Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 62, No. 382, October 1847
Author: Various
1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse






* * * * *


The appearance of a new history of Greece, of the pretensions, and the just pretensions, of this of Mr Grote, is an event in literature which must not pass by without some note or comment. Never were historical studies pursued with so much success, or in so philosophical a spirit, as in the present day, and that by the whole corps of European scholarship, whether German, or French, or English; and it is saying much, when we say of the work before us, that it is equal to the demands of the critical age in which it appears, and that in just estimate of historical testimony, and in true appreciation of the spirit of past times, it is as superior to its predecessors as, in these very points, the nineteenth century is in advance of all preceding centuries.

The progress made in this department of study is very perceptible in the several histories we possess of Greece. Mitford, notwithstanding his acknowledged imperfections and demerits, has had the tribute of applause paid to him, and deservedly, of having been the first to break through that icy timidity with which the moderns were wont to write the annals of ancient Greece. They seemed to be afraid of applying the knowledge which time and science had brought them, to the events and writings of a classical age and country, lest this should imply the presumption that they were wiser than the ancients. They sat down to their task like young scholars who are construing, not interpreting, their author. Little discrimination was made between the learned writings before them. If it was not, as it has been wittily observed, "all Greek, and therefore all true," at least every thing that was Greek had a mysterious air of learning which protected it from profane examination; and incongruities and futilities, absurdities of reasoning, and improbabilities of narrative, were veiled or half concealed under the charm of Grecian typography. Mitford set aside this too great reverence for the ancient literati. As he saw men, and not moving statues, in the heroes of Grecian history, so he was persuaded that the writers of that history were also men, fallible and prejudiced, like those who were living and writing about him. But Mitford overcame one set of prejudices by the force which prejudices of another kind had endowed him with. He saw how party spirit had raged in modern as well as ancient times, but he detected it with that proverbial readiness with which the thief detects the thief; he wrote himself with the energy and penetration, the want of candour and generosity, which at all times will distinguish the advocate. Moreover, the scholarship of Europe has since his time assumed so lofty a port, and taken such rapid strides, that on many subjects he has been left lagging in the rear.

The history of Greece by Dr Thirlwall is a great improvement on its predecessor. It is written with profounder learning, and a more equitable spirit; and is indeed pre-eminently distinguished by the calmness, candour, and judge-like serenity that pervades it. In a style always lucid in disquisition, and always elegant in narrative, he appears to be solely anxious to communicate the fair result, whatever it may be, to which his extensive reading has conducted him. But, unfortunately, Dr Thirlwall wrote his history in one of those transition states of mind which render impossible the accomplishment of an enduring work. He saw the futility of much that had been relied on as basis of historical belief; he was not disposed to credulity, nor at all likely to accept fable, in its own simple and gross form, for truth. But he had not taught himself to forego the vain attempt to extract history out of fable; he could not relinquish that habit of "learned conjecture," so dear to the scholar, so fatal to the historian. In the earlier portion of his work, he constructs his narrative under the singular disadvantage of one who sees perpetually the weakness of his own superstructure, yet continues to build on; and thus, with much show of scaffolding, and after much putting up and pulling down, he leaves at last but little standing on the soil. He had not laid down for himself a previous rule for determining what should be admitted as historical evidence, or the rules he had prescribed for himself were of an uncertain, fluctuating character. Neither do we discover in Dr Thirlwall the faculty, existing at least in any eminent degree, of realising to himself, or vividly representing to others, the intellectual condition of a nascent people, far removed from ourselves in habits of thought, and trained under quite different institutions, religious and political. In short, we note a deficiency—(to adopt the phraseology of Bacon)—in what we may be allowed to describe, as the more philosophical qualifications of the historian.

Precisely in these lies the peculiar strength of Mr Grote. With scholarship as extensive as that of his predecessors, he has united a stricter discipline of mind, and habits of closer reasoning; and he manifests a truer perception of the nature of past modes of thinking—of the intellectual life of unlettered and Pagan ages. He has passed through that transition state in which Dr Thirlwall unfortunately found himself, and has drawn with a firm hand the boundaries between history and fable. Not only has he drawn the line, and determined the principle on which the limits of the historical world should be marked out, but he has had the fortitude to adhere to his own principles, and has not allowed himself, in pursuit of some fragment of historic truth, (many of which doubtless lie in a half-discovered state beyond the circle he has drawn,) to transgress the boundary he has wisely prescribed to himself. The history is not far enough advanced to enable us to judge whether Mr Grote will preserve himself from a political bias, the opposite of that which has been so much censured in Mitford. A sufficient portion however, is published, to authorise us in saying that it is not in point of narrative that the present author will obtain any advantage over his predecessors. It is in disquisition that he rejoices, and succeeds; it is the argumentative matter which excites and sustains him. His style seems to languish when the effort of ratiocination gives place to the task of the narrator. We fancy we see him resume the pen with listlessness, when nothing remains for the historian but to tell his story.

Neither can we congratulate Mr Grote on possessing the art of arrangement or compression, on the knowing when to abbreviate, or how to omit. His subject has in itself this unavoidable disadvantage, that the history of Greece lies scattered and broken up amongst many independent cities and communities: this disadvantage our author's voluminous and discursive manner does nothing to remedy, does much to aggravate. One would almost suspect that Mr Grote had entertained the idea that it belonged to the history of Greece to give us an account of all that the Greeks knew of history. It seems sufficient that a subject has been mentioned by Herodotus to entitle it to a place in his pages. This fulness of matter, it may be said, will enrich the work. Very true. But what if, in this process of enriching, the work be made unreadable? What if the treasures be so piled up and heaped together that to get at them may be little less difficult than to extract the precious metals originally from the mine? If the work advance on the plan hitherto pursued, it will be found that, "A History of Greece" is far too restricted a title, and that it should rather have been called a history of the ancient world during the times when the Greeks rose and flourished;—so well disposed does the author appear to wander over to Phoenicia and Assyria, to Babylon and Egypt. Mr Alison might as well have entitled his great historical work simply a history of the French Revolution. It is true, there is no reason to be given why Mr Grote should not do for ancient Europe during the period of the development of the Greeks, what Mr Alison has done for modern Europe during the great drama enacted by the people of France. Unhappily, however, Mr Grote does not possess those descriptive powers which, in the work of Mr Alison, render the parts which are most episodical, invariably the most interesting; so that, however important and eventful the main stream of his narrative may be, a reader of Alison always delights to find the author starting afresh from some remote era, on some distant soil, and call willingly quit even Paris and her Revolution, to revisit with him the rustic republics of Switzerland, or to build up Holland again from the sea, or to call to life the people of Poland, and fill the plains again with their strange military diet of a hundred thousand mounted senators.

There is much of the philosopher, little of the artist, in Mr. Grote; nor are the charms of style those which he has sedulously cultivated, or by which he is anxious to obtain attention. He writes in a manly, straightforward manner, and expresses his meaning with sufficient force and perspicuity: but there is no sustained elegance of diction; there is often all apparent disdain of it. At least we meet occasionally with quite conversational expressions, introduced—not, be it remarked, with that dexterous ease and felicitous taste which render them so effective in compositions of the highest order—but bluntly, carelessly, as if they were verily the first that came to hand, and the author did not think it worth his while to look for others. It should be mentioned, however, that this inequality of style is partly the effect of a desire to keep as close as possible in his narrative to the original Greek, so that it is the crudeness of translation we sometimes encounter. We raise no quarrel with him ourselves on this point; his language, in general, is all that is requisite; but a critic disposed to be severe on the minor delinquencies of style, might justify his censure by extracting many a hasty and neglected sentence, and many all uncouth expression. In fine, we accept of the present work as a valuable contribution to the history of Greece, and to the science itself of history; we accept it as a manifest improvement upon its predecessors in some of the highest and most important elements of historical composition; but we by no means accept it as the History of Greece, as the final narrative of the people of Athens and Sparta. For this it is too polemical, diffuse, incondite. On the ground which this writer and others have been obliged to contend for, which they have conquered and cleared, our posterity will one day, it is to be hoped, see a structure arise—grand, and simple, and yet ornate. For if the fitness of things be a rule for our expectation, we may safely prophesy that some future age will possess a History of Greece which will be to all other histories what the Grecian temple is to all other temples; which shall be itself a temple worthy of the memory of the most extraordinary people that have yet appeared upon the earth.

Mr Grote has done in the history of Greece what Dr Arnold did in that of Rome: he has at once excluded the early legends entirely from the class of historical records. The outcry which we sometimes hear against that scepticism which has resulted from later and more severe investigations into the nature of historical evidence, and the loss thereby sustained of many a popular tale, is—need we insist upon it?—mere childishness. It is never found that we lose any thing by truth, and certainly not here. The popular tale, legend, or myth, may be displaced entirely from the records of the past, (for what it contains, or may be supposed to contain, of fact or event;) but it remains with us in its true character of fable, as the offspring of the teeming invention and the ready faith of an unlettered generation; and, in this character, is more thoroughly understood by our present race of thinkers, and more vividly appreciated, than it ever was before. But shall we believe nothing of it?—surely something, must be true,—is the whole legend to be lost? To such exclamations we answer, that the whole legend, instead of being lost, is regained, is restored to us. While you doubt of its true nature, and strive to make it speak the language of history, you can never see the legend itself,—never clearly understand it,—never gather from it the curious knowledge it is able to reveal of our own species. If, instead of looking askance at the bold inventions of past times, with a half faith and a half denial, busied with tricks of interpretation, and teased with ever-recurring incredulity, you embrace it cordially as the genuine product of an imaginative age, redolent of the marvellous, you will, as such, gather from it a far higher and more profitable instruction than could be extracted from some supposed historic fact which it is thought to conceal, and which is received as credible on the very ground that it resembles a host of similar facts already well established.

