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Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay, Miscellaneous Writings, vol. 1 [1823]

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Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay, The Miscellaneous Writings of Lord Macaulay, vol. 1, (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1860).

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About this Title:

The first volume of a two volume collection of Macaulay’s essays. The first volume contains his essays from Knight’s Quarterly Magazine written during the mid-1820s. The second volume contains essays published in the Edinburgh Review in the 1830s and 1840s; in the Encyclopedia Britannica in the 1850s; and miscellaneous poems and inscriptions.

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The text is in the public domain.

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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.

Table of Contents:

Edition: current; Page: [i]
vol. i.
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Edition: current; Page: [iii] Edition: current; Page: [iv]

Engraved by C. Cook.


From a Photograph by Claudet.
Edition: current; Page: [v]
in two volumes VOL. I.
[Editor: illegible text] is reserved.
Edition: current; Page: [vi] Edition: current; Page: [vii]


Lord Macaulay always looked forward to a publication of his miscellaneous works, either by himself or by those who should represent him after his death. And latterly he expressly reserved, whenever the arrangements as to copyright made it necessary, the right of such publication.

The collection which is now published comprehends some of the earliest and some of the latest works which he composed. He was born on 25th October, 1800; commenced residence at Trinity College, Cambridge, in October, 1818; was elected Craven University Scholar in 1821; graduated as B.A. in 1822; was elected fellow of the college in October, 1824; was called to the bar in February, 1826, when he joined the Northern Circuit; and was elected member for Calne in 1830. After this last event, he did not long continue to practise at the bar. He went to India in 1834, whence he returned in June, 1838. He was elected member for Edinburgh in 1839, and lost this seat in July, 1847*; and this (though he was afterwards again elected for that city in July, 1852, without being a candidate) may be considered as the last instance of his taking an active part in the contests Edition: current; Page: [viii] of public life. These few dates are mentioned for the purpose of enabling the reader to assign the articles, now and previously published, to the principal periods into which the author’s life may be divided.

The admirers of his later works will probably be interested by watching the gradual formation of his style, and will notice in his earlier productions, vigorous and clear as their language always was, the occurrence of faults against which he afterwards most anxiously guarded himself. A much greater interest will undoubtedly be felt in tracing the date and development of his opinions.

The articles published in Knight’s Quarterly Magazine were composed during the author’s residence at college, as B.A. It may be remarked that the first two of these exhibit the earnestness with which he already endeavoured to represent to himself and to others the scenes and persons of past times as in actual existence. Of the Dialogue between Milton and Cowley he spoke, many years after its publication, as that one of his works which he remembered with most satisfaction. The article on Mitford’s Greece he did not himself value so highly as others thought it deserved. This article, at any rate, contains the first distinct enunciation of his views as to the office of an historian, views afterwards more fully set forth in his Essay upon History, in the Edinburgh Review (Vol. I. p. 232 of this collection). From the protest, in the last mentioned essay (p. 273), against the conventional notions respecting the majesty of history might perhaps have been anticipated something like the third chapter of the History of England. It may be amusing to notice that in the article on Mitford (p. 179-180) appears the first sketch of the New Zealander, afterwards filled up in a passage in the review of Mrs. Austin’s translation of Ranke, a passage which at one time was Edition: current; Page: [ix] the subject of allusion, two or three times a week, in speeches and leading articles. In this, too, appear, perhaps for the first time, the author’s views on the representative system.* These he retained to the very last; they are brought forward repeatedly in the articles published in this collection and elsewhere, and in his speeches in parliament; and they coincide with the opinions expressed in the letter to an American correspondent, which was so often cited in the late debate on the Reform Bill.

Some explanation appears to be necessary as to the publication of the three articles which stand at the end of the first volume.

In 1828 Mr. James Mill, the author of the History of British India, reprinted some essays which he had contributed to the Supplement to the Encyclopædia Britannica; and among these was an Essay on Government. The method of inquiry and reasoning adopted in this essay appeared to Macaulay to be essentially wrong. He entertained a very strong conviction that the only sound foundation for a theory of Government must be laid in careful and copious historical induction; and he believed that Mr. Mill’s work rested upon a vicious reasoning a priori. Upon this point he felt the more earnestly, owing to his own passion for historical research, and to his devout admiration of Bacon, whose works he was at that time studying with intense attention. There can, however, be little doubt that he was also provoked by the pretensions of some members of a sect which then commonly went by the name of Benthamites, or Utilitarians. This sect included many of his contemporaries, who had quitted Cambridge at about the same Edition: current; Page: [x] time with him. It had succeeded, in some measure, to the sect of the Byronians, whom he has described in the review of Moore’s Life of Lord Byron, who discarded their neckcloths, and fixed little models of sculls on the sand-glasses by which they regulated the boiling of their eggs for breakfast. The members of these sects, and of many others that have succeeded, have probably long ago learned to smile at the temporary humours. But Macaulay, himself a sincere admirer of Bentham, was irritated by what he considered the unwarranted tone assumed by several of the class of Utilitarians. “We apprehend,” he said, “that many of them are persons who, having read little or nothing, are delighted to be rescued from the sense of their own inferiority by some teacher who assures them that the studies which they have neglected are of no value, puts five or six phrases into their mouths, lends them an odd number of the Westminster Review, and in a month transforms them into philosophers;” and he spoke of them as “smatterers, whose attainments just suffice to elevate them from the insignificance of dunces to the dignity of bores, and to spread dismay among their pious aunts and grandmothers.” The sect, of course, like other sects, comprehended some pretenders, and these the most arrogant and intolerant among its members. He, however, went so far as to apply the following language to the majority:—“As to the greater part of the sect, it is, we apprehend, of little consequence what they study or under whom. It would be more amusing, to be sure, and more reputable, if they would take up the old republican cant and declaim about Brutus and Timoleon, the duty of killing tyrants and the blessedness of dying for liberty. But, on the whole, they might have chosen worse. They may as Edition: current; Page: [xi] well be Utilitarians as jockeys or dandies. And, though quibbling about self-interest and motives, and objects of desire, and the greatest happiness of the greatest number, is but a poor employment for a grown man, it certainly hurts the health less than hard drinking and the fortune less than high play; it is not much more laughable than phrenology, and is immeasurably more humane than cock-fighting.”

Macaulay inserted in the Edinburgh Review of March, 1829, an article upon Mr. Mill’s Essay. He attacked the method with much vehemence; and, to the end of his life, he never saw any ground for believing that in this he had gone too far. But before long he felt that he had not spoken of the author of the Essay with the respect due to so eminent a man. In 1833, he described Mr. Mill, during the debate on the India Bill of that year, as a “gentleman, extremely well acquainted with the affairs of our Eastern Empire, a most valuable servant of the Company, and the author of a history of India, which, though certainly not free from faults, is, I think, on the whole, the greatest historical work which has appeared in our language since that of Gibbon.”

Almost immediately upon the appearance of the article in the Edinburgh Review, an answer was published in the Westminster Review. It was untruly attributed, in the newspapers of the day, to Mr. Bentham himself. Macaulay’s answer to this appeared in the Edinburgh Review, June, 1829. He wrote the answer under the belief that he was answering Mr. Bentham, and was undeceived in time only to add the postscript. The author of the article in the Westminster Review had not perceived that the question raised was not as to the truth or falsehood of the result at which Mr. Mill had Edition: current; Page: [xii] arrived, but as to the soundness or unsoundness of the method which he pursued; a misunderstanding at which Macaulay, while he supposed the article to be the work of Mr. Bentham, expressed much surprise. The controversy soon became principally a dispute as to the theory which was commonly known by the name of The Greatest Happiness Principle. Another article in the Westminster Review followed; and a surrejoinder by Macaulay in the Edinburgh Review of October, 1829. Macaulay was irritated at what he conceived to be either extreme dullness or gross unfairness on the part of his unknown antagonist, and struck as hard as he could; and he struck very hard indeed.

The ethical question thus raised was afterwards discussed by Sir James Mackintosh, in the Dissertation contributed by him to the seventh edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, p. 284—313 (Whewell’s Edition). Sir James Mackintosh notices the part taken in the controversy by Macaulay, in the following words: “A writer of consummate ability, who has failed in little but the respect due to the abilities and character of his opponents, has given too much countenance to the abuse and confusion of language exemplified in the well-known verse of Pope,

‘Modes of self-love the Passions we may call.’

‘We know,’ says he, ‘no universal proposition respecting human nature which is true but one—that men always act from self-interest.’ ” “It is manifest from the sequel, that the writer is not the dupe of the confusion; but many of his readers may be so. If, indeed, the word self-interest could with propriety be used for the gratification of every prevalent desire, he has clearly shown Edition: current; Page: [xiii] that this change in the signification of terms would be of no advantage to the doctrine which he controverts. It would make as many sorts of self-interest as there are appetites, and it is irreconcilably at variance with the system of association proposed by Mr. Mill.” “The admirable writer whose language has occasioned this illustration, who at an early age has mastered every species of composition, will doubtless hold fast to simplicity, which survives all the fashions of deviation from it, and which a man of genius so fertile has few temptations to forsake.”—Note W, p. 296 (p. 430).

When Macaulay selected for publication certain articles of the Edinburgh Review, he resolved not to publish any of the three essays in question; for which he assigned the following reason:—

“The author has been strongly urged to insert three papers on the Utilitarian Philosophy, which, when they first appeared, attracted some notice, but which are not in the American editions. He has however determined to omit these papers, not because he is disposed to retract a single doctrine which they contain; but because he is unwilling to offer what might be regarded as an affront to the memory of one from whose opinions he still widely dissents, but to whose talents and virtues he admits that he formerly did not do justice. Serious as are the faults of the Essay on Government, a critic, while noticing those faults, should have abstained from using contemptuous language respecting the historian of British India. It ought to be known that Mr. Mill had the generosity, not only to forgive, but to forget the unbecoming acrimony with which he had been assailed, and was, when his valuable life closed, on terms of cordial friendship with his assailant.”

Edition: current; Page: [xiv]

Under these circumstances, considerable doubt has been felt as to the propriety of republishing the three Essays in the present collection. But it has been determined, not without much hesitation, that they should appear. It is felt that no disrespect is shown to the memory of Mr. Mill, when the publication is accompanied by so full an apology for the tone adopted towards him; and Mr. Mill himself would have been the last to wish for the suppression of opinions on the ground that they were in express antagonism to his own. The grave has now closed upon the assailant as well as the assailed. On the other hand, it cannot but be desirable that opinions which the author retained to the last, on important questions in politics and morals, should be before the public.

Some of the poems now collected have already appeared in print: others are supplied by the recollection of friends. The first two are published on account of their having been composed in the author’s childhood. In the poems, as well as in the prose works, will be occasionally found thoughts and expressions which have afterwards been adopted in later productions.

No alteration whatever has been made from the form in which the author left the several articles, with the exception of some changes in punctuation, and the correction of one or two obvious misprints.

T. F. E.
Edition: current; Page: [xv]



  • Fragments of a Roman Tale. (June 1823.) . . . . page 3
  • On the Royal Society of Literature. (June 1823.) . . 20
  • Scenes from “Athenian Revels.” (January 1824.) . . 29
  • Criticisms on the Principal Italian Writers. No. I. Dante. (January 1824.) . . . . . . . . 51
  • Criticism on the Principal Italian Writers. No. II. Petrarch. (April 1824.) . . . . . . . 73
  • Some Account of the Great Lawsuit between the Parishes of St. Dennis and St. George in the Water. (April 1824.) 91
  • A Conversation between Mr. Abraham Cowley and Mr. John Milton touching the Great Civil War. (August 1824.) 101
  • On the Athenian Orators. (August 1824.) . . . . 125 Edition: current; Page: [xvi]
  • A Prophetic Account of a Grand National Epic Poem, to be entitled “The Wellingtoniad,” and to be Published ad 2824. (November 1824.) . . . . . . 141
  • On Mitford’s History of Greece. (November 1824.) . . 154

  • John Dryden. (January 1828.) . . . . . . 183
  • History. (May 1828.) . . . . . . . . 232
  • Mill on Government. (March 1829.) . . . . . 282
  • Westminster Reviewer’s Defence of Mill. (June 1829.) . 323
  • Utilitarian Theory of Government. (October 1829.) . . 360
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* * * * *

It was an hour after noon. Ligarius was returning from the Campus Martius. He strolled through one of the streets which led to the forum, settling his gown, and calculating the odds on the gladiators who were to fence at the approaching Saturnalia. While thus occupied, he overtook Flaminius, who, with a heavy step and a melancholy face, was sauntering in the same direction. The light-hearted young man plucked him by the sleeve.

“Good day, Flaminius. Are you to be of Catiline’s party this evening?”

“Not I.”

“Why so? Your little Tarentine girl will break her heart.”

“No matter. Catiline has the best cooks and the finest wine in Rome. There are charming women at his parties. But the twelve-line board and the dice-box pay for all. The Gods confound me if I did not lose two millions of sesterces last night. My villa at Tibur, and all the statues that my father the prætor brought from Ephesus, must go to the auctioneer. That is a high price, you will acknowledge, even for Phœnicopters, Chian, and Callinice.”

“High indeed, by Pollux.”

“And that is not the worst. I saw several of the leading senators this morning. Strange things are whispered in the higher political circles.”

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“The Gods confound the political circles. I have hated the name of politician ever since Sylla’s proscription, when I was within a moment of having my throat cut by a politician, who took me for another politician. While there is a cask of Falernian in Campania, or a girl in the Suburra, I shall be too well employed to think on the subject.”

“You will do well,” said Flaminius gravely, “to bestow some little consideration upon it at present. Otherwise, I fear, you will soon renew your acquaintance with politicians, in a manner quite as unpleasant as that to which you allude.”

“Averting Gods! what do you mean?”

“I will tell you. There are rumours of conspiracy. The order of things established by Lucius Sylla has excited the disgust of the people, and of a large party of the nobles. Some violent convulsion is expected.”

“What is that to me? I suppose that they will hardly proscribe the vintners and gladiators, or pass a law compelling every citizen to take a wife.”

“You do not understand. Catiline is supposed to be the author of the revolutionary schemes. You must have heard bold opinions at his table repeatedly.”

“I never listen to any opinions upon such subjects, bold or timid.”

“Look to it. Your name has been mentioned.”

“Mine! good Gods! I call heaven to witness that I never so much as mentioned Senate, Consul, or Comitia, in Catiline’s house.”

“Nobody suspects you of any participation in the inmost counsels of the party. But our great men surmise that you are among those whom he has bribed so high with beauty, or entangled so deeply in distress, that they are no longer their own masters. I shall never set foot within his threshold again. I have been solemnly warned by men who understand public affairs; and I advise you to be cautious.”

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The friends had now turned into the forum, which was thronged with the gay and elegant youth of Rome. “I can tell you more,” continued Flaminius; “somebody was remarking to the Consul yesterday how loosely a certain acquaintance of ours tied his girdle. ‘Let him look to himself,’ said Cicero, ‘or the state may find a tighter girdle for his neck.’ ”

“Good Gods! who is it? You cannot surely mean —”

“There he is.”

Flaminius pointed to a man who was pacing up and down the forum at a little distance from them. He was in the prime of manhood. His personal advantages were extremely striking, and were displayed with an extravagant but not ungraceful foppery. His gown waved in loose folds; his long dark curls were dressed with exquisite art, and shone and steamed with odours; his step and gesture exhibited an elegant and commanding figure in every posture of polite languor. But his countenance formed a singular contrast to the general appearance of his person. The high and imperial brow, the keen aquiline features, the compressed mouth, the penetrating eye, indicated the highest degree of ability and decision. He seemed absorbed in intense meditation. With eyes fixed on the ground, and lips working in thought, he sauntered round the area, apparently unconscious how many of the young gallants of Rome were envying the taste of his dress, and the ease of his fashionable stagger.

“Good Heaven!” said Ligarius, “Caius Cæsar is as unlikely to be in a plot as I am.”

“Not at all.”

“He does nothing but game, feast, intrigue, read Greek, and write verses.”

“You know nothing of Cæsar. Though he rarely addresses the Senate, he is considered as the finest speaker there, after the Consul. His influence with the multitude is immense. He will serve his rivals in public life as he served me last night at Catiline’s. We were playing at Edition: current; Page: [6] the twelve lines.* — Immense stakes. He laughed all the time, chatted with Valeria over his shoulder, kissed her hand between every two moves, and scarcely looked at the board. I thought that I had him. All at once I found my counters driven into the corner. Not a piece to move, by Hercules. It cost me two millions of Sesterces. All the Gods and Goddesses confound him for it!”

“As to Valeria,” said Ligarius, “I forgot to ask whether you have heard the news.”

“Not a word. What?”

“I was told at the baths to-day that Cæsar escorted the lady home. Unfortunately old Quintus Lutatius had come back from his villa in Campania, in a whim of jealousy. He was not expected for three days. There was a fine tumult. The old fool called for his sword and his slaves, cursed his wife, and swore that he would cut Cæsar’s throat.”

“And Cæsar?”

“He laughed, quoted Anacreon, trussed his gown round his left arm, closed with Quintus, flung him down, twisted his sword out of his hand, burst through the attendants, ran a freed-man through the shoulder, and was in the street in an instant.”

“Well done! Here he comes. Good day, Caius.”

Cæsar lifted his head at the salutation. His air of deep abstraction vanished; and he extended a hand to each of the friends.

“How are you after your last night’s exploit?”

“As well as possible,” said Cæsar laughing.

“In truth we should rather ask how Quintus Lutatius is.”

“He, I understand, is as well as can be expected of a man with a faithless spouse and a broken head. His freed-man is most seriously hurt. Poor fellow! he shall Edition: current; Page: [7] have half of whatever I win to-night. Flaminius, you shall have your revenge at Catiline’s.”

“You are very kind. I do not intend to be at Catiline’s till I wish to part with my town-house. My villa is gone already.”

“Not at Catiline’s, base spirit! You are not of his mind, my gallant Ligarius. Dice, Chian, and the loveliest Greek singing-girl that was ever seen. Think of that, Ligarius. By Venus, she almost made me adore her, by telling me that I talked Greek with the most Attic accent that she had heard in Italy.”

“I doubt she will not say the same of me,” replied Ligarius. “I am just as able to decipher an obelisk as to read a line of Homer.”

“You barbarous Scythian, who had the care of your education?”

“An old fool, — a Greek pedant, — a Stoic. He told me that pain was no evil, and flogged me as if he thought so. At last one day, in the middle of a lecture, I set fire to his enormous filthy beard, singed his face, and sent him roaring out of the house. There ended my studies. From that time to this I have had as little to do with Greece as the wine that your poor old friend Lutatius calls his delicious Samian.”

“Well done, Ligarius. I hate a Stoic. I wish Marcus Cato had a beard that you might singe it for him. The fool talked his two hours in the Senate yesterday, without changing a muscle of his face. He looked as savage and as motionless as the mask in which Roscius acted Alecto. I detest everything connected with him.”

“Except his sister, Servilia.”

“True. She is a lovely woman.”

“They say that you have told her so, Caius.”

“So I have.”

“And that she was not angry.”

“What woman is?”

“Aye, — but they say —”

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“No matter what they say. Common fame lies like a Greek rhetorician. You might know so much, Ligarius, without reading the philosophers. But come, I will introduce you to little dark-eyed Zoe.”

“I tell you I can speak no Greek.”

“More shame for you. It is high time that you should begin. You will never have such a charming instructress. Of what was your father thinking when he sent for an old Stoic with a long beard to teach you? There is no language-mistress like a handsome woman. When I was at Athens, I learnt more Greek from a pretty flower-girl in the Peiræus than from all the Portico and the Academy. She was no Stoic, Heaven knows. But come along to Zoe. I will be your interpreter. Woo her in honest Latin, and I will turn it into elegant Greek between the throws of dice. I can make love and mind my game at once, as Flaminius can tell you.”

“Well, then, to be plain, Cæsar, Flaminius has been talking to me about plots, and suspicions, and politicians. I never plagued myself with such things since Sylla’s and Marius’s days; and then I never could see much difference between the parties. All that I am sure of is, that those who meddle with such affairs are generally stabbed or strangled. And, though I like Greek wine and handsome women, I do not wish to risk my neck for them. Now, tell me as a friend, Caius; — is there no danger?”

“Danger!” repeated Cæsar, with a short, fierce, disdainful laugh: “What danger do you apprehend?”

“That you should best know,” said Flaminius; “you are far more intimate with Catiline than I. But I advise you to be cautious. The leading men entertain strong suspicions.”

Cæsar drew up his figure from its ordinary state of graceful relaxation into an attitude of commanding dignity, and replied in a voice of which the deep and impassioned melody formed a strange contrast to the humorous and affected tone of his ordinary conversation. “Let them Edition: current; Page: [9] suspect. They suspect because they know what they have deserved. What have they done for Rome? — What for mankind? — Ask the citizens. Ask the provinces. Have they had any other object than to perpetuate their own exclusive power, and to keep us under the yoke of an oligarchical tyranny, which unites in itself the worst evils of every other system, and combines more than Athenian turbulence with more than Persian despotism?”

“Good Gods! Cæsar. It is not safe for you to speak, or for us to listen to, such things, at such a crisis.”

“Judge for yourselves what you will hear. I will judge for myself what I will speak. I was not twenty years old when I defied Lucius Sylla, surrounded by the spears of legionaries and the daggers of assassins. Do you suppose that I stand in awe of his paltry successors, who have inherited a power which they never could have acquired; who would imitate his proscriptions, though they have never equalled his conquests?”

“Pompey is almost as little to be trifled with as Sylla. I heard a consular senator say that, in consequence of the present alarming state of affairs, he would probably be recalled from the command assigned to him by the Manilian law.”

“Let him come, — the pupil of Sylla’s butcheries, — the gleaner of Lucullus’s trophies, — the thief-taker of the Senate.”

“For heaven’s sake, Caius! — if you knew what the Consul said—”

“Something about himself, no doubt. Pity that such talents should be coupled with such cowardice and coxcombry. He is the finest speaker living,—infinitely superior to what Hortensius was, in his best days; — a charming companion, except when he tells over for the twentieth time all the jokes that he made at Verres’s trial. But he is the despicable tool of a despicable party.”

“Your language, Caius, convinces me that the reports which have been circulated are not without foundation. Edition: current; Page: [10] I will venture to prophecy that within a few months the republic will pass through a whole Odyssey of strange adventures.”

“I believe so; an Odyssey of which Pompey will be the Polyphemus, and Cicero the Siren. I would have the state imitate Ulysses: show no mercy to the former; but contrive, if it can be done, to listen to the enchanting voice of the other, without being seduced by it to destruction.”

“But whom can your party produce as rivals to these two famous leaders?”

“Time will show. I would hope that there may arise a man, whose genius to conquer, to conciliate, and to govern, may unite in one cause an oppressed and divided people; — may do all that Sylla should have done, and exhibit the magnificent spectacle of a great nation directed by a great mind.”

“And where is such a man to be found?”

“Perhaps where you would least expect to find him. Perhaps he may be one whose powers have hitherto been concealed in domestic or literary retirement. Perhaps he may be one, who, while waiting for some adequate excitement, for some worthy opportunity, squanders on trifles a genius before which may yet be humbled the sword of Pompey and the gown of Cicero. Perhaps he may now be disputing with a sophist; perhaps prattling with a mistress; perhaps—” and, as he spoke, he turned away, and resumed his lounge, “strolling in the Forum.”

* * * * * * * *

It was almost midnight. The party had separated. Catiline and Cethegus were still conferring in the supper-room, which was, as usual, the highest apartment of the house. It formed a cupola, from which windows opened on the flat roof that surrounded it. To this terrace Zoe had retired. With eyes dimmed with fond and melancholy tears, she leaned over the balustrade, to catch the last glimpse of the departing form of Cæsar, as it grew Edition: current; Page: [11] more and more indistinct in the moonlight. Had he any thought of her? Any love for her? He, the favourite of the high-born beauties of Rome, the most splendid, the most graceful, the most eloquent of its nobles? It could not be. His voice had, indeed, been touchingly soft whenever he addressed her. There had been a fascinating tenderness even in the vivacity of his look and conversation. But such were always the manners of Cæsar towards women. He had wreathed a spring of myrtle in her hair as she was singing. She took it from her dark ringlets, and kissed it, and wept over it, and thought of the sweet legends of her own dear Greece,—of youths and girls, who, pining away in hopeless love, had been transformed into flowers by the compassion of the Gods; and she wished to become a flower, which Cæsar might sometimes touch, though he should touch it only to weave a crown for some prouder and happier mistress.

She was roused from her musings by the loud step and voice of Cethegus, who was pacing furiously up and down the supper-room.

“May all the gods confound me, if Cæsar be not the deepest traitor, or the most miserable idiot, that ever intermeddled with a plot!”

Zoe shuddered. She drew nearer to the window. She stood concealed from observation by the curtain of fine network which hung over the aperture, to exclude the annoying insects of the climate.

“And you, too!” continued Cethegus, turning fiercely on his accomplice; “you to take his part against me!—you, who proposed the scheme yourself!”

“My dear Caius Cethegus, you will not understand me. I proposed the scheme; and I will join in executing it. But policy is as necessary to our plans as boldness. I did not wish to startle Cæsar — to lose his co-operation —perhaps to send him off with an information against us to Cicero and Catulus. He was so indignant at your suggestion, Edition: current; Page: [12] that all my dissimulation was scarcely sufficient to prevent a total rupture.”

“Indignant! The gods confound him! — He prated about humanity, and generosity, and moderation. By Hercules, I have not heard such a lecture since I was with Xenochares at Rhodes.”

“Cæsar is made up of inconsistencies. He has boundless ambition, unquestioned courage, admirable sagacity. Yet I have frequently observed in him a womanish weakness at the sight of pain. I remember that once one of his slaves was taken ill while carrying his litter. He alighted, put the fellow in his place, and walked home in a fall of snow. I wonder that you could be so ill-advised as to talk to him of massacre, and pillage, and conflagration. You might have foreseen that such propositions would disgust a man of his temper.”

“I do not know. I have not your self-command, Lucius. I hate such conspirators. What is the use of them? We must have blood — blood, — hacking and tearing work—bloody work!”

“Do not grind your teeth, my dear Caius; and lay down the carving-knife. By Hercules, you have cut up all the stuffing of the couch.”

“No matter; we shall have couches enough soon, — and down to stuff them with, — and purple to cover them, — and pretty women to loll on them, — unless this fool, and such as he, spoil our plans. I had something else to say. The essenced fop wishes to seduce Zoe from me.”

“Impossible! You misconstrue the ordinary gallantries which he is in the habit of paying to every handsome face.”

“Curse on his ordinary gallantries, and his verses, and his compliments, and his sprigs of myrtle! If Cæsar should dare — by Hercules, I will tear him to pieces in the middle of the Forum.”

“Trust his destruction to me. We must use his talents Edition: current; Page: [13] and influence — thrust him upon every danger — make him our instrument while we are contending — our peaceoffering to the Senate if we fail — our first victim if we succeed.”

“Hark! what noise was that?”

“Somebody in the terrace! — lend me your dagger.”

Catiline rushed to the window. Zoe was standing in the shade. He stepped out. She darted into the room — passed like a flash of lightning by the startled Cethegus — flew down the stairs — through the court — through the vestibule — through the street. Steps, voices, lights, came fast and confusedly behind her; — but with the speed of love and terror she gained upon her pursuers. She fled through the wilderness of unknown and dusky streets, till she found herself, breathless and exhausted, in the midst of a crowd of gallants, who, with chaplets on their heads, and torches in their hands, were reeling from the portico of a stately mansion.

The foremost of the throng was a youth whose slender figure and beautiful countenance seemed hardly consistent with his sex. But the feminine delicacy of his features rendered more frightful the mingled sensuality and ferocity of their expression. The libertine audacity of his stare, and the grotesque foppery of his apparel, seemed to indicate at least a partial insanity. Flinging one arm round Zoe, and tearing away her veil with the other, he disclosed to the gaze of his thronging companions the regular features and large dark eyes which characterise Athenian beauty.

“Clodius has all the luck to night,” cried Ligarius.

“Not so, by Hercules,” said Marcus Cœlius; “the girl is fairly our common prize: we will fling dice for her. The Venus* throw, as it ought to do, shall decide.”

“Let me go — let me go, for Heaven’s sake,” cried Zoe, struggling with Clodius.

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“What a charming Greek accent she has. Come into the house, my little Athenian nightingale.

“Oh! what will become of me? If you have mothers—if you have sisters—”

“Clodius has a sister,” muttered Ligarius, “or he is much belied.”

“By Heaven, she is weeping,” said Clodius.

“If she were not evidently a Greek,” said Cœlius, “I should take her for a vestal virgin.”

“And if she were a vestal virgin,” cried Clodius fiercely, “it should not deter me. This way;—no struggling — no screaming.”

“Struggling! screaming!” exclaimed a gay and commanding voice; “You are making very ungentle love, Clodius.”

The whole party started. Cæsar had mingled with them unperceived.

The sound of his voice thrilled through the very heart of Zoe. With a convulsive effort she burst from the grasp of her insolent admirer, flung herself at the feet of Cæsar, and clasped his knees. The moon shone full on her agitated and imploring face: her lips moved; but she uttered no sound. He gazed at her for an instant—raised her — clasped her to his bosom. “Fear nothing, my sweet Zoe.” Then, with folded arms, and a smile of placid defiance, he placed himself between her and Clodius.

Clodius staggered forward, flushed with wine and rage, and uttering alternately a curse and a hiccup.

“By Pollux, this passes a jest. Cæsar, how dare you insult me thus?”

“A jest! I am as serious as a Jew on the Sabbath. Insult you; For such a pair of eyes I would insult the whole consular bench, or I should be as insensible as King Psammis’s mummy.”

“Good Gods, Cæsar!” said Marcus Cœlius, interposing; “you cannot think it worth while to get into a brawl for a little Greek girl!”

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“Why not? The Greek girls have used me as well as those of Rome. Besides, the whole reputation of my gallantry is at stake. Give up such a lovely woman to that drunken boy! My character would be gone for ever. No more perfumed tablets, full of vows and raptures? No more toying with fingers at the Circus. No more evening walks along the Tiber. No more hiding in chests, or jumping from windows. I, the favoured suitor of half the white stoles in Rome, could never again aspire above a freed-woman. You a man of gallantry, and think of such a thing! For shame, my dear Cœlius! Do not let Clodia hear of it.”

While Cæsar spoke he had been engaged in keeping Clodius at arm’s length. The rage of the frantic libertine increased as the struggle continued. “Stand back, as you value your life,” he cried; “I will pass.”

“Not this way, sweet Clodius. I have too much regard for you to suffer you to make love at such disadvantage. You smell too much of Falernian at present. Would you stifle your mistress? By Hercules, you are fit to kiss nobody now, except old Piso, when he is tumbling home in the morning from the vintners.”*

Clodius plunged his hand into his bosom, and drew a little dagger, the faithful companion of many desperate adventures.

“Oh, Gods! he will be murdered!” cried Zoe.

The whole throng of revellers was in agitation. The street fluctuated with torches and lifted hands. It was but for a moment. Cæsar watched with a steady eye the descending hand of Clodius, arrested the blow, seized his antagonist by the throat, and flung him against one of the pillars of the portico with such violence that he rolled, stunned and senseless, on the ground.

“He is killed,” cried several voices.

“Fair self-defence, by Hercules!” said Marcus Cœlius. “Bear witness, you all saw him draw his dagger.”

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“He is not dead — he breathes,” said Ligarius. “Carry him into the house; he is dreadfully bruised.”

The rest of the party retired with Clodius. Cœlius turned to Cæsar.

“By all the Gods, Caius! you have won your lady fairly. A splendid victory! You deserve a triumph.”

“What a madman Clodius has become!”

“Intolerable. But come and sup with me on the Nones. You have no objection to meet the Consul?”

“Cicero? None at all, We need not talk politics. Our old dispute about Plato and Epicurus will furnish us with plenty of conversation. So reckon upon me, my dear Marcus, and farewell.”

Cæsar and Zoe turned away. As soon as they were beyond hearing, she began in great agitation:—

“Cæsar, you are in danger. I know all. I overheard Catiline and Cethegus. You are engaged in a project which must lead to certain destruction.”

“My beautiful Zoe, I live only for glory and pleasure. For these I have never hesitated to hazard an existence which they alone render valuable to me. In the present case, I can assure you that our scheme presents the fairest hopes of success.”

“So much the worse. You do not know — you do not understand me. I speak not of open peril, but of secret treachery. Catiline hates you; — Cethegus hates you;—your destruction is resolved. If you survive the contest, you perish in the first hour of victory. They detest you for your moderation; — they are eager for blood and plunder. I have risked my life to bring you this warning; but that is of little moment. Farewell! — Be happy;”

Cæsar stopped her. “Do you fly from my thanks, dear Zoe?”

“I wish not for your thanks, but for your safety;—I desire not to defraud Valeria or Servilia of one caress, extorted from gratitude or pity. Be my feelings what they may, I have learnt in a fearful school to endure and Edition: current; Page: [17] to suppress them. I have been taught to abase a proud spirit to the claps and hisses of the vulgar; — to smile on suitors who united the insults of a despicable pride to the endearments of a loathsome fondness;— to affect sprightliness with an aching head, and eyes from which tears were ready to gush;— to feign love with curses on my lips, and madness in my brain. Who feels for me any esteem,— any tenderness? Who will shed a tear over the nameless grave which will soon shelter from cruelty and scorn the broken heart of the poor Athenian girl? But you, who alone have addressed her in her degradation with a voice of kindness and respect, farewell. Sometimes think of me,— not with sorrow;— no; I could bear your ingratitude, but not your distress. Yet, if it will not pain you too much, in distant days, when your lofty hopes and destinies are accomplished,—on the evening of some mighty victory,— in the chariot of some magnificent triumph,— think on one who loved you with that exceeding love which only the miserable can feel. Think that, wherever her exhausted frame may have sunk beneath the sensibilities of a tortured spirit, — in whatever hovel or whatever vault she may have closed her eyes, — whatever strange scenes of horror and pollution may have surrounded her dying bed, your shape was the last that swam before her sight — your voice the last sound that was ringing in her ears. Yet turn your face to me, Cæsar. Let me carry away one last look of those features, and then—” He turned round. He looked at her. He hid his face on her bosom, and burst into tears. With sobs long and loud, and convulsive as those of a terrified child, he poured forth on her bosom the tribute of impetuous and uncontrollable emotion. He raised his head; but he in vain struggled to restore composure to the brow which had confronted the frown of Sylla, and the lips which had rivalled the eloquence of Cicero. He several times attempted to speak, but in vain: Edition: current; Page: [18] and his voice still faltered with tenderness, when, after a pause of several minutes, he thus addressed her:

“My own dear Zoe, your love has been bestowed on one who, if he cannot merit, can at least appreciate and adore you. Beings of similar loveliness, and similar devotedness of affection, mingled, in all my boyish dreams of greatness, with visions of curule chairs and ivory cars, marshalled legions and laurelled fasces. Such I have endeavoured to find in the world; and, in their stead, I have met with selfishness, with vanity, with frivolity, with falsehood. The life which you have preserved is a boon less valuable than the affection —”

“Oh! Cæsar,” interrupted the blushing Zoe, “think only on your own security at present. If you feel as you speak,— but you are only mocking me,— or perhaps your compassion—”

“By Heaven!— by every oath that is binding—”

“Alas! alas! Cæsar, were not all the same oaths sworn yesterday to Valeria? But I will trust you, at least so far as to partake your present dangers. Flight may be necessary:— form your plans. Be they what they may, there is one who, in exile, in poverty, in peril, asks only to wander, to beg, to die with you.”

“My Zoe, I do not anticipate any such necessity. To renounce the conspiracy without renouncing the principles on which it was originally undertaken, — to elude the vengeance of the Senate without losing the confidence of the people,—is, indeed, an arduous, but not an impossible, task. I owe it to myself and to my country to make the attempt. There is still ample time for consideration. At present I am too happy in love to think of ambition or danger.”

They had reached the door of a stately palace. Cæsar struck it. It was instantly opened by a slave. Zoe found herself in a magnificent hall, surrounded by pillars of green marble, between which were ranged the statues of the long line of Julian nobles.

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“Call Endymion,” said Cæsar.

The confidential freed-man made his appearance, not without a slight smile, which his patron’s good nature emboldened him to hazard, at perceiving the beautiful Athenian.

“Arm my slaves, Endymion; there are reasons for precaution. Let them relieve each other on guard during the night. Zoe, my love, my preserver, why are your cheeks so pale? Let me kiss some bloom into them. How you tremble! Endymion, a flask of Samian and some fruit. Bring them to my apartments. This way, my sweet Zoe.”

* * * * * * * *

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This is the age of societies. There is scarcely one Englishman in ten who has not belonged to some association for distributing books, or for prosecuting them; for sending invalids to the hospital, or beggars to the treadmill; for giving plate to the rich or blankets to the poor. To be the most absurd institution among so many institutions is no small distinction; it seems, however, to belong indisputably to the Royal Society of Literature. At the first establishment of that ridiculous academy, every sensible man predicted that, in spite of regal patronage and episcopal management, it would do nothing, or do harm. And it will scarcely be denied that those expectations have hitherto been fulfilled.

I do not attack the founders of the association. Their characters are respectable; their motives, I am willing to believe, were laudable. But I feel, and it is the duty of every literary man to feel, a strong jealousy of their proceedings. Their society can be innocent only while it continues to be despicable. Should they ever possess the power to encourage merit, they must also possess the power to depress it. Which power will be more frequently exercised, let every one who has studied literary history, let every one who has studied human nature, declare.

Envy and faction insinuate themselves into all communities. They often disturb the peace, and pervert the decisions, of benevolent and scientific associations. But it is in literary academies that they exert the most extensive and pernicious influence. In the first place, the principles Edition: current; Page: [21] of literary criticism, though equally fixed with those on which the chemist and the surgeon proceed, are by no means equally recognised. Men are rarely able to assign a reason for their approbation or dislike on questions of taste; and therefore they willingly submit to any guide who boldly asserts his claim to superior discernment. It is more difficult to ascertain and establish the merits of a poem than the powers of a machine or the benefits of a new remedy. Hence it is in literature, that quackery is most easily puffed, and excellence most easily decried.

In some degree this argument applies to academies of the fine arts; and it is fully confirmed by all that I have ever heard of that institution which annually disfigures the walls of Somerset-House with an acre of spoiled canvass. But a literary tribunal is incomparably more dangerous. Other societies, at least, have no tendency to call forth any opinions on those subjects which most agitate and inflame the minds of men. The sceptic and the zealot, the revolutionist and the placeman, meet on common ground in a gallery of paintings or a laboratory of science. They can praise or censure without reference to the differences which exist between them. In a literary body this can never be the case. Literature is, and always must be, inseparably blended with politics and theology; it is the great engine which moves the feelings of a people on the most momentous questions. It is, therefore, impossible that any society can be formed so impartial as to consider the literary character of an individual abstracted from the opinions which his writings inculcate. It is not to be hoped, perhaps it is not to be wished, that the feelings of the man should be so completely forgotten in the duties of the academician. The consequences are evident. The honours and censures of this Star-chamber of the Muses will be awarded according to the prejudices of the particular sect or faction which may at the time predominate. Whigs would canvass against a Southey, Tories against a Byron. Those who might at first protest against such conduct Edition: current; Page: [22] as unjust would soon adopt it on the plea of retaliation; and the general good of literature, for which the society was professedly instituted, would be forgotten in the stronger claims of political and religious partiality.

Yet even this is not the worst. Should the institution ever acquire any influence, it will afford most pernicious facilities to every malignant coward who may desire to blast a reputation which he envies. It will furnish a secure ambuscade, behind which the Maroons of literature may take a certain and deadly aim. The editorial we has often been fatal to rising genius; though all the world knows that it is only a form of speech, very often employed by a single needy blockhead. The academic we would have a far greater and more ruinous influence. Numbers, while they increased the effect, would diminish the shame, of injustice. The advantages of an open and those of an anonymous attack would be combined; and the authority of avowal would be united to the security of concealment. The serpents in Virgil, after they had destroyed Laocoon, found an asylum from the vengeance of the enraged people behind the shield of the statue of Minerva. And, in the same manner, every thing that is grovelling and venomous, every thing that can hiss, and every thing that can sting, would take sanctuary in the recesses of this new temple of wisdom.

The French academy was, of all such associations, the most widely and the most justly celebrated. It was founded by the greatest of ministers; it was patronised by successive kings; it numbered in its lists most of the eminent French writers. Yet what benefit has literature derived from its labours? What is its history but an uninterrupted record of servile compliances—of paltry artifices—of deadly quarrels—of perfidious friendships? Whether governed by the Court, by the Sorbonne, or by the Philosophers, it was always equally powerful for evil, and equally impotent for good. I might speak of the attacks by which it attempted to depress the rising fame Edition: current; Page: [23] of Corneille; I might speak of the reluctance with which it gave its tardy confirmation to the applauses which the whole civilised world had bestowed on the genius of Voltaire. I might prove by overwhelming evidence that, to the latest period of its existence, even under the superintendence of the all-accomplished D’Alembert, it continued to be a scene of the fiercest animosities and the basest intrigues. I might cite Piron’s epigrams, and Marmontel’s memoirs, and Montesquieu’s letters. But I hasten on to another topic.

One of the modes by which our Society proposes to encourage merit is the distribution of prizes. The munificence of the king has enabled it to offer an annual premium of a hundred guineas for the best essay in prose, and another of fifty guineas for the best poem, which may be transmitted to it. This is very laughable. In the first place the judges may err. Those imperfections of human intellect to which, as the articles of the church tell us, even general councils are subject may possibly be found even in the Royal Society of Literature. The French academy, as I have already said, was the most illustrious assembly of the kind, and numbered among its associates men much more distinguished than ever will assemble at Mr. Hatchard’s to rummage the box of the English Society. Yet this famous body gave a poetical prize, for which Voltaire was a candidate, to a fellow who wrote some verses about the frozen and the burning pole.

Yet, granting that the prizes were always awarded to the best composition, that composition, I say without hesitation, will always be bad. A prize poem is like a prize sheep. The object of the competitor for the agricultural premium is to produce an animal fit, not to be eaten, but to be weighed. Accordingly he pampers his victim into morbid and unnatural fatness; and, when it is in such a state that it would be sent away in disgust from any table, he offers it to the judges. The object of the poetical candidate, in like manner, is to produce, not a Edition: current; Page: [24] good poem, but a poem of that exact degree of frigidity or bombast which may appear to his censors to be correct or sublime. Compositions thus constructed will always be worthless. The few excellences which they may contain will have an exotic aspect and flavour. In general, prize sheep are good for nothing but to make tallow candles, and prize poems are good for nothing but to light them.

The first subject proposed by the Society to the poets of England was Dartmoor. I thought that they intended a covert sarcasm at their own projects. Their institution was a literary Dartmoor scheme; — a plan for forcing into cultivation the waste lands of intellect, — for raising poetical produce, by means of bounties, from soil too meagre to have yielded any returns in the natural course of things. The plan for the cultivation of Dartmoor has, I hear, been abandoned. I hope that this may be an omen of the fate of the Society.

In truth, this seems by no means improbable. They have been offering for several years the rewards which the king placed at their disposal, and have not, as far as I can learn, been able to find in their box one composition which they have deemed worthy of publication. At least no publication has taken place. The associates may perhaps be astonished at this. But I will attempt to explain it, after the manner of ancient times, by means of an apologue.

About four hundred years after the deluge, King Gomer Chephoraod reigned in Babylon. He united all the characteristics of an excellent sovereign. He made good laws, won great battles, and white-washed long streets. He was, in consequence, idolised by his people, and panegyrised by many poets and orators. A book was then a serious undertaking. Neither paper nor any similar material had been invented. Authors were therefore under the necessity of inscrivbing their compositions on massive bricks. Some of these Babylonian records are still preserved Edition: current; Page: [25] in European museums; but the language in which they are written has never been deciphered. Gomer Chephoraod was so popular that the clay of all the plains round the Euphrates could scarcely furnish brick-kilns enough for his eulogists. It is recorded in particular that Pharonezzar, the Assyrian Pindar, published a bridge and four walls in his praise.

One day the king was going in state from his palace to the temple of Belus. During this procession it was lawful for any Babylonian to offer any petition or suggestion to his sovereign. As the chariot passed before a vintner’s shop, a large company, apparently half-drunk, sallied forth into the street; and one of them thus addressed the king:

“Gomer Chephoraod, live for ever! It appears to thy servants that of all the productions of the earth good wine is the best, and bad wine is the worst. Good wine makes the heart cheerful, the eyes bright, the speech ready. Bad wine confuses the head, disorders the stomach, makes us quarrelsome at night, and sick the next morning. Now therefore let my lord the king take order that thy servants may drink good wine.”

“And how is this to be done?” said the good-natured prince.

“Oh, King,” said his monitor, “this is most easy. Let the king make a decree, and seal it with his royal signet: and let it be proclaimed that the king will give ten she-asses, and ten slaves, and ten changes of raiment, every year, unto the man who shall make ten measures of the best wine. And whosoever wishes for the she-asses, and the slaves, and the raiment, let him send the ten measures of wine to thy servants, and we will drink thereof and judge. So shall there be much good wine in Assyria.”

The project pleased Gomer Chephoraod. “Be it so,” said he. The people shouted. The petitioners prostrated themselves in gratitude. The same night heralds were despatched to bear the intelligence to the remotest districts of Assyria.

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After a due interval the wines began to come in; and the examiners assembled to adjudge the prize. The first vessel was unsealed. Its odour was such that the judges, without tasting it, pronounced unanimous condemnation. The next was opened: it had a villainous taste of clay. The third was sour and vapid. They proceeded from one cask of execrable liquor to another, till at length, in absolute nausea, they gave up the investigation.

The next morning they all assembled at the gate of the king, with pale faces and aching heads. They owned that they could not recommend any competitor as worthy of the rewards. They swore that the wine was little better than poison, and intreated permission to resign the office of deciding between such detestable potions.

“In the name of Belus, how can this have happened?” said the king.

Merolchazzar, the high-priest, muttered something about the anger of the Gods at the toleration shown to a sect of impious hereties who ate pigeons broiled, “whereas,” said he, “our religion commands us to eat them roasted. Now therefore, oh King,” continued this respectable divine, “give command to thy men of war, and let them smite the disobedient people with the sword, them, and their wives, and their children, and let their houses, and their flocks, and their herds, be given to thy servants the priests. Then shall the land yield its increase, and the fruits of the earth shall be no more blasted by the vengeance of heaven.”

“Nay,” said the King, “the ground lies under no general curse from heaven. The season has been singularly good. The wine which thou didst thyself drink at the banquet a few nights ago, oh venerable Merolchazzar, was of this year’s vintage. Dost thou not remember how thou didst praise it? It was the same night that thou wast inspired by Belus, and didst reel to and fro, and discourse sacred mysteries. These things are too hard for Edition: current; Page: [27] me. I comprehend them not. The only wine which is bad is that which is sent to my judges. Who can expound this to us?”

The king scratched his head. Upon which all the courtiers scratched their heads.

He then ordered proclamation to be made, that a purple robe and a golden chain should be given to the man who could solve this difficulty.

An old philosopher, who had been observed to smile rather disdainfully when the prize had first been instituted, came forward and spoke thus: —

“Gomer Chephoraod, live for ever! Marvel not at that which has happened. It was no miracle, but a natural event. How could it be otherwise? It is true that much good wine has been made this year. But who would send it in for thy rewards? Thou knowest Ascobaruch who hath the great vineyards in the north, and Cohahiroth who sendeth wine every year from the south over the Persian gulf. Their wines are so delicious that ten measures thereof are sold for an hundred talents of silver. Thinkest thou that they will exchange them for thy slaves and thine asses? What would thy prize profit any who have vineyards in rich soils?”

“Who then,” said one of the judges, “are the wretches who sent us this poison?”

“Blame them not,” said the sage, “seeing that you have been the authors of the evil. They are men whose lands are poor, and have never yielded them any returns equal to the prizes which the king proposed. Wherefore, knowing that the lords of the fruitful vineyards would not enter into competition with them, they planted vines, some on rocks, and some in light sandy soil, and some in deep clay. Hence their wines are bad. For no culture or reward will make barren land bear good vines. Know therefore, assuredly, that your prizes have increased the quantity of bad but not of good wine.”

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There was a long silence. At length the king spoke. “Give him the purple robe and the chain of gold. Throw the wines into the Euphrates; and proclaim that the Royal Society of Wines is dissolved.”

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I.: SceneA Street in Athens.

Enter Callidemus and Speusippus.


So, you young reprobate! You must be a man of wit, forsooth, and a man of quality! You must spend as if you were as rich as Nicias, and prate as if you were as wise as Pericles! You must dangle after sophists and pretty women! And I must pay for all! I must sup on thyme aud onions, while you are swallowing thrushes and hares! I must drink water, that you may play the cottabus* with Chian wine! I must wander about as ragged as Pauson, that you may be as fine as Alcibiades! I must lie on bare boards, with a stone for my pillow, and a rotten mat for my coverlid, by the light of a wretched winking lamp, while you are marching in state, with as many torches as one sees at the feast of Ceres, to thunder with your hatchet§ at the doors of half the Ionian ladies in Peiræus.

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Why, thou unreasonable old man! Thou most shameless of fathers!—


Ungrateful wretch; dare you talk so? Are you not afraid of the thunders of Jupiter?


Jupiter thunder! nonsense! Anaxagoras says, that thunder is only an explosion produced by—


He does! Would that it had fallen on his head for his pains!


Nay: talk rationally.


Rationally! You audacious young sophist! I will talk rationally. Do you know that I am your father? What quibble can you make upon that?


Do I know that you are my father? Let us take the question to pieces, as Melesigenes would say. First, then, we must inquire what is knowledge? Secondly, what is a father? Now, knowledge, as Socrates said the other day to Theætetus*,—


Socrates! what! the ragged flat-nosed old dotard, who walks about all day barefoot, and filches cloaks, and dissects gnats, and shoes fleas with wax?


All fiction! All trumped up by Aristophanes!

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By Pallas, if he is in the habit of putting shoes on his fleas, he is kinder to them than to himself. But listen to me, boy; if you go on in this way, you will be ruined. There is an argument for you. Go to your Socrates and your Melesigenes, and tell them to refute that. Ruined! Do you hear?




Ay, by Jupiter! Is such a show as you make to be supported on nothing? During all the last war, I made not an obol from my farm; the Peloponnesian locusts came almost as regularly as the Pleiades; — corn burnt; — olives stripped; — fruit trees cut down; — wells stopped up; — and, just when peace came, and I hoped that all would turn out well, you must begin to spend as if you had all the mines of Thasus at command.


Now, by Neptune, who delights in horses —


If Neptune delights in horses, he does not resemble me. You must ride at the Panathenæa on a horse fit for the great king: four acres of my best vines went for that folly. You must retrench, or you will have nothing to eat. Does not Anaxagoras mention, among his other discoveries, that when a man has nothing to eat he dies?


You are deceived. My friends —


Oh, yes! your friends will notice you, doubtless, when you are squeezing through the crowd, on a winter’s day, to warm yourself at the fire of the baths; — or when you Edition: current; Page: [32] are fighting with beggars and beggars’ dogs for the scraps of a sacrifice; — or when you are glad to earn three wretched obols* by listening all day to lying speeches and crying children.


There are other means of support.


What! I suppose you will wander from house to house, like that wretched buffoon Philippus, and beg every body who has asked a supper-party to be so kind as to feed you and laugh at you; or you will turn sycophant; you will get a bunch of grapes, or a pair of shoes, now and then, by frightening some rich coward with a mock prosecution. Well! that is a task for which your studies under the sophists may have fitted you.


You are wide of the mark.


Then what, in the name of Juno, is your scheme? Do you intend to join Orestes, and rob on the highway? Take care; beware of the eleven§; beware of the hemlock. It may be very pleasant to live at other people’s expense; but not very pleasant, I should think, to hear the pestle give its last bang against the mortar, when the cold dose is ready. Pah! —


Hemlock! Orestes! folly! — I aim at nobler objects. What say you to politics, — the general assembly?


You an orator! — oh no! no! Cleon was worth twenty Edition: current; Page: [33] such fools as you. You have succeeded, I grant, to his impudence, for which, if there be justice in Tartarus, he is now soaking up to the eyes in his own tan-pickle. But the Paphlagonian had parts.


And you mean to imply —


Not I. You are a Pericles in embryo, doubtless. Well: and when are you to make your first speech? oh Pallas!


I thought of speaking, the other day, on the Sicilian expedition; but Nicias* got up before me.


Nicias, poor honest man, might just as well have sate still; his speaking did but little good. The loss of your oration is, doubtless, an irreparable public calamity.


Why, not so; I intend to introduce it at the next assembly; it will suit any subject.


That is to say, it will suit none. But pray, if it be not too presumptuous a request, indulge me with a specimen.


Well; suppose the agora crowded; — an important subject under discussion; — an ambassador from Argos, or from the great king; — the tributes from the islands; — an impeachment; — in short, anything you please. The crier makes proclamation. — “Any citizen above fifty years old may speak—any citizen not disqualified may speak.” Then I rise: — a great murmur of curiosity while I am mounting the stand.

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Of curiosity! yes, and of something else too. You will infallibly be dragged down by main force, like poor Glaucon* last year.


Never fear. I shall begin in this style:

“When I consider, Athenians, the importance of our city; — when I consider the extent of its power, the wisdom of its laws, the elegance of its decorations: — when I consider by what names and by what exploits its annals are adorned; — when I think on Harmodius and Aristogiton, on Themistocles and Miltiades, on Cimon and Pericles; — when I contemplate our pre-eminence in arts and letters; — when I observe so many flourishing states and islands compelled to own the dominion, and purchase the protection, of the City of the Violet Crown—”


I shall choke with rage. Oh, all ye gods and goddesses, what sacrilege, what perjury have I ever committed, that I should be singled out from among all the citizens of Athens to be the father of this fool?


What now? By Bacchus, old man, I would not advise you to give way to such fits of passion in the streets. If Aristophanes were to see you, you would infallibly be in a comedy next spring.


You have more reason to fear Aristophanes than any fool living. Oh, that he could but hear you trying to imitate the slang of Straton and the lisp of Alcibiades!§ You would be an inexhaustible subject. You would console him for the loss of Cleon.

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No, no. I may perhaps figure at the dramatic representations before long; but in a very different way.


What do you mean?


What say you to a tragedy?


A tragedy of yours?


Even so.


Oh Hercules! Oh Bacchus! This is too much. Here is an universal genius; sophist,—orator,— poet. To what a three-headed monster have I given birth! a perfect Cerberus of intellect! And pray what may your piece be about? Or will your tragedy, like your speech, serve equally for any subject?


I thought of several plots; — Œdipus, — Eteocles and Polynices, — the war of Troy, — the murder of Agamemnon.


And what have you chosen?


You know there is a law which permits any modern poet to retouch a play of Æschylus, and bring it forward as his own composition. And, as there is an absurd prejudice, among the vulgar, in favour of his extravagant pieces, I have selected one of them, and altered it.


Which of them?

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Oh! that mass of barbarous absurdities, the Prometheus. But I have framed it anew upon the model of Euripides. By Bacchus, I shall make Sophocles and Agathon look about them. You would not know the play again.


By Jupiter, I believe not.


I have omitted the whole of the absurd dialogue between Vulcan and Strength, at the beginning.


That may be, on the whole, an improvement. The play will then open with that grand soliloquy of Prometheus, when he is chained to the rock.

  • “Oh! ye eternal heavens! Ye rushing winds!
  • Ye fountains of great streams! Ye ocean waves,
  • That in ten thousand sparkling dimples wreathe
  • Your azure smiles! All-generating earth!
  • All-seeing sun! On you, on you, I call.”*

Well, I allow that will be striking; I did not think you capable of that idea. Why do you laugh?


Do you seriously suppose that one who has studied the plays of that great man, Euripides, would ever begin a tragedy in such a ranting style?


What, does not your play open with the speech of Prometheus?


No doubt.

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Then what, in the name of Bacchus, do you make him say?


You shall hear; and, if it be not in the very style of Euripides, call me a fool.


That is a liberty which I shall venture to take, whether it be or no. But go on.


Prometheus begins thus:

  • “Cœlus begat Saturn and Briareus,
  • Cottus and Creius and Iapetus.
  • Gyges and Hyperion, Phœbe, Tethys,
  • Thea and Rhea and Mnemosyne.
  • Then Saturn wedded Rhea, and begat
  • Pluto and Neptune, Jupiter and Juno.”

Very beautiful, and very natural; and, as you say, very like Euripides.


You are sneering. Really, father, you do not understand these things. You had not those advantages in your youth —


Which I have been fool enough to let you have. No; in my early days, lying had not been dignified into a science, nor politics degraded into a trade. I wrestled, and read Homer’s battles, instead of dressing my hair, and reciting lectures in verse out of Euripides. But I have some notion of what a play should be; I have seen Phrynichus, and lived with Æschylus. I saw the representation of the Persians.


A wretched play; it may amuse the fools who row the triremes; but it is utterly unworthy to be read by any man of taste.

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If you had seen it acted;—the whole theatre frantic with joy, stamping, shouting, laughing, crying. There was Cynægeirus, the brother of Æschylus, who lost both his arms at Marathon, beating the stumps against his sides with rapture. When the crowd remarked him—But where are you going?


To sup with Alcibiades; he sails with the expedition for Sicily in a few days; this is his farewell entertainment.


So much the better; I should say, so much the worse. That cursed Sicilian expedition! And you were one of the young fools* who stood clapping and shouting while he was gulling the rabble, and who drowned poor Nicias’s voice with your uproar. Look to it; a day of reckoning will come. As to Alcibiades himself—


What can you say against him? His enemies themselves acknowledge his merit.


They acknowledge that he is clever, and handsome, and that he was crowned at the Olympic games. And what other merits do his friends claim for him? A precious assembly you will meet at his house, no doubt.


The first men in Athens, probably.


Whom do you mean by the first men in Athens?



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A sacrilegious, impious, unfeeling ruffian!




A fool, who can talk of nothing but his travels through Persia and Egypt. Go, go. The gods forbid that I should detain you from such choice society. [Exeunt severally.

II.: SceneA Hall in the House of Alcibiades.

Alcibiades, Speusippus, Callicles, Hippomachus, Chariclea, and others, seated round a table, feasting.


Bring larger cups. This shall be our gayest revel. It is probably the last—for some of us at least.


At all events, it will be long before you taste such wine again, Alcibiades.


Nay, there is excellent wine in Sicily. When I was there with Eurymedon’s squadron, I had many a long carouse. You never saw finer grapes than those of Ætna.


The Greeks do not understand the art of making wine. Your Persian is the man. So rich, so fragrant, so sparkling. I will tell you what the Satrap of Caria said to me about that when I supped with him.


Nay, sweet Hippomachus; not a word to-night about satraps, or the great king, or the walls of Babylon, or the Edition: current; Page: [40] Pyramids, or the mummies. Chariclea, why do you look so sad?


Can I be cheerful when you are going to leave me, Alcibiades?


My life, my sweet soul, it is but for a short time. In a year we conquer Sicily. In another, we humble Carthage.* I will bring back such robes, such necklaces, elephants’ teeth by thousands, ay, and the elephants themselves, if you wish to see them. Nay, smile, my Chariclea, or I shall talk nonsense to no purpose.


The largest elephant that I ever saw was in the grounds of Teribazus, near Susa. I wish that I had measured him.


I wish that he had trod upon you. Come, come, Chariclea, we shall soon return, and then—


Yes; then, indeed.


Yes, then—

  • Then for revels; then for dances,
  • Tender whispers, melting glances.
  • Peasants, pluck your richest fruits:
  • Minstrels, sound your sweetest flutes:
  • Come in laughing crowds to greet us,
  • Dark-eyed daughters of Miletus;
  • Bring the myrtles, bring the dice,
  • Floods of Chian, hills of spice.

Whose lines are those, Alcibiades?

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My own. Think you, because I do not shut myself up to meditate, and drink water, and eat herbs, that I cannot write verses? By Apollo, if I did not spend my days in politics, and my nights in revelry, I should have made Sophocles tremble. But now I never go beyond a little song like this, and never invoke any Muse but Chariclea. But come, Speusippus, sing. You are a professed poet. Let us have some of your verses.


My verses! How can you talk so? I a professed poet.


Oh, content you, sweet Speusippus. We all know your designs upon the tragic honours. Come, sing. A chorus of your new play.


Nay, nay—


When a guest who is asked to sing at a Persian banquet refuses—


In the name of Bacchus—


I am absolute. Sing.


Well, then, I will sing you a chorus, which, I think, is a tolerable imitation of Euripides.


Of Euripides?—Not a word!


Why so, sweet Chariclea?

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Would you have me betray my sex? Would you have me forget his Phædras and Sthenobœas? No: if I ever suffer any lines of that woman-hater, or his imitators, to be sung in my presence, may I* sell herbs like his mother, and wear rags like his Telephus.


Then, sweet Chariclea. since you have silenced Speusippus, you shall sing yourself.


What shall I sing?


Nay, choose for yourself.


Then I will sing an old Ionian hymn, which is chanted every spring at the feast of Venus, near Miletus. I used to sing it in my own country when I was a child; and—Ah, Alcibiades!


Dear Chariclea, you shall sing something else. This distresses you.


No: hand me the lyre:—no matter. You will hear the song to disadvantage. But if it were sung as I have heard it sung;—if this were a beautiful morning in spring, and if we were standing on a woody promontory, with the sea, and the white sails, and the blue Cyclades beneath us,—and the portico of a temple peeping through the Edition: current; Page: [43] trees on a huge peak above our heads,—and thousands of people, with myrtles in their hands, thronging up the winding path, their gay dresses and garlands disappearing and emerging by turns as they passed round the angles of the rock,—then perhaps—


Now, by Venus herself, sweet lady, where you are we shall lack neither sun, nor flowers, nor spring, nor temple, nor goddess.

chariclea. (Sings.)
    • Let this sunny hour be given,
    • Venus, unto love and mirth:
    • Smiles like thine are in the heaven;
    • Bloom like thine is on the earth;
    • And the tinkling of the fountains,
    • And the murmurs of the sea,
    • And the echoes from the mountains,
    • Speak of youth, and hope, and thee.
    • By whate’er of soft expression
    • Thou hast taught to lovers’ eyes,
    • Faint denial, slow confession,
    • Glowing cheeks and stifled sighs;
    • By the pleasure and the pain,
    • By the follies and the wiles,
    • Pouting fondness, sweet disdain,
    • Happy tears and mournful smiles:
    • Come with music floating o’er thee;
    • Come with violets springing round:
    • Let the Graces dance before thee,
    • All their golden zones unbound;
    • Now in sport their faces hiding,
    • Now, with slender fingers fair,
    • From their laughing eyes dividing
    • The long curls of rose-crowned hair.

Sweetly sung; but mournfully, Chariclea; for which I would chide you, but that I am sad myself. More wine there. I wish to all the gods that I had fairly sailed from Athens.


And from me, Alcibiades?

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Yes, from you, dear lady. The days which immediately precede separation are the most melancholy of our lives.


Except those which immediately follow it.


No; when I cease to see you, other objects may compel my attention; but can I be near you without thinking how lovely you are, and how soon I must leave you?


Ay; travelling soon puts such thoughts out of men’s heads.


A battle is the best remedy for them.


A battle, I should think, might supply their place with others as unpleasant.


No. The preparations are rather disagreeable to a novice. But as soon as the fighting begins, by Jupiter, it is a noble time;—men trampling,—shields clashing,—spears breaking,—and the pœan roaring louder than all.


But what if you are killed?


What indeed? You must ask Speusippus that question. He is a philosopher.


Yes, and the greatest of philosophers, if he can answer it.

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Pythagoras is of opinion—


Pythagoras stole that and all his other opinions from Asia and Egypt. The transmigration of the soul and the vegetable diet are derived from India. I met a Brachman in Sogdiana—


All nonsense!


What think you, Alcibiades?


I think that, if the doctrine be true, your spirit will be transfused into one of the doves who carry* ambrosia to the gods or verses to the mistresses of poets. Do you remember Anacreon’s lines? How should you like such an office?


If I were to be your dove, Alcibiades, and you would treat me as Anacreon treated his, and let me nestle in your breast and drink from your cup, I would submit even to carry your love-letters to other ladies.


What, in the name of Jupiter, is the use of all these speculations about death? Socrates once lectured me upon it the best part of a day. I have hated the sight of him ever since. Such things may suit an old sophist when he is fasting; but in the midst of wine and music—


I differ from you. The enlightened Egyptians bring Edition: current; Page: [46] skeletons into their banquets, in order to remind their guests to make the most of their life while they have it.


I want neither skeleton nor sophist to teach me that lesson. More wine, I pray you, and less wisdom. If you must believe something which you never can know, why not be contented with the long stories about the other world which are told us when we are initiated at the* Eleusinian mysteries.


And what are those stories?


Are not you initiated, Chariclea?


No; my mother was a Lydian, a barbarian; and therefore—


I understand. Now the curse of Venus on the fools who made so hateful a law. Speusippus, does not your friend Euripides say—

“The land where thou art prosperous is thy country?”

Surely we ought to say to every lady

“The land where thou art pretty is thy country.”

Besides, to exclude foreign beauties from the chorus of the initiated in the Elysian fields is less cruel to them than to ourselves. Chariclea, you shall be initiated.



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But there must be an interval of a year between the purification and the initiation.


We will suppose all that.


And nine days of rigid mortification of the senses.


We will suppose that too. I am sure it was supposed, with as little reason, when I was initiated.


But you are sworn to secrecy.


You a sophist, and talk of oaths! You a pupil of Euripides, and forget his maxims!

“My lips have sworn it; but my mind is free.”*


But Alcibiades—


What! Are you afraid of Ceres and Proserpine?


No — but — but — I — that is I — but it is best to be safe — I mean — Suppose there should be something in it.

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Now, by Mercury, I shall die with laughing. Oh Speusippus, Speusippus! Go back to your old father. Dig vineyards, and judge causes, and be a respectable citizen. But never, while you live, again dream of being a philosopher.


Nay, I was only—


A pupil of Gorgias and Melesigenes afraid of Tartarus! In what region of the infernal world do you expect your domicile to be fixed? Shall you roll a stone like Sisyphus? Hard exercise, Speusippus!


In the name of all the gods —


Or shall you sit starved and thirsty in the midst of fruit and wine like Tantalus? Poor fellow! I think I see your face as you are springing up to the branches and missing your aim. Oh Bacchus! Oh Mercury!




Or perhaps you will be food for a vulture, like the huge fellow who was rude to Latona.




Never fear. Minos will not be so cruel. Your eloquence will triumph over all accusations. The furies will skulk away like disappointed sycophants. Only address the judges of hell in the speech which you were prevented Edition: current; Page: [49] from speaking last assembly. “When I consider” — is not that the beginning of it? Come, man, do not be angry. Why do you pace up and down with such long steps? You are not in Tartarus yet. You seem to think that you are already stalking like poor Achilles.

  • “With stride
  • “Majestic through the plain of Asphodel.”*

How can you talk so, when you know that I believe all that foolery as little as you do?


Then march. You shall be the crier. Callicles, you shall carry the torch. Why do you stare?


I do not much like the frolic.


Nay, surely you are not taken with a fit of piety. If all be true that is told of you, you have as little reason to think the gods vindictive as any man breathing. If you be not belied, a certain golden goblet which I have seen at your house was once in the temple of Juno at Coreyra. And men say that there was a priestess at Tarentum —


A fig for the gods! I was thinking about the Archons. You will have an accusation laid against you to-morrow. It is not very pleasant to be tried before the king.

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Never fear: there is not a sycophant in Attica who would dare to breathe a word against me, for the golden* plane-tree of the great king.


That plane-tree—


Never mind the plane-tree. Come, Callicles, you were not so timid when you plundered the merchantman off Cape Malea. Take up the torch and move. Hippomachus, tell one of the slaves to bring a sow.


And what part are you to play?


I shall be hierophant. Herald, to your office. Torchbearer, advance with the lights. Come forward, fair novice. We will celebrate the rite within. (Exeunt.)

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No. I. DANTE. (January 1824.)

  • “Fairest of stars, last in the train of night,
  • If better thou belong not to the dawn,
  • Sure pledge of day, that crown’st the smiling morn
  • With thy bright circlet.”
  • Milton.

In a review of Italian literature, Dante has a double claim to precedency. He was the earliest and the greatest writer of his country. He was the first man who fully descried and exhibited the powers of his native dialect. The Latin tongue, which, under the most favourable circumstances, and in the hands of the greatest masters, had still been poor, feeble, and singularly unpoetical, and which had, in the age of Dante, been debased by the admixture of innumerable barbarous words and idioms, was still cultivated with superstitious veneration, and received, in the last stage of corruption, more honours than it had deserved in the period of its life and vigour. It was the language of the cabinet, of the university, of the church. It was employed by all who aspired to distinction in the higher walks of poetry. In compassion to the ignorance of his mistress, a cavalier might now and then proclaim his passion in Tuscan or Provençal rhymes. The vulgar might occasionally be edified by a pious allegory in the popular jargon. But no writer had conceived it possible Edition: current; Page: [52] that the dialect of peasants and market-women should possess sufficient energy and precision for a majestic and durable work. Dante adventured first. He detected the rich treasures of thought and diction which still lay latent in their ore. He refined them into purity. He burnished them into splendour. He fitted them for every purpose of use and magnificence. And he has thus acquired the glory, not only of producing the finest narrative poem of modern times, but also of creating a language, distinguished by unrivalled melody, and peculiarly capable of furnishing to lofty and passionate thoughts their appropriate garb of severe and concise expression.

To many this may appear a singular panegyric on the Italian tongue. Indeed the great majority of the young gentlemen and young ladies, who, when they are asked whether they read Italian, answer “yes,” never go beyond the stories at the end of their grammar,—The Pastor Fido,—or an act of Artaserse. They could as soon read a Babylonian brick as a canto of Dante. Hence it is a general opinion, among those who know little or nothing of the subject, that this admirable language is adapted only to the effeminate cant of sonnetteers, musicians, and connoisseurs.

The fact is that Dante and Petrarch have been the Oromasdes and Arimanes of Italian literature. I wish not to detract from the merits of Petrarch. No one can doubt that his poems exhibit, amidst some imbecility and more affectation, much elegance, ingenuity, and tenderness. They present us with a mixture which can only be compared to the whimsical concert described by the humorous poet of Modena:

  • “S’ udian gli usignuoli, al primo albore,
  • E gli asini cantar versi d’amore.”*

I am not, however, at present speaking of the intrinsic excellencies of his writings, which I shall take another Edition: current; Page: [53] opportunity to examine, but of the effect which they produced on the literature of Italy. The florid and luxurious charms of his style enticed the poets and the public from the contemplation of nobler and sterner models. In truth, though a rude state of society is that in which great original works are most frequently produced, it is also that in which they are worst appreciated. This may appear paradoxical; but it is proved by experience, and is consistent with reason. To be without any received canons of taste is good for the few who can create, but bad for the many who can only imitate and judge. Great and active minds cannot remain at rest. In a cultivated age they are too often contented to move on in the beaten path. But where no path exists they will make one. Thus the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Divine Comedy, appeared in dark and half barbarous times: and thus of the few original works which have been produced in more polished ages we owe a large proportion to men in low stations and of uninformed minds. I will instance, in our own language, the Pilgrim’s Progress and Robinson Crusoe. Of all the prose works of fiction which we possess, these are, I will not say the best, but the most peculiar, the most unprecedented, the most inimitable. Had Bunyan and Defoe been educated gentlemen, they would probably have published translations and imitations of French romances “by a person of quality.” I am not sure that we should have had Lear if Shakspeare had been able to read Sophocles.

But these circumstances, while they foster genius, are unfavourable to the science of criticism. Men judge by comparison. They are unable to estimate the grandeur of an object when there is no standard by which they can measure it. One of the French philosophers (I beg Gerard’s pardon), who accompanied Napoleon to Egypt, tells us that, when he first visited the great Pyramid, he was surprised to see it so diminutive. It stood alone in a boundless plain. There was nothing near it from which Edition: current; Page: [54] he could calculate its magnitude. But when the camp was pitched beside it, and the tents appeared like diminutive specks around its base, he then perceived the immensity of this mightiest work of man. In the same manner, it is not till a crowd of petty writers has sprung up that the merit of the great master-spirits of literature is understood.

