Front Page Titles (by Subject) 391.: GROTE'S HISTORY OF GREECE  SPECTATOR, 16 MAR., 1850, PP. 255-6 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV
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391.: GROTE’S HISTORY OF GREECE  SPECTATOR, 16 MAR., 1850, PP. 255-6 - 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 review is Mill’s fifth and last in a newspaper of Grote’s History (for the context, see No. 304). It appears in the “Books” section, headed “Grote’s Greece—Volumes VII and VIII,” with the heading footnoted: “History of Greece. By George Grote, Esq. Volumes VII and VIII. Published by Murray.” It is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A notice of the 7th and 8th Volumes of Grote’s History of Greece, in the Spectator of 16 March 1850” (MacMinn, p. 73). Four passages from the review were incorporated by Mill into his 1853 Edinburgh Review notice of Grote when he revised that notice for publication in the first edition of his Dissertations and Discussions (1859), represented in the variant notes as “59”; see No. 380 for bibliographical details.
the two preceding volumes of Mr. Grote’s History exhibited the Athenian empire in its ascending and stationary periods. The present publication contains the still more interesting and impressive recital of its decline and fall. Commencing at the temporary suspension of hostilities with the Peloponnesian confederacy, termed the Peace of Nicias, it comprises the tragedy of the Sicilian expedition; the wonderful exertion of energy by which Athens rallied after that unparalleled disaster, and succeeded once more in balancing the whole strength of her enemies, though aided by her revolted allies and by the treasures of the “Great King”;1 the closing years of the Peloponnesian war, varied by some remarkable passages in the internal history of the Athenian republic; the catastrophe of Aegospotami, the subjugation of Athens by Lysander,2 the annihilation of her maritime power and dissolution of the democracy. The narrative is continued through the brief despotism of the Thirty Tyrants,3 to the restoration of the Athenian democracy (but not of the Athenian empire,) by Thrasybulus and his associates, and the settlement of affairs which followed, so remarkable for its good sense and absence of reactionary violence. In the last two chapters Mr. Grote suspends the political, and takes up the intellectual movement; passing in review the dramatists, the rhetoricians, the sophists, and lastly, the memorable character and career of Socrates, to whom the closing chapter is exclusively dedicated. [Vol. VIII, pp. 434-676; Chaps. lxvii-lxviii.]
Both in stirring incident, and in topics for thought and reflection, these volumes are richer than any of their predecessors; and the execution worthily corresponds to the material. Those who have read Mr. Grote’s former volumes will have observed that he invariably rises with his subject, and is found most adequate to it where its requirements are greatest. The better acquainted any one is with Grecian history, and with the manner in which that history has heretofore been written, the higher will be his estimation of this work. Few books are more calculated to impress the instructed reader both with admiration of the thorough manner in which everything which the author attempts to do is done, and with surprise that almost everything was left for him to do. An enumeration of the points of Grecian history on which he has thrown new light, would comprise almost every one of its important phaenomena, or even of its interesting incidents. Yet there is not only no ostentation of originality, but the author’s mind is of the quality most remote from that which catches at glittering novelties and indulges an intellectual appetite for ingenious hypotheses. If there is anything which can be confidently predicated of Mr. Grote it is that he is a safe historian; one who requires, not less, but more, positive evidence than common inquirers, before adopting a conclusion. His new results are not obtained by divination or conjecture; but by more diligent study and more acute cross-examination of the authorities than had ever been applied before, and by that greater power of interpreting recorded facts which flows from the possession of broader, deeper, and more many-sided views of human affairs.
