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of sweet reposé. His countenance was tranquil as that of a sleeping infant, and happier than the infant, his rest was not in danger of being disturbed. While reflecting on the change which a single hour had sufficed to produce, I could hardly help regard ing as idle the sorrow, the pity, and the self-reproach for momentary forgetfulness of these, which I had felt and breathed within that period. I almost accused the sufferers of weakness, for shewing themselves depressed as they had been, while I felt disposed, seeing their griefs werė, to all
appearance, terminated for ever, to demand with the poet,
“ And what is death we so unwisely fear ?" and to answer as he replies to himself,
"An end of all our busy tumults here."
ON MITFORD'S HISTORY OF GREECE.
This is a book which enjoys a great and increasing popularity; bút, 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 senechal. 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
66 When now
He saw the Amreeta in Kehama's hand,
In that extremity,
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.
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.
Almost all the modern historians of Greece have shown the grossest ignorance of the most obvious phenomena of human nature. În 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 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, Wala pole, 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 nounce decidedly upon the great characters of antiquity, not be cause 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 VOL. III. PART II.
easier to pro
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 elass, 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, 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 inere 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, 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. 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 accom. panies 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 charac, ters 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 epistles 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.
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
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 incli