We heartily approve and applaud the resolute abstinence with which Mr Grote has refrained from seeking for some supposed historical basis in mere legend and fable; we believe that his work, in this point of view, is calculated to have an excellent influence, not only on all future historians of Greece, but on all who shall undertake to write the early history of any people whatever. With the exception of Dr Arnold's History of Rome, we know of no work where there is the same true appreciation shown of the real value, and proper use, of legendary traditions. Certainly amongst the great scholars of Germany, whatever their undoubted merits in other respects, there is very little of this wise reticence, this philosophical forbearance; and if the two English historians, whom we have named together, be surpassed in critical knowledge by the learned men of Germany, or in brilliant narrative by the writers of France, they are superior to their contemporaries in both countries in the sound application of learning to ancient history, and their attachment to the sobriety of truth. With much less show of philosophic system, they have more of philosophy.

"The times which I have thus set apart," writes Mr Grote, in his preface, "from the region of history, are discernible only through a different atmosphere—that of epic poetry and legend. To confound together these disparate matters is, in my judgment, essentially unphilosophical. I describe the earlier times by themselves, as conceived by the faith and feeling of the first Greek, and known only through their legends,—without presuming to measure how much or how little of historical matter these legends may contain. If the reader blame me for not assisting him to determine this,—if he ask me why I do not undraw the curtain and disclose the picture,—I reply in the words of the painter Zeuxis, when the same question was addressed to him, on exhibiting his master-piece of imitative art—'The curtain is the picture.' What we now read as poetry and legend was once accredited history, and the only genuine history which the first Greeks could conceive or relish of their past time: the curtain conceals nothing behind, and cannot by any ingenuity be withdrawn. I undertake only to show it as it stands,—not to efface, still less to repaint it."

A simple uninstructed age believes its own legend; it asks no question upon the point of credibility; with such an age, to hear, is to believe. Originally, indeed, with all of us, to have a conception of any thing is tantamount to believing that it exists, or has existed: belief is no separate act of mind, but is itself included in the perception or the thought; it is experience and reflection which have to ingraft their disbelief, and teach us that every thing we think is not equally true. An ignorant people are all children, and with them there is but one rule of faith: the more vivid the impression, the stronger the belief,—the more marvellous the story, the less possibility of doubting it. And consider this—that we, owing to our scientific habits of thought, and the long record of the by-gone world which lies open to us, entertain it as a general law, that the past has, in certain essentials, resembled the present; but our unlettered people, looking out into the blank foretime, would have no such law to regulate or restrain their belief. On the contrary, their impression would naturally be, that the past was, essentially different from the present, or why was it past? Why all this change and transiency, if the same things were to be repeated? All people that have had no records have filled up the void with beings and events as unlike as possible to those they were familiar with. They had a prevailing impression that that blank space was the region of the wonderful; and the day-dreamer, the imaginative man, who was, naturally enough, proclaimed to be inspired, since none could tell how his knowledge came, was generally at hand to fill up the blank space with appropriate picture.

An age of awakening criticism begins to find the legend doubtful—cannot entirely believe, cannot entirely dismiss the old familiar story,—begins to interpret it as allegory, or to separate the probable incidents from the improbable, receiving the first, rejecting the second. A new rule of faith has been introduced; not what is most captivating and strange, but what best harmonises with the common occurrences of life, is to be the most readily believed. The exuberant legend is therefore pruned down and mutilated, or it is represented as the fantastic shadow of some quite natural circumstance,—strange shadow for such substance!—and in this state it is admitted to a certain credence. But who sees not that this is no separation of history from fable, but merely a reduction of the fable into something we can pronounce to be probable? But the probability of this residue is no sufficient ground for our belief; no one, surely, supposes that imagination deals in nothing but impossibilities. The utmost effort, the wildest flight of fancy, could not always keep clear of probability; and it would be strange indeed if the romantic fiction could claim our faith at every point where, by chance, it had touched the earth. One might as well sift, in the same manner, a fiction of the Arabian Nights; and, setting aside the supernatural, admit whatever is natural to be true. The wonderful properties of Aladdin's lamp shall be given up; but that Aladdin had an old lamp, and that his wife sold it when he was out of the way, this shall remain admissible.

A third age, however, arrives, still more critical, more justly and profoundly analytic. It recognises that, by the process just described, a dead residuum of little value and doubtful reality is the utmost that can be obtained, While the real value of the subject of this untutored chemistry has been lost in the experiment. It returns to the legend—contemplates it in its entire, and genuine form. It sees that the legend is the true history of the minds that created and believed it—a very important history—but of little or nothing else. Seen in this light, there is, indeed, no comparison between the value of the poetic fable as a contribution to the history of mankind, and the value of the prosaic and ordinary fact which a half critical age (if sure of its guess) would extract from it. Think for a moment of all the marvels of the Argonautic expedition; that vessel, itself sentient and intelligent, having its prophet as well as pilot on board, darting through rocks which move and join together, like huge pincers, to crush the passing ship; think of the wondrous Medea who conducted the homeward voyage, and reflect upon the sort of people who created and credited all these marvels. Then turn to the semi-critical version of Strabo, where the whole expedition resolves itself into an invasion of some unknown king, of some unknown country, whose wealth stands typified in the golden fleece. Such writers as Strabo commit a two-fold error. They corrupt history, and they destroy the legend. They write an unauthorised narrative, and explain the nature and genius of the fable in a manner equally unauthorised.

Or take an instance still more familiar. The legend tells us that Romulus—as was thought befitting the founder of Rome—died in no ordinary manner, but was translated to the skies. He had called the people together on the field of Mars, "when," in the simple language which Dr Arnold has appropriated to these legendary stories—"when all on a sudden there arose a dreadful storm, and all was dark as night; and the rain, and the thunder, and the lightning, were so terrible that all the people fled from the field, and ran to their homes. At last the storm was over, and they came back to the field of Mars, but Romulus was nowhere to be found, for Mars, his father, had carried him up to heaven in his chariot." Dionysius the Greek found, in this mysterious disappearance, a proof of the assassination of Romulus by certain of his nobles, who stabbed him and conveyed him away in the thunder-storm. And our own Hooke thought himself equally sagacious, in his day, when he adopted this interpretation. But what is it that we have here? Not history certainly; and as little an intelligent view of the fable.

What Hooke did, in his day, occasionally, and in an empirical manner, some German literati have attempted in a quite systematic, a priori fashion. They first determine that the myth or legend has been composed by a certain play of the imagination—as the representing the history of a people, or a tribe, under the personal adventures of an imaginary being; and then they hope to unravel this work of the fancy, and get back again the raw material of plain truth. If they are partially correct in describing this to have been one course the imagination pursued—which is all that can be admitted—still the attempt is utterly hopeless to recover, in its first shape, what has been confessedly disguised and distorted. The naturalists of Laputa were justified in supposing that the light of the sun had much to do with the growth of gerkins, but it does not follow that they would succeed in their project of "extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers."

For the briefest illustration we can call to mind of this philosophical ingenuity, we will refer the reader to Michelet's preface to his History of Rome. We see the absurdity none the worse for it being presented through the transparent medium of the French writer. He thus explains the discovery of the learned Germans whom he follows:—"Ce qu'il y a de plus original, c'est d'avoir prouve que ces fictions historiques etaient une necessite de notre nature. L'humanite d'abord materielle et grossiere, ne pouvait dans les langues encore toutes concretes, exprimer la pensee abstraite, qu'en la realisant, en lui donnant un corps, une personalite humaine, un nom propre. Le meme besoin do simplification, si naturel a la faiblesse, fit aussi designer une collection d'individus par un nom d'homme. Cet homme mythique, ce fils de la pensee populaire, exprima a la fois le peuple et l'idee du peuple. Romulus c'etait la force, et le peuple de la force; Juda, l'election divine et le peuple elu."

Having thus expounded the theory of the construction of a myth, he afterwards tries his hand upon the resolution of one into its constituent elements. The fourth chapter of his introduction commences thus:—"Circe, dit Hesiode, (Theog. v. 1111, 1115) eut d'Ulysse deux fils, Latinos et Agrios (le barbare,) qui au fond des saintes iles gouvenerent la race celebre des Tyrseniens. J'enterpreterais volontiers ce passage de la maniere suivante: Des Pelasges, navigateurs et magiciens, (c'est-a-dire, industrieux) sortirent les deux grandes societes Italiennes—les Osci, (dont les Latins sont une tribu,) et les Tusci ou Etrusques. Circe, fille du soleil, a tous les caracteres d'une Telchine Pelasgique. Le poete nous la montre pres d'un grand feu, rarement utile dans un pays chaud, si ce n'est pour un but industriel; elle file la toile, ou prepare de puissants breuvages."

