Front Page Titles (by Subject) 381.: GROTE'S HISTORY OF GREECE  SPECTATOR, 10 MAR., 1849, PP. 227-8 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV
Return to Title Page for The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
381.: GROTE’S HISTORY OF GREECE  SPECTATOR, 10 MAR., 1849, PP. 227-8 - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The online edition of the Collected Works is published under licence from the copyright holder, The University of Toronto Press. ©2006 The University of Toronto Press. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form or medium without the permission of The University of Toronto Press.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
GROTE’S HISTORY OF GREECE 
This fourth newspaper review by Mill of Grote’s History (see Nos. 304, 368, and 380) is the second of two reviews of Volumes V and VI. It appeared in the “Books” section, headed “Grote’s Greece—Volumes V and VI,” and is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A second notice of the same [i.e., Vols. V and VI of Grote], in the Spectator of 10th March 1849” (MacMinn, p. 70). Two quotations from Grote in this review are also quoted by Mill in his Edinburgh Review notice of 1853, represented by “53” in the variant notes, while one passage was incorporated into the 1859 revision of that notice for D&D, represented by “59” in the variant notes; see No. 380 for the bibliographical details.
one of the most interesting features in the sixth volume of Mr. Grote’s History is the large use which he has made of the speeches in Thucydides. This rich mine of materials had been little if at all worked by any former writer. Mr. Grote considers the substance of these speeches to be authentic, though the form and phraseology are unmistakeably those of the Attic historian. The following is, as nearly as we can translate it, the declaration of Thucydides himself as to their composition. “To remember accurately the very things which were said, was difficult both to myself (as to what I heard delivered) and to my various informants: but I have ascribed to each speaker what seemed to me most appropriate to the occasion, keeping as close as I could to the general opinion of what was said in reality.”1 From this we should conclude, that an outline supplied by memory or testimony was filled up from invention. And this opinion is confirmed by the internal evidence. But in whatever proportions the matter of these speeches must be shared between the orators and the historian, no documents which have descended from the ancients, except perhaps the Politics of Aristotle, contain so much of what was thought by the most instructed and able Greeks concerning themselves and their condition. One of the most important of these discourses is the famous Funeral Oration of Pericles; which is full of valuable remarks on the Athenian national character and institutions. Our space does not allow us to quote from the speech at any length, but we must make room for Mr. Grote’s comments on one sentence of it. The text is this—a “bOurb social march is free, not merely in regard to public affairs, but also in regard to tolerance of each other’s diversity of cdailyc pursuits. For we are not angry with our neighbour for what he dmay dod to please himself, nor do we eevere put on those sour looks, whichf, though they do no positive damage, are not the less sure to offendf .”a2 On this important testimony to the liberality and tolerance of Athenian social life, Mr. Grote observes as follows—
This portion of the speech of Perikles deserves peculiar attention, because it serves to correct an assertion, often far too indiscriminately made, respecting antiquity as contrasted with modern societies—an assertion that the ancient societies sacrificed the individual to the state, and that only in modern times has individual agency been left free to the proper extent. This is preëminently true of Sparta: it is also true in a great degree of the ideal societies depicted by Plato and Aristotle; but it is pointedly untrue of the Athenian democracy, nor can we with any confidence predicate it of the major part of the Grecian cities. . . . There is no doubt that he [Perikles] has present to his mind a comparison with the extreme narrowness and rigour of Sparta, and that therefore his assertions of the extent of positive liberty at Athens must be understood as partially qualified by such contrast. But even making allowance for this, ghtheh stress which he lays upon the liberty of thought and action at Athens, not merely from excessive restraint of law but also from practical intolerance between man and man, and tyranny of the majority3 over individual dissenters in taste and ipursuiti , deserves serious notice, and brings out one of those points in the national character upon which the intellectual development of the time mainly depended. The national temper was indulgent in a high degree to all the varieties of positive impulses: the peculiar promptings in every individual bosom were allowed to manifest themselves and bear fruit, without being suppressed by external opinion or trained into forced conformity with some assumed standard: antipathies against any of them formed no part of the habitual morality of the citizen. While much of the generating causes of human hatred was thus rendered inoperative, and while society was rendered more comfortable, more instructive and more stimulating—all its germs of productive fruitful genius, so rare everywhere, found in such an atmosphere the maximum of encouragement. Within the limits of the law, assuredly as faithfully observed at Athens as anywhere in Greece, individual impulse, taste, and even eccentricity, were accepted with indulgence, instead of being a mark as elsewhere for the intolerance of neighbours or of the public. This remarkable feature in Athenian life will help us in a future chapter to explain the striking career of Sokrates [Chap. lxviii; Vol. VIII, pp. 545-676]; and it jfurtherj presents to us, under another face, a great part of that which the censors of Athens denounced under the name of “democratical licence.” The liberty and diversity of individual life in that city were offensive to