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The Miscellaneous Writings and Speeches of Lord Macaulay.

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been granted? What was the evil which had not been removed?
What further could they desire?"

"These questions," said Mr Milton, austerely, "have indeed often
deceived the ignorant; but that Mr Cowley should have been so
beguiled, I marvel. You ask what more the Parliament could
desire? I will answer you in one word, security. What are
votes, and statutes, and resolutions? They have no eyes to see,
no hands to strike and avenge. They must have some safeguard
from without. Many things, therefore, which in themselves were
peradventure hurtful, was this Parliament constrained to ask,
lest otherwise good laws and precious rights should be without
defence. Nor did they want a great and signal example of this
danger. I need not remind you that, many years before, the two
Houses had presented to the king the Petition of Right, wherein
were set down all the most valuable privileges of the people of
this realm. Did not Charles accept it? Did he not declare it to
be law? Was it not as fully enacted as ever were any of those
bills of the Long Parliament concerning which you spoke? And
were those privileges therefore enjoyed more fully by the people?
No: the king did from that time redouble his oppressions as if
to avenge himself for the shame of having been compelled to
renounce them. Then were our estates laid under shameful
impositions, our houses ransacked, our bodies imprisoned.
Then was the steel of the hangman blunted with mangling the ears
of harmless men. Then our very minds were fettered, and the iron
entered into our souls. Then we were compelled to hide our
hatred, our sorrow, and our scorn, to laugh with hidden faces at
the mummery of Laud, to curse under our breath the tyranny of
Wentworth. Of old time it was well and nobly said, by one of our
kings, that an Englishman ought to be as free as his thoughts.
Our prince reversed the maxim; he strove to make our thoughts as
much slaves as ourselves. To sneer at a Romish pageant, to
miscall a lord's crest, were crimes for which there was no mercy.
These were all the fruits which we gathered from those excellent
laws of the former Parliament, from these solemn promises of the
king. Were we to be deceived again? Were we again to give
subsidies, and receive nothing but promises? Were we again to
make wholesome statutes, and then leave them to be broken daily
and hourly, until the oppressor should have squandered another
supply, and should be ready for another perjury? You ask what
they could desire which he had not already granted. Let me ask
of you another question. What pledge could he give which he had
not already violated? From the first year of his reign, whenever
he had need of the purses of his Commons to support the revels of
Buckingham or the processions of Laud, he had assured them that,
as he was a gentleman and a king, he would sacredly preserve
their rights. He had pawned those solemn pledges, and pawned
them again and again; but when had he redeemed them? 'Upon my
faith,'--'Upon my sacred word,'--'Upon the honour of a prince,'--
came so easily from his lips, and dwelt so short a time on his
mind that they were as little to be trusted as the 'By the hilts'
of an Alsatian dicer.

"Therefore it is that I praise this Parliament for what else I
might have condemned. If what he had granted had been granted
graciously and readily, if what he had before promised had been
faithfully observed, they could not be defended. It was because
he had never yielded the worst abuse without a long struggle, and
seldom without a large bribe; it was because he had no sooner
disentangled himself from his troubles than he forgot his
promises; and, more like a villainous huckster than a great king,
kept both the prerogative and the large price which had been paid
to him to forego it; it was because of these things that it was
necessary and just to bind with forcible restraints one who could
be bound neither by law nor honour. Nay, even while he was
making those very concessions of which you speak, he betrayed his
deadly hatred against the people and their friends. Not only did
he, contrary to all that ever was deemed lawful in England, order
that members of the Commons House of Parliament should be
impeached of high treason at the bar of the Lords; thereby
violating both the trial by jury and the privileges of the House;
but, not content with breaking the law by his ministers, he went
himself armed to assail it. In the birth-place and sanctuary of
freedom, in the House itself; nay in the very chair of the
speaker, placed for the protection of free speech and privilege,
he sat, rolling his eyes round the benches, searching for those
whose blood he desired, and singling out his opposers to the
slaughter. This most foul outrage fails. Then again for the old
arts. Then come gracious messages. Then come courteous
speeches. Then is again mortgaged his often forfeited honour.
He will never again violate the laws. He will respect their
rights as if they were his own. He pledges the dignity of his
crown; that crown which had been committed to him for the weal of
his people, and which he never named, but that he might the more
easily delude and oppress them.

"The power of the sword, I grant you, was not one to be
permanently possessed by Parliament. Neither did that Parliament
demand it as a permanent possession. They asked it only for
temporary security. Nor can I see on what conditions they could
safely make peace with that false and wicked king, save such as
would deprive him of all power to injure.

"For civil war, that it is an evil I dispute not. But that it is
the greatest of evils, that I stoutly deny. It doth indeed
appear to the misjudging to be a worse calamity than bad
government, because its miseries are collected together within a
short space and time, and may easily at one view be taken in and
perceived. But the misfortunes of nations ruled by tyrants,
being distributed over many centuries and many places, as they
are of greater weight and number, so are they of less display.
When the Devil of tyranny hath gone into the body politic he
departs not but with struggles, and foaming, and great
convulsions. Shall he, therefore, vex it for ever, lest, in
going out, he for a moment tear and rend it? Truly this argument
touching the evils of war would better become my friend Elwood,
or some other of the people called Quakers, than a courtier and a
cavalier. It applies no more to this war than to all others, as
well foreign as domestic, and, in this war, no more to the Houses
than to the king; nay, not so much, since he by a little
sincerity and moderation might have rendered that needless which
their duty to God and man then enforced them to do."

"Pardon me, Mr Milton," said Mr Cowley; "I grieve to hear you
speak thus of that good king. Most unhappy indeed he was, in
that he reigned at a time when the spirit of the then living
generation was for freedom, and the precedents of former ages for
prerogative. His case was like to that of Christopher Columbus,
when he sailed forth on an unknown ocean, and found that the
compass, whereby he shaped his course, had shifted from the north
pole whereto before it had constantly pointed. So it was with
Charles. His compass varied; and therefore he could not tack
aright. If he had been an absolute king he would doubtless, like
Titus Vespasian, have been called the delight of the human race.
If he had been a Doge of Venice, or a Stadtholder of Holland, he
would never have outstepped the laws. But he lived when our
government had neither clear definitions nor strong sanctions.
Let, therefore, his faults be ascribed to the time. Of his
virtues the praise is his own.

"Never was there a more gracious prince, or a more proper
gentleman. In every pleasure he was temperate, in conversation
mild and grave, in friendship constant, to his servants liberal,
to his queen faithful and loving, in battle grave, in sorrow and
captivity resolved, in death most Christian and forgiving.

"For his oppressions, let us look at the former history of this
realm. James was never accounted a tyrant. Elizabeth is
esteemed to have been the mother of her people. Were they less
arbitrary? Did they never lay hands on the purses of their
subjects but by Act of Parliament? Did they never confine
insolent and disobedient men but in due course of law? Was the
court of Star Chamber less active? Were the ears of libellers
more safe? I pray you, let not king Charles be thus dealt with.
It was enough that in his life he was tried for an alleged breach
of laws which none ever heard named till they were discovered for
his destruction. Let not his fame be treated as was his sacred
and anointed body. Let not his memory be tried by principles
found out ex post facto. Let us not judge by the spirit of one
generation a man whose disposition had been formed by the temper
and fashion of another."

"Nay, but conceive me, Mr Cowley," said Mr Milton; "inasmuch as,
at the beginning of his reign, he imitated those who had governed
before him, I blame him not. To expect that kings will, of their
own free choice, abridge their prerogative, were argument of but
slender wisdom. Whatever, therefore, lawless, unjust, or cruel,
he either did or permitted during the first years of his reign, I
pass by. But for what was done after that he had solemnly given
his consent to the Petition of Right, where shall we find
defence? Let it be supposed, which yet I concede not, that the
tyranny of his father and of Queen Elizabeth had been no less
rigorous than was his. But had his father, had that queen, sworn
like him, to abstain from those rigours? Had they, like him, for
good and valuable consideration, aliened their hurtful
prerogatives? Surely not: from whatever excuse you can plead
for him he had wholly excluded himself. The borders of
countries, we know, are mostly the seats of perpetual wars and
tumults. It was the same with the undefined frontiers, which of
old separated privilege and prerogative. They were the debatable
land of our polity. It was no marvel if, both on the one side
and on the other, inroads were often made. But, when treaties
have been concluded, spaces measured, lines drawn, landmarks set
up, that which before might pass for innocent error or just
reprisal becomes robbery, perjury, deadly sin. He knew not, you
say, which of his powers were founded on ancient law, and which
only on vicious example. But had he not read the Petition of
Right? Had not proclamation been made from his throne, Soit fait
comme il est desire?

"For his private virtues they are beside the question. Remember
you not," and Mr Milton smiled, but somewhat sternly, "what Dr
Cauis saith in the Merry Wives of Shakspeare? 'What shall the
honest man do in my closet? There is no honest man that shall
come in my closet.' Even so say I. There is no good man who
shall make us his slaves. If he break his word to his people, is
it a sufficient defence that he keeps it to his companions? If
he oppress and extort all day, shall he be held blameless because
he prayeth at night and morning? If he be insatiable in plunder
and revenge, shall we pass it by because in meat and drink he is
temperate? If he have lived like a tyrant, shall all be
forgotten because he hath died like a martyr?

"He was a man, as I think, who had so much semblance of virtues
as might make his vices most dangerous. He was not a tyrant
after our wonted English model. The second Richard, the second
and fourth Edwards, and the eighth Harry, were men profuse, gay,
boisterous; lovers of women and of wine, of no outward sanctity
or gravity. Charles was a ruler after the Italian fashion;
grave, demure, of a solemn carriage, and a sober diet; as
constant at prayers as a priest, as heedless of oaths as an

Mr Cowley answered somewhat sharply: "I am sorry, Sir, to hear
you speak thus. I had hoped that the vehemence of spirit which
was caused by these violent times had now abated. Yet, sure, Mr
Milton, whatever you may think of the character of King Charles,
you will not still justify his murder?"

"Sir," said Mr Milton, "I must have been of a hard and strange
nature, if the vehemence which was imputed to me in my younger
days had not been diminished by the afflictions wherewith it hath
pleased Almighty God to chasten my age. I will not now defend
all that I may heretofore have written. But this I say, that I
perceive not wherefore a king should be exempted from all
punishment. Is it just that where most is given least should be
required? Or politic that where there is the greatest power to
injure there should be no danger to restrain? But, you will say,
there is no such law. Such a law there is. There is the law of
selfpreservation written by God himself on our hearts. There is
the primal compact and bond of society, not graven on stone, or
sealed with wax, nor put down on parchment, nor set forth in any
express form of words by men when of old they came together; but
implied in the very act that they so came together, pre-supposed
in all subsequent law, not to be repealed by any authority, nor
invalidated by being omitted in any code; inasmuch as from thence
are all codes and all authority.

"Neither do I well see wherefore you cavaliers, and, indeed, many
of us whom you merrily call Roundheads, distinguish between those
who fought against King Charles, and specially after the second
commission given to Sir Thomas Fairfax, and those who condemned
him to death. Sure, if his person were inviolable, it was as
wicked to lift the sword against it at Naseby as the axe at
Whitehall. If his life might justly be taken, why not in course
of trial as well as by right of war?

