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ON MITFORD'S HISTORY OF GREECE.
" When now
This is a book which enjoys a great and in- being unlike the rest of the world. Every creasing popularity; but, while it has attracted child has heard of Linnæus, therefore Mr. Mit a considerable share of the public attention, ford calls him Linné; Rousseau is known all it has been little noticed by the critics. Mr. over Europe as Jean Jacques, therefore Mr Mitford has almost succeeded in mounting, Mitsord bestows on him the strange appellation anperceived by those whose office it is to watch of John James. such aspirants, to a high place among histo Had Mr. Mitford undertaken a history of any rians. He has taken a seat on the dais without other country than Greece, this propensity being challenged by a single seneschal. To would have rendered his work useless and oppose the progress of his fame is now almost absurd. His occasional remarks on the affairs a hopeless enterprise. Had he been reviewed of ancient Rome and modern Europe are full with candid severity, when he had published of errors; but he writes of times, with respect only his first volume, his work would either to which almost every other writer has been in have deserved its reputation, or would never the wrong, and, therefore, by resolutely deviathave obtained it. “Then,” as Indra says of ing from his predecessors, he is often in the Kehama, “then was the time to strike.” The right. time was neglected; and the consequence is, Almost all the modern historians of Greece that Mr. Mitford, like Kehama, has laid his have shown the grossest ignorance of the most victorious hand on the literary Amreeta, and obvious phenomena of human nature. In their seems about to taste the precious elixir of im- representations the generals and statesmen of mortality. I shall venture to emulate the cou- antiquity are absolutely divested of all indirage of the honest Glendoveer
viduality. They are personifications; they
are passions, talents, opinions, virtues, vices, He saw the Amreeta in Kebama's hand,
but not men. Inconsistency is a thing of which An impulse that defied all self-command, In that extremity,
these writers have no notion. That a man Stung him, and he resolved to seize the cup may have been liberal in his youth and ava. And dare the Rajah's force in Seeva's sight. ricious in his age, cruel to one enemy and Forward he sprung to tempt the unequal fray."
merciful to another, is to them utterly inconIn plain words, I shall offer a few considera- ceivable. If the facts be undeniable, they suptions, which may tend to reduce an overpraised pose some strange and deep design, in order to writer to his proper level.
explain what, as every one who has observed The principal characteristic of this historian, his own mind knows, needs no explanation at the origin of his excellencies and his defects, all. This is a mode of writing very acceptis a love of singularity. He has no notion of able to the multitude, who have always been acgoing with a multitude to do either good or customed to make gods and demons out of men evil. An exploded opinion, or an unpopular very little better or worse than themselves; but it person, has an irresistible charm for him. appears contemptible to all who have watched The same perverseness may be traced in his the changes of human character—to all who diction. His style would never have been ele- have observed the influence of time, of circumgant, but it might at least have been manly stances, and of associates, on mankind-to all and perspicuous; and nothing but the most who have seen a hero in the gout, a democrat elaborate care could possibly have made it so in the church, a pedant in love, or a philosopher bad as it is. It is distinguished by harsh in liquor. This practice of painting in nothing phrases, strange collocations, occasional sole- but black and white is unpardonable even in cisms, frequent obscurity, and, above all, by a the drama. It is the great fault of Alfieri; and peculiar oddity, which can no more be de- how much it injures the effect of his composiscribed than it can be overlooked. Nor is this tions will be obvious to every one who will all. Mr. Mitford piques himself on spelling compare his Rosmunda with the Lady Macbeth better than any of his neighbours; and this not of Shakspeare. The one is a wicked woman; only in ancient names, which he mangles in the other is a fiend. Her only feeling is hatred; defiance both of custom and of reason, but in all her words are curses. We are at once the most ordinary word; of the English lan- shocked and fatigued by the spectacle of such guage. It is, in itself, a matter perfectly indif- raving cruelty, excited by no provocation, referent whether we call a foreigner by the name peatedly changing its object, and constant in which he bears in his own language, or by that nothing but in its inextinguishable thirst for which corresponds to it in ours; whether we blood. say Lorenzo de Medici, or Lawrence de Medici, In history this error is far more disgraceful Jean Chauvin, or John Calvin. In such cases, Indeed, there is no fault which so completely established usage is considered as law by all ruins a narrative in the opinion of a judicious writers except Mr. Mitford. If he were always reader. We know that the line of demarcation consistent with himself, he might be excused between good and bad men is so faintly marked for sometimes disagreeing with his neighbours; as often to elude the most careful investigation but be proceeds on no principle but that of of those who have the best opportunities for
