Front Page Titles (by Subject) 380.: GROTE'S HISTORY OF GREECE  SPECTATOR, 3 MAR., 1849, PP. 202-3 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV
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380.: GROTE’S HISTORY OF GREECE  SPECTATOR, 3 MAR., 1849, PP. 202-3 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV, 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 
This third newspaper review of Grote’s History (see Nos. 304 and 368) is the first of two dealing with Volumes V and VI (see No. 381 for the second part). Writing to Grote in January 1849, Mill notes that he has just finished reading the two volumes (published in December 1848) with “the greatest pleasure and admiration,” adding that “Every great result which you have attempted to deduce seems to me most thoroughly made out” (LL, CW, Vol. XIV, p. 3). The review, in the “Books” section, is headed “Grote’s History of Greece,” with the heading footnoted: “History of Greece. By George Grote, Esq. Volumes V and VI. Published by Murray. [London, 1848.]” It is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A first notice of the 5th and 6th volumes of Grote’s History of Greece, in the Spectator of 3d March 1849” (MacMinn, p. 70). A large portion of this review was quoted by Mill when he revised “Grote’s History of Greece [II],” Edinburgh Review, XCVIII (Oct. 1853), 425-47 (a review of Vols. IX-XI), for incorporation into his Dissertations and Discussions, 1st ed. (1859), Vol. II, pp. 510-54 (CW, Vol. XI, pp. 307-37); in the variant notes, “59” indicates D&D.
in his former volumes Mr. Grote brought down the Grecian history only to the battle of Marathon and the repulse of the first Persian invasion. He had thus barely arrived at the times for which the historian possesses the advantage of detailed information derived from contemporary authorities; and the view which he was able to exhibit of early Grecian events was necessarily so general, was collected from such scattered sources, and required so much of inference and even conjecture to piece it together, that, except in the few concluding chapters, the author’s powers as a mere narrator were not brought to any decisive test. With so little of story to tell, he had nevertheless, by a skilful manner of grouping the few known or ascertainable facts, and by the high character of the personal and political interest with which he was able to invest the early stages of Grecian freedom and civilization, given earnest of what he was likely to accomplish when he reached the period during which it is given us to know, not only the great events in the life of the Hellenic states, but the steps by which these were brought about, and many of the striking incidents which marked their course.
In the present volumes, Mr. Grote has the assistance throughout of eminent contemporary historians. In the earlier chapters, he travels under the guidance of the candid and inquisitive Herodotus, whose veracity he successfully vindicates against its ancient and modern assailants: a writer now known to be as trustworthy as he is picturesque, and who is here speaking of events contemporaneous with his own childhood—events with the actors in which, in many cases, he must have familiarly conversed. Where Herodotus fails, a still higher authority, the thoughtful, experienced, and accurate Thucydides, succeeds. A consecutive and authentic narrative therefore is here possible. In these volumes the recital of events assumes for the first time a marked predominance over the investigation of obscure facts, the discussion of evidence, and political and philosophical reflection. It is at this point, therefore, that the amount of Mr. Grote’s skill as a narrator can for the first time be decisively judged of.
The result of the trial is highly satisfactory. The sixth volume, especially, is a specimen of narrative which it would be difficult to surpass, in its own kind, from the writings of any English historian. Its excellence does not consist (any more than that of some of the most successful specimens of historical narrative which English literature already possessed) in the painting of mere externals. But in the truth and vividness of his conception of the events and in their essentials, and in his power of imparting this to the reader, we should be inclined to place him at the head of all English historians; and in what may be termed historical imagination—in the power of taking into his mind, at every period, the whole of the situation, and of making the reader do the same—it would not be easy to find his superior among the historians of any country. Certainly no writer on Greece had ever manifested this power; and the consequence is, that the most unexpected new lights are continually thrown even upon familiar facts of Grecian history, not by long discussion and argument, but by merely confronting them with one another.