The theory and the application, it will be seen, are worthy of each other. All comment would be superfluous. We have preferred to retain the original language for this, amongst other reasons, that we should have found it difficult to represent in honest English the exact degree of affirmation to which the Frenchman pledges himself by his "j'enterpreterais volontiers." It is something less than conviction, and something more than guess;—it certainly should be, or it ought to have no place in history.

It is not by mangling the legend, or by predicating of it fantastic modes of construction, that the few grains of sober fact concealed about it are to be secured; but by studying honestly the laws of imagination under which all fabulous narratives are constructed. However wildly the fancy may range in the main events of a fable, there will be always a certain portion of the details gathered from real life; and the manners and morals of an age may be depicted in fictions, the substance of which is altogether supernatural. The heroes fight like gods, but they dine and dress like ordinary mortals. Achilles drags the body of Hector three times round the walls of Troy, both armies looking on the while. Such sight the earth never beheld. But the ear of the warrior and the harness of his steeds resembled such as had been seen or heard of. The poet invents a centaur, but not the bow and arrow he puts into his hands. His hero scales the sky, but carries with him the sandal on his foot which was made in the village below.

"Three-fourths of the two volumes now presented to the public," continues Mr Grote in his preface, "are destined to elucidate this age of historical faith as distinguished from the later age of historical reason: to exhibit its basis in the human mind—an omnipresent religious and personal interpretation of nature; to illustrate it by comparison with the like mental habit in early modern Europe; to show its immense abundance and variety of narrative matter, with little care for consistency between one story and another; lastly, to set forth the causes which overgrew, and partially supplanted the old epical sentiment, and introduced, in the room of literal faith, a variety of compromises and interpretations." This is the just application of the legends of Greece, forming, as they do, the very best description of the people whose exploits and career the author is about to narrate. This is a truer commencement of the history than that which appears at first sight more strictly historical—namely, an investigation into the obscure tribes which inhabited the same country prior to that people who are known to us as Greeks—an investigation that is to be carried on by strained interpretations of these very legends. We congratulate both author and reader on this escape from the fruitless entanglement of the Pelasgian controversy. Mr Grote seems to have taken due warning from the difficulties and embarrassments in which his predecessor has here involved himself. Dr Thirlwall is a judicious, a succinct, and lucid writer, and yet a more tedious, confused, and utterly unsatisfactory piece of history no man can read than the account he gives us, in his opening volume, of the Pelasgians. The subject is clearly hopeless. From the first sentence to the last of that account, a painful confusion attends upon the reader—not the fault, we are ready to believe, of the historian, unless it be a fault to attempt a statement of facts where the materials for such a statement do not exist. "The people"—Dr Thirlwall thus commences—"whom we call Greeks—the Hellenes—were not, at least under this name, the first inhabitants of Greece. Many names have been recorded of races that preceded them there, which they in later times considered barbarous, or foreign in language and manners to themselves." Here the very first sentence proclaims a doubt how far the change was one of race or only of name, and this doubt pursues us throughout the whole inquiry. It is never solved by the author, but is sometimes forgotten by him; for he occasionally proceeds with the discussion as if he had left no such doubt behind him undetermined. At one time he states distinctly, "we find that though in early times Thessaly, and the north of Greece in general, was the scene of frequent migrations and revolutions so that its ancient inhabitants may here and there have been completely displaced by new tribes, Attica appears never to have undergone such a change; and Peloponnesus lost no considerable part of its original population till long after the whole had become Hellenic." (P. 54.) Herodotus had said that certain Pelasgians living in his time spoke a language different from the Greeks. Dr Thirlwall puts the passage of Herodotus upon the rack to extract from it a confession that the difference was not greater than between one dialect of Greek from another. Yet, as the narrative proceeds—if narrative it can be called—we have the Pelasgians and the Greeks represented as essentially distinct people; and we hear of the difficulty of determining "the precise point of civilisation to which the Pelasgians had advanced, before the Greeks overtook and outstripped them." The whole treatise, notwithstanding the air of decision now and then assumed, is but an amplification of the doubt implied in the very first sentence of it.

The legends which fill up the dark space with eponymous heroes, as they have been called—heroes who take the name of a tribe in order to bestow it back upon the tribe; for it was the Greek mode of thinking at these early periods to presume that every tribe, or gens, had a common progenitor from whom it took its title and origin,—these legends are at one time treated with the due suspicion which should attend upon them; yet, at another, if a fortunate congruity, some lucky "dovetailing," can be observed amongst them, they are raised into the rank of historical evidence. The mode of interpretation which we have described as characterising the first and undisciplined age of critical inquiry, is not laid aside. Such personages as Danaus and Aeolus are still referred to on emergency; and Dr Thirlwall still speaks of the Centaurs as "a fabulous race, which, however, may be supposed to represent the earlier and ruder inhabitants of the land." If we must call in the Centaurs to our assistance, we may safely conclude with Mr Grote that the ancient Pelasgians are "not knowable."

"Whoever," writes our author, when the course of his narrative brings him to speak of the anti-Hellenic tribes—"Whoever has examined the many conflicting systems respecting the Pelasgi—from the literal belief of Clavier, Larcher, and Raoul Rochette, (which appears to me at least the most consistent way of proceeding,) to the interpretative and half-incredulous processes applied by abler men—such as Niebuhr, or O. Mueller, or Dr Thirlwall—will not be displeased with my resolution to decline so insoluble a problem. No attested facts are now present to us—none were present to Herodotus and Thucydides even in their age, on which to build trustworthy affirmations respecting the anti-Hellenic Pelasgians; and where such is the case we may without impropriety apply the remark of Herodotus respecting one of the theories which he had heard for explaining the inundation of the Nile by a supposed connexion with the ocean—that the man who carries up his story into the invisible world, passes out of the range of criticism."[2] And he adds the following pithy note:—"Niebuhr puts together all the mythical and genealogical traces, many of them in the highest degree vague and equivocal, of the existence of Pelasgi in various localities; and then, summing up their cumulative effect, asserts, 'not as an hypothesis, but with full historical conviction, that there was a time when the Pelasgians, perhaps the most extended people in all Europe, were spread from the Po and the Arno to the Rhyndakus,' (near Cyzicus,) with only an interruption in Thrace. What is perhaps the most remarkable of all, is the contrast between his feeling of disgust, despair, and aversion to the subject when he begins the inquiry:—'the name Pelasgi,' he says, 'is odious to the historian, who hates the spurious philology out of which the pretences to knowledge on the subject of such extinct people arise;' and the full confidence and satisfaction with which he concludes it."

Amongst these legends which Mr Grote thus relates for the simple purpose of showing what filled the minds of the Greek people when we first become historically acquainted with them, is one conspicuous above all others, and to which most men still cling tenaciously, finding it impossible to resign all of it to the region of fable—we mean "the divine tale of Troy." Many who relinquish without effort the Argonautic expedition, and as an historical problem are glad to be rid of it,—who resign all attempt to extract a prosaic truth out of the exploits of Theseus or the labours of Hercules, and who smile at mention of the race of Amazons—a race so well accredited in ancient times that neither the sceptical Arrian nor Julius Caesar himself ventured to doubt of their existence—would yet shrink from surrendering the tale of Troy, with all its military details, and all its hosts, and all its kings and chieftains, entirely to the domain of fiction. What! No part of it true?—no Agamemnon?—no Ulysses?—no Troy taken?—no battles on that plain where the traveller still traces the position of the hostile forces? "Those old kings," they might exclaim in the language of Milton, when writing in his history of that fabulous line of English monarchs which sprang from Brute the Trojan—in his time still lingering in men's faith, now suffered to sleep unvexed by the keenest historical research,—"Those old and inborn kings, never any to have been real persons, or done in their lives at least some part of what so long hath been remembered—it cannot be thought, without too strict incredulity."[3]

Nevertheless the whole narrative, were it not for the familiarity we early acquire with the persons and exploits of this famous legend, would be seen at once to have all the characteristics of poetic fiction. And it is curious to trace, with our author, how, after having long stood its ground as veritable history amongst the people of Greece, it sustained attack after attack, first from ancient then from modern criticism, and has been gradually denuded of all its glorious circumstance, till now, even for those who are most willing to believe, there remains the driest, scantiest residue imaginable of what may be pronounced to be probable fact. Herodotus, with all his veneration for Homer, could not assent to attribute the Trojan war to the cause popularly assigned: he seems to have been of the opinion of our Payne Knight, that the Greeks and Trojans could not have been so mad as to incur so dire calamities "for one little woman." We confess that, for ourselves, this is not the part of the story which would have first staggered us. The immediate cause may be very trifling that brings two angry rivals into conflict, and, the war once commenced, they fight on for victory; the first object of the strife is forgotten in the strife itself, and each opponent thinks only how to destroy his enemy. Herodotus, however, had heard another account from the priests of Egypt, which made him still more disposed to dispute the popular tradition. According to this account, Helen was in fact detained in Egypt during the whole term of the siege. Paris, it seems, in sailing from Sparta, had been driven thither by a storm; and the king of Egypt, hearing of the wrong he had committed towards Menelaus, had sent him out of the country, and detained Helen till her lawful husband should appear to claim her. The misfortune was, that when the Greeks before Troy demanded Helen, and were told that she neither was, nor had been in the town, they would not believe the story, but continued to thunder at the gates. "For if Helen had really been in Troy," says Herodotus, "she would certainly have been given up, even if she had been mistress of Priam himself instead of Paris: the Trojan king, with all his family and all his subjects, would never knowingly have incurred utter and irretrievable destruction for the purpose of retaining her; their misfortune was, that while they did not possess, and therefore could not restore her, they yet found it impossible to convince the Greeks that such was the fact."

