There is another aspect of the marriage question to which Plato is a stranger. All the children born in his state are foundlings. It never occurred to him that the greater part of them, according to universal experience, would have perished. For children can only be brought up in families. There is a subtle sympathy between the mother and the child which cannot be supplied by other mothers, or by 'strong nurses one or more' (Laws). If Plato's 'pen' was as fatal as the Creches of Paris, or the foundling hospital of Dublin, more than nine-tenths of his children would have perished. There would have been no need to expose or put out of the way the weaklier children, for they would have died of themselves. So emphatically does nature protest against the destruction of the family.
What Plato had heard or seen of Sparta was applied by him in a mistaken way to his ideal commonwealth. He probably observed that both the Spartan men and women were superior in form and strength to the other Greeks; and this superiority he was disposed to attribute to the laws and customs relating to marriage. He did not consider that the desire of a noble offspring was a passion among the Spartans, or that their physical superiority was to be attributed chiefly, not to their marriage customs, but to their temperance and training. He did not reflect that Sparta was great, not in consequence of the relaxation of morality, but in spite of it, by virtue of a political principle stronger far than existed in any other Grecian state. Least of all did he observe that Sparta did not really produce the finest specimens of the Greek race. The genius, the political inspiration of Athens, the love of liberty—all that has made Greece famous with posterity, were wanting among the Spartans. They had no Themistocles, or Pericles, or Aeschylus, or Sophocles, or Socrates, or Plato. The individual was not allowed to appear above the state; the laws were fixed, and he had no business to alter or reform them. Yet whence has the progress of cities and nations arisen, if not from remarkable individuals, coming into the world we know not how, and from causes over which we have no control? Something too much may have been said in modern times of the value of individuality. But we can hardly condemn too strongly a system which, instead of fostering the scattered seeds or sparks of genius and character, tends to smother and extinguish them.
Still, while condemning Plato, we must acknowledge that neither Christianity, nor any other form of religion and society, has hitherto been able to cope with this most difficult of social problems, and that the side from which Plato regarded it is that from which we turn away. Population is the most untameable force in the political and social world. Do we not find, especially in large cities, that the greatest hindrance to the amelioration of the poor is their improvidence in marriage?—a small fault truly, if not involving endless consequences. There are whole countries too, such as India, or, nearer home, Ireland, in which a right solution of the marriage question seems to lie at the foundation of the happiness of the community. There are too many people on a given space, or they marry too early and bring into the world a sickly and half-developed offspring; or owing to the very conditions of their existence, they become emaciated and hand on a similar life to their descendants. But who can oppose the voice of prudence to the 'mightiest passions of mankind' (Laws), especially when they have been licensed by custom and religion? In addition to the influences of education, we seem to require some new principles of right and wrong in these matters, some force of opinion, which may indeed be already heard whispering in private, but has never affected the moral sentiments of mankind in general. We unavoidably lose sight of the principle of utility, just in that action of our lives in which we have the most need of it. The influences which we can bring to bear upon this question are chiefly indirect. In a generation or two, education, emigration, improvements in agriculture and manufactures, may have provided the solution. The state physician hardly likes to probe the wound: it is beyond his art; a matter which he cannot safely let alone, but which he dare not touch:
'We do but skin and film the ulcerous place.'
When again in private life we see a whole family one by one dropping into the grave under the Ate of some inherited malady, and the parents perhaps surviving them, do our minds ever go back silently to that day twenty-five or thirty years before on which under the fairest auspices, amid the rejoicings of friends and acquaintances, a bride and bridegroom joined hands with one another? In making such a reflection we are not opposing physical considerations to moral, but moral to physical; we are seeking to make the voice of reason heard, which drives us back from the extravagance of sentimentalism on common sense. The late Dr. Combe is said by his biographer to have resisted the temptation to marriage, because he knew that he was subject to hereditary consumption. One who deserved to be called a man of genius, a friend of my youth, was in the habit of wearing a black ribbon on his wrist, in order to remind him that, being liable to outbreaks of insanity, he must not give way to the natural impulses of affection: he died unmarried in a lunatic asylum. These two little facts suggest the reflection that a very few persons have done from a sense of duty what the rest of mankind ought to have done under like circumstances, if they had allowed themselves to think of all the misery which they were about to bring into the world. If we could prevent such marriages without any violation of feeling or propriety, we clearly ought; and the prohibition in the course of time would be protected by a 'horror naturalis' similar to that which, in all civilized ages and countries, has prevented the marriage of near relations by blood. Mankind would have been the happier, if some things which are now allowed had from the beginning been denied to them; if the sanction of religion could have prohibited practices inimical to health; if sanitary principles could in early ages have been invested with a superstitious awe. But, living as we do far on in the world's history, we are no longer able to stamp at once with the impress of religion a new prohibition. A free agent cannot have his fancies regulated by law; and the execution of the law would be rendered impossible, owing to the uncertainty of the cases in which marriage was to be forbidden. Who can weigh virtue, or even fortune against health, or moral and mental qualities against bodily? Who can measure probabilities against certainties? There has been some good as well as evil in the discipline of suffering; and there are diseases, such as consumption, which have exercised a refining and softening influence on the character. Youth is too inexperienced to balance such nice considerations; parents do not often think of them, or think of them too late. They are at a distance and may probably be averted; change of place, a new state of life, the interests of a home may be the cure of them. So persons vainly reason when their minds are already made up and their fortunes irrevocably linked together. Nor is there any ground for supposing that marriages are to any great extent influenced by reflections of this sort, which seem unable to make any head against the irresistible impulse of individual attachment.
Lastly, no one can have observed the first rising flood of the passions in youth, the difficulty of regulating them, and the effects on the whole mind and nature which follow from them, the stimulus which is given to them by the imagination, without feeling that there is something unsatisfactory in our method of treating them. That the most important influence on human life should be wholly left to chance or shrouded in mystery, and instead of being disciplined or understood, should be required to conform only to an external standard of propriety—cannot be regarded by the philosopher as a safe or satisfactory condition of human things. And still those who have the charge of youth may find a way by watchfulness, by affection, by the manliness and innocence of their own lives, by occasional hints, by general admonitions which every one can apply for himself, to mitigate this terrible evil which eats out the heart of individuals and corrupts the moral sentiments of nations. In no duty towards others is there more need of reticence and self-restraint. So great is the danger lest he who would be the counsellor of another should reveal the secret prematurely, lest he should get another too much into his power; or fix the passing impression of evil by demanding the confession of it.
Nor is Plato wrong in asserting that family attachments may interfere with higher aims. If there have been some who 'to party gave up what was meant for mankind,' there have certainly been others who to family gave up what was meant for mankind or for their country. The cares of children, the necessity of procuring money for their support, the flatteries of the rich by the poor, the exclusiveness of caste, the pride of birth or wealth, the tendency of family life to divert men from the pursuit of the ideal or the heroic, are as lowering in our own age as in that of Plato. And if we prefer to look at the gentle influences of home, the development of the affections, the amenities of society, the devotion of one member of a family for the good of the others, which form one side of the picture, we must not quarrel with him, or perhaps ought rather to be grateful to him, for having presented to us the reverse. Without attempting to defend Plato on grounds of morality, we may allow that there is an aspect of the world which has not unnaturally led him into error.
We hardly appreciate the power which the idea of the State, like all other abstract ideas, exercised over the mind of Plato. To us the State seems to be built up out of the family, or sometimes to be the framework in which family and social life is contained. But to Plato in his present mood of mind the family is only a disturbing influence which, instead of filling up, tends to disarrange the higher unity of the State. No organization is needed except a political, which, regarded from another point of view, is a military one. The State is all-sufficing for the wants of man, and, like the idea of the Church in later ages, absorbs all other desires and affections. In time of war the thousand citizens are to stand like a rampart impregnable against the world or the Persian host; in time of peace the preparation for war and their duties to the State, which are also their duties to one another, take up their whole life and time. The only other interest which is allowed to them besides that of war, is the interest of philosophy. When they are too old to be soldiers they are to retire from active life and to have a second novitiate of study and contemplation. There is an element of monasticism even in Plato's communism. If he could have done without children, he might have converted his Republic into a religious order. Neither in the Laws, when the daylight of common sense breaks in upon him, does he retract his error. In the state of which he would be the founder, there is no marrying or giving in marriage: but because of the infirmity of mankind, he condescends to allow the law of nature to prevail.