"Thus much in general as touching the right. But, for the
execution of King Charles in particular, I will not now undertake
to defend it. Death is inflicted, not that the culprit may die,
but that the state may be thereby advantaged. And, from all that
I know, I think that the death of King Charles hath more hindered
than advanced the liberties of England.

"First, he left an heir. He was in captivity. The heir was in
freedom. He was odious to the Scots. The heir was favoured by
them. To kill the captive therefore, whereby the heir, in the
apprehension of all royalists, became forthwith king--what was
it, in truth, but to set their captive free, and to give him
besides other great advantages?

"Next, it was a deed most odious to the people, and not only to
your party, but to many among ourselves; and, as it is perilous
for any government to outrage the public opinion, so most was it
perilous for a government which had from that opinion alone its
birth, its nurture, and its defence.

"Yet doth not this properly belong to our dispute; nor can these
faults be justly charged upon that most renowned Parliament.
For, as you know, the high court of justice was not established
until the House had been purged of such members as were adverse
to the army, and brought wholly under the control of the chief

"And who," said Mr Cowley, "levied that army? Who commissioned
those officers? Was not the fate of the Commons as justly
deserved as was that of Diomedes, who was devoured by those
horses whom he had himself taught to feed on the flesh and blood
of men? How could they hope that others would respect laws which
they had themselves insulted; that swords which had been drawn
against the prerogatives of the king would be put up at an
ordinance of the Commons? It was believed, of old, that there
were some devils easily raised but never to be laid; insomuch
that, if a magician called them up, he should be forced to find
them always some employment; for, though they would do all his
bidding, yet, if he left them but for one moment without some
work of evil to perform, they would turn their claws against
himself. Such a fiend is an army. They who evoke it cannot
dismiss it. They are at once its masters and its slaves. Let
them not fail to find for it task after task of blood and rapine.
Let them not leave it for a moment in repose, lest it tear them
in pieces.

"Thus was it with that famous assembly. They formed a force
which they could neither govern nor resist. They made it
powerful. They made it fanatical. As if military insolence were
not of itself sufficiently dangerous, they heightened it with
spiritual pride,--they encouraged their soldiers to rave from the
tops of tubs against the men of Belial, till every trooper
thought himself a prophet. They taught them to abuse popery,
till every drummer fancied that he was as infallible as a pope.

"Then it was that religion changed her nature. She was no longer
the parent of arts and letters, of wholesome knowledge, of
innocent pleasures, of blessed household smiles. In their place
came sour faces, whining voices, the chattering of fools, the
yells of madmen. Then men fasted from meat and drink, who fasted
not from bribes and blood. Then men frowned at stage-plays, who
smiled at massacres. Then men preached against painted faces,
who felt no remorse for their own most painted lives. Religion
had been a pole-star to light and to guide. It was now more like
to that ominous star in the book of the Apocalypse, which fell
from heaven upon the fountains and rivers and changed them into
wormwood; for even so did it descend from its high and celestial
dwelling-place to plague this earth, and to turn into bitterness
all that was sweet, and into poison all that was nourishing.

"Therefore it was not strange that such things should follow.
They who had closed the barriers of London against the king could
not defend them against their own creatures. They who had so
stoutly cried for privilege, when that prince, most unadvisedly
no doubt, came among them to demand their members, durst not wag
their fingers when Oliver filled their hall with soldiers, gave
their mace to a corporal, put their keys in his pocket, and drove
them forth with base terms, borrowed half from the conventicle
and half from the ale-house. Then were we, like the trees of the
forest in holy writ, given over to the rule of the bramble; then
from the basest of the shrubs came forth the fire which devoured
the cedars of Lebanon. We bowed down before a man of mean birth,
of ungraceful demeanour, of stammering and most vulgar utterance,
of scandalous and notorious hypocrisy. Our laws were made and
unmade at his pleasure; the constitution of our Parliaments
changed by his writ and proclamation; our persons imprisoned; our
property plundered; our lands and houses overrun with soldiers;
and the great charter itself was but argument for a scurrilous
jest; and for all this we may thank that Parliament; for never,
unless they had so violently shaken the vessel, could such foul
dregs have risen to the top."

Then answered Mr Milton: "What you have now said comprehends so
great a number of subjects, that it would require, not an
evening's sail on the Thames, but rather a voyage to the Indies,
accurately to treat of all: yet, in as few words as I may, I
will explain my sense of these matters.

"First, as to the army. An army, as you have well set forth, is
always a weapon dangerous to those who use it; yet he who falls
among thieves spares not to fire his musquetoon, because he may
be slain if it burst in his hand. Nor must states refrain from
defending themselves, lest their defenders should at last turn
against them. Nevertheless, against this danger statesmen should
carefully provide; and, that they may do so, they should take
especial care that neither the officers nor the soldiers do
forget that they are also citizens. I do believe that the
English army would have continued to obey the parliament with all
duty, but for one act, which, as it was in intention, in seeming,
and in immediate effect, worthy to be compared with the most
famous in history, so was it, in its final consequence, most
injurious. I speak of that ordinance called the "self-denying",
and of the new model of the army. By those measures the Commons
gave up the command of their forces into the hands of men who
were not of themselves. Hence, doubtless, derived no small
honour to that noble assembly, which sacrificed to the hope of
public good the assurance of private advantage. And, as to the
conduct of the war, the scheme prospered. Witness the battle of
Naseby, and the memorable exploits of Fairfax in the west. But
thereby the Parliament lost that hold on the soldiers and that
power to control them, which they retained while every regiment
was commanded by their own members. Politicians there be, who
would wholly divide the legislative from the executive power. In
the golden age this may have succeeded; in the millennium it may
succeed again. But, where great armies and great taxes are
required, there the executive government must always hold a great
authority, which authority, that it may not oppress and destroy
the legislature, must be in some manner blended with it. The
leaders of foreign mercenaries have always been most dangerous to
a country. The officers of native armies, deprived of the civil
privileges of other men, are as much to be feared. This was the
great error of that Parliament: and, though an error it were, it
was an error generous, virtuous, and more to be deplored than

"Hence came the power of the army and its leaders, and especially
of that most famous leader, whom both in our conversation to-day,
and in that discourse whereon I before touched, you have, in my
poor opinion, far too roughly handled. Wherefore you speak
contemptibly of his parts I know not; but I suspect that you are
not free from the error common to studious and speculative men.
Because Oliver was an ungraceful orator, and never said, either
in public or private, anything memorable, you will have it that
he was of a mean capacity. Sure this is unjust. Many men have
there been ignorant of letters, without wit, without eloquence,
who yet had the wisdom to devise, and the courage to perform,
that which they lacked language to explain. Such men often, in
troubled times, have worked out the deliverance of nations and
their own greatness, not by logic, not by rhetoric, but by
wariness in success, by calmness in danger, by fierce and
stubborn resolution in all adversity. The hearts of men are
their books; events are their tutors; great actions are their
eloquence: and such an one, in my judgment, was his late
Highness, who, if none were to treat his name scornfully now
shook not at the sound of it while he lived, would, by very few,
be mentioned otherwise than with reverence. His own deeds shall
avouch him for a great statesman, a great soldier, a true lover
of his country, a merciful and generous conqueror.

"For his faults, let us reflect that they who seem to lead are
oftentimes most constrained to follow. They who will mix with
men, and especially they who will govern them, must in many
things obey them. They who will yield to no such conditions may
be hermits, but cannot be generals and statesmen. If a man will
walk straight forward without turning to the right or the left,
he must walk in a desert, and not in Cheapside. Thus was he
enforced to do many things which jumped not with his inclination
nor made for his honour; because the army, on which alone he
could depend for power and life, might not otherwise be
contented. And I, for mine own part, marvel less that he
sometimes was fain to indulge their violence than that he could
so often restrain it.

"In that he dissolved the Parliament, I praise him. It then was
so diminished in numbers, as well by the death as by the
exclusion of members, that it was no longer the same assembly;
and, if at that time it had made itself perpetual, we should have
been governed, not by an English House of Commons, but by a
Venetian Council.

"If in his following rule he overstepped the laws, I pity rather
than condemn him. He may be compared to that Maeandrius of
Samos, of whom Herodotus saith, in his Thalia, that, wishing to
be of all men the most just, he was not able; for after the death
of Polycrates he offered freedom to the people; and not till
certain of them threatened to call him to a reckoning for what he
had formerly done, did he change his purpose, and make himself a
tyrant, lest he should be treated as a criminal.

"Such was the case of Oliver. He gave to his country a form of
government so free and admirable that, in near six thousand
years, human wisdom hath never devised any more excellent
contrivance for human happiness. To himself he reserved so
little power that it would scarcely have sufficed for his safety,
and it is a marvel that it could suffice for his ambition. When,
after that, he found that the members of his Parliament disputed
his right even to that small authority which he had kept, when he
might have kept all, then indeed I own that he began to govern by
the sword those who would not suffer him to govern by the law.

"But, for the rest, what sovereign was ever more princely in
pardoning injuries, in conquering enemies, in extending the
dominions and the renown of his people? What sea, what shore did
he not mark with imperishable memorials of his friendship or his
vengeance? The gold of Spain, the steel of Sweden, the ten
thousand sails of Holland, availed nothing against him. While
every foreign state trembled at our arms, we sat secure from all
assault. War, which often so strangely troubles both husbandry
and commerce, never silenced the song of our reapers, or the
sound of our looms. Justice was equally administered; God was
freely worshipped.

"Now look at that which we have taken in exchange. With the
restored king have come over to us vices of every sort, and most
the basest and most shameful,--lust without love--servitude
without loyalty--foulness of speech--dishonesty of dealing--
grinning contempt of all things good and generous. The throne is
surrounded by men whom the former Charles would have spurned from
his footstool. The altar is served by slaves whose knees are
supple to every being but God. Rhymers, whose books the hangman
should burn, pandars, actors, and buffoons, these drink a health
and throw a main with the King; these have stars on their breasts
and gold sticks in their hands; these shut out from his presence
the best and bravest of those who bled for his house. Even so
doth God visit those who know not how to value freedom. He gives
them over to the tyranny which they have desired, Ina pantes
epaurontai basileos."

"I will not," said Mr Cowley, "dispute with you on this argument.
But, if it be as you say, how can you maintain that England hath
been so greatly advantaged by the rebellion?"

"Understand me rightly, Sir," said Mr Milton. "This nation is
not given over to slavery and vice. We tasted indeed the fruits
of liberty before they had well ripened. Their flavour was harsh
and bitter; and we turned from them with loathing to the sweeter
poisons of servitude. This is but for a time. England is
sleeping on the lap of Dalilah, traitorously chained, but not yet
shorn of strength. Let the cry be once heard--the Philistines be
upon thee; and at once that sleep will be broken, and those
chains will be as flax in the fire. The great Parliament hath
left behind it in our hearts and minds a hatred of tyrants, a
just knowledge of our rights, a scorn of vain and deluding names;
and that the revellers of Whitehall shall surely find. The sun
is darkened; but it is only for a moment: it is but an eclipse;
though all birds of evil omen have begun to scream, and all
ravenous beasts have gone forth to prey, thinking it to be
midnight. Woe to them if they be abroad when the rays again
shine forth!