Pausanias, a reasoning man, starts at the Trojan horse: he converts it into a battering-ram, as he cannot believe the Trojans to have been deceived by so childish a trick.

Thucydides, a man who knew something of campaigning, is astonished at the length of the siege; and perhaps his patriotism was put a little to the blush at the idea that the assembled forces of Greece should be occupied ten years before a town of very inconsiderable magnitude; for no town of Ilium, we may remark in passing, ever existed that could present a worthy object of attack to so great a power, or was at all commensurate with the vast enterprise said to have been directed against it. He concluded, therefore, without hesitation, "that the Greeks were less numerous than the poets have represented, and that being, moreover, very poor, they were unable to procure adequate and constant provisions: hence they were compelled to disperse their army, and to employ a part of it in cultivating the Chersonese, and a part in marauding expeditions over the neighbourhood. Could the whole army have been employed against Troy at once, the siege would have been much more speedily and easily concluded." As Mr Grote justly observes, the critical historian might, with equal authority, have proceeded by a shorter method, and at once abridged the length of the siege.

"Though literally believed," he continues, speaking of the Trojan war, "though reverentially cherished, and numbered among the gigantic phenomena of the past, by the Grecian public, it is in the eyes of modern inquiry essentially a legend, and nothing more. If we are asked if it be not a legend embodying portions of historical matter, and raised upon a basis of truth,—whether there may not really have occurred at the foot of the hill of Ilium a war purely human and political, without gods, without heroes, without Helen, without Amazons, without Ethiopians under the beautiful son of Eos, without the wooden horse, without the characteristic and expressive features of the old epical war—like the mutilated trunk of Deiphobus in the under-world—if we are asked whether there was not really some such historical Trojan war as this, our answer must be, that as the possibility of it cannot be denied, so neither can the reality of it be affirmed. We possess nothing but the ancient epic itself, without any independent evidence: had it been an age of records, indeed, the Homeric epic, in its exquisite and unsuspecting simplicity, would probably never have come into existence. Whoever, therefore, ventures to dissect Homer, Arctinus, and Lesches, and to pick out certain portions as matters of fact, while he sets aside the rest as fiction, must do so in full reliance on his own powers of historical divination, without any means either of proving or verifying his conclusions."[4]

Take Helen from Troy, and Achilles son of Thetis from the camp, and say there was a siege—this is a result which few, perhaps, would care to contend about. It is the only result for which Dr Thirlwall contends, who on this subject approximates as nearly as possible to the opinion of Mr Grote. That there was a siege, however, Dr Thirlwall maintains with considerable pertinacity; but it happens, curiously enough, that his argument precisely supplies the last link that was wanting to complete the sceptical view of the subject. Most persons, we apprehend, are disposed to adhere to the belief that some famous siege must have taken place, or why should the poet's imagination take this direction?—why should he cluster his heroes and his exploits round the walls of Troy? Now, the effect of Dr Thirlwall's line of argument is to show how the poet's imagination was likely to take this direction, and yet there have been no siege of Troy, none at least by Agamemnon and his allies, none at the epoch which Homer assigns to it.

"We conceive it necessary," says Dr Thirlwall, "to admit the reality of the Trojan war as a general fact; but beyond this we scarcely venture to proceed a single step."[5] He finds it impossible to adopt the poetical story of its origin, partly from its inherent improbability, and partly "because we are convinced that Helen is a merely mythological person. It would be sufficient," he says, "to raise a strong suspicion of her fabulous nature to observe that she is classed by Herodotus with Io, and Europa, and Medea—all of them persons who, on distinct grounds, must clearly be referred to the domain of mythology. This suspicion is confirmed by all the particulars of her legend; by her birth, (the daughter of Jupiter, according to Homer;) by her relation to the divine Twins, whose worship seems to have been one of the most ancient forms of religion in Peloponnesus, and especially in Laconia; and by the divine honours paid to her in Laconia and elsewhere."

Compelled to reject the cause of the war assigned by Homer, and finding Helen a merely mythological person, "we are driven," he continues, "to conjecture to discover the true cause; yet not so as to be wholly without traces to direct us." He then refers to the legend which, numbering Hercules among the Argonauts, supposes him, on the voyage, to have rendered a service to the Trojan king Laomedon, who afterwards defrauded him of his stipulated recompense. Whereupon Hercules, coming with some seven ships, is said to have taken and sacked Troy; an event which is alluded to and recognised by Homer. "And thus we see," adds the author, "Troy already provoking the enmity or tempting the cupidity of the Greeks, in the generation before the celebrated war; and it may be easily conceived that if its power and opulence revived after this blow, it might again excite the same feelings."

Very easily conceived, but not rendered a jot more easy by aid of this legend of Hercules. The story of him of the Twelve Labours, who had been cheated of the divine mares for which he had bargained, and had mere earthly mares given to him, and who therefore, in revenge, had sacked the town of Troy, is, in the first place, so interpreted as to show "that the opulence of that city had in former times tempted the cupidity of the Greeks;" and then this interpretation is made a ground for supposing that a similar motive had led to the expedition of Agamemnon and his chiefs. As well, surely, have said at once of the second war, what is said of the first, that it was an ordinary case of plunder and violence. It is hard to understand how the earlier legend can assist in giving an historical character to the later.

But the elder legend may assist in explaining how a siege of Troy became the great subject of the Homeric poems; and thus, whatever there was of actual siege may be carried altogether into that remote anterior epoch which is shadowed forth, if you will, under the exploits of Hercules. For with that charming candour by which he often contrives to neutralise the errors of his conjectural method of writing history, Dr Thirlwall himself adds:—"This expedition of Hercules may indeed suggest a doubt whether it was not an earlier and simpler form of the same tradition, which grew at length into the argument of the Iliad; for there is a striking resemblance between the two wars, not only in the events, but in the principal actors. As the prominent figures in the second siege are Agamemnon and Achilles, who represent the royal house of Mycenae, and that of the Aeacids; so in the first the Argive Hercules is accompanied by the Aeacid Telamon; and even the quarrel and reconciliation of the allied chiefs are features common to both traditions."[6]

The disquisition on the legend of Troy naturally leads the historian, and will naturally suggest to our own readers, the mooted question of the authorship of the Homeric poems. Some of them be happy to learn that the opinion of Mr Grote is not of so sceptical a nature as they may have been prepared to expect. The Wolfian hypothesis he by no means adopts—namely, that before the time of Pisistratus, there was no such thing in existence as an extended and entire epic, but that the two great epics we now possess were then constructed by stringing together a number of detached poems, the separate chants of the old Greek bards or rhapsodists. Mr Grote sees in the Odyssey all the marks of unity of design, and of what he rather quaintly calls "single-headed authorship." With regard to the Iliad, he admits that there is not the same stringent evidence of an original plan according to which the whole poem has been written, and he detects here the signs of interpolation and addition. According to his view, there is in the poem, as we possess it, an original whole, which he calls the Achilleis, to which additions have been made from other sources, converting the Achilleis into an Iliad. But our readers would prefer to have the words themselves of the author; and the following passage will present them with a very intelligent view of this famous controversy:—

"That the Iliad is not so essentially one piece as the Odyssey, every man agrees. It includes a much greater multiplicity of events, and what is yet more important, a greater multiplicity of prominent personages: the very indefinite title which it bears, as contrasted with the speciality of the name Odyssey, marks the difference at once. The parts stand out more conspicuously from the whole, and admit more readily of being felt and appreciated in detached recitation. We may also add, that it is of more unequal execution than the Odyssey--often rising to a far higher pitch of grandeur, but also occasionally tamer: the story does not move on continually; incidents occur without plausible motive, nor can we shut our eyes to evidences of incoherence and contradiction.

"To a certain extent, the Iliad is open to all these remarks, though Wolf and W. Mueller, and above all, Lachmann, exaggerate the case in degree. And from hence has been deduced the hypothesis which treats the part in their original state as separate integers, independent of, and unconnected with each other, and forced into unity only by the afterthought of a subsequent age; or sometimes not even themselves as integers, but as aggregates grouped together out of fragments still smaller—short epics formed by the coalescence of still shorter songs. Now there is some plausibility in these reasonings, so long as the discrepancies are looked upon as the whole of the case. But in point of fact they are not the whole of the case; for it is not less true that there are large portions of the Iliad, which present positive and undeniable evidences of coherence, as antecedent and consequent, though we are occasionally perplexed by inconsistencies of detail. To deal with these latter, is a portion of the duties of a critic; but he is not to treat the Iliad as if inconsistency prevailed every where throughout its parts; for coherence of parts—symmetrical antecedence and consequence—is discernible throughout the larger half of the poem.