idaging. Public men, above all, are surround- scriptions of the great events which they wited with so many temptations and difficulties, nessed, and the great men with whom they as. that some doubt must almost always hang over sociated. When we read the account which their real dispositions and intentions. The Plutarch and Rollin have given of the same lives of Pym, Cromwell, Monk, Clarendon, period, we scarcely know our old acquaintance Marlborough, Burnet, Walpole, are well known again; we are utterly confounded by the meloto us. We are acquainted with their actions, dramatic effect of the narration and the sublime their speeches, their writings; we have abun- coxcombry of the characters. dance of letters and well-authenticated anec These are the principal errors into which dotes relating to them: yet what candid man the predecessors of Mr. Mitford have fallen; will venture very positively to say which of and from most of these he is free. His faluts them were honest and which of them were dis- are of a completely different description. llis honest men. It appears easier to pronounce to be hoped that the students of history niay decidedly upon the great characters of antiqui- now be saved, like Dorax in Dryden's play, by ty, not because we have greater means of dis- swallowing two conflicting poisons, each of covering truth, but simply because we have which may serve as an antidote to the other. less means of detecting error. The modern The first and most important difference behistorians of Greece have forgotten this. Their tween Mr. Mitford and those who have preheroes and villains are as consistent in all their ceded him, is in his narration. Here the adsayings and doings as the c-rdinal virtues and vantage lies, for the most part, on his side. the deadly sins in an allego ý. We should as His principle is to follow the contemporary soon expect a good action in m Giant Slay-good historians, to look with doubt on all statements in Bunyan as from Dionysius; and a crime of which are not in some degree confirmed by Epaminondas would seem as incongruous as them, and absolutely to reject all which are a faux-pas of the grave and comely damsel, contradicted by them. While he retains the called Discretion, who answered the bell at the guidance of some writer in whom he can place door of the house Beautiful.
confidence, he goes on excellently. When he This error was partly the cause and partly loses it, he falls to the level, or perhaps below the effect of the high estimation in which the the level of the writers whom he so much delater ancient writers have been held by modern spises : he is as absurd as they, and very much scholars. Those French and English authors duller. It is really amusing to observe how who have treated of the affairs of Greece have he proceeds with his narration, when he lias generally turned with contempt from the simple no better authority than poor Diodorus. He and natural narrations of Thucydides and is compelled to relate something; yet he beXenophon to the extravagant representations | lieves nothing. He accompanies every fact of Plutarch, Diodorus, Curtius, and other ro- with a long statement of objections. His acmancers of the same class,-men who de- count of the administration of Dionysius is in scribed military operations without ever having no sense a history. It ought to be entitled handled a sword, and applied to the seditions Historic doubts as to certain events alleged of little republics speculations formed by ob- to have taken place in Sicily.” servation on an empire which covered half the This skepticism, however, like that of some known world. Of liberty they knew nothing. great legal characters almost as skeptical as It was to them a great mystery,-a superhuman himself, vanishes whenever his political para enjoyment. They ranted about liberty and tialities interfere. He is a vehement admirer patriotism, from the same cause which leads of tyranny and oligarchy, and considers no monks to talk more ardently than other men evidence as feeble which can be brought forabout love and women. A wise man values ward in favour of those forms of government. political liberty, because it secures the persons Democracy he hates with a perfect hatred, a and the possessions of citizens; because it tends hatred which, in the first volume of his history, to prevent the extravagance of rulers and the appears only in his epistles and reflections, corruption of judges; because it gives birth to but which, in those parts where he has less useful sciences and elegant arts; because it reverence for his guides, and can venture to excites the industry and increases the comforts take his own way, completely distorts even his of all classes of society. These theorists ima- narration. gined that it possessed something eternally and In taking up these opinions, I have no doubt intrinsically good, distinct from the blessings that Mr. Mitford was influenced by the same which it generally produced. They considered love of singularity which led him to spell it, not as a means, but as an end; an end to be island without an s, and to place two dots over attained at any cost. Their favourite heroes the last letter of idea. In truth, preceding are those who have sacrificed, for the mere historians have erred so monstrously on the pame of freedom, the prosperity—the security other side, that even the worst parts of Mr. -the justice-from which freedom derives its Mitford's book may be useful as a corrective. value.