"The king hath judged ill. Had he been wise he would have
remembered that he owed his restoration only to confusions which
had wearied us out, and made us eager for repose. He would have
known that the folly and perfidy of a prince would restore to the
good old cause many hearts which had been alienated thence by the
turbulence of factions; for, if I know aught of history, or of
the heart of man, he will soon learn that the last champion of
the people was not destroyed when he murdered Vane, nor seduced
when he beguiled Fairfax."

Mr Cowley seemed to me not to take much amiss what Mr Milton had
said touching that thankless court, which had indeed but poorly
requited his own good service. He only said, therefore, "Another
rebellion! Alas! alas! Mr Milton! If there be no choice but
between despotism and anarchy, I prefer despotism."

"Many men," said Mr Milton, "have floridly and ingeniously
compared anarchy and despotism; but they who so amuse themselves
do but look at separate parts of that which is truly one great
whole. Each is the cause and the effect of the other; the evils
of either are the evils of both. Thus do states move on in the
same eternal cycle, which, from the remotest point, brings them
back again to the same sad starting-post: and, till both those
who govern and those who obey shall learn and mark this great
truth, men can expect little through the future, as they have
known little through the past, save vicissitudes of extreme
evils, alternately producing and produced.

"When will rulers learn that, where liberty is not, security end
order can never be? We talk of absolute power; but all power
hath limits, which, if not fixed by the moderation of the
governors, will be fixed by the force of the governed.
Sovereigns may send their opposers to dungeons; they may clear
out a senate-house with soldiers; they may enlist armies of
spies; they may hang scores of the disaffected in chains at every
cross road; but what power shall stand in that frightful time
when rebellion hath become a less evil than endurance? Who shall
dissolve that terrible tribunal, which, in the hearts of the
oppressed, denounces against the oppressor the doom of its wild
justice? Who shall repeal the law of selfdefence? What arms or
discipline shall resist the strength of famine and despair? How
often were the ancient Caesars dragged from their golden palaces,
stripped of their purple robes, mangled, stoned, defiled with
filth, pierced with hooks, hurled into Tiber? How often have the
Eastern Sultans perished by the sabres of their own janissaries,
or the bow-strings of their own mutes! For no power which is not
limited by laws can ever be protected by them. Small, therefore,
is the wisdom of those who would fly to servitude as if it were a
refuge from commotion; for anarchy is the sure consequence of
tyranny. That governments may be safe, nations must be free.
Their passions must have an outlet provided, lest they make one.

"When I was at Naples, I went with Signor Manso, a gentleman of
excellent parts and breeding, who had been the familiar friend of
that famous poet Torquato Tasso, to see the burning mountain
Vesuvius. I wondered how the peasants could venture to dwell so
fearlessly and cheerfully on its sides, when the lava was flowing
from its summit; but Manso smiled, and told me that when the fire
descends freely they retreat before it without haste or fear.
They can tell how fast it will move, and how far; and they know,
moreover, that, though it may work some little damage, it will
soon cover the fields over which it hath passed with rich
vineyards and sweet flowers. But, when the flames are pent up in
the mountain, then it is that they have reason to fear; then it
is that the earth sinks and the sea swells; then cities are
swallowed up; and their place knoweth them no more. So it is in
politics: where the people is most closely restrained, there it
gives the greatest shocks to peace and order; therefore would I
say to all kings, let your demagogues lead crowds, lest they lead
armies; let them bluster, lest they massacre; a little turbulence
is, as it were, the rainbow of the state; it shows indeed that
there is a passing shower; but it is a pledge that there shall be
no deluge."

"This is true," said Mr Cowley; "yet these admonitions are not
less needful to subjects than to sovereigns."

"Surely," said Mr Milton; "and, that I may end this long debate
with a few words in which we shall both agree, I hold that, as
freedom is the only safeguard of governments, so are order and
moderation generally necessary to preserve freedom. Even the
vainest opinions of men are not to be outraged by those who
propose to themselves the happiness of men for their end, and who
must work with the passions of men for their means. The blind
reverence for things ancient is indeed so foolish that it might
make a wise man laugh, if it were not also sometimes so
mischievous that it would rather make a good man weep. Yet,
since it may not be wholly cured it must be discreetly indulged;
and therefore those who would amend evil laws should consider
rather how much it may be safe to spare, than how much it may be
possible to change. Have you not heard that men who have been
shut up for many years in dungeons shrink if they see the light,
and fall down if their irons be struck off? And so, when nations
have long been in the house of bondage, the chains which have
crippled them are necessary to support them, the darkness which
hath weakened their sight is necessary to preserve it. Therefore
release them not too rashly, lest they curse their freedom and
pine for their prison.

"I think indeed that the renowned Parliament, of which we have
talked so much, did show, until it became subject to the
soldiers, a singular and admirable moderation, in such times
scarcely to be hoped, and most worthy to be an example to all
that shall come after. But on this argument I have said enough:
and I will therefore only pray to Almighty God that those who
shall, in future times stand forth in defence of our liberties,
as well civil as religious, may adorn the good cause by mercy,
prudence, and soberness, to the glory of his name and the
happiness and honour of the English people."

And so ended that discourse; and not long after we were set on
shore again at the Temple Gardens, and there parted company: and
the same evening I took notes of what had been said, which I have
here more fully set down, from regard both to the fame of the
men, and the importance of the subject-matter.



(August 1824.)

"To the famous orators repair,
Those ancient, whose resistless eloquence
Wielded at will that fierce democratie,
Shook the arsenal, and fulmined over Greece
To Macedon and Artaxerxes' throne."--Milton.

The celebrity of the great classical writers is confined within
no limits, except those which separate civilised from savage man.
Their works are the common property of every polished nation.
They have furnished subjects for the painter, and models for the
poet. In the minds of the educated classes throughout Europe,
their names are indissolubly associated with the endearing
recollections of childhood,--the old school-room,--the dog-eared
grammar,--the first prize,--the tears so often shed and so
quickly dried. So great is the veneration with which they are
regarded, that even the editors and commentators who perform the
lowest menial offices to their memory, are considered, like the
equerries and chamberlains of sovereign princes, as entitled to a
high rank in the table of literary precedence. It is, therefore,
somewhat singular that their productions should so rarely have
been examined on just and philosophical principles of criticism.

The ancient writers themselves afford us but little assistance.
When they particularise, they are commonly trivial: when they
would generalise, they become indistinct. An exception must,
indeed, be made in favour of Aristotle. Both in analysis and in
combination, that great man was without a rival. No philosopher
has ever possessed, in an equal degree, the talent either of
separating established systems into their primary elements, or of
connecting detached phenomena in harmonious systems. He was the
great fashioner of the intellectual chaos; he changed its
darkness into light, and its discord into order. He brought to
literary researches the same vigour and amplitude of mind to
which both physical and metaphysical science are so greatly
indebted. His fundamental principles of criticism are excellent.
To cite only a single instance:--the doctrine which he
established, that poetry is an imitative art, when justly
understood, is to the critic what the compass is to the
navigator. With it he may venture upon the most extensive
excursions. Without it he must creep cautiously along the coast,
or lose himself in a trackless expanse, and trust, at best, to
the guidance of an occasional star. It is a discovery which
changes a caprice into a science.

The general propositions of Aristotle are valuable. But the
merit of the superstructure bears no proportion to that of the
foundation. This is partly to be ascribed to the character of
the philosopher, who, though qualified to do all that could be
done by the resolving and combining powers of the understanding,
seems not to have possessed much of sensibility or imagination.
Partly, also, it may be attributed to the deficiency of
materials. The great works of genius which then existed were not
either sufficiently numerous or sufficiently varied to enable any
man to form a perfect code of literature. To require that a
critic should conceive classes of composition which had never
existed, and then investigate their principles, would be as
unreasonable as the demand of Nebuchadnezzar, who expected his
magicians first to tell him his dream and then to interpret it.

With all his deficiencies, Aristotle was the most enlightened and
profound critic of antiquity. Dionysius was far from possessing
the same exquisite subtilty, or the same vast comprehension. But
he had access to a much greater number of specimens; and he had
devoted himself, as it appears, more exclusively to the study of
elegant literature. His peculiar judgments are of more value
than his general principles. He is only the historian of
literature. Aristotle is its philosopher.

Quintilian applied to general literature the same principles by
which he had been accustomed to judge of the declamations of his
pupils. He looks for nothing but rhetoric, and rhetoric not of
the highest order. He speaks coldly of the incomparable works of
Aeschylus. He admires, beyond expression, those inexhaustible
mines of common-places, the plays of Euripides. He bestows a few
vague words on the poetical character of Homer. He then proceeds
to consider him merely as an orator. An orator Homer doubtless
was, and a great orator. But surely nothing is more remarkable,
in his admirable works, than the art with which his oratorical
powers are made subservient to the purposes of poetry. Nor can I
think Quintilian a great critic in his own province. Just as are
many of his remarks, beautiful as are many of his illustrations,
we can perpetually detect in his thoughts that flavour which the
soil of despotism generally communicates to all the fruits of
genius. Eloquence was, in his time, little more than a condiment
which served to stimulate in a despot the jaded appetite for
panegyric, an amusement for the travelled nobles and the blue-
stocking matrons of Rome. It is, therefore, with him, rather a
sport than a war; it is a contest of foils, not of swords. He
appears to think more of the grace of the attitude than of the
direction and vigour of the thrust. It must be acknowledged, in
justice to Quintilian, that this is an error to which Cicero has
too often given the sanction, both of his precept and of his

Longinus seems to have had great sensibility, but little
discrimination. He gives us eloquent sentences, but no
principles. It was happily said that Montesquieu ought to have
changed the name of his book from "L'Esprit des Lois" to
"L'Esprit sur les Lois". In the same manner the philosopher of
Palmyra ought to have entitled his famous work, not "Longinus on
the Sublime," but "The Sublimities of Longinus." The origin of
the sublime is one of the most curious and interesting subjects
of inquiry that can occupy the attention of a critic. In our own
country it has been discussed, with great ability, and, I think,
with very little success, by Burke and Dugald Stuart. Longinus
dispenses himself from all investigations of this nature, by
telling his friend Terentianus that he already knows everything
that can be said upon the question. It is to be regretted that
Terentianus did not impart some of his knowledge to his
instructor: for from Longinus we learn only that sublimity means
height--or elevation. (Akrotes kai exoche tis logon esti ta
uoe.) This name, so commodiously vague, is applied indifferently
to the noble prayer of Ajax in the Iliad, and to a passage of
Plato about the human body, as full of conceits as an ode of
Cowley. Having no fixed standard, Longinus is right only by
accident. He is rather a fancier than a critic.