"Now the Wolfian theory explains the gaps and contradictions throughout the narrative, but it explains nothing else. If (as Lachmann thinks) the Iliad originally consisted of sixteen songs or little substantive epics, not only composed by different authors, but by each without any view to conjunction with the rest—we have then no right to expect any intrinsic continuity between them; and all that continuity which we now find must be of extraneous origin. Where are we to look for the origin? Lachmann follows Wolf in ascribing the whole constructive process to Peisistratus and his associates, at the period when the creative epical faculty is admitted to have died out. But upon this supposition, Peisistratus (or his associate) must have done much more than omit, transpose, and interpolate, here and there; he must have gone far to re-write the whole poem. A great poet might have re-cast pre-existing separate songs into one comprehensive whole, but no mere arrangers or compilers would be competent to do so; and we are thus left without any means of accounting for that degree of continuity and consistency which runs through so large a portion of the Iliad, though not through the whole. The idea that the poem as we read it grew out of atoms, not originally designed for the places which they now occupy, involves us in new and inextricable difficulties when we seek to elucidate either the mode of coalescence or the degree of existing unity.

"Admitting, then, premeditated adaptation of parts to a certain extent as essential to the Iliad, we may yet inquire whether it was produced all at once or gradually enlarged—whether by one author or by several; and, if the parts be of different age, which is the primitive kernel, and which are the additions?

"Welcker, Lange, and Nitzeh, treat the Homeric poems as representing a second step in advance in the progress of popular poetry: First comes the age of short narrative songs; next, when these have become numerous, there arise constructive minds who re-cast and blend together many of them into a larger aggregate, conceived upon some scheme of their own. The age of the epos is followed by that of the epopee: short spontaneous effusions prepare the way, and furnish materials for the architectonic genius of the poet. It is farther presumed by the above-mentioned authors that the pre-Homeric epic included a great abundance of such smaller songs—a fact which admits of no proof, but which seems countenanced by some passages in Homer, and is in itself no way improbable. But the transition from such songs, assuming them to be ever so numerous, to a combined and continuous poem, forms an epoch in the intellectual history of a nation, implying mental qualities of a higher order than those upon which the songs themselves depend. Nor is it at all to be imagined that the materials pass unaltered from their first state of combination: they must of necessity be re-cast, and undergo an adapting process, in which the genius of the organising poet consists; and we cannot hope, by simply knowing them as they exist in the second stage, ever to divine how they stood in the first. Such, in my judgment, is the right conception of the Homeric epoch—an organising poetical mind, still preserving that freshness of observation and vivacity of details which constitutes the charm of the ballad.

"Nothing is gained by studying the Iliad as a congeries of fragments once independent of each other: no portion of the poem can be shown to have ever been so, and the supposition introduces difficulties greater than those which it removes. But it is not necessary to affirm that the whole poem, as we now read it, belonged to the original and preconceived plan. In this respect the Iliad produces upon my mind an impression totally different from the Odyssey. In the latter poem the characters and incidents are fewer; the whole plot appears of one projection, from the beginning down to the death of the suitors: none of the parts look as if they had been composed separately, and inserted by way of addition into a pre-existing smaller poem. But the Iliad, on the contrary, presents the appearance of a house built upon a plan comparatively narrow, and subsequently enlarged by successive additions. The first book, together with the eighth, and the books from the eleventh to the twenty-second inclusive, seem to form the primary organisation of the poem, then properly an Achilleis: the twenty-third and twenty-fourth books are additions at the tail of this primitive poem, which still leave it nothing more than an enlarged Achilleis: but the books from the second to the seventh inclusive, together with the tenth, are of a wider and more comprehensive character, and convert the poem from an Achilleis into an Iliad. The primitive frontispiece, inscribed with the anger of Achilles and its direct consequences, yet remains, after it has ceased to be co-extensive with the poems. The parts added, however, are not necessarily inferior in merit to the original poem: so far is this from being the case, that amongst them are comprehended some of the noblest efforts of the Grecian epic."—(Vol. ii. p. 230.)

To many persons the undisputed fact that the Homeric poems were composed to be recited, not read, has appeared a convincing proof that they could not have originally assumed the form in which they are known to us. For setting aside the difficulty of preserving by the aid only of memory, and the still greater difficulty of composing a long poem without help of the manuscript, to keep secure the part already completed, what motive, it has been said, could induce the poet to undertake so great and so superfluous a labour? Why indite a poem so much longer than could be recited on any one occasion, and which, as a whole, could never be appreciated? But we would suggest that it is not necessary to suppose that the poet commenced his labours with the project in view of writing a long epic, in order to believe that we possess these two great poems very nearly in the original form in which they were composed. If it were the task of the poet or poets to supply a number of songs on the adventures of a popular hero, or the achievements of some famous war, such number of songs must assume a certain consecutive order, the one will necessarily grow out of the other. Let any one reflect for a moment how the work of composition proceeds, and he will perceive that it would be impossible for a poet to take any one such subject as the siege of Troy, or the return of Ulysses, as the theme for a number of separate poems, and not find that he was writing, with more or less continuity, one long entire poem. This continuity would be improved and especially attended to, when a certain order came to be preserved (as we know it was) in the recitation of the several poems. We have no difficulty, therefore, in believing that, in the time of Pisistratus, the editors of Homer might have had very little to do to give them that degree of completeness and unity which they at present display. A number of consecutive songs upon the same subject would naturally grow into an epic.

No decisive argument, we submit, can be drawn from the absence or limited application of the art of writing at the era assigned for the composition of these poems. There is nothing left for us but to examine the poems themselves, to determine what degree of unity of plan or of authorship may be attributed to them. Unfortunately the critical perception of scholars, equally eminent, leads to such different results, that the controversy appears to be hopeless. Where one sees with the utmost distinctness the difference of workmanship, another sees with equal clearness the traces of the same genius and manner. And in controversies of this nature, there is unhappily a most perverse combination of the strongest conviction with an utter impotence to force that conviction upon another. Between these two, a man is generally driven into a passion; and thus we often find a bitter, acrid mood infused into literary discussions, which, lying as they do apart from the selfish and conflicting interests of men, would seem to be the theatre for no such display. The controversy rages still in Germany, and, it seems, with considerable heat. Lachmann, after dissecting a certain portion of the Iliad into four songs, "in the highest degree different in their spirit," tells us that whoever thinks the difference of spirit inconsiderable—whoever does not feel it at once when pointed out—whoever can believe that the parts as they stand now belong to one artistically constructed epos, "will do well not to trouble himself any more either with my criticisms, or with epic poetry, because he is too weak to understand any thing about it—("weil er zu schwach ist etwas darin zu verstehen.") On the contrary, Ulrici, after having shown (or tried to show) that the composition of Homer satisfies perfectly, in the main, all the exigencies of an artistic epic, adds, that this will make itself at once evident to all those who have any sense of artistical symmetry, but that to those to whom that sense is wanting, no conclusive demonstration call be given. He warns the latter, however, they are not to deny the existence of that which their short-sighted vision cannot distinguish, for every thing cannot be made clear to children, which the mature man sees through at a glance! Mr Grote, from whom we quote these instances, adds that he has the misfortune to dissent both from Lachmann and Ulrici; for to him it appears a mistake to put (as Ulrici and others have done) the Iliad and the Odyssey on the same footing. The sort of compromise which Mr Grote offers seems very fair; but, for our part, we beg to reserve the point; we will not commit ourselves on so delicate a subject, by a hasty assent. But we promise to read our Homer again with an especial regard to these boundaries he has pointed out between the Achilleis and the Iliad.

Who Homer himself may have been, and if the blind bard ever existed, is a question, of course, very different from the degree of unity to be traced in the two great poems which have descended to us under his name. On this subject Mr Grote gives us an hypothesis which, as far as we are aware, is new and original. It has not, however, won our conviction—and we had intended to offer some objections against it. But we have already dwelt so long on this legendary period, that unless we break from it at once, we shall have no space left to give any idea whatever of the manner in which Mr Grote treats the more historical periods of his history. We must be allowed, therefore, to make a bold and abrupt transition; and, as every one in a history of Greece turns his eye first toward Athens, we shall, at one single bound, light upon the city of Minerva as she appeared in the age of Solon and Pisistratus.

A fidelity to the spirit of the epoch upon which he is engaged, as well as to the text of his authorities, we have already remarked, is a distinguishing merit of Mr Grote. Of this, his chapters upon the age of Solon might be cited as an illustration. We are persuaded that a reader of many a history of Greece, unless himself observant, and on the watch to detect, as he passes, the signs of the times, might proceed from the age of Pisistratus to that of Pericles, and not be made aware how very great the advancement, during that period, of the intellectual condition of the people of Athens. He has been in Athens all the time, but how very different have the Athenians become! And unless he were under the guidance of some more powerful thinker than ordinarily wields the pen of history, he might be little aware of the change. Mr Grote points it out with great distinctness.

At the first of these epochs, it is but a barbarous people, with qualities which bode something better—that bear the name of Athenians. Amongst the laws of Solon, is one which forbids "the sale of daughters or sisters into slavery by fathers or brothers!" A law is enacted against the exportation of all produce of the soil of Attica except olive oil, and to enforce this commercial or non-commercial regulation, "the archon was bound, on pain of forfeiting a hundred drachms, to pronounce solemn curses against every offender!" The superstitious or religious feelings, if we must honour them by the latter name, are rude and violent in the extreme—give rise to frenzy amongst the people,—the women especially,—and call for or admit of human sacrifice. Both the artifices by which Pisistratus on two several occasions succeeded in obtaining the tyranny, indicate a people in the very first stages of civilisation. But what shall be said of the second or grosser of these artifices?—his entrance into Athens in a chariot with a tall damsel by his side, personating Minerva, visibly under the protection of the goddess.

