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Grecian confederacy, or the expressions which thority, but in itself not improbat e, it was passed between Aristides and Themistocles at their famous interview, have been correctly transmitted to us. The great events are, no doubt, faithfully related. So, probably, are many of the slighter circumstances; but which of them it is impossible to ascertain. The fictions are so much like the facts, and the facts so much like the fictions, that, with respect to many most interesting particulars, our belief is neither given nor withheld, but remains in an uneasy and interminable state of abeyance. We know that there is truth, but we cannot exactly decide where it lies.
The faults of Herodotus are the faults of a simple and imaginative mind. Children and servants are remarkably Herodotean in their style of narration. They tell every thing dramatically. Their says hes and says shes are proverbial. Every person who has had to settle their disputes knows that, even when they have no intention to deceive, their reports of conversation always require to be carefully sifted. If an educated man were giving an account of the late change of administration, he would say, "Lord Goderich resigned; and the king in consequence sent for the Duke of Wellington." A porter tells the story as if he had been hid behind the curtains of the royal bed at Windsor. "So Lord Goderich says, 'I cannot manage this business; I must go out.' So the king says, says he, 'Well, then, I must send for the Duke of Wellington, that's all." This is the very manner of the father of history.
Herodotus wrote as it was natural that he should write. He wrote for a nation susceptible, curious, lively, insatiably desirous of novelty and excitement; for a nation in which the fine arts had attained their highest excellence, but in which philosophy was still in its infancy. His countrymen had but recently begun to cultivate prose composition. Public transactions had generally been recorded in verse. The first historians might therefore indulge, without fear of censure, in the license allowed to their predecessors the bards. Books were few. The events of former times were learned from tradition and from popular ballads; the manners of foreign countries from the reports of travellers. It is well known that the mystery which overhangs what is distant, either in space or time, frequently prevents us from censuring as unnatural what we perceive to be impossible. We stare at a dragoon who has killed three French cuirassiers as a prodigy; yet we read, without the least disgust, how Godfrey slew his thousands, and Rinaldo his ten thousands. Within the last hundred years stories about China and Bantam, which ough. not to have imposed on an old nurse, were gravely laid down as foundations of political theories by eminent philosophers. What the time of the Crusades is to us, the generation of Cræsus and Solon was to the Greeks of the time of Herodotus. Babylon was to hem what Pekin was to the French academicians of the last century.
For such a people was the book of Herodous composed; and if we may trust to a report, not sanctioned, indeed, by writers of high au
composed not to be read, but to be heard. It was not to the slow circulation of a few copies, which the rich only could possess, that the aspiring author looked for his reward. great Olympian festival-the solemnity which collected multitudes, proud of the Grecian name, from the wildest mountains of Doris and the remotest colonies of Italy and Lybiawas to witness his triumph. The interest of the narrative and the beauty of the style were aided by the imposing effect of recitation-by the splendour of the spectacle-by the powerful influence of sympathy. A critic who could have asked for authorities in the midst of such a scene must have been of a cold and sceptical nature, and few such critics were there. As was the historian, such were the auditors-inquisitive, credulous, easily moved by religious awe or patriotic enthusiasm. They were the very men to hear with delight of strange beasts, and birds, and trees; of dwarfs, and giants, and cannibals; of gods.whose very names it was impiety to utter; of ancient dynasties which had left behind them monuments surpassing all the works of later times; of towns like provinces; of rivers like seas; of stupendous walls, and temples, and pyramids; of the rites which the Magi performed at daybreak on the tops of the mountains; of the secrets inscribed on the eternal obelisks of Memphis. With equal delight they would have listened to the graceful romances of their own country. They now heard of the exact accomplishment of ob scure predictions; of the punishment of crimes over which the justice of Heaven had seemed to slumber; of dreams, onens, warnings from the dead; of princesses for whom noble suit ors contended in every generous exercise of strength and skill; of infants strangely pre served from the dagger of the assassin to fulfil high destinies.
