property was part of the institutions of Lacedaemon at any time,—Mr. Grote cannot find any early authority for; it is inconsistent with the testimony we have from Aristotle,18 and other writers of the best age of Greece; and Mr. Grote believes it to date no higher than the time of Agis and Cleomenes,19 after the Lycurgean institutions had virtually ceased to exist. We quote, as an exposition of the author’s ideas and a specimen of his style, a part of his observations on this point.
The present is not the occasion to enter at length into that combination of causes which partly sapped, partly overthrew, both the institutions of Lycurgus and the power of Sparta; but, taking the condition of that city as it stood in the time of Agis III (say about 250 ), we know that its citizens had become few in number, the bulk of them miserably poor, and all the land in a small number of hands—the old discipline and the public mess (as far as the rich were concerned) degenerated into mere forms—a numerous body of strangers or non-citizens (the old xenêlasy, or prohibition of resident strangers, being long discontinued) domiciled in the town, and forming a powerful moneyed interest; and lastly, the dignity and ascendency of the state amongst its neighbours altogether ruined. It was unsupportable to a young enthusiast like King Agis, and to many ardent spirits among his contemporaries, to contrast this degradation with the previous glories of their country; and they saw no other way of reconstructing the old Sparta except by again admitting the disfranchised poor citizens, redividing the lands, cancelling all debts, and restoring the public mess and military training in all their strictness. Agis endeavoured to carry through these subversive measures, (such as no demagogue in the extreme democracy of Athens would ever have ventured to glance at,) with the consent of the senate and public assembly, and the acquiescence of the rich. His sincerity is attested by the fact, that his own property, and that of his female relatives, among the largest in the state, was cast as the first sacrifice into the common stock. But he became the dupe of unprincipled coadjutors, and perished in the unavailing attempt to realize his scheme by persuasion. His successor Kleomenês afterwards accomplished by violence a change substantially similar, though the intervention of foreign arms speedily overthrew both himself and his institutions.
Now it was under the state of public feeling which gave birth to these projects of Agis and Kleomenês at Sparta, that the historic fancy, unknown to Aristotle and his predecessors, first gained ground, of the absolute equality of property as a primitive institution of Lycurgus. How much such a belief would favour the schemes of innovation, is too obvious to require notice; and, without supposing any deliberate imposture, we cannot be astonished that the predispositions of enthusiastic patriots interpreted according to their own partialities an old unrecorded legislation from which they were separated by more than five centuries. The Lycurgean discipline tended forcibly to suggest to men’s minds the idea of equality among the citizens,—that is, the negation of inequality not founded on some personal attribute—inasmuch as it assimilated the habits, enjoyments, and capacities of the rich to those of the poor; and the equality thus existing in idea and tendency, which seemed to proclaim the wish of the founder, was strained by the later reformers into a positive institution which he had at first realized, but from which his degenerate followers had receded. It was thus that the fancies, longings, and indirect suggestions of the present assumed the character of recollections out of the early, obscure, and extinct historical past. Perhaps the philosopher Sphaerus20 of Borysthenês, (the friend and companion of Kleomenês and the disciple of Zeno the Stoic,) author of works now lost both on Lycurgus and Socrates and on the constitution of Sparta, may have been one of those who gave currency to such an hypothesis; and we shall readily believe that, if advanced, it would find easy and sincere credence, when we recollect how many similar delusions have obtained vogue in modern times far more favourable to historical accuracy—how much false colouring has been attached by the political feeling of recent days to matters of ancient history, such as the Saxon Wittenagemote, the Great Charter, the rise and growth of the English House of Commons, or even the Poor-law of Elizabeth.
[Vol. II, pp. 527-30.]
The real peculiarity of the Spartan institutions was not equality of property, but the equal subjection of rich and poor to the most rigidly ascetic form of the discipline of a camp. And the Spartan character was the joint product of this rigid discipline and of the peculiar position of the Spartan community, encamped as it were in the midst of a numerous body of Helots, who (unlike the purchased slaves of other Grecian states) were Greeks, and warlike as themselves; and from whom their supremacy and safety were always in imminent danger. These things, and many others not less interesting, are amply set forth in this excellent chapter; of which it is saying little to affirm, that it places the Spartan constitution and the general physiognomy of the Lacedaemonian community in a clearer light than they ever were placed in before.
The chapter on “the Hellenic People generally, in the early historical times,” is also of great interest [Pt. II, Chap. ii; Vol. II, pp. 311-56]: but we prefer quoting the observations on the influence of the geographical characteristics of Greece upon its history.