We have indeed ample proof that Dante was highly admired in his own and the following age. I wish that we had equal proof that he was admired for his excellencies. But it is a remarkable corroboration of what has been said, that this great man seems to have been utterly unable to appreciate himself. In his treatise De Vulgari Eloquentia he talks with satisfaction of what he has done for Italian literature, of the purity and correctness of his style. “Cependant,” says a favourite* writer of mine, “il n’est ni pur, ni correct, mais il est créateur.” Considering the difficulties with which Dante had to struggle, we may perhaps be more inclined than the French critic to allow him this praise. Still it is by no means his highest or most peculiar title to applause. It is scarcely necessary to say that those qualities which escaped the notice of the poet himself were not likely to attract the attention of the commentators. The fact is, that, while the public homage was paid to some absurdities with which his works may be justly charged, and to many more which were falsely imputed to them,—while lecturers were paid to expound and eulogise his physics, his metaphysics, his theology, all bad of their kind,—while annotators laboured to detect allegorical meanings of which the author never dreamed, the great powers of his imagination, and the incomparable force of his style, were neither admired nor imitated. Arimanes had prevailed. The Divine Comedy was to that age what St. Paul’s Cathedral was to Omai. The poor Otaheitean stared listlessly for a moment at the huge cupola, and ran into a toyshop to play with beads. Italy, too, was charmed Edition: current; Page: [55] with literary trinkets, and played with them for four centuries.

From the time of Petrarch to the appearance of Alfieri’s tragedies, we may trace in almost every page of Italian literature the influence of those celebrated sonnets which, from the nature both of their beauties and their faults, were peculiarly unfit to be models for general imitation. Almost all the poets of that period, however different in the degree and quality of their talents, are characterised by great exaggeration, and, as a necessary consequence, great coldness of sentiment; by a passion for frivolous and tawdry ornament; and, above all, by an extreme feebleness and diffuseness of style. Tasso, Marino, Guarini, Metastasio, and a crowd of writers of inferior merit and celebrity, were spell-bound in the enchanted gardens of a gaudy and meretricious Alcina, who concealed debility and deformity beneath the deceitful semblance of loveliness and health. Ariosto, the great Ariosto himself, like his own Ruggiero, stooped for a time to linger amidst the magic flowers and fountains, and to caress the gay and painted sorceress. But to him, as to his own Ruggiero, had been given the omnipotent ring and the winged courser, which bore him from the paradise of deception to the regions of light and nature.

The evil of which I speak was not confined to the graver poets. It infected satire, comedy, burlesque. No person can admire more than I do the great masterpieces of wit and humour which Italy has produced. Still I cannot but discern and lament a great deficiency, which is common to them all. I find in them abundance of ingenuity, of droll naïveté, of profound and just reflection, of happy expression. Manners, characters, opinions, are treated with “a most learned spirit of human dealing.” But something is still wanting. We read, and we admire, and we yawn. We look in vain for the bacchanalian fury which inspired the comedy of Athens, for the fierce and withering scorn which animates the invectives of Edition: current; Page: [56] Juvenal and Dryden, or even for the compact and pointed diction which adds zest to the verses of Pope and Boileau. There is no enthusiasm, no energy, no condensation, nothing which springs from strong feeling, nothing which tends to excite it. Many fine thoughts and fine expressions reward the toil of reading. Still it is a toil. The Secchia Rapita, in some points the best poem of its kind, is painfully diffuse and languid. The Animali Parlanti of Casti is perfectly intolerable. I admire the dexterity of the plot, and the liberality of the opinions. I admit that it is impossible to turn to a page which does not contain something that deserves to be remembered; but it is at least six times as long as it ought to be. And the garrulous feebleness of the style is a still greater fault than the length of the work.

It may be thought that I have gone too far in attributing these evils to the influence of the works and the fame of Petrarch. It cannot, however, be doubted that they have arisen, in a great measure, from a neglect of the style of Dante. This is not more proved by the decline of Italian poetry than by its resuscitation. After the lapse of four hundred and fifty years, there appeared a man capable of appreciating and imitating the father of Tuscan literature—Vittorio Alfieri. Like the prince in the nursery tale, he sought and found the Sleeping Beauty within the recesses which had so long concealed her from mankind. The portal was indeed rusted by time;—the dust of ages had accumulated on the hangings;—the furniture was of antique fashion;—and the gorgeous colour of the embroidery had faded. But the living charms which were well worth all the rest remained in the bloom of eternal youth, and well rewarded the bold adventurer who roused them from their long slumber. In every line of the Philip and the Saul, the greatest poems, I think, of the eighteenth century, we may trace the influence of that mighty genius which has immortalised the ill-starred love of Francesca, and the paternal agonies Edition: current; Page: [57] of Ugolino. Alfieri bequeathed the sovereignty of Italian literature to the author of the Aristodemus—a man of genius scarcely inferior to his own, and a still more devoted disciple of the great Florentine. It must be acknowledged that this eminent writer has sometimes pushed too far his idolatry of Dante. To borrow a sprightly illustration from Sir John Denham, he has not only imitated his garb, but borrowed his clothes. He often quotes his phrases; and he has, not very judiciously as it appears to me, imitated his versification. Nevertheless, he has displayed many of the higher excellencies of his master; and his works may justly inspire us with a hope that the Italian language will long flourish under a new literary dynasty, or rather under the legitimate line, which has at length been restored to a throne long occupied by specious usurpers.

The man to whom the literature of his country owes its origin and its revival was born in times singularly adapted to call forth his extraordinary powers. Religious zeal, chivalrous love and honour, democratic liberty, are the three most powerful principles that have ever influenced the character of large masses of men. Each of them singly has often excited the greatest enthusiasm, and produced the most important changes. In the time of Dante all the three, often in amalgamation, generally in conflict, agitated the public mind. The preceding generation had witnessed the wrongs and the revenge of the brave, the accomplished, the unfortunate Emperor Frederic the Second,—a poet in an age of schoolmen,—a philosopher in an age of monks,—a statesman in an age of crusaders. During the whole life of the poet, Italy was experiencing the consequences of the memorable struggle which he had maintained against the Church. The finest works of imagination have always been produced in times of political convulsion, as the richest vineyards and the sweetest flowers always grow on the soil which has been fertilised by the fiery deluge of a volcano. To look no Edition: current; Page: [58] further than the literary history of our own country, can we doubt that Shakspeare was in a great measure produced by the Reformation, and Wordsworth by the French Revolution? Poets often avoid political transactions; they often affect to despise them. But, whether they perceive it or not, they must be influenced by them. As long as their minds have any point of contact with those of their fellow-men, the electric impulse, at whatever distance it may originate, will be circuitously communicated to them.

This will be the case even in large societies, where the division of labour enables many speculative men to observe the face of nature, or to analyse their own minds, at a distance from the seat of political transactions. In the little republic of which Dante was a member the state of things was very different. These small communities are most unmercifully abused by most of our modern professors of the science of government. In such states, they tell us, factions are always most violent: where both parties are cooped up within a narrow space, political difference necessarily produces personal malignity. Every man must be a soldier; every moment may produce a war. No citizen can lie down secure that he shall not be roused by the alarum-bell, to repel or avenge an injury. In such petty quarrels Greece squandered the blood which might have purchased for her the permanent empire of the world, and Italy wasted the energy and the abilities which would have enabled her to defend her independence against the Pontiffs and the Cæsars.

All this is true: yet there is still a compensation. Mankind has not derived so much benefit from the empire of Rome as from the city of Athens, nor from the kingdom of France as from the city of Florence. The violence of party feeling may be an evil; but it calls forth that activity of mind which in some states of society it is desirable to produce at any expense. Universal soldiership may be an evil; but where every man is a soldier there will be no standing army. And is it no evil that one man Edition: current; Page: [59] in every fifty should be bred to the trade of slaughter; should live only by destroying and by exposing himself to be destroyed; should fight without enthusiasm and conquer without glory; be sent to a hospital when wounded, and rot on a dunghill when old? Such, over more than two-thirds of Europe, is the fate of soldiers. It was something that the citizen of Milan or Florence fought, not merely in the vague and rhetorical sense in which the words are often used, but in sober truth, for his parents, his children, his lands, his house, his altars. It was something that he marched forth to battle beneath the Carroccio, which had been the object of his childish veneration; that his aged father looked down from the battlements on his exploits; that his friends and his rivals were the witnesses of his glory. If he fell, he was consigned to no venal or heedless guardians. The same day saw him conveyed within the walls which he had defended. His wounds were dressed by his mother; his confession was whispered to the friendly priest who had heard and absolved the follies of his youth; his last sigh was breathed upon the lips of the lady of his love. Surely there is no sword like that which is beaten out of a ploughshare. Surely this state of things was not unmixedly bad: its evils were alleviated by enthusiasm and by tenderness; and it will at least be acknowledged that it was well fitted to nurse poetical genius in an imaginative and observant mind.

Nor did the religious spirit of the age tend less to this result than its political circumstances. Fanaticism is an evil, but it is not the greatest of evils. It is good that a people should be roused by any means from a state of utter torpor; — that their minds should be diverted from objects merely sensual, to meditations, however erroneous, on the mysteries of the moral and intellectual world; and from interests which are immediately selfish to those which relate to the past, the future, and the remote. These effects have sometimes been produced by Edition: current; Page: [60] the worst superstitions that ever existed; but the Catholic religion, even in the time of its utmost extravagance and atrocity, never wholly lost the spirit of the Great Teacher, whose precepts form the noblest code, as his conduct furnished the purest example, of moral excellence. It is of all religions the most poetical. The ancient superstitions furnished the fancy with beautiful images, but took no hold on the heart. The doctrines of the Reformed Churches have most powerfully influenced the feelings and the conduct of men, but have not presented them with visions of sensible beauty and grandeur. The Roman Catholic Church has united to the awful doctrines of the one what Mr. Coleridge calls the “fair humanities” of the other. It has enriched sculpture and painting with the loveliest and most majestic forms. To the Phidian Jupiter it can oppose the Moses of Michael Angelo; and to the voluptuous beauty of the Queen of Cyprus, the serene and pensive loveliness of the Virgin Mother. The legends of its martyrs and its saints may vie in ingenuity and interest with the mythological fables of Greece; its ceremonies and processions were the delight of the vulgar; the huge fabric of secular power with which it was connected attracted the admiration of the statesman. At the same time, it never lost sight of the most solemn and tremendous doctrines of Christianity, — the incarnate God, — the judgment, — the retribution, — the eternity of happiness or torment. Thus, while, like the ancient religions, it received incalculable support from policy and ceremony, it never wholly became, like those religions, a merely political and ceremonial institution.

The beginning of the thirteenth century was, as Machiavelli has remarked, the era of a great revival of this extraordinary system. The policy of Innocent, — the growth of the inquisition and the mendicant orders,—the wars against the Albigenses, the Pagans of the East, and the unfortunate princes of the house of Swabia, agitated Edition: current; Page: [61] Italy during the two following generations. In this point Dante was completely under the influence of his age. He was a man of a turbid and melancholy spirit. In early youth he had entertained a strong and unfortunate passion, which, long after the death of her whom he loved, continued to haunt him. Dissipation, ambition, misfortunes had not effaced it. He was not only a sincere, but a passionate, believer. The crimes and abuses of the Church of Rome were indeed loathsome to him; but to all its doctrines and all its rites he adhered with enthusiastic fondness and veneration; and, at length, driven from his native country, reduced to a situation the most painful to a man of his disposition, condemned to learn by experience that no* food is so bitter as the bread of dependence, and no ascent so painful as the staircase of a patron, — his wounded spirit took refuge in visionary devotion. Beatrice, the unforgotten object of his early tenderness, was invested by his imagination with glorious and mysterious attributes; she was enthroned among the highest of the celestial hierarchy: Almighty Wisdom had assigned to her the care of the sinful and unhappy wanderer who had loved her with such a perfect love. By a confusion, like that which often takes place in dreams, he has sometimes lost sight of her human nature, and even of her personal existence, and seems to consider her as one of the attributes of the Deity.

But those religious hopes which had released the mind of the sublime enthusiast from the terrors of death had not rendered his speculations on human life more cheerful. This is an inconsistency which may often be observed in men of a similar temperament. He hoped for happiness Edition: current; Page: [62] beyond the grave: but he felt none on earth. It is from this cause, more than from any other, that his description of Heaven is so far inferior to the Hell or the Purgatory. With the passions and miseries of the suffering spirits he feels a strong sympathy. But among the beatified he appears as one who has nothing in common with them, — as one who is incapable of comprehending, not only the degree, but the nature of their enjoyment. We think that we see him standing amidst those smiling and radiant spirits with that scowl of unutterable misery on his brow, and that curl of bitter disdain on his lips, which all his portraits have preserved, and which might furnish Chantrey with hints for the head of his projected Satan.

There is no poet whose intellectual and moral character are so closely connected. The great source, as it appears to me, of the power of the Divine Comedy is the strong belief with which the story seems to be told. In this respect, the only books which approach to its excellence are Gulliver’s Travels and Robinson Crusoe. The solemnity of his asseverations, the consistency and minuteness of his details, the earnestness with which he labours to make the reader understand the exact shape and size of every thing that he describes, give an air of reality to his wildest fictions. I should only weaken this statement by quoting instances of a feeling which pervades the whole work, and to which it owes much of its fascination. This is the real justification of the many passages in his poem which bad critics have condemned as grotesque. I am concerned to see that Mr. Cary, to whom Dante owes more than ever poet owed to translator, has sanctioned an accusation utterly unworthy of his abilities. “His solicitude,” says that gentleman, “to define all his images in such a manner as to bring them within the circle of our vision, and to subject them to the power of the pencil, renders him little better than grotesque, where Milton has since taught us to expect sublimity.” It is true that Dante has never shrunk from embodying his conceptions Edition: current; Page: [63] in determinate words, that he has even given measures and numbers, where Milton would have left his images to float undefined in a gorgeous haze of language. Both were right. Milton did not profess to have been in heaven or hell. He might therefore reasonably confine himself to magnificent generalities. Far different was the office of the lonely traveller, who had wandered through the nations of the dead. Had he described the abode of the rejected spirits in language resembling the splendid lines of the English poet, — had he told us of —

  • “An universe of death, which God by curse
  • Created evil, for evil only good,
  • Where all life dies, death lives, and Nature breeds
  • Perverse all monstrous, all prodigious things,
  • Abominable, unutterable, and worse
  • Than fables yet have feigned, or fear conceived,
  • Gorgons, and hydras, and chimæras dire.”—

this would doubtless have been noble writing. But where would have been that strong impression of reality, which, in accordance with his plan, it should have been his great object to produce? It was absolutely necessary for him to delineate accurately “all monstrous, all prodigious things,” — to utter what might to others appear “unutterable,” — to relate with the air of truth what fables had never feigned,—to embody what fear had never conceived. And I will frankly confess that the vague sublimity of Milton affects me less than these reviled details of Dante. We read Milton; and we know that we are reading a great poet. When we read Dante, the poet vanishes. We are listening to the man who has returned from “the valley of the dolorous abyss;”* — we seem to see the dilated eye of horror, to hear the shuddering accents with which he tells his fearful tale. Considered in this light, the narratives are exactly what they should be, — definite in themselves, but suggesting to the mind ideas of awful Edition: current; Page: [64] and indefinite wonder. They are made up of the images of the earth:—they are told in the language of the earth. — Yet the whole effect is, beyond expression, wild and unearthly. The fact is, that supernatural beings, as long as they are considered merely with reference to their own nature, excite our feelings very feebly. It is when the great gulf which separates them from us is passed, when we suspect some strange and undefinable relation between the laws of the visible and the invisible world, that they rouse, perhaps, the strongest emotions of which our nature is capable. How many children, and how many men, are afraid of ghosts, who are not afraid of God! And this, because, though they entertain a much stronger conviction of the existence of a Deity than of the reality of apparitions, they have no apprehension that he will manifest himself to them in any sensible manner. While this is the case, to describe super-human beings in the language, and to attribute to them the actions, of humanity may be grotesque, unphilosophical, inconsistent; but it will be the only mode of working upon the feelings of men, and, therefore, the only mode suited for poetry. Shakspeare understood this well, as he understood every thing that belonged to his art. Who does not sympathise with the rapture of Ariel, flying after sunset on the wings of the bat, or sucking in the cups of flowers with the bee? Who does not shudder at the caldron of Macbeth? Where is the philosopher who is not moved when he thinks of the strange connection between the infernal spirits and “the sow’s blood that hath eaten her nine farrow?” But this difficult task of representing supernatural beings to our minds, in a manner which shall be neither unintelligible to our intellects nor wholly inconsistent with our ideas of their nature, has never been so well performed as by Dante. I will refer to three instances, which are, perhaps, the most striking — the description of the transformations of the serpents and the robbers, in the twenty-fifth canto of the Inferno, — the Edition: current; Page: [65] passage concerning Nimrod, in the thirty-first canto of the same part, — and the magnificent procession in the twenty-ninth canto of the Purgatorio.

The metaphors and comparisons of Dante harmonise admirably with that air of strong reality of which I have spoken. They have a very peculiar character. He is perhaps the only poet whose writings would become much less intelligible if all illustrations of this sort were expunged. His similes are frequently rather those of a traveller than of a poet. He employs them not to display his ingenuity by fanciful analogies,—not to delight the reader by affording him a distant and passing glimpse of beautiful images remote from the path in which he is proceeding,— but to give an exact idea of the objects which he is describing, by comparing them with others generally known. The boiling pitch in Malebolge was like that in the Venetian arsenal: — the mound on which he travelled along the banks of Phlegethon was like that between Ghent and Bruges, but not so large: — the cavities where the Simoniacal prelates are confined resemble the fonts in the Church of John at Florence. Every reader of Dante will recall many other illustrations of this description, which add to the appearance of sincerity and earnestness from which the narrative derives so much of its interest.

Many of his comparisons, again, are intended to give an exact idea of his feelings under particular circumstances. The delicate shades of grief, of fear, of anger, are rarely discriminated with sufficient accuracy in the language of the most refined nations. A rude dialect never abounds in nice distinctions of this kind. Dante therefore employs the most accurate and infinitely the most poetical mode of marking the precise state of his mind. Every person who has experienced the bewildering effect of sudden bad tidings,— the stupefaction,—the vague doubt of the truth of our own perceptions which they produce,— will understand the following simile:— “I was as he is who dreameth his own harm, — who, Edition: current; Page: [66] dreaming, wishes that it may be all a dream, so that he desires that which is as though it were not.” This is only one out of a hundred equally striking and expressive similitudes. The comparisons of Homer and Milton are magnificent digressions. It scarcely injures their effect to detach them from the work. Those of Dante are very different. They derive their beauty from the context, and reflect beauty upon it. His embroidery cannot be taken out without spoiling the whole web. I cannot dismiss this part of the subject without advising every person who can muster sufficient Italian to read the simile of the sheep, in the third canto of the Purgatorio. I think it the most perfect passage of the kind in the world, the most imaginative, the most picturesque, and the most sweetly expressed.

No person can have attended to the Divine Comedy without observing how little impression the forms of the external world appear to have made on the mind of Dante. His temper and his situation had led him to fix his observation almost exclusively on human nature. The exquisite opening of the eighth* canto of the Purgatorio affords a strong instance of this. He leaves to others the earth, the ocean, and the sky. His business is with man. To other writers, evening may be the season of dews and stars and radiant clouds. To Dante it is the hour of fond recollection and passionate devotion,— the hour which melts the heart of the mariner and kindles the love of Edition: current; Page: [67] the pilgrim,—the hour when the toll of the bell seems to mourn for another day which is gone and will return no more.

The feeling of the present age has taken a direction diametrically opposite. The magnificence of the physical world, and its influence upon the human mind, have been the favourite themes of our most eminent poets. The herd of blue-stocking ladies and sonneteering gentlemen seem to consider a strong sensibility to the “splendour of the grass, the glory of the flower,” as an ingredient absolutely indispensable in the formation of a poetical mind. They treat with contempt all writers who are unfortunately

  • nec ponere lucum
  • Artifices, nec rus saturum laudare.

The orthodox poetical creed is more Catholic. The noblest earthly object of the contemplation of man is man himself. The universe, and all its fair and glorious forms, are indeed included in the wide empire of the imagination; but she has placed her home and her sanctuary amidst the inexhaustible varieties and the impenetrable mysteries of the mind.

  • In tutte parti impera, e quivi regge;
  • Quivi è la sua cìttade, e l’alto seggio.*

Othello is perhaps the greatest work in the world. From what does it derive its power? From the clouds? From the ocean? From the mountains? Or from love strong as death, and jealousy cruel as the grave? What is it that we go forth to see in Hamlet? Is it a reed shaken with the wind? A small celandine? A bed of daffodils? Or is it to contemplate a mighty and wayward mind laid bare before us to the inmost recesses? It may perhaps be doubted whether the lakes and the hills are better fitted for the education of a poet than the dusky streets of a huge capital. Indeed who is not tired to death with pure description of scenery? Is it not the fact, that external Edition: current; Page: [68] objects never strongly excite our feelings but when they are contemplated in reference to man, as illustrating his destiny, or as influencing his character? The most beautiful object in the world, it will be allowed, is a beautiful woman. But who that can analyse his feelings is not sensible that she owes her fascination less to grace of outline and delicacy of colour, than to a thousand associations which, often unperceived by ourselves, connect those qualities with the source of our existence, with the nourishment of our infancy, with the passions of our youth, with the hopes of our age, with elegance, with vivacity, with tenderness, with the strongest of natural instincts, with the dearest of social ties?

To those who think thus, the insensibility of the Florentine poet to the beauties of nature will not appear an unpardonable deficiency. On mankind no writer, with the exception of Shakspeare, has looked with a more penetrating eye. I have said that his poetical character had derived a tinge from his peculiar temper. It is on the sterner and darker passions that he delights to dwell. All love, excepting the half mystic passion which he still felt for his buried Beatrice, had palled on the fierce and restless exile. The sad story of Rimini is almost a single exception. I know not whether it has been remarked, that, in one point, misanthropy seems to have affected his mind as it did that of Swift. Nauseous and revolting images seem to have had a fascination for his mind; and he repeatedly places before his readers, with all the energy of his incomparable style, the most loathsome objects of the sewer and the dissecting-room.

There is another peculiarity in the poem of Dante, which, I think, deserves notice. Ancient mythology has hardly ever been successfully interwoven with modern poetry. One class of writers have introduced the fabulous deities merely as allegorical representatives of love, wine, or wisdom. This necessarily renders their works tame and cold. We may sometimes admire their ingenuity; Edition: current; Page: [69] but with what interest can we read of beings of whose personal existence the writer does not suffer us to entertain, for a moment, even a conventional belief? Even Spenser’s allegory is scarcely tolerable, till we contrive to forget that Una signifies innocence, and consider her merely as an oppressed lady under the protection of a generous knight.

Those writers who have, more judiciously, attempted to preserve the personality of the classical divinities have failed from a different cause. They have been imitators, and imitators at a disadvantage. Euripides and Catullus believed in Bacchus and Cybele as little as we do. But they lived among men who did. Their imaginations, if not their opinions, took the colour of the age. Hence the glorious inspiration of the Bacchæ and the Atys. Our minds are formed by circumstances: and I do not believe that it would be in the power of the greatest modern poet to lash himself up to a degree of enthusiasm adequate to the production of such works.

Dante alone, among the poets of later times, has been, in this respect, neither an allegorist nor an imitator; and, consequently, he alone has introduced the ancient fictions with effect. His Minos, his Charon, his Pluto, are absolutely terrific. Nothing can be more beautiful or original than the use which he has made of the river of Lethe. He has never assigned to his mythological characters any functions inconsistent with the creed of the Catholic Church. He has related nothing concerning them which a good Christian of that age might not believe possible. On this account, there is nothing in these passages that appears puerile or pedantic. On the contrary, this singular use of classical names suggests to the mind a vague and awful idea of some mysterious revelation, anterior to all recorded history, of which the dispersed fragments might have been retained amidst the impostures and superstitions of later religions. Indeed the mythology of the Divine Comedy is of the elder and more colossal Edition: current; Page: [70] mould. It breathes the spirit of Homer and Æschylus, not of Ovid and Claudian.

This is the more extraordinary, since Dante seems to have been utterly ignorant of the Greek language; and his favourite Latin models could only have served to mislead him. Indeed, it is impossible not to remark his admiration of writers far inferior to himself; and, in particular, his idolatry of Virgil, who, elegant and splendid as he is, has no pretensions to the depth and originality of mind which characterise his Tuscan worshipper. In truth, it may be laid down as an almost universal rule that good poets are bad critics. Their minds are under the tyranny of ten thousand associations imperceptible to others. The worst writer may easily happen to touch a spring which is connected in their minds with a long succession of beautiful images. They are like the gigantic slaves of Aladdin, gifted with matchless power, but bound by spells so mighty that when a child whom they could have crushed touched a talisman, of whose secret he was ignorant, they immediately became his vassals. It has more than once happened to me to see minds, graceful and majestic as the Titania of Skakspeare, bewitched by the charms of an ass’s head, bestowing on it the fondest caresses, and crowning it with the sweetest flowers. I need only mention the poems attributed to Ossian. They are utterly worthless, except as an edifying instance of the success of a story without evidence, and of a book without merit. They are a chaos of words which present no image, of images which have no archetype:—they are without form and void; and darkness is upon the face of them. Yet how many men of genius have panegyrised and imitated them!

The style of Dante is, if not his highest, perhaps his most peculiar excellence. I know nothing with which it can be compared. The noblest models of Greek composition must yield to it. His words are the fewest and the best which it is possible to use. The first expression in Edition: current; Page: [71] which he clothes his thoughts is always so energetic and comprehensive that amplification would only injure the effect. There is probably no writer in any language who has presented so many strong pictures to the mind. Yet there is probably no writer equally concise. This perfection of style is the principal merit of the Paradiso, which, as I have already remarked, is by no means equal in other respects to the two preceding parts of the poem. The force and felicity of the diction, however, irresistibly attract the reader through the theological lectures and the sketches of ecclesiastical biography, with which this division of the work too much abounds. It may seem almost absurd to quote particular specimens of an excellence which is diffused over all his hundred cantos. I will, however, instance the third canto of the Inferno, and the sixth of the Purgatorio, as passages incomparable in their kind. The merit of the latter is, perhaps, rather oratorical than poetical; nor can I recollect any thing in the great Athenian speeches which equals it in force of invective and bitterness of sarcasm. I have heard the most eloquent statesman of the age remark that, next to Demosthenes, Dante is the writer who ought to be most attentively studied by every man who desires to attain oratorical eminence.

But it is time to close this feeble and rambling critique. I cannot refrain, however, from saying a few words upon the translations of the divine comedy. Boyd’s is as tedious and languid as the original is rapid and forcible. The strange measure which he has chosen, and, for ought I know, invented, is most unfit for such a work. Translations ought never to be written in a verse which requires much command of rhyme. The stanza becomes a bed of Procrustes; and the thoughts of the unfortunate author are alternately racked and curtailed to fit their new receptacle. The abrupt and yet consecutive style of Dante suffers more than that of any other poet by a version Edition: current; Page: [72] diffuse in style, and divided into paragraphs, for they deserve no other name, of equal length.

Nothing can be said in favour of Hayley’s attempt, but that it is better than Boyd’s. His mind was a tolerable specimen of filagree work, — rather elegant, and very feeble. All that can be said for his best works is that they are neat. All that can be said against his worst is that they are stupid. He might have translated Metastasio tolerably. But he was utterly unable to do justice to the

  • “rime e aspre e chiocce,
  • Come si converrebbe al tristo buco.”*

I turn with pleasure from these wretched performances to Mr. Cary’s translation. It is a work which well deserves a separate discussion, and on which, if this article were not already too long, I could dwell with great pleasure. At present I will only say that there is no other version in the world, as far as I know, so faithful, yet that there is no other version which so fully proves that the translator is himself a man of poetical genius. Those who are ignorant of the Italian language should read it to become acquainted with the Divine Comedy. Those who are most intimate with Italian literature should read it for its original merits: and I believe that they will find it difficult to determine whether the author deserves most praise for his intimacy with the language of Dante, or for his extraordinary mastery over his own.

Edition: current; Page: [73]

No. II. PETRARCH. (April 1824.)

  • Et vos, o lauri, carpam, et to, proxima myrte,
  • Sic positæ quoniam suaves miscetis odores.
  • Virgil.

It would not be easy to name a writer whose celebrity, when both its extent and its duration are taken into the account, can be considered as equal to that of Petrarch. Four centuries and a half have elapsed since his death. Yet still the inhabitants of every nation throughout the western world are as familiar with his character and his adventures as with the most illustrious names, and the most recent anecdotes, of their own literary history. This is indeed a rare distinction. His detractors must acknowledge that it could not have been acquired by a poet destitute of merit, His admirers will scarcely maintain that the unassisted merit of Petrarch could have raised him to that eminence which has not yet been attained by Shakspeare, Milton, or Dante,— that eminence, of which perhaps no modern writer, excepting himself and Cervantes, has long retained possession,— an European reputation.

It is not difficult to discover some of the causes to which this great man has owed a celebrity, which I cannot but think disproportioned to his real claims on the admiration of mankind. In the first place, he is an egotist. Egotism in conversation is universally abhorred. Lovers, and, I believe, lovers alone, pardon it in each other. No services, no talents, no powers of pleasing, render it endurable. Edition: current; Page: [74] Gratitude, admiration, interest, fear, scarcely prevent those who are condemned to listen to it from indicating their disgust and fatigue. The childless uncle, the powerful patron, can scarcely extort this compliance. We leave the inside of the mail in a storm, and mount the box, rather than hear the history of our companion. The chaplain bites his lips in the presence of the archbishop. The midshipman yawns at the table of the First Lord. Yet, from whatever cause, this practice, the pest of conversation, gives to writing a zest which nothing else can impart. Rousseau made the boldest experiment of this kind; and it fully succeeded. In our own time Lord Byron, by a series of attempts of the same nature, made himself the object of general interest and admiration. Wordsworth wrote with egotism more intense, but less obvious; and he has been rewarded with a sect of worshippers, comparatively small in number, but far more enthusiastic in their devotion. It is needless to multiply instances. Even now all the walks of literature are infested with mendicants for fame, who attempt to excite our interest by exhibiting all the distortions of their intellects, and stripping the covering from all the putrid sores of their feelings. Nor are there wanting many who push their imitation of the beggars whom they resemble a step further, and who find it easier to extort a pittance from the spectator, by simulating deformity and debility from which they are exempt, than by such honest labour as their health and strength enable them to perform. In the mean time the credulous public pities and pampers a nuisance which requires only the tread-mill and the whip. This art, often successful when employed by dunces, gives irresistible fascination to works which possess intrinsic merit. We are always desirous to know something of the character and situation of those whose writings we have perused with pleasure. The passages in which Milton has alluded to his own circumstances are perhaps read more frequently, and with more interest, Edition: current; Page: [75] than any other lines in his poems. It is amusing to observe with what labour critics have attempted to glean from the poems of Homer some hints as to his situation and feelings. According to one hypothesis, he intended to describe himself under the name of Demodocus. Others maintain that he was the identical Phemius whose life Ulysses spared. This propensity of the human mind explains, I think, in a great degree, the extensive popularity of a poet whose works are little else than the expression of his personal feelings.

In the second place, Petrarch was not only an egotist, but an amatory egotist. The hopes and fears, the joys and sorrows, which he described, were derived from the passion which of all passions exerts the widest influence, and which of all passions borrows most from the imagination. He had also another immense advantage. He was the first eminent amatory poet who appeared after the great convulsion which had changed, not only the political, but the moral, state of the world. The Greeks, who, in their public institutions and their literary tastes, were diametrically opposed to the oriental nations, bore a considerable resemblance to those nations in their domestic habits. Like them, they despised the intellects and immured the persons of their women; and it was among the least of the frightful evils to which this pernicious system gave birth, that all the accomplishments of mind, and all the fascinations of manner, which, in a highly-cultivated age, will generally be necessary to attach men to their female associates, were monopolised by the Phrynes and the Lamias. The indispensable ingredients of honourable and chivalrous love were nowhere to be found united. The matrons and their daughters, confined in the harem,—insipid, uneducated, ignorant of all but the mechanical arts, scarcely seen till they were married,—could rarely excite interest; while their brilliant rivals, half graces, half harpies, elegant and informed, but fickle and rapacious, could never inspire respect.

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The state of society in Rome was, in this point, far happier; and the Latin literature partook of the superiority. The Roman poets have decidedly surpassed those of Greece in the delineation of the passion of love. There is no subject which they have treated with so much success. Ovid, Catullus, Tibullus, Horace, and Propertius, in spite of all their faults, must be allowed to rank high in this department of the art. To these I would add my favourite Plautus; who, though he took his plots from Greece, found, I suspect, the originals of his enchanting female characters at Rome.

Still many evils remained: and, in the decline of the great empire, all that was pernicious in its domestic institutions appeared more strongly. Under the influence of governments at once dependent and tyrannical, which purchased, by cringing to their enemies, the power of trampling on their subjects, the Romans sunk into the lowest state of effeminacy and debasement. Falsehood, cowardice, sloth, conscious and unrepining degradation, formed the national character. Such a character is totally incompatible with the stronger passions. Love, in particular, which, in the modern sense of the word, implies protection and devotion on the one side, confidence on the other, respect and fidelity on both, could not exist among the sluggish and heartless slaves who cringed around the thrones of Honorius and Augustulus. At this period the great renovation commenced. The warriors of the north, destitute as they were of knowledge and humanity, brought with them, from their forests and marshes, those qualities without which humanity is a weakness, and knowledge a curse, — energy — independence — the dread of shame — the contempt of danger. It would be most interesting to examine the manner in which the admixture of the savage conquerors and the effeminate slaves, after many generations of darkness and agitation, produced the modern European character; — to Edition: current; Page: [77] trace back, from the first conflict to the final amalgamation, the operation of that mysterious alchemy which, from hostile and worthless elements, has extracted the pure gold of human nature — to analyse the mass, and to determine the proportions in which the ingredients are mingled. But I will confine myself to the subject to which I have more particularly referred. The nature of the passion of love had undergone a complete change. It still retained, indeed, the fanciful and voluptuous character which it had possessed among the southern nations of antiquity. But it was tinged with the superstitious veneration with which the northern warriors had been accustomed to regard women. Devotion and war had imparted to it their most solemn and animating feelings. It was sanctified by the blessings of the Church, and decorated with the wreaths of the tournament. Venus, as in the ancient fable, was again rising above the dark and tempestuous waves which had so long covered her beauty. But she rose not now, as of old, in exposed and luxurious loveliness. She still wore the cestus of her ancient witchcraft; but the diadem of Juno was on her brow, and the ægis of Pallas in her hand. Love might, in fact, be called a new passion; and it is not astonishing that the first poet of eminence who wholly devoted his genius to this theme should have excited an extraordinary sensation. He may be compared to an adventurer who accidentally lands in a rich and unknown island; and who, though he may only set up an illshaped cross upon the shore, acquires possession of its treasures, and gives it his name. The claim of Petrarch was indeed somewhat like that of Amerigo Vespucci to the continent which should have derived its appellation from Columbus. The Provençal poets were unquestiontionably the masters of the Florentine. But they wrote in an age which could not appreciate their merits; and their imitator lived at the very period when composition in the vernacular language began to attract general attention. Petrarch was in literature what a Valentine is in Edition: current; Page: [78] love. The public preferred him, not because his merits were of a transcendent order, but because he was the first person whom they saw after they awoke from their long sleep.

Nor did Petrarch gain less by comparison with his immediate successors than with those who had preceded him. Till more than a century after his death Italy produced no poet who could be compared to him. This decay of genius is doubtless to be ascribed, in a great measure, to the influence which his own works had exercised upon the literature of his country. Yet it has conduced much to his fame. Nothing is more favourable to the reputation of a writer than to be succeeded by a race inferior to himself; and it is an advantage, from obvious causes, much more frequently enjoyed by those who corrupt the national taste than by those who improve it.

Another cause has co-operated with those which I have mentioned to spread the renown of Petrarch. I mean the interest which is inspired by the events of his life — an interest which must have been strongly felt by his contemporaries, since, after an interval of five hundred years, no critic can be wholly exempt from its influence. Among the great men to whom we owe the resuscitation of science he deserves the foremost place; and his enthusiastic attachment to this great cause constitutes his most just and splendid title to the gratitude of posterity. He was the votary of literature. He loved it with a perfect love. He worshipped it with an almost fanatical devotion. He was the missionary, who proclaimed its discoveries to distant countries — the pilgrim, who travelled far and wide to collect its reliques — the hermit, who retired to seclusion to meditate on its beauties — the champion, who fought its battles — the conqueror, who, in more than a metaphorical sense, led barbarism and ignorance in triumph, and received in the capitol the laurel which his magnificent victory had earned.

Nothing can be conceived more noble or affecting than Edition: current; Page: [79] that ceremony. The superb palaces and porticoes, by which had rolled the ivory chariots of Marius and Cæsar, had long mouldered into dust. The laurelled fasces — the golden eagles — the shouting legions — the captives and the pictured cities — were indeed wanting to his victorious procession. The sceptre had passed away from Rome. But she still retained the mightier influence of an intellectual empire, and was now to confer the prouder reward of an intellectual triumph. To the man who had extended the dominion of her ancient language — who had erected the trophies of philosophy and imagination in the haunts of ignorance and ferocity — whose captives were the hearts of admiring nations enchained by the influence of his song — whose spoils were the treasures of ancient genius rescued from obscurity and decay — the Eternal City offered the just and glorious tribute of her gratitude. Amidst the ruined monuments of ancient and the infant erections of modern art, he who had restored the broken link between the two ages of human civilisation was crowned with the wreath which he had deserved from the moderns who owed to him their refinement — from the ancients who owed to him their fame. Never was a coronation so august witnessed by Westminster or by Rheims.

When we turn from this glorious spectacle to the private chamber of the poet, — when we contemplate the struggle of passion and virtue, — the eye dimmed, the cheek furrowed, by the tears of sinful and hopeless desire, — when we reflect on the whole history of his attachment, from the gay fantasy of his youth to the lingering despair of his age, pity and affection mingle with our admiration. Even after death had placed the last seal on his misery, we see him devoting to the cause of the human mind all the strength and energy which love and sorrow had spared. He lived the apostle of literature; — he fell its martyr: — he was found dead with his head reclined on a book.

Those who have studied the life and writings of Petrarch Edition: current; Page: [80] with attention, will perhaps be inclined to make some deductions from this panegyric. It cannot be denied that his merits were disfigured by a most unpleasant affectation. His zeal for literature communicated a tinge of pedantry to all his feelings and opinions. His love was the love of a sonnetteer:—his patriotism was the patriotism of an antiquarian. The interest with which we contemplate the works, and study the history, of those who, in former ages, have occupied our country, arises from the associations which connect them with the community in which are comprised all the objects of our affection and our hope. In the mind of Petrarch these feelings were reversed. He loved Italy, because it abounded with the monuments of the ancient masters of the world. His native city—the fair and glorious Florence—the modern Athens, then in all the bloom and strength of its youth, could not obtain, from the most distinguished of its citizens, any portion of that passionate homage which he paid to the decrepitude of Rome. These and many other blemishes, though they must in candour be acknowledged, can but in a very slight degree diminish the glory of his career. For my own part, I look upon it with so much fondness and pleasure that I feel reluctant to turn from it to the consideration of his works, which I by no means contemplate with equal admiration.

Nevertheless, I think highly of the poetical powers of Petrarch. He did not possess, indeed, the art of strongly presenting sensible objects to the imagination;—and this is the more remarkable, because the talent of which I speak is that which peculiarly distinguishes the Italian poets. In the Divine Comedy it is displayed in its highest perfection. It characterises almost every celebrated poem in the language. Perhaps this is to be attributed to the circumstance, that painting and sculpture had attained a high degree of excellence in Italy before poetry had been extensively cultivated. Men were debarred from books, but accustomed from childhood to contemplate the Edition: current; Page: [81] admirable works of art, which, even in the thirteenth century, Italy began to produce. Hence their imaginations received so strong a bias that, even in their writings, a taste for graphic delineation is discernible. The progress of things in England has been in all respects different. The consequence is, that English historical pictures are poems on canvass; while Italian poems are pictures painted to the mind by means of words. Of this national characteristic the writings of Petrarch are almost totally destitute. His sonnets indeed, from their subject and nature, and his Latin poems, from the restraints which always shackle one who writes in a dead language, cannot fairly be received in evidence. But his Triumphs absolutely required the exercise of this talent, and exhibit no indications of it.

Genius, however, he certainly possessed, and genius of a high order. His ardent, tender, and magnificent turn of thought, his brilliant fancy, his command of expression, at once forcible and elegant, must be acknowledged. Nature meant him for the prince of lyric writers. But by one fatal present she deprived her other gifts of half their value. He would have been a much greater poet had he been a less clever man. His ingenuity was the bane of his mind. He abandoned the noble and natural style, in which he might have excelled, for the conceits which he produced with a facility at once admirable and disgusting. His muse, like the Roman lady in Livy, was tempted by gaudy ornaments to betray the fastnesses of her strength, and, like her, was crushed beneath the glittering bribes which had seduced her.

The paucity of his thoughts is very remarkable. It is impossible to look without amazement on a mind so fertile in combinations, yet so barren of images. His amatory poetry is wholly made up of a very few topics, disposed in so many orders, and exhibited in so many lights, that it reminds us of those arithmetical problems about permutations, which so much astonish the unlearned. The French Edition: current; Page: [82] cook, who boasted that he could make fifteen different dishes out of a nettle-top, was not a greater master of his art. The mind of Petrarch was a kaleidoscope. At every turn it presents us with new forms, always fantastic, occasionally beautiful; and we can scareely believe that all these varieties have been produced by the same worthless fragments of glass. The sameness of his images is, indeed, in some degree, to be attributed to the sameness of his subject. It would be unreasonable to expect perpetual variety from so many hundred compositions, all of the same length, all in the same measure, and all addressed to the same insipid and heartless coquette. I cannot but suspect also that the perverted taste, which is the blemish of his amatory verses, was to be attributed to the influence of Laura, who, probably, like most critics of her sex, preferred a gaudy to a majestic style. Be this as it may, he no sooner changes his subject than he changes his manner. When he speaks of the wrongs and degradation of Italy, devastated by foreign invaders, and but feebly defended by her pusillanimous children, the effeminate lisp of the sonnetteer is exchanged for a cry, wild, and solemn, and piercing as that which proclaimed “Sleep no more” to the bloody house of Cawdor. “Italy seems not to feel her sufferings,” exclaims her impassioned poet; “decrepit, sluggish, and languid, will she sleep for ever? Will there be none to awake her? Oh that I had my hands twisted in her hair!”*

Nor is it with less energy that he denounces against the Mahometan Babylon the vengeance of Europe and of Christ. His magnificent enumeration of the ancient exploits of the Greeks must always excite admiration, and cannot be perused without the deepest interest, at a time when the wise and good, bitterly disappointed in so many Edition: current; Page: [83] other countries, are looking with breathless anxiety towards the natal land of liberty,—the field of Marathon,—and the deadly pass where the Lion of Lacedæmon turned to bay.*

His poems on religious subjects also deserve the highest commendation. At the head of these must be placed the Ode to the Virgin. It is, perhaps, the finest hymn in the world. His devout veneration receives an exquisitely poetical character from the delicate perception of the sex and the loveliness of his idol, which we may easily trace throughout the whole composition.

I could dwell with pleasure on these and similar parts of the writings of Petrarch; but I must return to his amatory poetry: to that he entrusted his fame; and to that he has principally owed it.

The prevailing defect of his best compositions on this subject is the universal brilliancy with which they are lighted up. The natural language of the passions is, indeed, often figurative and fantastic; and with none is this more the case than with that of love. Still there is a limit. The feelings should, indeed, have their ornamental garb; but, like an elegant woman, they should be neither muffled nor exposed. The drapery should be so arranged, as at once to answer the purposes of modest concealment and judicious display. The decorations should sometimes be employed to hide a defect, and sometimes to heighten a beauty; but never to conceal, much less to distort, the charms to which they are subsidiary. The love of Petrarch, on the contrary, arrays itself like a foppish savage, whose nose is bored with a golden ring, whose skin is painted with grotesque forms and dazzling colours, and whose ears are drawn down his shoulders by the weight of jewels. It is a rule, without any exception, in all kinds of composition, that the principal idea, the predominant feeling, should never be confounded with the Edition: current; Page: [84] accompanying decorations. It should generally be distinguished from them by greater simplicity of expression; as we recognise Napoleon in the pictures of his battles, amidst a crowd of embroidered coats and plumes, by his grey cloak and his hat without a feather. In the verses of Petrarch it is generally impossible to say what thought is meant to be prominent. All is equally elaborate. The chief wears the same gorgeous and degrading livery with his retinue, and obtains only his share of the indifferent stare which we bestow upon them in common. The poems have no strong lights and shades, no background, no foreground;—they are like the illuminated figures in an oriental manuscript,—plenty of rich tints and no perspective. Such are the faults of the most celebrated of these compositions. Of those which are universally acknowledged to be bad it is scarcely possible to speak with patience. Yet they have much in common with their splendid companions. They differ from them, as a Mayday procession of chimney-sweepers differs from the Field of Cloth of Gold. They have the gaudiness but not the wealth. His muse belongs to that numerous class of females who have no objection to be dirty, while they can be tawdry. When his brilliant conceits are exhausted, he supplies their place with metaphysical quibbles, forced antitheses, bad puns, and execrable charades. In his fifth sonnet he may, I think, be said to have sounded the lowest chasm of the Bathos. Upon the whole, that piece may be safely pronounced to be the worst attempt at poetry, and the worst attempt at wit, in the world.

A strong proof of the truth of these criticism is, that almost all the sonnets produce exactly the same effect on the mind of the reader. They relate to all the various moods of a lover, from joy to despair:—yet they are perused, as far as my experience and observation have gone, with exactly the same feeling. The fact is, that in none of them are the passion and the ingenuity mixed in just proportions. There is not enough sentiment to dilute Edition: current; Page: [85] the condiments which are employed to season it. The repast which he sets before us resembles the Spanish entertainment in Dryden’s Mock Astrologer, at which the relish of all the dishes and sauces was overpowered by the common flavour of spice. Fish,—flesh,—fowl,—everything at table tasted of nothing but red pepper.

The writings of Petrarch may indeed suffer undeservedly from one cause to which I must allude. His imitators have so much familiarised the ear of Italy and of Europe to the favourite topics of amorous flattery and lamentation, that we can scarcely think them original when we find them in the first author; and, even when our understandings have convinced us that they were new to him, they are still old to us. This has been the fate of many of the finest passages of the most eminent writers. It is melancholy to trace a noble thought from stage to stage of its profanation; to see it transferred from the first illustrious wearer to his lacqueys, turned, and turned again, and at last hung on a scare-crow. Petrarch has really suffered much from this cause. Yet that he should have so suffered is a sufficient proof that his excellences were not of the highest order. A line may be stolen; but the pervading spirit of a great poet is not to be surreptitiously obtained by a plagiarist. The continued imitation of twenty-five centuries has left Homer as it found him. If every simile and every turn of Dante had been copied ten thousand times, the Divine Comedy would have retained all its freshness. It was easy for the porter in Farquhar to pass for Beau Clincher, by borrowing his lace and his pulvilio. It would have been more difficult to enact Sir Harry Wildair.

Before I quit this subject I must defend Petrarch from one accusation, which is in the present day frequently brought against him. His sonnets are pronounced by a large sect of critics not to possess certain qualities which they maintain to be indispensable to sonnets, with as much confidence, and as much reason, as their prototypes of old Edition: current; Page: [86] insisted on the the unities of the drama. I am an exoteric—utterly unable to explain the mysteries of this new poetical faith. I only know that it is a faith, which except a man do keep pure and undefiled, without doubt he shall be called a blockhead. I cannot, however, refrain from asking what is the particular virtue which belongs to fourteen as distinguished from all other numbers. Does it arise from its being a multiple of seven? Has this principle any reference to the sabbatical ordinance? Or is it to the order of rhymes that these singular properties are attached? Unhappily the sonnets of Shakspeare differ as much in this respect from those of Petrarch, as from a Spenserian or an octave stanza. Away with this unmeaning jargon! We have pulled down the old regime of criticism. I trust that we shall never tolerate the equally pedantic and irrational despotism, which some of the revolutionary leaders would erect upon its ruins. We have not dethroned Aristotle and Bossu for this.

These sonnet-fanciers would do well to reflect that, though the style of Petrarch may not suit the standard of perfection which they have chosen, they lie under great obligations to these very poems,— that, but for Petrarch, the measure, concerning which they legislate so judiciously, would probably never have attracted notice;—and that to him they owe the pleasure of admiring, and the glory of composing, pieces, which seem to have been produced by Master Slender, with the assistance of his man Simple.

I cannot conclude these remarks without making a few observations on the Latin writings of Petrarch. It appears that, both by himself and by his contemporaries, these were far more highly valued than his compositions in the vernacular language. Posterity, the supreme court of literary appeal, has not only reversed the judgment, but, according to its general practice, reversed it with costs, and condemned the unfortunate works to pay, not only for their own inferiority, but also for the injustice of those Edition: current; Page: [87] who had given them an unmerited preference. And it must be owned that, without making large allowances for the circumstances under which they were produced, we cannot pronounce a very favourable judgment. They must be considered as exotics, transplanted to a foreign climate, and reared in an unfavourable situation; and it would be unreasonable to expect from them the health and the vigour which we find in the indigenous plants around them, or which they might themselves have possessed in their native soil. He has but very imperfectly imitated the style of the Latin authors, and has not compensated for the deficiency by enriching the ancient language with the graces of modern poetry. The splendour and ingenuity, which we admire, even when we condemn it, in his Italian works, is almost totally wanting, and only illuminates with rare and occasional glimpses the dreary obscurity of the Africa. The eclogues have more animation; but they can only be called poems by courtesy. They have nothing in common with his writings in his native language, except the eternal pun about Laura and Daphne. None of these works would have placed him on a level with Vida or Buchanan. Yet, when we compare him with those who preceded him, when we consider that he went on the forlorn hope of literature, that he was the first who perceived, and the first who attempted to revive, the finer elegancies of the ancient language of the world, we shall perhaps think more highly of him than of those who could never have surpassed his beauties if they had not inherited them.

He has aspired to emulate the philosophical eloquence of Cicero, as well as the poetical majesty of Virgil. His essay on the Remedies of Good and Evil Fortune is a singular work in a colloquial form, and a most scholastic style. It seems to be framed upon the model of the Tusculan Questions, — with what success those who have read it may easily determine. It consists of a series of dialogues: in each of these a person is introduced who has Edition: current; Page: [88] experienced some happy or some adverse event: he gravely states his case; and a reasoner, or rather Reason personified, confutes him; a task not very difficult, since the disciple defends his position only by pertinaciously repeating it, in almost the same words, at the end of every argument of his antagonist. In this manner Petrarch solves an immense variety of cases. Indeed, I doubt whether it would be possible to name any pleasure or any calamity which does not find a place in this dissertation. He gives excellent advice to a man who is in expectation of discovering the philosopher’s stone;— to another, who has formed a fine aviary;— to a third, who is delighted with the tricks of a favourite monkey. His lectures to the unfortunate are equally singular. He seems to imagine that a precedent in point is a sufficient consolation for every form of suffering. “Our town is taken,” says one complaint;” “So was Troy,” replies his comforter. “My wife has eloped,” says another; “If it has happened to you once, it happened to Menelaus twice.” One poor fellow is in great distress at having discovered that his wife’s son is none of his. “It is hard,” says he, “that I should have had the expense of bringing up one who is indifferent to me.” “You are a man,” returns his monitor, quoting the famous line of Terence; “and nothing that belongs to any other man ought to be indifferent to you.” The physical calamities of life are not omitted; and there is in particular a disquisition on the advantages of having the itch, which, if not convincing, is certainly very amusing.

The invectives on an unfortunate physician, or rather upon the medical science, have more spirit. Petrarch was thoroughly in earnest on this subject. And the bitterness of his feelings occasionally produces, in the midst of his classical and scholastic pedantry, a sentence worthy of the second Philippic. Swift himself might have envied the chapter on the causes of the paleness of physicians.

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Of his Latin works the Epistles are the most generally known and admired. As compositions they are certainly superior to his essays. But their excellence is only comparative. From so large a collection of letters, written by so eminent a man, during so varied and eventful a life, we should have expected a complete and spirited view of the literature, the manners, and the politics of the age. A traveller — a poet — a scholar — a lover — a courtier — a recluse — he might have perpetuated, in an imperishable record, the form and pressure of the age and body of the time. Those who read his correspondence, in the hope of finding such information as this, will be utterly disappointed. It contains nothing characteristic of the period or of the individual. It is a series, not of letters, but of themes; and, as it is not generally known, might be very safely employed at public schools as a magazine of common-places. Whether he write on politics to the Emperor and the Doge, or send advice and consolation to a private friend, every line is crowded with examples and quotations, and sounds big with Anaxagoras and Scipio. Such was the interest excited by the character of Petrarch, and such the admiration which was felt for his epistolary style, that it was with difficulty that his letters reached the place of their destination. The poet describes, with pretended regret and real complacency, the importunity of the curious, who often opened, and sometimes stole, these favourite compositions. It is a remarkable fact that, of all his epistles, the least affected are those which are addressed to the dead and the unborn. Nothing can be more absurd than his whim of composing grave letters of expostulation and commendation to Cicero and Seneca; yet these strange performances are written in a far more natural manner than his communications to his living correspondents. But of all his Latin works the preference must be given to the Epistle to Posterity; a simple, noble, and pathetic composition, most honourable both to his taste and his heart. If we can make allowance for some Edition: current; Page: [90] of the affected humility of an author, we shall perhaps think that no literary man has left a more pleasing memorial of himself.

In conclusion, we may pronounce that the works of Petrarch were below both his genius and his celebrity; and that the circumstances under which he wrote were as adverse to the development of his powers as they were favourable to the extension of his fame.

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The parish of St. Dennis is one of the most pleasant parts of the county in which it is situated. It is fertile, well wooded, well watered, and of an excellent air. For many generations the manor had been holden in tail-male by a worshipful family, who have always taken precedence of their neighbours at the races and the sessions.

In ancient times the affairs of this parish were administered by a Court-Baron, in which the freeholders were judges; and the rates were levied by select vestries of the inhabitant householders. But at length these good customs fell into disuse. The Lords of the Manor, indeed, still held courts for form’s sake; but they or their stewards had the whole management of affairs. They demanded services, duties, and customs to which they had no just title. Nay, they would often bring actions against their neighbours for their own private advantage, and then send in the bill to the parish. No objection was made, during many years, to these proceedings, so that the rates became heavier and heavier: nor was any person exempted from these demands, except the footmen and gamekeepers of the squire and the rector of the parish. They indeed were never checked in any excess. They would come to an honest labourer’s cottage, eat his pancakes, tuck his fowls into their pockets, and cane the poor man himself. If he went up to the great house to complain, it Edition: current; Page: [92] was hard to get the speech of Sir Lewis; and, indeed, his only chance of being righted was to coax the squire’s pretty housekeeper, who could do what she pleased with her master. If he ventured to intrude upon the Lord of the Manor without this precaution, he gained nothing by his pains. Sir Lewis, indeed, would at first receive him with a civil face; for, to give him his due, he could be a fine gentleman when he pleased. “Good day, my friend,” he would say, “what situation have you in my family?” “Bless your honour!” says the poor fellow, “I am not one of your honour’s servants; I rent a small piece of ground, your honour.” “Then, you dog,” quoth the squire, “what do you mean by coming here? Has a gentleman nothing to do but to hear the complaints of clowns? Here! Philip, James, Dick, toss this fellow in a blanket; or duck him, and set him in the stocks to dry.”

One of these precious Lords of the Manor enclosed a deer-park; and, in order to stock it, he seized all the pretty pet fawns that his tenants had brought up, without paying them a farthing, or asking their leave. It was a sad day for the parish of St. Dennis. Indeed, I do not believe that all his oppressive exactions and long bills enraged the poor tenants so much as this cruel measure.

Yet for a long time, in spite of all these inconveniences, St. Dennis’s was a very pleasant place. The people could not refrain from capering if they heard the sound of a fiddle. And, if they were inclined to be riotous, Sir Lewis had only to send for Punch, or the dancing dogs, and all was quiet again. But this could not last for ever; they begun to think more and more of their condition; and, at last, a club of foul-mouthed, good-for-nothing rascals was held at the sign of the Devil, for the purpose of abusing the squire and the parson. The doctor, to own the truth, was old and indolent, extremely fat and greedy. He had not preached a tolerable sermon for a long time. The squire was still worse: so that, partly by truth and Edition: current; Page: [93] partly by falsehood, the club set the whole parish against their superiors. The boys scrawled caricatures of the clergyman upon the church-door, and shot at the landlord with pop-guns as he rode a hunting. It was even whispered about that the Lord of the Manor had no right to his estate, and that, if he were compelled to produce the original title-deeds, it would be found that he only held the estate in trust for the inhabitants of the parish.

In the mean time the squire was pressed more and more for money. The parish could pay no more. The rector refused to lend a farthing. The Jews were clamorous for their money; and the landlord had no other resource than to call together the inhabitants of the parish, and to request their assistance. They now attacked him furiously about their grievances, and insisted that he should relinquish his oppressive powers. They insisted that his footmen should be kept in order, that the parson should pay his share of the rates, that the children of the parish should be allowed to fish in the trout-stream, and to gather blackberries in the hedges. They at last went so far as to demand that he should acknowledge that he held his estate only in trust for them. His distress compelled him to submit. They, in return, agreed to set him free from his pecuniary difficulties, and to suffer him to inhabit the manor-house; and only annoyed him from time to time by singing impudent ballads under his window.

The neighbouring gentlefolks did not look on these proceedings with much complacency. It is true that Sir Lewis and his ancestors had plagued them with law-suits, and affronted them at county-meetings. Still they preferred the insolence of a gentleman to that of the rabble, and felt some uneasiness lest the example should infect their own tenants.

A large party of them met at the house of Lord Cæsar Germain. Lord Cæsar was the proudest man in the county. His family was very ancient and illustrious, though not particularly opulent. He had invited most of Edition: current; Page: [94] his wealthy neighbours. There was Mrs. Kitty North, the relict of poor Squire Peter, respecting whom the coroner’s jury had found a verdict of accidental death, but whose fate had nevertheless excited strange whispers in the neighbourhood. There was Squire Don, the owner of the great West Indian property, who was not so rich as he had formerly been, but still retained his pride, and kept up his customary pomp; so that he had plenty of plate but no breeches. There was Squire Von Blunderbussen, who had succeeded to the estates of his uncle, old Colonel Frederic Von Blunderbussen, of the hussars. The colonel was a very singular old fellow; he used to learn a page of Chambaud’s grammar, and to translate Télémaque, every morning, and he kept six French masters to teach him to parleyvoo. Nevertheless, he was a shrewd clever man, and improved his estate with so much care, sometimes by honest and sometimes by dishonest means, that he left a very pretty property to his nephew.

Lord Cæsar poured out a glass of Tokay for Mrs. Kitty. “Your health, my dear madam, I never saw you look more charming. Pray, what think you of these doings at St. Dennis’s?”

“Fine doings! indeed!” interrupted Von Blunderbussen; “I wish that we had my old uncle alive, he would have had some of them up to the halberts. He knew how to use a cat-o’-nine-tails. If things go on in this way, a gentleman will not be able to horsewhip an impudent farmer, or to say a civil word to a milk-maid.”

“Indeed, it’s very true, Sir,” said Mrs. Kitty; “their insolence is intolerable. Look at me, for instance: — a poor lone woman! — My dear Peter dead! I loved him: — so I did; and, when he died, I was so hysterical you cannot think. And now I cannot lean on the arm of a decent footman, or take a walk with a tall grenadier behind me, just to protect me from audacious vagabonds, but they must have their nauseous suspicions; — odious creatures!”—

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“This must be stopped,” replied Lord Cæsar. ‘We ought to contribute to support my poor brother-in-law against these rascals. I will write to Squire Guelf on this subject by this night’s post. His name is always at the head of our county subscriptions.”

If the people of St. Dennis’s had been angry before, they were well nigh mad when they heard of this conversation. The whole parish ran to the manor-house. Sir Lewis’s Swiss porter shut the door against them; but they broke in and knocked him on the head for his impudence. They then seized the squire, hooted at him, pelted him, ducked him, and carried him to the watchhouse. They turned the rector into the street, burnt his wig and band, and sold the church-plate by auction. They put up a painted Jezebel in the pulpit to preach. They scratched out the texts which were written round the church, and scribbled profane scraps of songs and plays in their place. They set the organ playing to pot-house tunes. Instead of being decently asked in church, they were married over a broomstick. But, of all their whims, the use of the new patent steel-traps was the most remarkable.

This trap was constructed on a completely new principle. It consisted of a cleaver hung in a frame like a window; when any poor wretch got in, down it came with a tremendous din, and took off his head in a twinkling. They got the squire into one of these machines. In order to prevent any of his partisans from getting footing in the parish, they placed traps at every corner. It was impossible to walk through the highway at broad noon without tumbling into one or other of them. No man could go about his business in security. Yet so great was the hatred which the inhabitants entertained for the old family, that a few decent honest people, who begged them to take down the steel-traps, and to put up humane man-traps in their room, were very roughly handled for their good nature.

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In the mean time the neighbouring gentry undertook a suit against the parish on the behalf of Sir Lewis’s heir, and applied to Squire Guelf for his assistance.

Everybody knows that Squire Guelf is more closely tied up than any gentleman in the shire. He could, therefore, lend them no help; but he referred them to the Vestry of the Parish of St. George in the Water. These good people had long borne a grudge against their neighbours on the other side of the stream; and some mutual trespasses had lately occurred which increased their hostility.

There was an honest Irishman, a great favourite among them, who used to entertain them with raree-shows, and to exhibit a magic lantern to the children on winter evenings. He had gone quite mad upon this subject. Sometimes he would call out in the middle of the street—“Take care of that corner, neighbours; for the love of Heaven, keep clear of that post, there is a patent steel-trap concealed thereabouts.” Sometimes he would be disturbed by frightful dreams; then he would get up at dead of night, open his window and cry “fire,” till the parish was roused, and the engines sent for. The pulpit of the Parish of St. George seemed likely to fall; I believe that the only reason was that the parson had grown too fat and heavy; but nothing would persuade this honest man but that it was a scheme of the people at St. Dennis’s, and that they had sawed through the pillars in order to break the rector’s neck. Once he went about with a knife in his pocket, and told all the persons whom he met that it had been sharpened by the knife-grinder of the next parish to cut their throats. These extravagancies had a great effect on the people; and the more so because they were espoused by Squire Guelf’s steward, who was the most influential person in the parish. He was a very fair-spoken man, very attentive to the main chance, and the idol of the old women, because he never played at skittles or danced with the girls; and, indeed, Edition: current; Page: [97] never took any recreation but that of drinking on Saturday nights with his friend Harry, the Scotch pedlar. His supporters called him Sweet William; his enemies the Bottomless Pit.

The people of St. Dennis’s, however, had their advocates. There was Frank, the richest farmer in the parish, whose great grandfather had been knocked on the head many years before, in a squabble between the parish and a former landlord. There was Dick, the merry-andrew, rather light-fingered and riotous, but a clever droll fellow. Above all, there was Charley, the publican, a jolly, fat, honest lad, a great favourite with the women, who, if he had not been rather too fond of ale and chuck-farthing, would have been the best fellow in the neighbourhood.

“My boys,” said Charley, “this is exceedingly well for Madam North;—not that I would speak uncivilly of her; she put up my picture in her best room, bless her for it! But, I say, this is very well for her, and for Lord Cæsar, and Squire Don, and Colonel Von;—but what affair is it of yours or mine? It is not to be wondered at, that gentlemen should wish to keep poor people out of their own. But it is strange, indeed, that they should expect the poor themselves to combine against their own interests. If the folks at St. Dennis’s should attack us we have the law and our cudgels to protect us. But why, in the name of wonder, are we to attack them? When old Sir Charles, who was Lord of the Manor formerly, and the parson, who was presented by him to the living, tried to bully the vestry, did not we knock their heads together, and go to meeting to hear Jeremiah Ringletub preach? And did the Squire Don, or the great Sir Lewis, that lived at that time, or the Germains, say a word against us for it? Mind your own business, my lads: law is not to be had for nothing; and we, you may be sure, shall have to pay the whole bill.”

Nevertheless the people of St. George’s were resolved on law. They cried out most lustily, “Squire Edition: current; Page: [98] Guelf for ever! Sweet William for ever! No steel traps!” Squire Guelf took all the rascally footmen who had worn old Sir Lewis’s livery into his service. They were fed in the kitchen on the very best of every thing, though they had no settlement. Many people, and the paupers in particular, grumbled at these proceedings. The steward, however, devised a way to keep them quiet.

There had lived in this parish for many years an old gentleman, named Sir Habeas Corpus. He was said by some to be of Saxon, by some of Norman, extraction. Some maintain that he was not born till after the time of Sir Charles, to whom we have before alluded. Others are of opinion that he was a legitimate son of old Lady Magna Charta, although he was long concealed and kept out of his birthright. Certain it is that he was a very benevolent person. Whenever any poor fellow was taken up on grounds which he thought insufficient, he used to attend on his behalf and bail him; and thus he had become so popular, that to take direct measures against him was out of the question.

The steward, accordingly, brought a dozen physicians to examine Sir Habeas. After consultation, they reported that he was in a very bad way, and ought not, on any account, to be allowed to stir out for several months. Fortified with this authority, the parish officers put him to bed, closed his windows, and barred his doors. They paid him every attention, and from time to time issued bulletins of his health. The steward never spoke of him without declaring that he was the best gentleman in the world; but excellent care was taken that he should never stir out of doors.

When this obstacle was removed, the Squire and the steward kept the parish in excellent order; flogged this man, sent that man to the stocks, and pushed forward the law-suit with a noble disregard of expense. They were, Edition: current; Page: [99] however, wanting either in skill or in fortune. And every thing went against them after their antagonists had begun to employ Solicitor Nap.

Who does not know the name of Solicitor Nap? At what alehouse is not his behaviour discussed? In what print-shop is not his picture seen? Yet how little truth has been said about him! Some people hold that he used to give laudanum by pints to his sick clerks for his amusement. Others, whose number has very much increased since he was killed by the gaol distemper, conceive that he was the very model of honour and good-nature. I shall try to tell the truth about him.

He was assuredly an excellent solicitor. In his way he never was surpassed. As soon as the parish began to employ him, their cause took a turn. In a very little time they were successful; and Nap became rich. He now set up for a gentleman; took possession of the old manorhouse; got into the commission of the peace, and affected to be on a par with the best of the county. He governed the vestries as absolutely as the old family had done. Yet, to give him his due, he managed things with far more discretion than either Sir Lewis or the rioters who had pulled the Lords of the Manor down. He kept his servants in tolerable order. He removed the steel traps from the highways and the corners of the streets. He still left a few indeed in the more exposed parts of his premises; and set up a board announcing that traps and spring guns were set in his grounds. He brought the poor parson back to the parish; and, though he did not enable him to keep a fine house and a coach as formerly, he settled him in a snug little cottage, and allowed him a pleasant pad-nag. He whitewashed the church again; and put the stocks, which had been much wanted of late, into good repair.

With the neighbouring gentry, however, he was no favourite. He was crafty and litigious. He cared Edition: current; Page: [100] nothing for right, if he could raise a point of law against them. He pounded their cattle, broke their hedges, and seduced their tenants from them. He almost ruined Lord Cæsar with actions, in every one of which he was successful. Von Blunderbussen went to law with him for an alleged trespass, but was cast, and almost ruined by the costs of suit. He next took a fancy to the seat of Squire Don, who was, to say the truth, little better than an idiot. He asked the poor dupe to dinner, and then threatened to have him tossed in a blanket unless he would make over his estates to him. The poor Squire signed and sealed a deed by which the property was assigned to Joe, a brother of Nap’s, in trust for and to the use of Nap himself. The tenants, however, stood out. They maintained that the estate was entailed, and refused to pay rents to the new landlord; and in this refusal they were stoutly supported by the people in St. George’s.

About the same time Nap took it into his head to match with quality, and nothing would serve him but one of the Miss Germains. Lord Cæsar swore like a trooper; but there was no help for it. Nap had twice put executions in his principal residence, and had refused to discharge the latter of the two, till he had extorted a bond from his Lordship, which compelled him to comply.

the end of the first part.
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  • “Referre sermones Deorum et
  • Magna modis tenuare parvis.”
  • Horace.

I have thought it good to set down in writing a memorable debate, wherein I was a listener, and two men of pregnant parts and great reputation discoursers; hoping that my friends will not be displeased to have a record both of the strange times through which I have lived, and of the famous men with whom I have conversed. It chanced, in the warm and beautiful spring of the year 1665, a little before the saddest summer that ever London saw, that I went to the Bowling-Green at Piccadilly, whither, at that time, the best gentry made continual resort. There I met Mr. Cowley, who had lately left Barnelms. There was then a house preparing for him at Chertsey; and, till it should be finished, he had come up for a short time to London, that he might urge a suit to his Grace of Buckingham touching certain lands of her Majesty’s, whereof he requested a lease. I had the honour to be familiarly acquainted with that worthy gentleman and most excellent poet, whose death hath been deplored with as general a consent of all Powers that delight in the Edition: current; Page: [102] woods, or in verse, or in love, as was of old that of Daphnis or of Gallus.

After some talk, which it is not material to set down at large, concerning his suit and his vexations at the court, where indeed his honesty did him more harm than his parts could do him good, I entreated him to dine with me at my lodging in the Temple, which he most courteously promised. And, that so eminent a guest might not lack a better entertainment than cooks or vintners can provide, I sent to the house of Mr. John Milton, in the Artillery-Walk, to beg that he would also be my guest. For, though he had been secretary, first to the Council of State, and, after that, to the Protector, and Mr. Cowley had held the same post under the Lord St. Albans in his banishment, I hoped, notwithstanding, that they would think themselves rather united by their common art than divided by their different factions. And so indeed it proved. For, while we sat at table, they talked freely of many men and things, as well ancient as modern, with much civility. Nay, Mr. Milton, who seldom tasted wine, both because of his singular temperance and because of his gout, did more than once pledge Mr. Cowley, who was indeed no hermit in diet. At last, being heated, Mr. Milton begged that I would open the windows. “Nay,” said I, “if you desire fresh air and coolness, what should hinder us, as the evening is fair, from sailing for an hour on the river?” To this they both cheerfully consented; and forth we walked, Mr. Cowley and I leading Mr. Milton between us, to the Temple Stairs. There we took a boat; and thence we were rowed up the river.

The wind was pleasant; the evening fine; the sky, the earth, and the water beautiful to look upon. But Mr. Cowley and I held our peace, and said nothing of the gay sights around us, lest we should too feelingly remind Mr. Milton of his calamity; whereof, however, he needed no monitor: for soon he said sadly, “Ah, Mr. Cowley, you are a happy man. What would I now give but for one Edition: current; Page: [103] more look at the sun, and the waters, and the gardens of this fair city!”

“I know not,” said Mr. Cowley, “whether we ought not rather to envy you for that which makes you to envy others: and that specially in this place, where all eyes which are not closed in blindness ought to become fountains of tears. What can we look upon which is not a memorial of change and sorrow, of fair things vanished. and evil things done? When I see the gate of Whitehall, and the stately pillars of the Banqueting House, I cannot choose but think of what I have there seen in former days, masques, and pageants, and dances, and smiles, and the waving of graceful heads, and the bounding of delicate feet. And then I turn to thoughts of other things, which even to remember makes me to blush and weep;—of the great black scaffold, and the axe and block, which were placed before those very windows; and the voice seems to sound in mine ears, the lawless and terrible voice, which cried out that the head of a king was the head of a traitor. There stands Westminster Hall, which who can look upon, and not tremble to think how time, and change, and death confound the councils of the wise, and beat down the weapons of the mighty? How have I seen it surrounded with tens of thousands of petitioners crying for justice and privilege! How have I heard it shake with fierce and proud words, which made the hearts of the people burn within them! Then it is blockaded by dragoons, and cleared by pikemen. And they who have conquered their master go forth trembling at the word of their servant. And yet a little while, and the usurper comes forth from it, in his robe of ermine, with the golden staff in one hand and the Bible in the other, amidst the roaring of the guns and the shouting of the people. And yet again a little while, and the doors are thronged with multitudes in black, and the hearse and the plumes come forth; and the tyrant is borne, in more than royal pomp, to a royal sepulchre. A few days more, and his Edition: current; Page: [104] head is fixed to rot on the pinnacles of that very hall where he sat on a throne in his life, and lay in state after his death. When I think on all these things, to look round me makes me sad at heart. True it is that God hath restored to us our old laws, and the rightful line of our kings. Yet, how I know not, but it seems to me that something is wanting—that our court hath not the old gravity, nor our people the old loyalty. These evil times, like the great deluge, have overwhelmed and confused all earthly things. And, even as those waters, though at last they abated, yet, as the learned write, destroyed all trace of the garden of Eden, so that its place hath never since been found, so hath this opening of all the flood-gates of political evil effaced all marks of the ancient political paradise.”