For a young gentleman who talks much about There is another remarkable characteristic his country, tyrannicide, and Epaminondas, ut these writers, in which their modern wor- this work, diluted in a sufficient quantity of shippers have carefully imitated them--a Rollin and Barthelemi, may be a very useful great fondness for good stories. The most es- remedy. tablished facts, dates, and characters are never The errors of both parties arise from an suffered to come into competition with a splen- ignorance or a neglect of the fundamental did saying or a romantic exploit. The early principles of political science. The writers historians have left us natural and simple de- on one side imagine popular governmönt to b
always a blessing; Mr. Mitford omits no op- it would be as absurd to establish popular go portunity of assuring us that it is always a vernments, as to abolish all sestraints in a eurse. The fact is, that a good government, school, or to untie all the strait-waistcoats in a like a good coat, is that which fits the body for mad-house. which it is designed. A man who, upon ab Hence it may be concluded, that the happiest stract principles, pronounces a constitution to state of society is that in which supreme power be good, without an exact knowledge of the resides in the whole body of a well-informed people who are to be governed by it, judges as people. This is an imaginary, perhaps an un. absurdly as a tailor who should measure the attainable state of things. Yet, in some mea. Belvidere Apollo for the clothes of all his cus- sure, we may approximate to it; and he alone tomers. The demagogues who wished to see deserves the name of a great statesman, whose Portugal a republic, and the wise critics who principle it is to extend the power of the revile the Virginians for not having instituted people in proportion to the extent of their a perrage, appear equally ridiculous to all men | knowledge, and to give them every facility for of sense and candour.
obtaining such a degree of knowledge as may That is the best government which desires render it safe to trust them with absolute power. to make the people happy, and knows how to In the mean time, it is dangerous to praise or make them happy. Neither the inclination condemn constitutions in the abstract; since, nor the knowledge will suffice alone, and it is from the despotism of St. Petersburgh to the difficult to find them together.
democracy of Washington, there is scarcely a Pure democracy, and pure democracy alone, form of government which might not, at least satisfies the former condition of this great pro- in some hypothetical case, be the best possible. blem. That the governors may be solicitous If, however, there be any form of government only for the interests of the governed, it is ne- which in all ages and nations has always been, cessary that the interests of the governors and and must always be pernicious, it is certainly the governed should be the same. This cannot that which Mr. Mitford, on his usual principle be often the case where power is intrusted to of being wiser than all the rest of the world, one or to a few. The privileged part of the has taken under his especial patronage-pure community will doubtless derive a certain de- oligarchy. This is closely and indeed insegree of advantage from the general prosperity parably connected with another of his eccentric of tko state; but they will derive a greater from tastes, a marked partiality for Lacedæmon, and oppression and exaction. The king will desire a dislike of Athens. Mr. Mitford's book has, a useless war for his glory, or a parc-aux-cerfs I suspect, rendered these sentiment in some for his pleasure. The nobles will demand mo- degree popular; and I shall, therefore, examine nopolies ar'l lettres-de-cachet. In proportion as them at some length. the number of governors is increased the evil The shades in the Athenian character strike is diminished. There are fewer to contribute, the eye more rapidly than those in the Laceand more to receive. The dividend which each dæmonian; not because they are larker, but can obtain of the public plunder becomes less because they are on a brighter ground. The and less tempting. But the interests of the law of ostracism is an instance of this. Nothing subjects and the rulers never absolutely coin. can be conceived more odious than the practice cide till the subjects themselves become the of punishing a citizen, simply and professedly, rulers; that is, till the government be either for his eminence;—and nothing in the insti. immediately or mediately democratical. tutions of Athens is more frequently or more