Xenophon, Plato, and Aristotle4 —attached either to the monotonous drill of Sparta, or to some other ideal standard, which, though much better than the Spartan in itself, they were disposed to impress upon society with a heavy-handed uniformity. That liberty of individual action, not merely from the over-restraints of law, but from the tyranny of jealous opinion, such as Perikles depicts in Athens, belongs more naturally to a democracy, where there is no select One or Few to receive worship and set the fashion, than to any other form of government. But it is very rare even in democracies: nor can we dissemble the fact that none of the governments of modern times, democratical, aristocratical or monarchical, presents anything like the picture of generous tolerance towards social dissent, and spontaneity of individual taste, which we read in the speech of the Athenian statesman. In all of them, the intolerance of the national opinion cuts down individual character to one out of a few set types, to which every person, or every family, is constrained to adjust itself, and beyond which all exceptions meet either with hatred or with derision. To impose upon men such restraints either of law or of opinion as are requisite for the security and comfort of society, but to encourage rather than repress the free play of individual impulse subject to those limits—is an ideal, which if it was ever approached at Athens, has certainly never been attained, and has indeed comparatively been little studied or cared for, in any modern society.g
[Vol. VI, pp. 199-202.]
There have been few things lately written more worthy of being meditated on than this striking paragraph. kThe difference here pointed out between the temper of the Athenian and that of the modern mind, is most closely connected with the wonderful display of individual genius which made Athens illustrious, and with the comparative mediocrity of modern times. Originality is not always genius, but genius is always originality; and a society which looks jealously and distrustfully on original people—which imposes its common level of opinion, feeling, and conduct, on all its individual members—may have the satisfaction of thinking itself very moral and respectable, but it must do without genius. It may have persons of talent, who bring a larger than usual measure of commonplace ability into the service of the common notions of the time; but genius, in such a soil, is either fatally stunted in its growth, or if its native strength forbids this, it usually retires into itself, and dies without a sign.k
The portion of Mr. Grote’s History which we are now reviewing comprises the most brilliant period of the Athenian republic; including the last stage in the growth of her democratic constitution, and the rise, progress, and fullest development of her maritime empire. On both these subjects there were deep-rooted prejudices to be removed; prejudices long fostered by the modern enemies of popular government. Mr. Grote, without disguising the faults of the Athenian people or institutions, shows the vast superiority of the latter over all other political institutions known to the age, or which probably would have been compatible with its circumstances. The following instructive appreciation of the multitudinous dikasteries, or popular courts of justice, throws also what to most readers will be a new light on the state of society and manners in Athens and other cities of Greece.
In appreciating the practical working of these numerous dikasteries at Athens, in comparison with such justice as might have been expected from individual magistrates, we have to consider, first, that personal and pecuniary corruption seems to have been a common vice among the leading men of Athens and Sparta, when acting individually or in boards of a few members, and not uncommon even with the kings of Sparta; next, that in the Grecian cities generally, as we know even from the oligarchical Xenophon, (he particularly excepts Sparta,) the rich and great men were not only insubordinate to the magistrates, but made a parade of showing that they cared nothing about them. We know also from the same unsuspected source, that while the poorer Athenian citizens who served on shipboard were distinguished for the strictest discipline, the hoplites or middling burghers who formed the infantry were less obedient, and the rich citizens who served on horseback the most disobedient of all.5 To make rich and powerful criminals effectively amenable to justice has indeed been found so difficult everywhere, until a recent period of history, that we should be surprised if it were otherwise in Greece. When we follow the reckless demeanour of rich men like Kritias, Alkibiades, and Meidias,6 even under the full-grown democracy of Athens, we may be very sure that their predecessors under the Kleisthenean constitution would have been often too formidable to be punished or kept down by an individual archon of ordinary firmness, even assuming him to be upright and well-intentioned. Now the dikasteries established by Perikles were inaccessible both to corruption and intimidation: their number, their secret suffrage, and the impossibility of knowing beforehand what individuals would sit in any particular cause, prevented both the one and the other. And besides that the magnitude of their number, extravagant according to our ideas of judicial business, was essential to this tutelary effect, it served further to render the trial solemn and the verdict imposing on the minds of parties and spectators; as we may see by the fact, that in important causes the dikastery was doubled or tripled. Nor was it possible by any other means than numbers to give dignity to an assembly of citizens, of whom many were poor, some old, and all were despised individually by rich accused persons who were brought before them—as Aristophanes and Xenophon7 give us plainly to understand. If we except the strict and peculiar educational discipline of Sparta, these numerous dikasteries afforded the only organ which Grecian politics could devise, for getting redress against powerful criminals, public as well as private, and for obtaining a sincere and uncorrupt verdict.