“Sir, by your favour,” said Mr. Milton, “though, from many circumstances both of body and of fortune, I might plead fairer excuses for despondency than yourself, I yet look not so sadly either on the past or on the future. That a deluge hath passed over this our nation, I deny not. But I hold it not to be such a deluge as that of which you speak; but rather a blessed flood, like those of the Nile, which in its overflow doth indeed wash away ancient landmarks, and confound boundaries, and sweep away dwellings, yea, doth give birth to many foul and dangerous reptiles. Yet hence is the fulness of the granary, the beauty of the garden, the nurture of all living things.

“I remember well, Mr. Cowley, what you have said concerning these things in your Discourse of the Government of Oliver Cromwell, which my friend Elwood read to me last year. Truly, for elegance and rhetoric, that essay is to be compared with the finest tractates of Isocrates and Cicero. But neither that nor any other book, nor any events, which with most men have, more than any book, weight and authority, have altered my opinion, that, of all assemblies that ever were in this world, the best and the most useful was our Long Parliament. I Edition: current; Page: [105] speak not this as wishing to provoke debate; which neither yet do I decline.”

Mr. Cowley was, as I could see, a little nettled. Yet, as he was a man of a kind disposition and a most refined courtesy, he put a force upon himself, and answered with more vehemence and quickness indeed than was his wont, yet not uncivilly. “Surely, Mr. Milton, you speak not as you think. I am indeed one of those who believe that God hath reserved to himself the censure of kings, and that their crimes and oppressions are not to be resisted by the hands of their subjects. Yet can I easily find excuse for the violence of such as are stung to madness by grievous tyranny. But what shall we say for these men? Which of their just demands was not granted? Which even of their cruel and unreasonable requisitions, so as it were not inconsistent with all law and order, was refused? Had they not sent Strafford to the block and Laud to the Tower? Had they not destroyed the Courts of the High Commission and the Star Chamber? Had they not reversed the proceedings confirmed by the voices of the judges of England, in the matter of ship-money? Had they not taken from the king his ancient and most lawful power touching the order of knighthood? Had they not provided that, after their dissolution, triennial parliaments should be holden, and that their own power should continue till of their great condescension they should be pleased to resign it themselves? What more could they ask? Was it not enough that they had taken from their king all his oppressive powers, and many that were most salutary? Was it not enough that they had filled his council-board with his enemies, and his prisons with his adherents? Was it not enough that they had raised a furious multitude, to shout and swagger daily under the very windows of his royal palace? Was it not enough that they had taken from him the most blessed prerogative of princely mercy; that, complaining of intolerance themselves, they had denied Edition: current; Page: [106] all toleration to others; that they had urged, against forms, scruples childish as those of any formalist; that they had persecuted the least remnant of the popish rites with the fiercest bitterness of the popish spirit? Must they besides all this have full power to command his armies, and to massacre his friends?

“For military command, it was never known in any monarchy, nay, in any well ordered republic, that it was committed to the debates of a large and unsettled assembly. For their other requisition, that he should give up to their vengeance all who had defended the rights of his crown, his honour must have been ruined if he had complied. Is it not therefore plain that they desired these things only in order that, by refusing, his Majesty might give them a pretence for war?

“Men have often risen up against fraud, against cruelty, against rapine. But when before was it known that concessions were met with importunities, graciousness with insults, the open palm of bounty with the clenched fist of malice? Was it like trusty delegates of the Commons of England, and faithful stewards of their liberty and their wealth, to engage them for such causes in civil war, which both to liberty and to wealth is of all things the most hostile. Evil indeed must be the disease which is not more tolerable than such a medicine. Those who, even to save a nation from tyrants, excite it to civil war do in general but minister to it the same miserable kind of relief wherewith the wizards of Pharaoh mocked the Egyptian. We read that, when Moses had turned their waters into blood, those impious magicians, intending, not benefit to the thirsting people, but vain and emulous ostentation of their own art, did themselves also change into blood the water which the plague had spared. Such sad comfort do those who stir up war minister to the oppressed. But here where was the oppression? What was the favour which had not been granted? What was the evil which had not been removed? What further could they desire?”

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“These questions,” said Mr. Milton, austerely, “have indeed often deceived the ignorant; but that Mr. Cowley should have been so beguiled, I marvel. You ask what more the Parliament could desire? I will answer you in one word, security. What are votes, and statutes, and resolutions? They have no eyes to see, no hands to strike and avenge. They must have some safeguard from without. Many things, therefore, which in themselves were peradventure hurtful, was this Parliament constrained to ask, lest otherwise good laws and precious rights should be without defence. Nor did they want a great and signal example of this danger. I need not remind you that, many years before, the two Houses had presented to the king the Petition of Right, wherein were set down all the most valuable privileges of the people of this realm. Did not Charles accept it? Did he not declare it to be law? Was it not as fully enacted as ever were any of those bills of the Long Parliament concerning which you spoke? And were those privileges therefore enjoyed more fully by the people? No: the king did from that time redouble his oppressions as if to avenge himself for the shame of having been compelled to renounce them. Then were our estates laid under shameful impositions, our houses ransacked, our bodies imprisoned. Then was the steel of the hangman blunted with mangling the ears of harmless men. Then our very minds were fettered, and the iron entered into our souls. Then we were compelled to hide our hatred, our sorrow, and our scorn, to laugh with hidden faces at the mummery of Laud, to curse under our breath the tyranny of Wentworth. Of old time it was well and nobly said, by one of our kings, that an Englishman ought to be free as his thoughts. Our prince reversed the maxim; he strove to make our thoughts as much slaves as ourselves. To sneer at a Romish pageant, to miscall a lord’s crest, were crimes for which there was no mercy. These were all the fruits which we gathered from those excellent laws of the former Parliament, from these solemn promises of the Edition: current; Page: [108] king. Were we to be deceived again? Were we again to give subsidies, and receive nothing but promises? Were we again to make wholesome statutes, and then leave them to be broken daily and hourly, until the oppressor should have squandered another supply, and should be ready for another perjury? You ask what they could desire which he had not already granted. Let me ask of you another question. What pledge could he give which he had not already violated? From the first year of his reign, whenever he had need of the purses of his Commons to support the revels of Buckingham or the processions of Laud, he had assured them that, as he was a gentleman and a king, he would sacredly preserve their rights. He had pawned those solemn pledges, and pawned them again and again; but when had he redeemed them? ‘Upon my faith,’—‘Upon my sacred word,’—‘Upon the honour of a prince,’—came so easily from his lips, and dwelt so short a time on his mind, that they were as little to be trusted as the ‘By these hilts’ of an Alsatian dicer.

“Therefore it is that I praise this Parliament for what else I might have condemned. If what he had granted had been granted graciously and readily, if what he had before promised had been faithfully observed, they could not be defended. It was because he had never yielded the worst abuse without a long struggle, and seldom without a large bribe; it was because he had no sooner disentangled himself from his troubles than he forgot his promises; and, more like a villainous huckster than a great king, kept both the prerogative and the large price which had been paid to him to forego it; it was because of these things that it was necessary and just to bind with forcible restraints one who could be bound neither by law nor honour. Nay, even while he was making those very concessions of which you speak, he betrayed his deadly hatred against the people and their friends. Not only did he, contrary to all that ever was deemed lawful in England, order that Edition: current; Page: [109] members of the Commons House of Parliament should be impeached of high treason at the bar of the Lords; thereby violating both the trial by jury and the privileges of the House; but, not content with breaking the law by his ministers, he went himself armed to assail it. In the birth-place and sanctuary of freedom, in the House itself, nay, in the very chair of the speaker, placed for the protection of free speech and privilege, he sat, rolling his eyes round the benches, searching for those whose blood he desired, and singling out his opposers to the slaughter. This most foul outrage fails. Then again for the old arts. Then come gracious messages. Then come courteous speeches. Then is again mortgaged his often forfeited honour. He will never again violate the laws. He will respect their rights as if they were his own. He pledges the dignity of his crown; that crown which had been committed to him for the weal of his people, and which he never named, but that he might the more easily delude and oppress them.

“The power of the sword, I grant you, was not one to be permanently possessed by parliament. Neither did that parliament demand it as a permanent possession. They asked it only for temporary security. Nor can I see on what conditions they could safely make peace with that false and wicked king, save such as would deprive him of all power to injure.

“For civil war, that it is an evil I dispute not. But that it is the greatest of evils, that I stoutly deny. It doth indeed appear to the misjudging to be a worse calamity than bad government, because its miseries are collected together within a short space and time, and may easily at one view be taken in and perceived. But the misfortunes of nations ruled by tyrants, being distributed over many centuries and many places, as they are of greater weight and number, so are they of less display. When the Devil of tyranny hath gone into the body politic he departs not but with struggles, and foaming, and great convulsions. Shall he, therefore, vex it for ever, lest, in Edition: current; Page: [110] going out, he for a moment tear and rend it? Truly this argument touching the evils of war would better become my friend Elwood, or some other of the people called Quakers, than a courtier and a cavalier. It applies no more to this war than to all others, as well foreign as domestic, and, in this war, no more to the Houses than to the king; nay not so much, since he by a little sincerity and moderation might have rendered that needless which their duty to God and man then enforced them to do.”

“Pardon me, Mr. Milton,” said Mr. Cowley; “I grieve to hear you speak thus of that good king. Most unhappy indeed he was, in that he reigned at a time when the spirit of the then living generation was for freedom, and the precedents of former ages for prerogative. His case was like to that of Christopher Columbus, when he sailed forth on an unknown ocean, and found that the compass, whereby he shaped his course, had shifted from the north pole whereto before it had constantly pointed. So it was with Charles. His compass varied; and therefore he could not tack aright. If he had been an absolute king he would doubtless, like Titus Vespasian, have been called the delight of the human race. If he had been a Doge of Venice, or a Stadtholder of Holland, he would never have outstepped the laws. But he lived when our government had neither clear definitions nor strong sanctions. Let, therefore, his faults be ascribed to the time. Of his virtues the praise is his own.

“Never was there a more gracious prince, or a more proper gentleman. In every pleasure he was temperate, in conversation mild and grave, in friendship constant, to his servants liberal, to his queen faithful and loving, in battle brave, in sorrow and captivity resolved, in death most Christian and forgiving.

“For his oppressions, let us look at the former history of this realm. James was never accounted a tyrant. Elizabeth is esteemed to have been the mother of her people. Were they less arbitrary? Did they never lay Edition: current; Page: [111] hands on the purses of their subjects but by Act of Parliament? Did they never confine insolent and disobedient men but in due course of law? Was the court of Star Chamber less active? Were the ears of libellers more safe? I pray you, let not king Charles be thus dealt with. It was enough that in his life he was tried for an alleged breach of laws which none ever heard named till they were discovered for his destruction. Let not his fame be treated as was his sacred and anointed body. Let not his memory be tried by principles found out ex post facto. Let us not judge by the spirit of one generation a man whose disposition had been formed by the temper and fashion of another.”

“Nay, but conceive me, Mr. Cowley,” said Mr. Milton; “inasmuch as, at the beginning of his reign, he imitated those who had governed before him, I blame him not. To expect that kings will, of their own free choice, abridge their prerogative, were argument of but slender wisdom. Whatever, therefore, lawless, unjust, or cruel, he either did or permitted during the first years of his reign, I pass by. But for what was done after that he had solemnly given his consent to the Petition of Right, where shall we find defence? Let it be supposed, which yet I concede not, that the tyranny of his father and of Queen Elizabeth had been no less rigorous than was his. But had his father, had that queen, sworn, like him, to abstain from those rigours? Had they, like him, for good and valuable consideration, aliened their hurtful prerogatives? Surely not: from whatever excuse you can plead for him he had wholly excluded himself. The borders of countries, we know, are mostly the seats of perpetual wars and tumults. It was the same with the undefined frontiers, which of old separated privilege and prerogative. They were the debatable land of our polity. It was no marvel if, both on the one side and on the other, inroads were often made. But, when treaties have been concluded, spaces measured, lines drawn, landmarks set up, that Edition: current; Page: [112] which before might pass for innocent error or just reprisal becomes robbery, perjury, deadly sin. He knew not, you say, which of his powers were founded on ancient law, and which only on vicious example. But had he not read the Petition of Right? Had not proclamation been made from his throne; Soit fait comme il est desiré?

“For his private virtues they are beside the question. Remember you not,” and Mr. Milton smiled, but somewhat sternly, “what Dr. Caius saith in the Merry Wives of Shakspeare? ‘What shall the honest man do in my closet? There is no honest man that shall come in my closet.’ Even so say I. There is no good man who shall make us his slaves. If he break his word to his people, is it a sufficient defence that he keeps it to his companions? If he oppress and extort all day, shall he be held blameless because he prayeth at night and morning? If he be insatiable in plunder and revenge, shall we pass it by because in meat and drink he is temperate? If he have lived like a tyrant, shall all be forgotten because he hath died like a martyr?

“He was a man, as I think, who had so much semblance of virtues as might make his vices most dangerous. He was not a tyrant after our wonted English model. The second Richard, the second and fourth Edwards, and the eighth Harry, were men profuse, gay, boisterous; lovers of women and of wine, of no outward sanctity or gravity. Charles was a ruler after the Italian fashion; grave, demure, of a solemn carriage, and a sober diet; as constant at prayers as a priest, as heedless of oaths as an atheist.”

Mr. Cowley answered somewhat sharply: “I am sorry, Sir, to hear you speak thus. I had hoped that the vehemence of spirit which was caused by these violent times had now abated. Yet, sure, Mr. Milton, whatever you may think of the character of King Charles, you will not still justify his murder.”

“Sir,” said Mr. Milton, “I must have been of a hard Edition: current; Page: [113] and strange nature, if the vehemence which was imputed to me in my younger days had not been diminished by the afflictions wherewith it hath pleased Almighty God to chasten my age. I will not now defend all that I may heretofore have written. But this I say, that I perceive not wherefore a king should be exempted from all punishment. Is it just that where most is given least should be required? Or politic that where there is the greatest power to injure there should be no danger to restrain? But, you will say, there is no such law. Such a law there is. There is the law of self-preservation written by God himself on our hearts. There is the primal compact and bond of society, not graven on stone, nor sealed with wax, nor put down on parchment, nor set forth in any express form of words by men whenn of old they came together; but implied in the very act that they so came together, pre-supposed in all subsequent law, not to be repealed by any authority, not invalidated by being omitted in any code; inasmuch as from thence are all codes and all authority.

“Neither do I well see wherefore you cavaliers, and, indeed, many of us whom you merrily call Roundheads, distinguish between those who fought against King Charles, and specially after the second commission given to Sir Thomas Fairfax, and those who condemned him to death. Sure, if his person were inviolable, it was as wicked to lift the sword against it at Naseby as the axe at Whitehall. If his life might justly be taken, why not in course of trial as well as by right of war?

“Thus much in general as touching the right. But, for the execution of King Charles in particular, I will not now undertake to defend it. Death is inflicted, not that the culprit may die, but that the state may be thereby advantaged. And, from all that I know, I think that the death of King Charles hath more hindered than advanced the liberties of England.

“First, he left an heir. He was in captivity. The heir Edition: current; Page: [114] was in freedom. He was odious to the Scots. The heir was favoured by them. To kill the captive therefore, whereby the heir, in the apprehension of all royalists, became forthwith king—what was it, in truth, but to set their captive free, and to give him besides other great advantages?

“Next, it was a deed most odious to the people, and not only to your party, but to many among ourselves; and, as it is perilous for any government to outrage the public opinion, so most was it perilous for a government which had from that opinion alone its birth, its nurture, and its defence.

“Yet doth not this properly belong to our dispute; nor can these faults be justly charged upon that most renowned parliament. For, as you know, the high court of justice was not established until the house had been purged of such members as were adverse to the army, and brought wholly under the control of the chief officers.”

“And who,” said Mr. Cowley, “levied that army? Who commissioned those officers? Was not the fate of the Commons as justly deserved as was that of Diomedes, who was devoured by those horses whom he had himself taught to feed on the flesh and blood of men? How could they hope that others would respect laws which they had themselves insulted; that swords which had been drawn against the prerogatives of the king would be put up at an ordinance of the Commons? It was believed, of old, that there were some devils easily raised but never to be laid; insomuch that, if a magician called them up, he should be forced to find them always some employment; for, though they would do all his bidding, yet, if he left them but for one moment without some work of evil to perform, they would turn their claws against himself. Such a fiend is an army. They who evoke it cannot dismiss it. They are at once its masters and its slaves, Let them not fail to find for it task after task of blood Edition: current; Page: [115] and rapine. Let them not leave it for a moment in repose, lest it tear them in pieces.

“Thus was it with that famous assembly. They formed a force which they could neither govern nor resist. They made it powerful. They made it fanatical. As if military insolence were not of itself sufficiently dangerous, they heightened it with spiritual pride,—they encouraged their soldiers to rave from the tops of tubs against the men of Belial, till every trooper thought himself a prophet. They taught them to abuse popery, till every drummer fancied that he was as infallible as a pope.

“Then it was that religion changed her nature. She was no longer the parent of arts and letters, of wholesome knowledge, of innocent pleasures, of blessed household smiles. In their place came sour faces, whining voices, the chattering of fools, the yells of madmen. Then men fasted from meat and drink, who fasted not from bribes and blood. Then men frowned at stage-plays, who smiled at massacres. Then men preached against painted faces, who felt no remorse for their own most painted lives. Religion had been a pole-star to light and to guide. It was now more like to that ominous star in the book of the Apocalypse, which fell from heaven upon the fountains and rivers and changed them into wormwood; for even so did it descend from its high and celestial dwelling-place to plague this earth, and to turn into bitterness all that was sweet, and into poison all that was nourishing.

“Therefore it was not strange that such things should follow. They who had closed the barriers of London against the king could not defend them against their own creatures. They who had so stoutly cried for privilege, when that prince, most unadvisedly no doubt, came among them to demand their members, durst not wag their fingers when Oliver filled their hall with soldiers, gave their mace to a corporal, put their keys in his pocket, and drove them forth with base terms, borrowed half from Edition: current; Page: [116] the conventicle and half from the ale-house. Then were we, like the trees of the forest in holy writ, given over to the rule of the bramble; then from the basest of the shrubs came forth the fire which devoured the cedars of Lebanon. We bowed down before a man of mean birth, of ungraceful demeanour, of stammering and most vulgar utterance, of scandalous and notorious hypocrisy. Our laws were made and unmade at his pleasure; the constitution of our parliaments changed by his writ and proclamation; our persons imprisoned; our property plundered; our lands and houses overrun with soldiers; and the great charter itself was but argument for a scurrilous jest; and for all this we may thank that parliament: for never, unless they had so violently shaken the vessel, could such foul dregs have risen to the top.”

Then answered Mr. Milton: “What you have now said comprehends so great a number of subjects, that it would require, not an evening’s sail on the Thames, but rather a voyage to the Indies, accurately to treat of all: yet, in as few words as I may, I will explain my sense of these matters.

“First, as to the army. An army, as you have well set forth, is always a weapon dangerous to those who use it; yet he who falls among thieves spares not to fire his musquetoon, because he may be slain if it burst in his hand. Nor must states refrain from defending themselves, lest their defenders should at last turn against them. Nevertheless, against this danger statesmen should carefully provide; and, that they may do so, they should take especial care that neither the officers nor the soldiers do forget that they are also citizens. I do believe that the English army would have continued to obey the parliament with all duty, but for one act, which, as it was in intention, in seeming, and in immediate effect, worthy to be compared with the most famous in history, so was it, in its final consequence, most injurious. I speak of that ordinance called the self-denying, and of the new model Edition: current; Page: [117] of the army. By those measures the Commons gave up the command of their forces into the hands of men who were not of themselves. Hence, doubtless, derived no small honour to that noble assembly, which sacrificed to the hope of public good the assurance of private advantage. And, as to the conduct of the war, the scheme prospered. Witness the battle of Naseby, and the memorable exploits of Fairfaix in the west. But thereby the Parliament lost that hold on the soldiers and that power to control them, which they retained while every regiment was commanded by their own members. Politicians there be, who would wholly divide the legislative from the executive power. In the golden age this may have succeeded; in the millennium it may succeed again. But, where great armies and great taxes are required, there the executive government must always hold a great authority, which authority, that it may not oppress and destroy the legislature, must be in some manner blended with it. The leaders of foreign mercenaries have always been most dangerous to a country. The officers of native armies, deprived of the civil privileges of other men, are as much to be feared. This was the great error of that Parliament: and, though an error it were, it was an error generous, virtuous, and more to be deplored than censured.

“Hence came the power of the army and its leaders, and especially of that most famous leader, whom both in our conversation to-day, and in that discourse whereon I before touched, you have, in my poor opinion, far too roughly handled. Wherefore you speak contemptibly of his parts I know not; but I suspect that you are not free from the error common to studious and speculative men, Because Oliver was an ungraceful orator, and never said, either in public or private, anything memorable, you will have it that he was of a mean capacity. Sure this is unjust. Many men have there been ignorant of letters, without wit, without eloquence, who yet had the wisdom to devise, and the courage to perform, that which they Edition: current; Page: [118] lacked language to explain. Such men often, in troubled times, have worked out the deliverance of nations and their own greatness, not by logic, not by rhetoric, but by wariness in success, by calmness in danger, by fierce and stubborn resolution in all adversity. The hearts of men are their books; events are their tutors; great actions are their eloquence: and such an one, in my judgment, was his late Highness, who, if none were to treat his name scornfully now who shook not at the sound of it while he lived, would, by very few, be mentioned otherwise than with reverence. His own deeds shall avouch him for a great statesman, a great soldier, a true lover of his country, a merciful and generous conqueror.

“For his faults, let us reflect that they who seem to lead are oftentimes most constrained to follow. They who will mix with men, and specially they who will govern them, must, in many things obey them. They who will yield to no such conditions may be hermits, but cannot be generals and statesmen. If a man will walk straight forward without turning to the right or the left, he must walk in a desert, and not in Cheapside. Thus was he enforced to do many things which jumped not with his inclination nor made for his honour; because the army, on which alone he could depend for power and life, might not otherwise be contented. And I, for mine own part, marvel less that he sometimes was fain to indulge their violence than that he could so often restrain it.

“In that he dissolved the Parliament, I praise him. It then was so diminished in numbers, as well by the death as by the exclusion of members, that it was no longer the same assembly; and, if at that time it had made itself perpetual, we should have been governed, not by an English House of Commons, but by a Venetian Council.

“If in his following rule he overstepped the laws, I pity rather than condemn him. He may be compared to that Mæandrius of Samos, of whom Herodotus saith, in his Edition: current; Page: [119] Thalia, that, wishing to be of all men the most just, he was not able; for after the death of Polycrates he offered freedom to the people; and not till certain of them threatened to call him to a reckoning for what he had formerly done, did he change his purpose, and make himself a tyrant, lest he should be treated as a criminal.

“Such was the case of Oliver. He gave to his country a form of government so free and admirable that, in near six thousand years, human wisdom hath never devised any more excellent contrivance for human happiness. To himself he reserved so little power that it would scarcely have sufficed for his safety, and it is a marvel that it could suffice for his ambition. When, after that, he found that the members of his parliament disputed his right even to that small authority which he had kept, when he might have kept all, then indeed I own that he began to govern by the sword those who would not suffer him to govern by the law.

“But, for the rest, what sovereign was ever more princely in pardoning injuries, in conquering enemies, in extending the dominions and the renown of his people? What sea, what shore did he not mark with imperishable memorials of his friendship or his vengeance? The gold of Spain, the steel of Sweden, the ten thousand sails of Holland, availed nothing against him. While every foreign state trembled at our arms, we sat secure from all assault. War, which often so strangely troubles both husbandry and commerce, never silenced the song of our reapers, or the sound of our looms. Justice was equally administered; God was freely worshipped.

“Now look at that which we have taken in exchange. With the restored king have come over to us vices of every sort, and most the basest and most shameful,—lust without love—servitude, without loyalty—foulness of speech—dishonesty of dealing—grinning contempt of all things good and generous. The throne is surrounded by men whom the former Charles would have spurned from his Edition: current; Page: [120] footstool. The altar is served by slaves whose knees are supple to every being but God. Rhymers, whose books the hangman should burn, pandars, actors, and buffoons, these drink a health and throw a main with the King; these have stars on their breasts and gold sticks in their hands; these shut out from his presence the best and bravest of those who bled for his house. Even so doth God visit those who know not how to value freedom. He gives them over to the tyranny which they have desired, “Ἵνα πάντες ἐπαύρωνται βασιλῆος.”

“I will not,” said Mr. Cowley, “dispute with you on this argument. But, if it be as you say, how can you maintain that England hath been so greatly advantaged by the rebellion?”

“Understand me rightly, Sir,” said Mr. Milton. “This nation is not given over to slavery and vice. We tasted indeed the fruits of liberty before they had well ripened. Their flavour was harsh and bitter; and we turned from them with loathing to the sweeter poisons of servitude. This is but for a time. England is sleeping on the lap of Dalilah, traitorously chained, but not yet shorn of strength. Let the cry be once heard—the Philistines be upon thee; and at once that sleep will be broken, and those chains will be as flax in the fire. The great Parliament hath left behind it in our hearts and minds a hatred of tyrants, a just knowledge of our rights, a scorn of vain and deluding names; and that the revellers of Whitehall shall surely find. The sun is darkened; but it is only for a moment: it is but an eclipse; though all birds of evil omen have begun to scream, and all ravenous beasts have gone forth to prey, thinking it to be midnight. Woe to them if they be abroad when the rays again shine forth!

“The king hath judged ill. Had he been wise he would have remembered that he owed his restoration only to confusions which had wearied us out, and made us eager for repose. He would have known that the folly and perfidy Edition: current; Page: [121] of a prince would restore to the good old cause many hearts which had been alienated thence by the turbulence of factions; for, if I know aught of history, or of the heart of man, he will soon learn that the last champion of the people was not destroyed when he murdered Vane, nor seduced when he beguiled Fairfax.

Mr. Cowley seemed to me not to take much amiss what Mr. Milton had said touching that thankless court, which had indeed but poorly requited his own good service. He only said, therefore, “Another rebellion! Alas! alas! Mr. Milton! If there be no choice but between despotism and anarchy, I prefer despotism.”

“Many men,” said Mr. Milton, “have floridly and ingeniously compared anarchy and despotism; but they who so amuse themselves do but look at separate parts of that which is truly one great whole. Each is the cause and the effect of the other; the evils of either are the evils of both. Thus do states move on in the same eternal cycle, which, from the remotest point, brings them back again to the same sad starting-post: and, till both those who govern and those who obey shall learn and mark this great truth, men can expect little through the future, as they have known little through the past, save vicissitudes of extreme evils, alternately producing and produced.

“When will rulers learn that, where liberty is not, security and order can never be? We talk of absolute power; but all power hath limits, which, if not fixed by the moderation of the governors, will be fixed by the force of the governed. Sovereigns may send their opposers to dungeons; they may clear out a senate-house with soldiers; they may enlist armies of spies; they may hang scores of the disaffected in chains at every cross road; but what power shall stand in that frightful time when rebellion hath become a less evil than endurance? Who shall dissolve that terrible tribunal, which, in the hearts of the oppressed, denounces against the oppressor Edition: current; Page: [122] the doom of its wild justice? Who shall repeal the law of self-defence? What arms or discipline shall resist the strength of famine and despair? How often were the ancient Cæsars dragged from their golden palaces, stripped of their purple robes, mangled, stoned, defiled with filth, pierced with hooks, hurled into Tiber? How often have the Eastern Sultans perished by the sabres of their own janissaries, or the bow-strings of their own mutes! For no power which is not limited by laws can ever be protected by them. Small, therefore, is the wisdom of those who would fly to servitude as if it were a refuge from commotion; for anarchy is the sure consequence of tyranny. That governments may be safe, nations must be free. Their passions must have an outlet provided, lest they make one.

“When I was at Naples, I went with Signor Manso, a gentleman of excellent parts and breeding, who had been the familiar friend of that famous poet Torquato Tasso, to see the burning mountain Vesuvius. I wondered how the peasants could venture to dwell so fearlessly and cheerfully on its sides, when the lava was flowing from its summit; but Manso smiled, and told me that when the fire descends freely they retreat before it without haste or fear. They can tell how fast it will move, and how far; and they know, moreover, that, though it may work some little damage, it will soon cover the fields over which it hath passed with rich vineyards and sweet flowers. But, when the flames are pent up in the mountain, then it is that they have reason to fear; then it is that the earth sinks and the sea swells; then cities are swallowed up; and their place knoweth them no more. So it is in politics: where the people is most closely restrained, there it gives the greatest shocks to peace and order; therefore would I say to all kings, let your demagogues lead crowds, lest they lead armies; let them bluster, lest they massacre; a little turbulence is, as it were, the rainbow of the state; Edition: current; Page: [123] it shows indeed that there is a passing shower; but it is a pledge that there shall be no deluge.”

“This is true,” said Mr. Cowley: “yet these admonitions are not less needful to subjects than to sovereigns.”

“Surely,” said Mr. Milton; “and, that I may end this long debate with a few words in which we shall both agree, I hold that, as freedom is the only safeguard of governments, so are order and moderation generally necessary to preserve freedom. Even the vainest opinions of men are not to be outraged by those who propose to themselves the happiness of men for their end, and who must work with the passions of men for their means. The blind reverence for things ancient is indeed so foolish that it might make a wise man laugh, if it were not also sometimes so mischievous that it would rather make a good man weep. Yet, since it may not be wholly cured, it must be discreetly indulged; and therefore those who would amend evil laws should consider rather how much it may be safe to spare, than how much it may be possible to change. Have you not heard that men who have been shut up for many years in dungeons shrink if they see the light, and fall down if their irons be struck off. And so, when nations have long been in the house of bondage, the chains which have crippled them are necessary to support them, the darkness which hath weakened their sight is necessary to preserve it. Therefore release them not too rashly, lest they curse their freedom and pine for their prison.

“I think indeed that the renowned Parliament, of which we have talked so much, did show, until it became subject to the soldiers, a singular and admirable moderation, in such times scarcely to be hoped, and most worthy to be an example to all that shall come after. But on this argument I have said enough: and I will therefore only pray to Almighty God that those who shall, in future times, stand forth in defence of our liberties, as well civil Edition: current; Page: [124] as religious, may adorn the good cause by mercy, prudence, and soberness, to the glory of his name and the happiness and honour of the English people.”

And so ended that discourse; and not long after we were set on shore again at the Temple-gardens, and there parted company: and the same evening I took notes of what had been said, which I have here more fully set down, from regard both to the fame of the men, and the importance of the subject-matter.

Edition: current; Page: [125]


  • “To the famous orators repair,
  • Those ancient, whose resistless eloquence
  • Wielded at will that fierce democratie,
  • Shook the arsenal, and fulmined over Greece
  • To Macedon and Artaxerxes’ throne.”
  • Milton.

The celebrity of the great classical writers is confined within no limits, except those which separate civilised from savage man. Their works are the common property of every polished nation. They have furnished subjects for the painter, and models for the poet. In the minds of the educated classes throughout Europe, their names are indissolubly associated with the endearing recollections of childhood,—the old school room,—the dog-eared grammar,—the first prize,—the tears so often shed and so quickly dried. So great is the veneration with which they are regarded, that even the editors and commentators who perform the lowest menial offices to their memory, are considered, like the equerries and chamberlains of sovereign princes, as entitled to a high rank in the table of literary precedence. It is, therefore, somewhat singular that their productions should so rarely have been examined on just and philosophical principles of criticism.

The ancient writers themselves afford us but little assistance. When they particularise, they are commonly trivial: when they would generalise, they become indistinct. An exception must, indeed, be made in favour of Aristotle. Both in analysis and in combination, that great Edition: current; Page: [126] man was without a rival. No philosopher has ever possessed, in an equal degree, the talent either of separating established systems into their primary elements, or of connecting detached phenomena in harmonious systems. He was the great fashioner of the intellectual chaos; he changed its darkness into light, and its discord into order. He brought to literary researches the same vigour and amplitude of mind to which both physical and metaphysical science are so greatly indebted. His fundamental principles of criticism are excellent. To cite only a single instance;—the doctrine which he established, that poetry is an imitative art, when justly understood, is to the critic what the compass is to the navigator. With it he may venture upon the most extensive excursions. Without it he must creep cautiously along the coast, or lose himself in a trackless expanse, and trust, at best, to the guidance of an occasional star. It is a discovery which changes a caprice into a science.

The general propositions of Aristotle are valuable. But the merit of the superstructure bears no proportion to that of the foundation. This is partly to be ascribed to the character of the philosopher, who, though qualified to do all that could be done by the resolving and combining powers of the understanding, seems not to have possessed much of sensibility or imagination. Partly, also, it may be attributed to the deficiency of materials. The great works of genius which then existed were not either sufficiently numerous or sufficiently varied to enable any man to form a perfect code of literature. To require that a critic should conceive classes of composition which had never existed, and then investigate their principles, would be as unreasonable as the demand of Nebuchadnezzar, who expected his magicians first to tell him his dream and then to interpret it.

With all his deficiencies, Aristotle was the most enlightened and profound critic of antiquity. Dionysius was far from possessing the same exquisite subtilty, or the same Edition: current; Page: [127] vast comprehension. But he had access to a much greater number of specimens; and he had devoted himself, as it appears, more exclusively to the study of elegant literature. His peculiar judgments are of more value than his general principles. He is only the historian of literature. Aristotle is its philosopher.

Quintilian applied to general literature the same principles by which he had been accustomed to judge of the declamations of his pupils. He looks for nothing but rhetoric, and rhetoric not of the highest order. He speaks coldly of the incomparable works of Æschylus. He admires, beyond expression, those inexhaustible mines of common-places, the plays of Euripides. He bestows a few vague words on the poetical character of Homer. He then proceeds to consider him merely as an orator. An orator Homer doubtless was, and a great orator. But surely nothing is more remarkable, in his admirable works, than the art with which his oratorical powers are made subservient to the purposes of poetry. Nor can I think Quintilian a great critic in his own province. Just as are many of his remarks, beautiful as are many of his illustrations, we can perpetually detect in his thoughts that flavour which the soil of despotism generally communicates to all the fruits of genius. Eloquence was, in his time, little more than a condiment which served to stimulate in a despot the jaded appetite for panegyric, an amusement for the travelled nobles and the blue-stocking matrons of Rome. It is, therefore, with him, rather a sport than a war; it is a contest of foils, not of swords. He appears to think more of the grace of the attitude than of the direction and vigour of the thrust. It must be acknowledged, in justice to Quintilian, that this is an error to which Cicero has too often given the sanction, both of his precept and of his example.

Longinus seems to have had great sensibility, but little discrimination. He gives us eloquent sentences, but no principles. It was happily said that Montesquieu ought Edition: current; Page: [128] to have changed the name of his book from L’Esprit des Lois to L’Esprit sur les Lois. In the same manner the philosopher of Palmyra ought to have entitled his famous work, not “Longinus on the Sublime,” but “The Sublimities of Longinus.” The origin of the sublime is one of the most curious and interesting subjects of inquiry that can occupy the attention of a critic. In our own country it has been discussed, with great ability, and, I think, with very little success, by Burke and Dugald Stuart. Longinus dispenses himself from all investigations of this nature, by telling his friend Terentianus that he already knows every thing that can be said upon the question. It is to be regretted that Terentianus did not impart some of his knowledge to his instructor: for from Longinus we learn only that sublimity means height—or elevation.* This name, so commodiously vague, is applied indifferently to the noble prayer of Ajax in the Iliad, and to a passage of Plato about the human body, as full of conceits as an ode of Cowley. Having no fixed standard, Longinus is right only by accident. He is rather a fancier than a critic.

Modern writers have been prevented by many causes from supplying the deficiencies of their classical predecessors. At the time of the revival of literature, no man could, without great and painful labour, acquire an accurate and elegant knowledge of the ancient languages. And, unfortunately, those grammatical and philological studies, without which it was impossible to understand the great works of Athenian and Roman genius, have a tendency to contract the views and deaden the sensibility of those who follow them with extreme assiduity. A powerful mind, which has been long employed in such studies, may be compared to the gigantic spirit in the Arabian tale, who was persuaded to contract himself to small dimensions in order to enter within the enchanted vessel, Edition: current; Page: [129] and, when his prison had been closed upon him, found himself unable to escape from the narrow boundaries to the measure of which he had reduced his stature. When the means have long been the objects of application, they are naturally substituted for the end. It was said, by Eugene of Savoy, that the greatest generals have commonly been those who have been at once raised to command, and introduced to the great operations of war, without being employed in the petty calculations and manœuvres which employ the time of an inferior officer. In literature the principle is equally sound. The great tactics of criticism will, in general, be best understood by those who have not had much practice in drilling syllables and particles.

I remember to have observed among the French Anas a ludicrous instance of this. A scholar, doubtless of great learning, recommends the study of some long Latin treatise, of which I now forget the name, on the religion, manners, government, and language of the early Greeks. “For there,” says he, “you will learn every thing of importance that is contained in the Iliad and Odyssey, without the trouble of reading two such tedious books.” Alas! it had not occurred to the poor gentleman that all the knowledge to which he attached so much value was useful only as it illustrated the great poems which he despised, and would be as worthless for any other purpose as the mythology of Caffraria, or the vocabulary of Otaheite.

Of those scholars who have disdained to confine themselves to verbal criticism few have been successful. The ancient languages have, generally, a magical influence on their faculties. They were “fools called into a circle by Greek invocations.” The Iliad and Æneid were to them not books, but curiosities, or rather reliques. They no more admired those works for their merits than a good Catholic venerates the house of the Virgin at Loretto for its architecture. Whatever was classical was good. Homer Edition: current; Page: [130] was a great poet; and so was Callimachus. The epistles of Cicero were fine; and so were those of Phalaris. Even with respect to questions of evidence they fell into the same error. The authority of all narrations, written in Greek or Latin, was the same with them. It never crossed their minds that the lapse of five hundred years, or the distance of five hundred leagues, could affect the accuracy of a narration;—that Livy could be a less veracious historian than Polybius;—or that Plutarch could know less about the friends of Xenophon than Xenophon himself. Deceived by the distance of time, they seem to consider all the Classics as contemporaries; just as I have known people in England, deceived by the distance of place, take it for granted that all persons who live in India are neighbours, and ask an inhabitant of Bombay about the health of an acquaintance at Calcutta. It is to be hoped that no barbarian deluge will ever again pass over Europe. But, should such a calamity happen, it seems not improbable that some future Rollin or Gillies will compile a history of England from Miss Porter’s Scottish Chiefs, Miss Lee’s Recess, and Sir Nathaniel Wraxall’s Memoirs.

It is surely time that ancient literature should be examined in a different manner, without pedantical prepossessions, but with a just allowance, at the same time, for the difference of circumstances and manners. I am far from pretending to the knowledge or ability which such a task would require. All that I mean to offer is a collection of desultory remarks upon a most interesting portion of Greek literature.

It may be doubted whether any compositions which have ever been produced in the world are equally perfect in their kind with the great Athenian orations. Genius is subject to the same laws which regulate the production of cotton and molasses. The supply adjusts itself to the demand. The quantity may be diminished by restrictions, and multiplied by bounties. The singular Edition: current; Page: [131] excellence to which eloquence attained at Athens is to be mainly attributed to the influence which it exerted there. In turbulent times, under a constitution purely democratic, among a people educated exactly to that point at which men are most susceptible of strong and sudden impressions, acute, but not sound reasoners, warm in their feelings, unfixed in their principles, and passionate admirers of fine composition, oratory received such encouragement as it has never since obtained.

The taste and knowledge of the Athenian people was a favourite object of the contemptuous derision of Samuel Johnson; a man who knew nothing of Greek literature beyond the common school-books, and who seems to have brought to what he had read scarcely more than the discernment of a common school-boy. He used to assert, with that arrogant absurdity which, in spite of his great abilities and virtues, renders him, perhaps the most ridiculous character in literary history, that Demosthenes spoke to a people of brutes;—to a barbarous people;—that there could have been no civilisation before the invention of printing. Johnson was a keen but a very narrow-minded observer of mankind. He perpetually confounded their general nature with their particular circumstances. He knew London intimately. The sagacity of his remarks on its society is perfectly astonishing. But Fleet-street was the world to him. He saw that Londoners who did not read were profoundly ignorant; and he inferred that a Greek, who had few or no books, must have been as uninformed as one of Mr. Thrale’s draymen.

There seems to be, on the contrary, every reason to believe that, in general intelligence, the Athenian populace far surpassed the lower orders of any community that has ever existed. It must be considered, that to be a citizen was to be a legislator,—a soldier,—a judge,—one upon whose voice might depend the fate of the wealthiest tributary state, of the most eminent public man. The lowest offices, both of agriculture and of Edition: current; Page: [132] trade, were, in common, performed by slaves. The commonwealth supplied its meanest members with the support of life, the opportunity of leisure, and the means of amusement. Books were indeed few: but they were excellent; and they were accurately known. It is not by turning over libraries, but by repeatedly perusing and intently contemplating a few great models, that the mind is best disciplined. A man of letters must now read much that he soon forgets, and much from which he learns nothing worthy to be remembered. The best works employ, in general, but a small portion of his time. Demosthenes is said to have transcribed six times the history of Thucydides. If he had been a young politician of the present age, he might in the same space of time have skimmed innumerable newspapers and pamphlets. I do not condemn that desultory mode of study which the state of things, in our day, renders a matter of necessity. But I may be allowed to doubt whether the changes on which the admirers of modern institutions delight to dwell have improved our condition so much in reality as in appearance. Rumford, it is said, proposed to the elector of Bavaria a scheme for feeding his soldiers at a much cheaper rate than formerly. His plan was simply to compel them to masticate their food thoroughly. A small quantity, thus eaten, would, according to that famous projector, afford more sustenance than a large meal hastily devoured. I do not know how Rumford’s proposition was received; but to the mind, I believe, it will be found more nutritious to digest a page than to devour a volume.

Books, however, were the least part of the education of an Athenian citizen. Let us, for a moment, transport ourselves, in thought, to that glorious city. Let us imagine that we are entering its gates, in the time of its power and glory. A crowd is assembled round a portico. All are gazing with delight at the entablature; for Phidias is putting up the frieze. We turn into another street; a Edition: current; Page: [133] rhapsodist is reciting there: men, women, children are thronging round him: the tears are running down their cheeks: their eyes are fixed: their very breath is still: for he is telling how Priam fell at the feet of Achilles, and kissed those hands,—the terrible,—the murderous,—which had slain so many of his sons.* We enter the public place; there is a ring of youths, all leaning forward, with sparkling eyes, and gestures of expectation. Socrates is pitted against the famous atheist, from Ionia, and has just brought him to a contradiction in terms. But we are interrupted. The herald is crying—“Room for the Prytanes.” The general assembly is to meet. The people are swarming in on every side. Proclamation is made—“Who wishes to speak.” There is a shout, and a clapping of hands: Pericles is mounting the stand. Then for a play of Sophocles; and away to sup with Aspasia. I know of no modern university which has so excellent a system of education.

Knowledge thus acquired and opinions thus formed were, indeed, likely to be, in some respects, defective. Propositions which are advanced in discourse generally result from a partial view of the question, and cannot be kept under examination long enough to be corrected. Men of great conversational powers almost universally practise a sort of lively sophistry and exaggeration, which deceives, for the moment, both themselves and their auditors. Thus we see doctrines, which cannot bear a close inspection, triumph perpetually in drawing-rooms, in debating societies, and even in legislative or judicial assemblies. To the conversational education of the Athenians I am inclined to attribute the great looseness of reasoning which is remarkable in most of their scientific writings. Even the most illogical of modern writers would stand perfectly aghast at the puerile fallacies which seem to have deluded some of the greatest men of antiquity. Sir Edition: current; Page: [134] Thomas Lethbridge would stare at the political economy of Xenophon; and the author of Soirées de Pétersbourg would be ashamed of some of the metaphysical arguments of Plato. But the very circumstances which retarded the growth of science were peculiarly favourable to the cultivation of eloquence. From the early habit of taking a share in animated discussion the intelligent student would derive that readiness of resource, that copiousness of language, and that knowledge of the temper and understanding of an audience, which are far more valuable to an orator than the greatest logical powers.

Horace has prettily compared poems to those paintings of which the effect varies as the spectator changes his stand. The same remark applies with at least equal justice to speeches. They must be read with the temper of those to whom they were addressed, or they must necessarily appear to offend against the laws of taste and reason; as the finest picture, seen in a light different from that for which it was designed, will appear fit only for a sign. This is perpetually forgotten by those who criticise oratory. Because they are reading at leisure, pausing at every line, reconsidering every argument, they forget that the hearers were hurried from point to point too rapidly to detect the fallacies through which they were conducted; that they had no time to disentangle sophisms, or to notice slight inaccuracies of expression; that elaborate excellence, either of reasoning or of language, would have been absolutely thrown away. To recur to the analogy of the sister art, these connoisseurs examine a panorama through a microscope, and quarrel with a scenepainter because he does not give to his work the exquisite finish of Gerard Dow.

Oratory is to be estimated on principles different from those which are applied to other productions. Truth is the object of philosophy and history. Truth is the object even of those works which are peculiarly called works of fiction, but which, in fact, bear the same relation to Edition: current; Page: [135] history which algebra bears to arithmetic. The merit of poetry, in its wildest forms, still consists in its truth,—truth conveyed to the understanding, not directly by the words, but circuitously by means of imaginative associations, which serve as its conductors. The object of oratory alone is not truth, but persuasion. The admiration of the multitude does not make Moore a greater poet than Coleridge, or Beattie a greater philosopher than Berkeley. But the criterion of eloquence is different. A speaker who exhausts the whole philosophy of a question, who displays every grace of style, yet produces no effect on his audience, may be a great essayist, a great statesman, a great master of composition; but he is not an orator. If he miss the mark, it makes no difference whether he have taken aim too high or too low.

The effect of the great freedom of the press in England has been, in a great measure, to destroy this distinction, and to leave among us little of what I call Oratory Proper. Our legislators, our candidates, on great occasions even our advocates, address themselves less to the audience than to the reporters. They think less of the few hearers than of the innumerable readers. At Athens the case was different; there the only object of the speaker was immediate conviction and persuasion. He, therefore, who would justly appreciate the merit of the Grecian orators should place himself, as nearly as possible, in the situation of their auditors: he should divest himself of his modern feelings and acquirements, and make the prejudices and interests of the Athenian citizen his own. He who studies their works in this spirit will find that many of those things which, to an English reader, appear to be blemishes,—the frequent violation of those excellent rules of evidence by which our courts of law are regulated,—the introduction of extraneous matter,—the reference to considerations of political expediency in judicial investigations,—the assertions, without proof,—the passionate entreaties,—the furious invectives,—are really proofs of Edition: current; Page: [136] the prudence and address of the speakers. He must not dwell maliciously on arguments or phrases, but acquiesce in his first impressions. It requires repeated perusal and reflection to decide rightly on any other portion of literature. But with respect to works of which the merit depends on their instantaneous effect the most hasty judgment is likely to be best.

The history of eloquence at Athens is remarkable. From a very early period great speakers had flourished there. Pisistratus and Themistocles are said to have owed much of their influence to their talents for debate. We learn, with more certainty, that Pericles was distinguished by extraordinary oratorical powers. The substance of some of his speeches is transmitted to us by Thucydides; and that excellent writer has doubtless faithfully reported the general line of his arguments. But the manner, which in oratory is of at least as much consequence as the matter, was of no importance to his narration. It is evident that he has not attempted to preserve it. Throughout his work, every speech on every subject, whatever may have been the character or the dialect of the speaker, is in exactly the same form. The grave king of Sparta, the furious demagogue of Athens, the general encouraging his army, the captive supplicating for his life, all are represented as speakers in one unvaried style,—a style moreover wholly unfit for oratorical purposes. His mode of reasoning is singularly elliptical,—in reality most consecutive,—yet in appearance often incoherent. His meaning, in itself sufficiently perplexing, is compressed into the fewest possible words. His great fondness for antithetical expression has not a little conduced to this effect. Every one must have observed how much more the sense is condensed in the verses of Pope and his imitators, who never ventured to continue the same clause from couplet to couplet, than in those of poets who allow themselves that license. Every artificial division, which is strongly marked, and which frequently recurs, has the same tendency. Edition: current; Page: [137] The natural and perspicuous expression which spontaneously rises to the mind will often refuse to accommodate itself to such a form. It is necessary either to expand it into weakness, or to compress it into almost impenetrable density. The latter is generally the choice of an able man, and was assuredly the choice of Thucydides.

It is scarcely necessary to say that such speeches could never have been delivered. They are perhaps among the most difficult passages in the Greek language, and would probably have been scarcely more intelligible to an Athenian auditor than to a modern reader. Their obscurity was acknowledged by Cicero, who was as intimate with the literature and language of Greece as the most accomplished of its natives, and who seems to have held a respectable rank among the Greek authors. Their difficulty to a modern reader lies, not in the words, but in the reasoning. A dictionary is of far less use in studying them than a clear head and a close attention to the context. They are valuable to the scholar as displaying, beyond almost any other compositions, the powers of the finest of languages: they are valuable to the philosopher as illustrating the morals and manners of a most interesting age: they abound in just thought and energetic expression. But they do not enable us to form any accurate opinion on the merits of the early Greek orators.

Though it cannot be doubted that, before the Persian wars, Athens had produced eminent speakers, yet the period during which eloquence most flourished among her citizens was by no means that of her greatest power and glory. It commenced at the close of the Peloponnesian war. In fact, the steps by which Athenian oratory approached to its finished excellence seem to have been almost contemporaneous with those by which the Athenian character and the Athenian empire sunk to degradation. At the time when the little commonwealth achieved those victories which twenty-five eventful centuries have Edition: current; Page: [138] left unequalled, eloquence was in its infancy. The deliverers of Greece became its plunderers and oppressors. Unmeasured exaction, atrocious vengeance, the madness of the multitude, the tyranny of the great, filled the Cyclades with tears, and blood, and mourning. The sword unpeopled whole islands in a day. The plough passed over the ruins of famous cities. The imperial republic sent forth her children by thousands to pine in the quarries of Syracuse, or to feed the vultures of Ægospotami. She was at length reduced by famine and slaughter to humble herself before her enemies, and to purchase existence by the sacrifice of her empire and her laws. During these disastrous and gloomy years, oratory was advancing towards its highest excellence. And it was when the moral, the political, and the military character of the people was most utterly degraded, it was when the viceroy of a Macedonian sovereign gave law to Greece, that the courts of Athens witnessed the most splendid contest of eloquence that the world has ever known.

The causes of this phenomenon it is not, I think, difficult to assign. The division of labour operates on the productions of the orator as it does on those of the mechanic. It was remarked by the ancients that the Pentathlete, who divided his attention between several exercises, though he could not vie with a boxer in the use of the cestus, or with one who had confined his attention to running in the contest of the stadium, yet enjoyed far greater general vigour and health than either. It is the same with the mind. The superiority in technical skill is often more than compensated by the inferiority in general intelligence. And this is peculiarly the case in politics. States have always been best governed by men who have taken a wide view of public affairs, and who have rather a general acquaintance with many sciences than a perfect mastery of one. The union of the political and military departments in Greece contributed not a Edition: current; Page: [139] little to the splendour of its early history. After their separation more skilful generals and greater speakers appeared; but the breed of statesmen dwindled and became almost extinct. Themistocles or Pericles would have been no match for Demosthenes in the assembly, or for Iphicrates in the field. But surely they were incomparably better fitted than either for the supreme direction of affairs.

There is indeed a remarkable coincidence between the progress of the art of war, and that of the art of oratory, among the Greeks. They both advanced to perfection by contemporaneous steps, and from similar causes. The early speakers, like the early warriors of Greece, were merely a militia. It was found that in both employments practice and discipline gave superiority.* Each pursuit therefore became first an art, and then a trade. In proportion as the professors of each became more expert in their particular craft, they became less respectable in their general character. Their skill had been obtained at too great expense to be employed only from disinterested views. Thus, the soldiers forgot that they were citizens, and the orators that they were statesmen. I know not to what Edition: current; Page: [140] Demosthenes and his famous contemporaries can be so justly compared as to those mercenary troops who, in their time, overran Greece; or those who, from similar causes, were some centuries ago the scourge of the Italian republics,—perfectly acquainted with every part of their profession, irresistible in the field, powerful to defend or to destroy, but defending without love, and destroying without hatred. We may despise the characters of these political Condottieri; but it is impossible to examine the system of their tactics without being amazed at its perfection.

I had intended to proceed to this examination, and to consider separately the remains of Lysias, of Æschines, of Demosthenes, and of Isocrates, who, though strictly speaking he was rather a pamphleteer than an orator, deserves, on many accounts, a place in such a disquisition. The length of my prolegomena and digressions compels me to postpone this part of the subject to another occasion. A Magazine is certainly a delightful invention for a very idle or a very busy man. He is not compelled to complete his plan or to adhere to his subject. He may ramble as far as he is inclined, and stop as soon as he is tired. No one takes the trouble to recollect his contradictory opinions or his unredeemed pledges. He may be as superficial, as inconsistent, and as careless as he chooses. Magazines resemble those little angels, who, according to the pretty Rabbinical tradition, are generated every morning by the brook which rolls over the flowers of Paradise,—whose life is a song,—who warble till sunset, and then sink back without regret into nothingness. Such spirits have nothing to do with the detecting spear of Ithuriel or the victorious sword of Michael. It is enough for them to please and be forgotten.

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How I became a prophet it is not very important to the reader to know. Nevertheless I feel all the anxiety which, under similar circumstances, troubled the sensitive mind of Sidrophel; and, like him, am eager to vindicate myself from the suspicion of having practised forbidden arts, or held intercourse with beings of another world. I solemnly declare, therefore, that I never saw a ghost, like Lord Lyttleton; consulted a gipsy, like Josephine; or heard my name pronounced by an absent person, like Dr. Johnson. Though it is now almost as usual for gentlemen to appear at the moment of their death to their friends as to call on them during their life, none of my acquaintance have been so polite as to pay me that customary attention. I have derived my knowledge neither from the dead nor from the living; neither from the lines of a hand, nor from the grounds of a tea-cup; neither from the stars of the firmament, nor from the fiends of the abyss. I have never, like the Wesley family, heard “that mighty leading angel,” who “drew after him the third part of heaven’s sons,” scratching in my cupboard. I have never been enticed to sign any of those delusive bonds which have been the ruin of so many poor creatures; and, having always been an indifferent horseman, I have been careful not to venture myself on a broomstick.

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My insight into futurity, like that of George Fox the quaker, and that of our great and philosophic poet, Lord Byron, is derived from simple presentiment. This is a far less artificial process than those which are employed by some others. Yet my predictions will, I believe, be found more correct than their’s, or, at all events, as Sir Benjamin Backbite says in the play, “more circumstantial.”

I prophecy, then, that, in the year 2824, according to our present reckoning, a grand national Epic Poem, worthy to be compared with the Iliad, the Æneid, or the Jerusalem, will be published in London.

Men naturally take an interest in the adventures of every eminent writer. I will, therefore, gratify the laudable curiosity, which, on this occasion, will doubtless be universal, by prefixing to my account of the poem a concise memoir of the poet.

Richard Quongti will be born at Westminster on the 1st of July, 2786. He will be the younger son of the younger branch of one of the most respectable families in England. He will be lineally descended from Quongti, the famous Chinese liberal, who, after the failure of the heroic attempt of his party to obtain a constitution from the Emperor Fim Fam, will take refuge in England, in the twenty-third century. Here his descendants will obtain considerable note; and one branch of the family will be raised to the peerage.

Richard, however, though destined to exalt his family to distinction far nobler than any which wealth or titles can bestow, will be born to a very scanty fortune. He will display in his early youth such striking talents as will attract the notice of Viscount Quongti, his third cousin, then secretary of state for the Steam Department. At the expense of this eminent nobleman, he will be sent to prosecute his studies at the university of Tombuctoo. To that illustrious seat of the muses all the ingenuous youth of every country will then be attracted by the high scientific character of Professor Quashaboo, and the eminent Edition: current; Page: [143] literary attainments of Professor Kissey Kickey. In spite of this formidable competition, however, Quongti will acquire the highest honours in every department of knowledge, and will obtain the esteem of his associates by his amiable and unaffected manners. The guardians of the young Duke of Carrington, premier peer of England, and the last remaining scion of the ancient and illustrious house of Smith, will be desirous to secure so able an instructor for their ward. With the Duke, Quongti will perform the grand tour, and visit the polished courts of Sydney and Capetown. After prevailing on his pupil, with great difficulty, to subdue a violent and imprudent passion which he had conceived for a Hottentot lady, of great beauty and accomplishments indeed, but of dubious character, he will travel with him to the United States of America. But that tremendous war which will be fatal to American liberty will, at that time, be raging through the whole federation. At New York the travellers will hear of the final defeat and death of the illustrious champion of freedom, Jonathan Higginbottom, and of the elevation of Ebenezer Hogsflesh to the perpetual Presidency. They will not choose to proceed in a journey which would expose them to the insults of that brutal soldiery, whose cruelty and rapacity will have devastated Mexico and Colombia, and now, at length, enslaved their own country.

On their return to England, ad 2810, the death of the Duke will compel his preceptor to seek for a subsistence by literary labours. His fame will be raised by many small productions of considerable merit; and he will at last obtain a permanent place in the highest class of writers by his great epic poem.

This celebrated work will become, with unexampled rapidity, a popular favourite. The sale will be so beneficial to the author that, instead of going about the dirty streets on his velocipede, he will be enabled to set up his balloon.

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The character of this noble poem will be so finely and justly given in the Tombuctoo Review for April, 2825, that I cannot refrain from translating the passage. The author will be our poet’s old preceptor, Professor Kissey Kickey.

“In pathos, in splendour of language, in sweetness of versification, Mr. Quongti has long been considered as unrivalled. In his exquisite poem on the Ornithorynchus Paradoxus all these qualities are displayed in their greatest perfection. How exquisitely does that work arrest and embody the undefined and vague shadows which flit over an imaginative mind. The cold worldling may not comprehend it; but it will find a response in the bosom of every youthful poet, of every enthusiastic lover, who has seen an Ornithorynchus Paradoxus by moonlight. But we were yet to learn that he possessed the comprehension, the judgment, and the fertility of mind indispensable to the epic poet.

“It is difficult to conceive a plot more perfect than that of the ‘Wellingtoniad.’ It is most faithful to the manners of the age to which it relates. It preserves exactly all the historical circumstances, and interweaves them most artfully with all the speciosa miracula of supernatural agency.”

Thus far the learned Professor of Humanity in the university of Tombuctoo. I fear that the critics of our time will form an opinion diametrically opposite as to these very points. Some will, I fear, be disgusted by the machinery, which is derived from the mythology of ancient Greece. I can only say that, in the twenty-ninth century, that machinery will be universally in use among poets; and that Quongti will use it, partly in conformity with the general practice, and partly from a veneration, perhaps excessive, for the great remains of classical antiquity, which will then, as now, be assiduously read by every man of education; though Tom Moore’s songs will be forgotten, and only three copies of Lord Byron’s works Edition: current; Page: [145] will exist: one in the possession of King George the Nineteenth, one in the Duke of Carrington’s collection, and one in the library of the British Museum. Finally, should any good people be concerned to hear that Pagan fictions will so long retain their influence over literature, let them reflect that, as the Bishop of St. David’s says, in his “Proofs of the Inspiration of the Sibylline Verses,” read at the last meeting of the Royal Society of Literature, “at all events, a Pagan is not a Papist.”

Some readers of the present day may think that Quongti is by no means entitled to the compliments which his Negro critic pays him on his adherence to the historical circumstances of the time in which he has chosen his subject; that, where he introduces any trait of our manners, it is in the wrong place, and that he confounds the customs of our age with those of much more remote periods. I can only say that the charge is infinitely more applicable to Homer, Virgil, and Tasso. If, therefore, the reader should detect, in the following abstract of the plot, any little deviation from strict historical accuracy, let him reflect, for a moment, whether Agamemnon would not have found as much to censure in the Iliad.—Dido in the Æneid,—or Godfrey in the Jerusalem. Let him not suffer his opinions to depend on circumstances which cannot possibly affect the truth or falsehood of the representation. If it be impossible for a single man to kill hundreds in battle, the impossibility is not diminished by distance of time. If it be as certain that Rinaldo never disenchanted a forest in Palestine as it is that the Duke of Wellington never disenchanted the forest of Soignies, can we, as rational men, tolerate the one story and ridicule the other? Of this, at least, I am certain, that whatever excuse we have for admiring the plots of those famous poems our children will have for extolling that of the “Wellingtoniad.”

I shall proceed to give a sketch of the narrative. The subject is “The Reign of the Hundred Days.”

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The poem commences, in form, with a solemn proposition of the subject. Then the muse is invoked to give the poet accurate information as to the causes of so terrible a commotion. The answer to this question, being, it is to be supposed, the joint production of the poet and the muse, ascribes the event to circumstances which have hitherto eluded all the research of political writers, namely, the influence of the god Mars, who, we are told, had some forty years before usurped the conjugal rights of old Carlo Buonaparte, and given birth to Napoleon. By his incitement it was that the emperor with his devoted companions was now on the sea, returning to his ancient dominions. The gods were at present, fortunately for the adventurer, feasting with the Ethiopians, whose entertainments, according to the ancient custom described by Homer, they annually attended, with the same sort of condescending gluttony which now carries the cabinet to Guildhall on the 9th of November. Neptune was, in consequence, absent, and unable to prevent the enemy of his favourite island from crossing his element. Boreas, however, who had his abode on the banks of the Russian ocean, and who, like Thetis in the Iliad, was not of sufficient quality to have an invitation to Ethiopia, resolves to destroy the armament which brings war and danger to his beloved Alexander. He accordingly raises a storm which is most powerfully described. Napoleon bewails the inglorious fate for which he seems to be reserved. “Oh! thrice happy,” says he, “those who were frozen to death at Krasnoi, or slaughtered at Leipzic. Oh, Kutusoff, bravest of the Russians, wherefore was I not permitted to fall by thy victorious sword?” He then offers a prayer to Æolus, and vows to him a sacrifice of a black ram. In consequence, the god recalls his turbulent subject; the sea is calmed; and the ship anchors in the port of Frejus. Napoleon Edition: current; Page: [147] and Bertrand, who is always called the faithful Bertrand, land to explore the country; Mars meets them disguised as a lancer of the guard, wearing the cross of the legion of honour. He advises them to apply for necessaries of all kinds to the governor, shows them the way, and disappears with a strong smell of gunpowder. Napoleon makes a pathetic speech, and enters the governor’s house. Here he sees hanging up a fine print of the battle of Austerlitz, himself in the foreground giving his orders. This puts him in high spirits; he advances and salutes the governor, who receives him most loyally, gives him an entertainment, and, according to the usage of all epic hosts, insists after dinner on a full narration of all that has happened to him since the battle of Leipzic.


Napoleon carries his narrative from the battle of Leipsic to his abdication. But, as we shall have a great quantity of fighting on our hands, I think it best to omit the details.


Napoleon describes his sojourn at Elba, and his return; how he was driven by stress of weather to Sardinia, and fought with the harpies there; how he was then carried southward to Sicily, where he generously took on board an English sailor, whom a man of war had unhappily left there, and who was in imminent danger of being devoured by the Cyclops; how he landed in the bay of Naples, saw the Sibyl, and descended to Tartarus; how he held a long and pathetic conversation with Poniatowski, whom he found wandering unburied on the banks of Styx; how he swore to give him a splendid funeral; how he had also an affectionate interview with Desaix: how Moreau and Sir Ralph Abercrombie fled at the sight of Edition: current; Page: [148] him. He relates that he then re-embarked, and met with nothing of importance till the commencement of the storm with which the poem opens.


The scene changes to Paris. Fame, in the garb of an express, brings intelligence of the landing of Napoleon. The king performs a sacrifice: but the entrails are unfavourable; and the victim is without a heart. He prepares to encounter the invader. A young captain of the guard,—the son of Marie Antoinette by Apollo,—in the shape of a fiddler, rushes in to tell him that Napoleon is approaching with a vast army. The royal forces are drawn out for battle. Full catalogues are given of the regiments on both sides; their colonels, lieutenant-colonels, and uniform.


The king comes forward and defies Napoleon to single combat. Napoleon accepts it. Sacrifices are offered. The ground is measured by Ney and Macdonald. The combatants advance. Louis snaps his pistol in vain. The bullet of Napoleon, on the contrary, carries off the tip of the king’s ear. Napoleon then rushes on him sword in hand. But Louis snatches up a stone, such as ten men of those degenerate days will be unable to move, and hurls it at his antagonist. Mars averts it. Napoleon then seizes Louis, and is about to strike a fatal blow, when Bacchus intervenes, like Venus in the third book of the Iliad, bears off the king in a thick cloud, and seats him in an hotel at Lille, with a bottle of Maraschino and a basin of soup before him. Both armies instantly proclaim Napoleon emperor.

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Neptune, returned from his Ethiopian revels, sees with rage the events which have taken place in Europe. He flies to the cave of Alecto, and drags out the fiend, commanding her to excite universal hostility against Napoleon. The Fury repairs to Lord Castlereagh; and, as, when she visited Turnus, she assumed the form of an old woman, she here appears in the kindred shape of Mr. Vansittart, and in an impassioned address exhorts his lordship to war. His lordship, like Turnus, treats this unwonted monitor with great disrespect, tells him that he is an old doting fool, and advises him to look after the ways and means, and leave questions of peace and war to his betters. The Fury then displays all her terrors. The neat powdered hair bristles up into snakes; the black stockings appear clotted with blood; and, brandishing a torch, she announces her name and mission. Lord Castlereagh, seized with fury, flies instantly to the Parliament, and recommends war with a torrent of eloquent invective. All the members instantly clamour for vengeance, seize their arms which are hanging round the walls of the house, and rush forth to prepare for instant hostilities.


In this book intelligence arrives at London of the flight of the Duchess d’Angoulême from France. It is stated that this heroine, armed from head to foot, defended Bordeaux against the adherents of Napoleon, and that she fought hand to hand with Clausel, and beat him down with an enormous stone. Deserted by her followers, she at last, like Turnus, plunged, armed as she was, into the Garonne, and swam to an English ship which lay off the coast. This intelligence yet more inflames the English to war.

A yet bolder flight than any which has been mentioned follows. The Duke of Wellington goes to take leave of Edition: current; Page: [150] the duchess; and a scene passes quite equal to the famous interview of Hector and Andromache. Lord Douro is frightened at his father’s feather, but begs for his epaulette.


Neptune, trembling for the event of the war, implores Venus, who, as the offspring of his element, naturally venerates him, to procure from Vulcan a deadly sword and a pair of unerring pistols for the duke. They are accordingly made, and superbly decorated. The sheath of the sword, like the shield of Achilles, is carved, in exquisitely fine miniature, with scenes from the common life of the period; a dance at Almack’s, a boxing match at the Fives-court, a lord mayor’s procession, and a man hanging. All these are fully and elegantly described. The Duke thus armed hastens to Brussels.


The Duke is received at Brussels by the King of the Netherlands with great magnificence. He is informed of the approach of the armies of all the confederate kings. The poet, however, with a laudable zeal for the glory of his country, completely passes over the exploits of the Austrians in Italy, and the discussions of the congress. England and France, Wellington and Napoleon, almost exclusively occupy his attention. Several days are spent at Brussels in revelry. The English heroes astonish their allies by exhibiting splendid games, similar to those which draw the flower of the British aristocracy to Newmarket and Moulsey Hurst, and which will be considered by our descendants with as much veneration as the Olympian and Isthmian contests by classical students of the present time. In the combat of the cestus, Shaw, the life-guardsman, vanquishes the Prince of Orange, and obtains a bull as a prize. In the horse-race, the Duke of Wellington Edition: current; Page: [151] and Lord Uxbridge ride against each other; the Duke is victorious, and is rewarded with twelve opera-girls. On the last day of the festivities, a splendid dance takes place, at which all the heroes attend.


Mars, seeing the English army thus inactive, hastens to rouse Napoleon, who, conducted by Night and Silence, unexpectedly attacks the Prussians. The slaughter is immense. Napoleon kills many whose histories and families are happily particularised. He slays Herman, the craniologist, who dwelt by the linden-shadowed Elbe, and measured with his eye the skulls of all who walked through the streets of Berlin. Alas! his own skull is now cleft by the Corsican sword. Four pupils of the University of Jena advance together to encounter the Emperor; at four blows he destroys them all. Blucher rushes to arrest the devastation; Napoleon strikes him to the ground, and is on the point of killing him, but Gneisenau, Ziethen, Bulow, and all the other heroes of the Prussian army, gather round him, and bear the venerable chief to a distance from the field. The slaughter is continued till night. In the meantime Neptune has despatched Fame to bear the intelligence to the Duke, who is dancing at Brussels. The whole army is put in motion. The Duke of Brunswick’s horse speaks to admonish him of his danger, but in vain.


Picton, the Duke of Brunswick, and the Prince of Orange, engage Ney at Quatre Bras. Ney kills the Duke of Brunswick, and strips him, sending his belt to Napoleon. The English fall back on Waterloo. Jupiter calls a council of the gods, and commands that none shall interfere on either side. Mars and Neptune make very Edition: current; Page: [152] eloquent speeches. The battle of Waterloo commences. Napoleon kills Picton and Delancy. Ney engages Ponsonby and kills him. The Prince of Orange is wounded by Soult. Lord Uxbridge flies to check the carnage. He is severely wounded by Napoleon, and only saved by the assistance of Lord Hill. In the mean time the Duke makes a tremendous carnage among the French. He encounters General Duhesme and vanquishes him, but spares his life. He kills Toubert, who kept the gaming-house in the Palais Royal, and Maronet, who loved to spend whole nights in drinking champagne. Clerval, who had been hooted from the stage, and had then become a captain in the Imperial Guard, wished that he had still continued to face the more harmless enmity of the Parisian pit. But Larrey, the son of Esculapius, whom his father had instructed in all the secrets of his art, and who was surgeon-general of the French army, embraced the knees of the destroyer, and conjured him not to give death to one whose office it was to give life. The Duke raised him, and bade him live.

But we must hasten to the close. Napoleon rushes to encounter Wellington. Both armies stand in mute amaze. The heroes fire their pistols; that of Napoleon misses, but that of Wellington, formed by the hand of Vulcan, and primed by the Cyclops, wounds the Emperor in the thigh. He flies, and takes refuge among his troops. The flight becomes promiscuous. The arrival of the Prussians, from a motive of patriotism, the poet completely passes over.


Things are now hastening to the catastrophe. Napoleon flies to London, and, seating himself on the hearth of the Regent, embraces the household gods, and conjures him, by the venerable age of George III., and by the opening perfections of the Princess Charlotte, to spare him. The Prince is inclined to do so; when, looking on his breast, Edition: current; Page: [153] he sees there the belt of the Duke of Brunswick. He instantly draws his sword, and is about to stab the destroyer of his kinsman. Piety and hospitality, however, restrain his hand. He takes a middle course, and condemns Napoleon to be exposed on a desert island. The King of France re-enters Paris; and the poem concludes.

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This is a book which enjoys a great and increasing popularity: but, while it has attracted a considerable share of the public attention, it has been little noticed by the critics. Mr. Mitford has almost succeeded in mounting, unperceived by those whose office it is to watch such aspirants, to a high place among historians. He has taken a seat on the dais without being challenged by a single seneschal. To oppose the progress of his fame is now almost a hopeless enterprise. Had he been reviewed with candid severity, when he had published only his first volume, his work would either have deserved its reputation, or would never have obtained it. “Then,” as Indra says of Kehama, “then was the time to strike.” The time was neglected; and the consequence is that Mr. Mitford, like Kehama, has laid his victorious hand on the literary Amreeta, and seems about to taste the precious elixir of immortality. I shall venture to emulate the courage of the honest Glendoveer—

  • “When now
  • He saw the Amreeta in Kehama’s hand,
  • An impulse that defied all self-command,
  • In that extremity,
  • Stung him, and he resolved to seize the cup,
  • And dare the Rajah’s force in Seeva’s sight.
  • Forward he sprung to tempt the unequal fray.”

In plain words, I shall offer a few considerations, which may tend to reduce an overpraised writer to his proper level.

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The principal characteristic of this historian, the origin of his excellencies and his defects, is a love of singularity. He has no notion of going with a multitude to do either good or evil. An exploded opinion, or an unpopular person, has an irresistible charm for him. The same perverseness may be traced in his diction. His style would never have been elegant; but it might at least have been manly and perspicuous; and nothing but the most elaborate care could possibly have made it so bad as it is. It is distinguished by harsh phrases, strange collocations, occasional solecisms, frequent obscurity, and, above all, by a peculiar oddity, which can no more be described than it can be overlooked. Nor is this all. Mr. Mitford piques himself on spelling better than any of his neighbours; and this not only in ancient names, which he mangles in defiance both of custom and of reason, but in the most ordinary words of the English language. It is, in itself, a matter perfectly indifferent whether we call a foreigner by the name which he bears in his own language, or by that which corresponds to it in ours; whether we say Lorenzo de Medici, or Lawrence de Medici, Jean Chauvin, or John Calvin. In such cases established usage is considered as law by all writers except Mr. Mitford. If he were always consistent with himself, he might be excused for sometimes disagreeing with his neighbours; but he proceeds on no principle but that of being unlike the rest of the world. Every child has heard of Linnæus; therefore Mr. Mitford calls him Linné: Rousseau is known all over Europe as Jean Jacques; therefore Mr. Mitford bestows on him the strange appellation of John James.