(c) But Plato has an equal, or, in his own estimation, even greater paradox in reserve, which is summed up in the famous text, 'Until kings are philosophers or philosophers are kings, cities will never cease from ill.' And by philosophers he explains himself to mean those who are capable of apprehending ideas, especially the idea of good. To the attainment of this higher knowledge the second education is directed. Through a process of training which has already made them good citizens they are now to be made good legislators. We find with some surprise (not unlike the feeling which Aristotle in a well-known passage describes the hearers of Plato's lectures as experiencing, when they went to a discourse on the idea of good, expecting to be instructed in moral truths, and received instead of them arithmetical and mathematical formulae) that Plato does not propose for his future legislators any study of finance or law or military tactics, but only of abstract mathematics, as a preparation for the still more abstract conception of good. We ask, with Aristotle, What is the use of a man knowing the idea of good, if he does not know what is good for this individual, this state, this condition of society? We cannot understand how Plato's legislators or guardians are to be fitted for their work of statesmen by the study of the five mathematical sciences. We vainly search in Plato's own writings for any explanation of this seeming absurdity.
The discovery of a great metaphysical conception seems to ravish the mind with a prophetic consciousness which takes away the power of estimating its value. No metaphysical enquirer has ever fairly criticised his own speculations; in his own judgment they have been above criticism; nor has he understood that what to him seemed to be absolute truth may reappear in the next generation as a form of logic or an instrument of thought. And posterity have also sometimes equally misapprehended the real value of his speculations. They appear to them to have contributed nothing to the stock of human knowledge. The IDEA of good is apt to be regarded by the modern thinker as an unmeaning abstraction; but he forgets that this abstraction is waiting ready for use, and will hereafter be filled up by the divisions of knowledge. When mankind do not as yet know that the world is subject to law, the introduction of the mere conception of law or design or final cause, and the far-off anticipation of the harmony of knowledge, are great steps onward. Even the crude generalization of the unity of all things leads men to view the world with different eyes, and may easily affect their conception of human life and of politics, and also their own conduct and character (Tim). We can imagine how a great mind like that of Pericles might derive elevation from his intercourse with Anaxagoras (Phaedr.). To be struggling towards a higher but unattainable conception is a more favourable intellectual condition than to rest satisfied in a narrow portion of ascertained fact. And the earlier, which have sometimes been the greater ideas of science, are often lost sight of at a later period. How rarely can we say of any modern enquirer in the magnificent language of Plato, that 'He is the spectator of all time and of all existence!'
Nor is there anything unnatural in the hasty application of these vast metaphysical conceptions to practical and political life. In the first enthusiasm of ideas men are apt to see them everywhere, and to apply them in the most remote sphere. They do not understand that the experience of ages is required to enable them to fill up 'the intermediate axioms.' Plato himself seems to have imagined that the truths of psychology, like those of astronomy and harmonics, would be arrived at by a process of deduction, and that the method which he has pursued in the Fourth Book, of inferring them from experience and the use of language, was imperfect and only provisional. But when, after having arrived at the idea of good, which is the end of the science of dialectic, he is asked, What is the nature, and what are the divisions of the science? He refuses to answer, as if intending by the refusal to intimate that the state of knowledge which then existed was not such as would allow the philosopher to enter into his final rest. The previous sciences must first be studied, and will, we may add, continue to be studied tell the end of time, although in a sense different from any which Plato could have conceived. But we may observe, that while he is aware of the vacancy of his own ideal, he is full of enthusiasm in the contemplation of it. Looking into the orb of light, he sees nothing, but he is warmed and elevated. The Hebrew prophet believed that faith in God would enable him to govern the world; the Greek philosopher imagined that contemplation of the good would make a legislator. There is as much to be filled up in the one case as in the other, and the one mode of conception is to the Israelite what the other is to the Greek. Both find a repose in a divine perfection, which, whether in a more personal or impersonal form, exists without them and independently of them, as well as within them.
There is no mention of the idea of good in the Timaeus, nor of the divine Creator of the world in the Republic; and we are naturally led to ask in what relation they stand to one another. Is God above or below the idea of good? Or is the Idea of Good another mode of conceiving God? The latter appears to be the truer answer. To the Greek philosopher the perfection and unity of God was a far higher conception than his personality, which he hardly found a word to express, and which to him would have seemed to be borrowed from mythology. To the Christian, on the other hand, or to the modern thinker in general, it is difficult, if not impossible, to attach reality to what he terms mere abstraction; while to Plato this very abstraction is the truest and most real of all things. Hence, from a difference in forms of thought, Plato appears to be resting on a creation of his own mind only. But if we may be allowed to paraphrase the idea of good by the words 'intelligent principle of law and order in the universe, embracing equally man and nature,' we begin to find a meeting-point between him and ourselves.
The question whether the ruler or statesman should be a philosopher is one that has not lost interest in modern times. In most countries of Europe and Asia there has been some one in the course of ages who has truly united the power of command with the power of thought and reflection, as there have been also many false combinations of these qualities. Some kind of speculative power is necessary both in practical and political life; like the rhetorician in the Phaedrus, men require to have a conception of the varieties of human character, and to be raised on great occasions above the commonplaces of ordinary life. Yet the idea of the philosopher-statesman has never been popular with the mass of mankind; partly because he cannot take the world into his confidence or make them understand the motives from which he acts; and also because they are jealous of a power which they do not understand. The revolution which human nature desires to effect step by step in many ages is likely to be precipitated by him in a single year or life. They are afraid that in the pursuit of his greater aims he may disregard the common feelings of humanity, he is too apt to be looking into the distant future or back into the remote past, and unable to see actions or events which, to use an expression of Plato's 'are tumbling out at his feet.' Besides, as Plato would say, there are other corruptions of these philosophical statesmen. Either 'the native hue of resolution is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,' and at the moment when action above all things is required he is undecided, or general principles are enunciated by him in order to cover some change of policy; or his ignorance of the world has made him more easily fall a prey to the arts of others; or in some cases he has been converted into a courtier, who enjoys the luxury of holding liberal opinions, but was never known to perform a liberal action. No wonder that mankind have been in the habit of calling statesmen of this class pedants, sophisters, doctrinaires, visionaries. For, as we may be allowed to say, a little parodying the words of Plato, 'they have seen bad imitations of the philosopher-statesman.' But a man in whom the power of thought and action are perfectly balanced, equal to the present, reaching forward to the future, 'such a one,' ruling in a constitutional state, 'they have never seen.'
But as the philosopher is apt to fail in the routine of political life, so the ordinary statesman is also apt to fail in extraordinary crises. When the face of the world is beginning to alter, and thunder is heard in the distance, he is still guided by his old maxims, and is the slave of his inveterate party prejudices; he cannot perceive the signs of the times; instead of looking forward he looks back; he learns nothing and forgets nothing; with 'wise saws and modern instances' he would stem the rising tide of revolution. He lives more and more within the circle of his own party, as the world without him becomes stronger. This seems to be the reason why the old order of things makes so poor a figure when confronted with the new, why churches can never reform, why most political changes are made blindly and convulsively. The great crises in the history of nations have often been met by an ecclesiastical positiveness, and a more obstinate reassertion of principles which have lost their hold upon a nation. The fixed ideas of a reactionary statesman may be compared to madness; they grow upon him, and he becomes possessed by them; no judgement of others is ever admitted by him to be weighed in the balance against his own.