Taking the general working of the dikasteries, we shall find that they are nothing but jury-trial applied on a scale broad, systematic, unaided, and uncontrolled, beyond all other historical experience; and that they therefore exhibit in exaggerated proportions both the excellences and the defects characteristic of the jury system, as compared with decision by trained and professional judges. . . . Both the direct benefits ascribed to jury-trial in insuring pure and even-handed justice, and still more its indirect benefits in improving and educating the citizens generally, might have been set forth yet more emphatically in a laudatory harangue of Perikles about the Athenian dikasteries. If it be true that an Englishman or an American counts more certainly on an impartial and uncorrupt verdict from a jury of his country than from a permanent professional judge, much more would this be the feeling of an ordinary Athenian, when he compared the dikasteries with the archon. . . . As to the effect of jury-trial in diffusing respect to the laws and constitution—in giving to every citizen a personal interest in enforcing the former and maintaining the latter—in imparting a sentiment of dignity to small and poor men through the discharge of a function exalted as well as useful—in calling forth the patriotic sympathies, and exercising the mental capacities of every individual—all these effects were produced in a still higher degree by the dikasteries at Athens; from their greater frequency, numbers, and spontaneity of mental action, without any professional judge upon whom they could throw the responsibility of deciding for them. On the other hand, the imperfections inherent in jury-trial were likewise disclosed in an exaggerated form under the Athenian system. Both juror and dikast represent the average man of the time and of the neighbourhood, exempt indeed from pecuniary corruption or personal fear,—deciding according to what he thinks justice, or to some genuine feeling of equity, mercy, religion, or patriotism, which in reference to the case before him he thinks as good as justice—but not exempt from sympathies, antipathies, and prejudices, all of which act the more powerfully because there is often no consciousness of their presence, and because they even appear essential to his idea of plain and straightforward good sense.
[Vol. V, pp. 512-25.]
Of the maritime empire of Athens Mr. Grote furnishes an unprejudiced account, and as much of a justification as the case admits of. [Ibid., pp. 390-472; Chap. xlv.] It was originally an equal alliance, growing out of the operations against Xerxes, and intended for the naval defence of Greece, against Persian domination. Of this confederacy (which consisted of the islands, and the Greek cities of the Asiatic and Thracian coasts, recently freed from the dominion of the Persian satraps) Athens was the acknowledged head, but was only primus inter pares, performing the functions of an executive; the supreme regulation of the alliance belonging to a synod of the confederates periodically meeting at Delos. Each of the states contributed either in money or in ships of war towards the common objects of the alliance; the contingent of each having been fixed by Aristides in a manner so equitable as to command universal applause. The steps by which, without any preconceived plan of usurpation on the part of Athens, her originally equal confederates sunk into the condition of dependent or subject-allies, are traced with great clearness by Mr. Grote. When this change had been consummated, each state paid a compulsory annual tribute, in consideration of which Athens undertook the military and naval defence of the tributaries against all enemies. They were not permitted to have any fortifications or ships of war of their own, and their differences with other states they were required to refer to the judicial tribunals of Athens. With their internal institutions or administration Athens did not meddle; not even to establish democracy; for though her own example tended to make democratic principles predominate within the sphere of her influence, many of the subject-allies of Athens were, and continued to be, under oligarchical government. In this the Athenian dominion differed greatly from the subsequent supremacy of Sparta, who not only subverted the democracies and established oligarchies everywhere, but appointed Spartan governors under the name of harmosts, whose yoke was always oppressive and often intolerable. The subjects of Athens had few if any practical grievances, and scarcely pretended to have them: the tribute was a cheap price for complete military and naval protection. Their complaint was, that they were degraded by being deprived of the common privilege of autonomy or city-independence, so indissolubly connected in the Greek mind with all ideas of freedom and collective dignity.