Had Mr. Mitford undertaken a history of any other country than Greece, this propensity would have rendered his work useless and absurd. His occasional remarks on the affairs of ancient Rome and of modern Europe are full of errors: but he writes of times with respect to which almost every other writer has been in the wrong; and, therefore, by resolutely deviating from his predecessors, he is often in the right.

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Almost all the modern historians of Greece have shown the grossest ignorance of the most obvious phenomena of human nature. In their representations the generals and statesmen of antiquity are absolutely divested of all individuality. They are personifications; they are passions, talents, opinions, virtues, vices, but not men. Inconsistency is a thing of which these writers have no notion. That a man may have been liberal in his youth and avaricious in his age, cruel to one enemy and merciful to another, is to them utterly inconceivable. If the facts be undeniable, they suppose some strange and deep design, in order to explain what, as every one who has observed his own mind knows, needs no explanation at all. This is a mode of writing very acceptable to the multitude who have always been accustomed to make gods and dæmons out of men very little better or worse than themselves; but it appears contemptible to all who have watched the changes of human character—to all who have observed the influence of time, of circumstances, and of associates, on mankind—to all who have seen a hero in the gout, a democrat in the church, a pedant in love, or a philosopher in liquor. This practice of painting in nothing but black and white is unpardonable even in the drama. It is the great fault of Alfieri; and how much it injures the effect of his compositions will be obvious to every one who will compare his Rosmunda with the Lady Macbeth of Shakspeare. The one is a wicked woman; the other is a fiend. Her only feeling is hatred; all her words are curses. We are at once shocked and fatigued by the spectacle of such raving cruelty, excited by no provocation, repeatedly changing its object, and constant in nothing but in its inextinguishable thirst for blood.

In history this error is far more disgraceful. Indeed, there is no fault which so completely ruins a narrative in the opinion of a judicious reader. We know that the line of demarcation between good and bad men is so faintly marked as often to elude the most careful investigation Edition: current; Page: [157] of those who have the best opportunities for judging. Public men, above all, are surrounded with so many temptations and difficulties that some doubt must almost always hang over their real dispositions and intentions. The lives of Pym, Cromwell, Monk, Clarendon, Marlborough, Burnet, Walpole, are well known to us. We are acquainted with their actions, their speeches, their writings; we have abundance of letters and well-authenticated anecdotes relating to them: yet what candid man will venture very positively to say which of them were honest and which of them were dishonest men. It appears easier to pronounce decidedly upon the great characters of antiquity, not because we have greater means of discovering truth, but simply because we have less means of detecting error. The modern historians of Greece have forgotten this. Their heroes and villains are as consistent in all their sayings and doings as the cardinal virtues and the deadly sins in an allegory. We should as soon expect a good action from giant Slay-good in Bunyan as from Dionysius; and a crime of Epaminondas would seem as incongruous as a faux-pas of the grave and comely damsel, called Discretion, who answered the bell at the door of the house Beautiful.

This error was partly the cause and partly the effect of the high estimation in which the later ancient writers have been held by modern scholars. Those French and English authors who have treated of the affairs of Greece have generally turned with contempt from the simple and natural narrations of Thucydides and Xenophon to the extravagant representations of Plutarch, Diodorus, Curtius, and other romancers of the same class,—men who described military operations without ever having handled a sword, and applied to the seditions of little republics speculations formed by observation on an empire which covered half the known world. Of liberty they knew nothing. It was to them a great mystery,—a superhuman enjoyment. They ranted about liberty and patriotism, Edition: current; Page: [158] from the same cause which leads monks to talk more ardently than other men about love and women. A wise man values political liberty, because it secures the persons and the possessions of citizens; because it tends to prevent the extravagance of rulers, and the corruption of judges; because it gives birth to useful sciences and elegant arts; because it excites the industry and increases the comforts of all classes of society. These theorists imagined that it possessed something eternally and intrinsically good, distinct from the blessings which it generally produced. They considered it not as a means but as an end; an end to be attained at any cost. Their favourite heroes are those who have sacrificed, for the mere name of freedom, the prosperity—the security—the justice—from which freedom derives its value.

There is another remarkable characteristic of these writers, in which their modern worshippers have carefully imitated them,—a great fondness for good stories. The most established facts, dates, and characters are never suffered to come into competition with a splendid saying, or a romantic exploit. The early historians have left us natural and simple descriptions of the great events which they witnessed, and the great men with whom they associated. When we read the account which Plutarch and Rollin have given of the same period, we scarcely know our old acquaintance again; we are utterly confounded by the melo-dramatic effect of the narration, and the sublime coxcombry of the characters.

These are the principal errors into which the predecessors of Mr. Mitford have fallen; and from most of these he is free. His faults are of a completely different description. It is to be hoped that the students of history may now be saved, like Dorax in Dryden’s play, by swallowing two conflicting poisons, each of which may serve as an antidote to the other.

The first and most important difference between Mr. Mitford and those who have preceded him is in his narration. Edition: current; Page: [159] Here the advantage lies, for the most part, on his side. His principle is to follow the contemporary historians, to look with doubt on all statements which are not in some degree confirmed by them, and absolutely to reject all which are contradicted by them. While he retains the guidance of some writer in whom he can place confidence, he goes on excellently. When he loses it, he falls to the level, or perhaps below the level, of the writers whom he so much despises: he is as absurd as they, and very much duller. It is really amusing to observe how he proceeds with his narration when he has no better authority than poor Diodorus. He is compelled to relate something; yet he believes nothing. He accompanies every fact with a long statement of objections. His account of the administration of Dionysius is in no sense a history. It ought to be entitled—“Historic doubts as to certain events, alleged to have taken place in Sicily.”

This scepticism, however, like that of some great legal characters almost as sceptical as himself, vanishes whenever his political partialities interfere. He is a vehement admirer of tyranny and oligarchy, and considers no evidence as feeble which can be brought forward in favour of those forms of government. Democracy he hates with a perfect hatred, a hatred which, in the first volume of his history, appears only in his episodes and reflections, but which, in those parts where he has less reverence for his guides, and can venture to take his own way, completely distorts even his narration.

In taking up these opinions, I have no doubt that Mr. Mitford was influenced by the same love of singularity which led him to spell island without an s, and to place two dots over the last letter of idea. In truth, preceding historians have erred so monstrously on the other side that even the worst parts of Mr. Mitford’s book may be useful as a corrective. For a young gentleman who talks much about his country, tyrannicide, and Epaminondas, this work, diluted in a sufficient quantity of Rollin and Barthelemi, may be a very useful remedy.

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The errors of both parties arise from an ignorance or a neglect of the fundamental principles of political science. The writers on one side imagine popular government to be always a blessing; Mr. Mitford omits no opportunity of assuring us that it is always a curse. The fact is, that a good government, like a good coat, is that which fits the body for which it is designed. A man who, upon abstract principles, pronounces a constitution to be good, without an exact knowledge of the people who are to be governed by it, judges as absurdly as a tailor who should measure the Belvidere Apollo for the clothes of all his customers. The demagogues who wished to see Portugal a republic, and the wise critics who revile the Virginians for not having instituted a peerage, appear equally ridiculous to all men of sense and candour.

That is the best government which desires to make the people happy, and knows how to make them happy. Neither the inclination nor the knowledge will suffice alone; and it is difficult to find them together.

Pure democracy, and pure democracy alone, satisfies the former condition of this great problem. That the governors may be solicitous only for the interests of the governed, it is necessary that the interests of the governors and the governed should be the same. This cannot be often the case where power is intrusted to one or to a few. The privileged part of the community will doubtless derive a certain degree of advantage from the general prosperity of the state; but they will derive a greater from oppression and exaction. The king will desire an useless war for his glory, or a parc-aux-cerfs for his pleasure. The nobles will demand monopolies and lettres-de-câchet. In proportion as the number of governors is increased the evil is diminished. There are fewer to contribute, and more to receive. The dividend which each can obtain of the public plunder becomes less and less tempting. But the interests of the subjects and the rulers never absolutely coincide till the subjects themselves Edition: current; Page: [161] become the rulers, that is, till the government be either immediately or mediately democratical.

But this is not enough. “Will without power,” said the sagacious Casimir to Milor Beefington, “is like children playing at soldiers.” The people will always be desirous to promote their own interests; but it may be doubted, whether, in any community, they were ever sufficiently educated to understand them. Even in this island, where the multitude have long been better informed than in any other part of Europe, the rights of the many have generally been asserted against themselves by the patriotism of the few. Free trade, one of the greatest blessings which a government can confer on a people, is in almost every country unpopular. It may be well doubted, whether a liberal policy with regard to our commercial relations would find any support from a parliament elected by universal suffrage. The republicans on the other side of the Atlantic have recently adopted regulations of which the consequences will, before long, show us,

  • “How nations sink, by darling schemes oppressed,
  • When vengeance listens to the fool’s request.”

The people are to be governed for their own good; and, that they may be governed for their own good, they must not be governed by their own ignorance. There are countries in which it would be as absurd to establish popular government as to abolish all the restraints in a school, or to untie all the strait-waistcoats in a madhouse.

Hence it may be concluded that the happiest state of society is that in which supreme power resides in the whole body of a well-informed people. This is an imaginary, perhaps an unattainable, state of things. Yet, in some measure, we may approximate to it; and he alone deserves the name of a great statesman, whose principle it is to extend the power of the people in proportion to the extent of their knowledge, and to give them every Edition: current; Page: [162] facility for obtaining such a degree of knowledge as may render it safe to trust them with absolute power. In the mean time, it is dangerous to praise or condemn constitutions in the abstract; since, from the despotism of St. Petersburg to the democracy of Washington, there is scarcely a form of government which might not, at least in some hypothetical case, be the best possible.

If, however, there be any form of government which in all ages and all nations has always been, and must always be, pernicious, it is certainly that which Mr. Mitford, on his usual principle of being wiser than all the rest of the world, has taken under his especial patronage—pure oligarchy. This is closely, and indeed inseparably, connected with another of his eccentric tastes, a marked partiality for Lacedæmon, and a dislike of Athens. Mr. Mitford’s book has, I suspect, rendered these sentiments in some degree popular; and I shall, therefore, examine them at some length.

The shades in the Athenian character strike the eye more rapidly than those in the Lacedæmonian: not because they are darker, but because they are on a brighter ground. The law of ostracism is an instance of this. Nothing can be conceived more odious than the practice of punishing a citizen, simply and professedly, for his eminence;—and nothing in the institutions of Athens is more frequently or more justly censured. Lacedæmon was free from this. And why? Lacedæmon did not need it. Oligarchy is an ostracism of itself,—an ostracism not occasional, but permanent,—not dubious, but certain. Her laws prevented the development of merit, instead of attacking its maturity. They did not cut down the plant in its high and palmy state, but cursed the soil with eternal sterility. In spite of the law of ostracism, Athens produced, within a hundred and fifty years, the greatest public men that ever existed. Whom had Sparta to ostracise? She produced, at most, four eminent men, Brasidas, Gylippus, Lysander, and Agesilaus. Of these, Edition: current; Page: [163] not one rose to distinction within her jurisdiction. It was only when they escaped from the region within which the influence of aristocracy withered everything good and noble, it was only when they ceased to be Lacedæmonians, that they became great men. Brasidas, among the cities of Thrace, was strictly a democratical leader, the favourite minister and general of the people. The same may be said of Gylippus, at Syracuse. Lysander, in the Hellespont, and Agesilaus, in Asia, were liberated for a time from the hateful restraints imposed by the constitution of Lycurgus. Both acquired fame abroad; and both returned to be watched and depressed at home. This is not peculiar to Sparta. Oligarchy, wherever it has existed, has always stunted the growth of genius. Thus it was at Rome, till about a century before the Christian era: we read of abundance of consuls and dictators who won battles, and enjoyed triumphs; but we look in vain for a single man of the first order of intellect,—for a Pericles, a Demosthenes, or a Hannibal. The Gracchi formed a strong democratical party; Marius revived it; the foundations of the old aristocracy were shaken; and two generations fertile in really great men appeared.

Venice is a still more remarkable instance: in her history we see nothing but the state; aristocracy had destroyed every seed of genius and virtue. Her dominion was like herself, lofty and magnificent, but founded on filth and weeds. God forbid that there should ever again exist a powerful and civilised state, which, after existing through thirteen hundred eventful years, shall not bequeath to mankind the memory of one great name or one generous action.

Many writers, and Mr. Mitford among the number, have admired the stability of the Spartan institutions; in fact, there is little to admire, and less to approve. Oligarchy is the weakest and the most stable of governments; and it is stable because it is weak. It has a sort of valetudinarian longevity; it lives in the balance of Sanctorius; Edition: current; Page: [164] it takes no exercise; it exposes itself to no accident; it is seized with an hypochondriac alarm at every new sensation; it trembles at every breath; it lets blood for every inflammation: and thus, without ever enjoying a day of health or pleasure, drags on its existence to a doting and debilitated old age.

The Spartans purchased for their government a prolongation of its existence by the sacrifice of happiness at home and dignity abroad. They cringed to the powerful; they trampled on the weak; they massacred their Helots; they betrayed their allies; they contrived to be a day too late for the battle of Marathon; they attempted to avoid the battle of Salamis; they suffered the Athenians, to whom they owed their lives and liberties, to be a second time driven from their country by the Persians, that they might finish their own fortifications on the Isthmus; they attempted to take advantage of the distress to which exertions in their cause had reduced their preservers, in order to make them their slaves; they strove to prevent those who had abandoned their walls to defend them, from rebuilding them to defend themselves; they commenced the Peloponnesian war in violation of their engagements with Athens; they abandoned it in violation of their engagements with their allies; they gave up to the sword whole cities which had placed themselves under their protection; they bartered, for advantages confined to themselves, the interest, the freedom, and the lives of those who had served them most faithfully; they took with equal complacency, and equal infamy, the stripes of Elis and the bribes of Persia; they never showed either resentment or gratitude; they abstained from no injury; and they revenged none. Above all, they looked on a citizen who served them well as their deadliest enemy. These are the arts which protract the existence of governments.

Nor were the domestic institutions of Lacedæmon less hateful or less contemptible than her foreign policy. A perpetual interference with every part of the system of Edition: current; Page: [165] human life, a constant struggle against nature and reason, characterised all her laws. To violate even prejudices which have taken deep root in the minds of a people is scarcely expedient; to think of extirpating natural appetites and passions is frantic: the external symptoms may be occasionally repressed; but the feeling still exists, and, debarred from its natural objects, preys on the disordered mind and body of its victim. Thus it is in convents—thus it is among ascetic sects—thus it was among the Lacedæmonians. Hence arose that madness, or violence approaching to madness, which, in spite of every external restraint, often appeared among the most distinguished citizens of Sparta. Cleomenes terminated his career of raving cruelty by cutting himself to pieces. Pausanias seems to have been absolutely insane: he formed a hopeless and profligate scheme; he betrayed it by the ostentation of his behaviour, and the imprudence of his measures; and he alienated, by his insolence, all who might have served or protected him. Xenophon, a warm admirer of Lacedæmon, furnishes us with the strongest evidence to this effect. It is impossible not to observe the brutal and senseless fury which characterises almost every Spartan with whom he was connected. Clearchus nearly lost his life by his cruelty. Chirisophus deprived his army of the services of a faithful guide by his unreasonable and ferocious severity. But it is needless to multiply instances. Lycurgus, Mr. Mitford’s favourite legislator, founded his whole system on a mistaken principle. He never considered that governments were made for men, and not men for governments. Instead of adapting the constitution to the people, he distorted the minds of the people to suit the constitution, a scheme worthy of the Laputan Academy of Projectors. And this appears to Mr. Mitford to constitute his peculiar title to admiration. Hear himself: “What to modern eyes most strikingly sets that extraordinary man above all other legislators is, that in so many circumstances, apparently out of the reach of Edition: current; Page: [166] law, he controlled and formed to his own mind the wills and habits of his people.” I should suppose that this gentleman had the advantage of receiving his education under the ferula of Dr. Pangloss; for his metaphysics are clearly those of the castle of Thunder-ten-tronckh: “Remarquez bien que les nez ont été faits pour porter des lunettes, aussi avons nous des lunettes. Les jambes sont visiblement instituées pour être chaussées, et nous avons des chausses. Les cochons étant faits pour étre mangés, nous mangeons du porc toute l’année.”

At Athens the laws did not constantly interfere with the tastes of the people. The children were not taken from their parents by that universal step-mother, the state. They were not starved into thieves, or tortured into bullies; there was no established table at which every one must dine, no established style in which every one must converse. An Athenian might eat whatever he could afford to buy, and talk as long as he could find people to listen. The government did not tell the people what opinions they were to hold, or what songs they were to sing. Freedom produced excellence. Thus philosophy took its origin. Thus were produced those models of poetry, of oratory, and of the arts, which scarcely fall short of the standard of ideal excellence. Nothing is more conducive to happiness than the free exercise of the mind in pursuits congenial to it. This happiness, assuredly, was enjoyed far more at Athens than at Sparta. The Athenians are acknowledged even by their enemies to have been distinguished, in private life, by their courteous and amiable demeanour. Their levity, at least, was better than Spartan sullenness, and their impertinence, than Spartan insolence. Even in courage it may be questioned whether they were inferior to the Lacedæmonians. The great Athenian historian has reported a remarkable observation of the great Athenian minister. Pericles maintained that his countrymen, without submitting to the hardships of a Spartan education, rivalled all the achievements of Spartan valour, Edition: current; Page: [167] and that therefore the pleasures and amusements which they enjoyed were to be considered as so much clear gain. The infantry of Athens was certainly not equal to that of Lacedæmon; but this seems to have been caused merely by want of practice: the attention of the Athenians was diverted from the discipline of the phalanx to that of the trireme. The Lacedæmonians, in spite of all their boasted valour, were, from the same cause, timid and disorderly in naval action.

But we are told that crimes of great enormity were perpetrated by the Athenian Government, and the democracies under its protection. It is true that Athens too often acted up to the full extent of the laws of war, in an age when those laws had not been mitigated by causes which have operated in later times. This accusation is, in fact, common to Athens, to Lacedæmon, to all the states of Greece, and to all states similarly situated. Where communities are very large, the heavier evils of war are felt but by few. The plough-boy sings, the spinning-wheel turns round the wedding-day is fixed, whether the last battle were lost or won. In little states it cannot be thus; every man feels in his own property and person the effect of a war. Every man is a soldier, and a soldier fighting for his nearest interests. His own trees have been cut down—his own corn has been burnt—his own house has been pillaged—his own relations have been killed. How can he entertain towards the enemies of his country the same feelings with one who has suffered nothing from them, except perhaps the addition of a small sum to the taxes which he pays. Men in such circumstances cannot be generous. They have too much at stake. It is when they are, if I may so express myself, playing for love, it is when war is a more game at chess, it is when they are contending for a remote colony, a frontier town, the honours of a flag, a salute, or a title, that they can make fine speeches, and do good offices to their enemies. The Black Edition: current; Page: [168] Prince waited behind the chair of his captive; Villars interchanged repartees with Eugene; George II. sent congratulations to Louis XV., during a war, upon occasion of his escape from the attempt of Damien: and these things are fine and generous, and very gratifying to the author of the Broad Stone of Honour, and all the other wise men who think, like him, that God made the world only for the use of gentlemen. But they spring in general from utter heartlessness. No war ought ever to be undertaken but under circumstances which render all interchange of courtesy between the combatants impossible. It is a bad thing that men should hate each other; but it is far worse that they should contract the habit of cutting one another’s throats without hatred. War is never lenient, but where it is wanton; when men are compelled to fight in self-defence, they must hate and avenge: this may be bad; but it is human nature; it is the clay as it came from the hand of the potter.

It is true that among the dependencies of Athens seditions assumed a character more ferocious than even in France, during the reign of terror—the accursed Saturnalia of an accursed bondage. It is true that in Athens itself, where such convulsions were scarcely known, the condition of the higher orders was disagreeable; that they were compelled to contribute large sums for the service or the amusement of the public; and that they were sometimes harassed by vexatious informers. Whenever such cases occur, Mr. Mitford’s scepticism vanishes. The “if,” the “but,” the “it is said,” the “if we may believe,” with which he qualifies every charge against a tyrant or an aristocracy, are at once abandoned. The blacker the story, the firmer is his belief; and he never fails to inveigh with hearty bitterness against democracy as the source of every species of crime.

The Athenians, I believe, possessed more liberty than was good for them. Yet I will venture to assert that, while the splendour, the intelligence, and the energy of Edition: current; Page: [169] that great people were peculiar to themselves, the crimes with which they are charged arose from causes which were common to them with every other state which then existed. The violence of faction in that age sprung from a cause which has always been fertile in every political and moral evil, domestic slavery.

The effect of slavery is completely to dissolve the connection which naturally exists between the higher and lower classes of free citizens. The rich spend their wealth in purchasing and maintaining slaves. There is no demand for the labour of the poor; the fable of Menenius ceases to be applicable; the belly communicates no nutriment to the members; there is an atrophy in the body politic. The two parties, therefore, proceed to extremities utterly unknown in countries where they have mutually need of each other. In Rome the oligarchy was too powerful to be subverted by force; and neither the tribunes nor the popular assemblies, though constitutionally omnipotent, could maintain a successful contest against men who possessed the whole property of the state. Hence the necessity for measures tending to unsettle the whole frame of society, and to take away every motive of industry; the abolition of debts, and the agrarian laws—propositions absurdly condemned by men who do not consider the circumstances from which they sprung. They were the desperate remedies of a desperate disease. In Greece the oligarchical interest was not in general so deeply rooted as at Rome. The multitude, therefore, often redressed by force grievances which, at Rome, were commonly attacked under the forms of the constitution. They drove out or massacred the rich, and divided their property. If the superior union or military skill of the rich rendered them victorious, they took measures equally violent, disarmed all in whom they could not confide, often slaughtered great numbers, and occasionally expelled the whole commonalty from the city, and remained, with their slaves, the sole inhabitants.

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From such calamities Athens and Lacedæmon alone were almost completely free. At Athens the purses of the rich were laid under regular contribution for the support of the poor; and this, rightly considered, was as much a favour to the givers as to the receivers, since no other measure could possibly have saved their houses from pillage and their persons from violence. It is singular that Mr. Mitford should perpetually reprobate a policy which was the best that could be pursued in such a state of things, and which alone saved Athens from the frightful outrages which were perpetrated at Corcyra.

Lacedæmon, cursed with a system of slavery more odious than has ever existed in any other country, avoided this evil by almost totally annihilating private property. Lycurgus began by an agrarian law. He abolished all professions except that of arms; he made the whole of his community a standing army, every member of which had a common right to the services of a crowd of miserable bondmen; he secured the state from sedition at the expense of the Helots. Of all the parts of his system this is the most creditable to his head, and the most disgraceful to his heart.

These considerations, and many others of equal importance, Mr. Mitford has neglected; but he has yet a heavier charge to answer. He has made not only illogical inferences, but false statements. While he never states, without qualifications and objections, the charges which the earliest and best historians have brought against his favourite tyrants, Pisistratus, Hippias, and Gelon, he transcribes, without any hesitation, the grossest abuse of the least authoritative writers against every democracy and every demagogue. Such an accusation should not be made without being supported; and I will therefore select one out of many passages which will fully substantiate the charge, and convict Mr. Mitford of wilful misrepresentation, or of negligence scarcely less culpable. Edition: current; Page: [171] Mr. Mitford is speaking of one of the greatest men that ever lived, Demosthenes, and comparing him with his rival, Æschines. Let him speak for himself.

“In earliest youth Demosthenes earned an opprobrious nickname by the effeminacy of his dress and manner.” Does Mr. Mitford know that Demosthenes denied this charge, and explained the nickname in a perfectly different manner?* And, if he knew it, should he not have stated it? He proceeds thus:—“On emerging from minority, by the Athenian law, at five-and-twenty, he earned another opprobrious nickname by a prosecution of his guardians, which was considered as a dishonourable attempt to extort money from them.” In the first place, Demosthenes was not five-and-twenty years of age. Mr. Mitford might have learned, from so common a book as the Archæologia of Archbishop Potter, that at twenty Athenian citizens were freed from the control of their guardians, and began to manage their own property. The very speech of Demosthenes against his guardians proves most satisfactorily that he was under twenty. In his speech against Midias, he says that when he undertook that prosecution he was quite a boy. His youth might, therefore, excuse the step, even if it had been considered, as Mr. Mitford says, a dishonourable attempt to extort money. But who considered it as such? Not the judges, who condemned the guardians. The Athenian courts of justice were not the purest in the world; but their decisions were at least as likely to be just as the abuse of a deadly enemy. Mr. Mitford refers for confirmation of his statement to Æschines and Plutarch. Æschines by no means bears him out; and Plutarch directly contradicts him. “Not long after,” says Mr. Mitford, “he took blows publicly in the theater” (I preserve the orthography, if it can be so called, of this historian) “from a petulant youth Edition: current; Page: [172] of rank, named Meidias.” Here are two disgraceful mistakes. In the first place, it was long after; eight years at the very least, probably much more. In the next place, the petulant youth, of whom Mr. Mitford speaks, was fifty years old.* Really Mr. Mitford has less reason to censure the carelessness of his predecessors than to reform his own. After this monstrous inaccuracy, with regard to facts, we may be able to judge what degree of credit ought to be given to the vague abuse of such a writer. “The cowardice of Demosthenes in the field afterwards became notorious.” Demosthenes was a civil character; war was not his business. In his time the division between military and political offices was beginning to be strongly marked; yet the recollection of the days when every citizen was a soldier was still recent. In such states of society a certain degree of disrepute always attaches to sedentary men; but that any leader of the Athenian democracy could have been, as Mr. Mitford says of Demosthenes, a few lines before, remarkable for “an extraordinary deficiency of personal courage,” is absolutely impossible. What mercenary warrior of the time exposed his life to greater or more constant perils? Was there a single soldier at Chæronea who had more cause to tremble for his safety than the orator, who, in case of defeat, could scarcely hope for mercy from the people whom he had misled or the prince whom he had opposed? Were not the ordinary fluctuations of popular feeling enough to deter any coward from engaging in political conflicts? Isocrates, whom Mr. Mitford extols, because he constantly employed all the flowers of his school-boy rhetoric to decorate oligarchy and tyranny, avoided the judicial and political meetings of Athens from mere timidity, and seems to have hated democracy only because he durst not look a popular assembly in the face. Edition: current; Page: [173] Demosthenes was a man of a feeble constitution: his nerves were weak; but his spirit was high: and the energy and enthusiasm of his feelings supported him through life and in death.

So much for Demosthenes. Now for the orator of aristocracy. I do not wish to abuse Æschines. He may have been an honest man. He was certainly a great man; and I feel a reverence, of which Mr. Mitford seems to have no notion, for great men of every party. But, when Mr. Mitford says that the private character of Æschines was without stain, does he remember what Æschines has himself confessed in his speech against Timarchus? I can make allowances, as well as Mr. Mitford, for persons who lived under a different system of laws and morals; but let them be made impartially. If Demosthenes is to be attacked on account of some childish improprieties, proved only by the assertion of an antagonist, what shall we say of those maturer vices which that antagonist has himself acknowledged? “Against the private character of Æschines,” says Mr. Mitford, “Demosthenes seems not to have had an insinuation to oppose.” Has Mr. Mitford ever read the speech of Demosthenes on the Embassy? Or can he have forgotten, what was never forgotten by any one else who ever read it, the story which Demosthenes relates with such terrible energy of language concerning the drunken brutality of his rival? True or false, here is something more than an insinuation; and nothing can vindicate the historian, who has overlooked it, from the charge of negligence or of partiality. But Æschines denied the story. And did not Demosthenes also deny the story respecting his childish nickname, which Mr. Mitford has nevertheless told without any qualification? But the judges, or some part of them, showed, by their clamour, their disbelief of the relation of Demosthenes. And did not the judges, who tried the cause between Demosthenes and his guardians, indicate, in a much clearer manner, their approbation of the Edition: current; Page: [174] prosecution? But Demosthenes was a demagogue, and is to be slandered. Æschines was an aristocrat, and is to be panegyrised. Is this a history, or a party-pamphlet?

These passages, all selected from a single page of Mr. Mitford’s work, may give some notion to those readers, who have not the means of comparing his statements with the original authorities, of his extreme partiality and carelessness. Indeed, whenever this historian mentions Demosthenes, he violates all the laws of candour and even of decency; he weighs no authorities; he makes no allowances; he forgets the best authenticated facts in the history of the times, and the most generally recognised principles of human nature. The opposition of the great orator to the policy of Philip he represents as neither more nor less than deliberate villainy. I hold almost the same opinion with Mr. Mitford respecting the character and the views of that great and accomplished prince. But am I, therefore, to pronounce Demosthenes profligate and insincere? Surely not. Do we not perpetually see men of the greatest talents and the purest intentions misled by national or factious prejudices? The most respectable people in England were, little more than forty years ago, in the habit of uttering the bitterest abuse against Washington and Franklin. It is certainly to be regretted that men should err so grossly in their estimate of character. But no person who knows anything of human nature will impute such errors to depravity.

Mr. Mitford is not more consistent with himself than with reason. Though he is the advocate of all oligarchies, he is also a warm admirer of all kings, and of all citizens who raised themselves to that species of sovereignty which the Greeks denominated tyranny. If monarchy, as Mr. Mitford holds, be in itself a blessing, democracy must be a better form of government than aristocracy, which is always opposed to the supremacy, and even to the eminence, of individuals. On the other hand, it is but one step that separates the demagogue and the sovereign.

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If this article had not extended itself to so great a length, I should offer a few observations on some other peculiarities of this writer,—his general preferenceof the Barbarians to the Greeks,—his predilection for Persians, Carthaginians, Thracians, for all nations, in short, except that great and enlightened nation of which he is the historian. But I will confine myself to a single topic.

Mr. Mitford has remarked, with truth and spirit, that “any history perfectly written, but especially a Grecian history perfectly written, should be a political institute for all nations.” It has not occurred to him that a Grecian history, perfectly written, should also be a complete record of the rise and progress of poetry, philosophy, and the arts. Here his work is extremely deficient. Indeed, though it may seem a strange thing to say of a gentleman who has published so many quartos, Mr. Mitford seems to entertain a feeling, bordering on contempt, for literary and speculative pursuits. The talents of action almost exclusively attract his notice; and he talks with very complacent disdain of “the idle learned.” Homer, indeed, he admires; but principally, I am afraid, because he is convinced that Homer could neither read nor write. He could not avoid speaking of Socrates; but he has been far more solicitous to trace his death to political causes, and to deduce from it consequences unfavourable to Athens, and to popular governments, than to throw light on the character and doctrines of the wonderful man,

  • “From whose mouth issued forth
  • Mellifluous streams that watered all the schools
  • Of Academics, old and new, with those
  • Surnamed Peripatetics, and the sect
  • Epicurean, and the Stoic severe.”

He does not seem to be aware that Demosthenes was a great orator; he represents him sometimes as an aspiring demagogue, sometimes as an adroit negotiator, and always as a great rogue. But that in which the Athenian excelled Edition: current; Page: [176] all men of all ages, that irresistible eloquence, which at the distance of more than two thousand years stirs our blood, and brings tears into our eyes, he passes by with a few phrases of common-place commendation. The origin of the drama, the doctrines of the sophists, the course of Athenian education, the state of the arts and sciences, the whole domestic system of the Greeks, he has almost completely neglected. Yet these things will appear, to a reflecting man, scarcely less worthy of attention than the taking of Sphacteria or the discipline of the targeteers of Iphicrates.

This, indeed, is a deficiency by no means peculiar to Mr. Mitford. Most people seem to imagine that a detail of public occurrences — the operations of sieges — the changes of administrations — the treaties — the conspiracies — the rebellions — is a complete history. Differences of definition are logically unimportant; but practically they sometimes produce the most momentous effects. Thus it has been in the present case. Historians have, almost without exception, confined themselves to the public transactions of states, and have left to the negligent administration of writers of fiction a province at least equally extensive and valuable.

All wise statesmen have agreed to consider the prosperity or adversity of nations as made up of the happiness or misery of individuals, and to reject as chimerical all notions of a public interest of the community, distinct from the interest of the component parts. It is therefore strange that those whose office it is to supply statesmen with examples and warnings should omit, as too mean for the dignity of history, circumstances which exert the most extensive influence on the state of society. In general, the under current of human life flows steadily on, unruffled by the storms which agitate the surface. The happiness of the many commonly depends on causes independent of victories or defeats, of revolutions or restorations, — causes which can be regulated by no laws, Edition: current; Page: [177] and which are recorded in no archives. These causes are the things which it is of main importance to us to know, not how the Lacedæmonian phalanx was broken at Leuctra — not whether Alexander died of poison or by disease. History, without these, is a shell without a kernel; and such is almost all the history which is extant in the world. Paltry skirmishes and plots are reported with absurd and useless minuteness; but improvements the most essential to the comfort of human life extend themselves over the world, and introduce themselves into every cottage, before any annalist can condescend, from the dignity of writing about generals and ambassadors, to take the least notice of them. Thus the progress of the most salutary inventions and discoveries is buried in impenetrable mystery; mankind are deprived of a most useful species of knowledge, and their benefactors of their honest fame. In the meantime every child knows by heart the dates and adventures of a long line of barbarian kings. The history of nations, in the sense in which I use the word, is often best studied in works not professedly historical. Thucydides, as far as he goes, is an excellent writer; yet he affords us far less knowledge of the most important particulars relating to Athens than Plato or Aristophanes. The little treatise of Xenophon on Domestic Economy contains more historical information than all the seven books of his Hellenics. The same may be said of the Satires of Horace, of the Letters of Cicero, of the novels of Le Sage, of the memoirs of Marmontel. Many others might be mentioned; but these sufficiently illustrate my meaning.

I would hope that there may yet appear a writer who may despise the present narrow limits, and assert the rights of history over every part of her natural domain. Should such a writer engage in that enterprise, in which I cannot but consider Mr. Mitford as having failed, he will record, indeed, all that is interesting and important in military and political transactions; but he will not think Edition: current; Page: [178] anything too trivial for the gravity of history which is not too trivial to promote or diminish the happiness of man. He will portray in vivid colours the domestic society, the manners, the amusements, the conversation of the Greeks. He will not disdain to discuss the state of agriculture, of the mechanical arts, and of the conveniences of life. The progress of painting, of sculpture, and of architecture, will form an important part of his plan. But, above all, his attention will be given to the history of that splendid literature from which has sprung all the strength, the wisdom, the freedom, and the glory, of the western world.

Of the indifference which Mr. Mitford shows on this subject I will not speak; for I cannot speak with fairness. It is a subject on which I love to forget the accuracy of a judge, in the veneration of a worshipper and the gratitude of a child. If we consider merely the subtlety of disquisition, the force of imagination, the perfect energy and elegance of expression, which characterise the great works of Athenian genius, we must pronounce them intrinsically most valuable; but what shall we say when we reflect that from hence have sprung, directly or indirectly, all the noblest creations of the human intellect; that from hence were the vast accomplishments, and the brilliant fancy of Cicero; the withering fire of Juvenal; the plastic imagination of Dante; the humour of Cervantes; the comprehension of Bacon; the wit of Butler; the supreme and universal excellence of Shakspeare? All the triumphs of truth and genius over prejudice and power, in every country and in every age, have been the triumphs of Athens. Wherever a few great minds have made a stand against violence and fraud, in the cause of liberty and reason, there has been her spirit in the midst of them; inspiring, encouraging, consoling;—by the lonely lamp of Erasmus; by the restless bed of Pascal; in the tribune of Mirabeau; in the cell of Galileo; on the scaffold of Sidney. But who shall estimate Edition: current; Page: [179] her influence on private happiness? Who shall say how many thousands have been made wiser, happier, and better, by those pursuits in which she has taught mankind to engage; to how many the studies which took their rise from her have been wealth in poverty,—liberty in bondage,—health in sickness,—society in solitude? Her power is indeed manifested at the bar, in the senate, in the field of battle, in the schools of philosophy. But these are not her glory. Wherever literature consoles sorrow, or assuages pain,—wherever it brings gladness to eyes which fail with wakefulness and tears, and ache for the dark house and the long sleep,—there is exhibited, in its noblest form, the immortal influence of Athens.

The dervise, in the Arabian tale, did not hesitate to abandon to his comrade the camels with their load of jewels and gold, while he retained the casket of that mysterious juice which enabled him to behold at one glance all the hidden riches of the universe. Surely it is no exaggeration to say that no external advantage is to be compared with that purification of the intellectual eye which gives us to contemplate the infinite wealth of the mental world, all the hoarded treasures of its primeval dynasties, all the shapeless ore of its yet unexplored mines. This is the gift of Athens to man. Her freedom and her power have for more than twenty centuries been annihilated; her people have degenerated into timid slaves; her language into a barbarous jargon; her temples have been given up to the successive depredations of Romans, Turks, and Scotchmen; but her intellectual empire is imperishable. And when those who have rivalled her greatness shall have shared her fate; when civilisation and knowledge shall have fixed their abode in distant continents; when the sceptre shall have passed away from England; when, perhaps, travellers from distant regions shall in vain labour to decipher on some mouldering pedestal the name of our proudest chief; shall hear savage hymns chaunted to some misshapen idol over the ruined Edition: current; Page: [180] dome of our proudest temple; and shall see a single naked fisherman wash his nets in the river of the ten thousand masts;—her influence and her glory will still survive,—fresh in eternal youth, exempt from mutability and decay, immortal as the intellectual principle from which they derived their origin, and over which they exercise their control.

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JOHN DRYDEN. (January 1828.)

The Poetical Works of John Dryden. In 2 volumes. University Edition. London, 1826.

The public voice has assigned to Dryden the first place in the second rank of our poets,—no mean station in a table of intellectual precedency so rich in illustrious names. It is allowed that, even of the few who were his superiors in genius, none has exercised a more extensive or permanent influence on the national habits of thought and expression. His life was commensurate with the period during which a great revolution in the public taste was effected; and in that revolution he played the part of Cromwell. By unscrupulously taking the lead in its wildest excesses, he obtained the absolute guidance of it. By trampling on laws, he acquired the authority of a legislator. By signalising himself as the most daring and irreverent of rebels, he raised himself to the dignity of a recognised prince. He commenced his career by the most frantic outrages. He terminated it in the repose of established sovereignty,—the author of a new code, the root of a new dynasty.

Of Dryden, however, as of almost every man who has been distinguished either in the literary or in the political world, it may be said that the course which he pursued, and the effect which he produced, depended less on his personal qualities than on the circumstances in which he was placed. Those who have read history with discrimination know the fallacy of those panegyrics and invectives which represent individuals as effecting great moral and intellectual revolutions, subverting established systems, Edition: current; Page: [184] and imprinting a new character on their age. The difference between one man and another is by no means so great as the superstitious crowd supposes. But the same feelings which in ancient Rome produced the apotheosis of a popular emperor, and in modern Rome the canonisation of a devout prelate, lead men to cherish an illusion which furnishes them with something to adore. By a law of association, from the operation of which even minds the most strictly regulated by reason are not wholly exempt, misery disposes us to hatred, and happiness to love, although there may be no person to whom our misery or our happiness can be ascribed. The peevishness of an invalid vents itself even on those who alleviate his pain. The good humour of a man elated by success often displays itself towards enemies. In the same manner, the feelings of pleasure and admiration, to which the contemplation of great events gives birth, make an object where they do not find it. Thus, nations descend to the absurdities of Egyptian idolatry, and worship stocks and reptiles—Sacheverells and Wilkeses. They even fall prostrate before a deity to which they have themselves given the form which commands their veneration, and which, unless fashioned by them, would have remained a shapeless block. They persuade themselves that they are the creatures of what they have themselves created. For, in fact, it is the age that forms the man, not the man that forms the age. Great minds do indeed re-act on the society which has made them what they are; but they only pay with interest what they have received. We extol Bacon, and sneer at Aquinas. But, if their situations had been changed, Bacon might have been the Angelical Doctor, the most subtle Aristotelian of the schools; the Dominican might have led forth the sciences from their house of bondage. If Luther had been born in the tenth century, he would have effected no reformation. If he had never been born at all, it is evident that the sixteenth century could not have elapsed without Edition: current; Page: [185] a great schism in the church. Voltaire, in the days of Louis the Fourteenth, would probably have been, like most of the literary men of that time, a zealous Jansenist, eminent among the defenders of efficacious grace, a bitter assailant of the lax morality of the Jesuits and the unreasonable decisions of the Sorbonne. If Pascal had entered on his literary career when intelligence was more general, and abuses at the same time more flagrant, when the church was polluted by the Iscariot Dubois, the court disgraced by the orgies of Canillac, and the nation sacrificed to the juggles of Law, if he had lived to see a dynasty of harlots, an empty treasury and a crowded harem, an army formidable only to those whom it should have protected, a priesthood just religious enough to be intolerant, he might possibly, like every man of genius in France, have imbibed extravagant prejudices against monarchy and Christianity. The wit which blasted the sophisms of Escobar—the impassioned eloquence which defended the sisters of Port Royal—the intellectual hardihood which was not beaten down even by Papal authority—might have raised him to the Patriarchate of the Philosophical Church. It was long disputed whether the honour of inventing the method of Fluxions belonged to Newton or to Leibnitz. It is now generally allowed that these great men made the same discovery at the same time. Mathematical science, indeed, had then reached such a point that, if neither of them had ever existed, the principle must inevitably have occurred to some person within a few years. So in our own time the doctrine of rent, now universally received by political economists, was propounded, almost at the same moment, by two writers unconnected with each other. Preceding speculators had long been blundering round about it; and it could not possibly have been missed much longer by the most heedless inquirer. We are inclined to think that, with respect to every great addition which has been made to the stock of human knowledge, the case has been Edition: current; Page: [186] similar; that without Copernicus we should have been Copernicans,—that without Columbus America would have been discovered,—that without Locke we should have possessed a just theory of the origin of human ideas. Society indeed has its great men and its little men, as the earth has its mountains and its valleys. But the inequalities of intellect, like the inequalities of the surface of our globe, bear so small a proportion to the mass, that, in calculating its great revolutions, they may safely be neglected. The sun illuminates the hills, while it is still below the horizon; and truth is discovered by the highest minds a little before it becomes manifest to the multitude. This is the extent of their superiority. They are the first to catch and reflect a light, which, without their assistance, must, in a short time, be visible to those who lie far beneath them.

The same remark will apply equally to the fine arts. The laws on which depend the progress and decline of poetry, painting, and sculpture, operate with little less certainty than those which regulate the periodical returns of heat and cold, of fertility and barrenness. Those who seem to lead the public taste are, in general, merely outrunning it in the direction which it is spontaneously pursuing. Without a just apprehension of the laws to which we have alluded, the merits and defects of Dryden can be but imperfectly understood. We will, therefore, state what we conceive them to be.

The ages in which the master-pieces of imagination have been produced have by no means been those in which taste has been most correct. It seems that the creative faculty, and the critical faculty, cannot exist together in their highest perfection. The causes of this phenomenon it is not difficult to assign.

It is true that the man who is best able to take a machine to pieces, and who most clearly comprehends the manner in which all its wheels and springs conduce to its general effect, will be the man most competent to Edition: current; Page: [187] form another machine of similar power. In all the branches of physical and moral science which admit of perfect analysis, he who can resolve will be able to combine. But the analysis which criticism can effect of poetry is necessarily imperfect. One element must for ever elude its researches; and that is the very element by which poetry is poetry. In the description of nature, for example, a judicious reader will easily detect an incongruous image. But he will find it impossible to explain in what consists the art of a writer who, in a few words, brings some spot before him so vividly that he shall know it as if he had lived there from childhood; while another, employing the same materials, the same verdure, the same water, and the same flowers, committing no inaccuracy, introducing nothing which can be positively pronounced superfluous, omitting nothing which can be positively pronounced necessary, shall produce no more effect than an advertisement of a capital residence and a desirable pleasure-ground. To take another example: the great features of the character of Hotspur are obvious to the most superficial reader. We at once perceive that his courage is splendid, his thirst of glory intense, his animal spirits high, his temper careless, arbitrary, and petulant; that he indulges his own humour without caring whose feelings he may wound, or whose enmity he may provoke, by his levity. Thus far criticism will go. But something is still wanting. A man might have all those qualities, and every other quality which the most minute examiner can introduce into his catalogue of the virtues and faults of Hotspur, and yet he would not be Hotspur. Almost everything that we have said of him applies equally to Falconbridge. Yet in the mouth of Falconbridge most of his speeches would seem out of place. In real life this perpetually occurs. We are sensible of wide differences between men whom, if we were required to describe them, we should describe in almost the same terms. If we were Edition: current; Page: [188] attempting to draw elaborate characters of them, we should scarcely be able to point out any strong distinction; yet we approach them with feelings altogether dissimilar. We cannot conceive of them as using the expressions or the gestures of each other. Let us suppose that a zoologist should attempt to give an account of some animal, a porcupine for instance, to people who had never seen it. The porcupine, he might say, is of the genus mammalia, and the order glires. There are whiskers on its face; it is two feet long; it has four toes before, five behind, two fore teeth, and eight grinders. Its body is covered with hair and quills. And, when all this had been said, would any one of the auditors have formed a just idea of a porcupine? Would any two of them have formed the same idea? There might exist innumerable races of animals, possessing all the characteristics which have been mentioned, yet altogether unlike to each other. What the description of our naturalist is to a real porcupine, the remarks of criticism are to the images of poetry. What it so imperfectly decomposes it cannot perfectly re-construct. It is evidently as impossible to produce an Othello or a Macbeth by reversing an analytical process so defective, as it would be for an anatomist to form a living man out of the fragments of his dissecting-room. In both cases the vital principle eludes the finest instruments, and vanishes in the very instant in which its seat is touched. Hence those who, trusting to their critical skill, attempt to write poems give us, not images of things, but catalogues of qualities. Their characters are allegories; not good men and bad men, but cardinal virtues and deadly sins. We seem to have fallen among the acquaintances of our old friend Christian: sometimes we meet Mistrust and Timorous; sometimes Mr. Hate-good and Mr. Love-lust; and then again Prudence, Piety, and Charity.

That critical discernment is not sufficient to make men poets, is generally allowed. Why it should keep them Edition: current; Page: [189] from becoming poets, is not perhaps equally evident: but the fact is, that poetry requires not an examining but a believing frame of mind. Those feel it most, and write it best, who forget that it is a work of art; to whom its imitations, like the realities from which they are taken, are subjects, not for connoisseurship, but for tears and laughter, resentment and affection; who are too much under the influence of the illusion to admire the genius which has produced it; who are too much frightened for Ulysses in the cave of Polyphemus to care whether the pun about Outis be good or bad; who forget that such a person as Shakspeare ever existed, while they weep and curse with Lear. It is by giving faith to the creations of the imagination that a man becomes a poet. It is by treating those creations as deceptions, and by resolving them, as nearly as possible, into their elements, that he becomes a critic. In the moment in which the skill of the artist is perceived, the spell of the art is broken.

These considerations account for the absurdities into which the greatest writers have fallen, when they have attempted to give general rules for composition, or to pronounce judgment on the works of others. They are unaccustomed to analyse what they feel; they, therefore, perpetually refer their emotions to causes which have not in the slightest degree tended to produce them. They feel pleasure in reading a book. They never consider that this pleasure may be the effect of ideas which some unmeaning expression, striking on the first link of a chain of associations, may have called up in their own minds—that they have themselves furnished to the author the beauties which they admire.

Cervantes is the delight of all classes of readers. Every school-boy thumbs to pieces the most wretched translations of his romance, and knows the lantern jaws of the Knight Errant, and the broad cheeks of the Squire, as well as the faces of his own playfellows. The most experienced Edition: current; Page: [190] and fastidious judges are amazed at the perfection of that art which extracts inextinguishable laughter from the greatest of human calamities without once violating the reverence due to it; at that discriminating delicacy of touch which makes a character exquisitely ridiculous, without impairing its worth, its grace, or its dignity. In Don Quixote are several dissertations on the principles of poetic and dramatic writing. No passages in the whole work exhibit stronger marks of labour and attention; and no passages in any work with which we are acquainted are more worthless and puerile. In our time they would scarcely obtain admittance into the literary department of the Morning Post. Every reader of the Divine Comedy must be struck by the veneration which Dante expresses for writers far inferior to himself. He will not lift up his eyes from the ground in the presence of Brunetto, all whose works are not worth the worst of his own hundred cantos. He does not venture to walk in the same line with the bombastic Statius. His admiration of Virgil is absolute idolatry. If indeed it had been excited by the elegant, splendid, and harmonious diction of the Roman poet, it would not have been altogether unreasonable; but it is rather as an authority on all points of philosophy, than as a work of imagination, that he values the Æneid. The most trivial passages he regards as oracles of the highest authority, and of the most recondite meaning. He describes his conductor as the sea of all wisdom—the sun which heals every disordered sight. As he judged of Virgil, the Italians of the fourteenth century judged of him; they were proud of him; they praised him; they struck medals bearing his head; they quarrelled for the honour of possessing his remains; they maintained professors to expound his writings. But what they admired was not that mighty imagination which called a new world into existence, and made all its sights and sounds familiar to the eye and ear of the mind. They said little of those awful and lovely creations on Edition: current; Page: [191] which later critics delight to dwell—Farinata lifting his haughty and tranquil brow from his couch of everlasting fire—the lion-like repose of Sordello—or the light which shone from the celestial smile of Beatrice. They extolled their great poet for his smattering of ancient literature and history; for his logic and his divinity; for his absurd physics, and his more absurd metaphysics; for everything but that in which he preeminently excelled. Like the fool in the story, who ruined his dwelling by digging for gold, which, as he had dreamed, was concealed under its foundations, they laid waste one of the noblest works of human genius, by seeking in it for buried treasures of wisdom which existed only in their own wild reveries. The finest passages were little valued till they had been debased into some monstrous allegory. Louder applause was given to the lecture on fate and free-will, or to the ridiculous astronomical theories, than to those tremendous lines which disclose the secrets of the tower of hunger, or to that half-told tale of guilty love, so passionate and so full of tears.

We do not mean to say that the contemporaries of Dante read with less emotion than their descendants of Ugolino groping among the wasted corpses of his children, or of Francesca starting at the tremulous kiss and dropping the fatal volume. Far from it. We believe that they admired these things less than ourselves, but that they felt them more. We should perhaps say that they felt them too much to admire them. The progress of a nation from barbarism to civilisation produces a change similar to that which takes place during the progress of an individual from infancy to mature age. What man does not remember with regret the first time that he read Robinson Crusoe? Then, indeed, he was unable to appreciate the powers of the writer; or, rather, he neither knew nor cared whether the book had a writer at all. He probably thought it not half so fine as some rant of Macpherson about dark-browed Foldath, and white-bosomed Strinadona. Edition: current; Page: [192] He now values Fingal and Temora only as showing with how little evidence a story may be believed, and with how little merit a book may be popular. Of the romance of Defoe he entertains the highest opinion. He perceives the hand of a master in ten thousand touches which formerly he passed by without notice. But, though he understands the merits of the narrative better than formerly, he is far less interested by it. Xury, and Friday, and pretty Poll, the boat with the shoulder-of-mutton sail, and the canoe which could not be brought down to the water edge, the tent with its hedge and ladders, the preserve of kids, and the den where the old goat died, can never again be to him the realities which they were. The days when his favourite volume set him upon making wheel-barrows and chairs, upon digging caves and fencing huts in the garden, can never return. Such is the law of our nature. Our judgment ripens; our imagination decays. We cannot at once enjoy the flowers of the spring of life and the fruits of its autumn, the pleasures of close investigation and those of agreeable error. We cannot sit at once in the front of the stage and behind the scenes. We cannot be under the illusion of the spectacle, while we are watching the movements of the ropes and pulleys which dispose it.

The chapter in which Fielding describes the behaviour of Partridge at the theatre affords so complete an illustration of our proposition, that we cannot refrain from quoting some parts of it.

“Partridge gave that credit to Mr. Garrick which he had denied to Jones, and fell into so violent a trembling that his knees knocked against each other. Jones asked him what was the matter, and whether he was afraid of the warrior upon the stage?—‘O, la, sir,’ said he, ‘I perceive not it is what you told me. I am not afraid of anything, for I know it is but a play; and if it was really a ghost, it could do one no harm at such a distance and in so much company; and yet, if I was frightened, I am not the only person.’—‘Why, who,’ cries Jones, ‘dost thou take to be such a Edition: current; Page: [193] coward here besides thyself?’—‘Nay, you may call me a coward if you will; but if that little man there upon the stage is not frightened, I never saw any man frightened in my life.’ . . . . He sat with his eyes fixed partly on the ghost and partly on Hamlet, and with his mouth open; the same passions which succeeded each other in Hamlet, succeeding likewise in him. . . . .

“Little more worth remembering occurred during the play, at the end of which Jones asked him which of the players he liked best. To this he answered, with some appearance of indignation at the question, ‘The King, without doubt.’—‘Indeed, Mr. Partridge,’ says Mrs. Miller, ‘you are not of the same opinion with the town; for they are all agreed that Hamlet is acted by the best player who was ever on the stage.’ ‘He the best player!’ cries Partridge, with a contemptuous sneer; ‘why I could act as well as he myself. I am sure, if I had seen a ghost, I should have looked in the very same manner, and done just as he did. And then, to be sure, in that scene, as you called it, between him and his mother, where you told me he acted so fine, why, any man, that is, any good man, that had such a mother, would have done exactly the same. I know you are only joking with me; but indeed, madam, though I never was at a play in London, yet I have seen acting before in the country, and the King for my money; he speaks all his words distinctly, and half as loud again as the other. Anybody may see he is an actor.’ ”

In this excellent passage Partridge is represented as a very bad theatrical critic. But none of those who laugh at him possess the tithe of his sensibility to theatrical excellence. He admires in the wrong place; but he trembles in the right place. It is indeed because he is so much excited by the acting of Garrick, that he ranks him below the strutting, mouthing performer, who personates the King. So, we have heard it said that, in some parts of Spain and Portugal, an actor who should represent a depraved character finely, instead of calling down the applauses of the audience, is hissed and pelted without mercy. It would be the same in England, if we, for one moment, thought that Shylock or Iago was standing before us. While the dramatic art was in its infancy at Athens, it produced similar effects on the ardent and Edition: current; Page: [194] imaginative spectators. It is said that they blamed Æschylus for frightening them into fits with his Furies. Herodotus tells us that, when Phrynichus produced his tragedy on the fall of Miletus, they fined him in a penalty of a thousand drachmas for torturing their feelings by so pathetic an exhibition. They did not regard him as a great artist, but merely as a man who had given them pain. When they woke from the distressing illusion, they treated the author of it as they would have treated a messenger who should have brought them fatal and alarming tidings which turned out to be false. In the same manner, a child screams with terror at the sight of a person in a ugly mask. He has perhaps seen the mask put on. But his imagination is too strong for his reason; and he intreats that it may be taken off.

We should act in the same manner if the grief and horror produced in us by works of the imagination amounted to real torture. But in us these emotions are comparatively languid. They rarely affect our appetite or our sleep. They leave us sufficiently at ease to trace them to their causes, and to estimate the powers which produce them. Our attention is speedily diverted from the images which call forth our tears to the art by which those images have been selected and combined. We applaud the genius of the writer. We applaud our own sagacity and sensibility; and we are comforted.

Yet, though we think that in the progress of nations towards refinement the reasoning powers are improved at the expense of the imagination, we acknowledge that to this rule there are many apparent exceptions. We are not, however, quite satisfied that they are more than apparent. Men reasoned better, for example, in the time of Elizabeth than in the time of Egbert; and they also wrote better poetry. But we must distinguish between poetry as a mental act, and poetry as a species of composition. If we take it in the latter sense, its excellence depends, not solely on the vigour of the imagination, but Edition: current; Page: [195] partly also on the instruments which the imagination employs. Within certain limits, therefore, poetry may be improving while the poetical faculty is decaying. The vividness of the picture presented to the reader is not necessarily proportioned to the vividness of the prototype which exists in the mind of the writer. In the other arts we see this clearly. Should a man, gifted by nature with all the genius of Canova, attempt to carve a statue without instruction as to the management of his chisel, or attention to the anatomy of the human body, he would produce something compared with which the Highlander at the door of a snuff shop would deserve admiration. If an uninitiated Raphael were to attempt a painting, it would be a mere daub; indeed, the connoisseurs say that the early works of Raphael are little better. Yet, who can attribute this to want of imagination? Who can doubt that the youth of that great artist was passed amidst an ideal world of beautiful and majestic forms? Or, who will attribute the difference which appears between his first rude essays and his magnificent Transfiguration to a change in the constitution of his mind? In poetry, as in painting and sculpture, it is necessary that the imitator should be well acquainted with that which he undertakes to imitate, and expert in the mechanical part of his art. Genius will not furnish him with a vocabulary: it will not teach him what word most exactly corresponds to his idea, and will most fully convey it to others: it will not make him a great descriptive poet, till he has looked with attention on the face of nature; or a great dramatist, till he has felt and witnessed much of the influence of the passions. Information and experience are, therefore, necessary; not for the purpose of strengthening the imagination, which is never so strong as in people incapable of reasoning—savages, children, madmen, and dreamers; but for the purpose of enabling the artist to communicate his conceptions to others.

In a barbarous age the imagination exercises a despotic Edition: current; Page: [196] power. So strong is the perception of what is unreal that it often overpowers all the passions of the mind and all the sensations of the body. At first, indeed, the phantasm remains undivulged, a hidden treasure, a wordless poetry, an invisible painting, a silent music, a dream of which the pains and pleasures exist to the dreamer alone, a bitterness which the heart only knoweth, a joy with which a stranger intermeddleth not. The machinery, by which ideas are to be conveyed from one person to another, is as yet rude and defective. Between mind and mind there is a great gulf. The imitative arts do not exist, or are in their lowest state. But the actions of men amply prove that the faculty which gives birth to those arts is morbidly active. It is not yet the inspiration of poets and sculptors; but it is the amusement of the day, the terror of the night, the fertile source of wild superstitions. It turns the clouds into gigantic shapes, and the winds into doleful voices. The belief which springs from it is more absolute and undoubting than any which can be derived from evidence. It resembles the faith which we repose in our own sensations. Thus, the Arab, when covered with wounds, saw nothing but the dark eyes and the green kerchief of a beckoning Houri. The Northern warrior laughed in the pangs of death when he thought of the mead of Valhalla.

The first works of the imagination are, as we have said, poor and rude, not from the want of genius, but from the want of materials. Phidias could have done nothing with an old tree and a fish-bone, or Homer with the language of New Holland.

Yet the effect of these early performances, imperfect as they must necessarily be, is immense. All deficiencies are supplied by the susceptibility of those to whom they are addressed. We all know what pleasure a wooden doll, which may be bought for sixpence, will afford to a little girl. She will require no other company. She will nurse it, dress it, and talk to it all day. No grown-up Edition: current; Page: [197] man takes half so much delight in one of the incomparable babies of Chantrey. In the same manner, savages are more affected by the rude compositions of their bards than nations more advanced in civilisation by the greatest master-pieces of poetry.

In process of time, the instruments by which the imagination works are brought to perfection. Men have not more imagination than their rude ancestors. We strongly suspect that they have much less. But they produce better works of imagination. Thus, up to a certain period, the diminution of the poetical powers is far more than compensated by the improvement of all the appliances and means of which those powers stand in need. Then comes the short period of splendid and consummate excellence. And then, from causes against which it is vain to struggle, poetry begins to decline. The progress of language, which was at first favourable, becomes fatal to it, and, instead of compensating for the decay of the imagination, accelerates that decay, and renders it more obvious. When the adventurer in the Arabian tale anointed one of his eyes with the contents of the magical box, all the riches of the earth, however widely dispersed, however sacredly concealed, became visible to him. But, when he tried the experiment on both eyes, he was struck with blindness. What the enchanted elixir was to the sight of the body, language is to the sight of the imagination. At first it calls up a world of glorious illusions; but, when it becomes too copious, it altogether destroys the visual power.

As the development of the mind proceeds, symbols, instead of being employed to convey images, are substituted for them. Civilised men think as they trade, not in kind, but by means of a circulating medium. In these circumstances, the sciences improve rapidly, and criticism among the rest; but poetry, in the highest sense of the word, disappears. Then comes the dotage of the fine arts, a second childhood, as feeble as the former, and far more hopeless. This is the age of critical poetry, of Edition: current; Page: [198] poetry by courtesy, of poetry to which the memory, the judgment, and the wit contribute far more than the imagination. We readily allow that many works of this description are excellent: we will not contend with those who think them more valuable than the great poems of an earlier period. We only maintain that they belong to a different species of composition, and are produced by a different faculty.

It is some consolation to reflect that this critical school of poetry improves as the science of criticism improves; and that the science of criticism, like every other science, is constantly tending towards perfection. As experiments are multiplied, principles are better understood.

In some countries, in our own, for example, there has been an interval between the downfall of the creative school and the rise of the critical, a period during which imagination has been in its decrepitude, and taste in its infancy. Such a revolutionary interregnum as this will be deformed by every species of extravagance.

The first victory of good taste is over the bombast and conceits which deform such times as these. But criticism is still in a very imperfect state. What is accidental is for a long time confounded with what is essential. General theories are drawn from detached facts. How many hours the action of a play may be allowed to occupy,—how many similes an Epic Poet may introduce into his first book,—whether a piece, which is acknowledged to have a beginning and an end, may not be without a middle, and other questions as puerile as these, formerly occupied the attention of men of letters in France, and even in this country. Poets, in such circumstances as these, exhibit all the narrowness and feebleness of the criticism by which their manner has been fashioned. From outrageous absurdity they are preserved indeed by their timidity. But they perpetually sacrifice nature and reason to arbitrary canons of taste. In their eagerness to avoid the mala prohibita of a foolish code, they are perpetually Edition: current; Page: [199] rushing on the mala in se. Their great predecessors, it is true, were as bad critics as themselves, or perhaps worse: but those predecessors, as we have attempted to show, were inspired by a faculty independent of criticism, and, therefore, wrote well while they judged ill.

In time men begin to take more rational and comprehensive views of literature. The analysis of poetry, which, as we have remarked, must at best be imperfect, approaches nearer and nearer to exactness. The merits of the wonderful models of former times are justly appreciated. The frigid productions of a later age are rated at no more than their proper value. Pleasing and ingenious imitations of the manner of the great masters appear. Poetry has a partial revival, a Saint Martin’s Summer, which, after a period of dreariness and decay, agreeably reminds us of the splendour of its June. A second harvest is gathered in; though, growing on a spent soil, it has not the heart of the former. Thus, in the present age, Monti has successfully imitated the style of Dante; and something of the Elizabethan inspiration has been caught by several eminent countrymen of our own. But never will Italy produce another Inferno, or England another Hamlet. We look on the beauties of the modern imitations with feelings similar to those with which we see flowers disposed in vases, to ornament the drawing-rooms of a capital. We doubtless regard them with pleasure, with greater pleasure, perhaps, because, in the midst of a place ungenial to them, they remind us of the distant spots on which they flourish in spontaneous exuberance. But we miss the sap, the freshness and the bloom. Or, if we may borrow another illustration from Queen Scheherezade, we would compare the writers of this school to the jewellers who were employed to complete the unfinished window of the palace of Aladdin. Whatever skill or cost could do was done. Palace and bazaar were ransacked for precious stones. Yet the artists, with all their dexterity, Edition: current; Page: [200] with all their assiduity, and with all their vast means, were unable to produce anything comparable to the wonders which a spirit of a higher order had wrought in a single night.

The history of every literature with which we are acquainted confirms, we think, the principles which we have laid down. In Greece we see the imaginative school of poetry gradually fading into the critical. Æschylus and Pindar were succeeded by Sophocles, Sophocles by Euripides, Euripides by the Alexandrian versifiers. Of these last, Theocritus alone has left compositions which deserve to be read. The splendour and grotesque fairyland of the Old Comedy, rich with such gorgeous hues, peopled with such fantastic shapes, and vocal alternately with the sweetest peals of music and the loudest bursts of elvish laughter, disappeared for ever. The master-pieces of the New Comedy are known to us by Latin translations of extraordinary merit. From these translations, and from the expressions of the ancient critics, it is clear that the original compositions were distinguished by grace and sweetness, that they sparkled with wit, and abounded with pleasing sentiment; but that the creative power was gone. Julius Cæsar called Terence a half Menander,—a sure proof that Menander was not a quarter Aristophanes.

The literature of the Romans was merely a continuation of the literature of the Greeks. The pupils started from the point at which their masters had, in the course of many generations, arrived. They thus almost wholly missed the period of original invention. The only Latin poets whose writings exhibit much vigour of imagination are Lucretius and Catullus. The Augustan age produced nothing equal to their finer passages.

In France, that licensed jester, whose jingling cap and motley coat concealed more genius than ever mustered in the saloon of Ninon or of Madame Géoffrin, was succeeded by writers as decorous and as tiresome as gentlemen-ushers.

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The poetry of Italy and of Spain has undergone the same change. But nowhere has the revolution been more complete and violent than in England. The same person who, when a boy, had clapped his thrilling hands at the first representation of the Tempest might, without attaining to a marvellous longevity, have lived to read the earlier works of Prior and Addison. The change, we believe, must, sooner or later, have taken place. But its progress was accelerated, and its character modified, by the political occurrences of the times, and particularly by two events, the closing of the theatres under the commonwealth, and the restoration of the House of Stuart.

We have said that the critical and poetical faculties are not only distinct, but almost incompatible. The state of our literature during the reigns of Elizabeth and James the First is a strong confirmation of this remark. The greatest works of imagination that the world has ever seen were produced at that period. The national taste, in the meantime, was to the last degree detestable. Alliterations, puns, antithetical forms of expression lavishly employed where no corresponding opposition existed between the thoughts expressed, strained allegories, pedantic allusions, everything, in short, quaint and affected, in matter and manner, made up what was then considered as fine writing. The eloquence of the bar, the pulpit, and the council-board, was deformed by conceits which would have disgraced the rhyming shepherds of an Italian academy. The king quibbled on the throne. We might, indeed, console ourselves by reflecting that his majesty was a fool. But the chancellor quibbled in concert from the wool-sack: and the chancellor was Francis Bacon. It is needless to mention Sidney and the whole tribe of Euphuists; for Shakspeare himself, the greatest poet that ever lived, falls into the same fault whenever he means to be particularly fine. While he abandons himself to the impulse of his imagination, his compositions are not only the sweetest and the most sublime, but also the most Edition: current; Page: [202] faultless, that the world has ever seen. But, as soon as his critical powers come into play, he sinks to the level of Cowley; or rather he does ill what Cowley did well. All that is bad in his works is bad elaborately, and of malice aforethought. The only thing wanting to make them perfect was, that he should never have troubled himself with thinking whether they were good or not. Like the angels in Milton, he sinks “with compulsion and laborious flight.” His natural tendency is upwards. That he may soar, it is only necessary that he should not struggle to fall. He resembles an American Cacique, who, possessing in unmeasured abundance the metals which in polished societies are esteemed the most precious, was utterly unconscious of their value, and gave up treasures more valuable than the imperial crowns of other countries, to secure some gaudy and far-fetched but worthless bauble, a plated button, or a necklace of coloured glass.

We have attempted to show that, as knowledge is extended and as the reason developes itself, the imitative arts decay. We should, therefore, expect that the corruption of poetry would commence in the educated classes of society. And this, in fact, is almost constantly the case. The few great works of imagination which appear in a critical age are, almost without exception, the works of uneducated men. Thus, at a time when persons of quality translated French romances, and when the universities celebrated royal deaths in verses about tritons and fauns, a preaching tinker produced the Pilgrim’s Progress. And thus a ploughman startled a generation which had thought Hayley and Beattie great poets, with the adventures of Tam O’Shanter. Even in the latter part of the reign of Elizabeth the fashionable poetry had degenerated. It retained few vestiges of the imagination of earlier times. It had not yet been subjected to the rules of good taste. Affectation had completely tainted madrigals and sonnets. The grotesque conceits and the tuneless numbers of Donne were, in the time of James, Edition: current; Page: [203] the favourite models of composition at Whitehall and at the Temple. But, though the literature of the Court was in its decay, the literature of the people was in its perfection. The Muses had taken sanctuary in the theatres, the haunts of a class whose taste was not better than that of the Right Honourables and singular good Lords who admired metaphysical love-verses, but whose imagination retained all its freshness and vigour; whose censure and approbation might be erroneously bestowed, but whose tears and laughter were never in the wrong. The infection which had tainted lyric and didactic poetry had but slightly and partially touched the drama. While the noble and the learned were comparing eyes to burningglasses, and tears to terrestial globes, coyness to an enthymeme, absence to a pair of compasses, and an unrequited passion to the fortieth remainder-man in an entail, Juliet leaning from the balcony, and Miranda smiling over the chess-board, sent home many spectators, as kind and simple-hearted as the master and mistress of Fletcher’s Ralpho, to cry themselves to sleep.

No species of fiction is so delightful to us as the old English drama. Even its inferior productions possess a charm not to be found in any other kind of poetry. It is the most lucid mirror that ever was held up to nature. The creations of the great dramatists of Athens produce the effect of magnificent sculptures, conceived by a mighty imagination, polished with the utmost delicacy, embodying ideas of ineffable majesty and beauty, but cold, pale, and rigid, with no bloom on the cheek, and no speculation in the eye. In all the draperies, the figures, and the faces, in the lovers and the tyrants, the Bacchanals and the Furies, there is the same marble chillness and deadness. Most of the characters of the French stage resemble the waxen gentlemen and ladies in the window of a perfumer, rouged, curled, and bedizened, but fixed in such stiff attitudes, and staring with eyes expressive of such utter unmeaningness, that they cannot produce Edition: current; Page: [204] an illusion for a single moment. In the English plays alone is to be found the warmth, the mellowness, and the reality of painting. We know the minds of the men and women, as we know the faces of the men and women of Vandyke.

The excellence of these works is in a great measure the result of two peculiarities, which the critics of the French school consider as defects,—from the mixture of tragedy and comedy, and from the length and extent of the action. The former is necessary to render the drama a just representation of a world in which the laughers and the weepers are perpetually jostling each other,—in which every event has its serious and ludicrous side. The latter enables us to form an intimate acquaintance with characters with which we could not possibly become familiar during the few hours to which the unities restrict the poet. In this respect, the works of Shakspeare, in particular, are miracles of art. In a piece, which may be read aloud in three hours, we see a character gradually unfold all its recesses to us. We see it change with the change of circumstances. The petulant youth rises into the politic and warlike sovereign. The profuse and courteous philanthropist sours into a hater and scorner of his kind. The tyrant is altered, by the chastening of affliction, into a pensive moralist. The veteran general, distinguished by coolness, sagacity, and self-command, sinks under a conflict between love strong as death, and jealousy cruel as the grave. The brave and loyal subject passes, step by step, to the extremities of human depravity. We trace his progress, from the first dawnings of unlawful ambition to the cynical melancholy of his impenitent remorse. Yet, in these pieces, there are no unnatural transitions. Nothing is omitted: nothing is crowded. Great as are the changes, narrow as is the compass within which they are exhibited, they shock us as little as the gradual alterations of those familiar faces which we see every evening and every morning. The Edition: current; Page: [205] magical skill of the poet resembles that of the Dervise in the Spectator, who condensed all the events of seven years into the single moment during which the king held his head under the water.

It is deserving of remark, that, at the time of which we speak, the plays even of men not eminently distinguished by genius,—such, for example, as Jonson,—were far superior to the best works of imagination in other departments. Therefore, though we conceive that, from causes which we have already investigated, our poetry must necessarily have declined, we think that, unless its fate had been accelerated by external attacks, it might have enjoyed an euthanasia, that genius might have been kept alive by the drama till its place could, in some degree, be supplied by taste,—that there would have been scarcely any interval between the age of sublime invention and that of agreeable imitation. The works of Shakspeare, which were not appreciated with any degree of justice before the middle of the eighteenth century, might then have been the recognised standards of excellence during the latter part of the seventeenth; and he and the great Elizabethan writers might have been almost immediately succeeded by a generation of poets similar to those who adorn our own times.

But the Puritans drove imagination from its last asylum. They prohibited theatrical representations, and stigmatised the whole race of dramatists as enemies of morality and religion. Much that is objectionable may be found in the writers whom they reprobated; but whether they took the best measures for stopping the evil appears to us very doubtful, and must, we think, have appeared doubtful to themselves, when, after the lapse of a few years, they saw the unclean spirit whom they had cast out return to his old haunts, with seven others fouler than himself.