Modern writers have been prevented by many causes from supplying
the deficiencies of their classical predecessors. At the time of
the revival of literature, no man could, without great and
painful labour, acquire an accurate and elegant knowledge of the
ancient languages. And, unfortunately, those grammatical and
philological studies, without which it was impossible to
understand the great works of Athenian and Roman genius, have a
tendency to contract the views and deaden the sensibility of
those who follow them with extreme assiduity. A powerful mind,
which has been long employed in such studies, may be compared to
the gigantic spirit in the Arabian tale, who was persuaded to
contract himself to small dimensions in order to enter within the
enchanted vessel, and, when his prison had been closed upon him,
found himself unable to escape from the narrow boundaries to the
measure of which he had reduced his stature. When the means have
long been the objects of application, they are naturally
substituted for the end. It was said, by Eugene of Savoy, that
the greatest generals have commonly been those who have been at
once raised to command, and introduced to the great operations of
war, without being employed in the petty calculations and
manoeuvres which employ the time of an inferior officer. In
literature the principle is equally sound. The great tactics of
criticism will, in general, be best understood by those who have
not had much practice in drilling syllables and particles.

I remember to have observed among the French Anas a ludicrous
instance of this. A scholar, doubtless of great learning,
recommends the study of some long Latin treatise, of which I now
forget the name, on the religion, manners, government, and
language of the early Greeks. "For there," says he, "you will
learn everything of importance that is contained in the Iliad and
Odyssey, without the trouble of reading two such tedious books."
Alas! it had not occurred to the poor gentleman that all the
knowledge to which he attached so much value was useful only as
it illustrated the great poems which he despised, and would be as
worthless for any other purpose as the mythology of Caffraria, or
the vocabulary of Otaheite.

Of those scholars who have disdained to confine themselves to
verbal criticism few have been successful. The ancient languages
have, generally, a magical influence on their faculties. They
were "fools called into a circle by Greek invocations." The
Iliad and Aeneid were to them not books but curiosities, or
rather reliques. They no more admired those works for their
merits than a good Catholic venerates the house of the Virgin at
Loretto for its architecture. Whatever was classical was good.
Homer was a great poet, and so was Callimachus. The epistles of
Cicero were fine, and so were those of Phalaris. Even with
respect to questions of evidence they fell into the same error.
The authority of all narrations, written in Greek or Latin, was
the same with them. It never crossed their minds that the lapse
of five hundred years, or the distance of five hundred leagues,
could affect the accuracy of a narration;--that Livy could be a
less veracious historian than Polybius;--or that Plutarch could
know less about the friends of Xenophon than Xenophon himself.
Deceived by the distance of time, they seem to consider all the
Classics as contemporaries; just as I have known people in
England, deceived by the distance of place, take it for granted
that all persons who live in India are neighbours, and ask an
inhabitant of Bombay about the health of an acquaintance at
Calcutta. It is to be hoped that no barbarian deluge will ever
again pass over Europe. But should such a calamity happen, it
seems not improbable that some future Rollin or Gillies will
compile a history of England from Miss Porter's Scottish Chiefs,
Miss Lee's Recess, and Sir Nathaniel Wraxall's Memoirs.

It is surely time that ancient literature should be examined in a
different manner, without pedantical prepossessions, but with a
just allowance, at the same time, for the difference of
circumstances and manners. I am far from pretending to the
knowledge or ability which such a task would require. All that I
mean to offer is a collection of desultory remarks upon a most
interesting portion of Greek literature.

It may be doubted whether any compositions which have ever been
produced in the world are equally perfect in their kind with the
great Athenian orations. Genius is subject to the same laws
which regulate the production of cotton and molasses. The supply
adjusts itself to the demand. The quantity may be diminished by
restrictions, and multiplied by bounties. The singular
excellence to which eloquence attained at Athens is to be mainly
attributed to the influence which it exerted there. In turbulent
times, under a constitution purely democratic, among a people
educated exactly to that point at which men are most susceptible
of strong and sudden impressions, acute, but not sound reasoners,
warm in their feelings, unfixed in their principles, and
passionate admirers of fine composition, oratory received such
encouragement as it has never since obtained.

The taste and knowledge of the Athenian people was a favourite
object of the contemptuous derision of Samuel Johnson; a man who
knew nothing of Greek literature beyond the common school-books,
and who seems to have brought to what he had read scarcely more
than the discernment of a common school-boy. He used to assert,
with that arrogant absurdity which, in spite of his great
abilities and virtues, renders him, perhaps the most ridiculous
character in literary history, that Demosthenes spoke to a people
of brutes;--to a barbarous people;--that there could have been no
civilisation before the invention of printing. Johnson was a
keen but a very narrow-minded observer of mankind. He
perpetually confounded their general nature with their particular
circumstances. He knew London intimately. The sagacity of his
remarks on its society is perfectly astonishing. But Fleet
Street was the world to him. He saw that Londoners who did not
read were profoundly ignorant; and he inferred that a Greek, who
had few or no books, must have been as uninformed as one of Mr
Thrale's draymen.

There seems to be, on the contrary, every reason to believe,
that, in general intelligence, the Athenian populace far
surpassed the lower orders of any community that has ever
existed. It must be considered, that to be a citizen was to be a
legislator,--a soldier,--a judge,--one upon whose voice might
depend the fate of the wealthiest tributary state, of the most
eminent public man. The lowest offices, both of agriculture and
of trade, were, in common, performed by slaves. The commonwealth
supplied its meanest members with the support of life, the
opportunity of leisure, and the means of amusement. Books were
indeed few: but they were excellent; and they were accurately
known. It is not by turning over libraries, but by repeatedly
perusing and intently contemplating a few great models, that the
mind is best disciplined. A man of letters must now read much
that he soon forgets, and much from which he learns nothing
worthy to be remembered. The best works employ, in general, but
a small portion of his time. Demosthenes is said to have
transcribed six times the history of Thucydides. If he had been
a young politician of the present age, he might in the same space
of time have skimmed innumerable newspapers and pamphlets. I do
not condemn that desultory mode of study which the state of
things, in our day, renders a matter of necessity. But I may be
allowed to doubt whether the changes on which the admirers of
modern institutions delight to dwell have improved our condition
so much in reality as in appearance. Rumford, it is said,
proposed to the Elector of Bavaria a scheme for feeding his
soldiers at a much cheaper rate than formerly. His plan was
simply to compel them to masticate their food thoroughly. A
small quantity, thus eaten, would, according to that famous
projector, afford more sustenance than a large meal hastily
devoured. I do not know how Rumford's proposition was received;
but to the mind, I believe, it will be found more nutritious to
digest a page than to devour a volume.

Books, however, were the least part of the education of an
Athenian citizen. Let us, for a moment, transport ourselves in
thought, to that glorious city. Let us imagine that we are
entering its gates, in the time of its power and glory. A crowd
is assembled round a portico. All are gazing with delight at the
entablature; for Phidias is putting up the frieze. We turn into
another street; a rhapsodist is reciting there: men, women,
children are thronging round him: the tears are running down
their cheeks: their eyes are fixed: their very breath is still;
for he is telling how Priam fell at the feet of Achilles, and
kissed those hands,--the terrible--the murderous,--which had
slain so many of his sons.
(--kai kuse cheiras,
deinas, anorophonous, ai oi poleas ktanon uias.)

We enter the public place; there is a ring of youths, all leaning
forward, with sparkling eyes, and gestures of expectation.
Socrates is pitted against the famous atheist, from Ionia, and
has just brought him to a contradiction in terms. But we are
interrupted. The herald is crying--"Room for the Prytanes." The
general assembly is to meet. The people are swarming in on every
side. Proclamation is made--"Who wishes to speak?" There is a
shout, and a clapping of hands: Pericles is mounting the stand.
Then for a play of Sophocles; and away to sup with Aspasia. I
know of no modern university which has so excellent a system of

Knowledge thus acquired and opinions thus formed were, indeed,
likely to be, in some respects, defective. Propositions which
are advanced in discourse generally result from a partial view of
the question, and cannot be kept under examination long enough to
be corrected. Men of great conversational powers almost
universally practise a sort of lively sophistry and exaggeration,
which deceives, for the moment, both themselves and their
auditors. Thus we see doctrines, which cannot bear a close
inspection, triumph perpetually in drawing-rooms, in debating
societies, and even in legislative or judicial assemblies. To
the conversational education of the Athenians I am inclined to
attribute the great looseness of reasoning which is remarkable in
most of their scientific writings. Even the most illogical of
modern writers would stand perfectly aghast at the puerile
fallacies which seem to have deluded some of the greatest men of
antiquity. Sir Thomas Lethbridge would stare at the political
economy of Xenophon; and the author of "Soirees de Petersbourg"
would be ashamed of some of the metaphysical arguments of Plato.
But the very circumstances which retarded the growth of science
were peculiarly favourable to the cultivation of eloquence. From
the early habit of taking a share in animated discussion the
intelligent student would derive that readiness of resource, that
copiousness of language, and that knowledge of the temper and
understanding of an audience, which are far more valuable to an
orator than the greatest logical powers.

Horace has prettily compared poems to those paintings of which
the effect varies as the spectator changes his stand. The same
remark applies with at least equal justice to speeches. They
must be read with the temper of those to whom they were
addressed, or they must necessarily appear to offend against the
laws of taste and reason; as the finest picture, seen in a light
different from that for which it was designed, will appear fit
only for a sign. This is perpetually forgotten by those who
criticise oratory. Because they are reading at leisure, pausing
at every line, reconsidering every argument, they forget that the
hearers were hurried from point to point too rapidly to detect
the fallacies through which they were conducted; that they had no
time to disentangle sophisms, or to notice slight inaccuracies of
expression; that elaborate excellence, either of reasoning or of
language, would have been absolutely thrown away. To recur to
the analogy of the sister art, these connoisseurs examine a
panorama through a microscope, and quarrel with a scene-painter
because he does not give to his work the exquisite finish of
Gerard Dow.

Oratory is to be estimated on principles different from those
which are applied to other productions. Truth is the object of
philosophy and history. Truth is the object even of those works
which are peculiarly called works of fiction, but which, in fact,
bear the same relation to history which algebra bears to
arithmetic. The merit of poetry, in its wildest forms, still
consists in its truth,--truth conveyed to the understanding, not
directly by the words, but circuitously by means of imaginative
associations, which serve as its conductors. The object of
oratory alone is not truth, but persuasion. The admiration of
the multitude does not make Moore a greater poet than Coleridge,
or Beattie a greater philosopher than Berkeley. But the
criterion of eloquence is different. A speaker who exhausts the
whole philosophy of a question, who displays every grace of
style, yet produces no effect on his audience, may be a great
essayist, a great statesman, a great master of composition; but
he is not an orator. If he miss the mark, it makes no difference
whether he have taken aim too high or too low.