aNor is the narrative deficient in the commoner sources of interest. The apt selection and artistic grouping of the details of battles and sieges, Mr. Grote had found done to his hand by the consummate narrators whom he follows, and in this respect he could do no better than simply to reproduce their recital. There is much more that belongs peculiarly to himself in the series of remarkable characters whom he exhibits before us, not so much (generally speaking) in description or analysis, as in action. In the earlier period, the prominent characters are Themistocles and Aristides: Themistocles, the most sagacious, the most far-sighted, the most judiciously daring, the craftiest, and unfortunately also one of the most unprincipled of politicians; who first saved, then aggrandized, and at last would have sold his country: Aristides, the personification of public and private integrity, the one only Grecian statesman who finds grace before the somewhat pedantically rigid tribunal of the Platonic Socrates.1
bBut theb figure which most brightly illuminates cthis divisionc of Mr. Grote’s history is Pericles—“the Thunderer”—“the Olympian Zeus,” as he was called by his libellers, the comic dramatists of Athens.2 Seldom, if ever, has there been seen in a statesman of any age, such a combination of great qualities as were united in this illustrious man: unrivalled in eloquence; eminent in all the acquirements, talents, and accomplishments of his country; the associate of all those among his dcontemporariesd who were above their age, either in positive knowledge or in freedom from superstition; though an aristocrat by birth and fortune, a thorough democrat in principle and conduct, yet never stooping to even the pardonable arts of courting popularity, but acquiring and maintaining his ascendancy solely by his commanding qualities; never flattering his countrymen save on what was really admirable in them, and which it was for their good to be taught to cherish, but the determined enemy of their faults and follies; ever ready to peril his popularity by giving disagreeable advice, and when not appreciated, rising up against the injustice done him, with a scornful dignity almost amounting to defiance. Such was Pericles: and that such a man should have been practically first minister of Athens during the greatest part of a long political life, is not so much honourable to him as to the imperial people who were willing to be so led; who, though in fits of temporary irritation and disappointment, excusable in the circumstances, they several times withdrew their favour from him, always hastened to give it back; and over whom, while he lived, no person of talents and virtues inferior to his was able to obtain any mischievous degree of influence. It is impossible to estimate how great a share this one man had in making the Athenians what they weree, the greatest people who have yet appeared on this planete . A great man had, in the unbounded publicity of Athenian political life, extraordinary facilities for moulding his country after his own image; and seldom has any people, during a whole generation, enjoyed such a course of education, as forty years of listening to the lofty spirit and practical wisdom of Pericles must have been to the Athenian Demos.
As the next in this gallery of historical portraits, we quote the character of another but a far inferior Athenian statesman,3 whom Mr. Grote is, we think, the very first to appreciate correctly, and bring before us in the colours and lineaments of life.
Though Nikias, son of Nikeratus, had been for some time conspicuous in public life, and is said to have been more than once Strategus along with Perikles, this is the first occasion on which Thucydides introduces him to our notice.4 He was now one of the Strategi or generals of the commonwealth, and appears to have enjoyed, on the whole, a greater and more constant personal esteem than any citizen of Athens, from the present time down to his death. In wealth and in family, he ranked among the first class of Athenians: in political character, Aristotle placed him, together with Thucydides son of Melesias and Theramenes, above all other names in Athenian history—seemingly even above Perikles.5 Such a criticism, from Aristotle, deserves respectful attention, though the facts before us completely belie so lofty an estimate. It marks, however, the position occupied by Nikias in Athenian politics, as the principal person of what may be called the oligarchical party, succeeding Kimon6 and Thucydides, and preceding Theramenes. In looking to the conditions under which this party continued to subsist, we shall see that during the interval between Thucydides (son of Melesias) and Nikias, the democratical forms had acquired such confirmed ascendency, that it would not have suited the purpose of any politician to betray evidence of positive hostility to them, prior to the Sicilian expedition and the great embarrassment in the foreign relations of Athens which arose out of that disaster. After that change, the Athenian oligarchs became emboldened and aggressive, so that we shall find Theramenes among the chief conspirators in the revolution of the Four Hundred:7 but Nikias represents the oligarchical party in its previous state of quiescence and torpidity, accommodating itself to a sovereign democracy, and existing in the form of common sentiment rather than of common purposes. And it is a remarkable illustration of the real temper of the Athenian people, that a man of this character, known as an oligarch but not feared as such, and doing his duty sincerely to the democracy, should have remained until his death the most esteemed and influential man in the city. He was a man of a sort of even mediocrity, in intellect, in education, and in oratory: forward in his military duties, and not only personally courageous in the field, but also competent as a general under ordinary circumstances: assiduous in the discharge of all political duties at home, especially in the post of Strategus or one of the ten generals of the state, to which he was frequently chosen and rechosen. Of the many valuable qualities combined in his predecessor Perikles, the recollection of whom was yet fresh in the Athenian mind, Nikias possessed two, on which, most of all, his influence rested,—though, properly speaking, that influence belongs to the sum total of his character, and not to any special attributes in it. First, he was thoroughly incorruptible as to pecuniary gains,—a quality so rare in Grecian public men of all the cities, that when a man once became notorious for possessing it, he acquired a greater degree of trust than any superiority of intellect could have bestowed upon him: next, he adopted the Periklean view as to the necessity of a conservative or stationary foreign policy for Athens, and of avoiding new acquisitions at a distance, adventurous risks, or provocation to fresh enemies. With this important point of analogy, there were at the same time material differences between them even in regard to foreign policy. Perikles was a conservative, resolute against submitting to loss or abstraction of empire, as well as refraining from aggrandizement. Nikias was in policy faint-hearted, averse to energetic effort for any purpose whatever, and disposed not only to maintain peace, but even to purchase it by considerable sacrifices. Nevertheless, he was the leading champion of the conservative party of his day, always powerful at Athens: and as he was constantly familiar with the details and actual course of public affairs, capable of giving full effect to the cautious and prudential point of view, and enjoying unqualified credit for honest purposes—his value as a permanent counsellor was steadily recognized, even though in particular cases his counsel might not be followed.