By the extinction of the drama, the fashionable school of poetry,—a school without truth of sentiment or harmony Edition: current; Page: [206] of versification,—without the powers of an earlier, or the correctness of a later age,—was left to enjoy undisputed ascendency. A vicious ingenuity, a morbid quickness to perceive resemblances and analogies between things apparently heterogeneous, constituted almost its only claim to admiration. Suckling was dead. Milton was absorbed in political and theological controversy. If Waller differed from the Cowleian sect of writers, he differed for the worse. He had as little poetry as they, and much less wit; nor is the languor of his verses less offensive than the ruggedness of theirs. In Denham alone the faint dawn of a better manner was discernible.

But, low as was the state of our poetry during the civil war and the Protectorate, a still deeper fall was at hand. Hitherto our literature had been idiomatic. In mind as in situation we had been islanders. The revolutions in our taste, like the revolutions in our government, had been settled without the interference of strangers. Had this state of things continued, the same just principles of reasoning which, about this time, were applied with unprecedented success to every part of philosophy would soon have conducted our ancestors to a sounder code of criticism. There were already strong signs of improvement. Our prose had at length worked itself clear from those quaint conceits which still deformed almost every metrical composition. The parliamentary debates, and the diplomatic correspondence of that eventful period, had contributed much to this reform. In such bustling times, it was absolutely necessary to speak and write to the purpose. The absurdities of Puritanism had, perhaps, done more. At the time when that odious style, which deforms the writings of Hall and of Lord Bacon, was almost universal, had appeared that stupendous work, the English Bible,—a book which, if everything else in our language should perish, would alone suffice to show the whole extent of its beauty and power. The respect which the translators felt for the original prevented them Edition: current; Page: [207] from adding any of the hideous decorations then in fashion. The ground-work of the version, indeed, was of an earlier age. The familiarity with which the Puritans, on almost every occasion, used the Scriptural phrases was no doubt very ridiculous; but it produced good effects. It was a cant; but it drove out a cant far more offensive.

The highest kind of poetry is, in a great measure, independent of those circumstances which regulate the style of composition in prose. But with that inferior species of poetry which succeeds to it the case is widely different. In a few years, the good sense and good taste which had weeded out affectation from moral and political treatises would, in the natural course of things, have effected a similar reform in the sonnet and the ode. The rigour of the victorious sectaries had relaxed. A dominant religion is never ascetic. The Government connived at theatrical representations. The influence of Shakspeare was once more felt. But darker days were approaching. A foreign yoke was to be imposed on our literature. Charles, surrounded by the companions of his long exile, returned to govern a nation which ought never to have cast him out or never to have received him back. Every year which he had passed among strangers had rendered him more unfit to rule his countrymen. In France he had seen the refractory magistracy humbled, and royal prerogative, though exercised by a foreign priest in the name of a child, victorious over all opposition. This spectacle naturally gratified a prince to whose family the opposition of Parliaments had been so fatal. Politeness was his solitary good quality. The insults which he had suffered in Scotland had taught him to prize it. The effeminacy and apathy of his disposition fitted him to excel in it. The elegance and vivacity of the French manners fascinated him. With the political maxims and the social habits of his favourite people, he adopted their taste in composition, and, when seated on the throne, soon rendered it fashionable, Edition: current; Page: [208] partly by direct patronage, but still more by that contemptible policy which, for a time, made England the last of the nations, and raised Louis the Fourteenth to a height of power and fame, such as no French sovereign had ever before attained.

It was to please Charles that rhyme was first introduced into our plays. Thus, a rising blow, which would at any time have been mortal, was dealt to the English Drama, then just recovering from its languishing condition. Two detestable manners, the indigenous and the imported, were now in a state of alternate conflict and amalgamation. The bombastic meanness of the new style was blended with the ingenious absurdity of the old; and the mixture produced something which the world had never before seen, and which, we hope, it will never see again,—something, by the side of which the worst nonsense of all other ages appears to advantage,—something, which those who have attempted to caricature it have, against their will, been forced to flatter,—of which the tragedy of Bayes is a very favourable specimen. What Lord Dorset observed to Edward Howard might have been addressed to almost all his contemporaries:—

  • “As skilful divers to the bottom fall
  • Swifter than those who cannot swim at all;
  • So, in this way of writing without thinking,
  • Thou hast a strange alacrity in sinking.”

From this reproach some clever men of the world must be excepted, and among them Dorset himself. Though by no means great poets, or even good versifiers, they always wrote with meaning, and sometimes with wit. Nothing indeed more strongly shows to what a miserable state literature had fallen, than the immense superiority which the occasional rhymes, carelessly thrown on paper by men of this class, possess over the elaborate productions of almost all the professed authors. The reigning taste was so bad, that the success of a writer was in inverse Edition: current; Page: [209] proportion to his labour, and to his desire of excellence. An exception must be made for Butler, who had as much wit and learning as Cowley, and who knew, what Cowley never knew, how to use them. A great command of good homely English distinguishes him still more from the other writers of the time. As for Gondibert, those may criticise it who can read it. Imagination was extinct. Taste was depraved. Poetry, driven from palaces, colleges, and theatres, had found an asylum in the obscure dwelling where a Great Man, born out of due season, in disgrace, penury, pain, and blindness, still kept uncontaminated a character and a genius worthy of a better age.

Everything about Milton is wonderful; but nothing is so wonderful as that, in an age so unfavourable to poetry, he should have produced the greatest of modern epic poems. We are not sure that this is not in some degree to be attributed to his want of sight. The imagination is notoriously most active when the external world is shut out. In sleep its illusions are perfect. They produce all the effect of realities. In darkness its visions are always more distinct than in the light. Every person who amuses himself with what is called building castles in the air must have experienced this. We know artists who, before they attempt to draw a face from memory, close their eyes, that they may recall a more perfect image of the features and the expression. We are therefore inclined to believe that the genius of Milton may have been preserved from the influence of times so unfavourable to it by his infirmity. Be this as it may, his works at first enjoyed a very small share of popularity. To be neglected by his contemporaries was the penalty which he paid for surpassing them. His great poem was not generally studied or admired till writers far inferior to him had, by obsequiously cringing to the public taste, acquired sufficient favour to reform it.

Of these, Dryden was the most eminent. Amidst the Edition: current; Page: [210] crowd of authors who, during the earlier years of Charles the Second, courted notoriety by every species of absurdity and affectation, he speedily became conspicuous. No man exercised so much influence on the age. The reason is obvious. On no man did the age exercise so much influence. He was perhaps the greatest of those whom we have designated as the critical poets; and his literary career exhibited, on a reduced scale, the whole history of the school to which he belonged,—the rudeness and extravagance of its infancy,—the propriety, the grace, the dignified good sense, the temperate splendour of its maturity. His imagination was torpid, till it was awakened by his judgment. He began with quaint parallels and empty mouthing. He gradually acquired the energy of the satirist, the gravity of the moralist, the rapture of the lyric poet. The revolution through which English literature has been passing, from the time of Cowley to that of Scott, may be seen in miniature within the compass of his volumes.

His life divides itself into two parts. There is some debatable ground on the common frontier; but the line may be drawn with tolerable accuracy. The year 1678 is that on which we should be inclined to fix as the date of a great change in his manner. During the preceding period appeared some of his courtly panegyrics,—his Annus Mirabilis, and most of his plays; indeed, all his rhyming tragedies. To the subsequent period belong his best dramas,—All for Love, The Spanish Friar, and Sebastian,—his satires, his translations, his didactic poems, his fables, and his odes.

Of the small pieces which were presented to chancellors and princes it would scarcely be fair to speak. The greatest advantage which the Fine Arts derive from the extension of knowledge is, that the patronage of individuals becomes unnecessary. Some writers still affect to regret the age of patronage. None but bad writers have reason to regret it. It is always an age of general ignorance. Edition: current; Page: [211] Where ten thousand readers are eager for the appearance of a book, a small contribution from each makes up a splendid remuneration for the author. Where literature is a luxury, confined to few, each of them must pay high. If the Empress Catherine, for example, wanted an epic poem, she must have wholly supported the poet;—just as, in a remote country village, a man who wants a mutton-chop is sometimes forced to take the whole sheep;—a thing which never happens where the demand is large. But men who pay largely for the gratification of their taste will expect to have it united with some gratification to their vanity. Flattery is carried to a shameless extent; and the habit of flattery almost inevitably introduces a false taste into composition. Its language is made up of hyperbolical common-places,—offensive from their triteness,—still more offensive from their extravagance. In no school is the trick of overstepping the modesty of nature so speedily acquired. The writer, accustomed to find exaggeration acceptable and necessary on one subject, uses it on all. It is not strange, therefore, that the early panegyrical verses of Dryden should be made up of meanness and bombast. They abound with the conceits which his immediate predecessors had brought into fashion. But his language and his versification were already far superior to their’s.

The Annus Mirabilis shows great command of expression, and a fine ear for heroic rhyme. Here its merits end. Not only has it no claim to be called poetry, but it seems to be the work of a man who could never, by any possibility, write poetry. Its affected similes are the best part of it. Gaudy weeds present a more encouraging spectacle than utter barrenness. There is scarcely a single stanza in this long work to which the imagination seems to have contributed anything. It is produced, not by creation, but by construction. It is made up, not of pictures, but of inferences. We will give a single instance, and certainly a favourable instance,—a quatrain which Edition: current; Page: [212] Johnson has praised. Dryden is describing the sea-fight with the Dutch.—

  • “Amidst whole heaps of spices lights a ball;
  • And now their odours armed against them fly.
  • Some preciously by shattered porcelain fall,
  • And some by aromatic splinters die.”

The poet should place his readers, as nearly as possible, in the situation of the sufferers or the spectators. His narration ought to produce feelings similar to those which would be excited by the event itself. Is this the case here? Who, in a sea-fight, ever thought of the price of the china which beats out the brains of a sailor; or of the odour of the splinter which shatters his leg? It is not by an act of the imagination, at once calling up the scene before the interior eye, but by painful meditation,—by turning the subject round and round,—by tracing out facts into remote consequences,—that these incongruous topics are introduced into the description. Homer, it is true, perpetually uses epithets which are not peculiarly appropriate. Achilles is the swift-footed, when he is sitting still. Ulysses is the much-enduring, when he has nothing to endure. Every spear casts a long shadow, every ox has crooked horns, and every woman a high bosom, though these particulars may be quite beside the purpose. In our old ballads a similar practice prevails. The gold is always red, and the ladies always gay, though nothing whatever may depend on the hue of the gold, or the temper of the ladies. But these adjectives are mere customary additions. They merge in the substantives to which they are attached. If they at all colour the idea, it is with a tinge so slight as in no respect to alter the general effect. In the passage which we have quoted from Dryden the case is very different. Preciously and aromatic divert our whole attention to themselves, and dissolve the image of the battle in a moment. The whole Edition: current; Page: [213] poem reminds us of Lucan, and of the worst parts of Lucan,—the sea-fight in the Bay of Marseilles, for example. The description of the two fleets during the night is perhaps the only passage which ought to be exempted from this censure. If it was from the Annus Mirabilis that Milton formed his opinion, when he pronounced Dryden a good rhymer but no poet, he certainly judged correctly. But Dryden was, as we have said, one of those writers in whom the period of imagination does not precede, but follow, the period of observation and reflection.

His plays, his rhyming plays in particular, are admirable subjects for those who wish to study the morbid anatomy of the drama. He was utterly destitute of the power of exhibiting real human beings. Even in the far inferior talent of composing characters out of those elements into which the imperfect process of our reason can resolve them, he was very deficient. His men are not even good personifications; they are not well-assorted assemblages of qualities. Now and then, indeed, he seizes a very coarse and marked distinction, and gives us, not a likeness, but a strong caricature, in which a single peculiarity is protruded, and everything else neglected; like the Marquis of Granby at an inn-door, whom we know by nothing but his baldness; or Wilkes, who is Wilkes only in his squint. These are the best specimens of his skill. For most of his pictures seem, like Turkey carpets, to have been expressly designed not to resemble anything in the heavens above, in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth.

The latter manner he practises most frequently in his tragedies, the former in his comedies. The comic characters are, without mixture, loathsome and despicable. The men of Etherege and Vanbrugh are bad enough. Those of Smollett are perhaps worse. But they do not approach to the Celadons, the Wildbloods, the Woodalls, and the Rhodophils of Dryden. The vices of these last are set Edition: current; Page: [214] off by a certain fierce hard impudence, to which we know nothing comparable. Their love is the appetite of beasts; their friendship the confederacy of knaves. The ladies seem to have been expressly created to form helps meet for such gentlemen. In deceiving and insulting their old fathers they do not perhaps exceed the license which, by immemorial prescription, has been allowed to heroines. But they also cheat at cards, rob strong boxes, put up their favours to auction, betray their friends, abuse their rivals in the style of Billingsgate, and invite their lovers in the language of the Piazza. These, it must be remembered, are not the valets and waiting-women, the Mascarilles and Nerines, but the recognised heroes and heroines, who appear as the representatives of good society, and who, at the end of the fifth act, marry and live very happily ever after. The sensuality, baseness, and malice of their natures is unredeemed by any quality of a different description,—by any touch of kindness,—or even by any honest burst of hearty hatred and revenge. We are in a world where there is no humanity, no veracity, no sense of shame,—a world for which any good-natured man would gladly take in exchange the society of Milton’s devils. But, as soon as we enter the regions of Tragedy, we find a great change. There is no lack of fine sentiment there. Metastasio is surpassed in his own department. Scuderi is out-scuderied. We are introduced to people whose proceedings we can trace to no motive,—of whose feelings we can form no more idea than of a sixth sense. We have left a race of creatures, whose love is as delicate and affectionate as the passion which an alderman feels for a turtle. We find ourselves among beings, whose love is a purely disinterested emotion,—a loyalty extending to passive obedience,—a religion, like that of the Quietists, unsupported by any sanction of hope or fear. We see nothing but despotism without power, and sacrifices without compensation.

We will give a few instances. In Aurengzebe, Arimant, Edition: current; Page: [215] governor of Agra, falls in love with his prisoner Indamora. She rejects his suit with scorn; but assures him that she shall make great use of her power over him. He threatens to be angry. She answers, very coolly:

  • “Do not: your anger, like your love, is vain:
  • Whene’er I please, you must be pleased again.
  • Knowing what power I have your will to bend,
  • I’ll use it; for I need just such a friend.”

This is no idle menace. She soon brings a letter addressed to his rival,—orders him to read it,—asks him whether he thinks it sufficiently tender,—and finally commands him to carry it himself. Such tyranny as this, it may be thought, would justify resistance. Arimant does indeed venture to remonstrate:—

  • “This fatal paper rather let me tear,
  • Than, like Bellerophon, my sentence bear.”

The answer of the lady is incomparable:—

  • “You may; but ’twill not be your best advice;
  • ’Twill only give me pains of writing twice.
  • You know you must obey me, soon or late.
  • Why should you vainly struggle with your fate?”

Poor Arimant seems to be of the same opinion. He mutters something about fate and free-will, and walks off with the billet-doux.

In the Indian Emperor, Montezuma presents Almeria with a garland as a token of his love, and offers to make her his queen. She replies:—

  • “I take this garland, not as given by you;
  • But as my merit’s and my beauty’s due;
  • As for the crown which you, my slave, possess,
  • To share it with you would but make me less.”

In return for such proofs of tenderness as these, her admirer consents to murder his two sons and a benefactor Edition: current; Page: [216] to whom he feels the warmest gratitude. Lyndaraxa, in the Conquest of Granada, assumes the same lofty tone with Abdelmelech. He complains that she smiles upon his rival.

  • Lynd. And when did I my power so far resign,
  • That you should regulate each look of mine?
  • Abdel. Then, when you gave your love, you gave that power.
  • Lynd. ’Twas during pleasure—’tis revoked this hour.
  • Abdel. I’ll hate you, and this visit is my last.
  • Lynd. Do, if you can: you know I hold you fast.”

That these passages violate all historical propriety, that sentiments to which nothing similar was ever even affected except by the cavaliers of Europe, are transferred to Mexico and Agra, is a light accusation. We have no objection to a conventional world, an Illyrian puritan, or a Bohemian sea-port. While the faces are good, we care little about the back-ground. Sir Joshua Reynolds says that the curtains and hangings in a historical painting ought to be, not velvet or cotton, but merely drapery. The same principle should be applied to poetry and romance. The truth of character is the first object; the truth of place and time is to be considered only in the second place. Puff himself could tell the actor to turn out his toes, and remind him that Keeper Hatton was a great dancer. We wish that, in our own time, a writer of a very different order from Puff had not too often forgotten human nature in the niceties of upholstery, millinery, and cookery.

We blame Dryden, not because the persons of his dramas are not Moors or Americans, but because they are not men and women;—not because love, such as he represents it, could not exist in a harem or in a wigwam, but because it could not exist anywhere. As is the love of his heroes, such are all their other emotions. All their qualities, their courage, their generosity, their pride, are on the same colossal scale. Justice and prudence are virtues Edition: current; Page: [217] which can exist only in a moderate degree, and which change their nature and their name if pushed to excess. Of justice and prudence, therefore, Dryden leaves his favourites destitute. He did not care to give them what he could not give without measure. The tyrants and ruffians are merely the heroes altered by a few touches, similar to those which transformed the honest face of Sir Roger de Coverley into the Saracen’s head. Through the grin and frown the original features are still perceptible.

It is in the tragi-comedies that these absurdities strike us most. The two races of men, or rather the angels and the baboons, are there presented to us together. We meet in one scene with nothing but gross, selfish, unblushing, lying libertines of both sexes, who, as a punishment, we suppose, for their depravity, are condemned to talk nothing but prose. But, as soon as we meet with people who speak in verse, we know that we are in society which would have enraptured the Cathos and Madelon of Moliere, in society for which Oroondates would have too little of the lover, and Clelia too much of the coquette.

As Dryden was unable to render his plays interesting by means of that which is the peculiar and appropriate excellence of the drama, it was necessary that he should find some substitute for it. In his comedies he supplied its place, sometimes by wit, but more frequently by intrigue, by disguises, mistakes of persons, dialogues at cross purposes, hair-breadth escapes, perplexing concealments, and surprising disclosures. He thus succeeded at least in making these pieces very amusing.

In his tragedies he trusted, and not altogether without reason, to his diction and his versification. It was on this account, in all probability, that he so eagerly adopted, and so reluctantly abandoned, the practice of rhyming in his plays. What is unnatural appears less unnatural in that species of verse than in lines which approach more nearly to common conversation; and in the management of the heroic couplet Dryden has never been equalled. Edition: current; Page: [218] It is unnecessary to urge any arguments against a fashion now universally condemned. But it is worthy of observation, that, though Dryden was deficient in that talent which blank verse exhibits to the greatest advantage, and was certainly the best writer of heroic rhyme in our language, yet the plays which have, from the time of their first appearance, been considered as his best, are in blank verse. No experiment can be more decisive.

It must be allowed that the worst even of the rhyming tragedies contains good description and magnificent rhetoric. But, even when we forget that they are plays, and, passing by their dramatic improprieties, consider them with reference to the language, we are perpetually disgusted by passages which it is difficult to conceive how any author could have written, or any audience have tolerated, rants in which the raving violence of the manner forms a strange contrast with the abject tameness of the thought. The author laid the whole fault on the audience, and declared that, when he wrote them, he considered them bad enough to please. This defence is unworthy of a man of genius, and, after all, is no defence. Otway pleased without rant; and so might Dryden have done, if he had possessed the powers of Otway. The fact is, that he had a tendency to bombast, which, though subsequently corrected by time and thought, was never wholly removed, and which showed itself in performances not designed to please the rude mob of the theatre.

Some indulgent critics have represented this failing as an indication of genius, as the profusion of unlimited wealth, the wantonness of exuberant vigour. To us it seems to bear a nearer affinity to the tawdriness of poverty, or the spasms and convulsions of weakness. Dryden surely had not more imagination than Homer, Dante, or Milton, who never fall into this vice. The swelling diction of Æschylus and Isaiah resembles that of Almanzor and Maximin no more than the tumidity of a muscle resembles the tumidity of a boil. The former is symptomatic Edition: current; Page: [219] of health and strength, the latter of debility and disease. If ever Shakspeare rants, it is not when his imagination is hurrying him along, but when he is hurrying his imagination along,—when his mind is for a moment jaded,—when, as was said of Euripides, he resembles a lion, who excites his own fury by lashing himself with his tail. What happened to Shakspeare from the occasional suspension of his powers happened to Dryden from constant impotence. He, like his confederate Lee, had judgment enough to appreciate the great poets of the preceding age, but not judgment enough to shun competition with them. He felt and admired their wild and daring sublimity. That it belonged to another age than that in which he lived and required other talents than those which he possessed, that, in aspiring to emulate it, he was wasting, in a hopeless attempt, powers which might render him pre-eminent in a different career, was a lesson which he did not learn till late. As those knavish enthusiasts, the French prophets, courted inspiration by mimicking the writhings, swoonings, and gaspings which they considered as its symptoms, he attempted, by affected fits of poetical fury, to bring on a real paroxysm; and, like them, he got nothing but his distortions for his pains.

Horace very happily compares those who, in his time, imitated Pindar to the youth who attempted to fly to heaven on waxen wings, and who experienced so fatal and ignominious a fall. His own admirable good sense preserved him from this error, and taught him to cultivate a style in which excellence was within his reach. Dryden had not the same self-knowledge. He saw that the greatest poets were never so successful as when they rushed beyond the ordinary bounds, and that some inexplicable good fortune preserved them from tripping even when they staggered on the brink of nonsense. He did not perceive that they were guided and sustained by a power denied to himself. They wrote from the dictation of the imagination; and they found a response in the Edition: current; Page: [220] imaginations of others. He, on the contrary, sat down to work himself, by reflection and argument, into a deliberate wildness, a rational frenzy.

In looking over the admirable designs which accompany the Faust, we have always been much struck by one which represents the wizard and the tempter riding at full speed. The demon sits on his furious horse as heedlessly as if he were reposing on a chair. That he should keep his saddle in such a posture, would seem impossible to any who did not know that he was secure in the privileges of a superhuman nature. The attitude of Faust, on the contrary, is the perfection of horsemanship. Poets of the first order might safely write as desperately as Mephistophiles rode. But Dryden, though admitted to communion with higher spirits, though armed with a portion of their power, and intrusted with some of their secrets, was of another race. What they might securely venture to do, it was madness in him to attempt. It was necessary that taste and critical science should supply his deficiencies.

We will give a few examples. Nothing can be finer than the description of Hector at the Grecian wall:—

  • ὁ δ’ ἄρ’ ἔσθορε ϕαίδιμος Ἕκτωρ,
  • Νυκτὶ θοῃ̑ ἀτάλαντος ὑπώπια· λάμπε δὲ χαλκῳ̑
  • Σμερδαλέῳ, τὸν ἕεστο περὶ χροῒ· δοιὰ δὲ χερσὶ
  • Δον̂ρ’ ἔχεν· οὐκ ἄν τίς μιν ἐρυκάκοι ἀντιβολήσας,
  • Νόσϕι θεω̂ν, ὅτ’ ἐσα̂λτο πύλας· πυρὶ δ’ ὄσσε δεδῄει.—
  • Ἀυτίκα δ’ ὁι μὲν τεɩ̂χος ὑπέρβασαν, ὁι δὲ κατ’ ἀυτὰς
  • Ποιητὰς ἐσέχυντο πύλας· Δαναιοὶ δ’ ἐϕόβηθεν
  • Νη̂ας ἀνὰ γλαϕυράς· ὅμαδος δ’ ἀλίαστος ἐτύχθη.

What daring expressions! Yet how significant! How picturesque! Hector seems to rise up in his strength and fury. The gloom of night in his frown,—the fire burning in his eyes,—the javelins and the blazing armour,—the mighty rush through the gates and down the battlements,—the trampling and the infinite roar of the multitude,—everything is with us; everything is real.

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Dryden has described a very similar event in Maximin, and has done his best to be sublime, as follows:—

  • “There with a forest of their darts he strove,
  • And stood like Capaneus defying Jove;
  • With his broad sword the boldest beating down,
  • Till Fate grew pale, lest he should win the town,
  • And turn’d the iron leaves of its dark book
  • To make new dooms, or mend what it mistook.”

How exquisite is the imagery of the fairy-songs in the Tempest and the Midsummer Night’s dream; Ariel riding through the twilight on the bat, or sucking in the bells of flowers with the bee; or the little bower-women of Titania, driving the spiders from the couch of the Queen! Dryden truly said, that

  • “Shakspeare’s magic could not copied be:
  • Within that circle none durst walk but he.”

It would have been well if he had not himself dared to step within the enchanted line, and drawn on himself a fate similar to that which, according to the old superstition, punished such presumptuous interference. The following lines are parts of the song of his fairies:—

  • “Merry, merry, merry, we sail from the East,
  • Half-tippled at a rainbow feast.
  • In the bright moonshine, while winds whistle loud,
  • Tivy, tivy, tivy, we mount and we fly,
  • All racking along in a downy white cloud;
  • And lest our leap from the sky prove too far,
  • We slide on the back of a new falling star,
  • And drop from above
  • In a jelly of love.”

These are very favourable instances. Those who wish for a bad one may read the dying speeches of Maximin, and may compare them with the last scenes of Othello and Lear.

If Dryden had died before the expiration of the first Edition: current; Page: [222] of the periods into which we have divided his literary life, he would have left a reputation, at best, little higher than that of Lee or Davenant. He would have been known only to men of letters; and by them he would have been mentioned as a writer who threw away, on subjects which he was incompetent to treat, powers which, judiciously employed, might have raised him to eminence; whose diction and whose numbers had sometimes very high merit; but all whose works were blemished by a false taste, and by errors of gross negligence. A few of his prologues and epilogues might perhaps still have been remembered and quoted. In these little pieces he early showed all the powers which afterwards rendered him the greatest of modern satirists. But, during the latter part of his life, he gradually abandoned the drama. His plays appeared at longer intervals. He renounced rhyme in tragedy. His language became less turgid—his characters less exaggerated. He did not indeed produce correct representations of human nature; but he ceased to daub such monstrous chimeras as those which abound in his earlier pieces. Here and there passages occur worthy of the best ages of the British stage. The style which the drama requires changes with every change of character and situation. He who can vary his manner to suit the variation is the great dramatist; but he who excels in one manner only will, when that manner happens to be appropriate, appear to be a great dramatist; as the hands of a watch which does not go point right once in the twelve hours. Sometimes there is a scene of solemn debate. This a mere rhetorician may write as well as the greatest tragedian that ever lived. We confess that to us the speech of Sempronius in Cato seems very nearly as good as Shakspeare could have made it. But when the senate breaks up, and we find that the lovers and their mistresses, the hero, the villain, and the deputy-villain, all continue to harangue in the same style, we perceive the difference between a man who can write a play and a man who can Edition: current; Page: [223] write a speech. In the same manner, wit, a talent for description, or a talent for narration, may, for a time, pass for dramatic genius. Dryden was an incomparable reasoner in verse. He was conscious of his power; he was proud of it; and the authors of the Rehearsal justly charged him with abusing it. His warriors and princesses are fond of discussing points of amorous casuistry, such as would have delighted a Parliament of Love. They frequently go still deeper, and speculate on philosophical necessity and the origin of evil.

There were, however, some occasions which absolutely required this peculiar talent. Then Dryden was indeed at home. All his best scenes are of this description. They are all between men; for the heroes of Dryden, like many other gentlemen, can never talk sense when ladies are in company. They are all intended to exhibit the empire of reason over violent passion. We have two interlocutors, the one eager and impassioned, the other high, cool, and judicious. The composed and rational character gradually acquires the ascendency. His fierce companion is first inflamed to rage by his reproaches, then overawed by his equanimity, convinced by his arguments, and soothed by his persuasions. This is the case in the scene between Hector and Troilus, in that between Antony and Ventidius, and in that between Sebastian and Dorax. Nothing of the same kind in Shakspeare is equal to them, except the quarrel between Brutus and Cassius, which is worth them all three.

Some years before his death, Dryden altogether ceased to write for the stage. He had turned his powers in a new direction, with success the most splendid and decisive. His taste had gradually awakened his creative faculties. The first rank in poetry was beyond his reach; but he challenged and secured the most honourable place in the second. His imagination resembled the wings of an ostrich. It enabled him to run, though not to soar. When he attempted the highest flights, he became ridiculous; Edition: current; Page: [224] but, while he remained in a lower region, he outstripped all competitors.

All his natural and all his acquired powers fitted him to found a good critical school of poetry. Indeed he carried his reforms too far for his age. After his death our literature retrograded: and a century was necessary to bring it back to the point at which he left it. The general soundness and healthfulness of his mental constitution, his information of vast superficies though of small volume, his wit scarcely inferior to that of the most distinguished followers of Donne, his eloquence, grave, deliberate, and commanding, could not save him from disgraceful failure as a rival of Shakspeare, but raised him far above the level of Boileau. His command of language was immense. With him died the secret of the old poetical diction of England,—the art of producing rich effects by familiar words. In the following century, it was as completely lost as the Gothic method of painting glass, and was but poorly supplied by the laborious and tesselated imitations of Mason and Gray. On the other hand, he was the first writer under whose skilful management the scientific vocabulary fell into natural and pleasing verse. In this department, he succeeded as completely as his contemporary Gibbons succeeded in the similar enterprise of carving the most delicate flowers from heart of oak. The toughest and most knotty parts of language became ductile at his touch. His versification in the same manner, while it gave the first model of that neatness and precision which the following generation esteemed so highly, exhibited, at the same time, the last examples of nobleness, freedom, variety of pause, and cadence. His tragedies in rhyme, however worthless in themselves, had at least served the purpose of nonsense-verses; they had taught him all the arts of melody which the heroic couplet admits. For bombast, his prevailing vice, his new subjects gave little opportunity; his better taste gradually discarded it.

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He possessed, as we have said, in a pre-eminent degree, the power of reasoning in verse; and this power was now peculiarly useful to him. His logic is by no means uniformly sound. On points of criticism, he always reasons ingeniously; and, when he is disposed to be honest, correctly. But the theological and political questions which he undertook to treat in verse were precisely those which he understood least. His arguments, therefore, are often worthless. But the manner in which they are stated is beyond all praise. The style is transparent. The topics follow each other in the happiest order. The objections are drawn up in such a manner that the whole fire of the reply may be brought to bear on them. The circumlocutions which are substituted for technical phrases are clear, neat, and exact. The illustrations at once adorn and elucidate the reasoning. The sparkling epigrams of Cowley, and the simple garrulity of the burlesque poets of Italy, are alternately employed, in the happiest manner, to give effect to what is obvious, or clearness to what is obscure.

His literary creed was catholic, even to latitudinarianism; not from any want of acuteness, but from a disposition to be easily satisfied. He was quick to discern the smallest glimpse of merit; he was indulgent even to gross improprieties, when accompanied by any redeeming talent. When he said a severe thing, it was to serve a temporary purpose,—to support an argument, or to tease a rival. Never was so able a critic so free from fastidiousness. He loved the old poets, especially Shakspeare. He admired the ingenuity which Donne and Cowley had so wildly abused. He did justice, amidst the general silence, to the memory of Milton. He praised to the skies the school-boy lines of Addison. Always looking on the fair side of every object, he admired extravagance on account of the invention which he supposed it to indicate; he excused affectation in favour of wit; he tolerated even tameness for the sake of the correctness which was its concomitant.

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It was probably to this turn of mind, rather than to the more disgraceful causes which Johnson has assigned, that we are to attribute the exaggeration which disfigures the panegyrics of Dryden. No writer, it must be owned, has carried the flattery of dedication to a greater length. But this was not, we suspect, merely interested servility: it was the overflowing of a mind singularly disposed to admiration,—of a mind which diminished vices, and magnified virtues and obligations. The most adulatory of his addresses is that in which he dedicates the State of Innocence to Mary of Modena. Johnson thinks it strange that any man should use such language without self-detestation. But he has not remarked that to the very same work is prefixed an eulogium on Milton, which certainly could not have been acceptable at the court of Charles the Second. Many years later, when Whig principles were in a great measure triumphant, Sprat refused to admit a monument of John Philips into Westminster Abbey—because, in the epitaph, the name of Milton incidently occurred. The walls of his church, he declared, should not be polluted by the name of a republican! Dryden was attached, both by principle and interest, to the Court. But nothing could deaden his sensibility to excellence. We are unwilling to accuse him severely, because the same disposition, which prompted him to pay so generous a tribute to the memory of a poet whom his patrons detested, hurried him into extravagance when he described a princess distinguished by the splendour of her beauty and the graciousness of her manners.

This is an amiable temper; but it is not the temper of great men. Where there is elevation of character, there will be fastidiousness. It is only in novels and on tomb-stones that we meet with people who are indulgent to the faults of others, and unmerciful to their own; and Dryden, at all events, was not one of these paragons. His charity was extended most liberally to others; but it certainly began at home. In taste he was by no Edition: current; Page: [227] means deficient. His critical works are, beyond all comparison, superior to any which had, till then, appeared in England. They were generally intended as apologies for his own poems, rather than as expositions of general principles; he, therefore, often attempts to deceive the reader by sophistry which could scarcely have deceived himself. His dicta are the dicta, not of a judge, but of an advocate;—often of an advocate in an unsound cause. Yet, in the very act of misrepresenting the laws of composition, he shows how well he understands them. But he was perpetually acting against his better knowledge. His sins were sins against light. He trusted that what was bad would be pardoned for the sake of what was good. What was good, he took no pains to make better. He was not, like most persons who rise to eminence, dissatisfied even with his best productions. He had set up no unattainable standard of perfection, the contemplation of which might at once improve and mortify him. His path was not attended by an unapproachable mirage of excellence, for ever receding, and for ever pursued. He was not disgusted by the negligence of others; and he extended the same toleration to himself. His mind was of a slovenly character,—fond of splendour, but indifferent to neatness. Hence most of his writings exhibit the sluttish magnificence of a Russian noble, all vermin and diamonds, dirty linen and inestimable sables. Those faults which spring from affectation, time and thought in a great measure removed from his poems. But his carelessness he retained to the last. If towards the close of his life he less frequently went wrong from negligence, it was only because long habits of composition rendered it more easy to go right. In his best pieces we find false rhymes,—triplets, in which the third line appears to be a mere intruder, and, while it breaks the music, adds nothing to the meaning,—gigantic Alexandrines of fourteen and sixteen syllables, and truncated verses for which he never troubled himself to find a termination or a partner.

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Such are the beauties and the faults which may be found in profusion throughout the later works of Dryden. A more just and complete estimate of his natural and acquired powers,—of the merits of his style and of its blemishes,—may be formed from the Hind and Panther, than from any of his other writings. As a didactic poem, it is far superior to the Religio Laici. The satirical parts, particularly the character of Burnet, are scarcely inferior to the best passages in Absalom and Achitophel. There are, moreover, occasional touches of a tenderness which affects us more, because it is decent, rational, and manly, and reminds us of the best scenes in his tragedies. His versification sinks and swells in happy unison with the subject; and his wealth of language seems to be unlimited. Yet, the carelessness with which he has constructed his plot, and the innumerable inconsistencies into which he is every moment falling, detract much from the pleasure which such various excellence affords.

In Absalom and Achitophel he hit upon a new and rich vein, which he worked with signal success. The ancient satirists were the subjects of a despotic government. They were compelled to abstain from political topics, and to confine their attention to the frailties of private life. They might, indeed, sometimes venture to take liberties with public men,

“Quorum Flaminia tegitur cinis atque Latina.”

Thus Juvenal immortalised the obsequious senators who met to decide the fate of the memorable turbot. His fourth satire frequently reminds us of the great political poem of Dryden; but it was not written till Domitian had fallen: and it wants something of the peculiar flavour which belongs to contemporary invective alone. His anger has stood so long that, though the body is not impaired, the effervescence, the first cream, is gone. Boileau lay under similar restraints; and, if he had been free from all restraint, would have been no match for our countryman.

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The advantages which Dryden derived from the nature of his subject he improved to the very utmost. His manner is almost perfect. The style of Horace and Boileau is fit only for light subjects. The Frenchman did indeed attempt to turn the theological reasonings of the Provincial Letters into verse, but with very indifferent success. The glitter of Pope is cold. The ardour of Persius is without brilliancy. Magnificent versification and ingenious combinations rarely harmonise with the expression of deep feeling. In Juvenal and Dryden alone we have the sparkle and the heat together. Those great satirists succeeded in communicating the fervour of their feelings to materials the most incombustible, and kindled the whole mass into a blaze, at once dazzling and destructive. We cannot, indeed, think, without regret, of the part which so eminent a writer as Dryden took in the disputes of that period. There was, no doubt, madness and wickedness on both sides. But there was liberty on the one, and despotism on the other. On this point, however, we will not dwell. At Talavera the English and French troops for a moment suspended their conflict, to drink of a stream which flowed between them. The shells were passed across from enemy to enemy without apprehension or molestation. We, in the same manner, would rather assist our political adversaries to drink with us of that fountain of intellectual pleasure, which should be the common refreshment of both parties, than disturb and pollute it with the havock of unseasonable hostilities.

Macflecnoe is inferior to Absalom and Achitophel, only in the subject. In the execution it is even superior. But the greatest work of Dryden was the last, the Ode on Saint Cecilia’s day, It is the master-piece of the second class of poetry, and ranks but just below the great models of the first. It reminds us of the Pedasus of Achilles—

ὅς, καὶ θνητὸς ἐὼν, ἕπεθ’ ἵπποις ἀθανάτοισι.

By comparing it with the impotent ravings of the heroic Edition: current; Page: [230] tragedies, we may measure the progress which the mind of Dryden had made. He had learned to avoid a too audacious competition with higher natures, to keep at a distance from the verge of bombast or nonsense, to venture on no expression which did not convey a distinct idea to his own mind. There is none of that “darkness visible” of style which he had formerly affected, and in which the greatest poets only can succeed. Everything is definite, significant, and picturesque. His early writings resembled the gigantic works of those Chinese gardeners who attempt to rival nature herself, to form cataracts of terrific height and sound, to raise precipitous ridges of mountains, and to imitate in artificial plantations the vastness and the gloom of some primeval forest. This manner he abandoned; nor did he ever adopt the Dutch taste which Pope affected, the trim parterres, and the rectangular walks. He rather resembled our Kents and Browns, who, imitating the great features of landscape without emulating them, consulting the genius of the place, assisting nature and carefully disguising their art, produced, not a Chamouni or a Niagara, but a Stowe or a Hagley.

We are, on the whole, inclined to regret that Dryden did not accomplish his purpose of writing an epic poem. It certainly would not have been a work of the highest rank. It would not have rivalled the Iliad, the Odyssey, or the Paradise Lost; but it would have been superior to the productions of Apollonius, Lucan, or Statius, and not inferior to the Jerusalem Delivered. It would probably have been a vigorous narrative, animated with something of the spirit of the old romances, enriched with much splendid description, and interspersed with fine declamations and disquisitions. The danger of Dryden would have been from aiming too high; from dwelling too much, for example, on his angels of kingdoms, and attempting a competition with that great writer who in his own time had so incomparably succeeded in representing to Edition: current; Page: [231] us the sights and sounds of another world. To Milton, and to Milton alone, belonged the secrets of the great deep, the beach of sulphur, the ocean of fire, the palaces of the fallen dominations, glimmering through the everlasting shade, the silent wilderness of verdure and fragrance where armed angels kept watch over the sleep of the first lovers, the portico of diamond, the sea of jasper, the sapphire pavement empurpled with celestial roses, and the infinite ranks of the Cherubim, blazing with adamant and gold. The council, the tournament, the procession, the crowded cathedral, the camp, the guard-room, the chase, were the proper scenes for Dryden.

But we have not space to pass in review all the works which Dryden wrote. We, therefore, will not speculate longer on those which he might possibly have written. He may, on the whole, be pronounced to have been a man possessed of splendid talents, which he often abused, and of a sound judgment, the admonitions of which he often neglected; a man who succeeded only in an inferior department of his art, but who, in that department, succeeded pre-eminently; and who, with a more independent spirit, a more anxious desire of excellence, and more respect for himself, would, in his own walk, have attained to absolute perfection.

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The Romance of History. England. By Henry Neele. London, 1828. (May 1828.)

To write history respectably—that is, to abbreviate despatches, and make extracts from speeches, to intersperse in due proportion epithets of praise and abhorrence, to draw up antithetical characters of great men, setting forth how many contradictory virtues and vices they united, and abounding in withs and withouts—all this is very easy. But to be a really great historian is perhaps the rarest of intellectual distinctions. Many scientific works are, in their kind, absolutely perfect. There are poems which we should be inclined to designate as faultless, or as disfigured only by blemishes which pass unnoticed in the general blaze of excellence. There are speeches, some speeches of Demosthenes particularly, in which it would be impossible to alter a word without altering it for the worse. But we are acquainted with no history which approaches to our notion of what a history ought to be—with no history which does not widely depart, either on the right hand or on the left, from the exact line.

The cause may easily be assigned. This province of literature is a debatable land. It lies on the confines of two distinct territories. It is under the jurisdiction of two hostile powers; and, like other districts similarly situated, it is ill defined, ill cultivated, and ill regulated. Instead of being equally shared between its two rulers, the Reason and the Imagination, it falls alternately under Edition: current; Page: [233] the sole and absolute dominion of each. It is sometimes fiction. It is sometimes theory.

History, it has been said, is philosophy teaching by examples. Unhappily, what the philosophy gains in soundness and depth the examples generally lose in vividness. A perfect historian must possess an imagination sufficiently powerful to make his narrative affecting and picturesque. Yet he must control it so absolutely as to content himself with the materials which he finds, and to refrain from supplying deficiencies by additions of his own. He must be a profound and ingenious reasoner. Yet he must possess sufficient self-command to abstain from casting his facts in the mould of his hypothesis. Those who can justly estimate these almost insuperable difficulties will not think it strange that every writer should have failed, either in the narrative or in the speculative department of history.

It may be laid down as a general rule, though subject to considerable qualifications and exceptions, that history begins in novel and ends in essay. Of the romantic historians Herodotus is the earliest and the best. His animation, his simple-hearted tenderness, his wonderful talent for description and dialogue, and the pure sweet flow of his language, place him at the head of narrators. He reminds us of a delightful child. There is a grace beyond the reach of affectation in his awkwardness, a malice in his innocence, an intelligence in his nonsense, an insinuating eloquence in his lisp. We know of no writer who makes such interest for himself and his book in the heart of the reader. At the distance of three-and-twenty centuries, we feel for him the same sort of pitying fondness which Fontaine and Gay are said to have inspired in society. He has written an incomparable book. He has written something better perhaps than the best history; but he has not written a good history; he is, from the first to the last chapter, an inventor. We do not here refer merely to those gross fictions with which he has Edition: current; Page: [234] been reproached by the critics of later times. We speak of that colouring which is equally diffused over his whole narrative, and which perpetually leaves the most sagacious reader in doubt what to reject and what to receive. The most authentic parts of his work bear the same relation to his wildest legends which Henry the Fifth bears to the Tempest. There was an expedition undertaken by Xerxes against Greece; and there was an invasion of France. There was a battle at Platæa; and there was a battle at Agincourt. Cambridge and Exeter, the Constable and the Dauphin, were persons as real as Demaratus and Pausanias. The harangue of the Archbishop on the Salic Law and the Book of Numbers differs much less from the orations which have in all ages proceeded from the right reverend bench than the speeches of Mardonius and Artabanus from those which were delivered at the council-board of Susa. Shakspeare gives us enumerations of armies, and returns of killed and wounded, which are not, we suspect, much less accurate than those of Herodotus. There are passages in Herodotus nearly as long as acts of Shakspeare, in which everything is told dramatically, and in which the narrative serves only the purpose of stage-directions. It is possible, no doubt, that the substance of some real conversations may have been reported to the historian. But events, which, if they ever happened, happened in ages and nations so remote that the particulars could never have been known to him, are related with the greatest minuteness of detail. We have all that Candaules said to Gyges, and all that passed between Astyages and Harpagus. We are, therefore, unable to judge whether, in the account which he gives of transactions respecting which he might possibly have been well informed, we can trust to anything beyond the naked outline; whether, for example, the answer of Gelon to the ambassadors of the Grecian confederacy, or the expressions which passed between Aristides and Themistocles at their famous interview, have been correctly Edition: current; Page: [235] transmitted to us. The great events are, no doubt, faithfully related. So, probably, are many of the slighter circumstances; but which of them it is impossible to ascertain. The fictions are so much like the facts, and the facts so much like the fictions, that, with respect to many most interesting particulars, our belief is neither given nor withheld, but remains in an uneasy and interminable state of abeyance. We know that there is truth; but we cannot exactly decide where it lies.

The faults of Herodotus are the faults of a simple and imaginative mind. Children and servants are remarkably Herodotean in their style of narration. They tell everything dramatically. Their says hes and says shes are proverbial. Every person who has had to settle their disputes knows that, even when they have no intention to deceive, their reports of conversation always require to be carefully sifted. If an educated man were giving an account of the late change of administration, he would say—“Lord Goderich resigned; and the King, in consequence, sent for the Duke of Wellington.” A porter tells the story as if he had been hid behind the curtains of the royal bed at Windsor: “So Lord Goderich says, ‘I cannot manage this business; I must go out.’ So the King says,—says he, ‘Well, then, I must send for the Duke of Wellington—that’s all.’ ” This is in the very manner of the father of history.

Herodotus wrote as it was natural that he should write. He wrote for a nation susceptible, curious, lively, insatiably desirous of novelty and excitement; for a nation in which the fine arts had attained their highest excellence, but in which philosophy was still in its infancy. His countrymen had but recently begun to cultivate prose composition. Public transactions had generally been recorded in verse. The first historians might, therefore, indulge without fear of censure in the license allowed to their predecessors the bards. Books were few. The events of former times were learned from tradition and Edition: current; Page: [236] from popular ballads; the manners of foreign countries from the reports of travellers. It is well known that the mystery which overhangs what is distant, either in space or time, frequently prevents us from censuring as unnatural what we perceive to be impossible. We stare at a dragoon who has killed three French cuirassiers, as a prodigy; yet we read, without the least disgust, how Godfrey slew his thousands, and Rinaldo his ten thousands. Within the last hundred years, stories about China and Bantam, which ought not to have imposed on an old nurse, were gravely laid down as foundations of political theories by eminent philosophers. What the time of the Crusades is to us, the generation of Crœsus and Solon was to the Greeks of the time of Herodotus. Babylon was to them what Pekin was to the French academicians of the last century.

For such a people was the book of Herodotus composed; and, if we may trust to a report, not sanctioned indeed by writers of high authority, but in itself not improbable, it was composed, not to be read, but to be heard. It was not to the slow circulation of a few copies, which the rich only could possess, that the aspiring author looked for his reward. The great Olympian festival,—the solemnity which collected multitudes, proud of the Grecian name, from the wildest mountains of Doris, and the remotest colonies of Italy and Libya,—was to witness his triumph. The interest of the narrative, and the beauty of the style, were aided by the imposing effect of recitation,—by the splendour of the spectacle,—by the powerful influence of sympathy. A critic who could have asked for authorities in the midst of such a scene must have been of a cold and sceptical nature; and few such critics were there. As was the historian, such were the auditors,—inquisitive, credulous, easily moved by religious awe or patriotic enthusiasm. They were the very men to hear with delight of strange beasts, and birds, and trees,—of dwarfs, and giants, and cannibals—of gods, whose very names it was impiety to utter,—of ancient dynasties, which had left Edition: current; Page: [237] behind them monuments surpassing all the works of later times,—of towns like provinces,—of rivers like seas,—of stupendous walls, and temples, and pyramids,—of the rites which the Magi performed at daybreak on the tops of the mountains,—of the secrets inscribed on the eternal obelisks of Memphis. With equal delight they would have listened to the graceful romances of their own country. They now heard of the exact accomplishment of obscure predictions, of the punishment of crimes over which the justice of heaven had seemed to slumber,—of dreams, omens, warnings from the dead,—of princesses, for whom noble suitors contended in every generous exercise of strength and skill,—of infants, strangely preserved from the dagger of the assassin, to fulfil high destinies.

As the narrative approached their own times, the interest became still more absorbing. The chronicler had now to tell the story of that great conflict from which Europe dates its intellectual and political supremacy,—a story which, even at this distance of time, is the most marvellous and the most touching in the annals of the human race,—a story abounding with all that is wild and wonderful, with all that is pathetic and animating; with the gigantic caprices of infinite wealth and despotic power—with the mightier miracles of wisdom, of virtue, and of courage. He told them of rivers dried up in a day,—of provinces famished for a meal,—of a passage for ships hewn through the mountains,—of a road for armies spread upon the waves,—of monarchies and commonwealths swept away,—of anxiety, of terror, of confusion, of despair!—and then of proud and stubborn hearts tried in that extremity of evil, and not found wanting,—of resistance long maintained against desperate odds,—of lives dearly sold, when resistance could be maintained no more,—of signal deliverance, and of unsparing revenge. Whatever gave a stronger air of reality to a narrative so well calculated to inflame the passions, and to flatter national pride, was certain to be favourably received.

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Between the time at which Herodotus is said to have composed his history, and the close of the Peloponnesian war, about forty years elapsed,—forty years, crowded with great military and political events. The circumstances of that period produced a great effect on the Grecian character; and nowhere was this effect so remarkable as in the illustrious democracy of Athens. An Athenian, indeed, even in the time of Herodotus, would scarcely have written a book so romantic and garrulous as that of Herodotus. As civilisation advanced, the citizens of that famous republic became still less visionary, and still less simple-hearted. They aspired to know where their ancestors had been content to doubt; they began to doubt where their ancestors had thought it their duty to believe. Aristophanes is fond of alluding to this change in the temper of his countrymen. The father and son, in the Clouds, are evidently representatives of the generations to which they respectively belonged. Nothing more clearly illustrates the nature of this moral revolution than the change which passed upon tragedy. The wild sublimity of Æschylus became the scoff of every young Phidippides. Lectures on abstruse points of philosophy, the fine distinctions of casuistry, and the dazzling fence of rhetoric, were substituted for poetry. The language lost something of that infantine sweetness which had characterised it. It became less like the ancient Tuscan, and more like the modern French.

The fashionable logic of the Greeks was, indeed, far from strict. Logic never can be strict where books are scarce, and where information is conveyed orally. We are all aware how frequently fallacies, which, when set down on paper, are at once detected, pass for unanswerable arguments when dexterously and volubly urged in Parliament, at the bar, or in private conversation. The reason is evident. We cannot inspect them closely enough to perceive their inaccuracy. We cannot readily compare them with each other. We lose sight of one part of the Edition: current; Page: [239] subject before another, which ought to be received in connection with it, comes before us; and, as there is no immutable record of what has been admitted and of what has been denied, direct contradictions pass muster with little difficulty. Almost all the education of a Greek consisted in talking and listening. His opinions on government were picked up in the debates of the assembly. If he wished to study metaphysics, instead of shutting himself up with a book, he walked down to the marketplace to look for a sophist. So completely were men formed to these habits, that even writing acquired a conversational air. The philosophers adopted the form of dialogue, as the most natural mode of communicating knowledge. Their reasonings have the merits and the defects which belong to that species of composition, and are characterised rather by quickness and subtilty than by depth and precision. Truth is exhibited in parts, and by glimpses. Innumerable clever hints are given; but no sound and durable system is erected. The argumentum ad hominem, a kind of argument most efficacious in debate, but utterly useless for the investigation of general principles, is among their favourite resources. Hence, though nothing can be more admirable than the skill which Socrates displays in the conversations which Plato has reported or invented, his victories, for the most part, seem to us unprofitable. A trophy is set up; but no new province is added to the dominions of the human mind.

Still, where thousands of keen and ready intellects were constantly employed in speculating on the qualities of actions and on the principles of government, it was impossible that history should retain its old character. It became less gossiping and less picturesque; but much more accurate, and somewhat more scientific.

The history of Thucydides differs from that of Herodotus as a portrait differs from the representation of an imaginary scene; as the Burke or Fox of Reynolds differs from his Ugolino or his Beaufort. In the former case, Edition: current; Page: [240] the archetype is given: in the latter, it is created. The faculties which are required for the latter purpose are of a higher and rarer order than those which suffice for the former, and indeed necessarily comprise them. He who is able to paint what he sees with the eye of the mind will surely be able to paint what he sees with the eye of the body. He who can invent a story, and tell it well, will also be able to tell, in an interesting manner, a story which he has not invented. If, in practice, some of the best writers of fiction have been among the worst writers of history, it has been because one of their talents had merged in another so completely that it could not be severed; because, having long been habituated to invent and narrate at the same time, they found it impossible to narrate without inventing.

Some capricious and discontented artists have affected to consider portrait-painting as unworthy of a man of genius. Some critics have spoken in the same contemptuous manner of history. Johnson puts the case thus: The historian tells either what is false or what is true: in the former case he is no historian: in the latter he has no opportunity for displaying his abilities: for truth is one: and all who tell the truth must tell it alike.

It is not difficult to elude both the horns of this dilemma. We will recur to the analogous art of portraitpainting. Any man with eyes and hands may be taught to take a likeness. The process, up to a certain point, is merely mechanical. If this were all, a man of talents might justly despise the occupation. But we could mention portraits which are resemblances,—but not mere resemblances; faithful,—but much more than faithful; portraits which condense into one point of time, and exhibit, at a single glance, the whole history of turbid and eventful lives—in which the eye seems to scrutinise us, and the mouth to command us—in which the brow menaces, and the lip almost quivers with scorn—in which Edition: current; Page: [241] every wrinkle is a comment on some important transaction. The account which Thucydides has given of the retreat from Syracuse is, among narratives, what Vandyk’s Lord Strafford is among paintings.

Diversity, it is said, implies error: truth is one, and admits of no degrees. We answer, that this principle holds good only in abstract reasonings. When we talk of the truth of imitation in the fine arts, we mean an imperfect and a graduated truth. No picture is exactly like the original; nor is a picture good in proportion as it is like the original. When Sir Thomas Lawrence paints a handsome peeress, he does not contemplate her through a powerful microscope, and transfer to the canvass the pores of the skin, the blood-vessels of the eye, and all the other beauties which Gulliver discovered in the Brobdignaggian maids of honour. If he were to do this, the effect would not merely be unpleasant, but, unless the scale of the picture were proportionably enlarged, would be absolutely false. And, after all, a microscope of greater power than that which he had employed would convict him of innumerable omissions. The same may be said of history. Perfectly and absolutely true it cannot be: for, to be perfectly and absolutely true, it ought to record all the slightest particulars of the slightest transactions—all the things done and all the words uttered during the time of which it treats. The omission of any circumstance, however insignificant, would be a defect. If history were written thus, the Bodleian library would not contain the occurrences of a week. What is told in the fullest and most accurate annals bears an infinitely small proportion to what is suppressed. The difference between the copious work of Clarendon and the account of the civil wars in the abridgment of Goldsmith vanishes when compared with the immense mass of facts respecting which both are equally silent.

No picture, then, and no history, can present us with the whole truth: but those are the best pictures and the Edition: current; Page: [242] best histories which exhibit such parts of the truth as most nearly produce the effect of the whole. He who is deficient in the art of selection may, by showing nothing but the truth, produce all the effect of the grossest falsehood. It perpetually happens that one writer tells less truth than another, merely because he tells more truths. In the imitative arts we constantly see this. There are lines in the human face, and objects in landscape, which stand in such relations to each other, that they ought either to be all introduced into a painting together or all omitted together. A sketch into which none of them enters may be excellent; but, if some are given and others left out, though there are more points of likeness, there is less likeness. An outline scrawled with a pen, which seizes the marked features of a countenance, will give a much stronger idea of it than a bad painting in oils. Yet the worst painting in oils that ever hung at Somerset House resembles the original in many more particulars. A bust of white marble may give an excellent idea of a blooming face. Colour the lips and cheeks of the bust, leaving the hair and eyes unaltered, and the similarity, instead of being more striking, will be less so.

History has its foreground and its background: and it is principally in the management of its perspective that one artist differs from another. Some events must be represented on a large scale, others diminished; the great majority will be lost in the dimness of the horizon; and a general idea of their joint effect will be given by a few slight touches.

In this respect no writer has ever equalled Thucydides. He was a perfect master of the art of gradual diminution. His history is sometimes as concise as a chronological chart; yet it is always perspicuous. It is sometimes as minute as one of Lovelace’s letters; yet it is never prolix. He never fails to contract and to expand it in the right place.

Thucydides borrowed from Herodotus the practice of putting speeches of his own into the mouths of his characters. Edition: current; Page: [243] In Herodotus this usage is scarcely censurable. It is of a piece with his whole manner. But it is altogether incongruous in the work of his successor, and violates, not only the accuracy of history, but the decencies of fiction. When once we enter into the spirit of Herodotus, we find no inconsistency. The conventional probability of his drama is preserved from the beginning to the end. The deliberate orations, and the familiar dialogues, are in strict keeping with each other. But the speeches of Thucydides are neither preceded nor followed by anything with which they harmonise. They give to the whole book something of the grotesque character of those Chinese pleasure-grounds in which perpendicular rocks of granite start up in the midst of a soft green plain. Invention is shocking where truth is in such close juxta-position with it.

Thucydides honestly tells us that some of these discourses are purely fictitious. He may have reported the substance of others correctly. But it is clear from the internal evidence that he has preserved no more than the substance. His own peculiar habits of thought and expression are everywhere discernible. Individual and national peculiarities are seldom to be traced in the sentiments, and never in the diction. The oratory of the Corinthians and Thebans is not less attic, either in matter or in manner, than that of the Athenians. The style of Cleon is as pure, as austere, as terse, and as significant, as that of Pericles.

In spite of this great fault, it must be allowed that Thucydides has surpassed all his rivals in the art of historical narration, in the art of producing an effect on the imagination, by skilful selection and disposition, without indulging in the licence of invention. But narration, though an important part of the business of a historian, is not the whole. To append a moral to a work of fiction is either useless or superfluous. A fiction may give a more impressive effect to what is already known; but it Edition: current; Page: [244] can teach nothing new. If it presents to us characters and trains of events to which our experience furnishes us with nothing similar, instead of deriving instruction from it, we pronounce it unnatural. We do not form our opinions from it; but we try it by our preconceived opinions. Fiction, therefore, is essentially imitative. Its merit consists in its resemblance to a model with which we are already familiar, or to which at least we can instantly refer. Hence it is that the anecdotes which interest us most strongly in authentic narrative are offensive when introduced into novels; that what is called the romantic part of history is in fact the least romantic. It is delightful as history, because it contradicts our previous notions of human nature, and of the connection of causes and effects. It is, on that very account, shocking and incongruous in fiction. In fiction, the principles are given, to find the facts: in history, the facts are given, to find the principles; and the writer who does not explain the phenomena as well as state them performs only one half of his office. Facts are the mere dross of history. It is from the abstract truth which interpenetrates them, and lies latent among them like gold in the ore, that the mass derives its whole value: and the precious particles are generally combined with the baser in such a manner that the separation is a task of the utmost difficulty.

Here Thucydides is deficient: the deficiency, indeed, is not discreditable to him. It was the inevitable effect of circumstances. It was in the nature of things necessary that, in some part of its progress through political science, the human mind should reach that point which it attained in his time. Knowledge advances by steps, and not by leaps. The axioms of an English debating club would have been startling and mysterious paradoxes to the most enlightened statesmen of Athens. But it would be as absurd to speak contemptuously of the Athenian on this account as to ridicule Strabo for not having given us an account of Chili, or to talk of Ptolemy as we talk of Edition: current; Page: [245] Sir Richard Phillips. Still, when we wish for solid geographical information, we must prefer the solemn coxcombry of Pinkerton to the noble work of Strabo. If we wanted instruction respecting the solar system, we should consult the silliest girl from a boarding school, rather than Ptolemy.

Thucydides was undoubtedly a sagacious and reflecting man. This clearly appears from the ability with which he discusses practical questions. But the talent of deciding on the circumstances of a particular case is often possessed in the highest perfection by persons destitute of the power of generalisation. Men skilled in the military tactics of civilised nations have been amazed at the farsightedness and penetration which a Mohawk displays in concerting his stratagems, or in discerning those of his enemies. In England, no class possesses so much of that peculiar ability which is required for constructing ingenious schemes, and for obviating remote difficulties, as the thieves and the thief-takers. Women have more of this dexterity than men. Lawyers have more of it than statesmen: statesmen have more of it than philosophers. Monk had more of it than Harrington and all his club. Walpole had more of it than Adam Smith or Beccaria. Indeed, the species of discipline by which this dexterity is acquired tends to contract the mind, and to render it incapable of abstract reasoning.

The Grecian statesmen of the age of Thucydides were distinguished by their practical sagacity, their insight into motives, their skill in devising means for the attainment of their ends. A state of society in which the rich were constantly planning the oppression of the poor, and the poor the spoliation of the rich, in which the ties of party had superseded those of country, in which revolutions and counter revolutions were events of daily occurrence, was naturally prolific in desperate and crafty political adventurers. This was the very school in which men were likely to acquire the dissimulation of Mazarin, the judicious Edition: current; Page: [246] temerity of Richelieu, the penetration, the exquisite tact, the almost instinctive presentiment of approaching events which gave so much authority to the counsel of Shaftesbury that “it was as if a man had inquired of the oracle of God.” In this school Thucydides studied; and his wisdom is that which such a school would naturally afford. He judges better of circumstances than of principles. The more a question is narrowed, the better he reasons upon it. His work suggests many most important considerations respecting the first principles of government and morals, the growth of factions, the organisation of armies, and the mutual relations of communities. Yet all his general observations on these subjects are very superficial. His most judicious remarks differ from the remarks of a really philosophical historian, as a sum correctly cast up by a book-keeper from a general expression discovered by an algebraist. The former is useful only in a single transaction; the latter may be applied to an infinite number of cases.

This opinion will, we fear, be considered as heterodox. For, not to speak of the illusion which the sight of a Greek type, or the sound of a Greek diphthong, often produces, there are some peculiarities in the manner of Thucydides which in no small degree have tended to secure to him the reputation of profundity. His book is evidently the book of a man and a statesman; and in this respect presents a remarkable contrast to the delightful childishness of Herodotus. Throughout it there is an air of matured power, of grave and melancholy reflection, of impartiality and habitual self-command. His feelings are rarely indulged, and speedily repressed. Vulgar prejudices of every kind, and particularly vulgar superstitions, he treats with a cold and sober disdain peculiar to himself. His style is weighty, condensed, antithetical, and not unfrequently obscure. But, when we look at his political philosophy, without regard to these circumstances, we find him to have been, what indeed it would have been Edition: current; Page: [247] a miracle if he had not been, simply an Athenian of the fifth century before Christ.

Xenophon is commonly placed, but we think without much reason, in the same rank with Herodotus and Thucydides. He resembles them, indeed, in the purity and sweetness of his style; but, in spirit, he rather resembles that later school of historians, whose works seem to be fables composed for a moral, and who, in their eagerness to give us warnings and examples, forget to give us men and women. The Life of Cyrus, whether we look upon it as a history or as a romance, seems to us a very wretched performance. The expedition of the Ten Thousand, and the History of Grecian Affairs, are certainly pleasant reading; but they indicate no great power of mind. In truth, Xenophon, though his taste was elegant, his disposition amiable, and his intercourse with the world extensive, had, we suspect, rather a weak head. Such was evidently the opinion of that extraordinary man to whom he early attached himself, and for whose memory he entertained an idolatrous veneration. He came in only for the milk with which Socrates nourished his babes in philosophy. A few saws of morality, and a few of the simplest doctrines of natural religion, were enough for the good young man. The strong meat, the bold speculations on physical and metaphysical science, were reserved for auditors of a different description. Even the lawless habits of a captain of mercenary troops could not change the tendency which the character of Xenophon early acquired. To the last, he seems to have retained a sort of heathen Puritanism. The sentiments of piety and virtue which abound in his works are those of a well-meaning man, somewhat timid and narrow-minded, devout from constitution rather than from rational conviction. He was as superstitious as Herodotus, but in a way far more offensive. The very peculiarities which charm us in an infant, the toothless mumbling, the stammering, the tottering, the helplessness, the causeless tears and laughter, are disgusting Edition: current; Page: [248] in old age. In the same manner, the absurdity which precedes a period of general intelligence is often pleasing; that which follows it is contemptible. The nonsense of Herodotus is that of a baby. The nonsense of Xenophon is that of a dotard. His stories about dreams, omens, and prophecies, present a strange contrast to the passages in which the shrewd and incredulous Thucydides mentions the popular superstitions. It is not quite clear that Xenophon was honest in his credulity; his fanaticism was in some degree politic. He would have made an excellent member of the Apostolic Camarilla. An alarmist by nature, an aristocrat by party, he carried to an unreasonable excess his horror of popular turbulence. The quiet atrocity of Sparta did not shock him in the same manner; for he hated tumult more than crimes. He was desirous to find restraints which might curb the passions of the multitude; and he absurdly fancied that he had found them in a religion without evidences or sanction, precepts or example, in a frigid system of Theophilanthropy, supported by nursery tales.

Polybius and Arrian have given us authentic accounts of facts; and here their merit ends. They were not men of comprehensive minds; they had not the art of telling a story in an interesting manner. They have in consequence been thrown into the shade by writers who, though less studious of truth than themselves, understood far better the art of producing effect,—by Livy and Quintus Curtius.

Yet Polybius and Arrian deserve high praise when compared with the writers of that school of which Plutarch may be considered as the head. For the historians of this class we must confess that we entertain a peculiar aversion. They seem to have been pedants, who, though destitute of those valuable qualities which are frequently found in conjunction with pedantry, thought themselves great philosophers and great politicians. They not only mislead their readers in every page, as to particular facts, Edition: current; Page: [249] but they appear to have altogether misconceived the whole character of the times of which they write. They were inhabitants of an empire bounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Euphrates, by the ice of Scythia and the sands of Mauritania; composed of nations whose manners, whose languages, whose religion, whose countenances and complexions, were widely different; governed by one mighty despotism, which had risen on the ruins of a thousand commonwealths and kingdoms. Of liberty, such as it is in small democracies, of patriotism, such as it is in small independent communities of any kind, they had, and they could have, no experimental knowledge. But they had read of men who exerted themselves in the cause of their country with an energy unknown in later times, who had violated the dearest of domestic charities, or voluntarily devoted themselves to death, for the public good; and they wondered at the degeneracy of their contemporaries. It never occurred to them that the feelings which they so greatly admired sprung from local and occasional causes; that they will always grow up spontaneously in small societies; and that, in large empires, though they may be forced into existence for a short time by peculiar circumstances, they cannot be general or permanent. It is impossible that any man should feel for a fortress on a remote frontier as he feels for his own house; that he should grieve for a defeat in which ten thousand people whom he never saw have fallen as he grieves for a defeat which has half unpeopled the street in which he lives; that he should leave his home for a military expedition in order to preserve the balance of power, as cheerfully as he would leave it to repel invaders who had begun to burn all the corn fields in his neighbourhood.

The writers of whom we speak should have considered this. They should have considered that in patriotism, such as it existed amongst the Greeks, there was nothing essentially and eternally good; that an exclusive attachment Edition: current; Page: [250] to a particular society, though a natural, and, under certain restrictions, a most useful sentiment, implies no extraordinary attainments in wisdom or virtue; that, where it has existed in an intense degree, it has turned states into gangs of robbers whom their mutual fidelity has rendered more dangerous, has given a character of peculiar atrocity to war, and has generated that worst of all political evils, the tyranny of nations over nations.

Enthusiastically attached to the name of liberty, these historians troubled themselves little about its definition. The Spartans, tormented by ten thousand absurd restraints, unable to please themselves in the choice of their wives, their suppers, or their company, compelled to assume a peculiar manner, and to talk in a peculiar style, gloried in their liberty. The aristocracy of Rome repeatedly made liberty a plea for cutting off the favourites of the people. In almost all the little commonwealths of antiquity, liberty was used as a pretext for measures directed against everything which makes liberty valuable, for measures which stifled discussion, corrupted the administration of justice, and discouraged the accumulation of property. The writers, whose works we are considering, confounded the sound with the substance, and the means with the end. Their imaginations were inflamed by mystery. They conceived of liberty as monks conceive of love, as cockneys conceive of the happiness and innocence of rural life, as novel-reading sempstresses conceive of Almack’s and Grosvenor Square, accomplished Marquesses and handsome Colonels of the Guards. In the relation of events, and the delineation of characters, they have paid little attention to facts, to the costume of the times of which they pretend to treat, or to the general principles of human nature. They have been faithful only to their own puerile and extravagant doctrines. Generals and statesmen are metamorphosed into magnanimous coxcombs, from whose fulsome virtues we turn away with disgust. The fine sayings and exploits of their Edition: current; Page: [251] heroes remind us of the insufferable perfections of Sir Charles Grandison, and affect us with a nausea similar to that which we feel when an actor, in one of Morton’s or Kotzebue’s plays, lays his hand on his heart, advances to the ground-lights, and mouths a moral sentence for the edification of the gods.

These writers, men who knew not what it was to have a country, men who had never enjoyed political rights, brought into fashion an offensive cant about patriotism and zeal for freedom. What the English Puritans did for the language of Christianity, what Scuderi did for the language of love, they did for the language of public spirit. By habitual exaggeration they made it mean. By monotonous emphasis they made it feeble. They abused it till it became scarcely possible to use it with effect.

Their ordinary rules of morality are deduced from extreme cases. The common regimen which they prescribe for society is made up of those desperate remedies which only its most desperate distempers require. They look with peculiar complacency on actions which even those who approve them consider as exceptions to laws of almost universal application—which bear so close an affinity to the most atrocious crimes that, even where it may be unjust to censure them, it is unsafe to praise them. It is not strange, therefore, that some flagitious instances of perfidy and cruelty should have been passed unchallenged in such company, that grave moralists, with no personal interest at stake, should have extolled, in the highest terms, deeds of which the atrocity appalled even the infuriated factions in whose cause they were perpetrated. The part which Timoleon took in the assassination of his brother shocked many of his own partisans. The recollection of it preyed long on his own mind. But it was reserved for historians who lived some centuries later to discover that his conduct was a glorious display of virtue, and to lament that, from the frailty of Edition: current; Page: [252] human nature, a man who could perform so great an exploit could repent of it.

The writings of these men, and of their modern imitators, have produced effects which deserve some notice. The English have been so long accustomed to political speculation, and have enjoyed so large a measure of practical liberty, that such works have produced little effect on their minds. We have classical associations and great names of our own which we can confidently oppose to the most splendid of ancient times. Senate has not to our ears a sound so venerable as Parliament. We respect the Great Charter more than the laws of Solon. The Capitol and the Forum impress us with less awe than our own Westminster Hall and Westminster Abbey, the place where the great men of twenty generations have contended, the place where they sleep together! The list of warriors and statesmen by whom our constitution was founded or preserved, from De Montfort down to Fox, may well stand a comparison with the Fasti of Rome. The dying thanksgiving of Sidney is as noble as the libation which Thrasea poured to Liberating Jove: and we think with far less pleasure of Cato tearing out his entrails than of Russell saying, as he turned away from his wife, that the bitterness of death was past. Even those parts of our history over which, on some accounts, we would gladly throw a veil may be proudly opposed to those on which the moralists of antiquity loved most to dwell. The enemy of English liberty was not murdered by men whom he had pardoned and loaded with benefits. He was not stabbed in the back by those who smiled and cringed before his face. He was vanquished on fields of stricken battle; he was arraigned, sentenced, and executed in the face of heaven and earth. Our liberty is neither Greek nor Roman; but essentially English. It has a character of its own,—a character which has taken a tinge from the sentiments of the chivalrous ages, and which accords with the peculiarities of our manners and Edition: current; Page: [253] of our insular situation. It has a language, too, of its own, and a language singularly idiomatic, full of meaning to ourselves, scarcely intelligible to strangers.

Here, therefore, the effect of books such as those which we have been considering has been harmless. They have, indeed, given currency to many very erroneous opinions with respect to ancient history. They have heated the imaginations of boys. They have misled the judgment and corrupted the taste of some men of letters, such as Akenside and Sir William Jones. But on persons engaged in public affairs they have had very little influence. The foundations of our constitution were laid by men who knew nothing of the Greeks but that they denied the orthodox procession and cheated the Crusaders; and nothing of Rome, but that the Pope lived there. Those who followed, contented themselves with improving on the original plan. They found models at home; and therefore they did not look for them abroad. But, when enlightened men on the Continent began to think about political reformation, having no patterns before their eyes in their domestic history, they naturally had recourse to those remains of antiquity, the study of which is considered throughout Europe as an important part of education. The historians of whom we have been speaking had been members of large communities, and subjects of absolute sovereigns. Hence it is, as we have already said, that they commit such gross errors in speaking of the little republics of antiquity. Their works were now read in the spirit in which they had been written. They were read by men placed in circumstances closely resembling their own, unacquainted with the real nature of liberty, but inclined to believe everything good which could be told respecting it. How powerfully these books impressed these speculative reformers, is well known to all who have paid any attention to the French literature of the last century. But, perhaps, the writer on whom they produced the greatest effect was Vittorio Alfieri. Edition: current; Page: [254] In some of his plays, particularly in Virginia, Timoleon, and Brutus the Younger, he has even caricatured the extravagance of his masters.