But this is not enough. “Will without justly censured. Lacedæmon was free from power,” said the sagacious Casimir to Milor this. And why? Lacedæmon did not need it Beefington, “is like children playing at sol- Oligarchy is an ostracism of itself,—an ostradiers." The people will always be desirous to cism not occasional, but permanent,--not dupromote their own interests; but it may be bious, but certain. Her laws prevented the doubted, whether, in any community, they were development of merit, instead of attacking its ever sufficiently educated to understand them. maturity. They did not cut down the plant in Even in this island, where the multitude have its high and palmy state, but cursed the soil
long been better informed than in any other with eternal sterility. In spite of the law of ( part of Europe, the rights of the many have ostracism, Athens produced, within a hundred
generally been asserted against themselves by and fifty years, the greatest public men tha: the patriotism of the few. Free trade, one of ever existed. Whom had Sparta to ostracize! the greatest blessings which a government can. She produced, at most, four eminent men, Bra. confer on a people, is in almost every country sidas, Gylippus, Lysander, and Agesilaus. Or unpopular. It may be well doubted, whether these, not one rose to distinction within her a liberal policy with regard to our commercial jurisdiction. It was only when they escaped relations, would find any support from a Par- from the region within which the influence of liament elected by universal suffrage. The re- aristocracy withered every thing good and publicans on the other side of the Atlantic have noble; it was only when they ceased to be La. recently adopted regulations, of which the con- cedæmonians that they became great men. sequences will, before long, show us, Brasidas, among the cities of Thrace, was “How nations sink, by darling schemes oppressed, strictly a democratical leader, the favourite
When vengeance listens to the fool's request.” minister and general of the people. The samo The people are to be governed for their own may be said of Gylippus, at Syracuse. Lysan guod; and, that they may be governed for their der, in the Hellespont, and Agesilaus, in Asia, own good, they must noi be governed by their were liberated for a time from the hateful re. own ignorance. There are countries in which straints imposed by the constitution of Lycur
gus. Both acquired fame abroad, and both re- and they revenged none. Above a.1, they looked turned to be watched and depressed at home. on a citizen who served them well as their This is not peculiar to Sparta. Oligarchy, deadliest enemy. These are the arts which wherever it has existed, has always stunted protract the existence of governments. the growth of genius. Thus it was at Rome, Nor were the domestic institutions of Lace till about a century before the Christian era; dæmon less hateful or less contemptible than we read of abundance of consuls and dictators her foreign policy. A perpetual interference who won battles and enjoyed triumphs, but we with every part of the system of human life, a look in vain for a single man of the first order constant struggle against nature and rea:01), of intellect,-for a Pericles, a Demosthenes, or characterized all her laws. To violate even a Hannibal. The Gracchi formed a strong de- prejudices which have taken doc] ?oot in the mocratical party; Marius revived it; the foun- minds of a people is scarcely expectent; to dations of the old aristocracy were shaken ; think of extirpating natural appetites aná pas. and two generations fertile in really great men sions is frantic: the external symptoms may appeared.