It is worth observing, that the same class of historians who are given to extract with an unauthorised boldness a prosaic fact from a poetic legend, are also the slowest and most reluctant in understanding the more startling facts which meet them on historic ground, in their simple and full significance. They are bold before the fable, they are timid before the fact. Nor is this surprising. In both cases they are on the search for incidents analogous to those which the ordinary course of life or of history has made familiar to their imagination. They see these with an exuberant faith where they do not exist, and will see nothing but these when something of a far different nature is actually put before them. Mr Grote, who refused to tread at all on the insecure ground of the legend, meets this narrative of the second entry of Pisistratus into Athens upon the level ground of history, and sees it in its simple form, and sees the people in it. Dr Thirlwall, on the contrary, who would read the history of a people's wars and emigrations in the fabulous exploits of fabulous persons, is staggered at the story—converts it all into a holiday pageant! It was some show or procession, and all the world knew as well as Pisistratus that it was the damsel Phye, and not Minerva, who stood in the chariot.

"This story would indeed be singular," writes Dr Thirlwall, "if we consider the expedient in the light of a stratagem, on which the confederates relied for overcoming the resistance which they might otherwise have expected from their adversaries. But it seems quite as possible that the pageant was only designed to add extraordinary solemnity to the entrance of Pisistratus, and to suggest the reflection that it was by the special favour of Heaven he had been so unexpectedly restored."—(Vol. ii. p. 67.)

If this story stood alone in spirit and character, and there were no other contemporary events to occasion us the same kind of surprise, some such interpretation might not be unreasonable. But other facts which the historian himself relates with their unabated and literal significance, testify equally to the gross apprehension of the Athenian people at this epoch. What shall we say, of the visit of Epimenides to purify the city? The guilt, it seems, of sacrilege had, some time past, been incurred by Megacles and his associates, who had put to death certain of their enemies within the precincts of the temple of Minerva, whither they had fled for refuge. Megacles might have starved them there, but was scrupulous to bring this defilement upon the temple. He therefore promised to spare their lives if they would quit the sanctuary. Upon this they came forth, holding however, as an additional safeguard, a rope in their hands which was fastened to the statue of Minerva. Better not have trusted to the rope, for it broke. Megacles, seeing this, pronounced aloud that the goddess had evidently withdrawn her protection, and ordered them to be put to death. For this sacrilege—not for the promise-breaking or bloodshed—a curse hung over the city. Superstitious terrors haunted the inhabitants; the scarcity, the sickness, every evil that afflicted them, was attributed to this cause; and the women especially, gave themselves up to frantic demonstrations of fear and piety.

There was a man of Crete, born of a nymph, fed by the nymphs, if indeed he was fed at all, for no one saw him eat. In his youth, this marvellous Cretan had been sent by his father to bring home some stray sheep, and turning aside into a cave for shelter from the noontide heat, had fallen asleep. He slept on for fifty years. Either supernatural knowledge comes in sleep, or Epimenides invented this fable to stop all inquiries as to where, or how, he had passed the early period of his life. He attained the age of one hundred and fifty-four—some say three hundred years.

This remarkable person, supposed to know by what means the anger of the gods might be propitiated, was called to Athens. What means he devised for this purpose may easily be conjectured. After the performance of certain religious ceremonies, the foundation of a new temple, and the sacrifice of a human victim, the Athenians were restored to their usual tranquillity.

"The religious mission of Epimenides to Athens," observes Mr Grote, "and its efficacious as well as healing influence on the public mind, deserve notice as characteristics of the age in which they occurred. If we transport ourselves two centuries forward to the Peloponnesian war, when rational influences and positive habits of thought had acquired a durable hold upon the superior minds, and when practical discussion on political and judicial matters were familiar to every Athenian citizen, no such uncontrollable religious misery could well have subdued the entire public; and if it had, no living man could have drawn to himself such universal veneration as to be capable of effecting a cure. Plato, admitting the real healing influence of rites and ceremonies, fully believed in Epimenides as an inspired prophet during the past, but towards those who preferred claims to supernatural power in his own day, he was not so easy of faith: he, as well as Euripides and Theophrastus, treated with indifference, and even with contempt, the Orpheotelestae of the later times, who advertised themselves as possessing the same patent knowledge of ceremonial rites, and the same means of guiding the will of the gods, as Epimenides had wielded before them.... Had Epimenides himself come to Athens in those days, his visit would probably have been as much inoperative to all public purposes as a repetition of the stratagem of Phye, clothed and equipped as the goddess Athena, which had succeeded so completely in the days of Peisistratus—a stratagem which even Herodotus treats as incredibly absurd, although a century before his time both the city of Athens and the Demas of Attica had obeyed, as a divine mandate, the orders of this magnificent and stately woman to restore Peisistratus."—(Vol. iii. p. 116.)

There is nothing to which we are more averse than the converting ancient history into a field for the discussion of modern party politics. We are fully persuaded that the most thorough English Conservative may admire the Athenian republic; so far at least admire as to admit that it is impossible to conceive how, under any other form of government, the peculiar glories of Athens could have shone forth. And, indeed, an Athenian democracy differs so entirely from any political institution which the world sees at present, or will ever see again, that to carry the strife of our politics back into those times, in other than a quite general manner, is as futile as it is tasteless and vexatious. After this avowal, we shall not be thought disposed to enter into any needless cavil, upon this topic, with Mr Grote; we shall not, certainly, be upon the watch to detect the too liberal politician in the historian of Greece. An interest in the working of popular institutions is a qualification the more for his task; and the historian himself must have felt that it was no mean advantage he had acquired by having taken his seat in our house of parliament, and mingled personally in the affairs of a popular government. What the future volumes of the history may disclose, we will not venture to prognosticate; but, hitherto, we have met with nothing which deserves the opprobrium of being attributed to party spirit. There is a certain tone in some of his political observations which, as may be supposed, we should not altogether adopt; but many of them are excellent and instructive. Nothing could be better than the following remarks on the necessity of a "constitutional morality." He is speaking of the reforms of Cleisthenes.

"It was necessary to create in the multitude, and through them to force upon the leading ambitious men, that rare and difficult sentiment which we may term a constitutional morality,—a paramount reverence for the forms of the constitution, enforcing obedience to the authorities acting under and within those forms, yet combined with the habit of open speech, of action, subject only to definite legal control, and unrestrained censure of those very authorities as to all their public acts,—combined, too, with the perfect confidence in the bosom of every citizen, amidst the bitterness of party contest, that the forms of the constitution will not be less sacred in the eyes of his opponents than in his own. This co-existence of freedom and self-imposed restraint—of obedience to authority with unmeasured censure of the persons exercising it—may be found in the aristocracy of England, (since about 1688,) as well as in the democracy of the American United States; and, because we are familiar with it, we are apt to suppose it a natural sentiment; though there seem to be few sentiments more difficult to establish and diffuse among a community, judging by the experience of history. We may see how imperfectly it exists, at this day, in the Swiss cantons; and the many violences of the French Revolution illustrate, amongst various other lessons, the fatal effects arising from its absence, even among a people high in the scale of intelligence. Yet the diffusion of such constitutional morality, not merely among the majority of any community, but throughout the whole, is the indispensable condition of a government at once free and peaceable; since even any powerful and obstinate minority may render the working of free institutions impracticable, without being strong enough to conquer ascendency for themselves."—Vol. iv. p. 205.

Then follow, close on the extract we have just made, some observations upon the famous law of Ostracism, which are well deserving of attention, and which we would willingly quote did our space allow of it. Perhaps it would be difficult, in following out the several applications of this law, to show that it had exactly the beneficial operation which—arguing on the theory of the institution,—is here assigned to it. But, at the very lowest, this much may be said of the law of Ostracism, that it gives to the stronger of two factions a means of deciding the contest without appeal to force, before the contest rose to its maximum of bitterness, and without necessity or excuse for those wholesale banishments which afflicted the republics of Italy. If such an institution had existed in the Florentine republic, we should not have heard of those cruel banishments that Guelph and Ghibelline, Bianchi and Neri, inflicted upon each other; such banishments as that, for instance, in which its great poet Dante was involved.

Of one remarkable event, characterising the working of the Athenian government, we do not assent to the view presented to us by Mr Grote. His last published volume brings down the affairs of Greece to the battle of Marathon and the death of Miltiades. In the sentence passed on the hero of Marathon, the operation of a popular government has been often disadvantageously traced; the Athenians have been accused of fickleness and ingratitude. Mr Grote repels the charge. With some observations upon this defence, which forms the conclusion of the fourth and last of the published volumes, we shall bring our own notice to a close.

Ingratitude, we readily admit, is not the proper word to be used on such an occasion. A citizen serves the state, and is honoured; if he commits a crime against the state he is not, on this account, to go unpunished. His previous services invest him with no privilege to break the laws, or act criminally. What man, capable of doing, a patriotic action, would wish for such a privilege, or dream of laying claim to it?

Not gratitude or ingratitude—but justice or injustice—is the issue to be tried between Miltiades and the Athenian assembly. And although Mr Grote is supported, in some measure, by Dr Thirlwall in the judgment he gives on this transaction, we prefer to side here with the opinion expressed by the earlier historian, Mr Mitford: we view the sentence passed on Miltiades not as the triumph of law or justice, but of mere party-spirit, the triumph of a faction gained through the unreasonable anger of the people.