Besides these two main points, which Nikias had in common with Perikles, he was perfect in the use of those minor and collateral modes of standing well with the people, which that great man had taken little pains to practise. While Perikles attached himself to Aspasia, whose splendid qualities did not redeem in the eyes of the public either her foreign origin or her unchastity,8 the domestic habits of Nikias appear to have been strictly conformable to the rules of Athenian decorum. Perikles was surrounded by philosophers, Nikias by prophets—whose advice was necessary both as a consolation to his temperament and as a guide to his intelligence under difficulties: one of them was constantly in his service and confidence; and his conduct appears to have been sensibly affected by the difference of character between one prophet and another, just as the government of Louis XIV and other Catholic princes has been modified by the change of confessors. To a life thus rigidly decorous and ultra-religious—both eminently acceptable to the Athenians—Nikias added the judicious employment of a large fortune with a view to popularity. Those liturgies (or expensive public duties undertaken by rich men each in his turn, throughout other cities of Greece as well as in Athens) which fell to his lot were performed with such splendour, munificence, and good taste, as to procure for him universal encomiums; and so much above his predecessors as to be long remembered and extolled. Most of these liturgies were connected with the religious service of the state; so that Nikias, by his manner of performing them, displayed his zeal for the honour of the gods at the same time that he laid up for himself a store of popularity. Moreover, the remarkable caution and timidity—not before an enemy, but in reference to his own fellow citizens—which marked his character, rendered him pre-eminently scrupulous as to giving offence or making personal enemies. While his demeanour towards the poorer citizens generally was equal and conciliating, the presents which he made were numerous, both to gain friends and to silence assailants. We are not surprised to hear that various bullies, whom the comic writers turn to scorn, made their profit out of this susceptibility, but most assuredly, Nikias as a public man, though he might occasionally be cheated out of money, was greatly assisted by the reputation which he thus acquired.
[Vol. VI, pp. 385-90.]
We have the more willingly extracted this passage, because, like many others in these volumes, it contains lessons applicable to other times and circumstances than those of Greece; Nicias being a perfect type of one large class of the favourites of public opinion, modern as well as ancient. And the view here incidentally presented of some points in the character and disposition of the Athenian Many, will afford to readers who only know Athens and Greece through the medium of writers like Mitford, some faint idea of how much they have to unlearn.a
In personal contrast as well as in political opposition to Nicias, stands the celebrated Cleon;9 usually taken as the representative of everything hateful that can be ascribed to the character of a successful demagogue, combined with all that is contemptible in political imbecility and presumption. We shall quote the first introduction of this noted character upon the scene, for this among other reasons, that we have seen Mr. Grote accused of being prejudiced in his favour;10 and as, from considerable familiarity with many of Mr. Grote’s authorities, we have in vain attempted to discover in his volumes a single instance of deviation from impartiality, it is but just to him to repel this accusation. It is true that, in his opinion, the devil is not so black as he is painted. Posterity has been unwilling to believe that Cleon could ever be in the right; the outline of his character, supplied by his political and personal enemy Thucydides,11 having been filled up by a literal adoption of the bitter jests of that buffoon of genius Aristophanes,12 although in other cases, such as that of Socrates, we possess certain evidence how remote those jests were from having even so much of truth as is contained in a caricature. The following is Mr. Grote’s discriminating and unprejudiced view of Cleon’s character.
He is described by Thucydides in general terms as a person of the most violent temper and character in Athens—as being dishonest in his calumnies, and virulent in his invective and accusation. . . . The general attributes set forth by Thucydides (apart from Aristophanes, who does not profess to write history) we may well accept—the powerful and violent invective of Kleon, often dishonest—together with his self-confidence and audacity in the public assembly. Men of the middling class, like Kleon and Hyperbolus,13 who persevered in addressing the public assembly and trying to take a leading part in it, against persons of greater family pretension than themselves, were pretty sure to be men of more than usual audacity. Had they not possessed this quality, they would never have surmounted the opposition made to them: we may well believe that they had it to a displeasing excess; and even if they had not, the same measure of self-assumption which in Alkibiades14 would be tolerated from his rank and station, would in them pass for insupportable impudence. Unhappily, we have no specimens to enable us to appreciate the invective of Kleon. We cannot determine whether it was more virulent than that of Demosthenes and Aeschines,15 seventy years afterwards; each of those eminent orators imputing to the other the grossest impudence, calumny, perjury, corruption, loud voice and revolting audacity of manner, in language which Kleon can hardly have surpassed in intensity of vituperation, though he doubtless fell immeasurably short of it in classical finish. Nor can we even tell in what degree Kleon’s denunciations of the veteran Perikles were fiercer than those memorable invectives against the old age of Sir Robert Walpole with which Lord Chatham’s political career opened.16 . . . The fact of Kleon’s great power of speech, and his capacity of handling public business in a popular manner, is better attested than anything else respecting him, because it depends upon two witnesses, both hostile to him—Thucydides and Aristophanes. The assembly and the dikastery were Kleon’s theatre and holding-ground: for the Athenian people taken collectively in their place of meeting—and the Athenian people taken individually—were not always the same person, and had not the same mode of judgment: Demos sitting in the Pnyx was a different man from Demos at home.17 The lofty combination of qualities possessed by Perikles exercised ascendancy over both one and the other; but the qualities of Kleon swayed considerably the former without standing high in the esteem of the latter.
[Vol. VI, pp. 332-4.]
The following passage characterizes the real nature of Cleon’s position in the Athenian commonwealth.
To employ terms which are not fully suitable to the Athenian democracy, but which yet bring to view the difference intended to be noted better than any others, Nikias was a Minister or Ministerial man, often actually exercising and always likely to exercise official functions: Kleon was a man of the Opposition, whose province it was to supervise and censure official men for their public conduct. We must divest these words of that sense which they are understood to carry in English political life—a standing Parliamentary majority in favour of one party: Kleon would often carry in the public assembly resolutions, which his opponents Nikias and others of like rank and position—who served in the posts of Strategus, ambassador, and other important offices designated by the general vote—were obliged against their will to execute. . . . While Nikias was thus in what may be called ministerial function, Kleon was not of sufficient importance to attain the same, but was confined to the inferior function of opposition. . . . As an opposition man, fierce and violent in temper, Kleon was extremely formidable to all acting functionaries; and from his influence in the public assembly, he was doubtless the author of many important positive measures, thus going beyond the functions belonging to what is called opposition. But though the most effective speaker in the public assembly, he was not for that reason the most influential person in the democracy: his powers of speech in fact stood out the more prominently, because they were found apart from that station and those qualities which were considered, even at Athens, all but essential to make a man a leader in political life. To understand the political condition of Athens at this time, it has been necessary to take this comparison between Nikias and Kleon, and to remark, that though the latter might be a more victorious speaker, the former was the more guiding and influential leader; the points gained by Kleon were all noisy and palpable,—sometimes, however, without doubt, of considerable moment,—but the course of affairs was much more under the direction of Nikias.
[Vol. VI, pp. 392-5.]
We cannot help adding Mr. Grote’s very instructive comment on the first and almost only oration of Cleon, the substance of which has been preserved to us.18 His remarks go deep into the inmost essence of demagogy, and may teach some persons to recognize it in forms to which it is usual to apply much more honourable names.