be occasionally repressed, but the feeling still Venice is a still more remarkable instance: exists, and, debarred from its natural objects, in her history we see nothing but the state; preys on the disordered mind and body of its aristocracy had destroyed every seed of genius victim. Thus it is in convents—thus it is and virtue. Her dominion was like herself, among ascetic sects-thus it was among the lofty and magnificent, but founded on filth and Lacedæmonians. Hence arose that madness, weeds. God forbid that there should ever again or violence approaching to madness, which, in exist a powerful and civilized state, which, spite of every external restraint, often appeared after existing through thirteen hundred eventful among the most distinguished citizens of Sparta. years, shall not bequeath to mankind the me- Cleomenes terminated his career of raving mory of one great name or one generous action. cruelty, by cutting himself to pieces. Pausa
Many writers, and Mr. Mitford among the nias seems to have been absolutely insane: he number, have admired the stability of the Spar- formed a hopeless and profligate scheme; he tan institutions; in fact, there is little to ad- betrayed it by the ostentation of his behaviour mire, and less to approve. Oligarchy is the and the imprudence of his measures; and he weakest and most stable of governments, and alienated, by his insolence, all who might have it is stable because it is weak. It has a sort served or protected him. Xenophon, a warm of valetudinarian longevity; it lives in the ba- admirer of Lacedæmon, furnishes us with the lance of Sanclorius; it takes no exercise, it strongest evidence to this effect. It is impos. exposes itself to no accident, it is seized with sible not to observe the brutal and senseless a hypochondriac alarm at every new sensation, fury which characterizes almost every Spartan it trembles at every breath, it lets blood for with whom he was connected. Clearchus every inflammation, and thus, without ever en-nearly lost his life by his cruelty. Chirisophus joying a day of health or pleasure, drags on deprived his army of the services of a faithful its existence to a doting and debilitated old guide by his unreasonable and ferocious se
verity. But it is needless to multiply instances The Spartans purchased for their govern- Lycurgus, Mr. Mitford's favourite legislator, ment a prolongation of its existence, by the founded his whole system on a mistaken prin. sacrifice of happiness at home and dignity ciple. He never considered that governments abroad. They cringed to the powerful; they were made for men, and not men for govern. trampled on the weak; they massacred their ments. Instead of adapting the constitution to Helots; they betrayed their allies; they con- the people, he distorted the minds of the people trived to be a day too late for the battle of Ma- to suit the constitution, a scheme worthy of the rathon; they attempted to avoid the battle of Laputan Academy of Projectors. And this apSalamis; they suffered the Athenians, to whom pears to Mr. Mitford to constitute his peculiar they owed their lives and liberties, to be a title to admiration. Hear himself: “What to second time driven from their country by the modern eyes most strikingly sets that extra. Persians, that they might finish their own for- ordinary man above all other legislators is, that tifications on the Isthmus; they attempted to in so many circumstances, apparently out of take advantage of the distress to which exer- the reach of law, he controlled and fornied to tions in their cause had reduced their preser- his own mind the wills and habits of his peovers, in order to make them their slaves; they ple.” I should suppose that this gentleman had strove to prevent those who had abandoned the advantage receiving his education under their walls to defend them, from rebuilding the ferula of Dr. Pangloss; for his metaphysics them to defend themselves; they commenced are clearly those of the castle of Thunder-ten. the Peloponnesian war in violation of their en-tronckh, “ Remarquez bien que les nez ort été gagements with Athens; they abandoned it in faits pour porter des lunettes, aussi avons Lcus Vication of their engagements with their allies; des lunettes. Les jambes sont visiblement in they gave up to the sword whole cities, which stitutées pour être chaussées, et nous avons had placed themselves under their protection ; des chausses. Les cochons étant faits pour they bartered for advantages confined to them- étre mangés, nous mangeons du porc touta selves, the interest, the freedom, and the lives i'année." of those who had served them most faithfully; At Athens the laws did not constantly
inthey took with equal complacency, and equal terfere with the tastes of the people. The infamy, the stripes of Elis and the bribes of children were not taken from their parents by Persia; they never showed either resentment that universal step-mother, the state. They or gratitude, they abstained from no injury, were not starved into thieves, or tortured into