With the exception of the last two chapters, the whole of both volumes is continuous narrative; without admixture of discussion beyond what was required for criticism of the evidence, or moral appreciation of the facts. During the entire period, the historian has the benefit of the high contemporary authorities, Thucydides and Xenophon: on the general march of events there is little trustworthy information except what these writers afford. The difference between one modern historian and another, as to this period, is chiefly shown by the manner in which they supply what is not told by contemporary writers, because not required by contemporary readers—namely, that basis of permanent facts, of which the passing facts recorded by the historian stand out as it were on the mere surface. Thucydides, writing for Greeks, related the incidents which disturbed the stream of Greek life, the battles, conspiracies, and the like; but what the stream in its natural state consisted of, he did not need to tell his readers, for they knew it as well as himself. Those familiar facts, however, which to them would have been superfluous information, are what it most concerns the modern historian to know. He has to discover them from the incidental hints given by Thucydides, and from the indications scattered through the mass of Greek literature. Owing to the insufficiency of the materials, a very imperfect conception is all that can be obtained; but there is a vast difference between this imperfect conception and none at all. Now the modern historians of Greece who preceded Mr. Grote, have started with what it is scarcely injustice to call, no distinct conception whatever of the general state of things in Greece, the opinions, feelings, personal relations, and actions, habitual to the persons individual or collective, whom they are writing about; and hence, when they come to speak of any particular event, they hardly ever understand what other things it implied, or what impression it must have produced on those who saw and heard it—for want of a proper understanding of what may be termed “the situation.” To illustrate our meaning, as well as to show the extent of this deficiency in former historians of Greece: we do not believe that any one of them has made (for example) these obvious remarks—that few Greek statesmen or generals were superior to pecuniary corruption, and that there were still fewer Greeks whose heads were not turned, and their capacity of rational judgment destroyed, by brilliant success. Yet even such simple general reflections as these, in the hands of Mr. Grote, help to render many things intelligible which hitherto have been either unaccounted for or totally misunderstood. To take another and a less obvious example: the curious incident of the mutilation of the statues called Hermae,4 and the violent excitement at Athens consequent upon it, are for the first time made comprehensible by Mr. Grote, because he is the first who has mentally realized the effect of such an incident upon the religious feelings of Greeks. [Vol. VII, pp. 227ff., 267ff.] The matter had always been written about as if horror at the mere act of sacrilege had been the only religious sentiment concerned: whereas Mr. Grote points out that it was much rather a religious terror; that, according to the belief of the Athenians, such an insult to the god was certain to draw down his severest wrath upon the whole state, to the extent of utter ruin, unless they could reconcile themselves to him by detecting and rooting out all who were concerned in the impiety. This aspect of the matter both suggests a possible motive on the part of the perpetrators of an act hitherto the most enigmatical in Greek history, and explains the course of subsequent events.
Perhaps the most unmistakeable as well as the most attractive of Mr. Grote’s excellences as a narrator, consists in this ever-present and lively sense of “the situation.”ab One of the beneficial fruits of this quality is that it makes the history a philosophic one without apparent effort. There is no need of lengthened discussion to connect causes with their effects; the causes and effects are parts of the same picture, and the causes are seen in action before it appears what they are to produce. For example, the reader whose mind is filled with the greatness attained by Athens while her councils were ruled by the commanding intellect and self-restraining prudence of Pericles, might almost anticipate the coming disasters when he finds, in the early chapters of the cpresent volumesc , into the hands of what advisers Athens had already fallen. And, mark well, these evil advisers were not the demagogues, but the chiefs of the aristocracy, the richest and most highborn men in the republic—Nicias and Alcibiades. Mr. Grote had already shown grounds for believing that Cleon, and men of his stamp, had been far too severely dealt with by historians;5 not that they did not frequently deserve censure, but that they were by no means the worst misleaders of the Athenian people. The demagogues were, as he observes, essentially opposition speakers. The conduct of affairs was habitually in the hands of the rich and great, who had by far the largest share of personal influence, and on whose mismanagement there would have been hardly any check, but for the demagogues and their hostile criticism. These opinions receive ample confirmation from the course of affairs, when, there being no longer any lowborn Cleon or Hyperbolus to balance their influence, Nicias and Alcibiades had full scope to ruin the commonwealth. The contrary vices of these two men, both equally fatal, are exemplified in the crowning act of their maladministration; the one having been the principal adviser of the ill-starred expedition to Syracuse, while the other was the main cause of its ruinous failure, by his intellectual and moral incapacity.a
One of the most important results of Grecian history, as conceived and written by Mr. Grote, is the triumphant vindication, so far as historical evidence goes, of Democracy. The moral of the history, as related by most modern historians, is that democracy is a detestable kind of government, and that the case of Athens strikingly exemplifies its detestable qualities. Mr. Grote, on the contrary, shows that the Athenian government was of surpassing excellence, its time and circumstances considered; that no other form of society known to the ancients realized anything approaching to an equal measure of practical good government; and that this was mainly owing to the nearer approach which it made to democratic institutions. A democracy in the full sense of the term it of course was not, since women, slaves, and a multitude of permanent residents of all ranks and classes who were not citizens, were “unknown to the constitution.”6 But it had many important points in common with democracy. It was a government of unlimited publicity, and freedom of censure and discussion. Public officers were subject to effective responsibility. The tribunals, being multitudinous and appointed by lot, were, like modern juries, generally incorrupt. And there was no distinction in political rights and franchises between poor and rich, lowborn and highborn. That the Athenian institutions on the whole were eminently favourable to progress, is shown by the splendid development of individual intellect during the three or four generations that this form of society lasted. It was reserved for Mr. Grote to show that the conditions also of order were realized in a degree unknown in any other community of the ancient world. Nowhere else in antiquity was respect for law so deep-rooted a principle as at Athens. Constitutional forms, and the salutary checks which the wisdom of Solon, Kleisthenes, and Pericles had provided against the inconsiderate impulses of a multitudinous popular assembly, had the strongest hold on the minds of the Demos; very rarely indeed in Athenian history were those barriers overstepped, even by the most impetuous impulse of popular passion. Nowhere in Greece were life and property so secure against every kind of legal or illegal violence: even those who were not citizens were less exposed to insult and injury than in other ancient states. In all these points the Athenian people were honourably distinguished, not only from the Greek oligarchies, but from their own oligarchical party; who showed during two intervals of ascendancy, the periods of the Four Hundred7 and of the Thirty, of what enormities they were capable; and who dought always to be present to the mind, not merely asethee dark background to the picture of the Athenian republic, but as an active power in itd: for during the whole of its existence, such men as Critias and his compeers were prominent in the first ranks of public discussion, and continually filled the high offices of the state.
Among Mr. Grote’s views of Grecian history, the most startling by its apparent novelty will be, we think, his defence of the Sophists. [Vol. VIII, pp. 479-544.] If there is one opinion on Grecian affairs more accredited than another, it is that the sophists ruined the Grecian states by corrupting their morality. This opinion will appear to the reader of Mr. Grote to be one of those baseless fancies which have so long usurped the place of historical knowledge. Mr. Grote denies the fact of the corruption; and honourably acquits the sophists of any corrupting influence. It is not necessary to inform any reader of the Greek authors, that the word sophist was not used by them in its modern sense. fThat term was the common designation for speculative inquirers generally, and more particularly for instructors of youth; and was applied to Socrates and Plato, as much as to those whom they confuted. The sophists formed no school, had no common doctrines, but speculated in the most conflicting ways on physics and metaphysics; while with respect to morals, those among them who professed to prepare young men for active life, taught the current morality of the age in its best form: the apologue of the Choice of Hercules was the composition of a sophist.8 It is most unjust to the sophists to adopt, as the verdict of history upon them, the severe judgment of Plato, although from Plato’s point of view they deserved it. He judged them from the superior elevation of a great moral and social reformer: from that height he looked down contemptuously enough, not on them alone, but on statesmen, orators, artists—on the whole practical life of the period, and all its institutions, popular, oligarchical, or despotic; demanding a reconstitution of society from its foundations, and a complete renovation of the human mind. One who had these high aspirations, had naturally little esteem for men who did not see or aspire to see beyond the common ideas of their age; but, as Mr. Grote remarks, to accept his judgment of them would be like characterizing the teachers and politicians of the present time in the words applied to them by Owen or Fourier. [Vol. VIII, p. 538.] Even Plato, for the most part, puts the immoral doctrines ascribed to the sophists (such as the doctrine that might makes right) into the mouths not of sophists, but of ambitious active politicians, like Callicles.9 The sophists, in Plato, almost always express themselves not only with decorum but with good sense and feeling on the subject of social duties; though gby his Socratic dialectics heg always succeeds in puzzling them, and displaying the confusion of their ideas, or rather of the common ideas of mankind, of which they are the exponents.f