It was not strange that the blind, thus led by the blind, should stumble. The transactions of the French Revolution, in some measure, took their character from these works. Without the assistance of these works, indeed, a revolution would have taken place,—a revolution productive of much good and much evil, tremendous but shortlived, evil dearly purchased, but durable good. But it would not have been exactly such a revolution. The style, the accessories, would have been in many respects different. There would have been less of bombast in language, less of affectation in manner, less of solemn trifling and ostentatious simplicity. The acts of legislative assemblies, and the correspondence of diplomatists, would not have been disgraced by rants worthy only of a college declamation. The government of a great and polished nation would not have rendered itself ridiculous by attempting to revive the usages of a world which had long passed away, or rather of a world which had never existed except in the description of a fantastic school of writers. These second-hand imitations resembled the originals about as much as the classical feast with which the Doctor in Peregrine Pickle turned the stomachs of all his guests resembled one of the suppers of Lucullus in the Hall of Apollo.

These were mere follies. But the spirit excited by these writers produced more serious effects. The greater part of the crimes which disgraced the revolution sprung indeed from the relaxation of law, from popular ignorance, from the remembrance of past oppression, from the fear of foreign conquest, from rapacity, from ambition, from party-spirit. But many atrocious proceedings must, doubtless, be ascribed to heated imagination, to perverted principle, to a distaste for what was vulgar in morals, and a passion for what was startling and dubious. Edition: current; Page: [255] Mr. Burke has touched on this subject with great felicity of expression: “The gradation of their republic,” says he, “is laid in moral paradoxes. All those instances to be found in history, whether real or fabulous, of a doubtful public spirit, at which morality is perplexed, reason is staggered, and from which affrighted nature recoils, are their chosen and almost sole examples for the instruction of their youth.” This evil, we believe, is to be directly ascribed to the influence of the historians whom we have mentioned, and their modern imitators.

Livy had some faults in common with these writers. But on the whole he must be considered as forming a class by himself: no historian with whom we are acquainted has shown so complete an indifference to truth. He seems to have cared only about the picturesque effect of his book, and the honour of his country. On the other hand, we do not know, in the whole range of literature, an instance of a bad thing so well done. The painting of the narrative is beyond description vivid and graceful. The abundance of interesting sentiments and splendid imagery in the speeches is almost miraculous. His mind is a soil which is never overteemed, a fountain which never seems to trickle. It pours forth profusely; yet it gives no sign of exhaustion. It was probably to this exuberance of thought and language, always fresh, always sweet, always pure, no sooner yielded than repaired, that the critics applied that expression which has been so much discussed, lactea ubertas.

All the merits and all the defects of Livy take a colouring from the character of his nation. He was a writer peculiarly Roman; the proud citizen of a commonwealth which had indeed lost the reality of liberty, but which still sacredly preserved its forms—in fact the subject of an arbitrary prince, but in his own estimation one of the masters of the world, with a hundred kings below him, and only the gods above him. He, therefore, looked Edition: current; Page: [256] back on former times with feelings far different from those which were naturally entertained by his Greek contemporaries, and which at a later period became general among men of letters throughout the Roman Empire. He contemplated the past with interest and delight, not because it furnished a contrast to the present, but because it had led to the present. He recurred to it, not to lose in proud recollections the sense of national degradation, but to trace the progress of national glory. It is true that his veneration for antiquity produced on him some of the effects which it produced on those who arrived at it by a very different road. He has something of their exaggeration, something of their cant, something of their fondness for anomalies and lusus naturæ in morality. Yet even here we perceive a difference. They talk rapturously of patriotism and liberty in the abstract. He does not seem to think any country but Rome deserving of love: nor is it for liberty as liberty, but for liberty as a part of the Roman institutions, that he is zealous.

Of the concise and elegant accounts of the campaigns of Cæsar little can be said. They are incomparable models for military despatches. But histories they are not, and do not pretend to be.

The ancient critics placed Sallust in the same rank with Livy; and unquestionably the small portion of his works which has come down to us is calculated to give a high opinion of his talents. But his style is not very pleasant: and his most powerful work, the account of the Conspiracy of Catiline, has rather the air of a clever party pamphlet than that of a history. It abounds with strange inconsistencies, which, unexplained as they are, necessarily excite doubts as to the fairness of the narrative. It is true, that many circumstances now forgotten may have been familiar to his contemporaries, and may have rendered passages clear to them which to us appear dubious and perplexing. But a great historian should remember Edition: current; Page: [257] that he writes for distant generations, for men who will perceive the apparent contradictions, and will possess no means of reconciling them. We can only vindicate the fidelity of Sallust at the expense of his skill. But in fact all the information which we have from contemporaries respecting this famous plot is liable to the same objection, and is read by discerning men with the same incredulity. It is all on one side. No answer has reached our times. Yet, on the showing of the accusers, the accused seem entitled to acquittal. Catiline, we are told, intrigued with a Vestal virgin, and murdered his own son. His house was a den of gamblers and debauchees. No young man could cross his threshold without danger to his fortune and reputation. Yet this is the man with whom Cicero was willing to coalesce in a contest for the first magistracy of the republic; and whom he described, long after the fatal termination of the conspiracy, as an accomplished hypocrite, by whom he had himself been deceived, and who had acted with consummate skill the character of a good citizen and a good friend. We are told that the plot was the most wicked and desperate ever known, and, almost in the same breath, that the great body of the people, and many of the nobles, favoured it; that the richest citizens of Rome were eager for the spoliation of all property, and its highest functionaries for the destruction of all order; that Crassus, Cæsar, the Prætor Lentulus, one of the consuls of the year, one of the consuls elect, were proved or suspected to be engaged in a scheme for subverting institutions to which they owed the highest honours, and introducing universal anarchy. We are told that a government, which knew all this, suffered the conspirator, whose rank, talents, and courage, rendered him most dangerous, to quit Rome without molestation. We are told that bondmen and gladiators were to be armed against the citizens. Yet we find that Catiline rejected the slaves who crowded to enlist in his army, lest, as Sallust himself expresses it, “he should seem to identify their Edition: current; Page: [258] cause with that of the citizens.” Finally, we are told that the magistrate, who was universally allowed to have saved all classes of his countrymen from conflagration and massacre, rendered himself so unpopular by his conduct that a marked insult was offered to him at the expiration of his office, and a severe punishment inflicted on him shortly after.

Sallust tells us, what, indeed, the letters and speeches of Cicero sufficiently prove, that some persons considered the shocking and atrocious parts of the plot as mere inventions of the government, designed to excuse its unconstitutional measures. We must confess ourselves to be of that opinion. There was, undoubtedly, a strong party desirous to change the administration. While Pompey held the command of an army, they could not effect their purpose without preparing means for repelling force, if necessary, by force. In all this there is nothing different from the ordinary practice of Roman factions. The other charges brought against the conspirators are so inconsistent and improbable, that we give no credit whatever to them. If our readers think this scepticism unreasonable, let them turn to the contemporary accounts of the Popish plot. Let them look over the votes of Parliament, and the speeches of the king; the charges of Scroggs, and the harangues of the managers employed against Strafford. A person who should form his judgment from these pieces alone would believe that London was set on fire by the Papists, and that Sir Edmondbury Godfrey was murdered for his religion. Yet these stories are now altogether exploded. They have been abandoned by statesmen to aldermen, by aldermen to clergymen, by clergymen to old women, and by old women to Sir Harcourt Lees.

Of the Latin historians, Tacitus was certainly the greatest. His style, indeed, is not only faulty in itself, but is, in some respects, peculiarly unfit for historical composition. He carries his love of effect far beyond the limits of moderation. He tells a fine story finely: but he cannot Edition: current; Page: [259] tell a plain story plainly. He stimulates till stimulants lose their power. Thucydides, as we have already observed, relates ordinary transactions with the unpretending clearness and succinctness of a gazette. His great powers of painting he reserves for events of which the slightest details are interesting. The simplicity of the setting gives additional lustre to the brilliants. There are passages in the narrative of Tacitus superior to the best which can be quoted from Thucydides. But they are not enchased and relieved with the same skill. They are far more striking when extracted from the body of the work to which they belong than when they occur in their place, and are read in connection with what precedes and follows.

In the delineation of character, Tacitus is unrivalled among historians, and has very few superiors among dramatists and novelists. By the delineation of character, we do not mean the practice of drawing up epigrammatic catalogues of good and bad qualities, and appending them to the names of eminent men. No writer, indeed, has done this more skilfully than Tacitus; but this is not his peculiar glory. All the persons who occupy a large space in his works have an individuality of character which seems to pervade all their words and actions. We know them as if we had lived with them. Claudius, Nero, Otho, both the Agrippinas, are masterpieces. But Tiberius is a still higher miracle of art. The historian undertook to make us intimately acquainted with a man singularly dark and inscrutable,—with a man whose real disposition long remained swathed up in intricate folds of factitious virtues, and over whose actions the hypocrisy of his youth, and the seclusion of his old age, threw a singular mystery. He was to exhibit the specious qualities of the tyrant in a light which might render them transparent, and enable us at once to perceive the covering and the vices which it concealed. He was to trace the gradations by Edition: current; Page: [260] which the first magistrate of a republic, a senator mingling freely in debate, a noble associating with his brother nobles, was transformed into an Asiatic sultan; he was to exhibit a character, distinguished by courage, self-command, and profound policy, yet defiled by all

  • “th’ extravagancy
  • And crazy ribaldry of fancy.”

He was to mark the gradual effect of advancing age and approaching death on this strange compound of strength and weakness; to exhibit the old sovereign of the world sinking into a dotage which, though it rendered his appetites eccentric, and his temper savage, never impaired the powers of his stern and penetrating mind—conscious of failing strength, raging with capricious sensuality, yet to the last the keenest of observers, the most artful of dissemblers, and the most terrible of masters. The task was one of extreme difficulty. The execution is almost perfect.

The talent which is required to write history thus bears a considerably affinity to the talent of a great dramatist. There is one obvious distinction. The dramatist creates; the historian only disposes. The difference is not in the mode of execution, but in the mode of conception. Shakspeare is guided by a model which exists in his imagination; Tacitus, by a model furnished from without. Hamlet is to Tiberius what the Laocoon is to the Newton of Roubilliac.

In this part of his art Tacitus certainly had neither equal nor second among the ancient historians. Herodotus, though he wrote in a dramatic form, had little of dramatic genius. The frequent dialogues which he introduces give vivacity and movement to the narrative, but are not strikingly characteristic. Xenophon is fond of telling his readers, at considerable length, what he thought of the persons whose adventures he relates. But he does not show them the men, and enable them to judge for themselves. The heroes of Livy are the most insipid of all beings, real or imaginary, the heroes of Plutarch always excepted. Edition: current; Page: [261] Indeed, the manner of Plutarch in this respect reminds us of the cookery of those continental inns, the horror of English travellers, in which a certain nondescript broth is kept constantly boiling, and copiously poured, without distinction, over every dish as it comes up to table. Thucydides, though at a wide interval, comes next to Tacitus. His Pericles, his Nicias, his Cleon, his Brasidas, are happily discriminated. The lines are few, the colouring faint; but the general air and expression is caught.

We begin, like the priest in Don Quixote’s library, to be tired with taking down books one after another for separate judgment, and feel inclined to pass sentence on them in masses. We shall therefore, instead of pointing out the defects and merits of the different modern historians, state generally in what particulars they have surpassed their predecessors, and in what we conceive them to have failed.

They have certainly been, in one sense, far more strict in their adherence to truth than most of the Greek and Roman writers. They do not think themselves entitled to render their narrative interesting by introducing descriptions, conversations, and harangues which have no existence but in their own imagination. This improvement was gradually introduced. History commenced among the modern nations of Europe, as it had commenced among the Greeks, in romance. Froissart was our Herodotus. Italy was to Europe what Athens was to Greece. In Italy, therefore, a more accurate and manly mode of narration was early introduced. Machiavelli and Guicciardini, in imitation of Livy and Thucydides, composed speeches for their historical personages. But, as the classical enthusiasm which distinguished the age of Lorenzo and Leo gradually subsided, this absurd practice was abandoned. In France, we fear, it still, in some degree, keeps its ground. In our own country, a writer who should venture on it would be laughed to scorn. Whether the historians of the last two centuries tell more truth than those Edition: current; Page: [262] of antiquity, may perhaps be doubted. But it is quite certain that they tell fewer falsehoods.

In the philosophy of history, the moderns have very far surpassed the ancients. It is not, indeed, strange that the Greeks and Romans should not have carried the science of government, or any other experimental science, so far as it has been carried in our time; for the experimental sciences are generally in a state of progression. They were better understood in the seventeenth century than in the sixteenth, and in the eighteenth century than in the seventeenth. But this constant improvement, this natural growth of knowledge, will not altogether account for the immense superiority of the modern writers. The difference is a difference not in degree but of kind. It is not merely that new principles have been discovered, but that new faculties seem to be exerted. It is not that at one time the human intellect should have made but small progress, and at another time have advanced far; but that at one time it should have been stationary, and at another time constantly proceeding. In taste and imagination, in the graces of style, in the arts of persuasion, in the magnificence of public works, the ancients were at least our equals. They reasoned as justly as ourselves on subjects which required pure demonstration. But in the moral sciences they made scarcely any advance. During the long period which elapsed between the fifth century before the Christian era and the fifth century after it little perceptible progress was made. All the metaphysical discoveries of all the philosophers, from the time of Socrates to the northern invasion, are not to be compared in importance with those which have been made in England every fifty years since the time of Elizabeth. There is not the least reason to believe that the principles of government, legislation, and political economy, were better understood in the time of Augustus Cæsar than in the time of Pericles. In our own country, the sound doctrines of trade and jurisprudence have been, within Edition: current; Page: [263] the lifetime of a single generation, dimly hinted, boldly propounded, defended, systematised, adopted by all reflecting men of all parties, quoted in legislative assemblies, incorporated into laws and treaties.

To what is this change to be attributed? Partly, no doubt, to the discovery of printing, a discovery which has not only diffused knowledge widely, but, as we have already observed, has also introduced into reasoning a precision unknown in those ancient communities, in which information was, for the most part, conveyed orally. There was, we suspect, another cause, less obvious, but still more powerful.

The spirit of the two most famous nations of antiquity was remarkably exclusive. In the time of Homer the Greeks had not begun to consider themselves as a distinct race. They still looked with something of childish wonder and awe on the riches and wisdom of Sidon and Egypt. From what causes, and by what gradations, their feelings underwent a change, it is not easy to determine. Their history, from the Trojan to the Persian war, is covered with an obscurity broken only by dim and scattered gleams of truth. But it is certain that a great alteration took place. They regarded themselves as a separate people. They had common religious rites, and common principles of public law, in which foreigners had no part. In all their political systems, monarchical, aristocratical, and democratical, there was a strong family likeness. After the retreat of Xerxes and the fall of Mardonius, national pride rendered the separation between the Greeks and the barbarians complete. The conquerors considered themselves men of a superior breed, men who, in their intercourse with neighbouring nations, were to teach, and not to learn. They looked for nothing out of themselves. They borrowed nothing. They translated nothing. We cannot call to mind a single expression of any Greek writer earlier than the age of Augustus, indicating an opinion that anything worth reading could be Edition: current; Page: [264] written in any language except his own. The feelings which sprung from national glory were not altogether extinguished by national degradation. They were fondly cherished through ages of slavery and shame. The literature of Rome herself was regarded with contempt by those who had fled before her arms, and who bowed beneath her fasces. Voltaire says, in one of his six thousand pamphlets, that he was the first person who told the French that England had produced eminent men besides the Duke of Marlborough. Down to a very late period, the Greeks seem to have stood in need of similar information with respect to their masters. With Paulus Æmilius, Sylla, and Cæsar they were well acquainted. But the notions which they entertained respecting Cicero and Virgil were, probably, not unlike those which Boileau may have formed about Shakspeare. Dionysius lived in the most splendid age of Latin poetry and eloquence. He was a critic, and, after the manner of his age, an able critic. He studied the language of Rome, associated with its learned men, and compiled its history. Yet he seems to have thought its literature valuable only for the purpose of illustrating its antiquities. His reading appears to have been confined to its public records, and to a few old annalists. Once, and but once, if we remember rightly, he quotes Ennius, to solve a question of etymology. He has written much on the art of oratory: yet he has not mentioned the name of Cicero.

The Romans submitted to the pretensions of a race which they despised. Their epic poet, while he claimed for them pre-eminence in the arts of government and war, acknowledged their inferiority in taste, eloquence, and science. Men of letters affected to understand the Greek language better than their own. Pomponius preferred the honour of becoming an Athenian, by intellectual naturalisation, to all the distinctions which were to be acquired in the political contests of Rome. His great friend composed Greek poems and memoirs. It is well known that Petrarch considered that beautiful language Edition: current; Page: [265] in which his sonnets are written, as a barbarous jargon, and intrusted his fame to those wretched Latin hexameters which, during the last four centuries, have scarcely found four readers. Many eminent Romans appear to have felt the same contempt for their native tongue as compared with the Greek. The prejudice continued to a very late period. Julian was as partial to the Greek language as Frederic the Great to the French: and it seems that he could not express himself with elegance in the dialect of the state which he ruled.

Even those Latin writers who did not carry this affectation so far looked on Greece as the only fount of knowledge. From Greece they derived the measures of their poetry, and, indeed, all of poetry that can be imported. From Greece they borrowed the principles and the vocabulary of their philosophy. To the literature of other nations they do not seem to have paid the slightest attention. The sacred books of the Hebrews, for example, books which, considered merely as human compositions, are invaluable to the critic, the antiquarian, and the philosopher, seem to have been utterly unnoticed by them. The peculiarities of Judaism, and the rapid growth of Christianity, attracted their notice. They made war against the Jews. They made laws against the Christians. But they never opened the books of Moses. Juvenal quotes the Pentateuch with censure. The author of the treatise on “the Sublime” quotes it with praise: but both of them quote it erroneously. When we consider what sublime poetry, what curious history, what striking and peculiar views of the Divine nature and of the social duties of men, are to be found in the Jewish scriptures, when we consider that two sects on which the attention of the government was constantly fixed appealed to those scriptures as the rule of their faith and practice, this indifference is astonishing. The fact seems to be, that the Greeks admired only themselves, and that the Romans admired only themselves and the Greeks. Literary men turned away with disgust from modes of thought and Edition: current; Page: [266] expression so widely different from all that they had been accustomed to admire. The effect was narrowness and sameness of thought. Their minds, if we may so express ourselves, bred in and in, and were accordingly cursed with barrenness and degeneracy. No extraneous beauty or vigour was engrafted on the decaying stock. By an exclusive attention to one class of phenomena, by an exclusive taste for one species of excellence, the human intellect was stunted. Occasional coincidences were turned into general rules. Prejudices were confounded with instincts. On man, as he was found in a particular state of society—on government, as it had existed in a particular corner of the world, many just observations were made; but of man as man, or government as government, little was known. Philosophy remained stationary. Slight changes, sometimes for the worse and sometimes for the better, were made in the superstructure. But nobody thought of examining the foundations.

The vast despotism of the Cæsars, gradually effacing all national peculiarities, and assimilating the remotest provinces of the empire to each other, augmented the evil. At the close of the third century after Christ, the prospects of mankind were fearfully dreary. A system of etiquette, as pompously frivolous as that of the Escurial, had been established. A sovereign almost invisible; a crowd of dignitaries minutely distinguished by badges and titles; rhetoricians who said nothing but what had been said ten thousand times; schools in which nothing was taught but what had been known for ages: such was the machinery provided for the government and instruction of the most enlightened part of the human race. That great community was then in danger of experiencing a calamity far more terrible than any of the quick, inflammatory, destroying maladies, to which nations are liable,—a tottering, drivelling, paralytic longevity, the immortality of the Struldbrugs, a Chinese civilisation. Edition: current; Page: [267] It would be easy to indicate many points of resemblance between the subjects of Diocletian and the people of that Celestial Empire, where, during many centuries, nothing has been learned or unlearned; where government, where education, where the whole system of life, is a ceremony; where knowledge forgets to increase and multiply, and, like the talent buried in the earth, or the pound wrapped up in the napkin, experiences neither waste nor augmentation.

The torpor was broken by two great revolutions, the one moral, the other political, the one from within, the other from without. The victory of Christianity over Paganism, considered with relation to this subject only, was of great importance. It overthrew the old system of morals; and with it much of the old system of metaphysics. It furnished the orator with new topics of declamation, and the logician with new points of controversy. Above all, it introduced a new principle, of which the operation was constantly felt in every part of society. It stirred the stagnant mass from the inmost depths. It excited all the passions of a stormy democracy in the quiet and listless population of an overgrown empire. The fear of heresy did what the sense of oppression could not do; it changed men, accustomed to be turned over like sheep from tyrant to tyrant, into devoted partisans and obstinate rebels. The tones of an eloquence which had been silent for ages resounded from the pulpit of Gregory. A spirit which had been extinguished on the plains of Philippi revived in Athanasius and Ambrose.

Yet even this remedy was not sufficiently violent for the disease. It did not prevent the empire of Constantinople from relapsing, after a short paroxysm of excitement, into a state of stupefaction, to which history furnishes scarcely any parallel. We there find that a polished society, a society in which a most intricate and elaborate system of jurisprudence was established, in which the arts of luxury were well understood, in which the works of Edition: current; Page: [268] the great ancient writers were preserved and studied, existed for nearly a thousand years without making one great discovery in science, or producing one book which is read by any but curious inquirers. There were tumults, too, and controversies, and wars in abundance: and these things, bad as they are in themselves, have generally been favourable to the progress of the intellect. But here they tormented without stimulating. The waters were troubled; but no healing influence descended. The agitations resembled the grinnings and writhings of a galvanised corpse, not the struggles of an athletic man.

From this miserable state the Western Empire was saved by the fiercest and most destroying visitation with which God has ever chastened his creatures—the invasion of the Northern nations. Such a cure was required for such a distemper. The fire of London, it has been observed, was a blessing. It burned down the city; but it burned out the plague. The same may be said of the tremendous devastation of the Roman dominions. It annihilated the noisome recesses in which lurked the seeds of great moral maladies; it cleared an atmosphere fatal to the health and vigour of the human mind. It cost Europe a thousand years of barbarism to escape the fate of China.

At length the terrible purification was accomplished; and the second civilisation of mankind commenced, under circumstances which afforded a strong security that it would never retrograde and never pause. Europe was now a great federal community. Her numerous states were united by the easy ties of international law and a common religion. Their institutions, their languages, their manners, their tastes in literature, their modes of education, were widely different. Their connection was close enough to allow of mutual observation and improvement, yet not so close as to destroy the idioms of national opinion and feeling.

The balance of moral and intellectual influence thus Edition: current; Page: [269] established between the nations of Europe is far more important than the balance of political power. Indeed, we are inclined to think that the latter is valuable principally because it tends to maintain the former. The civilised world has thus been preserved from an uniformity of character fatal to all improvement. Every part of it has been illuminated with light reflected from every other. Competition has produced activity where monopoly would have produced sluggishness. The number of experiments in moral science which the speculator has an opportunity of witnessing has been increased beyond all calculation. Society and human nature, instead of being seen in a single point of view, are presented to him under ten thousand different aspects. By observing the manners of surrounding nations, by studying their literature, by comparing it with that of his own country and of the ancient republics, he is enabled to correct those errors into which the most acute men must fall when they reason from a single species to a genus. He learns to distinguish what is local from what is universal; what is transitory from what is eternal; to discriminate between exceptions and rules; to trace the operation of disturbing causes; to separate those general principles which are always true and everywhere applicable from the accidental circumstances with which, in every community, they are blended, and with which, in an isolated community, they are confounded by the most philosophical mind.

Hence it is that, in generalisation, the writers of modern times have far surpassed those of antiquity. The historians of our own country are unequalled in depth and precision of reason; and, even in the works of our mere compilers, we often meet with speculations beyond the reach of Thucydides or Tacitus.

But it must, at the same time, be admitted that they have characteristic faults, so closely connected with their characteristic merits, and of such magnitude, that it may well be doubted whether, on the whole, this department Edition: current; Page: [270] of literature has gained or lost during the last two-and-twenty centuries.

The best historians of later times have been seduced from truth, not by their imagination, but by their reason. They far excel their predecessors in the art of deducing general principles from facts. But unhappily they have fallen into the error of distorting facts to suit general principles. They arrive at a theory from looking at some of the phenomena; and the remaining phenomena they strain or curtail to suit the theory. For this purpose it is not necessary that they should assert what is absolutely false; for all questions in morals and politics are questions of comparison and degree. Any proposition which does not involve a contradiction in terms may by possibility be true; and, if all the circumstances which raise a probability in its favour be stated and enforced, and those which lead to an opposite conclusion be omitted or lightly passed over, it may appear to be demonstrated. In every human character and transaction there is a mixture of good and evil: a little exaggeration, a little suppression, a judicious use of epithets, a watchful and searching scepticism with respect to the evidence on one side, a convenient credulity with respect to every report or tradition on the other, may easily make a saint of Laud, or a tyrant of Henry the Fourth.

This species of misrepresentation abounds in the most valuable works of modern historians. Herodotus tells his story like a slovenly witness, who, heated by partialities and prejudices, unacquainted with the established rules of evidence, and uninstructed as to the obligations of his oath, confounds what he imagines with what he has seen and heard, and brings out facts, reports, conjectures, and fancies, in one mass. Hume is an accomplished advocate. Without positively asserting much more than he can prove, he gives prominence to all the circumstances which support his case; he glides lightly over those which are unfavourable to it; his own witnesses are applauded and Edition: current; Page: [271] encouraged; the statements which seem to throw discredit on them are controverted; the contradictions into which they fall are explained away; a clear and connected abstract of their evidence is given. Everything that is offered on the other side is scrutinised with the utmost severity; every suspicious circumstance is a ground for comment and invective; what cannot be denied is extenuated, or passed by without notice; concessions even are sometimes made: but this insidious candour only increases the effect of the vast mass of sophistry.

We have mentioned Hume as the ablest and most popular writer of his class; but the charge which we have brought against him is one to which all our most distinguished historians are in some degree obnoxious. Gibbon, in particular, deserves very severe censure. Of all the numerous culprits, however, none is more deeply guilty than Mr. Mitford. We willingly acknowledge the obligations which are due to his talents and industry. The modern historians of Greece had been in the habit of writing as if the world had learned nothing new during the last sixteen hundred years. Instead of illustrating the events which they narrated by the philosophy of a more enlightened age, they judged of antiquity by itself alone. They seemed to think that notions, long driven from every other corner of literature, had a prescriptive right to occupy this last fastness. They considered all the ancient historians as equally authentic. They scarcely made any distinction between him who related events at which he had himself been present and him who five hundred years after composed a philosophic romance for a society which had in the interval undergone a complete change. It was all Greek, and all true! The centuries which separated Plutarch from Thucydides seemed as nothing to men who lived in an age so remote. The distance of time produced an error similar to that which is sometimes produced by distance of place. There are many good ladies who think that all the people in India Edition: current; Page: [272] live together, and who charge a friend setting out for Calcutta with kind messages to Bombay. To Rollin and Barthelemi, in the same manner, all the classics were contemporaries.

Mr. Mitford certainly introduced great improvements; he showed us that men who wrote in Greek and Latin sometimes told lies; he showed us that ancient history might be related in such a manner as to furnish not only allusions to school boys, but important lessons to statesmen. From that love of theatrical effect and high-flown sentiment which had poisoned almost every other work on the same subject his book is perfectly free. But his passion for a theory as false, and far more ungenerous, led him substantially to violate truth in every page. Statements unfavourable to democracy are made with unhesitating confidence, and with the utmost bitterness of language. Every charge brought against a monarch or an aristocracy is sifted with the utmost care. If it cannot be denied, some palliating supposition is suggested; or we are at least reminded that some circumstances now unknown may have justified what at present appears unjustifiable. Two events are reported by the same author in the same sentence; their truth rests on the same testimony; but the one supports the darling hypothesis, and the other seems inconsistent with it. The one is taken and the other is left.

The practice of distorting narrative into a conformity with theory is a vice not so unfavourable as at first sight it may appear to the interests of political science. We have compared the writers who indulge in it to advocates; and we may add, that their conflicting fallacies, like those of advocates, correct each other. It has always been held, in the most enlightened nations, that a tribunal will decide a judicial question most fairly when it has heard two able men argue, as unfairly as possible, on the two opposite sides of it; and we are inclined to think that this opinion is just. Sometimes, it is true, superior Edition: current; Page: [273] eloquence and dexterity will make the worse appear the better reason; but it is at least certain that the judge will be compelled to contemplate the case under two different aspects. It is certain that no important consideration will altogether escape notice.

This is at present the state of history. The poet laureate appears for the Church of England, Lingard for the Church of Rome. Brodie has moved to set aside the verdicts obtained by Hume; and the cause in which Mitford succeeded is, we understand, about to be reheard. In the midst of these disputes, however, history proper, if we may use the term, is disappearing. The high, grave, impartial summing up of Thucydides is nowhere to be found.

While our historians are practising all the arts of controversy, they miserably neglect the art of narration, the art of interesting the affections and presenting pictures to the imagination. That a writer may produce these effects without violating truth is sufficiently proved by many excellent biographical works. The immense popularity which well-written books of this kind have acquired deserves the serious consideration of historians. Voltaire’s Charles the Twelfth, Marmontel’s Memoirs, Boswell’s Life of Johnson, Southey’s account of Nelson, are perused with delight by the most frivolous and indolent. Whenever any tolerable book of the same description makes its appearance, the circulating libraries are mobbed; the book societies are in commotion; the new novel lies uncut; the magazines and newspapers fill their columns with extracts. In the meantime histories of great empires, written by men of eminent ability, lie unread on the shelves of ostentatious libraries.

The writers of history seem to entertain an aristocratical contempt for the writers of memoirs. They think it beneath the dignity of men who describe the revolutions of nations to dwell on the details which constitute the charm of biography. They have imposed on themselves Edition: current; Page: [274] a code of conventional decencies as absurd as that which has been the bane of the French drama. The most characteristic and interesting circumstances are omitted or softened down, because, as we are told, they are too trivial for the majesty of history. The majesty of history seems to resemble the majesty of the poor King of Spain, who died a martyr to ceremony because the proper dignitaries were not at hand to render him assistance.

That history would be more amusing if this etiquette were relaxed will, we suppose, be acknowledged. But would it be less dignified or less useful? What do we mean when we say that one past event is important and another insignificant? No past event has any intrinsic importance. The knowledge of it is valuable only as it leads us to form just calculations with respect to the future. A history which does not serve this purpose, though it may be filled with battles, treaties, and commotions, is as useless as the series of turnpike tickets collected by Sir Matthew Mite.

Let us suppose that Lord Clarendon, instead of filling hundreds of folio pages with copies of state papers, in which the same assertions and contradictions are repeated till the reader is overpowered with weariness, had condescended to be the Boswell of the Long Parliament. Let us suppose that he had exhibited to us the wise and lofty self-government of Hampden, leading while he seemed to follow, and propounding unanswerable arguments in the strongest forms with the modest air of an inquirer anxious for information; the delusions which misled the noble spirit of Vane; the coarse fanaticism which concealed the yet loftier genius of Cromwell, destined to control a mutinous army and a factious people, to abase the flag of Holland, to arrest the victorious arms of Sweden, and to hold the balance firm between the rival monarchies of France and Spain. Let us suppose that he had made his Cavaliers and Roundheads talk in their own style; that he had reported some of the Edition: current; Page: [275] ribaldry of Rupert’s pages, and some of the cant of Harrison and Fleetwood. Would not his work in that case have been more interesting? Would it not have been more accurate?

A history in which every particular incident may be true may on the whole be false. The circumstances which have most influence on the happiness of mankind, the changes of manners and morals, the transition of communities from poverty to wealth, from knowledge to ignorance, from ferocity to humanity—these are, for the most part, noiseless revolutions. Their progress is rarely indicated by what historians are pleased to call important events. They are not achieved by armies, or enacted by senates. They are sanctioned by no treaties, and recorded in no archives. They are carried on in every school, in every church, behind ten thousand counters, at ten thousand firesides. The upper current of society presents no certain criterion by which we can judge of the direction in which the under current flows. We read of defeats and victories. But we know that nations may be miserable amidst victories and prosperous amidst defeats. We read of the fall of wise ministers and of the rise of profligate favourites. But we must remember how small a proportion the good or evil effected by a single statesman can bear to the good or evil of a great social system.

Bishop Watson compares a geologist to a gnat mounted on an elephant, and laying down theories as to the whole internal structure of the vast animal, from the phenomena of the hide. The comparison is unjust to the geologists; but it is very applicable to those historians who write as if the body politic were homogeneous, who look only on the surface of affairs, and never think of the mighty and various organisation which lies deep below.

In the works of such writers as these, England, at the close of the Seven Years’ War, is in the highest state of prosperity: at the close of the American war she is in a miserable and degraded condition; as if the people were Edition: current; Page: [276] not on the whole as rich, as well governed, and as well educated at the latter period as at the former. We have read books called Histories of England, under the reign of George the Second, in which the rise of Methodism is not even mentioned. A hundred years hence this breed of authors will, we hope, be extinct. If it should still exist, the late ministerial interregnum will be described in terms which will seem to imply that all government was at an end; that the social contract was annulled; and that the hand of every man was against his neighbour, until the wisdom and virtue of the new cabinet educed order out of the chaos of anarchy. We are quite certain that misconceptions as gross prevail at this moment respecting many important parts of our annals.

The effect of historical reading is analogous, in many respects, to that produced by foreign travel. The student, like the tourist, is transported into a new state of society. He sees new fashions. He hears new modes of expression. His mind is enlarged by contemplating the wide diversities of laws, of morals, and of manners. But men may travel far, and return with minds as contracted as if they had never stirred from their own market-town. In the same manner, men may know the dates of many battles and the genealogies of many royal houses, and yet be no wiser. Most people look at past times as princes look at foreign countries. More than one illustrious stranger has landed on our island amidst the shouts of a mob, has dined with the king, has hunted with the master of the stag-hounds, has seen the guards reviewed, and a knight of the garter installed, has cantered along Regent Street, has visited St. Paul’s, and noted down its dimensions; and has then departed, thinking that he has seen England. He has, in fact, seen a few public buildings, public men, and public ceremonies. But of the vast and complex system of society, of the fine shades of national character, of the practical operation of government and laws, he knows nothing. He who would understand Edition: current; Page: [277] these things rightly must not confine his observations to palaces and solemn days. He must see ordinary men as they appear in their ordinary business and in their ordinary pleasures. He must mingle in the crowds of the exchange and the coffee-house. He must obtain admittance to the convivial table and the domestic hearth. He must bear with vulgar expressions. He must not shrink from exploring even the retreats of misery. He who wishes to understand the condition of mankind in former ages must proceed on the same principle. If he attends only to public transactions, to wars, congresses, and debates, his studies will be as unprofitable as the travels of those imperial, royal, and serene sovereigns who form their judgment of our island from having gone in state to a few fine sights, and from having held formal conferences with a few great officers.

The perfect historian is he in whose work the character and spirit of an age is exhibited in miniature. He relates no fact, he attributes no expression to his characters, which is not authenticated by sufficient testimony. But, by judicious selection, rejection, and arrangement, he gives to truth those attractions which have been usurped by fiction. In his narrative a due subordination is observed: some transactions are prominent; others retire. But the scale on which he represents them is increased or diminished, not according to the dignity of the persons concerned in them, but according to the degree in which they elucidate the condition of society and the nature of man. He shows us the court, the camp, and the senate. But he shows us also the nation. He considers no anecdote, no peculiarity of manner, no familiar saying, as too insignificant for his notice which is not too insignificant to illustrate the operation of laws, of religion, and of education, and to mark the progress of the human mind. Men will not merely be described, but will be made intimately known to us. The changes of manners will be indicated, not merely by a few general phrases or a few Edition: current; Page: [278] extracts from statistical documents, but by appropriate images presented in every line.

If a man, such as we are supposing, should write the history of England, he would assuredly not omit the battles, the sieges, the negotiations, the seditions, the ministerial changes. But with these he would intersperse the details which are the charm of historical romances. At Lincoln Cathedral there is a beautiful painted window, which was made by an apprentice out of the pieces of glass which had been rejected by his master. It is so far superior to every other in the church, that, according to the tradition, the vanquished artist killed himself from mortification. Sir Walter Scott, in the same manner, has used those fragments of truth which historians have scornfully thrown behind them in a manner which may well excite their envy. He has constructed out of their gleanings works which, even considered as histories, are scarcely less valuable than their’s. But a truly great historian would reclaim those materials which the novelist has appropriated. The history of the government, and the history of the people, would be exhibited in that mode in which alone they can be exhibited justly, in inseparable conjunction and intermixture. We should not then have to look for the wars and votes of the Puritans in Clarendon, and for their phraseology in Old Mortality; for one half of King James in Hume, and for the other half in the Fortunes of Nigel.

The early part of our imaginary history would be rich with colouring from romance, ballad, and chronicle. We should find ourselves in the company of knights such as those of Froissart, and of pilgrims such as those who rode with Chaucer from the Tabard. Society would be shown from the highest to the lowest,—from the royal cloth of state to the den of the outlaw; from the throne of the legate, to the chimney-corner where the begging friar regaled himself. Palmers, minstrels, crusaders,—the stately monastery, with the good cheer in its refectory and the Edition: current; Page: [279] high-mass in its chapel,—the manor-house, with its hunting and hawking,—the tournament, with the heralds and ladies, the trumpets and the cloth of gold,—would give truth and life to the representation. We should perceive, in a thousand slight touches, the importance of the privileged burgher, and the fierce and haughty spirit which swelled under the collar of the degraded villain. The revival of letters would not merely be described in a few magnificent periods. We should discern, in innumerable particulars, the fermentation of mind, the eager appetite for knowledge, which distinguished the sixteenth from the fifteenth century. In the Reformation we should see, not merely a schism which changed the ecclesiastical constitution of England and the mutual relations of the European powers, but a moral war which raged in every family, which set the father against the son, and the son against the father, the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother. Henry would be painted with the skill of Tacitus. We should have the change of his character from his profuse and joyous youth to his savage and imperious old age. We should perceive the gradual progress of selfish and tyrannical passions in a mind not naturally insensible or ungenerous; and to the last we should detect some remains of that open and noble temper which endeared him to a people whom he oppressed, struggling with the hardness of despotism and the irritability of disease. We should see Elizabeth in all her weakness and in all her strength, surrounded by the handsome favourites whom she never trusted, and the wise old statesmen whom she never dismissed, uniting in herself the most contradictory qualities of both her parents,—the coquetry, the caprice, the petty malice of Anne,—the haughty and resolute spirit of Henry. We have no hesitation in saying that a great artist might produce a portrait of this remarkable woman at least as striking as that in the novel of Kenilworth, without employing a single trait not authenticated by ample testimony. In Edition: current; Page: [280] the meantime, we should see arts cultivated, wealth accumulated, the conveniences of life improved. We should see the keeps, where nobles, insecure themselves, spread insecurity around them, gradually giving place to the halls of peaceful opulence, to the oriels of Longleat, and the stately pinnacles of Burleigh. We should see towns extended, deserts cultivated, the hamlets of fishermen turned into wealthy havens, the meal of the peasant improved, and his hut more commodiously furnished. We should see those opinions and feelings which produced the great struggle against the house of Stuart slowly growing up in the bosom of private families, before they manifested themselves in parliamentary debates. Then would come the civil war. Those skirmishes on which Clarendon dwells so minutely would be told, as Thucydides would have told them, with perspicuous conciseness. They are merely connecting links. But the great characteristics of the age, the loyal enthusiasm of the brave English gentry, the fierce licentiousness of the swearing, dicing, drunken reprobates, whose excesses disgraced the royal cause,—the austerity of the Presbyterian Sabbaths in the city, the extravagance of the independent preachers in the camp, the precise garb, the severe countenance, the petty scruples, the affected accent, the absurd names and phrases which marked the Puritans,—the valour, the policy, the public spirit, which lurked beneath these ungraceful disguises,—the dreams of the raving Fifth-monarchy-man, the dreams, scarcely less wild, of the philosophic republican,—all these would enter into the representation, and render it at once more exact and more striking.

The instruction derived from history thus written would be of a vivid and practical character. It would be received by the imagination as well as by the reason. It would be not merely traced on the mind, but branded into it. Many truths, too, would be learned, which can be learned in no other manner. As the history of states Edition: current; Page: [281] is generally written, the greatest and most momentous revolutions seem to come upon them like supernatural inflictions, without warning or cause. But the fact is, that such revolutions are almost always the consequences of moral changes, which have gradually passed on the mass of the community, and which ordinarily proceed far before their progress is indicated by any public measure. An intimate knowledge of the domestic history of nations is therefore absolutely necessary to the prognosis of political events. A narrative, defective in this respect, is as useless as a medical treatise which should pass by all the symptoms attendant on the early stage of a disease and mention only what occurs when the patient is beyond the reach of remedies.

A historian, such as we have been attempting to describe, would indeed be an intellectual prodigy. In his mind, powers scarcely compatible with each other must be tempered into an exquisite harmony. We shall sooner see another Shakspeare or another Homer. The highest excellence to which any single faculty can be brought would be less surprising than such a happy and delicate combination of qualities. Yet the contemplation of imaginary models is not an unpleasant or useless employment of the mind. It cannot indeed produce perfection; but it produces improvement, and nourishes that generous and liberal fastidiousness which is not inconsistent with the strongest sensibility to merit, and which, while it exalts our conceptions of the art, does not render us unjust to the artist.

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Essays on Government, Jurisprudence, the Liberty of the Press, Prisons and Prison Discipline, Colonies, the Law of Nations, and Education. By James Mill, Esq. author of the History of British India. Reprinted by permission from the Supplement to the Encyclopædia Britannica. (Not for sale.) London, 1828.

Of those philosophers who call themselves Utilitarians, and whom others generally call Benthamites, Mr. Mill is, with the exception of the illustrious founder of the sect, by far the most distinguished. The little work now before us contains a summary of the opinions held by this gentleman and his brethren on several subjects most important to society. All the seven essays of which it consists abound in curious matter. But at present we intend to confine our remarks to the Treatise on Government, which stands first in the volume. On some future occasion, we may perhaps attempt to do justice to the rest.

It must be owned that to do justice to any composition of Mr. Mill is not, in the opinion of his admirers, a very easy task. They do not, indeed, place him in the same rank with Mr. Bentham; but the terms in which they extol the disciple, though feeble when compared with the hyperboles of adoration employed by them in speaking of the master, are as strong as any sober man would allow himself to use concerning Locke or Bacon. The essay before us is perhaps the most remarkable of the works to which Mr. Mill owes his fame. By the members of his sect, it is considered as perfect and unanswerable. Every part of it is an article of their faith; and the damnatory Edition: current; Page: [283] clauses, in which their creed abounds far beyond any theological symbol with which we are acquainted, are strong and full against all who reject any portion of what is so irrefragably established. No man, they maintain, who has understanding sufficient to carry him through the first proposition of Euclid, can read this master-piece of demonstration and honestly declare that he remains unconvinced.

We have formed a very different opinion of this work. We think that the theory of Mr. Mill rests altogether on false principles, and that even on those false principles he does not reason logically. Nevertheless, we do not think it strange that his speculations should have filled the Utilitarians with admiration. We have been for some time past inclined to suspect that these people, whom some regard as the lights of the world and others as incarnate demons, are in general ordinary men, with narrow understandings and little information. The contempt which they express for elegant literature is evidently the contempt of ignorance. We apprehend that many of them are persons who, having read little or nothing, are delighted to be rescued from the sense of their own inferiority by some teacher who assures them that the studies which they have neglected are of no value, puts five or six phrases into their mouths, lends them an odd number of the Westminster Review, and in a month transforms them into philosophers. Mingled with these smatterers, whose attainments just suffice to elevate them from the insignificance of dunces to the dignity of bores, and to spread dismay among their pious aunts and grandmothers, there are, we well know, many well-meaning men who have really read and thought much; but whose reading and meditation have been almost exclusively confined to one class of subjects; and who, consequently, though they possess much valuable knowledge respecting those subjects, are by no means so well qualified to judge of a great system as if they had taken a more enlarged view of literature and society.

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Nothing is more amusing or instructive than to observe the manner in which people who think themselves wiser than all the rest of the world fall into snares which the simple good sense of their neighbours detects and avoids. It is one of the principal tenets of the Utilitarians that sentiment and eloquence serve only to impede the pursuit of truth. They therefore affect a quakerly plainness, or rather a cynical negligence and impurity, of style. The strongest arguments, when clothed in brilliant language, seem to them so much wordy nonsense. In the mean time they surrender their understandings, with a facility found in no other party, to the meanest and most abject sophisms, provided those sophisms come before them disguised with the externals of demonstration. They do not seem to know that logic has its illusions as well as rhetoric,—that a fallacy may lurk in a syllogism as well as in a metaphor.

Mr. Mill is exactly the writer to please people of this description. His arguments are stated with the utmost affectation of precision; his divisions are awfully formal; and his style is generally as dry as that of Euclid’s Elements. Whether this be a merit, we must be permitted to doubt. Thus much is certain: that the ages in which the true principles of philosophy were least understood were those in which the ceremonial of logic was most strictly observed, and that the time from which we date the rapid progress of the experimental sciences was also the time at which a less exact and formal way of writing came into use.

The style which the Utilitarians admire suits only those subjects on which it is possible to reason a priori. It grew up with the verbal sophistry which flourished during the dark ages. With that sophistry it fell before the Baconian philosophy in the day of the great deliverance of the human mind. The inductive method not only endured but required greater freedom of diction. It was impossible to reason from phenomena up to principles, Edition: current; Page: [285] to mark slight shades of difference in quality, or to estimate the comparative effect of two opposite considerations between which there was no common measure, by means of the naked and meagre jargon of the schoolmen. Of those schoolmen Mr. Mill has inherited both the spirit and the style. He is an Aristotelian of the fifteenth century, born out of due season. We have here an elaborate treatise on Government, from which, but for two or three passing allusions, it would not appear that the author was aware that any governments actually existed among men. Certain propensities of human nature are assumed; and from these premises the whole science of politics is synthetically deduced! We can scarcely persuade ourselves that we are not reading a book written before the time of Bacon and Galileo,—a book written in those days in which physicians reasoned from the nature of heat to the treatment of fever, and astronomers proved syllogistically that the planets could have no independent motion,—because the heavens were incorruptible, and nature abhorred a vacuum!

The reason, too, which Mr. Mill has assigned for taking this course strikes us as most extraordinary.

“Experience,” says he, “if we look only at the outside of the facts, appears to be divided on this subject. Absolute monarchy, under Neros and Caligulas, under such men as the Emperors of Morocco and Sultans of turkey, is the scourge of human nature. On the other side, the people of Denmark, tired out with the oppression of an aristocracy, resolved that their king should be absolute; and, under their absolute monarch, are as well governed as any people in Europe.”

This Mr. Mill actually gives as a reason for pursuing the a priori method. But, in our judgment, the very circumstances which he mentions irresistibly prove that the a priori method is altogether unfit for investigations of this kind, and that the only way to arrive at the truth is by induction. Experience can never be divided, or Edition: current; Page: [286] even appear to be divided, except with reference to some hypothesis. When we say that one fact is inconsistent with another fact, we mean only that it is inconsistent with the theory which we have founded on that other fact. But, if the fact be certain, the unavoidable conclusion is that our theory is false; and, in order to correct it, we must reason back from an enlarged collection of facts to principles.

Now here we have two governments which, by Mr. Mill’s own account, come under the same head in his theoretical classification. It is evident, therefore, that, by reasoning on that theoretical classification, we shall be brought to the conclusion that these two forms of government must produce the same effects. But Mr. Mill himself tells us that they do not produce the same effects, Hence he infers that the only way to get at truth is to place implicit confidence in that chain of proof a priori from which it appears that they must produce the same effects! To believe at once in a theory and in a fact which contradicts it is an exercise of faith sufficiently hard: but to believe in a theory because a fact contradicts it is what neither philosopher nor pope ever before required. This, however, is what Mr. Mill demands of us. He seems to think that, if all despots, without exception, governed ill, it would be unnecessary to prove, by a synthetical argument, what would then be sufficiently clear from experience. But, as some despots will be so perverse as to govern well, he finds himself compelled to prove the impossibility of their governing well by that synthetical argument which would have been superfluous had not the facts contradicted it. He reasons a priori, because the phenomena are not what, by reasoning a priori, he will prove them to be. In other words, he reasons a priori, because, by so reasoning, he is certain to arrive at a false conclusion!

In the course of the examination to which we propose to subject the speculations of Mr. Mill we shall have to Edition: current; Page: [287] notice many other curious instances of that turn of mind which the passage above quoted indicates.

The first chapter of his Essay relates to the ends of government. The conception on this subject, he tells us, which exists in the minds of most men is vague and undistinguishing. He first assumes, justly enough, that the end of government is “to increase to the utmost the pleasures, and diminish to the utmost the pains, which men derive from each other.” He then proceeds to show, with great form, that “the greatest possible happiness of society is attained by insuring to every man the greatest possible quantity of the produce of his labour.” To effect this is, in his opinion, the end of government. It is remarkable that Mr. Mill, with all his affected display of precision, has here given a description of the ends of government far less precise than that which is in the mouths of the vulgar. The first man with whom Mr. Mill may travel in a stage coach will tell him that government exists for the protection of the persons and property of men. But Mr. Mill seems to think that the preservation of property is the first and only object. It is true, doubtless, that many of the injuries which are offered to the persons of men proceed from a desire to possess their property. But the practice of vindictive assassination as it has existed in some parts of Europe—the practice of fighting wanton and sanguinary duels, like those of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in which bands of seconds risked their lives as well as the principals;—these practices, and many others which might be named, are evidently injurious to society; and we do not see how a government which tolerated them could be said “to diminish to the utmost the pains which men derive from each other.” Therefore, according to Mr. Mill’s very correct assumption, such a government would not perfectly accomplish the end of its institution. Yet such a government might, as far as we can perceive, “insure to every man the greatest possible quantity of Edition: current; Page: [288] the produce of his labour.” Therefore such a government might, according to Mr. Mill’s subsequent doctrine, perfectly accomplish the end of its institution. The matter is not of much consequence, except as an instance of that slovenliness of thinking which is often concealed beneath a peculiar ostentation of logical neatness.

Having determined the ends, Mr. Mill proceeds to consider the means. For the preservation of property some portion of the community must be intrusted with power. This is Government; and the question is, how are those to whom the necessary power is intrusted to be prevented from abusing it?

Mr. Mill first passes in review the simple forms of government. He allows that it would be inconvenient, if not physically impossible, that the whole community should meet in a mass; it follows, therefore, that the powers of government cannot be directly exercised by the people. But he sees no objection to pure and direct Democracy, except the difficulty which we have mentioned.

“The community,” says he, “cannot have an interest opposite to its interests. To affirm this would be a contradiction in terms. The community within itself, and with respect to itself, can have no sinister interest. One community may intend the evil of another; never its own. This is an indubitable proposition, and one of great importance.”

Mr. Mill then proceeds to demonstrate that a purely aristocratical form of government is necessarily bad.

“The reason for which government exists is, that one man, if stronger than another, will take from him whatever that other possesses and he desires. But if one man will do this, so will several. And if powers are put into the hands of a comparatively small number, called an aristocracy,—powers which make them stronger than the rest of the community, they will take from the rest of the community as much as they please of the objects of desire. They will thus defeat the very end for which government was instituted. The unfitness, therefore, of an aristocracy to be intrusted with the powers of government, rests on demonstration.”

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In exactly the same manner Mr. Mill proves absolute monarchy to be a bad form of government.

“If government is founded upon this as a law of human nature, that a man, if able, will take from others any thing which they have and he desires, it is sufficiently evident, that when a man is called a king he does not change his nature; so that when he has got power to enable him to take from every man what he pleases, he will take whatever he pleases. To suppose that he will not, is to affirm that government is unnecessary, and that human beings will abstain from injuring one another of their own accord.

“It is very evident that this reasoning extends to every modification of the smaller number. Whenever the powers of government are placed in any hands other than those of the community, whether those of one man, of a few, or of several, those principles of human nature which imply that government is at all necessary, imply that those persons will make use of them to defeat the very end for which government exists.”

But is it not possible that a king or an aristocracy may soon be saturated with the objects of their desires, and may then protect the community in the enjoyment of the rest? Mr. Mill answers in the negative. He proves, with great pomp, that every man desires to have the actions of every other correspondent to his will. Others can be induced to conform to our will only by motives derived from pleasure or from pain. The infliction of pain is of course direct injury; and, even if it take the milder course, in order to produce obedience by motives derived from pleasure, the government must confer favours. But, as there is no limit to its desire of obedience, there will be no limit to its disposition to confer favours; and, as it can confer favours only by plundering the people, there will be no limit to its disposition to plunder the people. “It is therefore not true that there is in the mind of a king, or in the minds of an aristocracy, any point of saturation with the objects of desire.”

Mr. Mill then proceeds to show that, as monarchical and oligarchical governments can influence men by motives Edition: current; Page: [290] drawn from pain, as well as by motives drawn from pleasure, they will carry their cruelty, as well as their rapacity, to a frightful extent. As he seems greatly to admire his own reasonings on this subject, we think it but fair to let him speak for himself.

“The chain of inference in this case is close and strong to a most unusual degree. A man desires that the actions of other men shall be instantly and accurately correspondent to his will. He desires that the actions of the greatest possible number shall be so. Terror is the grand instrument. Terror can work only through assurance that evil will follow any failure of conformity between the will and the actions willed. Every failure must therefore be punished. As there are no bounds to the mind’s desire of its pleasure, there are, of course, no bounds to its desire of perfection in the instruments of that pleasure. There are, therefore, no bounds to its desire of exactness in the conformity between its will and the actions willed; and by consequence to the strength of that terror which is its procuring cause. Every the most minute failure must be visited with the heaviest infliction; and as failure in extreme exactness must frequently happen, the occasions of cruelty must be incessant.

“We have thus arrived at several conclusions of the highest possible importance. We have seen that the principle of human nature, upon which the necessity of government is founded, the propensity of one man to possess himself of the objects of desire at the cost of another, leads on, by infallible sequence, where power over a community is attained, and nothing checks, not only to that degree of plunder which leaves the members (excepting always the recipients and instruments of the plunder) the bare means of subsistence, but to that degree of cruelty which is necessary to keep in existence the most intense terrors.”

Now, no man who has the least knowledge of the real state of the world, either in former ages or at the present moment, can possibly be convinced, though he may perhaps be bewildered, by arguments like these. During the last two centuries, some hundreds of absolute princes have reigned in Europe. Is it true, that their cruelty has Edition: current; Page: [291] kept in existence the most intense degree of terror; that their rapacity has left no more than the bare means of subsistence to any of their subjects, their ministers and soldiers excepted? Is this true of all of them? Of one half of them? Of one tenth part of them? Of a single one? Is it true, in the full extent, even of Philip the Second, of Louis the Fifteenth, or of the Emperor Paul? But it is scarcely necessary to quote history. No man of common sense, however ignorant he may be of books, can be imposed on by Mr. Mill’s argument; because no man of common sense can live among his fellow-creatures for a day without seeing innumerable facts which contradict it. It is our business, however, to point out its fallacy; and happily the fallacy is not very recondite.

We grant that rulers will take as much as they can of the objects of their desires; and that, when the agency of other men is necessary to that end, they will attempt by all means in their power to enforce the prompt obedience of such men. But what are the objects of human desire? Physical pleasure, no doubt, in part. But the mere appetites which we have in common with the animals would be gratified almost as cheaply and easily as those of the animals are gratified, if nothing were given to taste, to ostentation, or to the affections. How small a portion of the income of a gentleman in easy circumstances is laid out merely in giving pleasurable sensations to the body of the possessor! The greater part even of what is spent on his kitchen and his cellar goes, not to titillate his palate, but to keep up his character for hospitality, to save him from the reproach of meanness in housekeeping, and to cement the ties of good neighbourhood. It is clear that a king or an aristocracy may be supplied to satiety with mere corporal pleasures, at an expense which the rudest and poorest community would scarcely feel.

Those tastes and propensities which belong to us as reasoning and imaginative beings are not indeed so easily Edition: current; Page: [292] gratified. There is, we admit, no point of saturation with objects of desire which come under this head. And therefore the argument of Mr. Mill will be just, unless there be something in the nature of the objects of desire themselves which is inconsistent with it. Now, of these objects there is none which men in general seem to desire more than the good opinion of others. The hatred and contempt of the public are generally felt to be intolerable. It is probable that our regard for the sentiments of our fellow-creatures springs, by association, from a sense of their ability to hurt or to serve us. But, be this as it may, it is notorious that, when the habit of mind of which we speak has once been formed, men feel extremely solicitous about the opinions of those by whom it is most improbable, nay, absolutely impossible, that they should ever be in the slightest degree injured or benefited. The desire of posthumous fame and the dread of posthumous reproach and execration are feelings from the influence of which scarcely any man is perfectly free, and which in many men are powerful and constant motives of action. As we are afraid that, if we handle this part of the argument after our own manner, we shall incur the reproach of sentimentality, a word which, in the sacred language of the Benthamites, is synonymous with idiocy, we will quote what Mr. Mill himself says on the subject, in his Treatise on Jurisprudence.

“Pains from the moral source are the pains derived from the unfavourable sentiments of mankind. . . . . These pains are capable of rising to a height with which hardly any other pains incident to our nature can be compared. There is a certain degree of unfavourableness in the sentiments of his fellow-creatures, under which hardly any man, not below the standard of humanity, can endure to live.

“The importance of this powerful agency, for the prevention of injurious acts, is too obvious to need to be illustrated. If sufficiently at command, it would almost supersede the use of other means. . . . .

“To know how to direct the unfavourable sentiments of Edition: current; Page: [293] mankind, it is necessary to know in as complete, that is, in as comprehensive, a way as possible, what it is which gives them birth. Without entering into the metaphysics of the question, it is a sufficient practical answer, for the present purpose, to say that the unfavourable sentiments of man are excited by every thing which hurts them.”

It is strange that a writer who considers the pain derived from the unfavourable sentiments of others as so acute that, if sufficiently at command, it would supersede the use of the gallows and the tread-mill, should take no notice of this most important restraint when discussing the question of government. We will attempt to deduce a theory of politics in the mathematical form, in which Mr. Mill delights, from the premises with which he has himself furnished us.

Proposition I. Theorem.

No rulers will do anything which may hurt the people.

This is the thesis to be maintained; and the following we humbly offer to Mr. Mill, as its syllogistic demonstration.

No rulers will do that which produces pain to themselves.

But the unfavourable sentiments of the people will give pain to them.

Therefore no rulers will do anything which may excite the unfavourable sentiments of the people.

But the unfavourable sentiments of the people are excited by every thing which hurts them.

Therefore no rulers will do anything which may hurt the people. Which was the thing to be proved.

Having thus, as we think, not unsuccessfully imitated Mr. Mill’s logic, we do not see why we should not imitate, what is at least equally perfect in its kind, his self-complacency, and proclaim our Ἕυρηϰα in his own words: “The chain of inference, in this case, is close and strong to a most unusual degree.”

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The fact is, that, when men, in treating of things which cannot be circumscribed by precise definitions, adopt this mode of reasoning, when once they begin to talk of power, happiness, misery, pain, pleasure, motives, objects of desire, as they talk of lines and numbers, there is no end to the contradictions and absurdities into which they fall. There is no proposition so monstrously untrue in morals or politics that we will not undertake to prove it, by something which shall sound like a logical demonstration, from admitted principles.

Mr. Mill argues that, if men are not inclined to plunder each other, government is unnecessary; and that, if they are so inclined, the powers of government, when entrusted to a small number of them, will necessarily be abused. Surely it is not by propounding dilemmas of this sort that we are likely to arrive at sound conclusions in any moral science. The whole question is a question of degree. If all men preferred the moderate approbation of their neighbours to any degree of wealth or grandeur, or sensual pleasure, government would be unnecessary. If all men desired wealth so intensely as to be willing to brave the hatred of their fellow-creatures for sixpence, Mr. Mill’s argument against monarchies and aristocracies would be true to the full extent. But the fact is, that all men have some desires which impel them to injure their neighbours, and some desires which impel them to benefit their neighbours. Now, if there were a community consisting of two classes of men, one of which should be principally influenced by the one set of motives and the other by the other, government would clearly be necessary to restrain the class which was eager for plunder and careless of reputation: and yet the powers of government might be safely intrusted to the class which was chiefly actuated by the love of approbation. Now, it might with no small plausibility be maintained that, in many countries, there are two classes which, in some degree, answer to this description; that the poor compose the class which government Edition: current; Page: [295] is established to restrain, and the people of some property the class to which the powers of government may without danger be confided. It might be said that a man who can barely earn a livelihood by severe labour is under stronger temptations to pillage others than a man who enjoys many luxuries. It might be said that a man who is lost in the crowd is less likely to have the fear of public opinion before his eyes than a man whose station and mode of living render him conspicuous. We do not assert all this. We only say that it was Mr. Mill’s business to prove the contrary; and that, not having proved the contrary, he is not entitled to say, “that those principles which imply that government is at all necessary, imply that an aristocracy will make use of its power to defeat the end for which governments exist.” This is not true, unless it be true that a rich man is as likely to covet the goods of his neighbours as a poor man, and that a poor man is as likely to be solicitous about the opinions of his neighbours as a rich man.

But we do not see that, by reasoning a priori on such subjects as these, it is possible to advance one single step. We know that every man has some desires which he can gratify only by hurting his neighbours, and some which he can gratify only by pleasing them. Mr. Mill has chosen to look only at one-half of human nature, and to reason on the motives which impel men to oppress and despoil others, as if they were the only motives by which men could possibly be influenced. We have already shown that, by taking the other half of the human character, and reasoning on it as if it were the whole, we can bring out a result diametrically opposite to that at which Mr. Mill has arrived. We can, by such a process, easily prove that any form of government is good, or that all government is superfluous.

We must now accompany Mr. Mill on the next stage of his argument. Does any combination of the three simple forms of government afford the requisite securities Edition: current; Page: [296] against the abuse of power? Mr. Mill complains that those who maintain the affirmative generally beg the question; and proceeds to settle the point by proving, after his fashion, that no combination of the three simple forms, or of any two of them, can possibly exist.

“From the principles which we have already laid down it follows that, of the objects of human desire, and, speaking more definitely, of the means to the ends of human desire, namely, wealth and power, each party will endeavour to obtain as much as possible.

“If any expedient presents itself to any of the supposed parties effectual to this end, and not opposed to any preferred object of pursuit, we may infer with certainty that it will be adopted. One effectual expedient is not more effectual than obvious. Any two of the parties, by combining, may swallow up the third. That such combination will take place appears to be as certain as any thing which depends upon human will; because there are strong motives in favour of it, and none that can be conceived in opposition to it. . . . . The mixture of three of the kinds of government, it is thus evident, cannot possibly exist. . . . . . It may be proper to inquire whether an union may not be possible of two of them. . . .

“Let us first suppose, that monarchy is united with aristocracy. Their power is equal or not equal. If it is not equal, it follows, as a necessary consequence, from the principles which we have already established, that the stronger will take from the weaker till it engrosses the whole. The only question therefore is, What will happen when the power is equal?

“In the first place, it seems impossible that such equality should ever exist. How is it to be established? or, by what criterion is it to be ascertained? If there is no such criterion, it must, in all cases, be the result of chance. If so, the chances against it are as infinity to one. The idea, therefore, is wholly chimerical and absurd. . . . .

“In this doctrine of the mixture of the simple forms of government is included the celebrated theory of the balance among the component parts of a government. By this it is supposed that, when a government is composed of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, they balance one another, and by mutual checks produce good government. A few words will Edition: current; Page: [297] suffice to show that, if any theory deserves the epithets of ‘wild, visionary, and chimerical,’ it is that of the balance. If there are three powers, how is it possible to prevent two of them from combining to swallow up the third?

“The analysis which we have already performed will enable us to trace rapidly the concatenation of causes and effects in this imagined case.

“We have already seen that the interest of the community, considered in the aggregate, or in the democratical point of view, is, that each individual should receive protection; and that the powers which are constituted for that purpose should be employed exclusively for that purpose. . . . . We have also seen that the interest of the king and of the governing aristocracy is directly the reverse. It is to have unlimited power over the rest of the community, and to use it for their own advantage. In the supposed case of the balance of the monarchical, aristocratical, and democratical powers, it cannot be for the interest of either the monarchy or the aristocracy to combine with the democracy; because it is the interest of the democracy, or community at large, that neither the king nor the aristocracy should have one particle of power, or one particle of the wealth of the community, for their own advantage.

“The democracy or community have all possible motives to endeavour to prevent the monarchy and aristocracy from exercising power, or obtaining the wealth of the community for their own advantage. The monarchy and aristocracy have all possible motives for endeavouring to obtain unlimited power over the persons and property of the community. The consequence is inevitable: they have all possible motives for combining to obtain that power.”

If any part of this passage be more eminently absurd than another, it is, we think, the argument by which Mr. Mill proves that there cannot be an union of monarchy and aristocracy. Their power, he says, must be equal or not equal. But of equality there is no criterion. Therefore the chances against its existence are as infinity to one. If the power be not equal, then it follows, from the principles of human nature, that the stronger will take from the weaker, till it has engrossed the whole.

Now, if there be no criterion of equality between two Edition: current; Page: [298] portions of power there can be no common measure of portions of power. Therefore it is utterly impossible to compare them together. But where two portions of power are of the same kind, there is no difficulty in ascertaining, sufficiently for all practical purposes, whether they are equal or unequal. It is easy to judge whether two men run equally fast, or can lift equal weights. Two arbitrators, whose joint decision is to be final, and neither of whom can do any thing without the assent of the other, possess equal power. Two electors, each of whom has a vote for a borough, possess, in that respect, equal power. If not, all Mr. Mill’s political theories fall to the ground at once. For, if it be impossible to ascertain whether two portions of power are equal, he never can show that, even under a system of universal suffrage, a minority might not carry every thing their own way, against the wishes and interests of the majority.

Where there are two portions of power differing in kind, there is, we admit, no criterion of equality. But then, in such a case, it is absurd to talk, as Mr. Mill does, about the stronger and the weaker. Popularly, indeed, and with reference to some particular objects, these words may very fairly be used. But to use them mathematically is altogether improper. If we are speaking of a boxing-match, we may say that some famous bruiser has greater bodily power than any man in England. If we are speaking of a pantomime, we may say the same of some very agile harlequin. But it would be talking nonsense to say, in general, that the power of Harlequin either exceeded that of the pugilist, or fell short of it.

If Mr. Mill’s argument be good as between different branches of a legislature, it is equally good as between sovereign powers. Every government, it may be said, will, if it can, take the objects of its desires from every other. If the French government can subdue England Edition: current; Page: [299] it will do so. If the English government can subdue France it will do so. But the power of England and France is either equal or not equal. The chance that it is not exactly equal is as infinity to one, and may safely be left out of the account; and then the stronger will infallibly take from the weaker till the weaker is altogether enslaved.

Surely the answer to all this hubbub of unmeaning words is the plainest possible. For some purposes France is stronger than England. For some purposes England is stronger than France. For some, neither has any power at all. France has the greater population, England the greater capital; France has the greater army, England the greater fleet. For an expedition to Rio Janeiro or the Philippines, England has the greater power. For a war on the Po or the Danube, France has the greater power. But neither has power sufficient to keep the other in quiet subjection for a month. Invasion would be very perilous; the idea of complete conquest on either side utterly ridiculous. This is the manly and sensible way of discussing such questions. The ergo, or rather the argal, of Mr. Mill cannot impose on a child. Yet we ought scarcely to say this; for we remember to have heard a child ask whether Bonaparte was stronger than an elephant!

Mr. Mill reminds us of those philosophers of the sixteenth century who, having satisfied themselves a priori that the rapidity with which bodies descended to the earth varied exactly as their weights, refused to believe the contrary on the evidence of their own eyes and ears. The British constitution, according to Mr. Mill’s classification, is a mixture of monarchy and aristocracy; one House of Parliament being composed of hereditary nobles, and the other almost entirely chosen by a privileged class who possess the elective franchise on account of their property, or their connection with certain corporations. Mr. Mill’s argument proves that, from the time that these two powers Edition: current; Page: [300] were mingled in our government, that is, from the very first dawn of our history, one or the other must have been constantly encroaching. According to him, moreover, all the encroachments must have been on one side. For the first encroachment could only have been made by the stronger; and that first encroachment would have made the stronger stronger still. It is, therefore, matter of absolute demonstration, that either the Parliament was stronger than the Crown in the reign of Henry VIII., or that the Crown was stronger than the Parliament in 1641. “Hippocrate dira ce que lui plaira,” says the girl in Moliere; “mais le cocher est mort.” Mr. Mill may say what he pleases; but the English constitution is still alive. That since the Revolution the Parliament has possessed great power in the state, is what nobody will dispute. The King, on the other hand, can create new peers, and can dissolve Parliaments. William sustained severe mortifitions from the House of Commons, and was, indeed, unjustifiably oppressed. Anne was desirous to change a ministry which had a majority in both Houses. She watched her moment for a dissolution, created twelve Tory peers, and succeeded. Thirty years later, the House of Commons drove Walpole from his seat. In 1784, George III. was able to keep Mr. Pitt in office in the face of a majority of the House of Commons. In 1804, the apprehension of a defeat in Parliament compelled the same King to part from his most favoured minister. But, in 1807, he was able to do exactly what Anne had done nearly a hundred years before. Now, had the power of the King increased during the intervening century, or had it remained stationary? Is it possible that the one lot among the infinite number should have fallen to us? If not, Mr. Mill has proved that one of the two parties must have been constantly taking from the other. Many of the ablest men in England think that the influence of the Crown has, on the whole, increased since the reign of Anne. Others think that the Parliament has been growing Edition: current; Page: [301] in strength. But of this there is no doubt, that both sides possessed great power then, and possess great power now. Surely, if there were the least truth in the argument of Mr. Mill, it could not possibly be a matter of doubt, at the end of a hundred and twenty years, whether the one side or the other had been the gainer.

But we ask pardon. We forgot that a fact, irreconcilable with Mr. Mill’s theory, furnishes, in his opinion, the strongest reason for adhering to the theory. To take up the question in another manner, is it not plain that there may be two bodies, each possessing a perfect and entire power, which cannot be taken from it without its own concurrence? What is the meaning of the words stronger and weaker, when applied to such bodies as these? The one may, indeed, by physical force, altogether destroy the other. But this is not the question. A third party, a general of their own, for example, may, by physical force, subjugate them both. Nor is there any form of government, Mr. Mill’s utopian democracy not excepted, secure from such an occurrence. We are speaking of the powers with which the constitution invests the two branches of the legislature; and we ask Mr. Mill how, on his own principles, he can maintain that one of them will be able to encroach on the other, if the consent of the other be necessary to such encroachment?

Mr. Mill tells us that, if a government be composed of the three simple forms, which he will not admit the British constitution to be, two of the component parts will inevitably join against the third. Now, if two of them combine and act as one, this case evidently resolves itself into the last; and all the observations which we have just made will fully apply to it. Mr. Mill says, that “any two of the parties, by combining, may swallow up the third;” and afterwards asks, “How it is possible to prevent two of them from combining to swallow up the third?” Surely Mr. Mill must be aware that in politics two is not always the double of one. If the concurrence Edition: current; Page: [302] of all the three branches of the legislature be necessary to every law, each branch will possess constitutional power sufficient to protect it against any thing but that physical force from which no form of government is secure. Mr. Mill reminds us of the Irishman, who could not be brought to understand how one juryman could possibly starve out eleven others.

But is it certain that two of the branches of the legislature will combine against the third? “It appears to be as certain,” says Mr. Mill, “as any thing which depends upon human will; because there are strong motives in favour of it, and none that can be conceived in opposition to it.” He subsequently sets forth what these motives are. The interest of the democracy is that each individual should receive protection. The interest of the King and the aristocracy is to have all the power that they can obtain, and to use it for their own ends. Therefore the King and the aristocracy have all possible motives for combining against the people. If our readers will look back to the passage quoted above, they will see that we represent Mr. Mill’s argument quite fairly.