Though the extract is rather long, we must, in justice, give the narrative of Mr Grote in his own language.

"His reputation (that of Miltiades) had been great before the battle (of Marathon), and after it the admiration and confidence of his countrymen knew no bounds; it appears indeed to have reached such a pitch, that his head was turned, and he lost both his patriotism and his prudence. He proposed to his countrymen to incur the cost of equipping an armament of seventy ships, with an adequate armed force, and to place it altogether at his discretion; giving them no intimation whither he intended to go, but merely assuring them that if they would follow him, he would conduct them to a land where gold was abundant, and thus enrich them. Such a promise, from the lips of the recent victor of Marathon, was sufficient, and the armament was granted; no man except Miltiades knowing what was its destination. He sailed immediately to the island of Paros, laid siege to the town, and sent in a herald to require from the inhabitants a contribution of one hundred talents, on pain of entire destruction. His pretence for this attack was, that the Parians had furnished a trireme to Datis for the Persian fleet at Marathon; but his real motive (so Herodotus assures us) was vindictive animosity against a Parian citizen named Lysagoras, who had exasperated the Persian general Hydarnes against him. The Parians amused him at first with evasions, until they had procured a little delay to repair the defective portions of their wall, after which they set him at defiance; and Miltiades in vain prosecuted hostilities against them for the space of twenty-six days: he ravaged the island, but his attacks made no impression on the town. Beginning to despair of success in his military operations, he entered into some negotiation (such at least was the tale of the Parians themselves,) with a Parian woman named Timo, priestess or attendant in the temple of Demeter (Ceres) near the town-gates; this woman, promising to reveal to him a secret which would place Paros in his power, induced him to visit by night a temple to which no male person was admissible. He leaped the exterior fence and approached the sanctuary; but on coming near was seized with a panic terror and ran away, almost out of his senses; on leaping the same fence to get back, he strained or bruised his thigh badly, and became utterly disabled. In this melancholy state he was placed on ship-board; the siege being raised, and the whole armament returning to Athens."

"Vehement was the indignation both of the armament and the remaining Athenians against Miltiades on his return; and Zanthippus, father of the great Perikles, became the spokesman of this feeling. He impeached Miltiades before the popular judicature as having been guilty of deceiving the people, and so having deserved the penalty of death. The accused himself, disabled by his injured thigh, which even began to show symptoms of gangrene, was unable to stand or to say a word in his own defence; he lay on his couch before the assembled judges, while his friends made the best case they could in his behalf. Defence, it appears, there was none; all they could do was to appeal to his previous services; they reminded the people largely and emphatically of the inestimable exploit of Marathon, coming in addition to his previous conquest of Lemnos. The assembled dikasts or jurors showed their sense of these powerful appeals, by rejecting the proposition of his accuser to condemn him to death; but they imposed on him the penalty of fifty talents 'for his iniquity.'" (Vol. iv. p. 488.)

He died shortly after from his wound.

On this narrative we must make one or two observations. The turn of expression which the writer has selected for conveying the meaning of the original Greek text of his authority, might lead us to imply that when the Athenians placed a force of seventy ships at the command of Miltiades they did not know on what kind of expedition he was about to employ them. "He would conduct them to a land where gold was abundant, and thus enrich them." Surely no one had an idea that it was a voyage of discovery, in search after some El Dorado that Miltiades was about to undertake. Every one in Athens knew that the fleet was to be directed against some of their neighbours: although, for very manifest reasons,—the advantage of taking their victim by surprise, and of leaving their general unfettered, to act according to circumstances,—the objects of attack were not revealed, and on this a perfect secrecy was allowed to be maintained. It should be also added to this account, that Zanthippes, father of Pericles, who made himself spokesman for the angry feeling of the Athenians, was also, as Dr Thirwall tells us, "the son of Ariphron, the chief of the rival house of the Alcmaonids," who were little pleased with the sudden rise of Miltiades.

From the same authority we may also learn, that "Paros was at this time one of the most flourishing amongst the Cyclades." Miltiades directed the expedition against Paros from personal motives, from vindictive animosity against a Parian citizen; but Paros was rich, and could therefore pay a ransom—the very object of the expedition; and the pretext under which alone Athens could extort a ransom or a tribute from its neighbours, that they had assisted the Persians, or failed in bringing aid to the common cause against them, applied to Paros; it had furnished, or was accused of having furnished, a trireme to Datis. Whatever baseness Miltiades betrayed in using a public force for his own private revenge, there is nothing to make it appear that the selection of Paros for the object of his attack was not in perfect consistency with the real public purpose of the enterprise.

What crime in all this had Miltiades committed against the Athenians? The injustice of the expedition they shared; for it would be childishness to suppose that they sent their general out with seventy ships, and had no idea that he would attack any one. The personal motives which led him to direct it against Paros, however mean and unworthy of him, are not shown to have been at variance with the professed objects of the expedition. Nor can any one doubt for a moment that if he had succeeded in extorting from the Parians, and others, a large sum of money, the Athenians would have welcomed him back with applause, as loud as the censure they bestowed on their defeated generals, who, instead of plunder, brought them back only the disgrace of having tried to plunder. There were those at hand ready to take advantage of the public irritation; they accused him, and obtained his condemnation. We are not claiming for Miltiades the praise of virtue; nor should we make any pathetic appeal in his behalf. He was not free from a moral delinquency; but, so far as the Athenians were concerned, his substantial offence was failure in his enterprise.

That his friends urged no other defence but that of his previous services, is no proof that other grounds for acquittal were not present to their minds. They were pleading before angry and irresponsible judges, whom it, was their object to soothe and propitiate. Would the strain of inculpatory observations that we have been making, have answered their purpose? To tell an angry man that he is angry, because he is disappointed, is not the way to abate his passion. That Miltiades had disappointed them was certain; undoubtedly the best method of defence was to remind them of the great services that he had formerly rendered them. It was not the demands of judicial reason his advocates had to satisfy: they were pleading before judges whose feelings of the moment were to be the law of the moment.

"Thus closed the life of the conqueror of Marathon. The last act of it," continues Mr Grote, "produces an impression so mournful, and even shocking—his descent from the pinnacle of glory, to defeat, mean tampering with a temple-servant, mortal bodily hurt, undefended ignominy, and death under a sentence of heavy fine, is so abrupt and unprepared—that readers, ancient and modern, have not been satisfied without finding some one to blame for it: we must except Herodotus, our original authority, who recounts the transaction without dropping a single hint of blame against any one. To speak ill of the people, as Machiavel has long ago observed, is a strain in which every one at all times, even under a democratical government indulges with impunity and without provoking any opponent to reply; and in this case the hard fate of Miltiades has been imputed to the vices of the Athenians and their democracy—it has been cited in proof partly of their fickleness, partly of their ingratitude. But however such blame may serve to lighten the mental sadness arising from a series of painful facts, it will not be found justified if we apply to those facts a reasonable criticism."

He thus vindicates the Athenians from the charge of fickleness, on the ground that it was not they, but Miltiades who had changed. The fugitive from Paros, and the victor of Marathon, were two very different persons. As any remarkable instance of fickleness we should certainly not be disposed to cite the case. The charge of ingratitude, we have admitted, is, presuming that he was guilty, entirely displaced. But when Mr Grote in his final summary says, "The fate of Miltiades thus, so far from illustrating either the fickleness or the ingratitude of his countrymen, attests their just appreciation of deserts," we must indeed demur. No, no: this was not the triumph of justice over the finer sensibilities of our nature, as Mr Grote would seem to imply. On the fairest review we can give to the whole of the circumstances, we find on the sentence passed upon Miltiades a gross instance of that old notorious injustice which pronounces an enterprise meritorious or criminal according to its success. The enterprise was altogether a disgraceful affair. But the Athenians must be supposed cognisant of the nature of the expedition for which they fitted out their seventy ships:—against them, we repeat, the only substantial offence committed was his failure; nor can we doubt that his welcome back to Athens would have been quite different had there been a different issue to the adventure. Justice there was none; unless it be justice for three freebooters to pass sentence upon the fourth.

Before concluding, we ought, perhaps, to take, some notice of the reform in our orthography of Greek words which Mr Grote is desirous of introducing, in order to assimilate the English to the Greek pronunciation. The principal of these is the substitution of K for C. Our own K, he justly observes, precisely coincides with the Greek K, while a C may be either K or S. He writes Perikles, Alkibiades. To this approximation of the English pronunciation to the Greek we can see nothing to object. A reader of Greek finds it a mere annoyance, and sort of barbarism, to be obliged to pronounce the same name one way while reading Greek, and another when speaking or reading English; and to the English reader it must be immaterial which pronunciation he finally adopts. Meanwhile, it must be allowed that the first changing of an old familiar name is a disagreeable operation. We must leave the popular and the learned taste to arrange it how they can together. Mr Grote has wisely left some names—as Thucydides—in the old English form; in matters of this kind nothing is gained by too rigid a consistency. It is not improbable that his orthography will be adopted, in the first place, by the more learned writers, and will from their pages find its way into popular use. Mr Grote also, in speaking of the Greek deities, calls them by their Greek names, and not by the Latin equivalents—As Zeus for Jupiter—Athene for Minerva.


[1] A History of Greece. BY GEORGE GROTE, ESQ.

[2] Vol. ii. p. 346.

[3] Grote: vol. i, p. 641, where the quotation is very effectively introduced.