(d) Plato, labouring under what, to modern readers, appears to have been a confusion of ideas, assimilates the state to the individual, and fails to distinguish Ethics from Politics. He thinks that to be most of a state which is most like one man, and in which the citizens have the greatest uniformity of character. He does not see that the analogy is partly fallacious, and that the will or character of a state or nation is really the balance or rather the surplus of individual wills, which are limited by the condition of having to act in common. The movement of a body of men can never have the pliancy or facility of a single man; the freedom of the individual, which is always limited, becomes still more straitened when transferred to a nation. The powers of action and feeling are necessarily weaker and more balanced when they are diffused through a community; whence arises the often discussed question, 'Can a nation, like an individual, have a conscience?' We hesitate to say that the characters of nations are nothing more than the sum of the characters of the individuals who compose them; because there may be tendencies in individuals which react upon one another. A whole nation may be wiser than any one man in it; or may be animated by some common opinion or feeling which could not equally have affected the mind of a single person, or may have been inspired by a leader of genius to perform acts more than human. Plato does not appear to have analysed the complications which arise out of the collective action of mankind. Neither is he capable of seeing that analogies, though specious as arguments, may often have no foundation in fact, or of distinguishing between what is intelligible or vividly present to the mind, and what is true. In this respect he is far below Aristotle, who is comparatively seldom imposed upon by false analogies. He cannot disentangle the arts from the virtues—at least he is always arguing from one to the other. His notion of music is transferred from harmony of sounds to harmony of life: in this he is assisted by the ambiguities of language as well as by the prevalence of Pythagorean notions. And having once assimilated the state to the individual, he imagines that he will find the succession of states paralleled in the lives of individuals.
Still, through this fallacious medium, a real enlargement of ideas is attained. When the virtues as yet presented no distinct conception to the mind, a great advance was made by the comparison of them with the arts; for virtue is partly art, and has an outward form as well as an inward principle. The harmony of music affords a lively image of the harmonies of the world and of human life, and may be regarded as a splendid illustration which was naturally mistaken for a real analogy. In the same way the identification of ethics with politics has a tendency to give definiteness to ethics, and also to elevate and ennoble men's notions of the aims of government and of the duties of citizens; for ethics from one point of view may be conceived as an idealized law and politics; and politics, as ethics reduced to the conditions of human society. There have been evils which have arisen out of the attempt to identify them, and this has led to the separation or antagonism of them, which has been introduced by modern political writers. But we may likewise feel that something has been lost in their separation, and that the ancient philosophers who estimated the moral and intellectual wellbeing of mankind first, and the wealth of nations and individuals second, may have a salutary influence on the speculations of modern times. Many political maxims originate in a reaction against an opposite error; and when the errors against which they were directed have passed away, they in turn become errors.
3. Plato's views of education are in several respects remarkable; like the rest of the Republic they are partly Greek and partly ideal, beginning with the ordinary curriculum of the Greek youth, and extending to after-life. Plato is the first writer who distinctly says that education is to comprehend the whole of life, and to be a preparation for another in which education begins again. This is the continuous thread which runs through the Republic, and which more than any other of his ideas admits of an application to modern life.
He has long given up the notion that virtue cannot be taught; and he is disposed to modify the thesis of the Protagoras, that the virtues are one and not many. He is not unwilling to admit the sensible world into his scheme of truth. Nor does he assert in the Republic the involuntariness of vice, which is maintained by him in the Timaeus, Sophist, and Laws (Protag., Apol., Gorg.). Nor do the so-called Platonic ideas recovered from a former state of existence affect his theory of mental improvement. Still we observe in him the remains of the old Socratic doctrine, that true knowledge must be elicited from within, and is to be sought for in ideas, not in particulars of sense. Education, as he says, will implant a principle of intelligence which is better than ten thousand eyes. The paradox that the virtues are one, and the kindred notion that all virtue is knowledge, are not entirely renounced; the first is seen in the supremacy given to justice over the rest; the second in the tendency to absorb the moral virtues in the intellectual, and to centre all goodness in the contemplation of the idea of good. The world of sense is still depreciated and identified with opinion, though admitted to be a shadow of the true. In the Republic he is evidently impressed with the conviction that vice arises chiefly from ignorance and may be cured by education; the multitude are hardly to be deemed responsible for what they do. A faint allusion to the doctrine of reminiscence occurs in the Tenth Book; but Plato's views of education have no more real connection with a previous state of existence than our own; he only proposes to elicit from the mind that which is there already. Education is represented by him, not as the filling of a vessel, but as the turning the eye of the soul towards the light.
He treats first of music or literature, which he divides into true and false, and then goes on to gymnastics; of infancy in the Republic he takes no notice, though in the Laws he gives sage counsels about the nursing of children and the management of the mothers, and would have an education which is even prior to birth. But in the Republic he begins with the age at which the child is capable of receiving ideas, and boldly asserts, in language which sounds paradoxical to modern ears, that he must be taught the false before he can learn the true. The modern and ancient philosophical world are not agreed about truth and falsehood; the one identifies truth almost exclusively with fact, the other with ideas. This is the difference between ourselves and Plato, which is, however, partly a difference of words. For we too should admit that a child must receive many lessons which he imperfectly understands; he must be taught some things in a figure only, some too which he can hardly be expected to believe when he grows older; but we should limit the use of fiction by the necessity of the case. Plato would draw the line differently; according to him the aim of early education is not truth as a matter of fact, but truth as a matter of principle; the child is to be taught first simple religious truths, and then simple moral truths, and insensibly to learn the lesson of good manners and good taste. He would make an entire reformation of the old mythology; like Xenophanes and Heracleitus he is sensible of the deep chasm which separates his own age from Homer and Hesiod, whom he quotes and invests with an imaginary authority, but only for his own purposes. The lusts and treacheries of the gods are to be banished; the terrors of the world below are to be dispelled; the misbehaviour of the Homeric heroes is not to be a model for youth. But there is another strain heard in Homer which may teach our youth endurance; and something may be learnt in medicine from the simple practice of the Homeric age. The principles on which religion is to be based are two only: first, that God is true; secondly, that he is good. Modern and Christian writers have often fallen short of these; they can hardly be said to have gone beyond them.
The young are to be brought up in happy surroundings, out of the way of sights or sounds which may hurt the character or vitiate the taste. They are to live in an atmosphere of health; the breeze is always to be wafting to them the impressions of truth and goodness. Could such an education be realized, or if our modern religious education could be bound up with truth and virtue and good manners and good taste, that would be the best hope of human improvement. Plato, like ourselves, is looking forward to changes in the moral and religious world, and is preparing for them. He recognizes the danger of unsettling young men's minds by sudden changes of laws and principles, by destroying the sacredness of one set of ideas when there is nothing else to take their place. He is afraid too of the influence of the drama, on the ground that it encourages false sentiment, and therefore he would not have his children taken to the theatre; he thinks that the effect on the spectators is bad, and on the actors still worse. His idea of education is that of harmonious growth, in which are insensibly learnt the lessons of temperance and endurance, and the body and mind develope in equal proportions. The first principle which runs through all art and nature is simplicity; this also is to be the rule of human life.
The second stage of education is gymnastic, which answers to the period of muscular growth and development. The simplicity which is enforced in music is extended to gymnastic; Plato is aware that the training of the body may be inconsistent with the training of the mind, and that bodily exercise may be easily overdone. Excessive training of the body is apt to give men a headache or to render them sleepy at a lecture on philosophy, and this they attribute not to the true cause, but to the nature of the subject. Two points are noticeable in Plato's treatment of gymnastic:—First, that the time of training is entirely separated from the time of literary education. He seems to have thought that two things of an opposite and different nature could not be learnt at the same time. Here we can hardly agree with him; and, if we may judge by experience, the effect of spending three years between the ages of fourteen and seventeen in mere bodily exercise would be far from improving to the intellect. Secondly, he affirms that music and gymnastic are not, as common opinion is apt to imagine, intended, the one for the cultivation of the mind and the other of the body, but that they are both equally designed for the improvement of the mind. The body, in his view, is the servant of the mind; the subjection of the lower to the higher is for the advantage of both. And doubtless the mind may exercise a very great and paramount influence over the body, if exerted not at particular moments and by fits and starts, but continuously, in making preparation for the whole of life. Other Greek writers saw the mischievous tendency of Spartan discipline (Arist. Pol; Thuc.). But only Plato recognized the fundamental error on which the practice was based.