The effect of the great freedom of the press in England has been,
in a great measure, to destroy this distinction, and to leave
among us little of what I call Oratory Proper. Our legislators,
our candidates, on great occasions even our advocates, address
themselves less to the audience than to the reporters. They
think less of the few hearers than of the innumerable readers.
At Athens the case was different; there the only object of the
speaker was immediate conviction and persuasion. He, therefore,
who would justly appreciate the merit of the Grecian orators
should place himself, as nearly as possible, in the situation of
their auditors: he should divest himself of his modern feelings
and acquirements, and make the prejudices and interests of the
Athenian citizen his own. He who studies their works in this
spirit will find that many of those things which, to an English
reader, appear to be blemishes,--the frequent violation of those
excellent rules of evidence by which our courts of law are
regulated,--the introduction of extraneous matter,--the reference
to considerations of political expediency in judicial
investigations,--the assertions, without proof,--the passionate
entreaties,--the furious invectives,--are really proofs of the
prudence and address of the speakers. He must not dwell
maliciously on arguments or phrases, but acquiesce in his first
impressions. It requires repeated perusal and reflection to
decide rightly on any other portion of literature. But with
respect to works of which the merit depends on their
instantaneous effect the most hasty judgment is likely to be

The history of eloquence at Athens is remarkable. From a very
early period great speakers had flourished there. Pisistratus
and Themistocles are said to have owed much of their influence to
their talents for debate. We learn, with more certainty, that
Pericles was distinguished by extraordinary oratorical powers.
The substance of some of his speeches is transmitted to us by
Thucydides; and that excellent writer has doubtless faithfully
reported the general line of his arguments. But the manner,
which in oratory is of at least as much consequence as the
matter, was of no importance to his narration. It is evident
that he has not attempted to preserve it. Throughout his work,
every speech on every subject, whatever may have been the
character of the dialect of the speaker, is in exactly the same
form. The grave king of Sparta, the furious demagogue of Athens,
the general encouraging his army, the captive supplicating for
his life, all are represented as speakers in one unvaried style,-
-a style moreover wholly unfit for oratorical purposes. His mode
of reasoning is singularly elliptical,--in reality most
consecutive,--yet in appearance often incoherent. His meaning,
in itself sufficiently perplexing, is compressed into the fewest
possible words. His great fondness for antithetical expression
has not a little conduced to this effect. Every one must have
observed how much more the sense is condensed in the verses of
Pope and his imitators, who never ventured to continue the same
clause from couplet to couplet, than in those of poets who allow
themselves that license. Every artificial division, which is
strongly marked, and which frequently recurs, has the same
tendency. The natural and perspicuous expression which
spontaneously rises to the mind will often refuse to accommodate
itself to such a form. It is necessary either to expand it into
weakness, or to compress it into almost impenetrable density.
The latter is generally the choice of an able man, and was
assuredly the choice of Thucydides.

It is scarcely necessary to say that such speeches could never
have been delivered. They are perhaps among the most difficult
passages in the Greek language, and would probably have been
scarcely more intelligible to an Athenian auditor than to a
modern reader. Their obscurity was acknowledged by Cicero, who
was as intimate with the literature and language of Greece as the
most accomplished of its natives, and who seems to have held a
respectable rank among the Greek authors. Their difficulty to a
modern reader lies, not in the words, but in the reasoning. A
dictionary is of far less use in studying them than a clear head
and a close attention to the context. They are valuable to the
scholar as displaying, beyond almost any other compositions, the
powers of the finest of languages: they are valuable to the
philosopher as illustrating the morals and manners of a most
interesting age: they abound in just thought and energetic
expression. But they do not enable us to form any accurate
opinion on the merits of the early Greek orators.

Though it cannot be doubted that, before the Persian wars, Athens
had produced eminent speakers, yet the period during which
eloquence most flourished among her citizens was by no means that
of her greatest power and glory. It commenced at the close of
the Peloponnesian war. In fact, the steps by which Athenian
oratory approached to its finished excellence seem to have been
almost contemporaneous with those by which the Athenian character
and the Athenian empire sunk to degradation. At the time when
the little commonwealth achieved those victories which twenty-
five eventful centuries have left unequalled, eloquence was in
its infancy. The deliverers of Greece became its plunderers and
oppressors. Unmeasured exaction, atrocious vengeance, the
madness of the multitude, the tyranny of the great, filled the
Cyclades with tears, and blood, and mourning. The sword
unpeopled whole islands in a day. The plough passed over the
ruins of famous cities. The imperial republic sent forth her
children by thousands to pine in the quarries of Syracuse, or to
feed the vultures of Aegospotami. She was at length reduced by
famine and slaughter to humble herself before her enemies, and to
purchase existence by the sacrifice of her empire and her laws.
During these disastrous and gloomy years, oratory was advancing
towards its highest excellence. And it was when the moral, the
political, and the military character of the people was most
utterly degraded, it was when the viceroy of a Macedonian
sovereign gave law to Greece, that the courts of Athens witnessed
the most splendid contest of eloquence that the world has ever

The causes of this phenomenon it is not, I think, difficult to
assign. The division of labour operates on the productions of
the orator as it does on those of the mechanic. It was remarked
by the ancients that the Pentathlete, who divided his attention
between several exercises, though he could not vie with a boxer
in the use of the cestus, or with one who had confined his
attention to running in the contest of the stadium, yet enjoyed
far greater general vigour and health than either. It is the
same with the mind. The superiority in technical skill is often
more than compensated by the inferiority in general intelligence.
And this is peculiarly the case in politics. States have always
been best governed by men who have taken a wide view of public
affairs, and who have rather a general acquaintance with many
sciences than a perfect mastery of one. The union of the
political and military departments in Greece contributed not a
little to the splendour of its early history. After their
separation more skilful generals and greater speakers appeared;
but the breed of statesmen dwindled and became almost extinct.
Themistocles or Pericles would have been no match for Demosthenes
in the assembly, or for Iphicrates in the field. But surely they
were incomparably better fitted than either for the supreme
direction of affairs.

There is indeed a remarkable coincidence between the progress of
the art of war, and that of the art of oratory, among the Greeks.
They both advanced to perfection by contemporaneous steps, and
from similar causes. The early speakers, like the early warriors
of Greece, were merely a militia. It was found that in both
employments practice and discipline gave superiority. (It has
often occurred to me, that to the circumstances mentioned in the
text is to be referred one of the most remarkable events in
Grecian history; I mean the silent but rapid downfall of the
Lacedaemonian power. Soon after the termination of the
Peloponnesian war, the strength of Lacedaemon began to decline.
Its military discipline, its social institutions, were the same.
Agesilaus, during whose reign the change took place, was the
ablest of its kings. Yet the Spartan armies were frequently
defeated in pitched battles,--an occurrence considered impossible
in the earlier ages of Greece. They are allowed to have fought
most bravely; yet they were no longer attended by the success to
which they had formerly been accustomed. No solution of these
circumstances is offered, as far as I know, by any ancient
author. The real cause, I conceive, was this. The
Lacedaemonians, alone among the Greeks, formed a permanent
standing army. While the citizens of other commonwealths were
engaged in agriculture and trade, they had no employment whatever
but the study of military discipline. Hence, during the Persian
and Peloponnesian wars, they had that advantage over their
neighbours which regular troops always possess over militia.
This advantage they lost, when other states began, at a later
period, to employ mercenary forces, who were probably as superior
to them in the art of war as they had hitherto been to their
antagonists.) Each pursuit therefore became first an art, and
then a trade. In proportion as the professors of each became
more expert in their particular craft, they became less
respectable in their general character. Their skill had been
obtained at too great expense to be employed only from
disinterested views. Thus, the soldiers forgot that they were
citizens, and the orators that they were statesmen. I know not
to what Demosthenes and his famous contemporaries can be so
justly compared as to those mercenary troops who, in their time,
overran Greece; or those who, from similar causes, were some
centuries ago the scourge of the Italian republics,--perfectly
acquainted with every part of their profession, irresistible in
the field, powerful to defend or to destroy, but defending
without love, and destroying without hatred. We may despise the
characters of these political Condottieri; but is impossible to
examine the system of their tactics without being amazed at its

I had intended to proceed to this examination, and to consider
separately the remains of Lysias, of Aeschines, of Demosthenes,
and of Isocrates, who, though strictly speaking he was rather a
pamphleteer than an orator, deserves, on many accounts, a place
in such a disquisition. The length of my prolegomena and
digressions compels me to postpone this part of the subject to
another occasion. A Magazine is certainly a delightful invention
for a very idle or a very busy man. He is not compelled to
complete his plan or to adhere to his subject. He may ramble as
far as he is inclined, and stop as soon as he is tired. No one
takes the trouble to recollect his contradictory opinions or his
unredeemed pledges. He may be as superficial, as inconsistent,
and as careless as he chooses. Magazines resemble those little
angels, who, according to the pretty Rabbinical tradition, are
generated every morning by the brook which rolls over the flowers
of Paradise,--whose life is a song,--who warble till sunset, and
then sink back without regret into nothingness. Such spirits
have nothing to do with the detecting spear of Ithuriel or the
victorious sword of Michael. It is enough for them to please and
be forgotten.



(November 1824.)

How I became a prophet it is not very important to the reader to
know. Nevertheless I feel all the anxiety which, under similar
circumstances, troubled the sensitive mind of Sidrophel; and,
like him, am eager to vindicate myself from the suspicion of
having practised forbidden arts, or held intercourse with beings
of another world. I solemnly declare, therefore, that I never
saw a ghost, like Lord Lyttleton; consulted a gipsy, like
Josephine; or heard my name pronounced by an absent person, like
Dr Johnson. Though it is now almost as usual for gentlemen to
appear at the moment of their death to their friends as to call
on them during their life, none of my acquaintance have been so
polite as to pay me that customary attention. I have derived my
knowledge neither from the dead nor from the living; neither from
the lines of a hand, nor from the grounds of a tea-cup; neither
from the stars of the firmament, nor from the fiends of the
abyss. I have never, like the Wesley family, heard "that mighty
leading angel," who "drew after him the third part of heaven's
sons," scratching in my cupboard. I have never been enticed to
sign any of those delusive bonds which have been the ruin of so
many poor creatures; and, having always been an indifferent horse
man, I have been careful not to venture myself on a broomstick.

My insight into futurity, like that of George Fox the quaker, and
that of our great and philosophic poet, Lord Byron, is derived
from simple presentiment. This is a far less artificial process
than those which are employed by some others. Yet my predictions
will, I believe, be found more correct than theirs, or, at all
events, as Sir Benjamin Back bite says in the play, "more

I prophesy then, that, in the year 2824, according to our present
reckoning, a grand national Epic Poem, worthy to be compared with
the Iliad, the Aeneid, or the Jerusalem, will be published in

Men naturally take an interest in the adventures of every eminent
writer. I will, therefore, gratify the laudable curiosity,
which, on this occasion, will doubtless be universal, by pre
fixing to my account of the poem a concise memoir of the poet.

Richard Quongti will be born at Westminster on the 1st of July,
2786. He will be the younger son of the younger branch of one of
the most respectable families in England. He will be linearly
descended from Quongti, the famous Chinese liberal, who, after
the failure of the heroic attempt of his party to obtain a
constitution from the Emperor Fim Fam, will take refuge in
England, in the twenty-third century. Here his descendants will
obtain considerable note; and one branch of the family will be
raised to the peerage.