As the narrative approached their own times the interest became still more absorbing. The chronicler had now to tell the story of that great conflict from which Europe dates its intellectual and political supremacy-a story which, even at this distance of time, is the most marvellous and the most touching in the annals of the human race-a story abounding with all that is wild and wonderful, with all that is pathetic and animating; with the gigan tic caprices of infinite wealth and despotic power; with the mightier miracles of wisdom, of virtue, and of courage. He told them of rivers dried up in a day, of provinces famished for a meal; of a passage for ships hewn through the mountains; of a road for armies spread upon the waves; of monarchies and commonwealths swept away; of anxiety, of terror, of confusion, of despair!-and then of proud and stubborn hearts tried in that extremity of evil and not found wanting; of resistance long maintained against desperate odds; of lives dearly sold when resistance could be maintained no more; of signal deliverance, and of unsparing revenge. Whatever gave a stronger air of reality to a narrative so well calculated to inflame the passions and to flatter national pride was cer tain to be favourably received.
Between the time at which Herodotus is said
to have composed his history and the close of the Peloponnesian war about forty years elapsed-forty years crowded with great military and political events. The circumstances of that period produced a great effect on the Grecian character; and nowhere was this effect so remarkable as in the illustrious democracy of Athens. An Athenian, indeed, even in the time of Herodotus, would scarcely have written a book so romantic and garrulous as that of Herodotus. As civilization advanced, the citizens of that famous republic became still less visionary and still less simple-hearted. They aspired to know where their ancestors had been content to doubt; they began to doubt where their ancestors had thought it their duty to believe. Aristophanes is fond of alluding to this change in the temper of his countrymen. The father and son, in the Clouds, are evidently representatives of the generations to which they respectively belonged. Nothing more clearly illustrates the nature of this moral revolution than the change which passed upon tragedy. The wild sublimity of Eschylus became the scoff of every young Phidippides. Lectures on abstruse points of philosophy, the fine distinctions of casuistry, and the dazzling fence of rhetoric, were substituted for poetry. The language lost something of that infantine sweetness which had characterized it. It became less like the ancient Tuscan, and more like the modern French.
The fashionable logic of the Greeks was, indeed, far from strict. Logic never can be strict where books are scarce, and where information is conveyed orally. We are all aware how frequently fallacies which, when set down on paper, are at once detected, pass for unanswerable arguments when dexterously and volubly urged in parliament, at the bar, or in private conversation. The reason is evident. We cannot inspect them closely enough to perceive their inaccuracy. We cannot readily compare them with each other. We lose sight of one part of the subject before another, which ought to be received in connection with it, comes before us; and as there is no immutable record of what has been admitted and of what has been denied, direct contradictions pass muster with little difficulty. Almost all the education of a Greek consisted in talking and listening. His opinions on governments were picked up in the debates of the assembly. If he wished to study metaphysics, instead of shutting himself up with a book, he walked down to the market-place to look for a sophist. So completely were men formed to these habits, that even writing acquired a conversational air. The philosophers adopted the form of dialogue as the most natural mode of communicating knowledge. Their reasonings have the merits and the defects which belong to that species of composition; and are characterized rather by quickness and subtilty than by depth and precision. Truth is exhibited in parts and by glimpses. Innumerable clever hints are given; but n sound and durable system is erected. The argumentum ad hominem, a kind of argument most efficacious in debate, but utterly useless for the investigation of general panciples, is among their favourite resources.
Hence, though nothing can be more admirable than the skill which Socrates displays in the conversations which Plato has reported or invented, his victories for the most part seem to us unprofitable. A trophy is set up, but no new province is added to the dominions of the human mind.
Still, where thousands of keen and ready intellects were constantly employed in specu lating on the qualities of actions and on the principles of government, it was impossible that history should retain its old character. It became less gossipping and less picturesque; but much more accurate, and somewhat more scientific.