The subject of gymnastic leads Plato to the sister subject of medicine, which he further illustrates by the parallel of law. The modern disbelief in medicine has led in this, as in some other departments of knowledge, to a demand for greater simplicity; physicians are becoming aware that they often make diseases 'greater and more complicated' by their treatment of them (Rep.). In two thousand years their art has made but slender progress; what they have gained in the analysis of the parts is in a great degree lost by their feebler conception of the human frame as a whole. They have attended more to the cure of diseases than to the conditions of health; and the improvements in medicine have been more than counterbalanced by the disuse of regular training. Until lately they have hardly thought of air and water, the importance of which was well understood by the ancients; as Aristotle remarks, 'Air and water, being the elements which we most use, have the greatest effect upon health' (Polit.). For ages physicians have been under the dominion of prejudices which have only recently given way; and now there are as many opinions in medicine as in theology, and an equal degree of scepticism and some want of toleration about both. Plato has several good notions about medicine; according to him, 'the eye cannot be cured without the rest of the body, nor the body without the mind' (Charm.). No man of sense, he says in the Timaeus, would take physic; and we heartily sympathize with him in the Laws when he declares that 'the limbs of the rustic worn with toil will derive more benefit from warm baths than from the prescriptions of a not over wise doctor.' But we can hardly praise him when, in obedience to the authority of Homer, he depreciates diet, or approve of the inhuman spirit in which he would get rid of invalid and useless lives by leaving them to die. He does not seem to have considered that the 'bridle of Theages' might be accompanied by qualities which were of far more value to the State than the health or strength of the citizens; or that the duty of taking care of the helpless might be an important element of education in a State. The physician himself (this is a delicate and subtle observation) should not be a man in robust health; he should have, in modern phraseology, a nervous temperament; he should have experience of disease in his own person, in order that his powers of observation may be quickened in the case of others.
The perplexity of medicine is paralleled by the perplexity of law; in which, again, Plato would have men follow the golden rule of simplicity. Greater matters are to be determined by the legislator or by the oracle of Delphi, lesser matters are to be left to the temporary regulation of the citizens themselves. Plato is aware that laissez faire is an important element of government. The diseases of a State are like the heads of a hydra; they multiply when they are cut off. The true remedy for them is not extirpation but prevention. And the way to prevent them is to take care of education, and education will take care of all the rest. So in modern times men have often felt that the only political measure worth having—the only one which would produce any certain or lasting effect, was a measure of national education. And in our own more than in any previous age the necessity has been recognized of restoring the ever-increasing confusion of law to simplicity and common sense.
When the training in music and gymnastic is completed, there follows the first stage of active and public life. But soon education is to begin again from a new point of view. In the interval between the Fourth and Seventh Books we have discussed the nature of knowledge, and have thence been led to form a higher conception of what was required of us. For true knowledge, according to Plato, is of abstractions, and has to do, not with particulars or individuals, but with universals only; not with the beauties of poetry, but with the ideas of philosophy. And the great aim of education is the cultivation of the habit of abstraction. This is to be acquired through the study of the mathematical sciences. They alone are capable of giving ideas of relation, and of arousing the dormant energies of thought.
Mathematics in the age of Plato comprehended a very small part of that which is now included in them; but they bore a much larger proportion to the sum of human knowledge. They were the only organon of thought which the human mind at that time possessed, and the only measure by which the chaos of particulars could be reduced to rule and order. The faculty which they trained was naturally at war with the poetical or imaginative; and hence to Plato, who is everywhere seeking for abstractions and trying to get rid of the illusions of sense, nearly the whole of education is contained in them. They seemed to have an inexhaustible application, partly because their true limits were not yet understood. These Plato himself is beginning to investigate; though not aware that number and figure are mere abstractions of sense, he recognizes that the forms used by geometry are borrowed from the sensible world. He seeks to find the ultimate ground of mathematical ideas in the idea of good, though he does not satisfactorily explain the connexion between them; and in his conception of the relation of ideas to numbers, he falls very far short of the definiteness attributed to him by Aristotle (Met.). But if he fails to recognize the true limits of mathematics, he also reaches a point beyond them; in his view, ideas of number become secondary to a higher conception of knowledge. The dialectician is as much above the mathematician as the mathematician is above the ordinary man. The one, the self-proving, the good which is the higher sphere of dialectic, is the perfect truth to which all things ascend, and in which they finally repose.
This self-proving unity or idea of good is a mere vision of which no distinct explanation can be given, relative only to a particular stage in Greek philosophy. It is an abstraction under which no individuals are comprehended, a whole which has no parts (Arist., Nic. Eth.). The vacancy of such a form was perceived by Aristotle, but not by Plato. Nor did he recognize that in the dialectical process are included two or more methods of investigation which are at variance with each other. He did not see that whether he took the longer or the shorter road, no advance could be made in this way. And yet such visions often have an immense effect; for although the method of science cannot anticipate science, the idea of science, not as it is, but as it will be in the future, is a great and inspiring principle. In the pursuit of knowledge we are always pressing forward to something beyond us; and as a false conception of knowledge, for example the scholastic philosophy, may lead men astray during many ages, so the true ideal, though vacant, may draw all their thoughts in a right direction. It makes a great difference whether the general expectation of knowledge, as this indefinite feeling may be termed, is based upon a sound judgment. For mankind may often entertain a true conception of what knowledge ought to be when they have but a slender experience of facts. The correlation of the sciences, the consciousness of the unity of nature, the idea of classification, the sense of proportion, the unwillingness to stop short of certainty or to confound probability with truth, are important principles of the higher education. Although Plato could tell us nothing, and perhaps knew that he could tell us nothing, of the absolute truth, he has exercised an influence on the human mind which even at the present day is not exhausted; and political and social questions may yet arise in which the thoughts of Plato may be read anew and receive a fresh meaning.
The Idea of good is so called only in the Republic, but there are traces of it in other dialogues of Plato. It is a cause as well as an idea, and from this point of view may be compared with the creator of the Timaeus, who out of his goodness created all things. It corresponds to a certain extent with the modern conception of a law of nature, or of a final cause, or of both in one, and in this regard may be connected with the measure and symmetry of the Philebus. It is represented in the Symposium under the aspect of beauty, and is supposed to be attained there by stages of initiation, as here by regular gradations of knowledge. Viewed subjectively, it is the process or science of dialectic. This is the science which, according to the Phaedrus, is the true basis of rhetoric, which alone is able to distinguish the natures and classes of men and things; which divides a whole into the natural parts, and reunites the scattered parts into a natural or organized whole; which defines the abstract essences or universal ideas of all things, and connects them; which pierces the veil of hypotheses and reaches the final cause or first principle of all; which regards the sciences in relation to the idea of good. This ideal science is the highest process of thought, and may be described as the soul conversing with herself or holding communion with eternal truth and beauty, and in another form is the everlasting question and answer—the ceaseless interrogative of Socrates. The dialogues of Plato are themselves examples of the nature and method of dialectic. Viewed objectively, the idea of good is a power or cause which makes the world without us correspond with the world within. Yet this world without us is still a world of ideas. With Plato the investigation of nature is another department of knowledge, and in this he seeks to attain only probable conclusions (Timaeus).
If we ask whether this science of dialectic which Plato only half explains to us is more akin to logic or to metaphysics, the answer is that in his mind the two sciences are not as yet distinguished, any more than the subjective and objective aspects of the world and of man, which German philosophy has revealed to us. Nor has he determined whether his science of dialectic is at rest or in motion, concerned with the contemplation of absolute being, or with a process of development and evolution. Modern metaphysics may be described as the science of abstractions, or as the science of the evolution of thought; modern logic, when passing beyond the bounds of mere Aristotelian forms, may be defined as the science of method. The germ of both of them is contained in the Platonic dialectic; all metaphysicians have something in common with the ideas of Plato; all logicians have derived something from the method of Plato. The nearest approach in modern philosophy to the universal science of Plato, is to be found in the Hegelian 'succession of moments in the unity of the idea.' Plato and Hegel alike seem to have conceived the world as the correlation of abstractions; and not impossibly they would have understood one another better than any of their commentators understand them (Swift's Voyage to Laputa. 'Having a desire to see those ancients who were most renowned for wit and learning, I set apart one day on purpose. I proposed that Homer and Aristotle might appear at the head of all their commentators; but these were so numerous that some hundreds were forced to attend in the court and outward rooms of the palace. I knew, and could distinguish these two heroes, at first sight, not only from the crowd, but from each other. Homer was the taller and comelier person of the two, walked very erect for one of his age, and his eyes were the most quick and piercing I ever beheld. Aristotle stooped much, and made use of a staff. His visage was meagre, his hair lank and thin, and his voice hollow. I soon discovered that both of them were perfect strangers to the rest of the company, and had never seen or heard of them before. And I had a whisper from a ghost, who shall be nameless, "That these commentators always kept in the most distant quarters from their principals, in the lower world, through a consciousness of shame and guilt, because they had so horribly misrepresented the meaning of these authors to posterity." I introduced Didymus and Eustathius to Homer, and prevailed on him to treat them better than perhaps they deserved, for he soon found they wanted a genius to enter into the spirit of a poet. But Aristotle was out of all patience with the account I gave him of Scotus and Ramus, as I presented them to him; and he asked them "whether the rest of the tribe were as great dunces as themselves?"'). There is, however, a difference between them: for whereas Hegel is thinking of all the minds of men as one mind, which developes the stages of the idea in different countries or at different times in the same country, with Plato these gradations are regarded only as an order of thought or ideas; the history of the human mind had not yet dawned upon him.