bullies; there was 10 established table attending for a remote colony, a frontier town which every one must dine, no established the honours of a flag, a salute or a title, ihal style in which every one must converse. An they can make fine speeches, and do good Athenian might eat whatever he could afford offices to their enemies. The Black Prince to buy, and talk as long as he could find peo- waited behind the chair of his captive; Villars ple to listen. The government did not tell the interchanged repartees with Eugene ; George people what opinions they were to hold, or II. sent congratulations to Louis XV., during a what songs they were to sing. Freedom pro- war, upon occasion of his escape from the atduced excellence. Thus philosophy took its tempt of Damien; and these ihings are fine origin. Thus were produced those models of and generous, and very gratifying to the author poetry, of oratory, and of the arts, which of the Broad Stone of Honour, and all the other scarcely fall short of the standard of ideal ex- wise men who think, like him, that God made cellence. Nothing is more conducive to hap- the world only for the use of gentlemen. But piness than the free exercise of the mind, in they spring in general from utter heartlessness pursuits congenial to it. This happiness, as- No war ought ever to be undertaken but under suredly, was enjoyed far more at Athens than circumstances which render all interchange of at Sparta. The Athenians are acknowledged courtesy between the combatants impossible. even by their enemies to have been distin- It is a bad thing that men should hate each guished, in private life, by their courteous and other, but it is far worse that they should conamiable demeanour. Their levity, at least, tract the habit of cutting one another's throats was better than Spartan sullenness, and their without hatred. War is never lenient but impertinence, than Spartan insolence. Even where it is wanton; when men are compelled in courage it may be questioned whether they to fight in self-defence, they must hate and were inferior to the Lacedæmonians. The avenge; this may be bad, but it is human nagreat Athenian historian has reported a re- ture, it is the clay as it came from the hand of markable observation of the great Athenian the potter. minister. Pericles maintained that his coun It is true that among the dependencies of trymen, without submitting to the hardships Athens, seditions assumed a character more of a Spartan education, rivalled all the achieve- ferocious than even in France, during the ments of Spartan valour, and that therefore reign of terror-the accursed Saturnalia of an the pleasures and amusements which they en- accursed bondage. It is true that in Athens jcyed were to be considered as so much clear itself, where such convulsions were scarcely gain. The infantry of Athens was certainly known), the condition of the higher orders was not equal to that of Lacedæmon; but this disagreeable; that they were compelled to seems to have been caused merely by want of contribute large sums for the service or the practice: the attention of the Athenians was amusement of the public, and that they were diverted from the discipline of the phalanx to sometimes harassed by vexatious informers. that of the trireme. The Lacedæmonians, in Whenever such cases occur, Mr. Mitford's spite of all their boasted valour, were, from skepticism vanishes. The “if,” the "but," the same cause, timid and disorderly in naval the “it is said,” the “if we may believe," with action.
which he qualifies every charge against a But we are told that crimes of great enormity tyrant or an aristocracy, are at once abandonwere perpetrated by the Athenian government ed. The blacker the story, the firmer is his and the democracies under its protection. It belief; and he never fails to inveigh with is true that Athens too often acted up to the hearty bitterness against democracy as the full extent of the laws of war, in an age when source of every species of crime. those laws had not been mitigated by causes The Athenians, I believe, possessed more which have operated in later times. This ac- liberty than was good for them Yet I will cusation is, in fact, common to Athens, to La- venture to assert, that while the splendour, the cedæmon, to all the states of Greece, and to all intelligence, and the energy of that great peostates similarly situated. Where communities ple were peculiar to themselves, the crimes are very large, the heavier evils of war are ielt with which they are charged arose from but by few. The ploughboy sings, the spin- causes which were common to them with ning-wheel turns round, the wedding-day is every other state which then existed. The fixed, whether the last battle were lost or won. violence of faction in that age sprang from a In little states it cannot be thus; every man cause which has always been fertile in every feels in his own property and person the effect political and moral evil, domestic slavery. of a war. Every man is a soldier, and a sol The effect of slavery is completely to dis drer fighting for his nearest interests. His solve the connection which naturally etists own trees have been cut down-his own corn between the higher and lower classes of free has been burnt-his own house has been pil- citizens. The rich spend their wealth in purjaged - his own relations have been killed. chasing and maintaining slaves. There is no How can he entertain towards the enemies of demand for the labour of the poor; the fable his country the same feelings with one who of Menenius ceases to be applicable; the belly lias suffered nothing from them, except per communicates no nutriment to the members; haps the addition of a small sum to the taxes there is an atrophy in the body politic. The which he pays ? Men in such circumstances two parties, therefore, proceed to extremities cannot be generous. They have too much at utterly unknown in countries where they have stake? It is when they are, if I may so express mutually need of each other. In Rome the myseli, playing for love, it is when war is a oligarchy was too powerful to be subverted by mere game at chess, it is when they are con- force; and neither the tribunes nor the popular