Richard, however, though destined to exalt his family to
distinction far nobler than any which wealth or titles can
bestow, will be born to a very scanty fortune. He will display
in his early youth such striking talents as will attract the
notice of Viscount Quongti, his third cousin, then secretary of
state for the Steam Department. At the expense of this eminent
nobleman, he will be sent to prosecute his studies at the
university of Tombuctoo. To that illustrious seat of the muses
all the ingenuous youth of every country will then be attracted
by the high scientific character of Professor Quashaboo, and the
eminent literary attainments of Professor Kissey Kickey. In
spite of this formidable competition, however, Quongti will
acquire the highest honours in every department of knowledge, and
will obtain the esteem of his associates by his amiable and
unaffected manners. The guardians of the young Duke of
Carrington, premier peer of England, and the last remaining scion
of the ancient and illustrious house of Smith, will be desirous
to secure so able an instructor for their ward. With the Duke,
Quongti will perform the grand tour, and visit the polished
courts of Sydney and Capetown. After prevailing on his pupil,
with great difficulty, to subdue a violent and imprudent passion
which he had conceived for a Hottentot lady, of great beauty and
accomplishments indeed, but of dubious character, he will travel
with him to the United States of America. But that tremendous
war which will be fatal to American liberty will, at that time,
be raging through the whole federation. At New York the
travellers will hear of the final defeat and death of the
illustrious champion of freedom, Jonathon Higginbottom, and of
the elevation of Ebenezer Hogsflesh to the perpetual Presidency.
They will not choose to proceed in a journey which would expose
them to the insults of that brutal soldiery, whose cruelty and
rapacity will have devastated Mexico and Colombia, and now, at
length, enslaved their own country.

On their return to England, A.D. 2810, the death of the Duke will
compel his preceptor to seek for a subsistence by literary
labours. His fame will be raised by many small productions of
considerable merit; and he will at last obtain a permanent place
in the highest class of writers by his great epic poem.

The celebrated work will become, with unexampled rapidity, a
popular favourite. The sale will be so beneficial to the author
that, instead of going about the dirty streets on his velocipede,
he will be enabled to set up his balloon.

The character of this noble poem will be so finely and justly
given in the Tombuctoo Review for April 2825, that I cannot
refrain from translating the passage. The author will be our
poet's old preceptor, Professor Kissey Kickey.

"In pathos, in splendour of language, in sweetness of
versification, Mr Quongti has long been considered as unrivalled.
In his exquisite poem on the Ornithorhynchus Paradoxus all these
qualities are displayed in their greatest perfection. How
exquisitely does that work arrest and embody the undefined and
vague shadows which flit over an imaginative mind. The cold
worldling may not comprehend it; but it will find a response in
the bosom of every youthful poet, of every enthusiastic lover,
who has seen an Ornithorhynchus Paradoxus by moonlight. But we
were yet to learn that he possessed the comprehension, the
judgment, and the fertility of mind indispensable to the epic

"It is difficult to conceive a plot more perfect than that of the
'Wellingtoniad.' It is most faithful to the manners of the age
to which it relates. It preserves exactly all the historical
circumstances, and interweaves them most artfully with all the
speciosa miracula of supernatural agency."

Thus far the learned Professor of Humanity in the university of
Tombuctoo. I fear that the critics of our time will form an
opinion diametrically opposite as to these every points. Some
will, I fear, be disgusted by the machinery, which is derived
from the mythology of ancient Greece. I can only say that, in
the twenty-ninth century, that machinery will be universally in
use among poets; and that Quongti will use it, partly in
conformity with the general practice, and partly from a
veneration, perhaps excessive, for the great remains of classical
antiquity, which will then, as now, be assiduously read by every
man of education; though Tom Moore's songs will be forgotten, and
only three copies of Lord Byron's works will exist: one in the
possession of King George the Nineteenth, one in the Duke of
Carrington's collection, and one in the library of the British
Museum. Finally, should any good people be concerned to hear
that Pagan fictions will so long retain their influence over
literature, let them reflect that, as the Bishop of St David's
says, in his "Proofs of the Inspiration of the Sibylline Verses,"
read at the last meeting of the Royal Society of Literature, "at
all events, a Pagan is not a Papist."

Some readers of the present day may think that Quongti is by no
means entitled to the compliments which his Negro critic pays him
on his adherence to the historical circumstances of the time in
which he has chosen his subject; that, where he introduces any
trait of our manners, it is in the wrong place, and that he
confounds the customs of our age with those of much more remote
periods. I can only say that the charge is infinitely more
applicable to Homer, Virgil, and Tasso. If, therefore, the
reader should detect, in the following abstract of the plot, any
little deviation from strict historical accuracy, let him
reflect, for a moment, whether Agamemnon would not have found as
much to censure in the Iliad,--Dido in the Aeneid,--or Godfrey in
the Jerusalem. Let him not suffer his opinions to depend on
circumstances which cannot possibly affect the truth or falsehood
of the representation. If it be impossible for a single man to
kill hundreds in battle, the impossibility is not diminished by
distance of time. If it be as certain that Rinaldo never
disenchanted a forest in Palestine as it is that the Duke of
Wellington never disenchanted the forest of Soignies, can we, as
rational men, tolerate the one story and ridicule the other? Of
this, at least, I am certain, that whatever excuse we have for
admiring the plots of those famous poems our children will have
for extolling that of the "Wellingtoniad."

I shall proceed to give a sketch of the narrative. The subject
is "The Reign of the Hundred Days."


The poem commences, in form, with a solemn proposition of the
subject. Then the muse is invoked to give the poet accurate
information as to the causes of so terrible a commotion. The
answer to this question, being, it is to be supposed, the joint
production of the poet and the muse, ascribes the event to
circumstances which have hitherto eluded all the research of
political writers, namely, the influence of the god Mars, who, we
are told, had some forty years before usurped the conjugal rights
of old Carlo Buonaparte, and given birth to Napoleon. By his
incitement it was that the emperor with his devoted companions
was now on the sea, returning to his ancient dominions. The gods
were at present, fortunately for the adventurer, feasting with
the Ethiopians, whose entertainments, according to the ancient
custom described by Homer, they annually attended, with the same
sort of condescending gluttony which now carries the cabinet to
Guildhall on the 9th of November. Neptune was, in consequence,
absent, and unable to prevent the enemy of his favourite island
from crossing his element. Boreas, however, who had his abode on
the banks of the Russian ocean, and who, like Thetis in the
Iliad, was not of sufficient quality to have an invitation to
Ethiopia, resolves to destroy the armament which brings war and
danger to his beloved Alexander. He accordingly raises a storm
which is most powerfully described. Napoleon bewails the
inglorious fate for which he seems to be reserved. "Oh! thrice
happy," says he, "those who were frozen to death at Krasnoi, or
slaughtered at Leipsic. Oh, Kutusoff, bravest of the Russians,
wherefore was I not permitted to fall by thy victorious sword?"
He then offers a prayer to Aeolus, and vows to him a sacrifice of
a black ram. In consequence, the god recalls his turbulent
subject; the sea is calmed; and the ship anchors in the port of
Frejus. Napoleon and Bertrand, who is always called the faithful
Bertrand, land to explore the country; Mars meets them disguised
as a lancer of the guard, wearing the cross of the legion of
honour. He advises them to apply for necessaries of all kinds to
the governor, shows them the way, and disappears with a strong
smell of gunpowder. Napoleon makes a pathetic speech, and enters
the governor's house. Here he sees hanging up a fine print of
the battle of Austerlitz, himself in the foreground giving his
orders. This puts him in high spirits; he advances and salutes
the governor, who receives him most loyally, gives him an
entertainment, and, according to the usage of all epic hosts,
insists after dinner on a full narration of all that has happened
to him since the battle of Leipsic.


Napoleon carries his narrative from the battle of Leipsic to his
abdication. But, as we shall have a great quantity of fighting
on our hands, I think it best to omit the details.


Napoleon describes his sojourn at Elba, and his return; how he
was driven by stress of weather to Sardinia, and fought with the
harpies there; how he was then carried southward to Sicily, where
he generously took on board an English sailor, whom a man-of-war
had unhappily left there, and who was in imminent danger of being
devoured by the Cyclops; how he landed in the bay of Naples, saw
the Sibyl, and descended to Tartarus; how he held a long and
pathetic conversation with Poniatowski, whom he found wandering
unburied on the banks of Styx; how he swore to give him a
splendid funeral; how he had also an affectionate interview with
Desaix; how Moreau and Sir Ralph Abercrombie fled at the sight of
him. He relates that he then re-embarked, and met with nothing
of importance till the commencement of the storm with which the
poem opens.


The scene changes to Paris. Fame, in the garb of an express,
brings intelligence of the landing of Napoleon. The king
performs a sacrifice: but the entrails are unfavourable; and the
victim is without a heart. He prepares to encounter the invader.
A young captain of the guard,--the son of Maria Antoinette by
Apollo,--in the shape of a fiddler, rushes in to tell him that
Napoleon is approaching with a vast army. The royal forces are
drawn out for battle. Full catalogues are given of the regiments
on both sides; their colonels, lieutenant-colonels, and uniform.


The king comes forward and defies Napoleon to single combat.
Napoleon accepts it. Sacrifices are offered. The ground is
measured by Ney and Macdonald. The combatants advance. Louis
snaps his pistol in vain. The bullet of Napoleon, on the
contrary, carries off the tip of the king's ear. Napoleon then
rushes on him sword in hand. But Louis snatches up a stone, such
as ten men of those degenerate days will be unable to move, and
hurls it at his antagonist. Mars averts it. Napoleon then
seizes Louis, and is about to strike a fatal blow, when Bacchus
intervenes, like Venus in the third book of the Iliad, bears off
the king in a thick cloud, and seats him in an hotel at Lille,
with a bottle of Maraschino and a basin of soup before him. Both
armies instantly proclaim Napoleon emperor.


Neptune, returned from his Ethiopian revels, sees with rage the
events which have taken place in Europe. He flies to the cave of
Alecto, and drags out the fiend, commanding her to excite
universal hostility against Napoleon. The Fury repairs to Lord
Castlereagh; and, as, when she visited Turnus, she assumed the
form of an old woman, she here appears in the kindred shape of Mr
Vansittart, and in an impassioned address exhorts his lordship to
war. His lordship, like Turnus, treats this unwonted monitor
with great disrespect, tells him that he is an old doting fool,
and advises him to look after the ways and means, and leave
questions of peace and war to his betters. The Fury then
displays all her terrors. The neat powdered hair bristles up
into snakes; the black stockings appear clotted with blood; and,
brandishing a torch, she announces her name and mission. Lord
Castlereagh, seized with fury, flies instantly to the Parliament,
and recommends war with a torrent of eloquent invective. All the
members instantly clamour for vengeance, seize their arms which
are hanging round the walls of the house, and rush forth to
prepare for instant hostilities.


In this book intelligence arrives at London of the flight of the
Duchess d'Angouleme from France. It is stated that this heroine,
armed from head to foot, defended Bordeaux against the adherents
of Napoleon, and that she fought hand to hand with Clausel, and
beat him down with an enormous stone. Deserted by her followers,
she at last, like Turnus, plunged, armed as she was, into the
Garonne, and swam to an English ship which lay off the coast.
This intelligence yet more inflames the English to war.

A yet bolder flight than any which has been mentioned follows.
The Duke of Wellington goes to take leave of the duchess; and a
scene passes quite equal to the famous interview of Hector and
Andromache. Lord Douro is frightened at his father's feather,
but begs for his epaulette.