Many criticisms may be made on Plato's theory of education. While in some respects he unavoidably falls short of modern thinkers, in others he is in advance of them. He is opposed to the modes of education which prevailed in his own time; but he can hardly be said to have discovered new ones. He does not see that education is relative to the characters of individuals; he only desires to impress the same form of the state on the minds of all. He has no sufficient idea of the effect of literature on the formation of the mind, and greatly exaggerates that of mathematics. His aim is above all things to train the reasoning faculties; to implant in the mind the spirit and power of abstraction; to explain and define general notions, and, if possible, to connect them. No wonder that in the vacancy of actual knowledge his followers, and at times even he himself, should have fallen away from the doctrine of ideas, and have returned to that branch of knowledge in which alone the relation of the one and many can be truly seen—the science of number. In his views both of teaching and training he might be styled, in modern language, a doctrinaire; after the Spartan fashion he would have his citizens cast in one mould; he does not seem to consider that some degree of freedom, 'a little wholesome neglect,' is necessary to strengthen and develope the character and to give play to the individual nature. His citizens would not have acquired that knowledge which in the vision of Er is supposed to be gained by the pilgrims from their experience of evil.
On the other hand, Plato is far in advance of modern philosophers and theologians when he teaches that education is to be continued through life and will begin again in another. He would never allow education of some kind to cease; although he was aware that the proverbial saying of Solon, 'I grow old learning many things,' cannot be applied literally. Himself ravished with the contemplation of the idea of good, and delighting in solid geometry (Rep.), he has no difficulty in imagining that a lifetime might be passed happily in such pursuits. We who know how many more men of business there are in the world than real students or thinkers, are not equally sanguine. The education which he proposes for his citizens is really the ideal life of the philosopher or man of genius, interrupted, but only for a time, by practical duties,—a life not for the many, but for the few.
Yet the thought of Plato may not be wholly incapable of application to our own times. Even if regarded as an ideal which can never be realized, it may have a great effect in elevating the characters of mankind, and raising them above the routine of their ordinary occupation or profession. It is the best form under which we can conceive the whole of life. Nevertheless the idea of Plato is not easily put into practice. For the education of after life is necessarily the education which each one gives himself. Men and women cannot be brought together in schools or colleges at forty or fifty years of age; and if they could the result would be disappointing. The destination of most men is what Plato would call 'the Den' for the whole of life, and with that they are content. Neither have they teachers or advisers with whom they can take counsel in riper years. There is no 'schoolmaster abroad' who will tell them of their faults, or inspire them with the higher sense of duty, or with the ambition of a true success in life; no Socrates who will convict them of ignorance; no Christ, or follower of Christ, who will reprove them of sin. Hence they have a difficulty in receiving the first element of improvement, which is self-knowledge. The hopes of youth no longer stir them; they rather wish to rest than to pursue high objects. A few only who have come across great men and women, or eminent teachers of religion and morality, have received a second life from them, and have lighted a candle from the fire of their genius.
The want of energy is one of the main reasons why so few persons continue to improve in later years. They have not the will, and do not know the way. They 'never try an experiment,' or look up a point of interest for themselves; they make no sacrifices for the sake of knowledge; their minds, like their bodies, at a certain age become fixed. Genius has been defined as 'the power of taking pains'; but hardly any one keeps up his interest in knowledge throughout a whole life. The troubles of a family, the business of making money, the demands of a profession destroy the elasticity of the mind. The waxen tablet of the memory which was once capable of receiving 'true thoughts and clear impressions' becomes hard and crowded; there is not room for the accumulations of a long life (Theaet.). The student, as years advance, rather makes an exchange of knowledge than adds to his stores. There is no pressing necessity to learn; the stock of Classics or History or Natural Science which was enough for a man at twenty-five is enough for him at fifty. Neither is it easy to give a definite answer to any one who asks how he is to improve. For self-education consists in a thousand things, commonplace in themselves,—in adding to what we are by nature something of what we are not; in learning to see ourselves as others see us; in judging, not by opinion, but by the evidence of facts; in seeking out the society of superior minds; in a study of lives and writings of great men; in observation of the world and character; in receiving kindly the natural influence of different times of life; in any act or thought which is raised above the practice or opinions of mankind; in the pursuit of some new or original enquiry; in any effort of mind which calls forth some latent power.
If any one is desirous of carrying out in detail the Platonic education of after-life, some such counsels as the following may be offered to him:—That he shall choose the branch of knowledge to which his own mind most distinctly inclines, and in which he takes the greatest delight, either one which seems to connect with his own daily employment, or, perhaps, furnishes the greatest contrast to it. He may study from the speculative side the profession or business in which he is practically engaged. He may make Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Plato, Bacon the friends and companions of his life. He may find opportunities of hearing the living voice of a great teacher. He may select for enquiry some point of history or some unexplained phenomenon of nature. An hour a day passed in such scientific or literary pursuits will furnish as many facts as the memory can retain, and will give him 'a pleasure not to be repented of' (Timaeus). Only let him beware of being the slave of crotchets, or of running after a Will o' the Wisp in his ignorance, or in his vanity of attributing to himself the gifts of a poet or assuming the air of a philosopher. He should know the limits of his own powers. Better to build up the mind by slow additions, to creep on quietly from one thing to another, to gain insensibly new powers and new interests in knowledge, than to form vast schemes which are never destined to be realized. But perhaps, as Plato would say, 'This is part of another subject' (Tim.); though we may also defend our digression by his example (Theaet.).
4. We remark with surprise that the progress of nations or the natural growth of institutions which fill modern treatises on political philosophy seem hardly ever to have attracted the attention of Plato and Aristotle. The ancients were familiar with the mutability of human affairs; they could moralize over the ruins of cities and the fall of empires (Plato, Statesman, and Sulpicius' Letter to Cicero); by them fate and chance were deemed to be real powers, almost persons, and to have had a great share in political events. The wiser of them like Thucydides believed that 'what had been would be again,' and that a tolerable idea of the future could be gathered from the past. Also they had dreams of a Golden Age which existed once upon a time and might still exist in some unknown land, or might return again in the remote future. But the regular growth of a state enlightened by experience, progressing in knowledge, improving in the arts, of which the citizens were educated by the fulfilment of political duties, appears never to have come within the range of their hopes and aspirations. Such a state had never been seen, and therefore could not be conceived by them. Their experience (Aristot. Metaph.; Plato, Laws) led them to conclude that there had been cycles of civilization in which the arts had been discovered and lost many times over, and cities had been overthrown and rebuilt again and again, and deluges and volcanoes and other natural convulsions had altered the face of the earth. Tradition told them of many destructions of mankind and of the preservation of a remnant. The world began again after a deluge and was reconstructed out of the fragments of itself. Also they were acquainted with empires of unknown antiquity, like the Egyptian or Assyrian; but they had never seen them grow, and could not imagine, any more than we can, the state of man which preceded them. They were puzzled and awestricken by the Egyptian monuments, of which the forms, as Plato says, not in a figure, but literally, were ten thousand years old (Laws), and they contrasted the antiquity of Egypt with their own short memories.