The configuration of the Grecian territory, so like in many respects to that of Switzerland, produced two effects of great moment upon the character and history of the people. In the first place, it materially strengthened their powers of defence: it shut up the country against those invasions from the interior which successively subjugated all their continental colonies; and it at the same time rendered each fraction more difficult to be attacked by the rest, so as to exercise a certain conservative influence in assuring the tenure of actual possessors: for the pass of Thermopylae between Thessaly and Phocis, that of Kithaerôn between Boeotia and Attica, or the mountainous range of Oneion and Geraneia along the Isthmus of Corinth, were positions which an inferior number of brave men could hold against a much greater force of assailants. But, in the next place, while it tended to protect each section of Greeks from being conquered, it also kept them politically disunited and perpetuated their separate autonomy. It fostered that powerful principle of repulsion, which disposed even the smallest township to constitute itself a political unit apart from the rest, and to resist all idea of coalescence with others, either amicable or compulsory. To a modern reader, accustomed to large political aggregations, and securities for good government through the representative system, it requires a certain mental effort to transport himself back to a time when even the smallest town clung so tenaciously to its right of self-legislation. Nevertheless such was the general habit and feeling of the ancient world, throughout Italy, Sicily, Spain, and Gaul: among the Hellenes it stands out more conspicuously, for several reasons—first, because they seem to have pushed the multiplication of autonomous units to an extreme point, seeing that even islands not larger than Peparêthos and Amorgos had two or three separate city communities; secondly, because they produced, for the first time in the history of mankind, acute systematic thinkers on matters of government, amongst all of whom the idea of the autonomous city was accepted as the indispensable basis of political speculation; thirdly, because this incurable subdivision proved finally the cause of their ruin, in spite of pronounced intellectual superiority over their conquerors; and lastly, because incapacity of political coalescence did not preclude a powerful and extensive sympathy between the inhabitants of all the separate cities, with a constant tendency to fraternise for numerous purposes, social, religious, recreative, intellectual, and aesthetical. For these reasons, the indefinite multiplication of self-governing towns, though in truth a phaenomenon common to ancient Europe as contrasted with the large monarchies of Asia, appears more marked among the ancient Greeks than elsewhere: and there cannot be any doubt that they owe it, in a considerable degree, to the multitude of insulating boundaries which the configuration of their country presented.
Nor is it rash to suppose that the same causes may have tended to promote that unborrowed intellectual development for which they stand so conspicuous. General propositions respecting the working of climate and physical agencies upon character are indeed treacherous; for our knowledge of the globe is now sufficient to teach us that heat and cold, mountain and plain, sea and land, moist and dry atmosphere, are all consistent with the greatest diversities of resident men: moreover, the contrast between the population of Greece itself, for the seven centuries preceding the Christian aera, and the Greeks of more modern times, is alone enough to inculcate reserve in such speculations. Nevertheless, we may venture to note certain improving influences, connected with their geographical position, at a time when they had no books to study, and no more advanced predecessors to imitate. We may remark, first, that their position made them at once mountaineers and mariners, thus supplying them with great variety of objects, sensations, and adventures; next, that each petty community, nestled apart amidst its own rocks, was sufficiently severed from the rest to possess an individual life and attributes of its own, yet not so far as to subtract it from the sympathies of the remainder; so that an observant Greek, commercing with a great diversity of half-countrymen, whose language he understood, and whose idiosyncracies he could appreciate, had access to a larger mass of social and political experience than any other man in so unadvanced an age could personally obtain. The Phoenician, superior to the Greek on ship-board, traversed wider distances and saw a greater number of strangers, but he had not the same means of intimate communion with a multiplicity of fellows in blood and language: his relations, confined to purchase and sale, did not comprise that mutuality of action and reaction which pervaded the crowd at a Grecian festival. The scene which here presented itself was a mixture of uniformity and variety highly stimulating to the observant faculties of a man of genius,—who at the same time, if he sought to communicate his own impressions, or to act upon this mingled and diverse audience, was forced to shake off what was peculiar to his own town or community, and to put forth matter in harmony with the feelings of all. It is thus that we may explain in part that penetrating apprehension of human life and character, and that power of touching sympathies common to all ages and nations, which surprises us so much in the unlettered authors of the old epic. Such periodical intercommunion of brethren habitually isolated from each other, was the only means then open of procuring for the bard a diversified range of experience and a many-coloured audience; and it was to a great degree the result of geographical causes. Perhaps among other nations such facilitating causes might have been found, yet without producing any result comparable to the Iliad and Odyssey; but Homer was nevertheless dependent upon the conditions of his age, and we can at least point out those peculiarities in early Grecian society without which Homeric excellence would never have existed,—the geographical position is one, the language another.
[Vol. II, pp. 298-302.]
Mr. Grote expects to complete the History in eight volumes; of which the third, and perhaps the fourth, will appear in the course of the next winter.
[1 ]History of Greece, 8 vols. (London: Longman, et al., 1835-44), by Connop Thirlwall (1797-1875), clergyman, whose debating powers Mill much admired, and who was forced to resign from Cambridge because of his support for the admission of Dissenters.
[2 ]Mitford’s The History of Greece was first published, in five volumes, from 1784 to 1818 (London: Murray, et al.). The references in n4 below, as throughout CW, are to the ten-volume edition (1818-20) in Mill’s library (see No. 97).
[3 ]Xerxes (d. 465 ), often called the “Great King,” ruled Persia 486-465 ; Dionysius I (ca. 430-367 ) ruled Syracuse 405-367 ; and Philip II (ca. 382-336 ) ruled Macedon and conquered Greece.
[4 ]Pericles (ca. 500-429 ), the popular leader of Athens from ca. 460 , inspiring orator and statesman; and Timoleon (ca. 411-337 ), Corinthian statesman and general. Mill somewhat exaggerates Mitford’s bias, but his comment is substantiated by such passages as those in Vol. II, pp. 129 and 189-90 (on Xerxes), Vol. VII, p. 51 (on Dionysius), Vol. VIII, pp. 474-94 (on Philip), Vol. II, pp. 381-3 and Vol. III, pp. 5-6 (on Pericles), Vol. VII, pp. 254-5 and 270n (on Timoleon), and Vol. VIII, pp. 128, 399, and 472-3 (on Demosthenes).
[5 ]See Vol. I, pp. 460-612 (Bk. I, Chap. xvi), esp. pp. 598-604 (“General Recapitulation”).
[6 ]Niebuhr, History of Rome, trans. Hare, et al., Vol. I, pp. 1-2.
[7 ]Hesiod (8th cent. ), poet, celebrated for his Works and Days.
[8 ]Herodotus (ca. 484-420 ), known as the “Father of History” for his attempt at a factual and accurate treatment of the Graeco-Persian wars.
[9 ]See Grote, Vol. I, p. 465, referring to Historia de vita Caroli Magni et Rolandi (first printed in 1566) attributed to Archbishop Turpin (d. 800) of Rheims (Mill may have known the translation by T. Rodd, 2 vols. [London: Todd, 1812]). Charlemagne (ca. 742-814) was King of the Franks and Roman Emperor. Calixtus II (d. 1124), Pope 1119-24, was wrongly thought to have declared Turpin’s account authentic.
[10 ]See Grote, Vol. I, p. 466.
[11 ]Editions available to Grote and Mill were John Hardyng (1378-1465), The Chronicle of Ion Hardyng, ed. Henry Ellis (London: Rivington, 1812); Robert Fabyan (d. 1513), The New Chronicles of England and France, ed. Henry Ellis (London: Rivington, 1811); Richard Grafton (d. 1572), Grafton’s Chronicle; or, History of England (London: Johnson, et al., 1809); and Raphael Holinshed (d. ca. 1580), Holinshed’s Chronicle of England, Scotland, and Ireland, 6 vols. (London: Johnson, et al., 1807).
[12 ]Hector, Priam, and the Atridae (Agamemnon and Menelaus, descendants of Atreus), heroic characters in the Iliad; Lear and Locrine, legendary kings of Britain; Hercules and Zeus, Greek gods; Amadis de Gaul, eponymous hero of an anonymous feudal romance.
[13 ]Christian Wilhelm Friedrich August Wolf (1759-1824), author of Prolegomena ad Homerum (1795), known as the father of philology, whose followers (as Grote indicates) included Wilhelm Mueller (1794-1827), lyric poet, historian, and philologist; and Karl Konrad Friedrich Wilhelm Lachmann (1793-1851), critic and philologist. Pisistratus (ca 560-527 ), Tyrant of Athens.
[14 ]Croesus was the last King of Lydia (560-546 ).
[15 ]Lycurgus, the Spartan lawmaker ca. 650
[16 ]The legendary second King of Rome, assigned the dates 715-673
[17 ]Plutarch, “Life of Lycurgus,” viii, in Lives, Vol. I, pp. 226-8.
[18 ]Aristotle (384-322 ), Politics (Greek and English), trans. H.Rackham (London: Heinemann, 1932), p. 149 (1271b).
[19 ]Agis IV (called III by Grote) and Cleomenes III, reforming Kings of Sparta, ca. 244-41 and 235-219 , respectively.
[20 ]Sphaerus (ca. 285-221 ), disciple of Zeno of Elea (b. ca. 490 ), the founder of the Stoic school of philosophy.