The history of Thucydides differs from that of Herodotus as a portrait differs from the representation of an imaginary scene; as the Burke or Fox of Reynolds differs from his Ugolino or his Beaufort. In the former case, the archetype is given: in the latter it is created. The faculties which are required for the latter purpose are of a higher and rarer order than those which suffice for the former, and indeed necessarily comprise them. He who is able to paint what he sees with the eye of the mind, will surely be able to paint what he sees with the eye of the body. He who can invent a story and tell it well, will also be able to tell, in an interesting manner, a story which he has not invented. If, in practice, some of the best writers of fiction have been among the worst writers of history, it has been because one of their talents had merged in another so completely, that it could not be severed; because, having iong been habituated to invent and narrate at the same time, they found it impossible to narrate without inventing.
Some capricious and discontented artists have affected to consider portrait-painting as unworthy of a man of genius. Some critics have spoken in the same contemptuous manner of history. Johnson puts the case thus: The historian tells either what is false or what is true. In the former case he is no historian. In the latter, he has no opportunity for displaying his abilities. For truth is one: and all who tell the truth must tell it alike.
It is not difficult to elude both the horns of this dilemma. We will recur to the analogous art of portrait-painting. Any man with eyes and hands may be taught to take a likeness. The process, up to a certain point, is merely mechanical. If this were all, a man of talents might justly despise the occupation. But we could mention portraits which are resemblances, but not mere resemblances; faithful, but much more than faithful; portraits which condense into one point of time, and exhibit, at a single glance, the whole history of turbid and eventful lives-in which the eye seems to scrutinize us, and the mouin to command us-in which the brow menaces, and the lip almost quivers with scorn-in which every wrinkle is a comment on some important transaction. The account which Thucydides has given of the retreat from Syracuse is, among narratives, what Vandyck's Lord Strafford is among paintings.
Diversity, it is said, implies error; truth one, and admits of no degree. We answer,
In this respect no writer has ever equalled Thucydides. He was a perfect master of the art of gradual diminution. His history is some times as concise as a chronological chart; yet it is always perspicuous. It is sometimes as minute as one of Lovelace's letters; yet it is never prolix. He never fails to contract and to expand it in the right place.
that this principle holds good only in abstract | sented on a large scale, others diminished reasonings. When we talk of the truth of the great majority will be lost in the dimness imitation in the fine arts, we mean an imper- of the horizon; and a general icea of their fect and a graduated truth. No picture is ex- joint effect will be given by a few slight actly like the original: nor is a picture good touches. in proportion as it is like the original. When Sir Thomas Lawrence paints a handsome peeress, he does not contemplate her through a powerful microscope, and transfer to the canvass the pores of the skin, the blood-vessels of the eye, and all the other beauties which Gulliver discovered in the Brobdignaggian maids of honour. If he were to do this, the effect would not merely be unpleasant, but Thucydides borrowed from Herodotus the unless the scale of the picture were propor- practice of putting speeches of his own into tionably enlarged, would be absolutely false. the mouths of his characters. In Herodotus And, after all, a microscope of greater power this usage is scarcely censurable. It is of a than that which he had employed would con- piece with his whole manner. But it is alvict him of innumerable omissions. The same together incongruous in the work of his sucmay be said of history. Perfectly and abso-cessor; and violates, not only the accuracy of lutely true, it cannot be; for, to be perfectly history, but the decencies of fiction. When and absolutely true, it ought to record all the once we enter into the spirit of Herodotus, we slightest particulars of the slightest transac- find no inconsistency. The conventional protions-all the things done, and all the words bability of his drama is preserved from the uttered, during the time of which it treats. beginning to the end. The deliberate orations The omission of any circumstance, how- and the familiar dialogues are in strict keeping ever insignificant, would be a defect. If his- with each other. But the speeches of Thucytory were written thus, the Bodleian library dides are neither preceded nor followed by would not contain the occurrences of a week. any thing with which they harmonize. They What is told in the fullest and most accurate give to the whole book something of the gro annals bears an infinitely small proportion to tesque character of those Chinese pleasurewhat is suppressed. The difference between grounds, in which perpendicular rocks of the copious work of Clarendon, and the ac-granite start up in the midst of a soft green count of the civil wars in the abridgment of plain. Invention is shocking, where truth is Goldsmith, vanishes, when compared with the in such close juxtaposition with it. immense mass of facts respecting which both are equally silent.
No picture, then, and no history, can present us with the whole truth: but those are the best pictures and the best histories which exhibit such parts of the truth as most nearly produce the effect of the whole. He who is deficient in the art of selection may, by showing nothing but the truth, produce all the effect of the grossest falsehood. It perpetually happens that one writer tells less truth than another, merely because he tells more truths. In the imitative arts we constantly see this. There are lines in the human face, and objects in landscape, which stand in such relations to each other, that they ought either to be all introduced into a painting together, or all omitted together. A sketch into which none of them enters may be excellent; but if some are given and others left out, though there are more points of likeness, there is less likeness. An outline scrawled with a pen, which seizes the marked features of a countenance, will give a much stronger idea of it than a bad painting in oils. Yet the worst painting in oils that ever hung in Somerset House resembles the original in many more particulars. A bust of white marble may give an excellent idea of a blooming face. Colour the lips and cheeks of the bust, leaving the hair and eyes unaltered, and the similarity, instead of being more striking, will be less so.
History has its foreground and its background. and it is principally in the management of its perspective, that one artist differs from another. Some events must be repre
Thucydides honestly tells us that some of these discourses are purely fictitious. He may have reported the substance of others correctly. But it is clear from the internal evidence that he has preserved no more than the substance. His own peculiar habits of thought and expression are everywhere discernible. Individual and national peculiarities are seldom to be traced in the sentiments, and never in the diction. The oratory of the Corinthians and Thebans is not less Attic, either in matter or in manner, than that of the Athenians. The style of Cleon is as pure, as austere, as terse, and as significant, as that of Pericles.
In spite of this great fault, it must be allowed that Thucydides has surpassed all his rivals in the art of historical narration, in the art of producing an effect on the imagination, by skilful selection and disposition, without indulging in the license of invention. But narration, though an important part of the business of an historian, is not the whole. To append a moral to a work of fiction, is either useless or superfluous. A fiction may give a more impressive effect to what is already known, but it can teach nothing new. If it presents to us characters and trains of events to which our experience furnishes us with nothing similar, instead of deriving instruction from it, we pronounce it unnatural. We do not form our opinions from it; but we try it by our preconceived opinions. Fiction, therefore, is essentially imitative. Its merit consists in its resemblance to a model with which we are already familiar, or to which at least
we can instantly refer. Hence it is that the anecdotes, which interest us most strongly in authentic narrative, are offensive when introduced into novels; that what is called the romantic part of history is in fact the least romantic. It is delightful as history, because it contradicts our previous notions of human nature, and of the connection of causes and effects. It is, on that very account, shocking and incongruous in fiction. In fiction, the principles are given to find the facts; in history, the facts are given to find the principles; and the writer who does not explain the phenomena as well as state them, performs only one-half of his office. Facts are the mere dross of history. It is from the abstract truth which interpenetrates them, and lies latent among them, like gold in the ore, that the mass derives its whole value; and the precious particles are generally combined with the baser in such a manner that the separation is a task of the utmost difficulty.
Here Thucydides is deficient. The deficiency, indeed, is not discreditable to him. It was the inevitable effect of circumstances. It was in the nature of things necessary that, in some part of its progress through political science, the human mind should reach that point which it attained in his time. Knowledge advances by steps, and not by leaps. The axioms of an English debating club would have been startling and mysterious paradoxes to the most enlightened statesman of Athens. But it would be as absurb to speak contemptuously of the Athenian on this account, as to ridicule Strabo for not having given us an account of Chili, or to talk of Ptolemy as we talk of Sir Richard Phillips. Still, when we wish for solid geographical information, we must prefer the solemn coxcombry of Pinkerton to the noble work of Strabo. If we wanted instruction respecting the solar system, we should consult the silliest girl from a boarding-school rather than Ptolemy.
sagacity, their insight into motives, their skill in devising means for the attainment of their ends. A state of society in which the rich were constantly planning the oppression of the poor, and the poor the spoliation of the rich, in which the ties of party had superseded those of country, in which revolutions and counter-revolutions were events of daily oc currence, was naturally prolific in desperate and crafty political adventurers. This was the very school in which men were likely to acquire the dissimulation of Mazarine, the judicious temerity of Richelieu, the penetration, the exquisite tact, the almost instinctive presentiment of approaching events, which gave so much authority to the counsel of Shaftes bury, that "it was as if a man had inquired of the oracle of God." In this school Thucydides studied; and his wisdom is that which such a school would naturally afford. He judges bet ter of circumstances than of principles. The more a question is narrowed, the better he rea sons upon it. His work suggests many most important considerations respecting the first principles of government and morals, the growth of factions, the organization of armies, and the mutual relations of communities. Yet all his general observations on these subjects are very superficial. His most judicious remarks differ from the remarks of a really philosophical historian, as a sum correctly cast up by a book-keeper, from a general expression discovered by an algebraist. The former is useful only in a single transaction; the latter may be applied to an infinite number of
This opinion will, we fear, be considered as heterodox. For, not to speak of the illusion which the sight of a Greek type, or the sound a Greek diphthong, often produces, there are some peculiarities in the manner of Thuycidides, which in no small degree have tended to secure to him the reputation of profundity. His book is evidently the book of a man and a statesman; and in this respect presents a remarkable contrast to the delightful childish
air of matured power, of grave and melancholy reflection, of impartiality and habitual self-command. His feelings are rarely indulged, and speedily repressed. Vulgar prejudices of every kind, and particularly vulgar superstitions, he treats with a cold and sober disdain peculiar to himself. His style is weighty, condensed, antithetical, and not unfrequently obscure. But when we look at his political philosophy. Wiithout regard to these circumstances, we find him to have been, what indeed it would have been a miracle if he had not been, simply an Athenian of the fifth cen
Thucydides was undoubtedly a sagacious and reflecting man. This clearly appears from the ability with which he discusses prac-ness of Herodotus. Throughout it there is an tical questions. But the talent of deciding on the circumstances of a particular case is often possessed in the highest perfection by persons destitute of the power of generalization. Men, skilled in the military tactics of civilized nations, have been amazed at the far-sightedness and penetration which a Mohawk displays in concerting his stratagems, or in discerning those of his enemies. In England, no class possesses so much of that peculiar ability which is required for constructing ingenious schemes, and for obviating remote difficulties, as the thieves and the thief-takers. Women have more of this dexterity than men. Law-ury before Christ. yers have more of it than statesmen states- Xenophon is commonly placed, out we think men have more of it than philosophers. Monk had more of it than Harrington and all his club. Walpole had more of it than Adam Smith or Beccaria. Indeed, the species of discipline by which this dexterity is acquired tends to contract the mind, and to render it incapable of abstract reasoning.
The Grecian statesmen of the age of Thucydides were distinguished by their practical
without much reason, in the same rank with Herodotus and Thucydides. He resembles them, indeed, in the purity and sweetness of his style; but in spirit, he rather resembles that later school of historians, whose works seem to be fables, composed for a moral, and who, in their eagerness to give us warnings and example, forget to give us men and women. The life of Cyrus, whether we look upon
it as a history or as a romance, seems to us a very wretched performance. The Expedition of the Ten Thousand, and the History of Grecian Affairs, are certainly pleasant reading; but they indicate no great power of mind. In truth, Xenophon, though his taste was elegant, his dispositions amiable, and his intercourse with the world extensive, had, we suspect, rather a weak head. Such was evidently the opinion of that extraordinary man to whom he early attached himself, and for whose memory he entertained an idolatrous veneration. He came in only for the milk with which Socrates nourished his babes in philosophy. A few saws of morality, and a few of the simplest doctrines of natural religion, were enough for the good young man. The strong meat, the bold speculations on physical and metaphysical science, were reserved for auditors of a different description. Even the lawless habits of a captain of mercenary troops, could not change the tendency which the character of Xenophon early acquired. To the last, he seems to have retained