The early legends of Hellas have no real connection with the later history: they are at a distance, and the intermediate region is concealed from view; there is no road or path which leads from one to the other. At the beginning of Greek history, in the vestibule of the temple, is seen standing first of all the figure of the legislator, himself the interpreter and servant of the God. The fundamental laws which he gives are not supposed to change with time and circumstances. The salvation of the state is held rather to depend on the inviolable maintenance of them. They were sanctioned by the authority of heaven, and it was deemed impiety to alter them. The desire to maintain them unaltered seems to be the origin of what at first sight is very surprising to us—the intolerant zeal of Plato against innovators in religion or politics (Laws); although with a happy inconsistency he is also willing that the laws of other countries should be studied and improvements in legislation privately communicated to the Nocturnal Council (Laws). The additions which were made to them in later ages in order to meet the increasing complexity of affairs were still ascribed by a fiction to the original legislator; and the words of such enactments at Athens were disputed over as if they had been the words of Solon himself. Plato hopes to preserve in a later generation the mind of the legislator; he would have his citizens remain within the lines which he has laid down for them. He would not harass them with minute regulations, he would have allowed some changes in the laws: but not changes which would affect the fundamental institutions of the state, such for example as would convert an aristocracy into a timocracy, or a timocracy into a popular form of government.
Passing from speculations to facts, we observe that progress has been the exception rather than the law of human history. And therefore we are not surprised to find that the idea of progress is of modern rather than of ancient date; and, like the idea of a philosophy of history, is not more than a century or two old. It seems to have arisen out of the impression left on the human mind by the growth of the Roman Empire and of the Christian Church, and to be due to the political and social improvements which they introduced into the world; and still more in our own century to the idealism of the first French Revolution and the triumph of American Independence; and in a yet greater degree to the vast material prosperity and growth of population in England and her colonies and in America. It is also to be ascribed in a measure to the greater study of the philosophy of history. The optimist temperament of some great writers has assisted the creation of it, while the opposite character has led a few to regard the future of the world as dark. The 'spectator of all time and of all existence' sees more of 'the increasing purpose which through the ages ran' than formerly: but to the inhabitant of a small state of Hellas the vision was necessarily limited like the valley in which he dwelt. There was no remote past on which his eye could rest, nor any future from which the veil was partly lifted up by the analogy of history. The narrowness of view, which to ourselves appears so singular, was to him natural, if not unavoidable.
5. For the relation of the Republic to the Statesman and the Laws, and the two other works of Plato which directly treat of politics, see the Introductions to the two latter; a few general points of comparison may be touched upon in this place.
And first of the Laws.
(1) The Republic, though probably written at intervals, yet speaking generally and judging by the indications of thought and style, may be reasonably ascribed to the middle period of Plato's life: the Laws are certainly the work of his declining years, and some portions of them at any rate seem to have been written in extreme old age.
(2) The Republic is full of hope and aspiration: the Laws bear the stamp of failure and disappointment. The one is a finished work which received the last touches of the author: the other is imperfectly executed, and apparently unfinished. The one has the grace and beauty of youth: the other has lost the poetical form, but has more of the severity and knowledge of life which is characteristic of old age.
(3) The most conspicuous defect of the Laws is the failure of dramatic power, whereas the Republic is full of striking contrasts of ideas and oppositions of character.
(4) The Laws may be said to have more the nature of a sermon, the Republic of a poem; the one is more religious, the other more intellectual.
(5) Many theories of Plato, such as the doctrine of ideas, the government of the world by philosophers, are not found in the Laws; the immortality of the soul is first mentioned in xii; the person of Socrates has altogether disappeared. The community of women and children is renounced; the institution of common or public meals for women (Laws) is for the first time introduced (Ar. Pol.).
(6) There remains in the Laws the old enmity to the poets, who are ironically saluted in high-flown terms, and, at the same time, are peremptorily ordered out of the city, if they are not willing to submit their poems to the censorship of the magistrates (Rep.).
(7) Though the work is in most respects inferior, there are a few passages in the Laws, such as the honour due to the soul, the evils of licentious or unnatural love, the whole of Book x. (religion), the dishonesty of retail trade, and bequests, which come more home to us, and contain more of what may be termed the modern element in Plato than almost anything in the Republic.
The relation of the two works to one another is very well given:
(1) by Aristotle in the Politics from the side of the Laws:—
'The same, or nearly the same, objections apply to Plato's later work, the Laws, and therefore we had better examine briefly the constitution which is therein described. In the Republic, Socrates has definitely settled in all a few questions only; such as the community of women and children, the community of property, and the constitution of the state. The population is divided into two classes—one of husbandmen, and the other of warriors; from this latter is taken a third class of counsellors and rulers of the state. But Socrates has not determined whether the husbandmen and artists are to have a share in the government, and whether they too are to carry arms and share in military service or not. He certainly thinks that the women ought to share in the education of the guardians, and to fight by their side. The remainder of the work is filled up with digressions foreign to the main subject, and with discussions about the education of the guardians. In the Laws there is hardly anything but laws; not much is said about the constitution. This, which he had intended to make more of the ordinary type, he gradually brings round to the other or ideal form. For with the exception of the community of women and property, he supposes everything to be the same in both states; there is to be the same education; the citizens of both are to live free from servile occupations, and there are to be common meals in both. The only difference is that in the Laws the common meals are extended to women, and the warriors number about 5000, but in the Republic only 1000.'
(2) by Plato in the Laws (Book v.), from the side of the Republic:—
'The first and highest form of the state and of the government and of the law is that in which there prevails most widely the ancient saying that "Friends have all things in common." Whether there is now, or ever will be, this communion of women and children and of property, in which the private and individual is altogether banished from life, and things which are by nature private, such as eyes and ears and hands, have become common, and all men express praise and blame, and feel joy and sorrow, on the same occasions, and the laws unite the city to the utmost,—whether all this is possible or not, I say that no man, acting upon any other principle, will ever constitute a state more exalted in virtue, or truer or better than this. Such a state, whether inhabited by Gods or sons of Gods, will make them blessed who dwell therein; and therefore to this we are to look for the pattern of the state, and to cling to this, and, as far as possible, to seek for one which is like this. The state which we have now in hand, when created, will be nearest to immortality and unity in the next degree; and after that, by the grace of God, we will complete the third one. And we will begin by speaking of the nature and origin of the second.'
The comparatively short work called the Statesman or Politicus in its style and manner is more akin to the Laws, while in its idealism it rather resembles the Republic. As far as we can judge by various indications of language and thought, it must be later than the one and of course earlier than the other. In both the Republic and Statesman a close connection is maintained between Politics and Dialectic. In the Statesman, enquiries into the principles of Method are interspersed with discussions about Politics. The comparative advantages of the rule of law and of a person are considered, and the decision given in favour of a person (Arist. Pol.). But much may be said on the other side, nor is the opposition necessary; for a person may rule by law, and law may be so applied as to be the living voice of the legislator. As in the Republic, there is a myth, describing, however, not a future, but a former existence of mankind. The question is asked, 'Whether the state of innocence which is described in the myth, or a state like our own which possesses art and science and distinguishes good from evil, is the preferable condition of man.' To this question of the comparative happiness of civilized and primitive life, which was so often discussed in the last century and in our own, no answer is given. The Statesman, though less perfect in style than the Republic and of far less range, may justly be regarded as one of the greatest of Plato's dialogues.