This complaint, whether judged by an abstract standard or by the ideas and sentiments of the time, was well grounded. Yet let it be remarked, that this coveted autonomy was a privilege which most of the states composing the Athenian league were entirely incapable of maintaining by their own strength. Athens found them under the dominion of Persia; when separated from Athens they fell under the far harder yoke of Sparta. Let it be considered also, that it was precisely this narrow spirit of independence, this intolerance on the part of each petty town of permanent connexion with any other, which ultimately caused the ruin of Grecian freedom by the absorption of all Greece into the Macedonian monarchy. Doubtless, the true remedy for the inherent weakness of so divided a state, would have been found in a free and equal confederation. But a federal government was of all things the most alien to Grecian habits. Even in the most pressing danger, when half Greece was overrun and occupied by the troops of Xerxes, the evidence, never before so fully brought out as by Mr. Grote, showed the radical incapacity of these little communities for acting in free voluntary concert. If there was any means by which Grecian independence and liberty could have been made a permanent thing, it would have been by the prolongation for some generations more of the organization of the larger half of Greece under the supremacy of Athens; a supremacy imposed, indeed, and upheld by force—but the mildest, the most civilizing, and, in its permanent influence on the destinies of human kind, the most brilliant and valuable, of all usurped powers known to history.
That events took another course was the fault of no one so much as of the Athenians themselves, who, intoxicated by success, and having no longer a Pericles to keep them in the path of practical wisdom, were tempted to aggressive enterprises like that on Sicily, both unjust and beyond their strength. The next volume of Mr. Grote will contain the recital of this sad disaster, one of the turning-points in universal history, and one of those portions of it which are richest in epic and dramatic interest.
It is impossible to predict what number of further volumes will be necessary for the completion of Mr. Grote’s design; but no one who reads his work can wish that it were more abridged. It is not a mere summary of events known and admitted, and requiring only to be agreeably laid before the reader. It is an exploration of the sources of Grecian history; an investigation of facts previously unknown or misrepresented; a labour performed once for all; and the book is a storehouse from which future writers may draw their materials, without repeating the same toilsome and operose researches. To be this, and to be also an attractive specimen of narrative, and, more valuable than all, a profound estimate by a philosophical politician of one of the most important periods in the political history of mankind, is a threefold achievement which it has been given to few works, whether called histories or by any other denomination, to realize.
[1 ]Mill’s translation of Thucydides, Vol. I, p. 38 (I, xxii, 1).
[a-a][quoted also in “Grote’s History of Greece [II],” Edinburgh Review, XCVIII (Oct. 1853); in CW, XI, 318]
[b-b]53,Source And our
[c-c]53 tastes and
[f-f]53 are offensive, though they do no positive damage
[2 ]Ibid., pp. 322-4 (II, xxxvi, 2), quoted by Grote, Vol. VI, pp. 193-4.
[g-g]1131[quoted also in “Grote’s History of Greece [II],” Edinburgh Review, XCVIII (Oct. 1853); in CW, XI, 319-20]
[3 ]Grote has picked up the term from Alexis de Tocqueville, De la démocratie en Amérique, 2 vols., 2nd ed. (Paris: Gosselin, 1835), Vol. II, p. 142. (Cf. Mill’s “Tocqueville on Democracy in America [II],” CW, Vol. XVIII, p. 156.)
[4 ]See Xenophon (ca. 430-355 ), the historian and disciple of Socrates, Memorabilia (Greek and English), trans. E.C. Marchant (London: Heinemann, 1923), pp. 196-8 (III, v, 15-17) and pp. 250-2 (III, xii, 5); Plato, Republic, Vol. II, pp. 284-90 (557b-558c); and Aristotle, Politics, p. 506 (VI, ii, 12).
[k-k][quoted in “Grote’s History of Greece [II],” D&D, II (1859); in CW, XI, 320-1]
[5 ]Xenophon, Constitution of the Lacedaemonians (Greek and English), trans. E.C. Marchant (London: Heinemann, 1925), pp. 160-2 (VIII, 1-2), and (Pseudo-Xenophon) Xenophontis qui inscribitur libellus Athenaion politeia, ed. E. Kalinka (Stuttgart: Teubner, 1961), p. 9 (I, 18).
[6 ]Critias (ca. 460-403 ), an oligarchical politician who headed “The Thirty”; Meidias (fl. 347 ), an opponent of Demosthenes.
[7 ]Aristophanes, The Wasps, pp. 456 and 462 (515-17 and 570-2). For Xenophon, see n5.