If we are surprised to find a man, whose whole importance resided in his tongue, denouncing so severely the licence and the undue influence of speech in the public assembly, we must recollect that Kleon had the advantage of addressing himself to the intense prevalent sentiment of the moment; that he could therefore pass off the dictates of this sentiment as plain, downright, honest sense and patriotism, while the opponents, speaking against the reigning sentiment and therefore driven to collateral argument, circumlocution, and more or less of manoeuvre, might be represented as mere clever sophists, showing their talents in making the worse appear the better reason19 —if not actually bribed, at least unprincipled and without any sincere moral conviction. As this is a mode of dealing with questions both of public concern and of private morality, not less common at present than it was in the time of the Peloponnesian war—to seize upon some strong and tolerably widespread sentiment among the public, to treat the dictates of that sentiment as plain common sense and obvious right, and then to shut out all rational estimate of coming good and evil as if it were unholy or immoral, or at best mere uncandid subtlety—we may well notice a case in which Kleon employs it to support a proposition now justly regarded as barbarous.
[Vol. VI, pp. 340-1.]
There are so many topics in Mr. Grote’s volumes which demand notice, that it is impossible to do them anything like justice in the space of a single paper: we shall return to some of them in another article.
[a-a]1125[quoted in “Grote’s History of Greece [II],” D&D, II (1859); in CW, XI, 333-6]
[1 ]See Plato, Gorgias, p. 526 (526b).
[c-c]59 the middle period
[2 ]See Aristophanes, Acharnians (212), in Aristophanes (Greek and English), trans. Benjamin Bickley Rogers, 3 vols. (London: Heinemann, 1924), Vol. I, p. 52. Plutarch also mentions Cratinus, Telecleides, and Eupolis as making sport of Pericles (Lives, Vol. III, pp. 8 and 42).
[3 ]Nicias (d. 413), Athenian general and statesman; his career is sketched in the following quotation.
[4 ]Thucydides, Vol. II, p. 88 (III, li, 1).
[5 ]Aristotle, The Athenian Constitution (Greek and English), trans. H. Rackham (London: Heinemann, 1952), p. 84 (28, 5); Grote takes the reference from Plutarch, Lives, Vol. III, p. 212 (II, 1). Thucydides (d. ca. 420 ), son of Melesias, opposed Pericles, who defeated him in 443 , when he was ostracized. Theramenes (d. 404 ) was a conservative contributor to the Athenian constitution.
[6 ]Cimon (507-450 ), a rival of Themistocles whom he replaced as ruler of Athens, ca. 470 ; he also came into conflict with Pericles and was ostracized in 459
[7 ]An oligarchical revolution in 411 established the Council of Four Hundred, which lasted only a year; Theramenes was involved both in its establishment and its overthrow.
[8 ]Aspasia, a courtesan born either in Miletus or Megara, became Pericles’ mistress after he divorced his wife in 445 She is represented as an advisor to Pericles, a teacher of rhetoric, and an instructor of Socrates.
[9 ]Cleon (d. 422 ), Athenian statesman and a relentless enemy of Sparta, pictured by his enemies Thucydides and Aristophanes as an unprincipled demagogue—as Grote and Mill indicate—was killed at the defeat of Amphipolis.
[10 ]In the anonymous review of Grote’s Volumes V and VI, Athenaeum, 10 Feb., 1849, p. 137.
[11 ]Thucydides, Vol. II, p. 56 (III, xxxvi, 6).
[12 ]Aristophanes, The Knights, 973-96, and The Wasps, 596-7, in Aristophanes, Vol. I, pp. 220, 466.
[13 ]Hyperbolus (d. 411 ), another Athenian demagogue, banished by Nicias and Alcibiades.
[14 ]Alcibiades (ca. 450-404 ), wealthy Athenian general and politician, notorious for strange behaviour and debauchery.
[15 ]Aeschines (390-314 ), philosopher, friend of Socrates, author of orations and dialogues.
[16 ]For the invective by William Pitt, Lord Chatham, against Robert Walpole (1676-1745), 1st Earl of Orford, the Whig statesman who was in effect the first British Prime Minister, 1715-17 and 1721-42, see, e.g., Pitt’s Speech on the Motion to Remove Walpole (13 Feb., 1741), in Cobbett’s Parliamentary History of England, Vol. XI, cols. 1359-64.
[17 ]The Pnyx was a hill in Athens, site of the ecclesia or assembly of citizens; for the personification of the Athenian citizen as Demos, see Aristophanes, The Knights, p. 194 (752-5).
[18 ]Cleon’s Speech on the Mytilean Revolt, his only preserved speech, is reported in Thucydides, Vol. II, pp. 58-70 (III, xxxvii-xl).
[19 ]The estimate of the sophist rhetoricians’ power derives from Plato, Gorgias, p. 292 (456e-457e); the phrase describing it, from Milton, Paradise Lost (II, 111-12), in Poetical Works, p. 31.