6. Others as well as Plato have chosen an ideal Republic to be the vehicle of thoughts which they could not definitely express, or which went beyond their own age. The classical writing which approaches most nearly to the Republic of Plato is the 'De Republica' of Cicero; but neither in this nor in any other of his dialogues does he rival the art of Plato. The manners are clumsy and inferior; the hand of the rhetorician is apparent at every turn. Yet noble sentiments are constantly recurring: the true note of Roman patriotism—'We Romans are a great people'—resounds through the whole work. Like Socrates, Cicero turns away from the phenomena of the heavens to civil and political life. He would rather not discuss the 'two Suns' of which all Rome was talking, when he can converse about 'the two nations in one' which had divided Rome ever since the days of the Gracchi. Like Socrates again, speaking in the person of Scipio, he is afraid lest he should assume too much the character of a teacher, rather than of an equal who is discussing among friends the two sides of a question. He would confine the terms King or State to the rule of reason and justice, and he will not concede that title either to a democracy or to a monarchy. But under the rule of reason and justice he is willing to include the natural superior ruling over the natural inferior, which he compares to the soul ruling over the body. He prefers a mixture of forms of government to any single one. The two portraits of the just and the unjust, which occur in the second book of the Republic, are transferred to the state—Philus, one of the interlocutors, maintaining against his will the necessity of injustice as a principle of government, while the other, Laelius, supports the opposite thesis. His views of language and number are derived from Plato; like him he denounces the drama. He also declares that if his life were to be twice as long he would have no time to read the lyric poets. The picture of democracy is translated by him word for word, though he had hardly shown himself able to 'carry the jest' of Plato. He converts into a stately sentence the humorous fancy about the animals, who 'are so imbued with the spirit of democracy that they make the passers-by get out of their way.' His description of the tyrant is imitated from Plato, but is far inferior. The second book is historical, and claims for the Roman constitution (which is to him the ideal) a foundation of fact such as Plato probably intended to have given to the Republic in the Critias. His most remarkable imitation of Plato is the adaptation of the vision of Er, which is converted by Cicero into the 'Somnium Scipionis'; he has 'romanized' the myth of the Republic, adding an argument for the immortality of the soul taken from the Phaedrus, and some other touches derived from the Phaedo and the Timaeus. Though a beautiful tale and containing splendid passages, the 'Somnium Scipionis; is very inferior to the vision of Er; it is only a dream, and hardly allows the reader to suppose that the writer believes in his own creation. Whether his dialogues were framed on the model of the lost dialogues of Aristotle, as he himself tells us, or of Plato, to which they bear many superficial resemblances, he is still the Roman orator; he is not conversing, but making speeches, and is never able to mould the intractable Latin to the grace and ease of the Greek Platonic dialogue. But if he is defective in form, much more is he inferior to the Greek in matter; he nowhere in his philosophical writings leaves upon our minds the impression of an original thinker.
Plato's Republic has been said to be a church and not a state; and such an ideal of a city in the heavens has always hovered over the Christian world, and is embodied in St. Augustine's 'De Civitate Dei,' which is suggested by the decay and fall of the Roman Empire, much in the same manner in which we may imagine the Republic of Plato to have been influenced by the decline of Greek politics in the writer's own age. The difference is that in the time of Plato the degeneracy, though certain, was gradual and insensible: whereas the taking of Rome by the Goths stirred like an earthquake the age of St. Augustine. Men were inclined to believe that the overthrow of the city was to be ascribed to the anger felt by the old Roman deities at the neglect of their worship. St. Augustine maintains the opposite thesis; he argues that the destruction of the Roman Empire is due, not to the rise of Christianity, but to the vices of Paganism. He wanders over Roman history, and over Greek philosophy and mythology, and finds everywhere crime, impiety and falsehood. He compares the worst parts of the Gentile religions with the best elements of the faith of Christ. He shows nothing of the spirit which led others of the early Christian Fathers to recognize in the writings of the Greek philosophers the power of the divine truth. He traces the parallel of the kingdom of God, that is, the history of the Jews, contained in their scriptures, and of the kingdoms of the world, which are found in gentile writers, and pursues them both into an ideal future. It need hardly be remarked that his use both of Greek and of Roman historians and of the sacred writings of the Jews is wholly uncritical. The heathen mythology, the Sybilline oracles, the myths of Plato, the dreams of Neo-Platonists are equally regarded by him as matter of fact. He must be acknowledged to be a strictly polemical or controversial writer who makes the best of everything on one side and the worst of everything on the other. He has no sympathy with the old Roman life as Plato has with Greek life, nor has he any idea of the ecclesiastical kingdom which was to arise out of the ruins of the Roman empire. He is not blind to the defects of the Christian Church, and looks forward to a time when Christian and Pagan shall be alike brought before the judgment-seat, and the true City of God shall appear...The work of St. Augustine is a curious repertory of antiquarian learning and quotations, deeply penetrated with Christian ethics, but showing little power of reasoning, and a slender knowledge of the Greek literature and language. He was a great genius, and a noble character, yet hardly capable of feeling or understanding anything external to his own theology. Of all the ancient philosophers he is most attracted by Plato, though he is very slightly acquainted with his writings. He is inclined to believe that the idea of creation in the Timaeus is derived from the narrative in Genesis; and he is strangely taken with the coincidence (?) of Plato's saying that 'the philosopher is the lover of God,' and the words of the Book of Exodus in which God reveals himself to Moses (Exod.) He dwells at length on miracles performed in his own day, of which the evidence is regarded by him as irresistible. He speaks in a very interesting manner of the beauty and utility of nature and of the human frame, which he conceives to afford a foretaste of the heavenly state and of the resurrection of the body. The book is not really what to most persons the title of it would imply, and belongs to an age which has passed away. But it contains many fine passages and thoughts which are for all time.
The short treatise de Monarchia of Dante is by far the most remarkable of mediaeval ideals, and bears the impress of the great genius in whom Italy and the Middle Ages are so vividly reflected. It is the vision of an Universal Empire, which is supposed to be the natural and necessary government of the world, having a divine authority distinct from the Papacy, yet coextensive with it. It is not 'the ghost of the dead Roman Empire sitting crowned upon the grave thereof,' but the legitimate heir and successor of it, justified by the ancient virtues of the Romans and the beneficence of their rule. Their right to be the governors of the world is also confirmed by the testimony of miracles, and acknowledged by St. Paul when he appealed to Caesar, and even more emphatically by Christ Himself, Who could not have made atonement for the sins of men if He had not been condemned by a divinely authorized tribunal. The necessity for the establishment of an Universal Empire is proved partly by a priori arguments such as the unity of God and the unity of the family or nation; partly by perversions of Scripture and history, by false analogies of nature, by misapplied quotations from the classics, and by odd scraps and commonplaces of logic, showing a familiar but by no means exact knowledge of Aristotle (of Plato there is none). But a more convincing argument still is the miserable state of the world, which he touchingly describes. He sees no hope of happiness or peace for mankind until all nations of the earth are comprehended in a single empire. The whole treatise shows how deeply the idea of the Roman Empire was fixed in the minds of his contemporaries. Not much argument was needed to maintain the truth of a theory which to his own contemporaries seemed so natural and congenial. He speaks, or rather preaches, from the point of view, not of the ecclesiastic, but of the layman, although, as a good Catholic, he is willing to acknowledge that in certain respects the Empire must submit to the Church. The beginning and end of all his noble reflections and of his arguments, good and bad, is the aspiration 'that in this little plot of earth belonging to mortal man life may pass in freedom and peace.' So inextricably is his vision of the future bound up with the beliefs and circumstances of his own age.
The 'Utopia' of Sir Thomas More is a surprising monument of his genius, and shows a reach of thought far beyond his contemporaries. The book was written by him at the age of about 34 or 35, and is full of the generous sentiments of youth. He brings the light of Plato to bear upon the miserable state of his own country. Living not long after the Wars of the Roses, and in the dregs of the Catholic Church in England, he is indignant at the corruption of the clergy, at the luxury of the nobility and gentry, at the sufferings of the poor, at the calamities caused by war. To the eye of More the whole world was in dissolution and decay; and side by side with the misery and oppression which he has described in the First Book of the Utopia, he places in the Second Book the ideal state which by the help of Plato he had constructed. The times were full of stir and intellectual interest. The distant murmur of the Reformation was beginning to be heard. To minds like More's, Greek literature was a revelation: there had arisen an art of interpretation, and the New Testament was beginning to be understood as it had never been before, and has not often been since, in its natural sense. The life there depicted appeared to him wholly unlike that of Christian commonwealths, in which 'he saw nothing but a certain conspiracy of rich men procuring their own commodities under the name and title of the Commonwealth.' He thought that Christ, like Plato, 'instituted all things common,' for which reason, he tells us, the citizens of Utopia were the more willing to receive his doctrines ('Howbeit, I think this was no small help and furtherance in the matter, that they heard us say that Christ instituted among his, all things common, and that the same community doth yet remain in the rightest Christian communities' (Utopia).). The community of property is a fixed idea with him, though he is aware of the arguments which may be urged on the other side ('These things (I say), when I consider with myself, I hold well with Plato, and do nothing marvel that he would make no laws for them that refused those laws, whereby all men should have and enjoy equal portions of riches and commodities. For the wise men did easily foresee this to be the one and only way to the wealth of a community, if equality of all things should be brought in and established' (Utopia).). We wonder how in the reign of Henry VIII, though veiled in another language and published in a foreign country, such speculations could have been endured.