a sort of heathen Puritanism. The sentiments of piety and virtue, which abound in his works, are those of a well-meaning man, somewhat timid and narrow-minded, devout from constitution rather than from rational conviction. He was as superstitious as Herodotus, but in a way far more offensive. The very peculiarities which charm us in an infant, the toothless mumbling, the stammering, the tottering, the helplessness, the causeless tears and laughter, are disgust-in large empires, though they may be forced ing in old age. In the same manner, the absurdity which precedes a period of general intelligence, is often pleasing; that which follows it is contemptible. The nonsense of Herodotus is that of a baby. The nonsense of Xenophon is that of a dotard. His stories about dreams, omers, and prophecies, present a strange contrast to the passages in which the shrewd and incredulous Thucydides mentions the popular superstitions. It is not quite clear that Xenophon was honest in his credulity; his fanaticism was in some degree politic. He would have made an excellent member of the Apostolic Comarilla. An alarmist by na- The writers of whom we speak should have ture, ar aristocrat by party, he carried to an considered this. They should have considered unreasonable excess his horror of popular that, in patriotism, such as it existed amongst turbulence. The quiet atrocity of Sparta did the Greeks, there was nothing essentially and not shock him in the same manner; for he eternally good; that an exclusive attachment to hated tumult more than crimes. He was de-a particular society, though a natural, and, under sirous to find restraints which might curb the passions of the multitude; and he absurdly fancied that he had found them in a religion without evidences or sanction, precepts or example, in a frigid system of Theophilanthropy, supported by nursery tales.
head. For the historians of this class we must confess that we entertain a peculiar aversion. They seem to have been pedants, who, though destitute of those valuable qualities which are frequently found in conjunction with pedantry, thought themselves great philosophers and great politicians. They not only mislead their readers in every page, as to particular facts, but they appear to have altogether misconceived the whole character of the times of which they write. They were inhabitants of an empire bounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Euphrates, by the ice of Scythia and the sands of Mauritania; composed of nations whose manners, whose languages, whose religion, whose countenances and complexions, were widely different, governed by one mighty despotism, which had risen on the ruins of a thousand commonwealths and kingdoms. Of liberty, such as it is in small democracies, of patriotism, such as it is in small independent communities of any kind, they had, and they could have, no experimental knowledge. But they had read of men who exerted themselves in the cause of their country, with an energy unknown in later times, who had violated the dearest of domestic charities, or voluntarily devoted themselves to death for the public good; and they wondered at the degeneracy of their contemporaries. It never occurred to them, that the feelings which they so greatly admired sprung from local and occasional causes; that they will always grow up spontaneously in small societies; and that,
Polybius and Arrian have given us authentic accounts of facts, and here their merit ends. They were not men of comprehensive minds; they had not the art of telling a story in an interesting manner. They have in consequence been thrown into the shade by writers, who, though less studious of truth than themselves, understood far better the art of producing effect, by Livy and Quintus Curtius.
Yet Polybius and Arrian deserve high praise, when compared with the writers of that school of which Plutarch may be considered as the
into existence for a short time by peculiar circumstances, they cannot be general or permanent. It is impossible that any man should feel for a fortress on a remote frontier, as he feels for his own house; that he should grieve for a defeat in which ten thousand people whom he never saw have fallen, as he grieves for a defeat which has half unpeopled the street in which he lives; that he should leave his home for a military expedition, in order to preserve the balance of power, as cheerfully as he would leave it to repel invaders who had begun to burn ail the cornfields in his neighbourhood.
certain restrictions, a most useful sentiment, implies no extraordinary attainments in wisdom or virtue; that where it has existed in an intense degree, it has turned states into gangs of robbers, whom their mutual fidelity has rendered more dangerous, has given a character of peculiar atrocity to war, and has generated that worst of all political evils, the tyranny of nations over nations.
Enthusiastically attached to the name of liberty, these historians troubled themselves little about its definition. The Spartans, tor mented by ten thousand absurd restraints, unable to please themselves in the choice of their wives, their suppers, or their company, compelled to assume a peculiar manner, and to talk in a peculiar style, gloried in their liberty The aristocracy of Rome repeatedly made li