[4] Vol. i. p. 434.

[5] Dr Thirlwall's Hist. vol. i. p. 152.

[6] Thirlwall, vol. i. p. 154. On the subject of the Trojan war we quote the following passage from the same historian, as an instance of the extremely slender thread which a conjectural writer will think it worth his while to weave in amongst his arguments for the support of some dubious fact. "One inevitable result," he says, "of such an event as the Trojan war, must have been to diffuse amongst the Greeks a more general knowledge of the isles and coasts of the Aegean, and to leave a lively recollection of the beauty and fertility of the region in which their battles had been fought. This would direct the attention of future emigrants in search of new homes toward the same quarter; and the fact that the tide of migration really set in this direction first, when the state of Greece became unsettled, may not unreasonably be thought to confirm the reality of the Trojan war." (P. 250.) Little need, one would think, of a Trojan war to direct the tide of emigration to the opposite coasts of Asia Minor.


It was on a bright, hot day of July, which threw the first gleam of sunshine across a long tract of soaking, foggy, dreary, hopeless weather, that we ascended Ben Nevis. The act was unpremeditated. The wet and fog of weeks had entered into our soul; and we had resolved, in the spirit of indignant resignation, that we would not attempt the hill. Accordingly we were stalking lazily along General Wade's road: we had left Fort William, and thought there might be a probability of reaching Fort Augustus to dinner,—when we were not ungratefully surprised to see the clouds tucking themselves up the side of the mountain in a peculiar manner, which gives the experienced wanderer of the hills the firm assurance of a glorious day. Soon afterwards, the great mountain became visible from summit to base, and its round head and broad shoulders stood dark against the bright blue sky. A sagacious-looking old Highlander, who was passing, protested that the hill had never looked so hopeful during the whole summer: the temptation was irresistible, so we turned our steps towards the right, and commenced the ascent.

It is one among the prevailing fallacies of the times, that to mount a Highland hill is a very difficult operation, and that one should hire a guide on the occasion. We lately witnessed a very distressing instance of the alarming prevalence of this notion, in a young Chancery barrister, fresh from Brick Court Temple, who asked us in a very solemn tone of voice, if we could recommend him to "a steady guide to the top of Arthur Seat." When matters have come to such a crisis, it is time to speak out; and we are able, on the ground of long experience, to say, that if the proper day be chosen, and the right method adopted, the ascent of our grandest mountains is one of the simplest operations in all pedestrianism. True, if people take it in the way in which pigs run up all manner of streets, and go straight forward, looking neither to the right nor to the left, they will run their heads against nature's stone walls, which are at least as formidable as man's. But let any one study the disposal of the ground, calculating the gradients and summit levels as if he were a railway-engineer for the time being—let him observe where the moss lies deep, and precipices rise too steep to be scrambled over; and he will be very obtuse indeed, if he is not able to chalk out for himself precisely the best way to the top. It is a good general rule to keep by the side of a stream. That if you do so when you are at the top of a hill, you will somehow or other find your way to the bottom, is, we are convinced, a proposition as sound as Newton's theory of gravitation. But in the ascent, the stream is often far better than a human guide. It has no interest to lead you to the top of some episodical hill and down again, and to make you scramble over an occasional dangerous pass, to show you how impossible it is that you could have found the way yourself, and how fortunate you are in having secured the services of an intelligent and intrepid guide. On the contrary, as long as you keep by the side of the stream you are always gaining ground and making your way towards the higher levels, while you avoid bogs: for the edge of a stream is generally the dryest part of a mountain.

Choosing the broadest and deepest scaur that is scratched down the abrupt side of the lower range of the mountain, we find it, as we anticipated, the channel of a clear dancing stream, which amuses us with its babble for several hundred feet of the ascent. Some time ere we had reached the base of the hill we had lost sight of the summit, and there was before us only the broad steep bank, with its surface of alternate stone and heather, and a few birch-trees peeping timidly forth from crevices in the rock. After a considerable period of good hard climbing, accompanied by nothing worthy of note either in the variations of the scenery or in the incidents encountered, we are at the top of this rampart; and behold! on the other side of a slight depression, in which sleeps a small inky lake, the bold summit of the mountain rises clear and abrupt and close, as one might see the dome of a cathedral from the parapet on the roof. Here we linger to take a last look of the objects at the foot of the hill, for ere we resume the ascent we shall lose sight of them. Already Fort William looks like a collection of rabbit-houses. The steam-boat on the lake is like a boy's Christmas toy. The waters have assumed that hard burnished metallic appearance which they convey to the eye raised far above them in a hot summer day. The far-stretching moss, with one or two ghastly white stones standing erect out of its blackness like druidical remains, carries the eye along its surface to the dusky and mysterious ruins of Inverlochy Castle, which has so sadly puzzled antiquaries to divine how its princely round towers and broad barbican could have been erected in that wild and remote region, where they stand patiently in their ruined grandeur, waiting till our friend Billings shall, with his incomparable pencil, make each tower and arch and moulding as familiar to the public eye as if the old ruin stood in Fleet Street.

Off we start with the lake to the left, taking care to keep the level we have gained. A short interval of walking in a horizontal direction, and again we must begin to climb. On this side the porphyry dome is round and comparatively smooth—scarcely so abrupt as the outer range of hill which we have just ascended. But wending north-eastwardly when near the summit, we came suddenly to a spot where a huge fragment of the dome had, as it were, been broken off, leaving a ghastly rent—how deep it were difficult for the eye to fix, but the usual authorities tell us that the precipices here are 1500 feet high. When we reached their edge, we found that the clouds, which had been completely lifted up from the smoother parts of the mountain, still lingered as if they had difficulty in getting clear of the ragged edges of the cavernous opening, and moving about restlessly like evil spirits, hither and thither, afforded but partial glimpses of the deep vale below. Though Ben Nevis was at this time rather deficient in his snowy honours, considerable patches lay in the unsunned crevices of the precipice. It was a fine thing to occupy one's-self in tilting over huge boulders, and to see them gradually approach the edge of the gulf, and then leap thundering into the mist.

Turning our eyes from the terrible fascinations of the precipice to the apex of the hill now in full view, a strange sight there met our eyes—a sight so strange that we venture to say the reader no more anticipates it than we did, at the moment when we looked from the yawning precipice to what we expected to be a solitary mountain-top. "Pooh!" the reader will say, "it was an eagle looking at the sun, or a red-deer snuffing with his expanded nostrils the tainted air." We shake our heads. "Well, then, it was a waterspout—or, perhaps, a beautiful rainbow—or something electric, or a phenomenon of some sort." Utterly wrong. It was neither more nor less, reader, than a crowd of soldiers, occupying nearly the whole table-land of the summit! Yes, there they were, British troops, with their red coats, dark gray trousers, and fatigue caps, as distinctly as we ever saw them in Marshall's panoramas! We were reminded of the fine description which Scott gives of the Highland girl who was gazing indolently along the solitary glen of Gortuleg on the day of the battle of Culloden, when it became suddenly peopled by the Jacobite fugitives. "Impressed with the belief that they were fairies—who, according to Highland tradition, are visible to men only from one twinkle of the eyelid to another—she strove to refrain from the vibration, which she believed would occasion the strange and magnificent apparition to become invisible." But whether the eye winked or not, there they were—substantial able-bodied fellows; what could it mean? Had Colonel Mitchell discovered a new system for protecting the country by fortifying the tops of mountains which an enemy never comes near? Could it be some awkward squad sent to be drilled on this remote spot that it might escape the observation of the sarcastic public? Such were the theories as suddenly rejected as they were suggested. It was vain to speculate. No solution we could devise made the slightest approach to probability; and our only prospect of speedy relief was in pushing rapidly forward. A very short sentence from the good-humoured looking young fellow who received our first breathless and perplexed inquiry, solved the mystery,—"did you never hear of the Ordnance Survey?" Yes, indeed, we had heard of it; but our impression of it was as of something like a mathematical line, with neither breadth nor thickness; but here it was in substantial operation. The party were occupied in erecting a sort of dwelling for themselves—half tent, half hut. Though in fatigue dresses, and far from being very trim, it was easy to see that they were not common soldiers. They belong, we believe, to the educated corps of sappers and miners; and a short conversation with them showed that the reputation of intelligence and civility long enjoyed by that distinguished body has not been unjustly earned. Though not blind to the magnificence of the panorama of mountain, lake, and distant far-stretching forest-land that lay beneath our feet as we conversed, they did not conceal their consciousness that the prospect of passing some months on such a spot was not particularly cheering to round-cheeked comfortable Englishmen, accustomed at Sandhurst and Addiscombe to comforts even superior to those of the Saut Market. The air was unexceptionably pure and abundant—yet the Bedford level might have been preferable as a permanent residence. Many were the reflections that occurred to us of the feelings of a set of men thus cut off from the earth, down on which they looked, like so many Jacks on a huge bean-stalk. What a place to encounter the first burst of the November storm in, beneath the frail covering of a tent! How did their friends address letters to them? Would a cover addressed "Mr Abel Thompson of the Royal engineers, Top of Ben Nevis," be a document to which the post-office would pay any more regard than to a letter addressed to one of the fixed stars? Could they ask a friend to step up to dinner, or exchange courtesies with the garrison of Fort William, into whose windows they might peep with their telescopes?

1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse