Locke.—Do you think it beneficial to human society to have all temples pulled down?
Bayle.—I cannot say that I do.
Locke.—Yet I find not in your writings any mark of distinction to show us which you mean to save.
Bayle.—A true philosopher, like an impartial historian, must be of no sect.
Locke.—Is there no medium between the blind zeal of a sectary and a total indifference to all religion?
Bayle.—With regard to morality I was not indifferent.
Locke.—How could you, then, be indifferent with regard to the sanctions religion gives to morality? How could you publish what tends so directly and apparently to weaken in mankind the belief of those sanctions? Was not this sacrificing the great interests of virtue to the little motives of vanity?
Bayle.—A man may act indiscreetly, but he cannot do wrong, by declaring that which, on a full discussion of the question, he sincerely thinks to be true.
Locke.—An enthusiast who advances doctrines prejudicial to society, or opposes any that are useful to it, has the strength of opinion and the heat of a disturbed imagination to plead in alleviation of his fault; but your cool head and sound judgment can have no such excuse. I know very well there are passages in all your works, and those not a few, where you talk like a rigid moralist. I have also heard that your character was irreproachably good; but when, in the most laboured parts of your writings, you sap the surest foundations of all moral duties, what avails it that in others, or in the conduct of your life, you have appeared to respect them? How many who have stronger passions than you had, and are desirous to get rid of the curb that restrains them, will lay hold of your scepticism to set themselves loose from all obligations of virtue! What a misfortune is it to have made such a use of such talents! It would have been better for you and for mankind if you had been one of the dullest of Dutch theologians, or the most credulous monk in a Portuguese convent. The riches of the mind, like those of Fortune, may be employed so perversely as to become a nuisance and pest instead of an ornament and support to society.
Bayle.—You are very severe upon me. But do you count it no merit, no service to mankind, to deliver them from the frauds and fetters of priestcraft, from the deliriums of fanaticism, and from the terrors and follies of superstition? Consider how much mischief these have done to the world! Even in the last age what massacres, what civil wars, what convulsions of government, what confusion in society, did they produce! Nay, in that we both lived in, though much more enlightened than the former, did I not see them occasion a violent persecution in my own country? And can you blame me for striking at the root of these evils.
Locke.—The root of these evils, you well know, was false religion; but you struck at the true. Heaven and hell are not more different than the system of faith I defended and that which produced the horrors of which you speak. Why would you so fallaciously confound them together in some of your writings, that it requires much more judgment, and a more diligent attention than ordinary readers have, to separate them again, and to make the proper distinctions? This, indeed, is the great art of the most celebrated freethinkers. They recommend themselves to warm and ingenuous minds by lively strokes of wit, and by arguments really strong, against superstition, enthusiasm, and priestcraft; but at the same time they insidiously throw the colours of these upon the fair face of true religion, and dress her out in their garb, with a malignant intention to render her odious or despicable to those who have not penetration enough to discern the impious fraud. Some of them may have thus deceived themselves as well as others. Yet it is certain no book that ever was written by the most acute of these gentlemen is so repugnant to priestcraft, to spiritual tyranny, to all absurd superstitions, to all that can tend to disturb or injure society, as that Gospel they so much affect to despise.
Bayle.—Mankind is so made that, when they have been over-heated, they cannot be brought to a proper temper again till they have been over-cooled. My scepticism might be necessary to abate the fever and frenzy of false religion.
Locke.—A wise prescription, indeed, to bring on a paralytical state of the mind (for such a scepticism as yours is a palsy which deprives the mind of all vigour, and deadens its natural and vital powers) in order to take off a fever which temperance and the milk of the Evangelical doctrines would probably cure.
Bayle.—I acknowledge that those medicines have a great power. But few doctors apply them untainted with the mixture of some harsher drugs or some unsafe and ridiculous nostrums of their own.
Locke.—What you now say is too true. God has given us a most excellent physic for the soul in all its diseases, but bad and interested physicians, or ignorant and conceited quacks, administer it so ill to the rest of mankind that much of the benefit of it is unhappily lost.
ARCHIBALD, EARL OF DOUGLAS, DUKE OF TOURAINE—JOHN, DUKE OF ARGYLE AND GREENWICH, FIELD-MARSHAL OF HIS BRITANNIC MAJESTY'S FORCES.
Argyle.—Yes, noble Douglas, it grieves me that you and your son, together with the brave Earl of Buchan, should have employed so much valour and have thrown away your lives in fighting the battles of that State which, from its situation and interests, is the perpetual and most dangerous enemy to Great Britain. A British nobleman serving France appears to me as unfortunate and as much out of his proper sphere as a Grecian commander engaged in the service of Persia would have appeared to Aristides or Agesilaus.
Douglas.—In serving France I served Scotland. The French were the natural allies to the Scotch, and by supporting their Crown I enabled my countrymen to maintain their independence against the English.
Argyle.—The French, indeed, from the unhappy state of our country, were ancient allies to the Scotch, but that they ever were our natural allies I deny. Their alliance was proper and necessary for us, because we were then in an unnatural state, disunited from England. While that disunion continued, our monarchy was compelled to lean upon France for assistance and support. The French power and policy kept us, I acknowledge, independent of the English, but dependent on them; and this dependence exposed us to many grievous calamities by drawing on our country the formidable arms of the English whenever it happened that the French and they had a quarrel. The succours they afforded us were distant and uncertain. Our enemy was at hand, superior to us in strength, though not in valour. Our borders were ravaged; our kings were slain or led captive; we lost all the advantage of being the inhabitants of a great island; we had no commerce, no peace, no security, no degree of maritime power. Scotland was a back-door through which the French, with our help, made their inroads into England; if they conquered, we obtained little benefit from it; but if they were defeated, we were always the devoted victims on whom the conquerors severely wreaked their resentment.
Douglas.—The English suffered as much in those wars as we. How terribly were their borders laid waste and depopulated by our sharp incursions! How often have the swords of my ancestors been stained with the best blood of that nation! Were not our victories at Bannockburn and at Otterburn as glorious as any that, with all the advantage of numbers, they have ever obtained over us?
Argyle.—They were; but yet they did us no lasting good. They left us still dependent on the protection of France. They left us a poor, a feeble, a distressed, though a most valiant nation. They irritated England, but could not subdue it, nor hinder our feeling such effects of its enmity as gave us no reason to rejoice in our triumphs. How much more happily, in the auspicious reign of that queen who formed the Union, was my sword employed in humbling the foes of Great Britain! With how superior a dignity did I appear in the combined British senate, maintaining the interests of the whole united people of England and Scotland against all foreign powers who attempted to disturb our general happiness or to invade our common rights!
Douglas.—Your eloquence and your valour had unquestionably a much nobler and more spacious field to exercise themselves in than any of those who defended the interests of only a part of the island.
Argyle.—Whenever I read any account of the wars between the Scotch and the English, I think I am reading a melancholy history of civil dissensions. Whichever side is defeated, their loss appears to me a loss to the whole and an advantage to some foreign enemy of Great Britain. But the strength of that island is made complete by the Union, and what a great English poet has justly said in one instance is now true in all:—
"The Hotspur and the Douglas, both together, Are confident against the world in arms."
Who can resist the English and Scotch valour combined? When separated and opposed, they balanced each other; united, they will hold the balance of Europe. If all the Scotch blood that has been shed for the French in unnatural wars against England had been poured out to oppose the ambition of France, in conjunction with the English—if all the English blood that has been spilt as unfortunately in useless wars against Scotland had been preserved, France would long ago have been rendered incapable of disturbing our peace, and Great Britain would have been the most powerful of nations.
Douglas.—There is truth in all you have said. But yet when I reflect on the insidious ambition of King Edward I., on the ungenerous arts he so treacherously employed to gain, or rather to steal, the sovereignty of our kingdom, and the detestable cruelty he showed to Wallace, our brave champion and martyr, my soul is up in arms against the insolence of the English, and I adore the memory of those patriots who died in asserting the independence of our Crown and the liberty of our nation.
Argyle.—Had I lived in those days I should have joined with those patriots, and been the foremost to maintain so noble a cause. The Scotch were not made to be subject to the English. Their souls are too great for such a timid submission. But they may unite and incorporate with a nation they would not obey. Their scorn of a foreign yoke, their strong and generous love of independence and freedom, make their union with England more natural and more proper. Had the spirit of the Scotch been servile or base, it could never have coalesced with that of the English.
Douglas.—It is true that the minds of both nations are congenial and filled with the same noble virtues, the same impatience of servitude, the same magnanimity, courage, and prudence, the same genius for policy, for navigation and commerce, for sciences and arts. Yet, notwithstanding this happy conformity, when I consider how long they were enemies to each other, what an hereditary hatred and jealousy had subsisted for many ages between them, what private passions, what prejudices, what contrary interests must have necessarily obstructed every step of the treaty, and how hard it was to overcome the strong opposition of national pride, I stand astonished that it was possible to unite the two kingdoms upon any conditions, and much more that it could be done with such equal regard and amicable fairness to both.
Argyle.—It was indeed a most arduous and difficult undertaking. The success of it must, I think, be thankfully ascribed, not only to the great firmness and prudence of those who had the management of it, but to the gracious assistance of Providence for the preservation of the reformed religion amongst us, which, in that conjuncture, if the union had not been made, would have been ruined in Scotland and much endangered in England. The same good Providence has watched over and protected it since, in a most signal manner, against the attempts of an infatuated party in Scotland and the arts of France, who by her emissaries laboured to destroy it as soon as formed; because she justly foresaw that the continuance of it would be destructive to all her vast designs against the liberty of Europe. I myself had the honour to have a principal share in subduing one rebellion designed to subvert it, and since my death it has been, I hope, established for ever, not only by the defeat of another rebellion, which came upon us in the midst of a dangerous war with France, but by measures prudently taken in order to prevent such disturbances for the future. The ministers of the Crown have proposed and the British legislature has enacted a wise system of laws, the object of which is to reform and to civilise the Highlands of Scotland; to deliver the people there from the arbitrary power and oppression of their chieftains; to carry the royal justice and royal protection into the wildest parts of their mountains; to hinder their natural valour from being abused and perverted to the detriment of their country; and to introduce among them arts, agriculture, commerce, tranquillity, with all the improvements of social and polished life.
Douglas.—By what you now tell me you give me the highest idea of the great prince, your master, who, after having been provoked by such a wicked rebellion, instead of enslaving the people of the Highlands, or laying the hand of power more heavily upon them (which is the usual consequence of unsuccessful revolts), has conferred on them the inestimable blessings of liberty, justice, and good order. To act thus is indeed to perfect the union and make all the inhabitants of Great Britain acknowledge, with gratitude and with joy, that they are subjects of the same well-regulated kingdom, and governed with the same impartial affection by the sovereign and father of the whole commonwealth.
Argyle.—The laws I have mentioned and the humane benevolent policy of His Majesty's Government have already produced very salutary effects in that part of the kingdom, and, if steadily pursued, will produce many more. But no words can recount to you the infinite benefits which have attended the union in the northern counties of England and the southern of Scotland.
Douglas.—The fruits of it must be, doubtless, most sensible there, where the perpetual enmity between the two nations had occasioned the greatest disorder and desolation.
Argyle.—Oh, Douglas, could you revive and return into Scotland what a delightful alteration would you see in that country. All those great tracts of land, which in your time lay untilled on account of the inroads of the bordering English, or the feuds and discords that raged with perpetual violence within our own distracted kingdom, you would now behold cultivated and smiling with plenty. Instead of the castles, which every baron was compelled to erect for the defence of his family, and where he lived in the barbarism of Gothic pride, among miserable vassals oppressed by the abuse of his feudal powers, your eyes would be charmed with elegant country houses, adorned with fine plantations and beautiful gardens, while happy villages or gay towns are rising about them and enlivening the prospect with every image of rural wealth. On our coasts trading cities, full of new manufactures, and continually increasing the extent of their commerce. In our ports and harbours innumerable merchant ships, richly loaded, and protected from all enemies by the matchless fleet of Great Britain. But of all improvements the greatest is in the minds of the Scotch. These have profited, even more than their lands, by the culture which the settled peace and tranquillity produced by the union have happily given to them, and they have discovered such talents in all branches of literature as might render the English jealous of being excelled by their genius, if there could remain a competition, when there remains no distinction between the two nations.
Douglas.—There may be emulation without jealousy, and the efforts, which that emulation will excite, may render our island superior in the fame of wit and good learning to Italy or to Greece; a superiority, which I have learnt in the Elysian fields to prefer even to that which is acquired by arms. But one doubt still remains with me concerning the union. I have been informed that no more than sixteen of our peers, except those who have English peerages (which some of the noblest have not), now sit in the House of Lords as representatives of the rest. Does not this in a great measure diminish those peers who are not elected? And have you not found the election of the sixteen too dependent on the favour of a court?
Argyle.—It was impossible that the English could ever consent in the Treaty of Union, to admit a greater number to have places and votes in the Upper House of Parliament, but all the Scotch peerage is virtually there by representation. And those who are not elected have every dignity and right of the peerage, except the privilege of sitting in the House of Lords and some others depending thereon.
Douglas.—They have so; but when parliaments enjoy such a share in the government of a country as ours do at this time, to be personally there is a privilege and a dignity of the highest importance.
Argyle.—I wish it had been possible to impart it to all. But your reason will tell you it was not. And consider, my lord, that, till the Revolution in 1688, the power vested by our Government in the Lords of the Articles had made our parliaments much more subject to the influence of the Crown than our elections are now. As, by the manner in which they were constituted, those lords were no less devoted to the king than his own privy council, and as no proposition could then be presented in Parliament if rejected by them, they gave him a negative before debate. This, indeed, was abolished upon the accession of King William III., with many other oppressive and despotical powers, which had rendered our nobles abject slaves to the Crown, while they were allowed to be tyrants over the people. But if King James or his son had been restored, the government he had exercised would have been re-established, and nothing but the union of the two kingdoms could have effectually prevented that restoration. We likewise owe to the union the subsequent abolition of the Scotch privy council, which had been the most grievous engine of tyranny, and that salutary law which declared that no crimes should be high treason or misprision of treason in Scotland but such as were so in England, and gave us the English methods of trial in cases of that nature; whereas before there were so many species of treasons, the construction of them was so uncertain, and the trials were so arbitrary, that no man could be safe from suffering as a traitor. By the same Act of Parliament we also received a communication of that noble privilege of the English, exemption from torture—a privilege which, though essential both to humanity and to justice, no other nation in Europe, not even the freest republics, can boast of possessing. Shall we, then, take offence at some inevitable circumstances, which may be objected to, on our part, in the Treaty of Union, when it has delivered us from slavery, and all the worst evils that a state can suffer? It might be easily shown that, in his political and civil condition, every baron in Scotland is much happier now, and much more independent, than the highest was under that constitution of government which continued in Scotland even after the expulsion of King James II. The greatest enemies to the union are the friends of that king in whose reign, and in his brother's, the kingdom of Scotland was subjected to a despotism as arbitrary as that of France, and more tyrannically administered.
Douglas.—All I have heard of those reigns makes me blush with indignation at the servility of our nobles, who could endure them so long. What, then, was become of that undaunted Scotch spirit, which had dared to resist the Plantagenets in the height of their power and pride? Could the descendants of those who had disdained to be subjects of Edward I. submit to be slaves of Charles II. or James?
Argyle.—They seemed in general to have lost every characteristic of their natural temper, except a desire to abuse the royal authority for the gratification of their private resentments in family quarrels.
Douglas.—Your grandfather, my lord, has the glory of not deserving this censure.
Argyle.—I am proud that his spirit, and the principles he professed, drew upon him the injustice and fury of those times. But there needs no other proof than the nature and the manner of his condemnation to show what a wretched state our nobility then were in, and what an inestimable advantage it is to them that they are now to be tried as peers of Great Britain, and have the benefit of those laws which imparted to us the equity and the freedom of the English Constitution.
Upon the whole, as much as wealth is preferable to poverty, liberty to oppression, and national strength to national weakness, so much has Scotland incontestably gained by the union. England, too, has secured by it every public blessing which was before enjoyed by her, and has greatly augmented her strength. The martial spirit of the Scotch, their hardy bodies, their acute and vigorous minds, their industry, their activity, are now employed to the benefit of the whole island. He is now a bad Scotchman who is not a good Englishman, and he is a bad Englishman who is not a good Scotchman. Mutual intercourse, mutual interests, mutual benefits, must naturally be productive of mutual affection. And when that is established, when our hearts are sincerely united, many great things, which some remains of jealousy and distrust, or narrow local partialities, may hitherto have obstructed, will be done for the good of the whole United Kingdom. How much may the revenues of Great Britain be increased by the further increase of population, of industry, and of commerce in Scotland! What a mighty addition to the stock of national wealth will arise from the improvement of our most northern counties, which are infinitely capable of being improved! The briars and thorns are in a great measure grubbed up; the flowers and fruits may soon be planted. And what more pleasing, or what more glorious employment can any government have, than to attend to the cultivating of such a plantation?
Douglas.—The prospect you open to me of happiness to my country appears so fair, that it makes me amends for the pain with which I reflect on the times wherein I lived, and indeed on our whole history for several ages.
Argyle.—That history does, in truth, present to the mind a long series of the most direful objects, assassinations, rebellions, anarchy, tyranny, and religion itself, either cruel, or gloomy and unsocial. An historian who would paint it in its true colours must take the pencil of Guercino or Salvator Rosa. But the most agreeable imagination can hardly figure to itself a more pleasing scene of private and public felicity than will naturally result from the union, if all the prejudices against it, and all distinctions that may tend on either side to keep up an idea of separate interests, or to revive a sharp remembrance of national animosities, can be removed.
Douglas.—If they can be removed! I think it impossible they can be retained. To resist the union is indeed to rebel against Nature. She has joined the two countries, has fenced them both with the sea against the invasion of all other nations, but has laid them entirely open the one to the other. Accursed be he who endeavours to divide them. What God has joined let no man put asunder.
Hercules.—Do you pretend to sit as high on Olympus as Hercules? Did you kill the Nemean lion, the Erymanthian boar, the Lernean serpent, and Stymphalian birds? Did you destroy tyrants and robbers? You value yourself greatly on subduing one serpent; I did as much as that while I lay in my cradle.
Cadmus.—It is not on account of the serpent I boast myself a greater benefactor to Greece than you. Actions should be valued by their utility rather than their eclat. I taught Greece the art of writing, to which laws owe their precision and permanency. You subdued monsters; I civilised men. It is from untamed passions, not from wild beasts, that the greatest evils arise to human society. By wisdom, by art, by the united strength of civil community, men have been enabled to subdue the whole race of lions, bears, and serpents, and what is more, to bind in laws and wholesome regulations the ferocious violence and dangerous treachery of the human disposition. Had lions been destroyed only in single combat, men had had but a bad time of it; and what but laws could awe the men who killed the lions? The genuine glory, the proper distinction of the rational species, arises from the perfection of the mental powers. Courage is apt to be fierce, and strength is often exerted in acts of oppression. But wisdom is the associate of justice. It assists her to form equal laws, to pursue right measures, to correct power, protect weakness, and to unite individuals in a common interest and general welfare. Heroes may kill tyrants, but it is wisdom and laws that prevent tyranny and oppression. The operations of policy far surpass the labours of Hercules, preventing many evils which valour and might cannot even redress. You heroes consider nothing but glory, and hardly regard whether the conquests which raise your fame are really beneficial to your country. Unhappy are the people who are governed by valour not directed by prudence, and not mitigated by the gentle arts!
Hercules.—I do not expect to find an admirer of my strenuous life in the man who taught his countrymen to sit still and read, and to lose the hours of youth and action in idle speculation and the sport of words.
Cadmus.—An ambition to have a place in the registers of fame is the Eurystheus which imposes heroic labours on mankind. The muses incite to action as well as entertain the hours of repose; and I think you should honour them for presenting to heroes such a noble recreation as may prevent their taking up the distaff when they lay down the club.
Hercules.—Wits as well as heroes can take up the distaff. What think you of their thin-spun systems of philosophy, or lascivious poems, or Milesian fables? Nay, what is still worse, are there not panegyrics on tyrants, and books that blaspheme the gods and perplex the natural sense of right and wrong? I believe if Eurystheus was to set me to work again he would find me a worse task than any he imposed; he would make me read through a great library; and I would serve it as I did the hydra, I would burn as I went on, that one chimera might not rise from another to plague mankind. I should have valued myself more on clearing the library than on cleansing the Augean stables.
Cadmus.—It is in those libraries only that the memory of your labours exists. The heroes of Marathon, the patriots of Thermopylae, owe their immortality to me. All the wise institutions of lawgivers and all the doctrines of sages had perished in the ear, like a dream related, if letters had not preserved them. Oh Hercules! it is not for the man who preferred virtue to pleasure to be an enemy to the muses. Let Sardanapalus and the silken sons of luxury, who have wasted life in inglorious ease, despise the records of action which bear no honourable testimony to their lives. But true merit, heroic virtue, each genuine offspring of immortal Jove, should honour the sacred source of lasting fame.
Hercules.—Indeed, if writers employed themselves only in recording the acts of great men, much might be said in their favour. But why do they trouble people with their meditations? Can it signify to the world what an idle man has been thinking?
Cadmus.—Yes, it may. The most important and extensive advantages mankind enjoy are greatly owing to men who have never quitted their closets. To them mankind is obliged for the facility and security of navigation. The invention of the compass has opened to them new worlds. The knowledge of the mechanical powers has enabled them to construct such wonderful machines as perform what the united labour of millions by the severest drudgery could not accomplish. Agriculture, too, the most useful of arts, has received its share of improvement from the same source. Poetry likewise is of excellent use to enable the memory to retain with more ease, and to imprint with more energy upon the heart, precepts of virtue and virtuous actions. Since we left the world, from the little root of a few letters, science has spread its branches over all nature, and raised its head to the heavens. Some philosophers have entered so far into the counsels of divine wisdom as to explain much of the great operations of nature. The dimensions and distances of the planets, the causes of their revolutions, the path of comets, and the ebbing and flowing of tides are understood and explained. Can anything raise the glory of the human species more than to see a little creature, inhabiting a small spot, amidst innumerable worlds, taking a survey of the universe, comprehending its arrangement, and entering into the scheme of that wonderful connection and correspondence of things so remote, and which it seems the utmost exertion of Omnipotence to have established? What a volume of wisdom, what a noble theology do these discoveries open to us! While some superior geniuses have soared to these sublime subjects, other sagacious and diligent minds have been inquiring into the most minute works of the Infinite Artificer; the same care, the same providence is exerted through the whole, and we should learn from it that to true wisdom utility and fitness appear perfection, and whatever is beneficial is noble.
Hercules.—I approve of science as far as it is assistant to action. I like the improvement of navigation and the discovery of the greater part of the globe, because it opens a wider field for the master spirits of the world to bustle in.
Cadmus.—There spoke the soul of Hercules. But if learned men are to be esteemed for the assistance they give to active minds in their schemes, they are not less to be valued for their endeavours to give them a right direction and moderate their too great ardour. The study of history will teach the warrior and the legislator by what means armies have been victorious and states have become powerful; and in the private citizen they will inculcate the love of liberty and order. The writings of sages point out a private path of virtue, and show that the best empire is self-government, and subduing our passions the noblest of conquests.
Hercules.—The true spirit of heroism acts by a sort of inspiration, and wants neither the experience of history nor the doctrines of philosophers to direct it. But do not arts and sciences render men effeminate, luxurious, and inactive? and can you deny that wit and learning are often made subservient to very bad purposes?
Cadmus.—I will own that there are some natures so happily formed they hardly want the assistance of a master, and the rules of art, to give them force or grace in everything they do. But these heaven-inspired geniuses are few. As learning flourishes only where ease, plenty, and mild government subsist, in so rich a soil, and under so soft a climate, the weeds of luxury will spring up among the flowers of art; but the spontaneous weeds would grow more rank, if they were allowed the undisturbed possession of the field. Letters keep a frugal, temperate nation from growing ferocious, a rich one from becoming entirely sensual and debauched. Every gift of the gods is sometimes abused; but wit and fine talents by a natural law gravitate towards virtue; accidents may drive them out of their proper direction; but such accidents are a sort of prodigies, and, like other prodigies, it is an alarming omen, and of dire portent to the times. For if virtue cannot keep to her allegiance those men, who in their hearts confess her divine right, and know the value of her laws, on whose fidelity and obedience can she depend? May such geniuses never descend to flatter vice, encourage folly, or propagate irreligion; but exert all their powers in the service of virtue, and celebrate the noble choice of those, who, like you, preferred her to pleasure.
MERCURY—AND A MODERN FINE LADY.
Mrs. Modish.—Indeed, Mr. Mercury, I cannot have the pleasure of waiting upon you now. I am engaged, absolutely engaged.
Mercury.—I know you have an amiable, affectionate husband, and several fine children; but you need not be told, that neither conjugal attachments, maternal affections, nor even the care of a kingdom's welfare or a nation's glory, can excuse a person who has received a summons to the realms of death. If the grim messenger was not as peremptory as unwelcome, Charon would not get a passenger (except now and then a hypochondriacal Englishman) once in a century. You must be content to leave your husband and family, and pass the Styx.
Mrs. Modish.—I did not mean to insist on any engagement with my husband and children; I never thought myself engaged to them. I had no engagements but such as were common to women of my rank. Look on my chimney-piece, and you will see I was engaged to the play on Mondays, balls on Tuesdays, the opera on Saturdays, and to card assemblies the rest of the week, for two months to come; and it would be the rudest thing in the world not to keep my appointments. If you will stay for me till the summer season, I will wait on you with all my heart. Perhaps the Elysian fields may be less detestable than the country in our world. Pray have you a fine Vauxhall and Ranelagh? I think I should not dislike drinking the Lethe waters when you have a full season.
Mercury.—Surely you could not like to drink the waters of oblivion, who have made pleasure the business, end, and aim of your life! It is good to drown cares, but who would wash away the remembrance of a life of gaiety and pleasure.
Mrs. Modish.—Diversion was indeed the business of my life, but as to pleasure, I have enjoyed none since the novelty of my amusements was gone off. Can one be pleased with seeing the same thing over and over again? Late hours and fatigue gave me the vapours, spoiled the natural cheerfulness of my temper, and even in youth wore away my youthful vivacity.
Mercury.—If this way of life did not give you pleasure, why did you continue in it? I suppose you did not think it was very meritorious?
Mrs. Modish.—I was too much engaged to think at all: so far indeed my manner of life was agreeable enough. My friends always told me diversions were necessary, and my doctor assured me dissipation was good for my spirits; my husband insisted that it was not, and you know that one loves to oblige one's friends, comply with one's doctor, and contradict one's husband; and besides I was ambitious to be thought du bon ton.
Mercury.—Bon ton! what is that, madam? Pray define it.
Mrs. Modish.—Oh sir, excuse me, it is one of the privileges of the bon ton never to define, or be defined. It is the child and the parent of jargon. It is—I can never tell you what it is: but I will try to tell you what it is not. In conversation it is not wit; in manners it is not politeness; in behaviour it is not address; but it is a little like them all. It can only belong to people of a certain rank, who live in a certain manner, with certain persons, who have not certain virtues, and who have certain vices, and who inhabit a certain part of the town. Like a place by courtesy, it gets a higher rank than the person can claim, but which those who have a legal title to precedency dare not dispute, for fear of being thought not to understand the rules of politeness. Now, sir, I have told you as much as I know of it, though I have admired and aimed at it all my life.
Mercury.—Then, madam, you have wasted your time, faded your beauty, and destroyed your health, for the laudable purposes of contradicting your husband, and being this something and this nothing called the bon ton.
Mrs. Modish.—What would you have had me do?
Mercury.—I will follow your mode of instructing. I will tell you what I would not have had you do. I would not have had you sacrifice your time, your reason, and your duties, to fashion and folly. I would not have had you neglect your husband's happiness and your children's education.
Mrs. Modish.—As to the education of my daughters, I spared no expense; they had a dancing-master, music-master, and drawing-mister, and a French governess to teach them behaviour and the French language.
Mercury.—So their religion, sentiments, and manners were to be learnt from a dancing-master, music-master, and a chambermaid! Perhaps they might prepare them to catch the bon ton. Your daughters must have been so educated as to fit them to be wives without conjugal affection, and mothers without maternal care. I am sorry for the sort of life they are commencing, and for that which you have just concluded. Minos is a sour old gentleman, without the least smattering of the bon ton, and I am in a fright for you. The best thing I can advise you is to do in this world as you did in the other, keep happiness in your view, but never take the road that leads to it. Remain on this side Styx, wander about without end or aim, look into the Elysian fields, but never attempt to enter into them, lest Minos should push you into Tartarus; for duties neglected may bring on a sentence not much less severe than crimes committed.
PLUTARCH—CHARON—AND A MODERN BOOKSELLER.
Charon.—Here is a fellow who is very unwilling to land in our territories. He says he is rich, has a great deal of business in the other world, and must needs return to it; he is so troublesome and obstreperous I know not what to do with him. Take him under your care, therefore, good Plutarch; you will easily awe him into order and decency by the superiority an author has over a bookseller.
Bookseller.—Am I got into a world so absolutely the reverse of that I left, that here authors domineer over booksellers? Dear Charon, let me go back, and I will pay any price for my passage; but, if I must stay, leave me not with any of those who are styled classical authors. As to you, Plutarch, I have a particular animosity against you for having almost occasioned my ruin. When I first set up shop, understanding but little of business, I unadvisedly bought an edition of your "Lives," a pack of old Greeks and Romans, which cost me a great sum of money. I could never get off above twenty sets of them. I sold a few to the Universities, and some to Eton and Westminster, for it is reckoned a pretty book for boys and undergraduates; but, unless a man has the luck to light on a pedant, he shall not sell a set of them in twenty years.
Plutarch.—From the merit of the subjects, I had hoped another reception for my works. I will own, indeed, that I am not always perfectly accurate in every circumstance, nor do I give so exact and circumstantial a detail of the actions of my heroes as may be expected from a biographer who has confined himself to one or two characters. A zeal to preserve the memory of great men, and to extend the influence of such noble examples, made me undertake more than I could accomplish in the first degree of perfection; but surely the characters of my illustrious men are not so imperfectly sketched that they will not stand forth to all ages as patterns of virtue and incitements to glory. My reflections are allowed to be deep and sagacious; and what can be more useful to a reader than a wise man's judgment on a great man's conduct? In my writings you will find no rash censures, no undeserved encomiums, no mean compliance with popular opinions, no vain ostentation of critical skill, nor any affected finesse. In my "Parallels," which used to be admired as pieces of excellent judgment, I compare with perfect impartiality one great man with another, and each with the rule of justice. If, indeed, latter ages have produced greater men and better writers, my heroes and my works ought to give place to them. As the world has now the advantage of much better rules of morality than the unassisted reason of poor Pagans could form, I do not wonder that those vices, which appeared to us as mere blemishes in great characters, should seem most horrid deformities in the purer eyes of the present age—a delicacy I do not blame, but admire and commend. And I must censure you for endeavouring, if you could publish better examples, to obtrude on your countrymen such as were defective. I rejoice at the preference which they give to perfect and unalloyed virtue; and as I shall ever retain a high veneration for the illustrious men of every age, I should be glad if you would give me some account of those persons who in wisdom, justice, valour, patriotism, have eclipsed my Solon, Numa, Camillus, and other boasts of Greece or Rome.
Bookseller.—Why, Master Plutarch, you are talking Greek indeed. That work which repaired the loss I sustained by the costly edition of your books was "The Lives of the Highwaymen;" but I should never have grown rich if it had not been by publishing "The Lives of Men that Never Lived." You must know that, though in all times it was possible to have a great deal of learning and very little wisdom, yet it is only by a modern improvement in the art of writing that a man may read all his life and have no learning or knowledge at all, which begins to be an advantage of the greatest importance. There is as natural a war between your men of science and fools as between the cranes and the pigmies of old. Most of our young men having deserted to the fools, the party of the learned is near being beaten out of the field; and I hope in a little while they will not dare to peep out of their forts and fastnesses at Oxford and Cambridge. There let them stay and study old musty moralists till one falls in love with the Greek, another with the Roman virtue; but our men of the world should read our new books, which teach them to have no virtue at all. No book is fit for a gentleman's reading which is not void of facts and of doctrines, that he may not grow a pedant in his morals or conversation. I look upon history (I mean real history) to be one of the worst kinds of study. Whatever has happened may happen again, and a well-bred man may unwarily mention a parallel instance he had met with in history and be betrayed into the awkwardness of introducing into his discourse a Greek, a Roman, or even a Gothic name; but when a gentleman has spent his time in reading adventures that never occurred, exploits that never were achieved, and events that not only never did, but never can happen, it is impossible that in life or in discourse he should ever apply them. A secret history, in which there is no secret and no history, cannot tempt indiscretion to blab or vanity to quote; and by this means modern conversation flows gentle and easy, unencumbered with matter and unburdened of instruction. As the present studies throw no weight or gravity into discourse and manners, the women are not afraid to read our books, which not only dispose to gallantry and coquetry, but give rules for them. Caesar's "Commentaries," and the "Account of Xenophon's Expedition," are not more studied by military commanders than our novels are by the fair—to a different purpose, indeed; for their military maxims teach to conquer, ours to yield. Those inflame the vain and idle love of glory: these inculcate a noble contempt of reputation. The women have greater obligations to our writers than the men. By the commerce of the world men might learn much of what they get from books; but the poor women, who in their early youth are confined and restrained, if it were not for the friendly assistance of books, would remain long in an insipid purity of mind, with a discouraging reserve of behaviour.
Plutarch.—As to your men who have quitted the study of virtue for the study of vice, useful truth for absurd fancy, and real history for monstrous fiction, I have neither regard nor compassion for them; but I am concerned for the women who are betrayed into these dangerous studies; and I wish for their sakes I had expatiated more on the character of Lucretia and some other heroines.
Bookseller.—I tell you, our women do not read in order to live or to die like Lucretia. If you would inform us that a billet-doux was found in her cabinet after her death, or give a hint as if Tarquin really saw her in the arms of a slave, and that she killed herself not to suffer the shame of a discovery, such anecdotes would sell very well. Or if, even by tradition, but better still, if by papers in the Portian family, you could show some probability that Portia died of dram drinking, you would oblige the world very much; for you must know, that next to new-invented characters, we are fond of new lights upon ancient characters; I mean such lights as show a reputed honest man to have been a concealed knave, an illustrious hero a pitiful coward, &c. Nay, we are so fond of these kinds of information as to be pleased sometimes to see a character cleared from a vice or crime it has been charged with, provided the person concerned be actually dead. But in this case the evidence must be authentic, and amount to a demonstration; in the other, a detection is not necessary; a slight suspicion will do, if it concerns a really good and great character.
Plutarch.—I am the more surprised at what you say of the taste of your contemporaries, as I met with a Frenchman who assured me that less than a century ago he had written a much admired "Life of Cyrus," under the name of Artamenes, in which he ascribed to him far greater actions than those recorded of him by Xenophon and Herodotus; and that many of the great heroes of history had been treated in the same manner; that empires were gained and battles decided by the valour of a single man, imagination bestowing what nature has denied, and the system of human affairs rendered impossible.
Bookseller.—I assure you those books were very useful to the authors and their booksellers; and for whose benefit besides should a man write? These romances were very fashionable and had a great sale: they fell in luckily with the humour of the age.
Plutarch.—Monsieur Scuderi tells me they were written in the times of vigour and spirit, in the evening of the gallant days of chivalry, which, though then declining, had left in the hearts of men a warm glow of courage and heroism; and they were to be called to books as to battle, by the sound of the trumpet. He says, too, that if writers had not accommodated themselves to the prejudices of the age, and written of bloody battles and desperate encounters, their works would have been esteemed too effeminate an amusement for gentlemen. Histories of chivalry, instead of enervating, tend to invigorate the mind, and endeavour to raise human nature above the condition which is naturally prescribed to it; but as strict justice, patriotic motives, prudent counsels, and a dispassionate choice of what upon the whole is fittest and best, do not direct these heroes of romance, they cannot serve for instruction and example, like the great characters of true history. It has ever been my opinion, that only the clear and steady light of truth can guide men to virtue, and that the lesson which is impracticable must be unuseful. Whoever shall design to regulate his conduct by these visionary characters will be in the condition of superstitious people, who choose rather to act by intimations they receive in the dreams of the night, than by the sober counsels of morning meditation. Yet I confess it has been the practice of many nations to incite men to virtue by relating the deeds of fabulous heroes: but surely it is the custom only of yours to incite them to vice by the history of fabulous scoundrels. Men of fine imagination have soared into the regions of fancy to bring back Astrea; you go thither in search of Pandora. Oh disgrace to letters! Oh shame to the muses!
Bookseller.—You express great indignation at our present race of writers; but believe me the fault lies chiefly on the side of the readers. As Monsieur Scuderi observed to you, authors must comply with the manners and disposition of those who are to read them. There must be a certain sympathy between the book and the reader to create a good liking. Would you present a modern fine gentleman, who is negligently lolling in an easy chair, with the labours of Hercules for his recreation? or make him climb the Alps with Hannibal when he is expiring with the fatigue of last night's ball? Our readers must be amused, flattered, soothed; such adventures must be offered to them as they would like to have a share in.
Plutarch.—It should be the first object of writers to correct the vices and follies of the age. I will allow as much compliance with the mode of the times as will make truth and good morals agreeable. Your love of fictitious characters might be turned to good purpose if those presented to the public were to be formed on the rules of religion and morality. It must be confessed that history, being employed only about illustrious persons, public events, and celebrated actions, does not supply us with such instances of domestic merit as one could wish. Our heroes are great in the field and the senate, and act well in great scenes on the theatre of the world; but the idea of a man, who in the silent retired path of life never deviates into vice, who considers no spectator but the Omniscient Being, and solicits no applause but His approbation, is the noblest model that can be exhibited to mankind, and would be of the most general use. Examples of domestic virtue would be more particularly useful to women than those of great heroines. The virtues of women are blasted by the breath of public fame, as flowers that grow on an eminence are faded by the sun and wind which expand them. But true female praise, like the music of the spheres, arises from a gentle, a constant, and an equal progress in the path marked out for them by their great Creator; and, like the heavenly harmony, it is not adapted to the gross ear of mortals, but is reserved for the delight of higher beings, by whose wise laws they were ordained to give a silent light and shed a mild, benignant influence on the world.
Bookseller.—We have had some English and French writers who aimed at what you suggest. In the supposed character of Clarissa (said a clergyman to me a few days before I left the world) one finds the dignity of heroism tempered by the meekness and humility of religion, a perfect purity of mind, and sanctity of manners. In that of Sir Charles Grandison, a noble pattern of every private virtue, with sentiments so exalted as to render him equal to every public duty.
Plutarch.—Are both these characters by the same author?
Bookseller.—Ay, Master Plutarch, and what will surprise you more, this author has printed for me.
Plutarch.—By what you say, it is pity he should print any work but his own. Are there no other authors who write in this manner?
Bookseller.—Yes, we have another writer of these imaginary histories; one who has not long since descended to these regions. His name is Fielding, and his works, as I have heard the best judges say, have a true spirit of comedy and an exact representation of nature, with fine moral touches. He has not, indeed, given lessons of pure and consummate virtue, but he has exposed vice and meanness with all the powers of ridicule; and we have some other good wits who have exerted their talents to the purposes you approve. Monsieur de Marivaux, and some other French writers, have also proceeded much upon the same plan with a spirit and elegance which give their works no mean rank among the belles lettres. I will own that, when there is wit and entertainment enough in a book to make it sell, it is not the worse for good morals.
Charon.—I think, Plutarch, you have made this gentleman a little more humble, and now I will carry him the rest of his journey. But he is too frivolous an animal to present to wise Minos. I wish Mercury were here; he would damn him for his dulness. I have a good mind to carry him to the Danaides, and leave him to pour water into their vessels which, like his late readers, are destined to eternal emptiness. Or shall I chain him to the rock, side to side by Prometheus, not for having attempted to steal celestial fire, in order to animate human forms, but for having endeavoured to extinguish that which Jupiter had imparted? Or shall we constitute him friseur to Tisiphone, and make him curl up her locks with his satires and libels?
Plutarch.—Minos does not esteem anything frivolous that affects the morals of mankind. He punishes authors as guilty of every fault they have countenanced and every crime they have encouraged, and denounces heavy vengeance for the injuries which virtue or the virtuous have suffered in consequence of their writings.
PUBLIUS CORNELIUS SCIPIO AFRICANUS—CAIUS JULIUS CAESAR.
Scipio.—Alas, Caesar! how unhappily did you end a life made illustrious by the greatest exploits in war and most various civil talents!
Caesar.—Can Scipio wonder at the ingratitude of Rome to her generals? Did not he reproach her with it in the epitaph he ordered to be inscribed upon his tomb at Liternum, that mean village in Campania, to which she had driven the conqueror of Hannibal and of Carthage? I also, after subduing her most dangerous enemies, the Helvetians, the Gauls, and the Germans, after raising her name to the highest pitch of glory, should have been deprived of my province, reduced to live as a private man under the power of my enemies and the enviers of my greatness; nay, brought to a trial and condemned by the judgment of a faction, if I had not led my victorious troops to Rome, and by their assistance, after all my offers of peace had been iniquitously rejected, made myself master of a State which knew so ill how to recompense superior merit. Resentment of this, together with the secret machinations of envy, produced not long afterwards a conspiracy of senators, and even of some whom I had most obliged and loved, against my life, which they basely took away by assassination.
Scipio.—You say you led your victorious troops to Rome. How were they your troops? I thought the Roman armies had belonged to the Republic, not to their generals.
Caesar.—They did so in your time. But before I came to command them, Marius and Sylla had taught them that they belonged to their generals. And I taught the senate that a veteran army, affectionately attached to its leader, could give him all the treasures and honours of the State without asking their leave.
Scipio.—Just gods! did I then deliver my country from the invading Carthaginian, did I exalt it by my victories above all other nations, that it might become a richer prey to its own rebel soldiers and their ambitious commanders?
Caesar.—How could it be otherwise? Was it possible that the conquerors of Europe, Asia, and Africa could tamely submit to descend from their triumphal chariots and become subject to the authority of praetors and consuls elected by a populace corrupted by bribes, or enslaved to a confederacy of factious nobles, who, without regard to merit, considered all the offices and dignities of the State as hereditary possessions belonging to their families?
Scipio.—If I thought it no dishonour, after triumphing over Hannibal, to lay down my fasces and obey, as all my ancestors had done before me, the magistrates of the republic, such a conduct would not have dishonoured either Marius, or Sylla, or Caesar. But you all dishonoured yourselves when, instead of virtuous Romans, superior to your fellow-citizens in merit and glory, but equal to them in a due subjection to the laws, you became the enemies, the invaders, and the tyrants of your country.
Caesar.—Was I the enemy of my country in giving it a ruler fit to support all the majesty and weight of its empire? Did I invade it when I marched to deliver the people from the usurped dominion and insolence of a few senators? Was I a tyrant because I would not crouch under Pompey, and let him be thought my superior when I felt he was not my equal?
Scipio.—Pompey had given you a noble example of moderation in twice dismissing the armies, at the head of which he had performed such illustrious actions, and returning a private citizen into the bosom of his country.
Caesar.—His moderation was a cheat. He believed that the authority his victories had gained him would make him effectually master of the commonwealth without the help of those armies. But finding it difficult to subdue the united opposition of Crassus and me, he leagued himself with us, and in consequence of that league we three governed the empire. But, after the death of Crassus, my glorious achievements in subduing the Gauls raised such a jealousy in him that he could no longer endure me as a partner in his power, nor could I submit to degrade myself into his subject.
Scipio.—Am I then to understand that the civil war you engaged in was really a mere contest whether you or Pompey should remain sole lord of Rome?
Caesar.—Not so, for I offered, in my letters to the senate, to lay down my arms if Pompey at the same time would lay down his, and leave the republic in freedom. Nor did I resolve to draw the sword till not only the senate, overpowered by the fear of Pompey and his troops, had rejected these offers, but two tribunes of the people, for legally and justly interposing their authority in my behalf, had been forced to fly from Rome disguised in the habit of slaves, and take refuge in my camp for the safety of their persons. My camp was therefore the asylum of persecuted liberty, and my army fought to avenge the violation of the rights and majesty of the people as much as to defend the dignity of their general unjustly oppressed.
Scipio.—You would therefore have me think that you contended for the equality and liberty of the Romans against the tyranny of Pompey and his lawless adherents. In such a war I, myself, if I had lived in your times, would have willingly been your lieutenant. Tell me then, on the issue of this honourable enterprise, when you had subdued all your foes and had no opposition remaining to obstruct your intentions, did you establish that liberty for which you fought? Did you restore the republic to what it was in my time?
Caesar.—I took the necessary measures to secure to myself the fruits of my victories, and gave a head to the empire, which could neither subsist without one nor find another so well suited to the greatness of the body.
Scipio.—There the true character of Caesar was seen unmasked. You had managed so skilfully in the measures which preceded the civil war, your offers were so specious, and there appeared so much violence in the conduct of your enemies that, if you had fallen in that war, posterity might have doubted whether you were not a victim to the interests of your country. But your success, and the despotism you afterwards exorcised, took off those disguises and showed clearly that the aim of all your actions was tyranny.
Caesar.—Let us not deceive ourselves with sounds and names. That great minds should aspire to sovereign power is a fixed law of Nature. It is an injury to mankind if the highest abilities are not placed in the highest stations. Had you, Scipio, been kept down by the republican jealousy of Cato, the censor Hannibal would have never been recalled out of Italy nor defeated in Africa. And if I had not been treacherously murdered by the daggers of Brutus and Cassius, my sword would have avenged the defeat of Crassus and added the empire of Parthia to that of Rome. Nor was my government tyrannical. It was mild, humane, and bounteous. The world would have been happy under it and wished its continuance, but my death broke the pillars of the public tranquillity and brought upon the whole empire a direful scene of calamity and confusion.
Scipio.—You say that great minds will naturally aspire to sovereign power. But, if they are good as well as great, they will regulate their ambition by the laws of their country. The laws of Rome permitted me to aspire to the conduct of the war against Carthage; but they did not permit you to turn her arms against herself, and subject her to your will. The breach of one law of liberty is a greater evil to a nation than the loss of a province; and, in my opinion, the conquest of the whole world would not be enough to compensate for the total loss of their freedom.
Caesar.—You talk finely, Africanus; but ask yourself, whether the height and dignity of your mind—that noble pride which accompanies the magnanimity of a hero—could always stoop to a nice conformity with the laws of your country? Is there a law of liberty more essential, more sacred, than that which obliges every member of a free community to submit himself to a trial, upon a legal charge brought against him for a public misdemeanour? In what manner did you answer a regular accusation from a tribune of the people, who charged you with embezzling the money of the State? You told your judges that on that day you had vanquished Hannibal and Carthage, and bade them follow you to the temples to give thanks to the gods. Nor could you ever be brought to stand a legal trial, or justify those accounts, which you had torn in the senate when they were questioned there by two magistrates in the name of the Roman people. Was this acting like the subject of a free State? Had your victory procured you an exemption from justice? Had it given into your hands the money of the republic without account? If it had, you were king of Rome. Pharsalia, Thapsus, and Munda could do no more for me.
Scipio.—I did not question the right of bringing me to a trial, but I disdained to plead in vindication of a character so unspotted as mine. My whole life had been an answer to that infamous charge.
Caesar.—It may be so; and, for my part, I admire the magnanimity of your behaviour. But I should condemn it as repugnant and destructive to liberty, if I did not pay more respect to the dignity of a great general, than to the forms of a democracy or the rights of a tribune.
Scipio.—You are endeavouring to confound my cause with yours; but they are exceedingly different. You apprehended a sentence of condemnation against you for some part of your conduct, and, to prevent it, made an impious war on your country, and reduced her to servitude. I trusted the justification of my affronted innocence to the opinion of my judges, scorning to plead for myself against a charge unsupported by any other proof than bare suspicions and surmises. But I made no resistance; I kindled no civil war; I left Rome undisturbed in the enjoyment of her liberty. Had the malice of my accusers been ever so violent, had it threatened my destruction, I should have chosen much rather to turn my sword against my own bosom than against that of my country.
Caesar.—You beg the question in supposing that I really hurt my country by giving her a master. When Cato advised the senate to make Pompey sole consul, he did it upon this principle, that any kind of government is preferable to anarchy. The truth of this, I presume, no man of sense will contest; and the anarchy, which that zealous defender of liberty so much apprehended, would have continued in Rome, if that power, which the urgent necessity of the State conferred upon me, had not removed it.
Scipio.—Pompey and you had brought that anarchy on the State in order to serve your own ends. It was owing to the corruption, the factions, and the violence which you had encouraged from an opinion that the senate would be forced to submit to an absolute power in your hands, as a remedy against those intolerable evils. But Cato judged well in thinking it eligible to make Pompey sole consul rather than you dictator, because experience had shown that Pompey respected the forms of the Roman constitution; and though he sought, by bad means as well as good, to obtain the highest magistracies and the most honourable commands, yet he laid them down again, and contented himself with remaining superior in credit to any other citizen.
Caesar.—If all the difference between my ambition and Pompey's was only, as you represent it, in a greater or less respect for the forms of the constitution, I think it was hardly becoming such a patriot as Cato to take part in our quarrel, much less to kill himself rather than yield to my power.
Scipio.—It is easier to revive the spirit of liberty in a government where the forms of it remain unchanged, than where they have been totally disregarded and abolished. But I readily own that the balance of the Roman constitution had been destroyed by the excessive and illegal authority which the people were induced to confer upon Pompey, before any extraordinary honours or commands had been demanded by you. And that is, I think, your best excuse.
Caesar.—Yes, surely. The favourers of the Manilian law had an ill grace in desiring to limit the commissions I obtained from the people, according to the rigour of certain absolute republican laws, no more regarded in my time than the Sybilline oracles or the pious institutions of Numa.
Scipio.—It was the misfortune of your time that they were not regarded. A virtuous man would not take from a deluded people such favours as they ought not to bestow. I have a right to say this because I chid the Roman people, when, overheated by gratitude for the services I had done them, they desired to make me perpetual consul and dictator. Hear this, and blush. What I refused to accept, you snatched by force.
Caesar.—Tiberius Gracchus reproached you with the inconsistency of your conduct, when, after refusing these offers, you so little respected the tribunitian authority. But thus it must happen. We are naturally fond of the idea of liberty till we come to suffer by it, or find it an impediment to some predominant passion; and then we wish to control it, as you did most despotically, by refusing to submit to the justice of the State.
Scipio.—I have answered before to that charge. Tiberius Gracchus himself, though my personal enemy, thought it became him to stop the proceedings against me, not for my sake, but for the honour of my country, whose dignity suffered with mine. Nevertheless I acknowledge my conduct in that business was not absolutely blameless. The generous pride of virtue was too strong in my mind. It made me forget I was creating a dangerous precedent in declining to plead to a legal accusation brought against me by a magistrate invested with the majesty of the whole Roman people. It made me unjustly accuse my country of ingratitude when she had shown herself grateful, even beyond the true bounds of policy and justice, by not inflicting upon me any penalty for so irregular a proceeding. But, at the same time, what a proof did I give of moderation and respect for her liberty, when my utmost resentment could impel me to nothing more violent than a voluntary retreat and quiet banishment of myself from the city of Rome! Scipio Africanus offended, and living a private man in a country-house at Liternum, was an example of more use to secure the equality of the Roman commonwealth than all the power of its tribunes.
Caesar.—I had rather have been thrown down the Tarpeian Rock than have retired, as you did, to the obscurity of a village, after acting the first part on the greatest theatre of the world.
Scipio.—A usurper exalted on the highest throne of the universe is not so glorious as I was in that obscure retirement. I hear, indeed, that you, Caesar, have been deified by the flattery of some of your successors. But the impartial judgment of history has consecrated my name, and ranks me in the first class of heroes and patriots; whereas, the highest praise her records, even under the dominion usurped by your family, have given to you, is, that your courage and talents were equal to the object your ambition aspired to, the empire of the world; and that you exercised a sovereignty unjustly acquired with a magnanimous clemency. But it would have been better for your country, and better for mankind, if you had never existed.
Diogenes.—Plato, stand off. A true philosopher as I was, is no company for a courtier of the tyrant of Syracuse. I would avoid you as one infected with the most noisome of plagues—the plague of slavery.
Plato.—He who can mistake a brutal pride and savage indecency of manners for freedom may naturally think that the being in a court (however virtuous one's conduct, however free one's language there) is slavery. But I was taught by my great master, the incomparable Socrates, that the business of true philosophy is to consult and promote the happiness of society. She must not, therefore, be confined to a tub or a cell. Her sphere is in senates or the cabinets of kings. While your sect is employed in snarling at the great or buffooning with the vulgar, she is counselling those who govern nations, infusing into their minds humanity, justice, temperance, and the love of true glory, resisting their passions when they transport them beyond the bounds of virtue, and fortifying their reason by the antidotes she administers against the poison of flattery.
Diogenes.—You mean to have me understand that you went to the court of the Younger Dionysius to give him antidotes against the poison of flattery. But I say he sent for you only to sweeten the cup, by mixing it more agreeably, and rendering the flavour more delicate. His vanity was too nice for the nauseous common draught; but your seasoning gave it a relish which made it go down most delightfully, and intoxicated him more than ever. Oh, there is no flatterer half so dangerous to a prince as a fawning philosopher!
Plato.—If you call it fawning that I did not treat him with such unmannerly rudeness as you did Alexander the Great when he visited you at Athens, I have nothing to say. But, in truth, I made my company agreeable to him, not for any mean ends which regarded only myself, but that I might be useful both to him and to his people. I endeavoured to give a right turn to his vanity; and know, Diogenes, that whosoever will serve mankind, but more especially princes, must compound with their weaknesses, and take as much pains to gain them over to virtue, by an honest and prudent complaisance, as others do to seduce them from it by a criminal adulation.
Diogenes.—A little of my sagacity would have shown you that if this was your purpose your labour was lost in that court. Why did not you go and preach chastity to Lais? A philosopher in a brothel, reading lectures on the beauty of continence and decency, is not a more ridiculous animal than a philosopher in the cabinet, or at the table of a tyrant, descanting on liberty and public spirit! What effect had the lessons of your famous disciple Aristotle upon Alexander the Great, a prince far more capable of receiving instruction than the Younger Dionysius? Did they hinder him from killing his best friend, Clitus, for speaking to him with freedom, or from fancying himself a god because he was adored by the wretched slaves he had vanquished? When I desired him not to stand between me and the sun, I humbled his pride more, and consequently did him more good, than Aristotle had done by all his formal precepts.
Plato.—Yet he owed to those precepts that, notwithstanding his excesses, he appeared not unworthy of the empire of the world. Had the tutor of his youth gone with him into Asia and continued always at his ear, the authority of that wise and virtuous man might have been able to stop him, even in the riot of conquest, from giving way to those passions which dishonoured his character.
Diogenes.—If he had gone into Asia, and had not flattered the king as obsequiously as Haephestion, he would, like Callisthenes, whom he sent thither as his deputy, have been put to death for high treason. The man who will not flatter must live independent, as I did, and prefer a tub to a palace.
Plato.—Do you pretend, Diogenes, that because you were never in a court, you never flattered? How did you gain the affection of the people of Athens but by soothing their ruling passion—the desire of hearing their superiors abused? Your cynic railing was to them the most acceptable flattery. This you well understood, and made your court to the vulgar, always envious and malignant, by trying to lower all dignity and confound all order. You made your court, I say, as servilely, and with as much offence to virtue, as the basest flatterer ever did to the most corrupted prince. But true philosophy will disdain to act either of these parts. Neither in the assemblies of the people, nor in the cabinets of kings, will she obtain favour by fomenting any bad dispositions. If her endeavours to do good prove unsuccessful, she will retire with honour, as an honest physician departs from the house of a patient whose distemper he finds incurable, or who refuses to take the remedies he prescribes. But if she succeeds—if, like the music of Orpheus, her sweet persuasions can mitigate the ferocity of the multitude and tame their minds to a due obedience of laws and reverence of magistrates; or if she can form a Timoleon or a Numa Pompilius to the government of a state—how meritorious is the work! One king—nay, one minister or counsellor of state—imbued with her precepts is of more value than all the speculative, retired philosophers or cynical revilers of princes and magistrates that ever lived upon earth.
Diogenes.—Don't tell me of the music of Orpheus, and of his taming wild beasts. A wild beast brought to crouch and lick the hand of a master, is a much viler animal than he was in his natural state of ferocity. You seem to think that the business of philosophy is to polish men into slaves; but I say, it is to teach them to assert, with an untamed and generous spirit, their independence and freedom. You profess to instruct those who want to ride their fellow-creatures, how to do it with an easy and gentle rein; but I would have them thrown off, and trampled under the feet of all their deluded or insulted equals, on whose backs they have mounted. Which of us two is the truest friend to mankind?
Plato.—According to your notions all government is destructive to liberty; but I think that no liberty can subsist without government. A state of society is the natural state of mankind. They are impelled to it by their wants, their infirmities, their affections. The laws of society are rules of life and action necessary to secure their happiness in that state. Government is the due enforcing of those laws. That government is the best which does this post effectually, and most equally; and that people is the freest which is most submissively obedient to such a government.
Diogenes.—Show me the government which makes no other use of its power than duly to enforce the laws of society, and I will own it is entitled to the most absolute submission from all its subjects.
Plato.—I cannot show you perfection in human institutions. It is far more easy to blame them than it is to amend them, much may be wrong in the best: but a good man respects the laws and the magistrates of his country.
Diogenes.—As for the laws of my country, I did so far respect them as not to philosophise to the prejudice of the first and greatest principle of nature and of wisdom, self-preservation. Though I loved to prate about high matters as well as Socrates, I did not choose to drink hemlock after his example. But you might as well have bid me love an ugly woman, because she was dressed up in the gown of Lais, as respect a fool or a knave, because he was attired in the robe of a magistrate.
Plato.—All I desired of you was, not to amuse yourself and the populace by throwing dirt upon the robe of a magistrate, merely because he wore that robe, and you did not.
Diogenes.—A philosopher cannot better display his wisdom than by throwing contempt on that pageantry which the ignorant multitude gaze at with a senseless veneration.
Plato.—He who tries to make the multitude venerate nothing is more senseless than they. Wise men have endeavoured to excite an awful reverence in the minds of the vulgar for external ceremonies and forms, in order to secure their obedience to religion and government, of which these are the symbols. Can a philosopher desire to defeat that good purpose?
Diogenes.—Yes, if he sees it abused to support the evil purposes of superstition and tyranny.
Plato.—May not the abuse be corrected without losing the benefit? Is there no difference between reformation and destruction.
Diogenes.—Half-measures do nothing. He who desires to reform must not be afraid to pull down.
Plato.—I know that you and your sect are for pulling down everything that is above your own level. Pride and envy are the motives that set you all to work. Nor can one wonder that passions, the influence of which is so general, should give you many disciples and many admirers.
Diogenes.—When you have established your Republic, if you will admit me into it I promise you to be there a most respectful subject.
Plato.—I am conscious, Diogenes, that my Republic was imaginary, and could never be established. But they show as little knowledge of what is practicable in politics as I did in that book, who suppose that the liberty of any civil society can be maintained by the destruction of order and decency or promoted by the petulance of unbridled defamation.
Diogenes.—I never knew any government angry at defamation, when it fell on those who disliked or obstructed its measures. But I well remember that the thirty tyrants at Athens called opposition to them the destruction of order and decency.
Plato.—Things are not altered by names.
Diogenes.—No, but names have a strange power to impose on weak understandings. If, when you were in Egypt, you had laughed at the worship of an onion, the priests would have called you an atheist, and the people would have stoned you. But I presume that, to have the honour of being initiated into the mysteries of that reverend hierarchy, you bowed as low to it as any of their devout disciples. Unfortunately my neck was not so pliant, and therefore I was never initiated into the mysteries either of religion or government, but was feared or hated by all who thought it their interest to make them be respected.
Plato.—Your vanity found its account in that fear and that hatred. The high priest of a deity or the ruler of a state is much less distinguished from the vulgar herd of mankind than the scoffer at all religion and the despiser of all dominion. But let us end our dispute. I feel my folly in continuing to argue with one who in reasoning does not seek to come at truth, but merely to show his wit. Adieu, Diogenes; I am going to converse with the shades of Pythagoras, Solon, and Bias. You may jest with Aristophanes or rail with Thersites.
Aristides.—How could it happen that Athens, after having recovered an equality with Sparta, should be forced to submit to the dominion of Macedon when she had two such great men as Phocion and Demosthenes at the head of her State?
Phocion.—It happened because our opinions of her interests in foreign affairs were totally different; which made us act with a constant and pernicious opposition the one to the other.
Aristides.—I wish to hear from you both (if you will indulge my curiosity) on what principles you could form such contrary judgments concerning points of such moment to the safety of your country, which you equally loved.
Demosthenes.—My principles were the same with yours, Aristides. I laboured to maintain the independence of Athens against the encroaching ambition of Macedon, as you had maintained it against that of Persia. I saw that our own strength was unequal to the enterprise; but what we could not do alone I thought might be done by a union of the principal states of Greece—such a union as had been formed by you and Themistocles in opposition to the Persians. To effect this was the great, the constant aim of my policy; and, though traversed in it by many whom the gold of Macedon had corrupted, and by Phocion, whom alone, of all the enemies to my system, I must acquit of corruption, I so far succeeded, that I brought into the field of Chaeronea an army equal to Philip's. The event was unfortunate; but Aristides will not judge of the merits of a statesman by the accidents of war.
Phocion.—Do not imagine, Aristides, that I was less desirous than Demosthenes to preserve the independence and liberty of my country. But, before I engaged the Athenians in a war not absolutely necessary, I thought it proper to consider what the event of a battle would probably be. That which I feared came to pass: the Macedonians were victorious, and Athens was ruined.
Demosthenes.—Would Athens not have been ruined if no battle had been fought? Could you, Phocion, think it safety to have our freedom depend on the moderation of Philip? And what had we else to protect us, if no confederacy had been formed to resist his ambition?