He is gifted with far greater dramatic invention than any one who succeeded him, with the exception of Swift. In the art of feigning he is a worthy disciple of Plato. Like him, starting from a small portion of fact, he founds his tale with admirable skill on a few lines in the Latin narrative of the voyages of Amerigo Vespucci. He is very precise about dates and facts, and has the power of making us believe that the narrator of the tale must have been an eyewitness. We are fairly puzzled by his manner of mixing up real and imaginary persons; his boy John Clement and Peter Giles, citizen of Antwerp, with whom he disputes about the precise words which are supposed to have been used by the (imaginary) Portuguese traveller, Raphael Hythloday. 'I have the more cause,' says Hythloday, 'to fear that my words shall not be believed, for that I know how difficultly and hardly I myself would have believed another man telling the same, if I had not myself seen it with mine own eyes.' Or again: 'If you had been with me in Utopia, and had presently seen their fashions and laws as I did which lived there five years and more, and would never have come thence, but only to make the new land known here,' etc. More greatly regrets that he forgot to ask Hythloday in what part of the world Utopia is situated; he 'would have spent no small sum of money rather than it should have escaped him,' and he begs Peter Giles to see Hythloday or write to him and obtain an answer to the question. After this we are not surprised to hear that a Professor of Divinity (perhaps 'a late famous vicar of Croydon in Surrey,' as the translator thinks) is desirous of being sent thither as a missionary by the High Bishop, 'yea, and that he may himself be made Bishop of Utopia, nothing doubting that he must obtain this Bishopric with suit; and he counteth that a godly suit which proceedeth not of the desire of honour or lucre, but only of a godly zeal.' The design may have failed through the disappearance of Hythloday, concerning whom we have 'very uncertain news' after his departure. There is no doubt, however, that he had told More and Giles the exact situation of the island, but unfortunately at the same moment More's attention, as he is reminded in a letter from Giles, was drawn off by a servant, and one of the company from a cold caught on shipboard coughed so loud as to prevent Giles from hearing. And 'the secret has perished' with him; to this day the place of Utopia remains unknown.
The words of Phaedrus, 'O Socrates, you can easily invent Egyptians or anything,' are recalled to our mind as we read this lifelike fiction. Yet the greater merit of the work is not the admirable art, but the originality of thought. More is as free as Plato from the prejudices of his age, and far more tolerant. The Utopians do not allow him who believes not in the immortality of the soul to share in the administration of the state (Laws), 'howbeit they put him to no punishment, because they be persuaded that it is in no man's power to believe what he list'; and 'no man is to be blamed for reasoning in support of his own religion ('One of our company in my presence was sharply punished. He, as soon as he was baptised, began, against our wills, with more earnest affection than wisdom, to reason of Christ's religion, and began to wax so hot in his matter, that he did not only prefer our religion before all other, but also did despise and condemn all other, calling them profane, and the followers of them wicked and devilish, and the children of everlasting damnation. When he had thus long reasoned the matter, they laid hold on him, accused him, and condemned him into exile, not as a despiser of religion, but as a seditious person and a raiser up of dissension among the people').' In the public services 'no prayers be used, but such as every man may boldly pronounce without giving offence to any sect.' He says significantly, 'There be that give worship to a man that was once of excellent virtue or of famous glory, not only as God, but also the chiefest and highest God. But the most and the wisest part, rejecting all these, believe that there is a certain godly power unknown, far above the capacity and reach of man's wit, dispersed throughout all the world, not in bigness, but in virtue and power. Him they call the Father of all. To Him alone they attribute the beginnings, the increasings, the proceedings, the changes, and the ends of all things. Neither give they any divine honours to any other than him.' So far was More from sharing the popular beliefs of his time. Yet at the end he reminds us that he does not in all respects agree with the customs and opinions of the Utopians which he describes. And we should let him have the benefit of this saving clause, and not rudely withdraw the veil behind which he has been pleased to conceal himself.
Nor is he less in advance of popular opinion in his political and moral speculations. He would like to bring military glory into contempt; he would set all sorts of idle people to profitable occupation, including in the same class, priests, women, noblemen, gentlemen, and 'sturdy and valiant beggars,' that the labour of all may be reduced to six hours a day. His dislike of capital punishment, and plans for the reformation of offenders; his detestation of priests and lawyers (Compare his satirical observation: 'They (the Utopians) have priests of exceeding holiness, and therefore very few.); his remark that 'although every one may hear of ravenous dogs and wolves and cruel man-eaters, it is not easy to find states that are well and wisely governed,' are curiously at variance with the notions of his age and indeed with his own life. There are many points in which he shows a modern feeling and a prophetic insight like Plato. He is a sanitary reformer; he maintains that civilized states have a right to the soil of waste countries; he is inclined to the opinion which places happiness in virtuous pleasures, but herein, as he thinks, not disagreeing from those other philosophers who define virtue to be a life according to nature. He extends the idea of happiness so as to include the happiness of others; and he argues ingeniously, 'All men agree that we ought to make others happy; but if others, how much more ourselves!' And still he thinks that there may be a more excellent way, but to this no man's reason can attain unless heaven should inspire him with a higher truth. His ceremonies before marriage; his humane proposal that war should be carried on by assassinating the leaders of the enemy, may be compared to some of the paradoxes of Plato. He has a charming fancy, like the affinities of Greeks and barbarians in the Timaeus, that the Utopians learnt the language of the Greeks with the more readiness because they were originally of the same race with them. He is penetrated with the spirit of Plato, and quotes or adapts many thoughts both from the Republic and from the Timaeus. He prefers public duties to private, and is somewhat impatient of the importunity of relations. His citizens have no silver or gold of their own, but are ready enough to pay them to their mercenaries. There is nothing of which he is more contemptuous than the love of money. Gold is used for fetters of criminals, and diamonds and pearls for children's necklaces (When the ambassadors came arrayed in gold and peacocks' feathers 'to the eyes of all the Utopians except very few, which had been in other countries for some reasonable cause, all that gorgeousness of apparel seemed shameful and reproachful. In so much that they most reverently saluted the vilest and most abject of them for lords—passing over the ambassadors themselves without any honour, judging them by their wearing of golden chains to be bondmen. You should have seen children also, that had cast away their pearls and precious stones, when they saw the like sticking upon the ambassadors' caps, dig and push their mothers under the sides, saying thus to them—"Look, though he were a little child still." But the mother; yea and that also in good earnest: "Peace, son," saith she, "I think he be some of the ambassadors' fools."')
Like Plato he is full of satirical reflections on governments and princes; on the state of the world and of knowledge. The hero of his discourse (Hythloday) is very unwilling to become a minister of state, considering that he would lose his independence and his advice would never be heeded (Compare an exquisite passage, of which the conclusion is as follows: 'And verily it is naturally given...suppressed and ended.') He ridicules the new logic of his time; the Utopians could never be made to understand the doctrine of Second Intentions ('For they have not devised one of all those rules of restrictions, amplifications, and suppositions, very wittily invented in the small Logicals, which here our children in every place do learn. Furthermore, they were never yet able to find out the second intentions; insomuch that none of them all could ever see man himself in common, as they call him, though he be (as you know) bigger than was ever any giant, yea, and pointed to of us even with our finger.') He is very severe on the sports of the gentry; the Utopians count 'hunting the lowest, the vilest, and the most abject part of butchery.' He quotes the words of the Republic in which the philosopher is described 'standing out of the way under a wall until the driving storm of sleet and rain be overpast,' which admit of a singular application to More's own fate; although, writing twenty years before (about the year 1514), he can hardly be supposed to have foreseen this. There is no touch of satire which strikes deeper than his quiet remark that the greater part of the precepts of Christ are more at variance with the lives of ordinary Christians than the discourse of Utopia ('And yet the most part of them is more dissident from the manners of the world now a days, than my communication was. But preachers, sly and wily men, following your counsel (as I suppose) because they saw men evil-willing to frame their manners to Christ's rule, they have wrested and wried his doctrine, and, like a rule of lead, have applied it to men's manners, that by some means at the least way, they might agree together.')