Neptune, trembling for the event of the war, implores Venus, who,
as the offspring of his element, naturally venerates him, to
procure from Vulcan a deadly sword and a pair of unerring pistols
for the Duke. They are accordingly made, and superbly decorated.
The sheath of the sword, like the shield of Achilles, is carved,
in exquisitely fine miniature, with scenes from the common life
of the period; a dance at Almack's a boxing match at the Fives-
court, a lord mayor's procession, and a man hanging. All these
are fully and elegantly described. The Duke thus armed hastens
to Brussels.


The Duke is received at Brussels by the King of the Netherlands
with great magnificence. He is informed of the approach of the
armies of all the confederate kings. The poet, however, with a
laudable zeal for the glory of his country, completely passes
over the exploits of the Austrians in Italy, and the discussions
of the congress. England and France, Wellington and Napoleon,
almost exclusively occupy his attention. Several days are spent
at Brussels in revelry. The English heroes astonish their allies
by exhibiting splendid games, similar to those which draw the
flower of the British aristocracy to Newmarket and Moulsey Hurst,
and which will be considered by our descendants with as much
veneration as the Olympian and Isthmian contests by classical
students of the present time. In the combat of the cestus, Shaw,
the lifeguardsman, vanquishes the Prince of Orange, and obtains a
bull as a prize. In the horse-race, the Duke of Wellington and
Lord Uxbridge ride against each other; the Duke is victorious,
and is rewarded with twelve opera-girls. On the last day of the
festivities, a splendid dance takes place, at which all the
heroes attend.


Mars, seeing the English army thus inactive, hastens to rouse
Napoleon, who, conducted by Night and Silence, unexpectedly
attacks the Prussians. The slaughter is immense. Napoleon kills
many whose histories and families are happily particularised. He
slays Herman, the craniologist, who dwelt by the linden-shadowed
Elbe, and measured with his eye the skulls of all who walked
through the streets of Berlin. Alas! his own skull is now cleft
by the Corsican sword. Four pupils of the University of Jena
advance together to encounter the Emperor; at four blows he
destroys them all. Blucher rushes to arrest the devastation;
Napoleon strikes him to the ground, and is on the point of
killing him, but Gneisenau, Ziethen, Bulow, and all the other
heroes of the Prussian army, gather round him, and bear the
venerable chief to a distance from the field. The slaughter is
continued till night. In the meantime Neptune has despatched
Fame to bear the intelligence to the Duke, who is dancing at
Brussels. The whole army is put in motion. The Duke of
Brunswick's horse speaks to admonish him of his danger, but in


Picton, the Duke of Brunswick, and the Prince of Orange, engage
Ney at Quatre Bras. Ney kills the Duke of Brunswick, and strips
him, sending his belt to Napoleon. The English fall back on
Waterloo. Jupiter calls a council of the gods, and commands that
none shall interfere on either side. Mars and Neptune make very
eloquent speeches. The battle of Waterloo commences. Napoleon
kills Picton and Delancy. Ney engages Ponsonby and kills him.
The Prince of Orange is wounded by Soult. Lord Uxbridge flies to
check the carnage. He is severely wounded by Napoleon, and only
saved by the assistance of Lord Hill. In the meantime the Duke
makes a tremendous carnage among the French. He encounters
General Duhesme and vanquishes him, but spares his life. He
kills Toubert, who kept the gaming-house in the Palais Royal, and
Maronet, who loved to spend whole nights in drinking champagne.
Clerval, who had been hooted from the stage, and had then become
a captain in the Imperial Guard, wished that he had still
continued to face the more harmless enmity of the Parisian pit.
But Larrey, the son of Esculapius, whom his father had instructed
in all the secrets of his art, and who was surgeon-general of the
French army, embraced the knees of the destroyer, and conjured
him not to give death to one whose office it was to give life.
The Duke raised him, and bade him live.

But we must hasten to the close. Napoleon rushes to encounter
Wellington. Both armies stand in mute amaze. The heroes fire
their pistols; that of Napoleon misses, but that of Wellington,
formed by the hand of Vulcan, and primed by the Cyclops, wounds
the Emperor in the thigh. He flies, and takes refuge among his
troops. The flight becomes promiscuous. The arrival of the
Prussians, from a motive of patriotism, the poet completely
passes over.


Things are now hastening to the catastrophe. Napoleon flies to
London, and, seating himself on the hearth of the Regent,
embraces the household gods and conjures him, by the venerable
age of George III., and by the opening perfections of the
Princess Charlotte, to spare him. The Prince is inclined to do
so; when, looking on his breast, he sees there the belt of the
Duke of Brunswick. He instantly draws his sword, and is about to
stab the destroyer of his kinsman. Piety and hospitality,
however, restrain his hand. He takes a middle course, and
condemns Napoleon to be exposed on a desert island. The King of
France re-enters Paris; and the poem concludes.



(November 1824.)

This is a book which enjoys a great and increasing popularity:
but, while it has attracted a considerable share of the public
attention, it has been little noticed by the critics. Mr Mitford
has almost succeeded in mounting, unperceived by those whose
office it is to watch such aspirants, to a high place among
historians. He has taken a seat on the dais without being
challenged by a single seneschal. To oppose the progress of his
fame is now almost a hopeless enterprise. Had he been reviewed
with candid severity, when he had published only his first
volume, his work would either have deserved its reputation, or
would never have obtained it. "Then," as Indra says of Kehama,
"then was the time to strike." The time was neglected; and the
consequence is that Mr Mitford like Kehama, has laid his
victorious hand on the literary Amreeta, and seems about to taste
the precious elixir of immortality. I shall venture to emulate
the courage of the honest Glendoveer--
"When now
He saw the Amreeta in Kehama's hand,
An impulse that defied all self-command,
In that extremity,
Stung him, and he resolved to seize the cup,
And dare the Rajah's force in Seeva's sight,
Forward he sprung to tempt the unequal fray."

In plain words, I shall offer a few considerations, which may
tend to reduce an overpraised writer to his proper level.

The principal characteristic of this historian, the origin of his
excellencies and his defects, is a love of singularity. He has
no notion of going with a multitude to do either good or evil.
An exploded opinion, or an unpopular person, has an irresistible
charm for him. The same perverseness may be traced in his
diction. His style would never have been elegant; but it might
at least have been manly and perspicuous; and nothing but the
most elaborate care could possibly have made it so bad as it is.
It is distinguished by harsh phrases, strange collocations,
occasional solecisms, frequent obscurity, and, above all, by a
peculiar oddity, which can no more be described than it can be
overlooked. Nor is this all. Mr Mitford piques himself on
spelling better than any of his neighbours; and this not only in
ancient names, which he mangles in defiance both of custom and of
reason, but in the most ordinary words of the English language.
It is, in itself, a matter perfectly indifferent whether we call
a foreigner by the name which he bears in his own language, or by
that which corresponds to it in ours; whether we say Lorenzo de
Medici, or Lawrence de Medici, Jean Chauvin, or John Calvin. In
such cases established usage is considered as law by all writers
except Mr Mitford. If he were always consistent with himself, he
might be excused for sometimes disagreeing with his neighbours;
but he proceeds on no principle but that of being unlike the rest
of the world. Every child has heard of Linnaeus; therefore Mr
Mitford calls him Linne: Rousseau is known all over Europe as
Jean Jacques; therefore Mr Mitford bestows on him the strange
appellation of John James.

Had Mr Mitford undertaken a History of any other country than
Greece, this propensity would have rendered his work useless and
absurd. His occasional remarks on the affairs of ancient Rome
and of modern Europe are full of errors: but he writes of times
with respect to which almost every other writer has been in the
wrong; and, therefore, by resolutely deviating from his
predecessors, he is often in the right.

Almost all the modern historians of Greece have shown the
grossest ignorance of the most obvious phenomena of human nature.
In their representations the generals and statesmen of antiquity
are absolutely divested of all individuality. They are
personifications; they are passions, talents, opinions, virtues,
vices, but not men. Inconsistency is a thing of which these
writers have no notion. That a man may have been liberal in his
youth and avaricious in his age, cruel to one enemy and merciful
to another, is to them utterly inconceivable. If the facts be
undeniable, they suppose some strange and deep design, in order
to explain what, as every one who has observed his own mind
knows, needs no explanation at all. This is a mode of writing
very acceptable to the multitude who have always been accustomed
to make gods and daemons out of men very little better or worse
than themselves; but it appears contemptible to all who have
watched the changes of human character--to all who have observed
the influence of time, of circumstances, and of associates, on
mankind--to all who have seen a hero in the gout, a democrat in
the church, a pedant in love, or a philosopher in liquor. This
practice of painting in nothing but black and white is
unpardonable even in the drama. It is the great fault of
Alfieri; and how much it injures the effect of his compositions
will be obvious to every one who will compare his Rosmunda with
the Lady Macbeth of Shakspeare. The one is a wicked woman; the
other is a fiend. Her only feeling is hatred; all her words are
curses. We are at once shocked and fatigued by the spectacle of
such raving cruelty, excited by no provocation, repeatedly
changing its object, and constant in nothing but in its in-
extinguishable thirst for blood.

In history this error is far more disgraceful. Indeed, there is
no fault which so completely ruins a narrative in the opinion of
a judicious reader. We know that the line of demarcation between
good and bad men is so faintly marked as often to elude the most
careful investigation of those who have the best opportunities
for judging. Public men, above all, are surrounded with so many
temptations and difficulties that some doubt must almost always
hang over their real dispositions and intentions. The lives of
Pym, Cromwell, Monk, Clarendon, Marlborough, Burnet, Walpole, are
well known to us. We are acquainted with their actions, their
speeches, their writings; we have abundance of letters and well-
authenticated anecdotes relating to them: yet what candid man
will venture very positively to say which of them were honest and
which of them were dishonest men? It appears easier to pronounce
decidedly upon the great characters of antiquity, not because we
have greater means of discovering truth, but simply because we
have less means of detecting error. The modern historians of
Greece have forgotten this. Their heroes and villains are as
consistent in all their sayings and doings as the cardinal
virtues and the deadly sins in an allegory. We should as soon
expect a good action from giant Slay-good in Bunyan as from
Dionysius; and a crime of Epaminondas would seem as incongruous
as a faux-pas of the grave and comely damsel called Discretion,
who answered the bell at the door of the house Beautiful.

This error was partly the cause and partly the effect of the high
estimation in which the later ancient writers have been held by
modern scholars. Those French and English authors who have
treated of the affairs of Greece have generally turned with
contempt from the simple and natural narrations of Thucydides and
Xenophon to the extravagant representations of Plutarch,
Diodorus, Curtius, and other romancers of the same class,--men
who described military operations without ever having handled a
sword, and applied to the seditions of little republics
speculations formed by observation on an empire which covered
half the known world. Of liberty they knew nothing. It was to
them a great mystery--a superhuman enjoyment. They ranted about
liberty and patriotism, from the same cause which leads monks to
talk more ardently than other men about love and women. A wise
man values political liberty, because it secures the persons and
the possessions of citizens; because it tends to prevent the
extravagance of rulers, and the corruption of judges; because it
gives birth to useful sciences and elegant arts; because it
excites the industry and increases the comforts of all classes of
society. These theorists imagined that it possessed something
eternally and intrinsically good, distinct from the blessings
which it generally produced. They considered it not as a means
but as an end; an end to be attained at any cost. Their
favourite heroes are those who have sacrificed, for the mere name
of freedom, the prosperity--the security--the justice--from which
freedom derives its value.