This brings us to the chapter on Socrates; which, after so much that is valuable, is in our estimation the most instructive chapter in the book. hWe have not space to giveithe briefest analysis of a dissertation so rich in matter, ori the smallest specimen of the delineation of this remarkable character, now brought into clearer light than ever before—a philosopher inculcating, under a supposed religious impulse, pure reason and a rigid discipline of the logical faculty. But we invite attention to the estimate, contained in this chapter, of the peculiarities of the Socratic teaching, and of the urgent need, at the present and at all times, of such a teacher. Socrates, in morals, is conceived by Mr. Grote as the parallel of Bacon in physics. He exposed the loose, vague, confused, and misleading character of the common notions of mankind on the most familiar subjects. By apt interrogations, forcing the interlocutors to become conscious of the want of precision in their own ideas, he showed that the words in popular use on all moral subjects (words which, because they are familiar, all persons fancy they understand) in reality answer to no distinct and well-defined ideas; and that the common notions, which those words serve to express, all require to be reconsidered. This is exactly what Bacon showed to be the case jinj respect to the phrases and notions commonly current on physical subjects. It is the fashion of the present day to decry negative dialectics; as if making men conscious of their ignorance were not the first step—and an absolutely necessary one—towards inducing them to acquire knowledge. “Opinio copiae,” says Bacon, “maxima causa inopiae est.”10 The war which Bacon made upon confused general ideas, “notiones temere a rebus abstractas,”11 was essentially negative, but it constituted the epoch from which, alone, advancement in positive knowledge became possible. It is to Bacon that we owe Newton and the modern physical science. In like manner, Socrates, by convincing men of their ignorance, and pointing out the conditions of knowledge, originated the positive movement which produced Plato and Aristotle. With them and their immediate disciples that movement ceased, and has never yet been so effectually revived as to be permanent. The common notions of the present time on moral and mental subjects are as incapable of supporting the Socratic cross-examination as those of his own age: they are, just as much, the wild fruits of the undisciplined understanding—of the “intellectus sibi permissus,”12 as Bacon phrases it; rough generalizations of first impressions, or consecrations of accidental feelings, without due analysis or mental circumscription.h As the direct antagonist of such unsifted general notions and impressions on moral subjects, Socrates occupies an unique position in history; and the work which he did requires to be done again, as the indispensable condition of that intellectual renovation, without which the grand moral and social improvements, to which mankind are now beginning to aspire, will be for ever unattainable.
[1 ]I.e., Darius II of Persia (reigned 424-405 ); each of the rulers of Persia was referred to as “the Great King.”
[2 ]Lysander (d. 395 ), Spartan naval commander, destroyed the Athenian fleet at Aegospotami in 405 , and captured Athens the next year.
[3 ]A group of oligarchs, Critias being the chief member, the Thirty Tyrants gained power in Athens at the end of the Peloponnesian War in 404 , but were ousted after a civil war in 403 by democrats, led by Thrasybulus, the naval commander.
[4 ]These pillars, set at street corners in Athens, with a bust of Hermes above and a phallus below, were mutilated in the night shortly before the beginning of the Sicilian expedition of 415-413
[a-a][quoted in “Grote’s History of Greece [II],” D&D, II (1859); in CW, XI, 331-2]
[c-c]59 seventh volume
[5 ]For earlier comment, see No. 380.
[6 ]See Grenville, Speech on Fox’s East India Bill (21 Nov., 1783), Cobbett’s Parliamentary History, Vol. XXIII, col. 1229.
[7 ]See No. 380, n7.
[d-d][quoted in “Grote’s History of Greece [II],” D&D, II (1859); in CW, XI, 327-8]
[f-f][quoted in “Grote’s History of Greece [II],” D&D, II (1859); in CW, XI, 329]
[8 ]Hercules (Heracles) chose Virtue over Desire in the essay, “On Heracles,” by the Sophist, Prodicus (contemporary of Sophocles), given by Xenophon, Memorabilia, pp. 95-103 (II, i, 21-34). The importance of this choice had been early impressed on Mill by his father; see Autobiography, CW, Vol. I, p. 49.
[9 ]Callicles is portrayed by Plato in this way in Gorgias; see Lysis, Symposium, Gorgias, pp. 410-12 (491b-c).
[g-g]59 his hero Socrates
[h-h][quoted in “Grote’s History of Greece [II],” D&D, II (1859); in CW, XI, 309n-10n]
[10 ]Bacon, Novum Organum, in Works, Vol. I, p. 125.
[11 ]Ibid., p. 158 (Bk. I, Aph. 14).
[12 ]Ibid., p. 138.