Now we should have thought that, without the help of either history or experience, Mr. Mill would have discovered, by the light of his own logic, the fallacy which lurks, and indeed scarcely lurks, under this pretended demonstration. The interest of the King may be opposed to that of the people. But is it identical with that of the aristocracy? In the very page which contains this argument, intended to prove that the King and the aristocracy will coalesce against the people, Mr. Mill attempts to show that there is so strongg an opposition of interest between the King and the aristocracy that if the powers of government are divided between them the one will inevitably usurp the power of the other. If so, he is not entitled to conclude that they will combine to destroy the power of the people merely because their interests may be at variance with those of the people. He is bound to Edition: current; Page: [303] show, not merely that in all communities the interest of a king must be opposed to that of the people, but also that, in all communities, it must be more directly opposed to the interest of the people than to the interest of the aristocracy. But he has not shown this. Therefore he has not proved his proposition on his own principles. To quote history would be a mere waste of time. Every schoolboy, whose studies have gone so far as the Abridgments of Goldsmith, can mention instances in which sovereigns have allied themselves with the people against the aristocracy, and in which the nobles have allied themselves with the people against the sovereign. In general, when there are three parties, every one of which has much to fear from the others, it is not found that two of them combine to plunder the third. If such a combination be formed, it scarcely ever effects its purpose. It soon becomes evident which member of the coalition is likely to be the greater gainer by the transaction. He becomes an object of jealousy to his ally, who, in all probability, changes sides, and compels him to restore what he has taken. Everybody knows how Henry VIII. trimmed tween Francis and the Emperor Charles. But it is idle to cite examples of the operation of a principle which is illustrated in almost every page of history, ancient or modern, and to which almost every state in Europe has, at one time or another, been indebted for its independence.

Mr. Mill has now, as he conceives, demonstrated that the simple forms of government are bad, and that the mixed forms cannot possibly exist. There is still, however, it seems, a hope for mankind.

“In the grand discovery of modern times, the system of representation, the solution of all the difficulties, both speculative and practical, will perhaps be found. If it cannot, we seem to be forced upon the extraordinary conclusion, that good government is impossible. For, as there is no individual or combination of individuals, except the community itself, who would not have an interest in bad government if intrusted with its powers, and Edition: current; Page: [304] as the community itself is incapable of exercising those powers, and must intrust them to certain individuals, the conclusion is obvious: the community itself must check those individuals; else they will follow their interest, and produce bad government. But how is it the community can check? The community can act only when assembled; and when assembled, it is incapable of acting. The community, however, can choose representatives.”

The next question is—How must the representative body be constituted? Mr. Mill lays down two principles, about which, he says, “it is unlikely that there will be any dispute.”

“First, The checking body must have a degree of power sufficient for the business of checking.”

“Secondly, It must have an identity of interest with the community. Otherwise, it will make a mischievous use of its power.”

The first of these propositions certainly admits of no dispute. As to the second, we shall hereafter take occasion to make some remarks on the sense in which Mr. Mill understands the words “interest of the community.”

It does not appear very easy, on Mr. Mill’s principles, to find out any mode of making the interest of the representative body identical with that of the constituent body. The plan proposed by Mr. Mill is simply that of very frequent election. “As it appears,” says he, “that limiting the duration of their power is a security against the sinister interest of the people’s representatives, so it appears that it is the only security of which the nature of the case admits.” But all the arguments by which Mr. Mill has proved monarchy and aristocracy to be pernicious will, as it appears to us, equally prove this security to be no security at all. Is it not clear that the representatives, as soon as they are elected, are an aristocracy, with an interest opposed to the interest of the community? Why should they not pass a law for Edition: current; Page: [305] extending the term of their power from one year to ten years, or declare themselves senators for life? If the whole legislative power is given to them, they will be constitutionally competent to do this. If part of the legislative power is withheld from them, to whom is that part given? Is the people to retain it, and to express its assent or dissent in primary assemblies? Mr. Mill himself tells us that the community can only act when assembled, and that, when assembled, it is incapable of acting. Or is it to be provided, as in some of the American republics, that no change in the fundamental laws shall be made without the consent of a convention, specially elected for the purpose? Still the difficulty recurs: Why may not the members of the convention betray their trust, as well as the members of the ordinary legislature? When private men, they may have been zealous for the interests of the community. When candidates, they may have pledged themselves to the cause of the constitution. But, as soon as they are a convention, as soon as they are separated from the people, as soon as the supreme power is put into their hands, commences that interest opposite to the interest of the community which must, according to Mr. Mill, produce measures opposite to the interests of the community. We must find some other means, therefore, of checking this check upon a check; some other prop to carry the tortoise, that carries the elephant, that carries the world.

We know well that there is no real danger in such a case. But there is no danger only because there is no truth in Mr. Mill’s principles. If men were what he represents them to be, the letter of the very constitution which he recommends would afford no safeguard against bad government. The real security is this, that legislators will be deterred by the fear of resistance and of infamy from acting in the manner which we have described. But restraints, exactly the same in kind, and differing only in degree, exist in all forms of government. That broad line Edition: current; Page: [306] of distinction which Mr. Mill tries to point out between monarchies and aristocracies on the one side, and democracies on the other, has in fact no existence. In no form of government is there an absolute identity of interest between the people and their rulers. In every form of government, the rulers stand in some awe of the people. The fear of resistance and the sense of shame operate, in a certain degree, on the most absolute kings and the most illiberal oligarchies. And nothing but the fear of resistance and the sense of shame preserves the freedom of the most democratic communities from the encroachments of their annual and biennial delegates.

We have seen how Mr. Mill proposes to render the interest of the representative body identical with that of the constituent body. The next question is, in what manner the interest of the constituent body is to be rendered identical with that of the community. Mr. Mill shows that a minority of the community, consisting even of many thousands, would be a bad constituent body, and, indeed, merely a numerous aristocracy.

“The benefits of the representative system,” says he, “are lost, in all cases in which the interests of the choosing body are not the same with those of the community. It is very evident, that if the community itself were the choosing body, the interest of the community and that of the choosing body would be the same.”

On these grounds Mr. Mill recommends that all males of mature age, rich and poor, educated and ignorant, shall have votes. But why not the women too? This question has often been asked in parliamentary debate, and has never, to our knowledge, received a plausible answer. Mr. Mill escapes from it as fast as he can. But we shall take the liberty to dwell a little on the words of the oracle. “One thing,” says he, “is pretty clear, that all those individuals whose interests are involved in those of other individuals, may be struck off without inconvenience. . . . In this light women may be regarded, the Edition: current; Page: [307] interest of almost all of whom is involved either in that of their fathers, or in that of their husbands.”

If we were to content ourselves with saying, in answer to all the arguments in Mr. Mill’s essay, that the interest of a king is involved in that of the community, we should be accused, and justly, of talking nonsense. Yet such an assertion would not, as far as we can perceive, be more unreasonable than that which Mr. Mill has here ventured to make. Without adducing one fact, without taking the trouble to perplex the question by one sophism, he placidly dogmatises away the interest of one half of the human race. If there be a word of truth in history, women have always been, and still are, over the greater part of the globe, humble companions, playthings, captives, menials, beasts of burden. Except in a few happy and highly civilised communities, they are strictly in a state of personal slavery. Even in those countries where they are best treated, the laws are generally unfavourable to them, with respect to almost all the points in which they are most deeply interested.

Mr. Mill is not legislating for England or the United States; but for mankind. Is then the interest of a Turk the same with that of the girls who compose his harem? Is the interest of a Chinese the same with that of the woman whom he harnesses to his plough? Is the interest of an Italian the same with that of the daughter whom he devotes to God? The interest of a respectable Englishman may be said, without any impropriety, to be identical with that of his wife. But why is it so? Because human nature is not what Mr. Mill conceives it to be; because civilised men, pursuing their own happiness in a social state, are not Yahoos fighting for carrion; because there is a pleasure in being loved and esteemed, as well as in being feared and servilely obeyed. Why does not a gentleman restrict his wife to the bare maintenance which the law would compel him to allow her, that he may have more to spend on his personal pleasures? Edition: current; Page: [308] Because, if he loves her, he has pleasure in seeing her pleased; and because, even if he dislikes her, he is unwilling that the whole neighbourhood should cry shame on his meanness and ill-nature. Why does not the legislature, altogether composed of males, pass a law to deprive women of all civil privileges whatever, and reduce them to the state of slaves? By passing such a law, they would gratify what Mr. Mill tells us is an inseparable part of human nature, the desire to possess unlimited power of inflicting pain upon others. That they do not pass such a law, though they have the power to pass it, and that no man in England wishes to see such a law passed, proves that the desire to possess unlimited power of inflicting pain is not inseparable from human nature.

If there be in this country an identity of interest between the two sexes, it cannot possibly arise from any thing but the pleasure of being loved, and of communicating happiness. For, that it does not spring from the mere instinct of sex, the treatment which women experience over the greater part of the world abundantly proves. And, if it be said that our laws of marriage have produced it, this only removes the argument a step further; for those laws have been made by males. Now, if the kind feelings of one half of the species be a sufficient security for the happiness of the other, why may not the kind feelings of a monarch or an aristocracy be sufficient at least to prevent them from grinding the people to the very utmost of their power?

If Mr. Mill will examine why it is that women are better treated in England than in Persia, he may perhaps find out, in the course of his inquiries, why it is that the Danes are better governed than the subjects of Caligula.

We now come to the most important practical question in the whole essay. Is it desirable that all males arrived at years of discretion should vote for representatives, or should a pecuniary qualification be required? Mr. Mill’s opinion is, that the lower the qualification the better; and that the best system is that in which there is none at all.

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“The qualification,” says he, “must either be such as to embrace the majority of the population, or something less than the majority. Suppose, in the first place, that it embraces the majority, the question is, whether the majority would have an interest in oppressing those who, upon this supposition, would be deprived of political power? If we reduce the calculation to its elements, we shall see that the interest which they would have of this deplorable kind, though it would be something, would not be very great. Each man of the majority, if the majority were constituted the governing body, would have something less than the benefit of oppressing a single man. If the majority were twice as great as the minority, each man of the majority would only have one half the benefit of oppressing a single man. . . . Suppose, in the second place, that the qualification did not admit a body of electors so large as the majority, in that case taking again the calculation in its elements, we shall see that each man would have a benefit equal to that derived from the oppression of more than one man; and that, in proportion as the elective body constituted a smaller and smaller minority, the benefit of misrule to the elective body would be increased, and bad government would be insured.”

The first remark which we have to make on this argument is, that, by Mr. Mill’s own account, even a government in which every human being should vote would still be defective. For, under a system of universal suffrage, the majority of the electors return the representative, and the majority of the representatives make the law. The whole people may vote, therefore; but only the majority govern. So that, by Mr. Mill’s own confession, the most perfect system of government conceivable is one in which the interest of the ruling body to oppress, though not great, is something.

But is Mr. Mill in the right when he says that such an interest could not be very great? We think not. If, indeed, every man in the community possessed an equal share of what Mr. Mill calls the objects of desire, the majority would probably abstain from plundering the minority. A large minority would offer a vigorous Edition: current; Page: [310] resistance; and the property of a small minority would not repay the other members of the community for the trouble of dividing it. But it happens that in all civilised communities there is a small minority of rich men, and a great majority of poor men. If there were a thousand men with ten pounds apiece, it would not be worth while for nine hundred and ninety of them to rob ten, and it would be a bold attempt for six hundred of them to rob four hundred. But, if ten of them had a hundred thousand pounds apiece, the case would be very different. There would then be much to be got, and nothing to be feared.

“That one human being will desire to render the person and property of another subservient to his pleasures, notwithstanding the pain or loss of pleasure which it may occasion to that other individual, is,” according to Mr. Mill, “the foundation of government.” That the property of the rich minority can be made subservient to the pleasures of the poor majority will scarcely be denied. But Mr. Mill proposes to give the poor majority power over the rich minority. It is possible to doubt to what, on his own principles, such an arrangement must lead?

It may perhaps be said that, in the long run, it is for the interest of the people that property should be secure, and that therefore they will respect it. We answer thus:—It cannot be pretended that it is not for the immediate interest of the people to plunder the rich. Therefore, even if it were quite certain that, in the long run, the people would, as a body, lose by doing so, it would not necessarily follow that the fear of remote ill consequences would overcome the desire of immediate acquisitions. Every individual might flatter himself that the punishment would not fall on him. Mr. Mill himself tells us, in his Essay on Jurisprudence, that no quantity of evil which is remote and uncertain will suffice to prevent crime.

But we are rather inclined to think that it would, on the whole, be for the interest of the majority to plunder Edition: current; Page: [311] the rich. If so, the Utilitarians will say, that the rich ought to be plundered. We deny the inference. For, in the first place, if the object of government be the greatest happiness of the greatest number, the intensity of the suffering which a measure inflicts must be taken into consideration, as well as the number of the sufferers. In the next place, we have to notice one most important distinction which Mr. Mill has altogether overlooked. Throughout his essay, he confounds the community with the species. He talks of the greatest happiness of the greatest number: but, when we examine his reasonings, we find that he thinks only of the greatest number of a single generation.

Therefore, even if we were to concede that all those arguments of which we have exposed the fallacy are unanswerable, we might still deny the conclusion at which the essayist arrives. Even if we were to grant that he had found out the form of government which is best for the majority of the people now living on the face of the earth, we might still without inconsistency maintain that form of government to be pernicious to mankind. It would still be incumbent on Mr. Mill to prove that the interest of every generation is identical with the interest of all succeeding generations. And how on his own principles he could do this we are at a loss to conceive.

The case, indeed, is strictly analogous to that of an aristocratic government. In an aristocracy, says Mr. Mill, the few, being invested with the powers of government, can take the objects of their desires from the people In the same manner, every generation in turn can gratify itself at the expense of posterity,—priority of time, in the latter case, giving an advantage exactly corresponding to that which superiority of station gives in the former. That an aristocracy will abuse its advantage, is, according to Mr. Mill, matter of demonstration. Is it not equally certain that the whole people will do the same; that, if they have the power, they will commit waste of every Edition: current; Page: [312] sort on the estate of mankind, and transmit it to posterity impoverished and desolated?

How is it possible for any person who holds the doctrines of Mr. Mill to doubt that the rich, in a democracy such as that which he recommends, would be pillaged as unmercifully as under a Turkish Pacha? It is no doubt for the interest of the next generation, and it may be for the remote interest of the present generation, that property should be held sacred. And so no doubt it will be for the interest of the next Pacha, and even for that of the present Pacha, if he should hold office long, that the inhabitants of his Pachalik should be encouraged to accumulate wealth. Scarcely any despotic sovereign has plundered his subjects to a large extent without having reason before the end of his reign to regret it. Every body knows how bitterly Louis the Fourteenth, towards the close of his life, lamented his former extravagance. If that magnificent prince had not expended millions on Marli and Versailles, and tens of millions on the aggrandisement of his grandson, he would not have been compelled at last to pay servile court to low-born moneylenders, to humble himself before men on whom, in the days of his pride, he would not have vouchsafed to look, for the means of supporting even his own household. Examples to the same effect might easily be multiplied. But despots, we see, do plunder their subjects, though history and experience tell them that, by prematurely exacting the means of profusion, they are in fact devouring the seed-corn from which the future harvest of revenue is to spring. Why then should we suppose that the people will be deterred from procuring immediate relief and enjoyment by the fear of distant calamities, of calamities which perhaps may not be fully felt till the times of their grand-children?

These conclusions are strictly drawn from Mr. Mill’s own principles: and, unlike most of the conclusions which he has himself drawn from those principles, they are not, Edition: current; Page: [313] as far as we know, contradicted by facts. The case of the United States is not in point. In a country where the necessaries of life are cheap and the wages of labour high, where a man who has no capital but his legs and arms may expect to become rich by industry and frugality, it is not very decidedly even for the immediate advantage of the poor to plunder the rich; and the punishment of doing so would very speedily follow the offence. But in countries in which the great majority live from hand to mouth, and in which vast masses of wealth have been accumulated by a comparatively small number, the case is widely different. The immediate want is, at particular seasons, craving, imperious, irresistible. In our own time it has steeled men to the fear of the gallows, and urged them on the point of the bayonet. And, if these men had at their command that gallows and those bayonets which now scarcely restrain them, what is to be expected? Nor is this state of things one which can exist only under a bad government. If there be the least truth in the doctrines of the school to which Mr. Mill belongs, the increase of population will necessarily produce it everywhere. The increase of population is accelerated by good and cheap government. Therefore, the better the government, the greater is the inequality of conditions: and the greater the inequality of conditions, the stronger are the motives which impel the populace to spoliation. As for America, we appeal to the twentieth century.

It is scarcely necessary to discuss the effects which a general spoliation of the rich would produce. It may indeed happen that, where a legal and political system full of abuses is inseparably bound up with the institution of property, a nation may gain by a single convulsion, in which both perish together. The price is fearful. But, if, when the shock is over, a new order of things should arise under which property may enjoy security, the industry of individuals will soon repair the devastation. Thus we entertain no doubt that the Revolution was, on Edition: current; Page: [314] the whole, a most salutary event for France. But would France have gained if, ever since the year 1793, she had been governed by a democratic convention? If Mr. Mill’s principles be sound, we say that almost her whole capital would by this time have been annihilated. As soon as the first explosion was beginning to be forgotten, as soon as wealth again began to germinate, as soon as the poor again began to compare their cottages and salads with the hotels and banquets of the rich, there would have been another scramble for property, another maximum, another general confiscation, another reign of terror. Four or five such convulsions following each other, at intervals of ten or twelve years, would reduce the most flourishing countries of Europe to the state of Barbary or the Morea.

The civilised part of the world has now nothing to fear from the hostility of savage nations. Once the deluge of barbarism has passed over it, to destroy and to fertilise; and in the present state of mankind we enjoy a full security against that calamity. That flood will no more return to cover the earth. But is it possible that in the bosom of civilisation itself may be engendered the malady which shall destroy it? Is it possible that institutions may be established which, without the help of earthquake, of famine, of pestilence, or of the foreign sword, may undo the work of so many ages of wisdom and glory, and gradually sweep away taste, literature, science, commerce, manufactures, everything but the rude arts necessary to the support of animal life? Is it possible that, in two or three hundred years, a few lean and half-naked fishermen may divide with owls and foxes the ruins of the greatest European cities—may wash their nets amidst the relics of her gigantic docks, and build their huts out of the capitals of her stately cathedrals? If the principles of Mr. Mill be sound, we say, without hesitation, that the form of government which he recommends will assuredly produce all this. But, if these principles be unsound, Edition: current; Page: [315] if the reasonings by which we have opposed them be just, the higher and middling orders are the natural representatives of the human race. Their interest may be opposed in some things to that of their poorer contemporaries; but it is identical with that of the innumerable generations which are to follow.

Mr. Mill concludes his essay, by answering an objection often made to the project of universal suffrage—that the people do not understand their own interests. We shall not go through his arguments on this subject, because, till he has proved that it is for the interest of the people to respect property, he only makes matters worse by proving that they understand their interests. But we cannot refrain from treating our readers with a delicious bonne bouche of wisdom, which he has kept for the last moment.

“The opinions of that class of the people who are below the middle rank are formed, and their minds are directed, by that intelligent, that virtuous rank, who come the most immediately in contact with them, who are in the constant habit of intimate communication with them, to whom they fly for advice and assistance in all their numerous difficulties, upon whom they feel an immediate and daily dependence in health and in sickness, in infancy and in old age, to whom their children look up as models for their imitation, whose opinions they hear daily repeated, and account it their honour to adopt. There can be no doubt that the middle rank, which gives to science, to art, and to legislation itself their most distinguished ornaments, and is the chief source of all that has exalted and refined human nature, is that portion of the community, of which, if the basis of representation were ever so far extended, the opinion would ultimately decide. Of the people beneath them, a vast majority would be sure to be guided by their advice and example.”

This single paragraph is sufficient to upset Mr. Mill’s theory. Will the people act against their own interest? Or will the middle rank act against its own interest? Or is the interest of the middle rank identical with the interest of the people? If the people act according to the directions Edition: current; Page: [316] of the middle rank, as Mr. Mill says that they assuredly will, one of these three questions must be answered in the affirmative. But, if any one of the three be answered in the affirmative, his whole system falls to the ground. If the interest of the middle rank be identical with that of the people, why should not the powers of government be intrusted to that rank? If the powers of government were intrusted to that rank, there would evidently be an aristocracy of wealth; and “to constitute an aristocracy of wealth, though it were a very numerous one, would,” according to Mr. Mill, “leave the community without protection, and exposed to all the evils of unbridled power.” Will not the same motives which induce the middle classes to abuse one kind of power induce them to abuse another? If their interest be the same with that of the people they will govern the people well. If it be opposite to that of the people they will advise the people ill. The system of universal suffrage, therefore, according to Mr. Mill’s own account, is only a device for doing circuitously what a representative system, with a pretty high qualification, would do directly.

So ends this celebrated Essay. And such is this philosophy for which the experience of three thousand years is to be discarded; this philosophy, the professors of which speak as if it had guided the world to the knowledge of navigation and alphabetical writing; as if, before its dawn, the inhabitants of Europe had lived in caverns and eaten each other! We are sick, it seems, like the children of Israel, of the objects of our old and legitimate worship. We pine for a new idolatry. All that is costly and all that is ornamental in our intellectual treasures must be delivered up, and cast into the furnace—and there comes out this Calf!

Our readers can scarcely mistake our object in writing this article. They will not suspect us of any disposition to advocate the cause of absolute monarchy, or of any narrow form of oligarchy, or to exaggerate the evils of Edition: current; Page: [317] popular government. Our object at present is, not so much to attack or defend any particular system of polity, as to expose the vices of a kind of reasoning utterly unfit for moral and political discussions; of a kind of reasoning which may so readily be turned to purposes of falsehood that it ought to receive no quarter, even when by accident it may be employed on the side of truth.

Our objection to the essay of Mr. Mill is fundamental. We believe that it is utterly impossible to deduce the science of government from the principles of human nature.

What proposition is there respecting human nature which is absolutely and universally true? We know of only one: and that is not only true, but identical; that men always act from self-interest. This truism the Utilitarians proclaim with as much pride as if it were new, and as much zeal as if it were important. But in fact, when explained, it means only that men, if they can, will do as they choose. When we see the actions of a man we know with certainty what he thinks his interest to be. But it is impossible to reason with certainty from what we take to be his interest to his actions. One man goes without a dinner that he may add a shilling to a hundred thousand pounds: another runs in debt to give balls and masquerades. One man cuts his father’s throat to get possession of his old clothes: another hazards his own life to save that of an enemy. One man volunteers on a forlorn hope: another is drummed out of a regiment for cowardice. Each of these men has, no doubt, acted from self-interest. But we gain nothing by knowing this, except the pleasure, if it be one, of multiplying useless words. In fact, this principle is just as recondite and just as important as the great truth that whatever is, is. If a philosopher were always to state facts in the following form—“There is a shower: but whatever is, is; therefore, there is a shower,”—his reasoning would be perfectly sound; but we do not apprehend that it would materially enlarge the circle of human knowledge. And Edition: current; Page: [318] it is equally idle to attribute any importance to a proposition which, when interpreted, means only that a man had rather do what he had rather do.

If the doctrine, that men always act from self-interest, be laid down in any other sense than this—if the meaning of the word self-interest be narrowed so as to exclude any one of the motives which may by possibility act on any human being,—the proposition ceases to be identical; but at the same time it ceases to be true.

What we have said of the word “self-interest” applies to all the synonymes and circumlocutions which are employed to convey the same meaning; pain and pleasure, happiness and misery, objects of desire, and so forth.

The whole art of Mr. Mill’s essay consists in one simple trick of legerdemain. It consists in using words of the sort which we have been describing first in one sense and then in another. Men will take the objects of their desire if they can. Unquestionably:—but this is an identical proposition: for an object of desire means merely a thing which a man will procure if he can. Nothing can possibly be inferred from a maxim of this kind. When we see a man take something we shall know that it was an object of his desire. But till then we have no means of judging with certainty what he desires or what he will take. The general proposition, however, having been admitted, Mr. Mill proceeds to reason as if men had no desires but those which can be gratified only by spoliation and oppression. It then becomes easy to deduce doctrines of vast importance from the original axiom. The only misfortune is, that by thus narrowing the meaning of the word desire the axiom becomes false, and all the doctrines consequent upon it are false likewise.

When we pass beyond those maxims which it is impossible to deny without a contradiction in terms, and which, therefore, do not enable us to advance a single step in practical knowledge, we do not believe that it is possible to lay down a single general rule respecting the Edition: current; Page: [319] motives which influence human actions. There is nothing which may not, by association or by comparison, become an object either of desire or of aversion. The fear of death is generally considered as one of the strongest of our feelings. It is the most formidable sanction which legislators have been able to devise. Yet it is notorious that, as Lord Bacon has observed, there is no passion by which that fear has not been often overcome. Physical pain is indisputably an evil; yet it has been often endured, and even welcomed. Innumerable martyrs have exulted in torments which made the spectators shudder; and, to use a more homely illustration, there are few wives who do not long to be mothers.

Is the love of approbation a stronger motive than the love of wealth? It is impossible to answer this question generally even in the case of an individual with whom we are very intimate. We often say, indeed, that a man loves fame more than money or money more than fame. But this is said in a loose and popular sense; for there is scarcely a man who would not endure a few sneers for a great sum of money, if he were in pecuniary distress; and scarcely a man, on the other hand, who, if he were in flourishing circumstances, would expose himself to the hatred and contempt of the public for a trifle. In order, therefore, to return a precise answer even about a single human being, we must know what is the amount of the sacrifice of reputation demanded and of the pecuniary advantage offered, and in what situation the person to whom the temptation is proposed stands at the time. But, when the question is propounded generally about the whole species, the impossibility of answering is still more evident. Man differs from man; generation from generation; nation from nation. Education, station, sex, age, accidental associations, produce infinite shades of variety.

Now, the only mode in which we can conceive it possible to deduce a theory of government from the principles Edition: current; Page: [320] of human nature is this. We must find out what are the motives which, in a particular form of government, impel rulers to bad measures, and what are those which impel them to good measures. We must then compare the effect of the two classes of motives; and, according as we find the one or the other to prevail, we must pronounce the form of government in question good or bad.

Now let it be supposed that, in aristocratical and monarchical states, the desire of wealth and other desires of the same class always tend to produce misgovernment, and that the love of approbation and other kindred feelings always tend to produce good government. Then, if it be impossible, as we have shown that it is, to pronounce generally which of the two classes of motives is the more influential, it is impossible to find out, a priori, whether a monarchical or aristocratical form of government be good or bad.

Mr. Mill has avoided the difficulty of making the comparison, by very coolly putting all the weights into one of the scales,—by reasoning as if no human being had ever sympathised with the feelings, been gratified by the thanks, or been galled by the execrations, of another.

The case, as we have put it, is decisive against Mr. Mill; and yet we have put it in a manner far too favourable to him. For, in fact, it is impossible to lay it down as a general rule that the love of wealth in a sovereign always produces misgovernment, or the love of approbation good government. A patient and far-sighted ruler, for example, who is less desirous of raising a great sum immediately than of securing an unencumbered and progressive revenue, will, by taking off restraints from trade and giving perfect security to property, encourage accumulation and entice capital from foreign countries. The commercial policy of Prussia, which is perhaps superior to that of any country in the world, and which puts to shame the absurdities of our republican brethren on the other side of the Atlantic, has probably sprung from the Edition: current; Page: [321] desire of an absolute ruler to enrich himself. On the other hand, when the popular estimate of virtues and vices is erroneous, which is too often the case, the love of approbation leads sovereigns to spend the wealth of the nation on useless shows, or to engage in wanton and destructive wars. If then we can neither compare the strength of two motives, nor determine with certainty to what description of actions either motive will lead, how can we possibly deduce a theory of government from the nature of man?

How, then, are we to arrive at just conclusions on a subject so important to the happiness of mankind? Surely by that method which, in every experimental science to which it has been applied, has signally increased the power and knowledge of our species,—by that method for which our new philosophers would substitute quibbles scarcely worthy of the barbarous respondents and opponents of the middle ages,—by the method of Induction;—by observing the present state of the world,—by assiduously studying the history of past ages,—by sifting the evidence of facts,—by carefully combining and contrasting those which are authentic,—by generalising with judgment and diffidence,—by perpetually bringing the theory which we have constructed to the test of new facts,—by correcting, or altogether abandoning it, according as those new facts prove it to be partially or fundamentally unsound. Proceeding thus,—patiently,—diligently,—candidly,—we may hope to form a system as far inferior in pretension to that which we have been examining and as far superior to it in real utility as the prescriptions of a great physician, varying with every stage of every malady and with the constitution of every patient, to the pill of the advertising quack which is to cure all human beings, in all climates, of all diseases.

This is that noble Science of Politics, which is equally removed from the barren theories of the Utilitarian sophists, and from the petty craft, so often mistaken for Edition: current; Page: [322] statesmanship by minds grown narrow in habits of intrigue, jobbing, and official etiquette;—which of all sciences is the most important to the welfare of nations,—which of all sciences most tends to expand and invigorate the mind,—which draws nutriment and ornament from every part of philosophy and literature, and dispenses in return nutriment and ornament to all. We are sorry and surprised when we see men of good intentions and good natural abilities abandon this healthful and generous study to pore over speculations like those which we have been examining. And we should heartily rejoice to find that our remarks had induced any person of this description to employ, in researches of real utility, the talents and industry which are now wasted on verbal sophisms, wretched of their wretched kind.

As to the greater part of the sect, it is, we apprehend, of little consequence what they study or under whom. It would be more amusing, to be sure, and more reputable, if they would take up the old republican cant and declaim about Brutus and Timoleon, the duty of killing tyrants and the blessedness of dying for liberty. But, on the whole, they might have chosen worse. They may as well be Utilitarians as jockeys or dandies. And, though quibbling about self-interest and motives, and objects of desire, and the greatest happiness of the greatest number, is but a poor employment for a grown man, it certainly hurts the health less than hard drinking and the fortune less than high play; it is not much more laughable than phrenology, and is immeasurably more humane than cock-fighting.

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The Westminster Review. No. XXI. Article XVI. Edinburgh Review. No. XCVII. Article on Mill’s Essays on Government, &c.

We have had great reason, we think, to be gratified by the success of our late attack on the Utilitarians. We could publish a long list of the cures which it has wrought in cases previously considered as hopeless. Delicacy forbids us to divulge names; but we cannot refrain from alluding to two remarkable instances. A respectable lady writes to inform us that her son, who was plucked at Cambridge last January, has not been heard to call Sir James Mackintosh a poor ignorant fool more than twice since the appearance of our article. A distinguished political writer in the Westminster and Parliamentary Reviews has borrowed Hume’s History, and has actually got as far as the battle of Agincourt. He assures us that he takes great pleasure in his new study, and that he is very impatient to learn how Scotland and England became one kingdom. But the greatest compliment that we have received is that Mr. Bentham himself should have condescended to take the field in defence of Mr. Mill. We have not been in the habit of reviewing reviews; but, as Mr. Bentham is a truly great man, and as his party have thought fit to announce in puffs and placards that this article is written by him, and contains not only an answer to our attacks, but a development of the “greatest happiness principle,” with the latest improvements of the author, we shall for once depart from our Edition: current; Page: [324] general rule. However the conflict may terminate, we shall at least not have been vanquished by an ignoble hand.

Of Mr. Bentham himself we shall endeavour, even while defending ourselves against his reproaches, to speak with the respect to which his venerable age, his genius, and his public services entitle him. If any harsh expression should escape us, we trust that he will attribute it to inadvertence, to the momentary warmth of controversy,—to anything, in short, rather than to a design of affronting him. Though we have nothing in common with the crew of Hurds and Boswells, who, either from interested motives, or from the habit of intellectual servility and dependence, pamper and vitiate his appetite with the noxious sweetness of their undiscerning praise, we are not perhaps less competent than they to appreciate his merit, or less sincerely disposed to acknowledge it. Though we may sometimes think his reasonings on moral and political questions feeble and sophistical—though we may sometimes smile at his extraordinary language—we can never be weary of admiring the amplitude of his comprehension, the keenness of his penetration, the exuberant fertility with which his mind pours forth arguments and illustrations. However sharply he may speak of us, we can never cease to revere in him the father of the philosophy of Jurisprudence. He has a full right to all the privileges of a great inventor; and, in our court of criticism, those privileges will never be pleaded in vain. But they are limited in the same manner in which, fortunately for the ends of justice, the privileges of the peerage are now limited. The advantage is personal and incommunicable. A nobleman can now no longer cover with his protection every lackey who follows his heels, or every bully who draws in his quarrel: and, highly as we respect the exalted rank which Mr. Bentham holds among the writers of our time, yet when, for the due maintenance of literary police, we shall think it necessary Edition: current; Page: [325] to confute sophists, or to bring pretenders to shame, we shall not depart from the ordinary course of our proceedings because the offenders call themselves Benthamites.

Whether Mr. Mill has much reason to thank Mr. Bentham for undertaking his defence, our readers, when they have finished this article, will perhaps be inclined to doubt. Great as Mr. Bentham’s talents are, he has, we think, shown an undue confidence in them. He should have considered how dangerous it is for any man, however eloquent and ingenious he may be, to attack or defend a book without reading it: and we feel quite convinced that Mr. Bentham would never have written the article before us if he had, before he began, perused our review with attention, and compared it with Mr. Mill’s Essay.

He has utterly mistaken our object and meaning. He seems to think that we have undertaken to set up some theory of government in opposition to that of Mr. Mill. But we distinctly disclaimed any such design. From the beginning to the end of our article, there is not, as far as we remember, a single sentence which, when fairly construed, can be considered as indicating any such design. If such an expression can be found, it has been dropped by inadvertence. Our object was to prove, not that monarchy and aristocracy are good, but that Mr. Mill had not proved them to be bad; not that democracy is bad, but that Mr. Mill had not proved it to be good. The points in issue are these: whether the famous Essay on Government be, as it has been called, a perfect solution of the great political problem, or a series of sophisms and blunders; and whether the sect which, while it glories in the precision of its logic, extols this Essay as a masterpiece of demonstration be a sect deserving of the respect or of the derision of mankind. These, we say, are the issues; and on these we with full confidence put ourselves on the country.

It is not necessary, for the purposes of this investigation, Edition: current; Page: [326] that we should state what our political creed is, or whether we have any political creed at all. A man who cannot act the most trivial part in a farce has a right to hiss Romeo Coates: a man who does not know a vein from an artery may caution a simple neighbour against the advertisements of Dr. Eady. A complete theory of government would indeed be a noble present to mankind; but it is a present which we do not hope and do not pretend that we can offer. If, however, we cannot lay the foundation, it is something to clear away the rubbish; if we cannot set up truth, it is something to pull down error. Even if the subjects of which the Utilitarians treat were subjects of less fearful importance, we should think it no small service to the cause of good sense and good taste to point out the contrast between their magnificent pretensions and their miserable performances. Some of them have, however, thought fit to display their ingenuity on questions of the most momentous kind, and on questions concerning which men cannot reason ill with impunity. We think it, under these circumstances, an absolute duty to expose the fallacy of their arguments. It is no matter of pride or of pleasure. To read their works is the most soporific employment that we know; and a man ought no more to be proud of refuting them than of having two legs. We must now come to close quarters with Mr. Bentham, whom, we need not say, we do not mean to include in this observation. He charges us with maintaining,—

“First, ‘That it is not true that all despots govern ill;’—whereon the world is in a mistake, and the Whigs have the true light. And for proof, principally,—that the King of Denmark is not Caligula. To which the answer is, that the King of Denmark is not a despot. He was put in his present situation by the people turning the scale in his favour in a balanced contest between himself and the nobility. And it is quite clear that the same power would turn the scale the other way the moment a King of Denmark should take into his head to be Caligula. Edition: current; Page: [327] It is of little consequence by what congeries of letters the Majesty of Denmark is typified in the royal press of Copenhagen, while the real fact is that the sword of the people is suspended over his head, in case of ill-behaviour, as effectually as in other countries where more noise is made upon the subject. Every body believes the sovereign of Denmark to be a good and virtuous gentleman; but there is no more superhuman merit in his being so than in the case of a rural squire who does not shoot his land-steward or quarter his wife with his yeomanry sabre.

“It is true that there are partial exceptions to the rule, that all men use power as badly as they dare. There may have been such things as amiable negro-drivers and sentimental masters of press-gangs; and here and there, among the odd freaks of human nature, there may have been specimens of men who were ‘No tyrants, though bred up to tyranny.’ But it would be as wise to recommend wolves for nurses at the Foundling on the credit of Romulus and Remus as to substitute the exception for the general fact, and advise mankind to take to trusting to arbitrary power on the credit of these specimens.”

Now, in the first place, we never cited the case of Denmark to prove that all despots do not govern ill. We cited it to prove that Mr. Mill did not know how to reason. Mr. Mill gave it as a reason for deducing the theory of government from the general laws of human nature that the King of Denmark was not Caligula. This we said, and we still say, was absurd.

In the second place, it was not we, but Mr. Mill, who said that the King of Denmark was a despot. His words are these:—“The people of Denmark, tired out with the oppression of an aristocracy, resolved that their king should be absolute; and under their absolute monarch are as well governed as any people in Europe.” We leave Mr. Bentham to settle with Mr. Mill the distinction between a despot and an absolute king.

In the third place, Mr. Bentham says that there was in Denmark a balanced contest between the king and the nobility. We find some difficulty in believing that Mr. Bentham seriously means to say this, when we consider Edition: current; Page: [328] that Mr. Mill has demonstrated the chance to be as infinity to one against the existence of such a balanced contest.

Fourthly, Mr. Bentham says that in this balanced contest the people turned the scale in favour of the king against the aristocracy. But Mr. Mill has demonstrated that it cannot possibly be for the interest of the monarchy and democracy to join against the aristocracy; and that, wherever the three parties exist, the king and the aristocracy will combine against the people. This, Mr. Mill assures us, is as certain as anything which depends upon human will.

Fifthly, Mr. Bentham says that, if the King of Denmark were to oppress his people, the people and nobles would combine against the king. But Mr. Mill has proved that it can never be for the interest of the aristocracy to combine with the democracy against the king. It is evidently Mr. Bentham’s opinion, that “monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy may balance each other, and by mutual checks produce good government.” But this is the very theory which Mr. Mill pronounces to be the wildest, the most visionary, the most chimerical ever broached on the subject of government.

We have no dispute on these heads with Mr. Bentham. On the contrary, we think his explanation true—or, at least, true in part; and we heartily thank him for lending us his assistance to demolish the essay of his follower. His wit and his sarcasm are sport to us; but they are death to his unhappy disciple.

Mr. Bentham seems to imagine that we have said something implying an opinion favourable to despotism. We can scarcely suppose that, as he has not condescended to read that portion of our work which he undertook to answer, he can have bestowed much attention on its general character. Had he done so he would, we think, scarcely have entertained such a suspicion. Mr. Mill asserts, and pretends to prove, that under no despotic Edition: current; Page: [329] government does any human being, except the tools of the sovereign, possess more than the necessaries of life, and that the most intense degree of terror is kept up by constant cruelty. This, we say, is untrue. It is not merely a rule to which there are exceptions: but it is not the rule. Despotism is bad; but it is scarcely anywhere so bad as Mr. Mill says that it is everywhere. This we are sure Mr. Bentham will allow. If a man were to say that five hundred thousand people die every year in London of dram-drinking, he would not assert a proposition more monstrously false than Mr. Mill’s. Would it be just to charge us with defending intoxication because we might say that such a man was grossly in the wrong?

We say with Mr. Bentham that despotism is a bad thing. We say with Mr. Bentham that the exceptions do not destroy the authority of the rule. But this we say—that a single exception overthrows an argument which either does not prove the rule at all, or else proves the rule to be true without exceptions; and such an argument is Mr. Mill’s argument against despotism. In this respect there is a great difference between rules drawn from experience and rules deduced a priori. We might believe that there had been a fall of snow last August, and yet not think it likely that there would be snow next August. A single occurrence opposed to our general experience would tell for very little in our calculation of the chances. But, if we could once satisfy ourselves that in any single right-angled triangle the square of the hypothenuse might be less than the squares of the sides, we must reject the forty-seventh proposition of Euclid altogether. We willingly adopt Mr. Bentham’s lively illustration about the wolf; and we will say in passing that it gives us real pleasure to see how little old age has diminished the gaiety of this eminent man. We can assure him that his merriment gives us far more pleasure on his account than pain on our own. We say with him, Keep the wolf out of the nursery, in spite of the story of Romulus and Remus. Edition: current; Page: [330] But, if the shepherd who saw the wolf licking and suckling those famous twins were, after telling this story to his companions, to assert that it was an infallible rule that no wolf ever had spared, or ever would spare, any living thing which might fall in its way—that its nature was carnivorous—and that it could not possibly disobey its nature, we think that the hearers might have been excused for staring. It may be strange, but is not inconsistent, that a wolf which has eaten ninety-nine children should spare the hundredth. But the fact that a wolf has once spared a child is sufficient to show that there must be some flaw in the chain of reasoning purporting to prove that wolves cannot possibly spare children.

Mr. Bentham proceeds to attack another position which he conceives us to maintain:—

“Secondly, That a government not under the control of the community (for there is no question upon any other) ‘may soon be saturated.’ Tell it not in Bow-street, whisper it not in Hatton-garden—that there is a plan for preventing injustice by ‘saturation.’ With what peals of unearthly merriment would Minos, Æacus, and Rhadamanthus be aroused upon their benches, if the ‘light wings of saffron and of blue’ should bear this theory into their grim domains! Why do not the owners of pocket-handkerchiefs try to ‘saturate?’ Why does not the cheated publican beg leave to check the gulosity of his defrauder with a repetatur haustus, and the pummelled plaintiff neutralise the malice of his adversary, by requesting to have the rest of the beating in presence of the court,—if it is not that such conduct would run counter to all the conclusions of experience, and be the procreation of the mischief it affected to destroy? Woful is the man whose wealth depends on his having more than somebody else can be persuaded to take from him; and woful also is the people that is in such a case!”

Now this is certainly very pleasant writing: but there is no great difficulty in answering the argument. The real reason which makes it absurd to think of preventing theft by pensioning off thieves is this, that there is no limit to the number of thieves. If there were only a hundred Edition: current; Page: [331] thieves in a place, and we were quite sure that no person not already addicted to theft would take to it, it might become a question whether to keep the thieves from dishonesty by raising them above distress would not be a better course than to employ officers against them. But the actual cases are not parallel. Every man who chooses can become a thief; but a man cannot become a king or a member of the aristocracy whenever he chooses. The number of the depredators is limited; and therefore the amount of depredation, so far as physical pleasures are concerned, must be limited also. Now, we made the remark which Mr. Bentham censures with reference to physical pleasures only. The pleasures of ostentation, of taste, of revenge, and other pleasures of the same description, have, we distinctly allowed, no limit. Our words are these:—“A king or an aristocracy may be supplied to satiety with corporal pleasures, at an expense which the rudest and poorest community would scarcely feel.” Does Mr. Bentham deny this? If he does, we leave him to Mr. Mill. “What,” says that philosopher, in his Essay on Education, “what are the ordinary pursuits of wealth and power, which kindle to such a height the ardour of mankind? Not the mere love of eating and of drinking, or all the physical objects together which wealth can purchase or power command. With these every man is in the long run speedily satisfied.” What the difference is between being speedily satisfied and being soon saturated, we leave Mr. Bentham and Mr. Mill to settle together.

The word ‘saturation,’ however, seems to provoke Mr. Bentham’s mirth. It certainly did not strike us as very pure English; but, as Mr. Mill used it, we supposed it to be good Benthamese. With the latter language we are not critically acquainted, though, as it has many roots in common with our mother tongue, we can contrive, by the help of a converted Utilitarian, who attends us in the capacity of Moonshee, to make out a little. But Edition: current; Page: [332] Mr. Bentham’s authority is of course decisive; and we bow to it.

Mr. Bentham next represents us as maintaining:—

“Thirdly, That ‘though there may be some tastes and propensities that have no point of saturation, there exists a sufficient check in the desire of the good opinion of others.’ The misfortune of this argument is, that no man cares for the good opinion of those he has been accustomed to wrong. If oysters have opinions, it is probable they think very ill of those who eat them in August; but small is the effect upon the autumnal glutton that engulfs their gentle substances within his own. The planter and the slave-driver care just as much about negro opinion, as the epicure about the sentiments of oysters. M. Ude throwing live eels into the fire as a kindly method of divesting them of the unsavoury oil that lodges beneath their skins, is not more convinced of the immense aggregate of good which arises to the lordlier parts of the creation, than is the gentle peer who strips his fellow man of country and of family for a wild-fowl slain. The goodly land-owner, who lives by morsels squeezed indiscriminately from the waxy hands of the cobbler and the polluted ones of the nightman, is in no small degree the object of both hatred and contempt; but it is to be feared that he is a long way from feeling them to be intolerable. The principle of ‘At mihi plaudo ipse domi, simul ac nummos contemplor in arcâ,’ is sufficient to make a wide interval between the opinions of the plaintiff and defendant in such cases. In short, to banish law and leave all plaintiffs to trust to the desire of reputation on the opposite side, would only be transporting the theory of the Whigs from the House of Commons to Westminster Hall.”

Now, in the first place, we never maintained the proposition which Mr. Bentham puts into our mouths. We said, and say, that there is a certain check to the rapacity and cruelty of men, in their desire of the good opinion of others. We never said that it was sufficient. Let Mr. Mill show it to be insufficient. It is enough for us to prove that there is a set-off against the principle from which Mr. Mill deduces the whole theory of government. The balance may be, and, we believe, will be, against despotism and the narrower forms of aristocracy. But what Edition: current; Page: [333] is this to the correctness or incorrectness of Mr. Mill’s accounts? The question is not, whether the motives which lead rulers to behave ill are stronger than those which lead them to behave well;—but, whether we ought to form a theory of government by looking only at the motives which lead rulers to behave ill and never noticing those which lead them to behave well.

Absolute rulers, says Mr. Bentham, do not care for the good opinion of their subjects; for no man cares for the good opinion of those whom he has been accustomed to wrong. By Mr. Bentham’s leave, this is a plain begging of the question. The point at issue is this:—Will kings and nobles wrong the people? The argument in favour of kings and nobles is this:—they will not wrong the people, because they care for the good opinion of the people. But this argument Mr. Bentham meets thus:—they will not care for the good opinion of the people, because they are accustomed to wrong the people.

Here Mr. Mill differs, as usual, from Mr. Bentham. “The greatest princes,” says he, in his Essay on Education, “the most despotical masters of human destiny, when asked what they aim at by their wars and conquests, would answer, if sincere, as Frederick of Prussia answered, pour faire parler de soi;—to occupy a large space in the admiration of mankind.” Putting Mr. Mill’s and Mr. Bentham’s principles together, we might make out very easily that “the greatest princes, the most despotical masters of human destiny,” would never abuse their power.

A man who has been long accustomed to injure people must also have been long accustomed to do without their love, and to endure their aversion. Such a man may not miss the pleasure of popularity; for men seldom miss a pleasure which they have long denied themselves. An old tyrant does without popularity just as an old water-drinker does without wine. But, though it is perfectly true that men who for the good of their health have long abstained from wine feel the want of it very Edition: current; Page: [334] little, it would be absurd to infer that men will always abstain from wine when their health requires that they should do so. And it would be equally absurd to say, because men who have been accustomed to oppress care little for popularity, that men will therefore necessarily prefer the pleasures of oppression to those of popularity.

Then, again, a man may be accustomed to wrong people in one point and not in another. He may care for their good opinion with regard to one point and not with regard to another. The Regent Orleans laughed at charges of impiety, libertinism, extravagance, idleness, disgraceful promotions. But the slightest allusion to the charge of poisoning threw him into convulsions. Louis the Fifteenth braved the hatred and contempt of his subjects during many years of the most odious and imbecile misgovernment. But, when a report was spread that he used human blood for his baths, he was almost driven mad by it. Surely Mr. Bentham’s position “that no man cares for the good opinion of those whom he has been accustomed to wrong” would be objectionable, as far too sweeping and indiscriminate, even if it did not involve, as in the present case we have shown that it does, a direct begging of the question at issue.

Mr. Bentham proceeds:—

“Fourthly, The Edinburgh Reviewers are of opinion, that ‘it might, with no small plausibility, be maintained, that in many countries, there are two classes which, in some degree, answer to this description;’ [viz.] ‘that the poor compose the class which government is established to restrain; and the people of some property the class to which the powers of government may without danger be confided.’

“They take great pains, it is true, to say this and not to say it. They shuffle and creep about, to secure a hole to escape at, if ‘what they do not assert’ should be found in any degree inconvenient. A man might waste his life in trying to find out whether the Misses of the Edinburgh mean to say Yes or No in their political coquetry. But whichever way the lovely spinsters may decide, it is diametrically opposed to history and the Edition: current; Page: [335] evidence of facts, that the poor are the class whom there is any difficulty in restraining. It is not the poor but the rich that have a propensity to take the property of other people. There is no instance upon earth of the poor having combined to take away the property of the rich; and all the instances habitually brought forward in support of it are gross misrepresentations, founded upon the most necessary acts of self-defence on the part of the most numerous classes. Such a misrepresentation is the common one of the Agrarian law; which was nothing but an attempt on the part of the Roman people to get back some part of what had been taken from them by undisguised robbery. Such another is the stock example of the French Revolution, appealed to by the Edinburgh Review in the actual case. It is utterly untrue that the French Revolution took place because ‘the poor began to compare their cottages and salads with the hotels and banquets of the rich;’ it took place because they were robbed of their cottages and salads to support the hotels and banquets of their oppressors. It is utterly untrue that there was either a scramble for property or a general confiscation; the classes who took part with the foreign invaders lost their property, as they would have done here, and ought to do everywhere. All these are the vulgar errors of the man on the lion’s back,—which the lion will set to rights when he can tell his own story. History is nothing but the relation of the sufferings of the poor from the rich; except precisely so far as the numerous classes of the community have contrived to keep the virtual power in their hands, or in other words, to establish free governments. If a poor man injures the rich, the law is instantly at his heels; the injuries of the rich towards the poor are always inflicted by the law. And to enable the rich to do this to any extent that may be practicable or prudent, there is clearly one postulate required, which is, that the rich shall make the law.”

This passage is alone sufficient to prove that Mr. Bentham has not taken the trouble to read our article from beginning to end. We are quite sure that he would not stoop to misrepresent it. And, if he had read it with any attention, he would have perceived that all this coquetry, this hesitation, this Yes and No, this saying and not saying, is simply an exercise of the undeniable right which in Edition: current; Page: [336] controversy belongs to the defensive side—to the side which proposes to establish nothing. The affirmative of the issue and the burden of the proof are with Mr. Mill, not with us. We are not bound, perhaps we are not able, to show that the form of government which he recommends is bad. It is quite enough if we can show that he does not prove it to be good. In his proof, among many other flaws, is this—He says, that if men are not inclined to plunder each other, government is unnecessary, and that, if men are so inclined, kings and aristocracies will plunder the people. Now this, we say, is a fallacy. That some men will plunder their neighbours if they can, is a sufficient reason for the existence of governments. But it is not demonstrated that kings and aristocracies will plunder the people, unless it be true that all men will plunder their neighbours if they can. Men are placed in very different situations. Some have all the bodily pleasures that they desire, and many other pleasures besides, without plundering anybody. Others can scarcely obtain their daily bread without plundering. It may be true, but surely it is not self-evident, that the former class is under as strong temptations to plunder as the latter. Mr. Mill was therefore bound to prove it. That he has not proved it is one of thirty or forty fatal errors in his argument. It is not necessary that we should express an opinion or even have an opinion on the subject. Perhaps we are in a state of perfect scepticism: but what then? Are we the theory-makers? When we bring before the world a theory of government, it will be time to call upon us to offer proof at every step. At present we stand on our undoubted logical right. We concede nothing; and we deny nothing. We say to the Utilitarian theorists:—When you prove your doctrine, we will believe it; and, till you prove it, we will not believe it.

Mr. Bentham has quite misunderstood what we said about the French Revolution. We never alluded to that event for the purpose of proving that the poor were Edition: current; Page: [337] inclined to rob the rich. Mr. Mill’s principles of human nature furnished us with that part of our argument readymade. We alluded to the French Revolution for the purpose of illustrating the effects which general spoliation produces on society, not for the purpose of showing that general spoliation will take place under a democracy. We allowed distinctly that, in the peculiar circumstances of the French monarchy, the Revolution, though accompanied by a great shock to the institution of property, was a blessing. Surely Mr. Bentham will not maintain that the injury produced by the deluge of assignats and by the maximum fell only on the emigrants,—or that there were not many emigrants who would have staid and lived peaceably under any government if their persons and property had been secure.

We never said that the French Revolution took place because the poor began to compare their cottages and salads with the hotels and banquets of the rich. We were not speaking about the causes of the Revolution, or thinking about them. This we said, and say, that, if a democratic government had been established in France, the poor, when they began to compare their cottages and salads with the hotels and banquets of the rich, would, on the supposition that Mr. Mill’s principles are sound, have plundered the rich, and repeated without provocation all the severities and confiscations which, at the time of the Revolution, were committed with provocation. We say that Mr. Mill’s favourite form of government would, if his own views of human nature be just, make those violent convulsions and transfers of property which now rarely happen, except, as in the case of the French Revolution, when the people are maddened by oppression, events of annual or biennial occurrence. We gave no opinion of our own. We give none now. We say that this proposition may be proved from Mr. Mill’s own premises, by steps strictly analogous to those by which he proves monarchy and aristocracy to be bad forms of Edition: current; Page: [338] government. To say this, is not to say that the proposition is true. For we hold both Mr. Mill’s premises and his deduction to be unsound throughout.

Mr. Bentham challenges us to prove from history that the people will plunder the rich. What does history say to Mr. Mill’s doctrine, that absolute kings will always plunder their subjects so unmercifully as to leave nothing but a bare subsistence to any except their own creatures? If experience is to be the test, Mr. Mill’s theory is unsound. If Mr. Mill’s reasoning a priori be sound, the people in a democracy will plunder the rich. Let us use one weight and one measure. Let us not throw history aside when we are proving a theory, and take it up again when we have to refute an objection founded on the principles of that theory.

We have not done, however, with Mr. Bentham’s charges against us.

“Among other specimens of their ingenuity, they think they embarrass the subject by asking why, on the principles in question, women should not have votes as well as men. And why not?

‘Gentle shepherd, tell me why.—’

If the mode of election was what it ought to be, there would be no more difficulty in women voting for a representative in Parliament than for a director at the India House. The world will find out at some time that the readiest way to secure justice on some points is to be just on all:—that the whole is easier to accomplish than the part; and that, whenever the camel is driven through the eye of the needle, it would be simple folly and debility that would leave a hoof behind.”

Why, says or sings Mr. Bentham, should not women vote? It may seem uncivil in us to turn a deaf ear to his Arcadian warblings. But we submit, with great deference, that it is not our business to tell him why. We fully agree with him that the principle of female suffrage is not so palpably absurd that a chain of reasoning ought to be pronounced unsound merely because it leads to female suffrage. We say that every argument which Edition: current; Page: [339] tells in favour of the universal suffrage of the males tells equally in favour of female suffrage. Mr. Mill, however, wishes to see all men vote, but says that it is unnecessary that women should vote; and for making this distinction he gives as a reason an assertion which, in the first place, is not true, and which, in the next place, would, if true, overset his whole theory of human nature; namely, that the interest of the women is identical with that of the men. We side with Mr. Bentham, so far at least as this: that, when we join to drive the camel through the needle, he shall go through hoof and all. We at present desire to be excused from driving the camel. It is Mr. Mill who leaves the hoof behind. But we should think it uncourteous to reproach him in the language which Mr. Bentham, in the exercise of his paternal authority over the sect, thinks himself entitled to employ.

“Another of their perverted ingenuities is, that ‘they are rather inclined to think,’ that it would, on the whole, be for the interest of the majority to plunder the rich; and if so, the Utilitarians will say that the rich ought to be plundered. On which it is sufficient to reply, that for the majority to plunder the rich would amount to a declaration that nobody should be rich; which, as all men wish to be rich, would involve a suicide of hope. And as nobody has shown a fragment of reason why such a proceeding should be for the general happiness, it does not follow that the ‘Utilitarians’ would recommend it. The Edinburgh Reviewers have a waiting gentlewoman’s ideas of ‘Utilitarianism.’ It is unsupported by anything but the pitiable ‘We are rather inclined to think’—and is utterly contradicted by the whole course of history and human experience besides,—that there is either danger or possibility of such a consummation as the majority agreeing on the plunder of the rich. There have been instances in human memory, of their agreeing to plunder rich oppressors, rich traitors, rich enemies,—but the rich simpliciter never. It is as true now as in the days of Harrington, that ‘a people never will, nor ever can, never did, nor ever shall, take up arms for levelling.’ All the commotions in the world have been for something else; and ‘levelling’ is brought forward as the blind to conceal what the other was.”

We say, again and again, that we are on the defensive. Edition: current; Page: [340] We do not think it necessary to prove that a quack medicine is poison. Let the vendor prove it to be sanative. We do not pretend to show that universal suffrage is an evil. Let its advocates show it to be a good. Mr. Mill tells us that, if power be given for short terms to representatives elected by all the males of mature age, it will then be for the interest of those representatives to promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number. To prove this, it is necessary that he should prove three propositions: first, that the interest of such a representative body will be identical with the interest of the constituent body; secondly, that the interest of the constituent body will be identical with that of the community; thirdly, that the interest of one generation of a community is identical with that of all succeeding generations. The two first propositions Mr. Mill attempts to prove, and fails. The last he does not even attempt to prove. We therefore refuse our assent to his conclusions. Is this unreasonable?

We never even dreamed, what Mr. Bentham conceives us to have maintained, that it could be for the greatest happiness of mankind to plunder the rich. But we are “rather inclined to think,” though doubtingly and with a disposition to yield to conviction, that it may be for the pecuniary interest of the majority of a single generation in a thickly-peopled country to plunder the rich. Why we are inclined to think so we will explain, whenever we send a theory of government to an Encyclopædia. At present we are bound to say only that we think so, and shall think so till somebody shows us a reason for thinking otherwise.

Mr. Bentham’s answer to us is simple assertion. He must not think that we mean any discourtesy by meeting it with a simple denial. The fact is, that almost all the governments that have ever existed in the civilised world have been, in part at least, monarchical and aristocratical. The first government constituted on principles approaching Edition: current; Page: [341] to those which the Utilitarians hold was, we think, that of the United States. That the poor have never combined to plunder the rich in the governments of the old world, no more proves that they might not combine to plunder the rich under a system of universal suffrage, than the fact that the English kings of the House of Brunswick have not been Neros and Domitians proves that sovereigns may safely be intrusted with absolute power. Of what the people would do in a state of perfect sovereignty we can judge only by indications, which, though rarely of much moment in themselves, and though always suppressed with little difficulty, are yet of great significance, and resemble those by which our domestic animals sometimes remind us that they are of kin with the fiercest monsters of the forest. It would not be wise to reason from the behaviour of a dog crouching under the lash, which is the case of the Italian people, or from the behaviour of a dog pampered with the best morsels of a plentiful kitchen, which is the case of the people of America, to the behaviour of a wolf, which is nothing but a dog run wild, after a week’s fast among the snows of the Pyrenees. No commotion, says Mr. Bentham, was ever really produced by the wish of levelling: the wish has been put forward as a blind; but something else has been the real object. Grant all this. But why has levelling been put forward as a blind in times of commotion to conceal the real objects of the agitators? Is it with declarations which involve “a suicide of hope” that men attempt to allure others? Was famine, pestilence, slavery, ever held out to attract the people? If levelling has been made a pretence for disturbances, the argument against Mr. Bentham’s doctrine is as strong as if it had been the real object of disturbances.

But the great objection which Mr. Bentham makes to our review, still remains to be noticed:—

“The pith of the charge against the author of the Essays is, Edition: current; Page: [342] that he has written ‘an elaborate Treatise on Government,’ and ‘deduced the whole science from the assumption of certain propensities of human nature.’ Now, in the name of Sir Richard Birnie and all saints, from what else should it be deduced? What did ever anybody imagine to be the end, object, and design of government as it ought to be but the same operation, on an extended scale, which that meritorious chief magistrate conducts on a limited one at Bow-street; to wit, the preventing one man from injuring another? Imagine, then, that the Whiggery of Bow-street were to rise up against the proposition that their science was to be deduced from ‘certain propensities of human nature,’ and thereon were to ratiocinate as follows:—

“ ‘How then are we to arrive at just conclusions on a subject so important to the happiness of mankind? Surely by that method, which, in every experimental science to which it has been applied, has signally increased the power and knowledge of our species,—by that method for which our new philosophers would substitute quibbles scarcely worthy of the barbarous respondents and opponents of the middle ages,—by the method of induction,—by observing the present state of the world,—by assiduously studying the history of past ages,—by sifting the evidence of facts,—by carefully combining and contrasting those which are authentic,—by generalising with judgment and diffidence,—by perpetually bringing the theory which we have constructed to the test of new facts,—by correcting, or altogether abandoning it, according as those new facts prove it to be partially or fundamentally unsound. Proceeding thus,—patiently, diligently, candidly, we may hope to form a system as far inferior in pretension to that which we have been examining, and as far superior to it in real utility, as the prescriptions of a great physician, varying with every stage of every malady, and with the constitution of every patient, to the pill of the advertising quack, which is to cure all human beings, in all climates, of all diseases.’ ”

“Fancy now,—only fancy,—the delivery of these wise words at Bow street; and think how speedily the practical catchpolls would reply, that all this might be very fine, but as far as they had studied history, the naked story was, after all, that numbers of men had a propensity to thieving, and their business was to catch them; that they, too, had been sifters of facts; and, to say the truth, their simple opinion was, that their brethren of the red waistcoat—though they should be sorry to Edition: current; Page: [343] think ill of any man—had somehow contracted a leaning to the other side, and were more bent on puzzling the case for the benefit of the defendants, than on doing the duty of good officers and true. Such would, beyond all doubt, be the sentence passed on such trimmers in the microcosm of Bow-street. It might not absolutely follow that they were in a plot to rob the goldsmiths’ shops, or to set fire to the House of Commons: but it would be quite clear that they had got a feeling,—that they were in process of siding with the thieves,—and that it was not to them that any man must look who was anxious that pantries should be safe.”

This is all very witty; but it does not touch us. On the present occasion, we cannot but flatter ourselves that we bear a much greater resemblance to a practical catchpoll than either Mr. Mill or Mr. Bentham. It would, to be sure, be very absurd in a magistrate, discussing the arrangements of a police-office, to spout in the style either of our article or Mr. Bentham’s; but, in substance, he would proceed, if he were a man of sense, exactly as we recommend. He would, on being appointed to provide for the security of property in a town, study attentively the state of the town. He would learn at what places, at what times, and under what circumstances, theft and outrage were most frequent. Are the streets, he would ask, most infested with thieves at sunset or at midnight? Are there any public places of resort which give peculiar facilities to pickpockets? Are there any districts completely inhabited by a lawless population? Which are the flash-houses, and which the shops of receivers? Having made himself master of the facts he would act accordingly. A strong detachment of officers might be necessary for Petticoat Lane; another for the pit entrance of Covent Garden Theatre. Grosvenor Square and Hamilton Place would require little or no protection. Exactly thus should we reason about government. Lombardy is oppressed by tyrants; and constitutional checks, such as may produce security to the people, are required. It is, so to speak, one of the resorts of Edition: current; Page: [344] thieves; and there is great need of police-officers. Denmark resembles one of those respectable streets in which it is scarcely necessary to station a catchpoll, because the inhabitants would at once join to seize a thief. Yet, even in such a street, we should wish to see an officer appear now and then, as his occasional superintendence would render the security more complete. And even Denmark, we think, would be better off under a constitutional form of government.

Mr. Mill proceeds like a director of police, who, without asking a single question about the state of his district, should give his orders thus:—“My maxim is, that every man will take what he can. Every man in London would be a thief, but for the thief-takers. This is an undeniable principle of human nature. Some of my predecessors have wasted their time in inquiring about particular pawnbrokers, and particular alehouses. Experience is altogether divided. Of people placed in exactly the same situation, I see that one steals, and that another would sooner burn his hand off. Therefore I trust to the laws of human nature alone, and pronounce all men thieves alike. Let every body, high and low, be watched. Let Townsend take particular care that the Duke of Wellington does not steal the silk handkerchief of the lord in waiting at the levee. A person has lost a watch. Go to Lord Fitzwilliam and search him for it; he is as great a receiver of stolen goods as Ikey Solomons himself. Don’t tell me about his rank, and character, and fortune. He is a man; and a man does not change his nature when he is called a lord.* Either men will steal or they will not steal. If they will not, why do I sit here? If they Edition: current; Page: [345] will, his lordship must be a thief.” The Whiggery of Bow Street would perhaps rise up against this wisdom. Would Mr. Bentham think that the Whiggery of Bow Street was in the wrong?

We blamed Mr. Mill for deducing his theory of government from the principles of human nature. “In the name of Sir Richard Birnie and all saints,” cries Mr. Bentham, “from what else should it be deduced?” In spite of this solemn adjuration, we shall venture to answer Mr. Bentham’s question by another. How does he arrive at those principles of human nature from which he proposes to deduce the science of government? We think that we may venture to put an answer into his mouth; for in truth there is but one possible answer. He will say—By experience. But what is the extent of this experience? Is it an experience which includes experience of the conduct of men intrusted with the powers of government; or is it exclusive of that experience? If it includes experience of the manner in which men act when intrusted with the powers of government, then those principles of human nature from which the science of government is to be deduced can only be known after going through that inductive process by which we propose to arrive at the science of government. Our knowledge of human nature, instead of being prior in order to our knowledge of the science of government, will be posterior to it. And it would be correct to say, that by means of the science of government, and of other kindred sciences—the science of education, for example, which falls under exactly the same principle—we arrive at the science of human nature.

If, on the other hand, we are to deduce the theory of government from principles of human nature, in arriving at which principles we have not taken into the account the manner in which men act when invested with the powers of government, then those principles must be defective. They have not been formed by a sufficiently Edition: current; Page: [346] copious induction. We are reasoning, from what a man does in one situation, to what he will do in another. Sometimes we may be quite justified in reasoning thus. When we have no means of acquiring information about the particular case before us, we are compelled to resort to cases which bear some resemblance to it. But the most satisfactory course is to obtain information about the particular case; and, whenever this can be obtained, it ought to be obtained. When first the yellow fever broke out, a physician might be justified in treating it as he had been accustomed to treat those complaints which, on the whole, had the most symptoms in common with it. But what should we think of a physician who should now tell us that he deduced his treatment of yellow fever from the general theory of pathology? Surely we should ask him, Whether, in constructing his theory of pathology, he had or had not taken into the account the facts which had been ascertained respecting the yellow fever? If he had, then it would be more correct to say that he had arrived at the principles of pathology partly by his experience of cases of yellow fever than that he had deduced his treatment of yellow fever from the principles of pathology. If he had not, he should not prescribe for us. If we had the yellow fever, we should prefer a man who had never treated any cases but cases of yellow fever to a man who had walked the hospitals of London and Paris for years, but who knew nothing of our particular disease.

Let Lord Bacon speak for us: “Inductionem censemus eam esse demonstrandi formam, quæ sensum tuetur, et naturam premit, et operibus imminet, ac fere immiscetur. Itaque ordo quoque demonstrandi plane invertitur. Adhuc enim res ita geri consuevit, ut a sensu et particularibus primo loco ad maxime generalia advoletur, tanquam ad polos fixos, circa quos disputationes vertantur; ab illis cætera, per media, deriventur; viâ certe compendiariâ, sed præcipiti, et ad naturam imperviâ, ad disputationes proclivi et accommodatâ. At, secundum Edition: current; Page: [347] nos, axiomata continenter et gradatim excitantur, ut non, nisi postremo loco, ad maxime generalia veniatur.” Can any words more exactly describe the political reasonings of Mr. Mill than those in which Lord Bacon thus describes the logomachies of the schoolmen? Mr. Mill springs at once to a general principle of the widest extent, and from that general principle deduces syllogistically every thing which is included in it. We say with Bacon—“non, nisi postremo loco, ad maxime generalia veniatur.” In the present inquiry, the science of human nature is the “maxime generale.” To this the Utilitarian rushes at once, and from this he deduces a hundred sciences. But the true philosopher, the inductive reasoner, travels up to it slowly, through those hundred sciences, of which the science of government is one.

As we have lying before us that incomparable volume, the noblest and most useful of all the works of the human reason, the Novum Organum, we will transcribe a few lines, in which the Utilitarian philosophy is portrayed to the life.

“Syllogismus ad principia scientiarum non adhibetur, ad media axiomata frustra adhibetur, cum sit subtilitati naturæ longe impar. Assensum itaque constringit, non res. Syllogismus ex propositionibus constat, propositiones ex verbis, verba notionum tesseræ sunt. Itaque si notiones ipsæ, id quod basis rei est, confusæ sint, et temerè a rebus abstractæ, nihil in iis quæ superstruuntur est firmitudinis. Itaque spes est una in Inductione vera. In notionibus nil sani est, nec in Logicis nec in physicis. Non substantia, non qualitas, agere, pati, ipsum esse, bonæ notiones sunt; multo minus grave, leve, densum, tenue, humidum, siccum, generatio, corruptio, attrahere, fugare, elementum, materia, forma, et id genus, sed omnes phantasticæ et male terminatæ.”

Substitute for the “substantia,” the “generatio,” the “corruptio,” the “elementum,” the “materia” of the old schoolmen, Mr. Mill’s pain, pleasure, interest, power, objects of desire,—and the words of Bacon will seem to suit the current year as well as the beginning of the seventeenth century.

Edition: current; Page: [348]

We have now gone through the objections that Mr. Bentham makes to our article: and we submit ourselves on all the charges to the judgment of the public.

The rest of Mr. Bentham’s article consists of an exposition of the Utilitarian principle, or, as he decrees that it shall be called, the “greatest happiness principle.” He seems to think that we have been assailing it. We never said a syllable against it. We spoke slightingly of the Utilitarian sect, as we thought of them, and think of them; but it was not for holding this doctrine that we blamed them. In attacking them we no more meant to attack the “greatest happiness principle” than when we say that Mahometanism is a false religion we mean to deny the unity of God, which is the first article of the Mahometan creed;—no more than Mr. Bentham, when he sneers at the Whigs, means to blame them for denying the divine right of kings. We reasoned throughout our article on the supposition that the end of government was to produce the greatest happiness to mankind.

Mr. Bentham gives an account of the manner in which he arrived at the discovery of the “greatest happiness principle.” He then proceeds to describe the effects which, as he conceives, that discovery is producing in language so rhetorical and ardent that, if it had been written by any other person, a genuine Utilitarian would certainly have thrown down the book in disgust.

“The only rivals of any note to the new principle which were brought forward, were those known by the names of the ‘moral sense,’ and the ‘original contract.’ The new principle superseded the first of these, by presenting it with a guide for its decisions; and the other, by making it unnecessary to resort to a remote and imaginary contract for what was clearly the business of every man and every hour. Throughout the whole horizon of morals and of politics, the consequences were glorious and vast. It might be said without danger of exaggeration, Edition: current; Page: [349] that they who sat in darkness had seen a great light. The mists in which mankind had jousted against each other were swept away, as when the sun of astronomical science arose in the full development of the principle of gravitation. If the object of legislation was the greatest happiness, morality was the promotion of the same end by the conduct of the individual; and by analogy, the happiness of the world was the morality of nations.

“. . . . . All the sublime obscurities, which had haunted the mind of man from the first formation of society,—the phantoms whose steps had been on earth, and their heads among the clouds,—marshalled themselves at the sound of this new principle of connection and of union, and stood a regulated band, where all was order, symmetry, and force. What men had struggled for and bled, while they saw it but as through a glass darkly, was made the object of substantial knowledge and lively apprehension. The bones of sages and of patriots stirred within their tombs, that what they dimly saw and followed had become the world’s common heritage. And the great result was wrought by no supernatural means, nor produced by any unparallelable concatenation of events. It was foretold by no oracles, and ushered by no portents; but was brought about by the quiet and reiterated exercise of God’s first gift of common sense.”

Mr. Bentham’s discovery does not, as we think we shall be able to show, approach in importance to that of gravitation, to which he compares it. At all events, Mr. Bentham seems to us to act much as Sir Isaac Newton would have done if he had gone about boasting that he was the first person who taught bricklayers not to jump off scaffolds and break their legs.

Does Mr. Bentham profess to hold out any new motive which may induce men to promote the happiness of the species to which they belong? Not at all. He distinctly admits that, if he is asked why government should attempt to produce the greatest possible happiness, he can give no answer.

“The real answer,” says he, “appeared to be, that men at large ought not to allow a government to afflict them with more evil or less good than they can help. What a government ought Edition: current; Page: [350] to do is a mysterious and searching question, which those may answer who know what it means; but what other men ought to do is a question of no mystery at all. The word ought, if it means anything, must have reference to some kind of interest or motives; and what interest a government has in doing right, when it happens to be interested in doing wrong, is a question for the school-men. The fact appears to be, that ought is not predicable of governments. The question is not why governments are bound not to do this or that, but why other men should let them if they can help it. The point is not to determine why the lion should not eat sheep, but why men should not eat their own mutton if they can.”

The principle of Mr. Bentham, if we understand it, is this, that mankind ought to act so as to produce their greatest happiness. The word ought, he tells us, has no meaning, unless it be used with reference to some interest. But the interest of a man is synonymous with his greatest happiness:—and therefore to say that a man ought to do a thing, is to say that it is for his greatest happiness to do it. And to say that mankind ought to act so as to produce their greatest happiness, is to say that the greatest happiness is the greatest happiness—and this is all!

Does Mr. Bentham’s principle tend to make any man wish for anything for which he would not have wished, or do any thing which he would not have done, if the principle had never been heard of? If not, it is an utterly useless principle. Now, every man pursues his own happiness or interest—call it which you will. If his happiness coincides with the happiness of the species, then, whether he ever heard of the “greatest happiness principle” or not, he will, to the best of his knowledge and ability, attempt to produce the greatest happiness of the species. But, if what he thinks his happiness be inconsistent with the greatest happiness of mankind, will this new principle convert him to another frame of mind? Mr. Bentham himself allows, as we have seen, that he Edition: current; Page: [351] can give no reason why a man should promote the greatest happiness of others if their greatest happiness be inconsistent with what he thinks his own. We should very much like to know how the Utilitarian principle would run when reduced to one plain imperative proposition? Will it run thus—pursue your own happiness? This is superfluous. Every man pursues it, according to his light, and always has pursued it, and always must pursue it. To say that a man has done any thing, is to say that he thought it for his happiness to do it. Will the principle run thus—pursue the greatest happiness of mankind, whether it be your own greatest happiness or not? This is absurd and impossible; and Bentham himself allows it to be so. But, if the principle be not stated in one of these two ways, we cannot imagine how it is to be stated at all. Stated in one of these ways, it is an identical proposition,—true, but utterly barren of consequences. Stated in the other way, it is a contradiction in terms. Mr. Bentham has distinctly declined the absurdity. Are we then to suppose that he adopts the truism?

There are thus, it seems, two great truths which the Utilitarian philosophy is to communicate to mankind—two truths which are to produce a revolution in morals, in laws, in governments, in literature, in the whole system of life. The first of these is speculative; the second is practical. The speculative truth is, that the greatest happiness is the greatest happiness. The practical rule is very simple; for it imports merely that men should never omit, when they wish for any thing, to wish for it, or when they do anything, to do it! It is a great comfort to us to think that we readily assented to the former of these great doctrines as soon as it was stated to us; and that we have long endeavoured, as far as human frailty would permit, to conform to the latter in our practice. We are, however, inclined to suspect that the calamities of the human race have been owing, less Edition: current; Page: [352] to their not knowing that happiness was happiness, than to their not knowing how to obtain it—less to their neglecting to do what they did, than to their not being able to do what they wished, or not wishing to do what they ought.

Thus frivolous, thus useless is this philosophy,—“controversiarum ferax, operum effœta, ad garriendum prompta, ad generandum invalida.”* The humble mechanic who discovers some slight improvement in the construction of safety lamps or steam-vessels does more for the happiness of mankind than the “magnificent principle,” as Mr. Bentham calls it, will do in ten thousand years. The mechanic teaches us how we may in a small degree be better off than we were. The Utilitarian advises us with great pomp to be as well off as we can.

The doctrine of a moral sense may be very unphilosophical; but we do not think that it can be proved to be pernicious. Men did not entertain certain desires and aversions because they believed in a moral sense, but they gave the name of moral sense to a feeling which they found in their minds, however it came there. If they had given it no name at all it would still have influenced their actions; and it will not be very easy to demonstrate that it has influenced their actions the more because they have called it the moral sense. The theory of the original contract is a fiction, and a very absurd fiction; but in practice it meant, what the “greatest happiness principle,” if ever it becomes a watchword of political warfare, will mean—that is to say, whatever served the turn of those who used it. Both the one expression and the other sound very well in debating clubs; but in the real conflicts of life our passions and interests bid them stand aside and know their place. The “greatest happiness principle” has always been latent under the words, social Edition: current; Page: [353] contract, justice, benevolence, patriotism, liberty, and so forth, just as far as it was for the happiness, real or imagined, of those who used these words to promote the greatest happiness of mankind. And of this we may be sure, that the words “greatest happiness” will never, in any man’s mouth, mean more than the greatest happiness of others which is consistent with what he thinks his own. The project of mending a bad world by teaching people to give new names to old things reminds us of Walter Shandy’s scheme for compensating the loss of his son’s nose by christening him Trismegistus. What society wants is a new motive—not a new cant. If Mr. Bentham can find out any argument yet undiscovered which may induce men to pursue the general happiness, he will indeed be a great benefactor to our species. But those whose happiness is identical with the general happiness are even now promoting the general happiness to the very best of their power and knowledge; and Mr. Bentham himself confesses that he has no means of persuading those whose happiness is not identical with the general happiness to act upon his principle. Is not this, then, darkening counsel by words without knowledge? If the only fruit of the “magnificent principle” is to be, that the oppressors and pilferers of the next generation are to talk of seeking the greatest happiness of the greatest number, just as the same class of men have talked in our time of seeking to uphold the Protestant constitution—just as they talked under Anne of seeking the good of the Church, and under Cromwell of seeking the Lord—where is the gain? Is not every great question already enveloped in a sufficiently dark cloud of unmeaning words? Is it so difficult for a man to cant some one or more of the good old English cants which his father and grandfather canted before him, that he must learn, in the schools of the Utilitarians, a new sleight of tongue, to make fools clap and wise men sneer? Let our countrymen keep their eyes on the neophytes of this sect, and see whether we Edition: current; Page: [354] turn out to be mistaken in the prediction which we now hazard. It will before long be found, we prophesy, that, as the corruption of a dunce is the generation of an Utilitarian, so is the corruption of an Utilitarian the generation of a jobber.

The most elevated station that the “greatest happiness principle” is ever likely to attain is this, that it may be a fashionable phrase among newspaper writers and members of parliament—that it may succeed to the dignity which has been enjoyed by the “original contract,” by the “constitution of 1688,” and other expressions of the same kind. We do not apprehend that it is a less flexible cant than those which have preceded it, or that it will less easily furnish a pretext for any design for which a pretext may be required. The “original contract” meant in the Convention Parliament the co-ordinate authority of the Three Estates. If there were to be a radical insurrection to-morrow, the “original contract” would stand just as well for annual parliaments and universal suffrage. The “Glorious Constitution,” again, has meant everything in turn: the Habeas Corpus Act, the Suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, the Test Act, the Repeal of the Test Act. There has not been for many years a single important measure which has not been unconstitutional with its opponents, and which its supporters have not maintained to be agreeable to the true spirit of the constitution. Is it easier to ascertain what is for the greatest happiness of the human race than what is the constitution of England? If not, the “greatest happiness principle” will be what the “principles of the constitution” are, a thing to be appealed to by everybody, and understood by everybody in the sense which suits him best. It will mean cheap bread, dear bread, free trade, protecting duties, annual parliaments, septennial parliaments, universal suffrage, Old Sarum, trial by jury, martial law—everything, in short, good, bad, or indifferent, of which any person, from rapacity or from benevolence, chooses to undertake the defence. Edition: current; Page: [355] It will mean six-and-eightpence with the attorney, tithes at the rectory, and game-laws at the manor-house. The Statute of Uses, in appearance the most sweeping legislative reform in our history, was said to have produced no other effect than that of adding three words to a conveyance. The universal admission of Mr. Bentham’s great principle would, as far as we can see, produce no other effect than that those orators who, while waiting for a meaning, gain time (like bankers paying in sixpences during a run) by uttering words that mean nothing would substitute “the greatest happiness,” or rather, as the longer phrase, “the greatest happiness of the greatest number,” for “under existing circumstances,”—“now that I am on my legs,”—and “Mr. Speaker, I, for one, am free to say.” In fact, principles of this sort resemble those forms which are sold by law-stationers, with blanks for the names of parties, and for the special circumstances of every case—mere customary headings and conclusions, which are equally at the command of the most honest and of the most unrighteous claimant. It is on the filling up that everything depends.

The “greatest happiness principle” of Mr. Bentham is included in the Christian morality; and, to our thinking, it is there exhibited in an infinitely more sound and philosophical form than in the Utilitarian speculations. For in the New Testament it is neither an identical proposition, nor a contradiction in terms; and, as laid down by Mr. Bentham, it must be either the one or the other. “Do as you would be done by: Love your neighbour as yourself:” these are the precepts of Jesus Christ. Understood in an enlarged sense, these precepts are, in fact, a direction to every man to promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number. But this direction would be utterly unmeaning, as it actually is in Mr. Bentham’s philosophy, unless it were accompanied by a sanction. In the Christian scheme, accordingly, it is accompanied by a sanction of immense force. To a man whose Edition: current; Page: [356] greatest happiness in this world is inconsistent with the greatest happiness of the greatest number is held out the prospect of an infinite happiness hereafter, from which he excludes himself by wronging his fellow-creatures here.

This is practical philosophy, as practical as that on which penal legislation is founded. A man is told to do something which otherwise he would not do, and is furnished with a new motive for doing it. Mr. Bentham has no new motive to furnish his disciples with. He has talents sufficient to effect any thing that can be effected. But to induce men to act without an inducement is too much, even for him. He should reflect that the whole vast world of morals cannot be moved unless the mover can obtain some stand for his engines beyond it. He acts as Archimedes would have done, if he had attempted to move the earth by a lever fixed on the earth. The action and reaction neutralise each other. The artist labours, and the world remains at rest. Mr. Bentham can only tell us to do something which we have always been doing, and should still have continued to do, if we had never heard of the “greatest happiness principle”—or else to do something which we have no conceivable motive for doing, and therefore shall not do. Mr. Bentham’s principle is at best no more than the golden rule of the Gospel without its sanction. Whatever evils, therefore, have existed in societies in which the authority of the Gospel is recognised may, a fortiori, as it appears to us, exist in societies in which the Utilitarian principle is recognised. We do not apprehend that it is more difficult for a tyrant or a persecutor to persuade himself and others that in putting to death those who oppose his power or differ from his opinions he is pursuing “the greatest happiness,” than that he is doing as he would be done by. But religion gives him a motive for doing as he would be done by: and Mr. Bentham furnishes him no Edition: current; Page: [357] motive to induce him to promote the general happiness. If, on the other hand, Mr. Bentham’s principle mean only that every man should pursue his own greatest happiness, he merely asserts what everybody knows, and recommends what everybody does.

It is not upon this “greatest happiness principle” that the fame of Mr. Bentham will rest. He has not taught people to pursue their own happiness; for that they always did. He has not taught them to promote the happiness of others, at the expense of their own; for that they will not and cannot do. But he has taught them how, in some most important points, to promote their own happiness; and, if his school had emulated him as successfully in this respect as in the trick of passing off truisms for discoveries, the name of Benthamite would have been no word for the scoffer. But few of those who consider themselves as in a more especial manner his followers have anything in common with him but his faults. The whole science of Jurisprudence is his. He has done much for political economy; but we are not aware that in either department any improvement has been made by members of his sect. He discovered truths; all that they have done has been to make those truths unpopular. He investigated the philosophy of law; he could teach them only to snarl at lawyers.

We entertain no apprehensions of danger to the institutions of this country from the Utilitarians. Our fears are of a different kind. We dread the odium and discredit of their alliance. We wish to see a broad and clear line drawn between the judicious friends of practical reform and a sect which, having derived all its influence from the countenance which they have imprudently bestowed upon it, hates them with the deadly hatred of ingratitude. There is not, and we firmly believe that there never was, in this country a party so unpopular. They have already made the science of political economy—a Edition: current; Page: [358] science of vast importance to the welfare of nations—an object of disgust to the majority of the community. The question of parliamentary reform will share the same fate if once an association be formed in the public mind between Reform and Utilitarianism.

We bear no enmity to any member of the sect; and for Mr. Bentham we entertain very high admiration. We know that among his followers there are some well-intentioned men, and some men of talents: but we cannot say that we think the logic on which they pride themselves likely to improve their heads, or the scheme of morality which they have adopted likely to improve their hearts. Their theory of morals, however, well deserves an article to itself; and perhaps, on some future occasion, we may discuss it more fully than time and space at present allow.

The preceding article was written, and was actually in types, when a letter from Mr. Bentham appeared in the newspapers, importing that, “though he had furnished the Westminster Review with some memoranda respecting ‘the greatest happiness principle,’ he had nothing to do with the remarks on our former article.” We are truly happy to find that this illustrious man had so small a share in a performance which, for his sake, we have treated with far greater lenity than it deserved. The mistake, however, does not in the least affect any part of our arguments; and we have therefore thought it unnecessary to cancel or cast anew any of the foregoing pages. Indeed, we are not sorry that the world should see how respectfully we were disposed to treat a great man, even when we considered him as the author of a very weak and very unfair attack on ourselves. We wish, however, to intimate to the actual writer of that attack that our civilities were intended for the author of Edition: current; Page: [359] the “Preuves Judiciaires,” and the “Defence of Usury”—and not for him. We cannot conclude, indeed, without expressing a wish—though we fear it has but little chance of reaching Mr. Bentham—that he would endeavour to find better editors for his compositions. If M. Dumont had not been a rédacteur of a different description from some of his successors, Mr. Bentham would never have attained the distinction of even giving his name to a sect.

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Westminster Review, (XXII. Art. 16,) on the Strictures of the Edinburgh Review (XCVIII. Art. 1) on the Utilitarian Theory of Government, and the “Greatest Happiness Principle.

We have long been of opinion that the Utilitarians have owed all their influence to a mere delusion—that, while professing to have submitted their minds to an intellectual discipline of peculiar severity, to have discarded all sentimentality, and to have acquired consummate skill in the art of reasoning, they are decidedly inferior to the mass of educated men in the very qualities in which they conceive themselves to excel. They have undoubtedly freed themselves from the dominion of some absurd notions. But their struggle for intellectual emancipation has ended, as injudicious and violent struggles for political emancipation too often end, in a mere change of tyrants. Indeed, we are not sure that we do not prefer the venerable nonsense which holds prescriptive sway over the ultra-Tory to the upstart dynasty of prejudices and sophisms by which the revolutionists of the moral world have suffered themselves to be enslaved.

The Utilitarians have sometimes been abused as intolerant, arrogant, irreligious,—as enemies of literature, of the fine arts, and of the domestic charities. They have been reviled for some things of which they were guilty, and for some of which they were innocent. But scarcely anybody seems to have perceived that almost all Edition: current; Page: [361] their peculiar faults arise from the utter want both of comprehensiveness and of precision in their mode of reasoning. We have, for some time past, been convinced that this was really the case; and that, whenever their philosophy should be boldly and unsparingly scrutinised, the world would see that it had been under a mistake respecting them.

We have made the experiment; and it has succeeded far beyond our most sanguine expectations. A chosen champion of the School has come forth against us. A specimen of his logical abilities now lies before us; and we pledge ourselves to show that no prebendary at an anti-Catholic meeting, no true-blue baronet after the third bottle at a Pitt Club, ever displayed such utter incapacity of comprehending or answering an argument as appears in the speculations of this Utilitarian apostle; that he does not understand our meaning, or Mr. Mill’s meaning, or Mr. Bentham’s meaning, or his own meaning; and that the various parts of his system—if the name of system can be so misapplied—directly contradict each other.

Having shown this, we intend to leave him in undisputed possession of whatever advantage he may derive from the last word. We propose only to convince the public that there is nothing in the far-famed logic of the Utilitarians of which any plain man has reason to be afraid; that this logic will impose on no man who dares to look it in the face.

The Westminster Reviewer begins by charging us with having misrepresented an important part of Mr. Mill’s argument.

“The first extract given by the Edinburgh Reviewers from the essay was an insulated passage, purposely despoiled of what had preceded and what followed. The author had been observing, that ‘some profound and benevolent investigators of human affairs had adopted the conclusion that, of all the possible forms of government, absolute monarchy is the best.’ Edition: current; Page: [362] This is what the reviewers have omitted at the beginning. He then adds, as in the extract, that ‘Experience, if we look only at the outside of the facts, appears to be divided on this subject;’ there are Caligulas in one place, and kings of Denmark in another. ‘As the surface of history affords, therefore, no certain principle of decision, we must go beyond the surface, and penetrate to the springs within.’ This is what the reviewers have omitted at the end.”

It is perfectly true that our quotation from Mr. Mill’s essay was, like most other quotations, preceded and followed by something which we did not quote. But, if the Westminster Reviewer means to say that either what preceded or what followed would, if quoted, have shown that we put a wrong interpretation on the passage which was extracted, he does not understand Mr. Mill rightly.

Mr. Mill undoubtedly says that, “as the surface of history affords no certain principle of decision, we must go beyond the surface, and penetrate to the springs within.” But these expressions will admit of several interpretations. In what sense, then, does Mr. Mill use them? If he means that we ought to inspect the facts with close attention, he means what is rational. But, if he means that we ought to leave the facts, with all their apparent inconsistencies, unexplained—to lay down a general principle of the widest extent, and to deduce doctrines from that principle by syllogistic argument, without pausing to consider whether those doctrines be or be not consistent with the facts,—then he means what is irrational; and this is clearly what he does mean: for he immediately begins, without offering the least explanation of the contradictory appearances which he has himself described, to go beyond the surface in the following manner:—“That one human being will desire to render the person and property of another subservient to his pleasures, notwithstanding the pain or loss of pleasure which it may occasion to that other individual, is the foundation of government. The desire of the object implies Edition: current; Page: [363] the desire of the power necessary to accomplish the object.” And thus he proceeds to deduce consequences directly inconsistent with what he has himself stated respecting the situation of the Danish people.

If we assume that the object of government is the preservation of the persons and property of men, then we must hold that, wherever that object is attained, there the principle of good government exists. If that object be attained both in Denmark and in the United States of America, then that which makes government good must exist, under whatever disguise of title or name, both in Denmark and in the United States. If men lived in fear for their lives and their possessions under Nero and under the National Convention, it follows that the causes from which misgovernment proceeds existed both in the despotism of Rome and in the democracy of France. What, then, is that which, being found in Denmark and in the United States, and not being found in the Roman Empire or under the administration of Robespierre, renders governments, widely differing in their external form, practically good? Be it what it may, it certainly is not that which Mr. Mill proves a priori that it must be,—a democratic representative assembly. For the Danes have no such assembly.

The latent principle of good government ought to be tracked, as it appears to us, in the same manner in which Lord Bacon proposed to track the principle of Heat. Make as large a list as possible, said that great man, of those bodies in which, however widely they differ from each other in appearance, we perceive heat; and as large a list as possible of those which, while they bear a general resemblance to hot bodies, are nevertheless not hot. Observe the different degrees of heat in different hot bodies; and then, if there be something which is found in all hot bodies, and of which the increase or diminution is always accompanied by an increase or diminution of heat, we may hope that we have really discovered the object of Edition: current; Page: [364] our search. In the same manner we ought to examine the constitution of all those communities in which, under whatever form, the blessings of good government are enjoyed; and to discover, if possible, in what they resemble each other, and in what they all differ from those societies in which the object of government is not attained. By proceeding thus we shall arrive, not indeed at a perfect theory of government, but at a theory which will be of great practical use, and which the experience of every successive generation will probably bring nearer and nearer to perfection.

The inconsistencies into which Mr. Mill has been betrayed by taking a different course ought to serve as a warning to all speculators. Because Denmark is well governed by a monarch who, in appearance at least, is absolute, Mr. Mill thinks that the only mode of arriving at the true principles of government is to deduce them a priori from the laws of human nature. And what conclusion does he bring out by this deduction? We will give it in his own words:—“In the grand discovery of modern times, the system of representation, the solution of all the difficulties, both speculative and practical, will perhaps be found. If it cannot, we seem to be forced upon the extraordinary conclusion that good government is impossible.” That the Danes are well governed without a representation is a reason for deducing the theory of government from a general principle from which it necessarily follows that good government is impossible without a representation! We have done our best to put this question plainly; and we think that, if the Westminster Reviewer will read over what we have written twice or thrice with patience and attention, some glimpse of our meaning will break in even on his mind.

Some objections follow, so frivolous and unfair, that we are almost ashamed to notice them.

“When it was said that there was in Denmark a balanced contest between the king and the nobility, what was said was, Edition: current; Page: [365] that there was a balanced contest, but it did not last. It was balanced till something put an end to the balance; and so is everything else. That such a balance will not last, is precisely what Mr. Mill had demonstrated.”

Mr. Mill, we positively affirm, pretends to demonstrate, not merely that a balanced contest between the king and the aristocracy will not last, but that the chances are as infinity to one against the existence of such a balanced contest. This is a mere question of fact. We quote the words of the essay, and defy the Westminster Reviewer to impeach our accuracy:—

“It seems impossible that such equality should ever exist. How is it to be established? Or by what criterion is it to be ascertained? If there is no such criterion, it must, in all cases, be the result of chance. If so, the chances against it are as infinity to one.”

The Reviewer has confounded the division of power with the balance or equal division of power. Mr. Mill says that the division of power can never exist long, because it is next to impossible that the equal division of power should ever exist at all.

“When Mr. Mill asserted that it cannot be for the interest of either the monarchy or the aristocracy to combine with the democracy, it is plain he did not assert that if the monarchy and aristocracy were in doubtful contest with each other, they would not, either of them, accept of the assistance of the democracy. He spoke of their taking the side of the democracy; not of their allowing the democracy to take side with themselves.”

If Mr. Mill meant any thing, he must have meant this—that the monarchy and the aristocracy will never forget their enmity to the democracy in their enmity to each other.

“The monarchy and aristocracy,” says he, “have all possible motives for endeavouring to obtain unlimited power over the persons and property of the community. The consequence is inevitable. They have all possible motives for combining to Edition: current; Page: [366] obtain that power, and unless the people have power enough to be a match for both they have no protection. The balance, therefore, is a thing the existence of which upon the best possible evidence is to be regarded as impossible.”

If Mr. Mill meant only what the Westminster Reviewer conceives him to have meant, his argument would leave the popular theory of the balance quite untouched. For it is the very theory of the balance that the help of the people will be solicited by the nobles when hard pressed by the king, and by the king when hard pressed by the nobles; and that, as the price of giving alternate support to the crown and the aristocracy, they will obtain something for themselves, as the Reviewer admits that they have done in Denmark. If Mr. Mill admits this, he admits the only theory of the balance of which we ever heard—that very theory which he has declared to be wild and chimerical. If he denies it, he is at issue with the Westminster Reviewer as to the phenomena of the Danish government.

We now come to a more important passage. Our opponent has discovered, as he conceives, a radical error which runs through our whole argument, and vitiates every part of it. We suspect that we shall spoil his triumph.

“Mr. Mill never asserted ‘that under no despotic government does any human being, except the tools of the sovereign, possess more than the necessaries of life, and that the most intense degree of terror is kept up by constant cruelty.’ He said that absolute power leads to such results, ‘by infallible sequence, where power over a community is attained, and nothing checks.’ The critic on the Mount never made a more palpable misquotation.

“The spirit of this misquotation runs through every part of the reply of the Edinburgh Review that relates to the Essay on Government; and is repeated in as many shapes as the Roman pork. The whole description of ‘Mr. Mill’s argument against despotism,’—including the illustration from right-angled triangles and the square of the hypothenuse,—is founded on this invention Edition: current; Page: [367] of saying what an author has not said, and leaving unsaid what he has.”

We thought, and still think, for reasons which our readers will soon understand, that we represented Mr. Mill’s principle quite fairly, and according to the rule of law and common sense, ut res magis valeat quam pereat. Let us, however, give him all the advantage of the explanation tendered by his advocate, and see what he will gain by it.

The Utilitarian doctrine then is, not that despots and aristocracies will always plunder and oppress the people to the last point, but that they will do so if nothing checks them.

In the first place, it is quite clear that the doctrine thus stated is of no use at all, unless the force of the checks be estimated. The first law of motion is, that a ball once projected will fly on to all eternity with undiminished velocity, unless something checks. The fact is, that a ball stops in a few seconds after proceeding a few yards with very variable motion. Every man would wring his child’s neck and pick his friend’s pocket if nothing checked him. In fact, the principle thus stated means only that governments will oppress unless they abstain from oppressing. This is quite true, we own. But we might with equal propriety turn the maxim round, and lay it down, as the fundamental principle of government, that all rulers will govern well, unless some motive interferes to keep them from doing so.

If there be, as the Westminster Reviewer acknowledges, certain checks which, under political institutions the most arbitrary in seeming, sometimes produce good government, and almost always place some restraint on the rapacity and cruelty of the powerful, surely the knowledge of those checks, of their nature, and of their effect, must be a most important part of the science of government. Does Mr. Mill say anything upon this part of the subject? Not one word.

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The line of defence now taken by the Utilitarians evidently degrades Mr. Mill’s theory of government from the rank which, till within the last few months, was claimed for it by the whole sect. It is no longer a practical system, fit to guide statesmen, but merely a barren exercise of the intellect, like those propositions in mechanics in which the effect of friction and of the resistance of the air is left out of the question; and which, therefore, though correctly deduced from the premises, are in practice utterly false. For, if Mr. Mill professes to prove only that absolute monarchy and aristocracy are pernicious without checks,—if he allows that there are checks which produce good government even under absolute monarchs and aristocracies,—and if he omits to tell us what those checks are, and what effects they produce under different circumstances,—he surely gives us no information which can be of real utility.

But the fact is,—and it is most extraordinary that the Westminster Reviewer should not have perceived it,—that, if once the existence of checks on the abuse of power in monarchies and aristocracies be admitted, the whole of Mr. Mill’s theory falls to the ground at once. This is so palpable, that, in spite of the opinion of the Westminster Reviewer, we must acquit Mr. Mill of having intended to make such an admission. We still think that the words, “where power over a community is attained, and nothing checks,” must not be understood to mean that under a monarchical or aristocratical form of government there can really be any check which can in any degree mitigate the wretchedness of the people.

For all possible checks may be classed under two general heads,—want of will, and want of power. Now, if a king or an aristocracy, having the power to plunder and oppress the people, can want the will, all Mr. Mill’s principles of human nature must be pronounced unsound. He tells us, “that the desire to possess unlimited power of inflicting pain upon others, is an inseparable part of human Edition: current; Page: [369] nature;” and that “a chain of inference, close and strong to a most unusual degree,” leads to the conclusion that those who possess this power will always desire to use it. It is plain, therefore, that, if Mr. Mill’s principles be sound, the check on a monarchical or an aristocratical government will not be the want of will to oppress.

If a king or an aristocracy, having, as Mr. Mill tells us that they always must have, the will to oppress the people with the utmost severity, want the power, then the government, by whatever name it may be called, must be virtually a mixed government or a pure democracy: for it is quite clear that the people possess some power in the state—some means of influencing the nominal rulers. But Mr. Mill has demonstrated that no mixed government can possibly exist, or at least that such a government must come to a very speedy end; therefore, every country in which people not in the service of the government have, for any length of time, been permitted to accumulate more than the bare means of subsistence must be a pure democracy. That is to say, France before the revolution, and Ireland during the last century, were pure democracies. Prussia, Austria, Russia, all the governments of the civilised world, are pure democracies. If this be not a reductio ad absurdum, we do not know what is.

The errors of Mr. Mill proceed principally from that radical vice in his reasoning which, in our last number, we described in the words of Lord Bacon. The Westminster Reviewer is unable to discover the meaning of our extracts from the Novum Organum, and expresses himself as follows:

“The quotations from Lord Bacon are misapplications, such as anybody may make to any thing he dislikes. There is no more resemblance between pain, pleasure, motives, &c., and substantia, generatio, corruptio, elementum, materia,—than between lines, angles, magnitudes, &c., and the same.”

It would perhaps be unreasonable to expect that a writer who cannot understand his own English should Edition: current; Page: [370] understand Lord Bacon’s Latin. We will therefore attempt to make our meaning clearer.

What Lord Bacon blames in the schoolmen of his time is this,—that they reasoned syllogistically on words which had not been defined with precision; such as moist, dry, generation, corruption, and so forth. Mr. Mill’s error is exactly of the same kind. He reasons syllogistically about power, pleasure, and pain, without attaching any definite notion to any one of those words. There is no more resemblance, says the Westminster Reviewer, between pain and substantia than between pain and a line or an angle. By his permission, in the very point to which Lord Bacon’s observation applies, Mr. Mill’s subjects do resemble the substantia and elementum of the schoolmen and differ from the lines and magnitudes of Euclid. We can reason a priori on mathematics, because we can define with an exactitude which precludes all possibility of confusion. If a mathematician were to admit the least laxity into his notions, if he were to allow himself to be deluded by the vague sense which words bear in popular use, or by the aspect of an ill-drawn diagram, if he were to forget in his reasonings that a point was indivisible, or that the definition of a line excluded breadth, there would be no end to his blunders. The schoolmen tried to reason mathematically about things which had not been, and perhaps could not be, defined with mathematical accuracy. We know the result. Mr. Mill has in our time attempted to do the same. He talks of power, for example, as if the meaning of the word power were as determinate as the meaning of the word circle. But, when we analyse his speculations, we find that his notion of power is, in the words of Bacon, “phantastica et male terminata.

There are two senses in which we may use the word power, and those words which denote the various distributions of power, as, for example, monarchy;—the one sense popular and superficial,—the other more scientific and accurate. Mr. Mill, since he chose to reason a priori, Edition: current; Page: [371] ought to have clearly pointed out in which sense he intended to use words of this kind, and to have adhered inflexibly to the sense on which he fixed. Instead of doing this, he flies backwards and forwards from the one sense to the other, and brings out conclusions at last which suit neither.

The state of those two communities to which he has himself referred—the kingdom of Denmark and the empire of Rome—may serve to illustrate our meaning. Looking merely at the surface of things, we should call Denmark a despotic monarchy, and the Roman world, in the first century after Christ, an aristocratical republic. Caligula was, in theory, nothing more than a magistrate elected by the senate, and subject to the senate. That irresponsible dignity which, in the most limited monarchies of our time, is ascribed to the person of the sovereign never belonged to the earlier Cæsars. The sentence of death which the great council of the commonwealth passed on Nero was strictly according to the theory of the constitution. Yet, in fact, the power of the Roman emperors approached nearer to absolute dominion than that of any prince in modern Europe. On the other hand, the King of Denmark, in theory the most despotic of princes, would in practice find it most perilous to indulge in cruelty and licentiousness. Nor is there, we believe, at the present moment a single sovereign in our part of the world who has so much real power over the lives of his subjects as Robespierre, while he lodged at a chandler’s and dined at a restaurateur’s, exercised over the lives of those whom he called his fellow-citizens.

Mr. Mill and the Westminster Reviewer seem to agree that there cannot long exist in any society a division of power between a monarch, an aristocracy, and the people, or between any two of them. However the power be distributed, one of the three parties will, according to them, inevitably monopolise the whole. Now, what is here meant by power? If Mr. Mill speaks of the external Edition: current; Page: [372] semblance of power,—of power recognised by the theory of the constitution,—he is palpably wrong. In England, for example, we have had for ages the name and form of a mixed government, if nothing more. Indeed, Mr. Mill himself owns that there are appearances which have given colour to the theory of the balance, though he maintains that these appearances are delusive. But, if he uses the word power in a deeper and philosophical sense, he is, if possible, still more in the wrong than on the former supposition. For, if he had considered in what the power of one human being over other human beings must ultimately consist, he would have perceived, not only that there are mixed governments in the world, but that all the governments in the world, and all the governments which can even be conceived as existing in the world, are virtually mixed.

If a king possessed the lamp of Aladdin,—if he governed by the help of a genius who carried away the daughters and wives of his subjects through the air to the royal Parc-aux-cerfs, and turned into stone every man who wagged a finger against his majesty’s government, there would indeed be an unmixed despotism. But, fortunately, a ruler can be gratified only by means of his subjects. His power depends on their obedience; and, as any three or four of them are more than a match for him by himself, he can only enforce the unwilling obedience of some by means of the willing obedience of others.

Take any of those who are popularly called absolute princes—Napoleon for example. Could Napoleon have walked through Paris, cutting off the head of one person in every house which he passed? Certainly not without the assistance of an army. If not, why not? Because the people had sufficient physical power to resist him, and would have put forth that power in defence of their lives and of the lives of their children. In other words, there was a portion of power in the democracy under Napoleon. Napoleon might probably have indulged himself in such an atrocious Edition: current; Page: [373] freak of power if his army would have seconded him. But, if his army had taken part with the people, he would have found himself utterly helpless; and, even if they had obeyed his orders against the people, they would not have suffered him to decimate their own body. In other words, there was a portion of power in the hands of a minority of the people, that is to say, in the hands of an aristocracy, under the reign of Napoleon.

To come nearer home,—Mr. Mill tells us that it is a mistake to imagine that the English government is mixed. He holds, we suppose, with all the politicians of the Utilitarian school, that it is purely aristocratical. There certainly is an aristocracy in England; and we are afraid that their power is greater than it ought to be. They have power enough to keep up the game-laws and corn-laws; but they have not power enough to subject the bodies of men of the lowest class to wanton outrage at their pleasure. Suppose that they were to make a law that any gentleman of two thousand a-year might have a day-labourer or a pauper flogged with a cat-of-nine-tails whenever the whim might take him. It is quite clear that the first day on which such flagellation should be administered would be the last day of the English aristocracy. In this point, and in many other points which might be named, the commonalty in our island enjoy a security quite as complete as if they exercised the right of universal suffrage. We say, therefore, that the English people have in their own hands a sufficient guarantee that in some points the aristocracy will conform to their wishes;—in other words, they have a certain portion of power over the aristocracy. Therefore the English government is mixed.

Wherever a king or an oligarchy refrains from the last extremity of rapacity and tyranny through fear of the resistance of the people, there the constitution, whatever it may be called, is in some measure democratical. The admixture of democratic power may be slight. It may Edition: current; Page: [374] be much slighter than it ought to be; but some admixture there is. Wherever a numerical minority, by means of superior wealth or intelligence, of political concert, or of military discipline, exercises a greater influence on the society than any other equal number of persons,—there, whatever the form of government may be called, a mixture of aristocracy does in fact exist. And, wherever a single man, from whatever cause, is so necessary to the community, or to any portion of it, that he possesses more power than any other man, there is a mixture of monarchy. This is the philosophical classification of governments: and if we use this classification we shall find, not only that there are mixed governments, but that all governments are, and must always be, mixed. But we may safely challenge Mr. Mill to give any definition of power, or to make any classification of governments, which shall bear him out in his assertion that a lasting division of authority is impracticable.

It is evidently on the real distribution of power, and not on names and badges, that the happiness of nations must depend. The representative system, though doubtless a great and precious discovery in politics, is only one of the many modes in which the democratic part of the community can efficiently check the governing few. That certain men have been chosen as deputies of the people,—that there is a piece of paper stating such deputies to possess certain powers,—these circumstances in themselves constitute no security for good government. Such a constitution nominally existed in France; while, in fact, an oligarchy of committees and clubs trampled at once on the electors and the elected. Representation is a very happy contrivance for enabling large bodies of men to exert their power with less risk of disorder than there would otherwise be. But, assuredly, it does not of itself give power. Unless a representative assembly is sure of being supported in the last resort by the physical strength of large masses who have spirit to Edition: current; Page: [375] defend the constitution and sense to defend it in concert, the mob of the town in which it meets may overawe it;—the howls of the listeners in its gallery may silence its deliberations;—an able and daring individual may dissolve it. And, if that sense and that spirit of which we speak be diffused through a society, then, even without a representative assembly, that society will enjoy many of the blessings of good government.

Which is the better able to defend himself;—a strong man with nothing but his fists, or a paralytic cripple encumbered with a sword which he cannot lift? Such, we believe, is the difference between Denmark and some new republics in which the constitutional forms of the United States have been most sedulously imitated.

Look at the Long Parliament on the day on which Charles came to seize the five members: and look at it again on the day when Cromwell stamped with his foot on its floor. On which day was its apparent power the greater? On which day was its real power the less? Nominally subject, it was able to defy the sovereign. Nominally sovereign, it was turned out of doors by its servant.

Constitutions are in politics what paper money is in commerce. They afford great facilities and conveniences. But we must not attribute to them that value which really belongs to what they represent. They are not power, but symbols of power, and will, in an emergency, prove altogether useless unless the power for which they stand be forthcoming. The real power by which the community is governed is made up of all the means which all its members possess of giving pleasure or pain to each other.

Great light may be thrown on the nature of a circulating medium by the phenomena of a state of barter. And in the same manner it may be useful to those who wish to comprehend the nature and operation of the outward signs of power to look at communities in which no such signs exist; for example, at the great community of Edition: current; Page: [376] nations. There we find nothing analogous to a constitution: but do we not find a government? We do in fact find government in its purest, and simplest, and most intelligible form. We see one portion of power acting directly on another portion of power. We see a certain police kept up; the weak to a certain degree protected; the strong to a certain degree restrained. We see the principle of the balance in constant operation. We see the whole system sometimes undisturbed by any attempt at encroachment for twenty or thirty years at a time; and all this is produced without a legislative assembly, or an executive magistracy—without tribunals—without any code which deserves the name; solely by the mutual hopes and fears of the various members of the federation. In the community of nations, the first appeal is to physical force. In communities of men, forms of government serve to put off that appeal, and often render it unnecessary. But it is still open to the oppressed or the ambitious.

Of course, we do not mean to deny that a form of government will, after it has existed for a long time, materially affect the real distribution of power throughout the community. This is because those who administer a government, with their dependents, form a compact and disciplined body, which, acting methodically and in concert, is more powerful than any other equally numerous body which is inferior in organisation. The power of rulers is not, as superficial observers sometimes seem to think, a thing sui generis. It is exactly similar in kind, though generally superior in amount, to that of any set of conspirators who plot to overthrow it. We have seen in our time the most extensive and the best organised conspiracy that ever existed—a conspiracy which possessed all the elements of real power in so great a degree that it was able to cope with a strong government, and to triumph over it—the Catholic Association. An Utilitarian would tell us, we suppose, that the Irish Catholics Edition: current; Page: [377] had no portion of political power whatever on the first day of the late Session of Parliament.

Let us really go beyond the surface of facts: let us, in the sound sense of the words, penetrate to the springs within; and the deeper we go the more reason shall we find to smile at those theorists who hold that the sole hope of the human race is in a rule-of-three sum and a ballot-box.

We must now return to the Westminster Reviewer. The following paragraph is an excellent specimen of his peculiar mode of understanding and answering arguments.

“The reply to the argument against ‘saturation,’ supplies its own answer. The reason why it is of no use to try to ‘saturate’ is precisely what the Edinburgh Reviewers have suggested,—‘that there is no limit to the number of thieves.’ There are the thieves, and the thieves’ cousins,—with their men-servants, their maid-servants, and their little ones, to the fortieth generation. It is true, that ‘a man cannot become a king or a member of the aristocracy whenever he chooses;’ but if there is to be no limit to the depredators except their own inclination to increase and multiply, the situation of those who are to suffer is as wretched as it needs be. It is impossible to define what are ‘corporal pleasures.’ A Duchess of Cleveland was a ‘corporal pleasure.’ The most disgraceful period in the history of any nation—that of the Restoration—presents an instance of the length to which it is possible to go in an attempt to ‘saturate’ with pleasures of this kind.”

To reason with such a writer is like talking to a deaf man who catches at a stray word, makes answer beside the mark, and is led further and further into error by every attempt to explain. Yet, that our readers may fully appreciate the abilities of the new philosophers, we shall take the trouble to go over some of our ground again.

Mr. Mill attempts to prove that there is no point of saturation with the objects of human desire. He then takes it for granted that men have no objects of desire Edition: current; Page: [378] but those which can be obtained only at the expense of the happiness of others. Hence he infers that absolute monarchs and aristocracies will necessarily oppress and pillage the people to a frightful extent.

We answered in substance thus. There are two kinds of objects of desire; those which give mere bodily pleasure, and those which please through the medium of associations. Objects of the former class, it is true, a man cannot obtain without depriving somebody else of a share. But then with these every man is soon satisfied. A king or an aristocracy cannot spend any very large portion of the national wealth on the mere pleasures of sense. With the pleasures which belong to us as reasoning and imaginative beings we are never satiated, it is true: but then, on the other hand, many of those pleasures can be obtained without injury to any person, and some of them can be obtained only by doing good to others.

The Westminster Reviewer, in his former attack on us, laughed at us for saying that a king or an aristocracy could not be easily satiated with the pleasures of sense, and asked why the same course was not tried with thieves. We were not a little surprised at so silly an objection from the pen, as we imagined, of Mr. Bentham. We returned, however, a very simple answer. There is no limit to the number of thieves. Any man who chooses can steal: but a man cannot become a member of the aristocracy or a king whenever he chooses. To satiate one thief, is to tempt twenty other people to steal. But by satiating one king or five hundred nobles with bodily pleasures we do not produce more kings or more nobles. The answer of the Westminster Reviewer we have quoted above; and it will amply repay our readers for the trouble of examining it. We never read any passage which indicated notions so vague and confused. The number of the thieves, says our Utilitarian, is not limited. For there are the dependents and friends of the king and of the nobles. Is it possible that he should not perceive that this comes under a different head? The bodily pleasures which a man Edition: current; Page: [379] in power dispenses among his creatures are bodily pleasures as respects his creatures, no doubt. But the pleasure which he derives from bestowing them is not a bodily pleasure. It is one of those pleasures which belong to him as a reasoning and imaginative being. No man of common understanding can have failed to perceive that, when we said that a king or an aristocracy might easily be supplied to satiety with sensual pleasures, we were speaking of sensual pleasures directly enjoyed by themselves. But “it is impossible,” says the Reviewer, “to define what are corporal pleasures.” Our brother would indeed, we suspect, find it a difficult task; nor, if we are to judge of his genius for classification from the specimen which immediately follows, would we advise him to make the attempt. “A Duchess of Cleveland was a corporal pleasure.” And to this wise remark is appended a note, setting forth that Charles the Second gave to the Duchess of Cleveland the money which he ought to have spent on the war with Holland. We scarcely know how to answer a man who unites so much pretension to so much ignorance. There are, among the many Utilitarians who talk about Hume, Condillac, and Hartley, a few who have read those writers. Let the Reviewer ask one of these what he thinks on the subject. We shall not undertake to whip a pupil of so little promise through his first course of metaphysics. We shall, therefore, only say—leaving him to guess and wonder what we can mean—that, in our opinion, the Duchess of Cleveland was not a merely corporal pleasure,—that the feeling which leads a prince to prefer one woman to all others, and to lavish the wealth of kingdoms on her, is a feeling which can only be explained by the law of association.

But we are tired, and even more ashamed than tired, of exposing these blunders. The whole article is of a piece. One passage, however, we must select, because it contains a very gross misrepresentation.

“ ‘They never alluded to the French Revolution for the purpose of proving that the poor were inclined to rob the rich.Edition: current; Page: [380] They only said, ‘as soon as the poor again began to compare their cottages and salads with the hotels and banquets of the rich, there would have been another scramble for property, another general confiscation,’ &c.”

We said that, if Mr. Mill’s principles of human nature were correct, there would have been another scramble for property, and another confiscation. We particularly pointed this out in our last article. We showed the Westminster Reviewer that he had misunderstood us. We dwelt particularly on the condition which was introduced into our statement. We said that we had not given, and did not mean to give, any opinion of our own. And, after this, the Westminster Reviewer thinks proper to repeat his former misrepresentation, without taking the least notice of that qualification to which we, in the most marked manner, called his attention.

We hasten on to the most curious part of the article under our consideration—the defence of the “greatest happiness principle.” The Reviewer charges us with having quite mistaken its nature.

“All that they have established is, that they do not understand it. Instead of the truism of the Whigs, ‘that the greatest happiness is the greatest happiness,’ what Mr. Bentham had demonstrated, or at all events had laid such foundations that there was no trouble in demonstrating, was, that the greatest happiness of the individual was in the long run to be obtained by pursuing the greatest happiness of the aggregate.”

It was distinctly admitted by the Westminster Reviewer, as we remarked in our last article, that he could give no answer to the question,—why governments should attempt to produce the greatest possible happiness? The Reviewer replies thus:—

“Nothing of the kind will be admitted at all. In the passage thus selected to be tacked to the other, the question started was, concerning ‘the object of government;’ in which government was spoken of as an operation, not as anything that is capable of feeling pleasure or pain. In this sense it is true enough, that ought is not predicable of governments.”

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We will quote, once again, the passage which we quoted in our last Number; and we really hope that our brother critic will feel something like shame while he peruses it.

“The real answer appeared to be, that men at large ought not to allow a government to afflict them with more evil or less good, than they can help. What a government ought to do is a mysterious and searching question which those may answer who know what it means; but what other men ought to do is a question of no mystery at all. The word ought, if it means any thing, must have reference to some kind of interest or motives; and what interest a government has in doing right, when it happens to be interested in doing wrong, is a question for the schoolmen. The fact appears to be that ought is not predicable of governments. The question is not, why governments are bound not to do this or that, but why other men should let them if they can help it. The point is not to determine why the lion should not eat sheep, but why men should not eat their own mutton if they can.”

We defy the Westminster Reviewer to reconcile this passage with the “general happiness principle” as he now states it. He tells us that he meant by government, not the people invested with the powers of government, but a mere operation incapable of feeling pleasure or pain. We say, that he meant the people invested with the powers of government, and nothing else. It is true that ought is not predicable of an operation. But who would ever dream of raising any question about the duties of an operation? What did the Reviewer mean by saying, that a government could not be interested in doing right because it was interested in doing wrong? Can an operation be interested in either? And what did he mean by his comparison about the lion? Is a lion an operation incapable of pain or pleasure? And what did he mean by the expression, “other men,” so obviously opposed to the word “government?” But let the public judge between us. It is superfluous to argue a point so clear.

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The Reviewer does indeed seem to feel that his expressions cannot be explained away, and attempts to shuffle out of the difficulty by owning, that “the double meaning of the word government was not got clear of without confusion.” He has now, at all events, he assures us, made himself master of Mr. Bentham’s philosophy. The real and genuine “greatest happiness principle” is, that the greatest happiness of every individual is identical with the greatest happiness of society; and all other “greatest happiness principles” whatever are counterfeits. “This,” says he, “is the spirit of Mr. Bentham’s principle; and if there is anything opposed to it in any former statement it may be corrected by the present.”

Assuredly, if a fair and honourable opponent had, in discussing a question so abstruse as that concerning the origin of moral obligation, made some unguarded admission inconsistent with the spirit of his doctrines, we should not be inclined to triumph over him. But no tenderness is due to a writer who, in the very act of confessing his blunders, insults those by whom his blunders have been detected, and accuses them of misunderstanding what, in fact, he has himself mis-stated.

The whole of this transaction illustrates excellently the real character of this sect. A paper comes forth, professing to contain a full development of the “greatest happiness principle,” with the latest improvements of Mr. Bentham. The writer boasts that his article has the honour of being the announcement and the organ of this wonderful discovery, which is to make “the bones of sages and patriots stir within their tombs.” This “magnificent principle” is then stated thus: Mankind ought to pursue their greatest happiness. But there are persons whose interest is opposed to the greatest happiness of mankind. Ought is not predicable of such persons. For the word ought has no meaning unless it be used with reference to some interest.

We answered, with much more lenity than we should Edition: current; Page: [383] have shown to such nonsense, had it not proceeded, as we supposed, from Mr. Bentham, that interest was synonymous with greatest happiness; and that, therefore, if the word ought has no meaning, unless used with reference to interest, then, to say that mankind ought to pursue their greatest happiness, is simply to say, that the greatest happiness is the greatest happiness; that every individual pursues his own happiness; that either what he thinks his happiness must coincide with the greatest happiness of society or not; that, if what he thinks his happiness coincides with the greatest happiness of society, he will attempt to promote the greatest happiness of society whether he ever heard of the “greatest happiness principle” or not; and that, by the admission of the Westminster Reviewer, if his happiness is inconsistent with the greatest happiness of society, there is no reason why he should promote the greatest happiness of society. Now, that there are individuals who think that for their happiness which is not for the greatest happiness of society is evident. The Westminster Reviewer allowed that some of these individuals were in the right; and did not pretend to give any reason which could induce any one of them to think himself in the wrong. So that the “magnificent principle” turned out to be, either a truism or a contradiction in terms; either this maxim—“Do what you do;” or this maxim, “Do what you cannot do.”

The Westminster Reviewer had the wit to see that he could not defend this palpable nonsense; but, instead of manfully owning that he had misunderstood the whole nature of the “greatest happiness principle” in the summer, and had obtained new light during the autumn, he attempts to withdraw the former principle unobserved, and to substitute another, directly opposed to it, in its place; clamouring all the time against our unfairness, like one who, while changing the cards, diverts the attention of the table from his sleight of Edition: current; Page: [384] hand by vociferating charges of foul play against other people.

The “greatest happiness principle” for the present quarter is then this,—that every individual will best promote his own happiness in this world, religious considerations being left out of the question, by promoting the greatest happiness of the whole species. And this principle, we are told, holds good with respect to kings and aristocracies as well as with other people.

“It is certain that the individual operators in any government, if they were thoroughly intelligent and entered into a perfect calculation of all existing chances, would seek for their own happiness in the promotion of the general; which brings them, if they knew it, under Mr. Bentham’s rule. The mistake of supposing the contrary, lies in confounding criminals who have had the luck to escape punishment with those who have the risk still before them. Suppose, for instance, a member of the House of Commons were at this moment to debate within himself, whether it would be for his ultimate happiness to begin, according to his ability, to misgovern. If he could be sure of being as lucky as some that are dead and gone, there might be difficulty in finding him an answer. But he is not sure; and never can be, till he is dead. He does not know that he is not close upon the moment when misgovernment such as he is tempted to contemplate, will be made a terrible example of. It is not fair to pick out the instance of the thief that has died unhanged. The question is, whether thieving is at this moment an advisable trade to begin with all the possibilities of hanging not got over? This is the spirit of Mr. Bentham’s principle; and if there is any thing opposed to it in any former statement, it may be corrected by the present.”

We hope that we have now at last got to the real “magnificent principle,”—to the principle which is really to make “the bones of the sages and patriots stir.” What effect it may produce on the bones of the dead we shall not pretend to decide; but we are sure that it will do very little for the happiness of the living.

In the first place, nothing is more certain than this, that the Utilitarian theory of government, as developed Edition: current; Page: [385] in Mr. Mill’s Essay and in all the other works on the subject which have been put forth by the sect, rests on these two principles,—that men follow their interest, and that the interest of individuals may be, and in fact perpetually is, opposed to the interest of society. Unless these two principles be granted, Mr. Mill’s Essay does not contain one sound sentence. All his arguments against monarchy and aristocracy, all his arguments in favour of democracy, nay, the very argument by which he shows that there is any necessity for having government at all, must be rejected as utterly worthless.

This is so palpable that even the Westminster Reviewer, though not the most clear-sighted of men, could not help seeing it. Accordingly, he attempts to guard himself against the objection, after the manner of such reasoners, by committing two blunders instead of one. “All this,” says he, “only shows that the members of a government would do well if they were all-wise;” and he proceeds to tell us that, as rulers are not all-wise, they will invariably act against this principle wherever they can, so that the democratical checks will still be necessary to produce good government.

No form which human folly takes is so richly and exquisitely laughable as the spectacle of an Utilitarian in a dilemma. What earthly good can there be in a principle upon which no man will act until he is all-wise? A certain most important doctrine, we are told, has been demonstrated so clearly that it ought to be the foundation of the science of government. And yet the whole frame of government is to be constituted exactly as if this fundamental doctrine were false, and on the supposition that no human being will ever act as if he believed it to be true!

The whole argument of the Utilitarians in favour of universal suffrage proceeds on the supposition that even the rudest and most uneducated men cannot, for any length of time, be deluded into acting against their own Edition: current; Page: [386] true interest. Yet now they tell us that, in all aristocratical communities, the higher and more educated class will, not occasionally, but invariably, act against its own interest. Now, the only use of proving anything, as far as we can see, is that people may believe it. To say that a man does what he believes to be against his happiness is a contradiction in terms. If, therefore, government and laws are to be constituted on the supposition on which Mr. Mill’s Essay is founded, that all individuals will, whenever they have power over others put into their hands, act in opposition to the general happiness, then government and laws must be constituted on the supposition that no individual believes, or ever will believe, his own happiness to be identical with the happiness of society. That is to say, government and laws are to be constituted on the supposition that no human being will ever be satisfied by Mr. Bentham’s proof of his “greatest happiness principle,”—a supposition which may be true enough, but which says little, we think, for the principle in question.

But where has this principle been demonstrated? We are curious, we confess, to see this demonstration which is to change the face of the world and yet is to convince nobody. The most amusing circumstance is that the Westminster Reviewer himself does not seem to know whether the principle has been demonstrated or not. “Mr. Bentham,” he says, “has demonstrated it, or at all events has laid such foundations that there is no trouble in demonstrating it.” Surely it is rather strange that such a matter should be left in doubt. The Reviewer proposed, in his former article, a slight verbal emendation in the statement of the principle; he then announced that the principle had received its last improvement; and gloried in the circumstance that the Westminster Review had been selected as the organ of that improvement. Did it never occur to him that one slight improvement to a doctrine is to prove it?

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Mr. Bentham has not demonstrated the “greatest happiness principle,” as now stated. He is far too wise a man to think of demonstrating any such thing. In those sections of his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, to which the Reviewer refers us in his note, there is not a word of the kind. Mr. Bentham says, most truly, that there are no occasions in which a man has not some motives for consulting the happiness of other men; and he proceeds to set forth what those motives are—sympathy on all occasions, and the love of reputation on most occasions. This is the very doctrine which we have been maintaining against Mr. Mill and the Westminster Reviewer. The principal charge which we brought against Mr. Mill was, that those motives to which Mr. Bentham ascribes so much influence were quite left out of consideration in his theory. The Westminster Reviewer, in the very article now before us, abuses us for saying, in the spirit, and almost in the words of Mr. Bentham, that “there is a certain check to the rapacity and cruelty of men in their desire of the good opinion of others.” But does this principle, in which we fully agree with Mr. Bentham, go the length of the new “greatest happiness principle?” The question is, not whether men have some motives for promoting the greatest happiness, but whether the stronger motives be those which impel them to promote the greatest happiness. That this would always be the case if men knew their own worldly interests is the assertion of the Reviewer. As he expresses some doubt whether Mr. Bentham has demonstrated this or not, we would advise him to set the point at rest by giving his own demonstration.

The Reviewer has not attempted to give a general confirmation of the “greatest happiness principle;” but he has tried to prove that it holds good in one or two particular cases. And even in those particular cases he has utterly failed. A man, says he, who calculated the chances fairly would perceive that it would be for his greatest Edition: current; Page: [388] happiness to abstain from stealing; for a thief runs a greater risk of being hanged than an honest man.

It would have been wise, we think, in the Westminster Reviewer, before he entered on a discussion of this sort, to settle in what human happiness consists. Each of the ancient sects of philosophy held some tenet on this subject which served for a distinguishing badge. The summum bonum of the Utilitarians, as far as we can judge from the passage which we are now considering, is the not being hanged.

That it is an unpleasant thing to be hanged, we most willingly concede to our brother. But that the whole question of happiness or misery resolves itself into this single point, we cannot so easily admit. We must look at the thing purchased as well as the price paid for it. A thief, assuredly, runs a greater risk of being hanged than a labourer; and so an officer in the army runs a greater risk of being shot than a banker’s clerk; and a governor of India runs a greater risk of dying of cholera than a lord of the bedchamber. But does it therefore follow that every man, whatever his habits or feelings may be, would, if he knew his own happiness, become a clerk rather than a cornet, or goldstick in waiting rather than governor of India?

Nothing can be more absurd than to suppose, like the Westminster Reviewer, that thieves steal only because they do not calculate the chances of being hanged as correctly as honest men. It never seems to have occurred to him as possible that a man may so greatly prefer the life of a thief to the life of a labourer that he may determine to brave the risk of detection and punishment, though he may even think that risk greater than it really is. And how, on Utilitarian principles, is such a man to be convinced that he is in the wrong? “You will be found out.”—“Undoubtedly.”—“You will be hanged within two years.”—“I expect to be hanged within one year.”—“Then why do you pursue this lawless mode of life?”—“Because Edition: current; Page: [389] I would rather live for one year with plenty of money, dressed like a gentleman, eating and drinking of the best, frequenting public places, and visiting a dashing mistress, than break stones on the road, or sit down to the loom, with the certainty of attaining a good old age. It is my humour. Are you answered?”

A king, says the Reviewer again, would govern well, if he were wise, for fear of provoking his subjects to insurrection. Therefore, the true happiness of a king is identical with the greatest happiness of society. Tell Charles II. that, if he will be constant to his queen, sober at table, regular at prayers, frugal in his expenses, active in the transaction of business, if he will drive the herd of slaves, buffoons, and procurers from Whitehall, and make the happiness of his people the rule of his conduct, he will have a much greater chance of reigning in comfort to an advanced age; that his profusion and tyranny have exasperated his subjects, and may, perhaps, bring him to an end as terrible as his father’s. He might answer, that he saw the danger, but that life was not worth having without ease and vicious pleasures. And what has our philosopher to say? Does he not see that it is no more possible to reason a man out of liking a short life and a merry one more than a long life and a dull one than to reason a Greenlander out of his train oil? We may say that the tastes of the thief and the tyrant differ from ours; but what right have we to say, looking at this world alone, that they do not pursue their greatest happiness very judiciously?

It is the grossest ignorance of human nature to suppose that another man calculates the chances differently from us, merely because he does what, in his place, we should not do. Every man has tastes and propensities, which he is disposed to gratify at a risk and expense which people of different temperaments and habits think extravagant. “Why,” says Horace, “does one brother like to lounge in the forum, to play in the Campus, and Edition: current; Page: [390] to anoint himself in the baths, so well, that he would not put himself out of his way for all the wealth of the richest plantations of the East; while the other toils from sunrise to sunset for the purpose of increasing his fortune?” Horace attributes the diversity to the influence of the Genius and the natal star: and eighteen hundred years have taught us only to disguise our ignorance beneath a more philosophical language.

We think, therefore, that the Westminster Reviewer, even if we admit his calculation of the chances to be right, does not make out his case. But he appears to us to miscalculate chances more grossly than any person who ever acted or speculated in this world. “It is for the happiness,” says he, “of a member of the House of Commons to govern well; for he never can tell that he is not close on the moment when misgovernment will be terribly punished: if he was sure that he should be as lucky as his predecessors, it might before his happiness to misgovern; but he is not sure.” Certainly a member of Parliament is not sure that he shall not be torn in pieces by a mob, or guillotined by a revolutionary tribunal for his opposition to reform. Nor is the Westminster Reviewer sure that he shall not be hanged for writing in favour of universal suffrage. We may have democratical massacres. We may also have aristocratical proscriptions. It is not very likely, thank God, that we should see either. But the radical, we think, runs as much danger as the aristocrat. As to our friend the Westminster Reviewer, he, it must be owned, has as good aright as any man on his side, “Antonî gladios contemnere.” But take the man whose votes, ever since he has sate in Parliament, have been the most uniformly bad, and oppose him to the man whose votes have been the most uniformly good. The Westminster Reviewer would probably select Mr. Sadler and Mr. Hume. Now, does any rational man think,—will the Westminster Reviewer himself say,—that Mr. Sadler runs more risk of coming to a miserable end on account of his public conduct Edition: current; Page: [391] than Mr. Hume? Mr. Sadler does not know that he is not close on the moment when he will be made an example of; for Mr. Sadler knows, if possible, less about the future than about the past. But he has no more reason to expect that he shall be made an example of than to expect that London will be swallowed up by an earthquake next spring; and it would be as foolish in him to act on the former supposition as on the latter. There is a risk; for there is a risk of every thing which does not involve a contradiction; but it is a risk from which no man in his wits would give a shilling to be insured. Yet our Westminster Reviewer tells us that this risk alone, apart from all considerations of religion, honour, or benevolence, would, as a matter of mere calculation, induce a wise member of the House of Commons to refuse any emoluments which might be offered him as the price of his support to pernicious measures.

We have hitherto been examining cases proposed by our opponent. It is now our turn to propose one; and we beg that he will spare no wisdom in solving it.

A thief is condemned to be hanged. On the eve of the day fixed for the execution a turnkey enters his cell and tells him that all is safe, that he has only to slip out, that his friends are waiting in the neighbourhood with disguises, and that a passage is taken for him in an American packet. Now, it is clearly for the greatest happiness of society that the thief should be hanged and the corrupt turnkey exposed and punished. Will the Westminster Reviewer tell us that it is for the greatest happiness of the thief to summon the head jailer and tell the whole story? Now, either it is for the greatest happiness of a thief to be hanged or it is not. If it is, then the argument, by which the Westminster Reviewer attempts to prove that men do not promote their own happiness by thieving, falls to the ground. If it is not, then there are men whose greatest happiness is at variance with the greatest happiness of the community.

Edition: current; Page: [392]

To sum up our arguments shortly, we say that the “greatest happiness principle,” as now stated, is diametrically opposed to the principle stated in the Westminster Review three months ago.

We say that, if the “greatest happiness principle,” as now stated, be sound, Mr. Mill’s Essay, and all other works concerning Government which, like that Essay, proceed on the supposition that individuals may have an interest opposed to the greatest happiness of society, are fundamentally erroneous.

We say that those who hold this principle to be sound must be prepared to maintain, either that monarchs and aristocracies may be trusted to govern the community, or else that men cannot be trusted to follow their own interest when that interest is demonstrated to them.

We say that, if men cannot be trusted to follow their own interest when that interest has been demonstrated to them, then the Utilitarian arguments in favour of universal suffrage are good for nothing.

We say that the “greatest happiness principle” has not been proved; that it cannot be generally proved; that even in the particular cases selected by the Reviewer it is not clear that the principle is true; and that many cases might be stated in which the common sense of mankind would at once pronounce it to be false.

We now leave the Westminster Reviewer to alter and amend his “magnificent principle” as he thinks best. Unlimited, it is false. Properly limited, it will be barren. The “greatest happiness principle” of the 1st of July, as far as we could discern its meaning through a cloud of rodomontade, was an idle truism. The “greatest happiness principle” of the 1st of October is, in the phrase of the American newspapers, “important if true.” But unhappily it is not true. It is not our business to conjecture what new maxim is to make the bones of sages and patriots stir on the 1st of December. We can only say that, unless it be something infinitely more ingenious Edition: current; Page: [393] than its two predecessors, we shall leave it unmolested. The Westminster Reviewer may, if he pleases, indulge himself like Sultan Schahriar with espousing a rapid succession of virgin theories. But we must beg to be excused from playing the part of the vizier who regularly attended on the day after the wedding to strangle the new Sultana.

The Westminster Reviewer charges us with urging it as an objection to the “greatest happiness principle” that “it is included in the Christian morality.” This is a mere fiction of his own. We never attacked the morality of the Gospel. We blamed the Utilitarians for claiming the credit of a discovery, when they had merely stolen that morality, and spoiled it in the stealing. They have taken the precept of Christ and left the motive; and they demand the praise of a most wonderful and beneficial invention, when all that they have done has been to make a most useful maxim useless by separating it from its sanction. On religious principles it is true that every individual will best promote his own happiness by promoting the happiness of others. But if religious considerations be left out of the question it is not true. If we do not reason on the supposition of a future state, where is the motive? If we do reason on that supposition, where is the discovery?

The Westminster Reviewer tells us that “we wish to see the science of Government unsettled because we see no prospect of a settlement which accords with our interests.” His angry eagerness to have questions settled resembles that of a judge in one of Dryden’s plays—the Amphitryon, we think—who wishes to decide a cause after hearing only one party, and, when he has been at last compelled to listen to the statement of the defendant, flies into a passion, and exclaims, “There now, sir! See what you have done. The case was quite clear a minute ago; and you must come and puzzle it!” He is the zealot of a sect. We are searchers after truth. He Edition: current; Page: [394] wishes to have the question settled. We wish to have it sifted first. The querulous manner in which we have been blamed for attacking Mr. Mill’s system, and propounding no system of our own, reminds us of the horror with which that shallow dogmatist, Epicurus, the worst parts of whose nonsense the Utilitarians have attempted to revive, shrank from the keen and searching scepticism of the second Academy.

It is not our fault that an experimental science of vast extent does not admit of being settled by a short demonstration;—that the subtilty of nature, in the moral as in the physical world, triumphs over the subtilty of syllogism. The quack, who declares on affidavit that, by using his pills and attending to his printed directions, hundreds who had been dismissed incurable from the hospitals have renewed their youth like the eagles, may, perhaps, think that Sir Henry Halford, when he feels the pulses of patients, inquires about their symptoms, and prescribes a different remedy to each, is unsettling the science of medicine for the sake of a fee.

If, in the course of this controversy, we have refrained from expressing any opinion respecting the political institutions of England, it is not because we have not an opinion or because we shrink from avowing it. The Utilitarians, indeed, conscious that their boasted theory of government would not bear investigation, were desirous to turn the dispute about Mr. Mill’s Essay into a dispute about the Whig party, rotten boroughs, unpaid magistrates, and ex-officio informations. When we blamed them for talking nonsense, they cried out that they were insulted for being reformers,—just as poor Ancient Pistol swore that the scars which he had received from the cudgel of Fluellen were got in the Gallia wars. We, however, did not think it desirable to mix up political questions, about which the public mind is violently agitated, with a great problem in moral philosophy.

Our notions about Government are not, however, Edition: current; Page: [395] altogether unsettled. We have an opinion about parliamentary reform, though we have not arrived at that opinion by the royal road which Mr. Mill has opened for the explorers of political science. As we are taking leave, probably for the last time, of this controversy, we will state very concisely what our doctrines are. On some future occasion we may, perhaps, explain and defend them at length.

Our fervent wish, and we will add our sanguine hope, is that we may see such a reform of the House of Commons as may render its votes the express image of the opinion of the middle orders of Britain. A pecuniary qualification we think absolutely necessary; and, in settling its amount, our object would be to draw the line in such a manner that every decent farmer and shopkeeper might possess the elective franchise. We should wish to see an end put to all the advantages which particular forms of property possess over other forms, and particular portions of property over other equal portions. And this would content us. Such a reform would, according to Mr. Mill, establish an aristocracy of wealth, and leave the community without protection and exposed to all the evils of unbridled power. Most willingly would we stake the whole controversy between us on the success of the experiment which we propose.

end of the first volume.
Edition: current; Page: [396]




See Vol. II. p. 430.


Vol. I. p. 160.

As at Vol. I. pp. 313, 395.


Duodecim scripta, a game of mixed chance and skill, which seems to have been very fashionable in the higher circles of Rome. The famous lawyer Mucius was renowned for his skill in it.—(Cic. Orat. i. 50.)


Venus was the Roman term for the highest throw on the dice.


Cic. in Pis.


This game consisted in projecting wine out of cups; it was a diversion extremely fashionable at Athenian entertainments.

Pauson was an Athenian painter, whose name was synonymous with beggary. See Aristophanes; Plutus, 602. From his poverty, I am inclined to suppose that he painted historical pictures.

See Aristophanes; Plutus, 542.


See Theocritus; Idyll ii. 128.

This was the most disreputable part of Athens. See Aristophanes; Pax, 165.


See Plato’s Theætetus.

See Aristophanes; Nubes, 150.


The stipend of an Athenian juryman.

Xenophon: Convivium.

A celebrated highwayman of Attica. See Aristophanes; Aves, 711; and in several other passages.


The police officers of Athens.


See Thucydides, vi. 8.


See Xenophon; Memorabilia, iii.

A favourite epithet of Athens. See Aristophanes; Acharn. 637.

See Aristophanes; Equites, 1375.


See Aristophanes; Vespæ, 44.


See Æschylus; Prometheus, 88.


See Thucydides, vi. 13.

Callicles plays a conspicuous part in the Gorgias of Plato.


See Thucydides, vi. 90.


The mother of Euripides was a herb-woman. This was a favourite topic of Aristophanes.

The hero of one of the lost plays of Euripides, who appears to have been brought upon the stage in the garb of a beggar. See Aristophanes; Acharn. 430; and in other places.


Homer’s Odyssey, xii. 63.

See the close of Plato’s Gorgias.


The scene which follows is founded upon history. Thucydides tells us, in his sixth book, that about this time Alcibiades was suspected of having assisted at a mock celebration of these famous mysteries. It was the opinion of the vulgar among the Athenians that extraordinary privileges were granted in the other world to all who had been initiated.

The right of Euripides to this line is somewhat disputable. See Aristophanes; Plutus, 1152.


See Euripides; Hippolytus, 608. For the jesuitical morality of this line Euripides is bitterly attacked by the comic poet.


See Homer’s Odyssey, xi. 538.

The crier and torch-bearer were important functionaries at the celebration of the Eleusinian mysteries.

The name of king was given in the Athenian democracy to the magistrate who exercised those spiritual functions which in the monarchical times had belonged to the sovereign. His court took cognisance of offences against the religion of the state.


See Herodotus, viii. 28.

A sow was sacrificed to Ceres at the admission to the greater mysteries.


Tassoni; Secchia Rapita, canto i. stanza 6.


Sismondi; Littérature du Midi de l’Europe.

  • “Tu proverai si come sa di sale
  • Lo pane altrui, e come è duro calle
  • Lo scendere e’l salir per l’altrui scale.”
  • Paradiso, canto xvii.

“L’amico mio, e non della ventura.”—Inferno, canto ii.


“La valle d’abisso doloroso.”—Inferno, canto iv.


I cannot help observing that Gray’s imitation of that noble line

“Che paia ’l giorno pianger che si muore,”—

is one of the most striking instances of injudicious plagiarism with which I am acquainted. Dante did not put this strong personification at the beginning of his description. The imagination of the reader is so well prepared for it by the previous lines, that it appears perfectly natural and pathetic. Placed as Gray has placed it, neither preceded nor followed by any thing that harmonises with it, it becomes a frigid conceit. Woe to the unskilful rider who ventures on the horses of Achilles.

  • ὁι δ’ ἀλεγεινοὶ
  • ἀνδράσι γε θνητοῖσι δαμήμεναι ἠδ’ ὀχέεσθαι,
  • ἄλλῳγ’ ὴ Ἀχιλῆϊ τὸν ἀθανάτη τέκε μήτηρ.

Inferno, canto i.


Inferno, canto xxxii.

  • Che suoi guai non par che senta;
  • Vecchia, oziosa, e lenta.
  • Dormirà sempre, e non fia chi la svegli?
  • Le man l’ avess’ io avvolte entro e capegli.
  • —Canzone xi.
  • Maratona, e le mortali strette
  • Che difese il Leon con poca gente.
  • —Canzone v.

Ἀκρότης καὶ ὲξοχή τις λόγων ὲστι τὰ ὕψη.

  • —καὶ κύσε χεῖρας,
  • δεινὰς, ἀνδροϕόνους, αἵ οἱ πολέας κτάνον υῖας.

It has often occurred to me, that to the circumstances mentioned in the text is to be referred one of the most remarkable events in Grecian history; I mean the silent but rapid downfall of the Lacedæmonian power. Soon after the termination of the Peloponnesian war, the strength of Lacedæmon began to decline. Its military discipline, its social institutions, were the same. Agesilaus, during whose reign the change took place, was the ablest of its kings. Yet the Spartan armies were frequently defeated in pitched battles,—an occurrence considered impossible in the earlier ages of Greece. They are allowed to have fought most bravely; yet they were no longer attended by the success to which they had formerly been accustomed. No solution of these circumstances is offered, as far as I know, by any ancient author. The real cause, I conceive, was this. The Lacedæmonians, alone among the Greeks, formed a permanent standing army. While the citizens of other commonwealths were engaged in agriculture and trade, they had no employment whatever but the study of military discipline. Hence, during the Persian and Peloponnesian wars, they had that advantage over their neighbours which regular troops always possess over militia. This advantage they lost, when other states began, at a later period, to employ mercenary forces, who were probably as superior to them in the art of war as they had hitherto been to their antagonists.


See the speech of Æschines against Timarchus.

Μειρακύλλιον ὢν κομιδῇ.


Whoever will read the speech of Demosthenes against Midias will find the statements in the text confirmed, and will have, moreover, the pleasure of becoming acquainted with one of the finest compositions in the world.


“If Government is founded upon this, as a law of human nature, that a man, if able, will take from others anything which they have and he desires, it is sufficiently evident that when a man is called a king, he does not change his nature: so that, when he has power to take what he pleases, he will take what he pleases. To suppose that he will not, is to affirm that government is unnecessary, and that human beings will abstain from injuring one another of their own accord.”—Mill on Government.


Bacon, Novum Organum.