There is another remarkable characteristic of these writers, in
which their modern worshippers have carefully imitated them--a
great fondness for good stories. The most established facts,
dates, and characters are never suffered to come into competition
with a splendid saying, or a romantic exploit. The early
historians have left us natural and simple descriptions of the
great events which they witnessed, and the great men with whom
they associated. When we read the account which Plutarch
and Rollin have given of the same period, we scarcely know our
old acquaintance again; we are utterly confounded by the melo-
dramatic effect of the narration, and the sublime coxcombry of
the characters.

These are the principal errors into which the predecessors of Mr
Mitford have fallen; and from most of these he is free. His
faults are of a completely different description. It is to be
hoped that the students of history may now be saved, like Dorax
in Dryden's play, by swallowing two conflicting poisons, each of
which may serve as an antidote to the other.

The first and most important difference between Mr Mitford and
those who have preceded him is in his narration. Here the
advantage lies, for the most part, on his side. His principle is
to follow the contemporary historians, to look with doubt on all
statements which are not in some degree confirmed by them, and
absolutely to reject all which are contradicted by them. While
he retains the guidance of some writer in whom he can place
confidence, he goes on excellently. When he loses it, he falls
to the level, or perhaps below the level, of the writers whom he
so much despises: he is as absurd as they, and very much duller.
It is really amusing to observe how he proceeds with his
narration when he has no better authority than poor Diodorus. He
is compelled to relate something; yet he believes nothing. He
accompanies every fact with a long statement of objections. His
account of the administration of Dionysius is in no sense a
history. It ought to be entitled--"Historic doubts as to certain
events, alleged to have taken place in Sicily."

This scepticism, however, like that of some great legal
characters almost as sceptical as himself; vanishes whenever his
political partialities interfere. He is a vehement admirer of
tyranny and oligarchy, and considers no evidence as feeble which
can be brought forward in favour of those forms of government.
Democracy he hates with a perfect hatred, a hatred which, in the
first volume of his history, appears only in his episodes and
reflections, but which, in those parts where he has less
reverence for his guides, and can venture to take his own way,
completely distorts even his narration.

In taking up these opinions, I have no doubt that Mr Mitford was
influenced by the same love of singularity which led him to spell
"island" without an "s," and to place two dots over the last
letter of "idea." In truth, preceding historians have erred so
monstrously on the other side that even the worst parts of Mr
Mitford's book may be useful as a corrective. For a young
gentleman who talks much about his country, tyrannicide, and
Epaminondas, this work, diluted in a sufficient quantity of
Rollin and Berthelemi, may be a very useful remedy.

The errors of both parties arise from an ignorance or a neglect
of the fundamental principles of political science. The writers
on one side imagine popular government to be always a blessing;
Mr Mitford omits no opportunity of assuring us that it is always
a curse. The fact is, that a good government, like a good coat,
is that which fits the body for which it is designed. A man who,
upon abstract principles, pronounces a constitution to be good,
without an exact knowledge of the people who are to be governed
by it, judges as absurdly as a tailor who should measure the
Belvidere Apollo for the clothes of all his customers. The
demagogues who wished to see Portugal a republic, and the wise
critics who revile the Virginians for not having instituted a
peerage, appear equally ridiculous to all men of sense and

That is the best government which desires to make the people
happy, and knows how to make them happy. Neither the inclination
nor the knowledge will suffice alone; and it is difficult to find
them together.

Pure democracy, and pure democracy alone, satisfies the former
condition of this great problem. That the governors may be
solicitous only for the interests of the governed, it is
necessary that the interests of the governors and the governed
should be the same. This cannot be often the case where power is
intrusted to one or to a few. The privileged part of the
community will doubtless derive a certain degree of advantage
from the general prosperity of the state; but they will derive a
greater from oppression and exaction. The king will desire an
useless war for his glory, or a parc-aux-cerfs for his pleasure.
The nobles will demand monopolies and lettres-de-cachet. In
proportion as the number of governors is increased the evil is
diminished. There are fewer to contribute, and more to receive.
The dividend which each can obtain of the public plunder becomes
less and less tempting. But the interests of the subjects and
the rulers never absolutely coincide till the subjects themselves
become the rulers, that is, till the government be either
immediately or mediately democratical.

But this is not enough. "Will without power," said the sagacious
Casimir to Milor Beefington, "is like children playing at
soldiers." The people will always be desirous to promote their
own interests; but it may be doubted, whether, in any community,
they were ever sufficiently educated to understand them. Even in
this island, where the multitude have long been better informed
than in any other part of Europe, the rights of the many have
generally been asserted against themselves by the patriotism of
the few. Free trade, one of the greatest blessings which a
government can confer on a people, is in almost every country
unpopular. It may be well doubted, whether a liberal policy with
regard to our commercial relations would find any support from a
parliament elected by universal suffrage. The republicans on the
other side of the Atlantic have recently adopted regulations of
which the consequences will, before long, show us,

"How nations sink, by darling schemes oppressed,
When vengeance listens to the fool's request."

The people are to be governed for their own good; and, that they
may be governed for their own good, they must not be governed by
their own ignorance. There are countries in which it would be as
absurd to establish popular government as to abolish all the
restraints in a school, or to untie all the strait-waistcoats in
a madhouse.

Hence it may be concluded that the happiest state of society is
that in which supreme power resides in the whole body of a well-
informed people. This is an imaginary, perhaps an unattainable,
state of things. Yet, in some measure, we may approximate to it;
and he alone deserves the name of a great statesman, whose
principle it is to extend the power of the people in proportion
to the extent of their knowledge, and to give them every facility
for obtaining such a degree of knowledge as may render it safe to
trust them with absolute power. In the mean time, it is
dangerous to praise or condemn constitutions in the abstract;
since, from the despotism of St Petersburg to the democracy of
Washington, there is scarcely a form of government which might
not, at least in some hypothetical case, be the best possible.

If, however, there be any form of government which in all ages
and all nations has always been, and must always be, pernicious,
it is certainly that which Mr Mitford, on his usual principle of
being wiser than all the rest of the world, has taken under his
especial patronage--pure oligarchy. This is closely, and indeed
inseparably, connected with another of his eccentric tastes, a
marked partiality for Lacedaemon, and a dislike of Athens. Mr
Mitford's book has, I suspect, rendered these sentiments in some
degree popular; and I shall, therefore, examine them at some

The shades in the Athenian character strike the eye more rapidly
than those in the Lacedaemonian: not because they are darker,
but because they are on a brighter ground. The law of ostracism
is an instance of this. Nothing can be conceived more odious
than the practice of punishing a citizen, simply and professedly,
for his eminence;--and nothing in the institutions of Athens is
more frequently or more justly censured. Lacedaemon was free
from this. And why? Lacedaemon did not need it. Oligarchy is an
ostracism of itself,--an ostracism not occasional, but permanent,
--not dubious, but certain. Her laws prevented the development
of merit instead of attacking its maturity. They did not cut
down the plant in its high and palmy state, but cursed the soil
with eternal sterility. In spite of the law of ostracism, Athens
produced, within a hundred and fifty years, the greatest public
men that ever existed. Whom had Sparta to ostracise? She
produced, at most, four eminent men, Brasidas, Gylippus,
Lysander, and Agesilaus. Of these, not one rose to distinction
within her jurisdiction. It was only when they escaped from the
region within which the influence of aristocracy withered
everything good and noble, it was only when they ceased to be
Lacedaemonians, that they became great men. Brasidas, among the
cities of Thrace, was strictly a democratical leader, the
favourite minister and general of the people. The same may be
said of Gylippus, at Syracuse. Lysander, in the Hellespont, and
Agesilaus, in Asia, were liberated for a time from the hateful
restraints imposed by the constitution of Lycurgus. Both
acquired fame abroad; and both returned to be watched and
depressed at home. This is not peculiar to Sparta. Oligarchy,
wherever it has existed, has always stunted the growth of genius.
Thus it was at Rome, till about a century before the Christian
era: we read of abundance of consuls and dictators who won
battles, and enjoyed triumphs; but we look in vain for a single
man of the first order of intellect,--for a Pericles, a
Demosthenes, or a Hannibal. The Gracchi formed a strong
democratical party; Marius revived it; the foundations of the old
aristocracy were shaken; and two generations fertile in really
great men appeared.

Venice is a still more remarkable instance: in her history we
see nothing but the state; aristocracy had destroyed every seed
of genius and virtue. Her dominion was like herself, lofty and
magnificent, but founded on filth and weeds. God forbid that
there should ever again exist a powerful and civilised state,
which, after existing through thirteen hundred eventful years,
should not bequeath to mankind the memory of one great name or
one generous action.

Many writers, and Mr Mitford among the number, have admired the
stability of the Spartan institutions; in fact, there is little
to admire, and less to approve. Oligarchy is the weakest and the
most stable of governments; and it is stable because it is weak.
It has a sort of valetudinarian longevity; it lives in the
balance of Sanctorius; it takes no exercise; it exposes itself to
no accident; it is seized with an hypochondriac alarm at every
new sensation; it trembles at every breath; it lets blood for
every inflammation: and thus, without ever enjoying a day of
health or pleasure, drags on its existence to a doting and
debilitated old age.

The Spartans purchased for their government a prolongation of its
existence by the sacrifice of happiness at home and dignity
abroad. They cringed to the powerful; they trampled on the weak;
they massacred their helots; they betrayed their allies; they
contrived to be a day too late for the battle of Marathon; they
attempted to avoid the battle of Salamis; they suffered the
Athenians, to whom they owed their lives and liberties, to be a
second time driven from their country by the Persians, that they
might finish their own fortifications on the Isthmus; they
attempted to take advantage of the distress to which exertions in
their cause had reduced their preservers, in order to make them
their slaves; they strove to prevent those who had abandoned
their walls to defend them, from rebuilding them to defend
themselves; they commenced the Peloponnesian war in violation of
their engagements with Athens; they abandoned it in violation of
their engagements with their allies; they gave up to the sword
whole cities which had placed themselves under their protection;
they bartered, for advantages confined to themselves, the
interest, the freedom, and the lives of those who had served them
most faithfully; they took with equal complacency, and equal
infamy, the stripes of Elis and the bribes of Persia; they never
showed either resentment or gratitude; they abstained from no
injury, and they revenged none. Above all, they looked on a
citizen who served them well as their deadliest enemy. These are
the arts which protract the existence of government.

Nor were the domestic institutions of Lacedaemon less hateful or
less contemptible than her foreign policy. A perpetual
interference with every part of the system of human life, a
constant struggle against nature and reason, characterised all
her laws. To violate even prejudices which have taken deep root
in the minds of a people is scarcely expedient; to think of
extirpating natural appetites and passions is frantic: the
external symptoms may be occasionally repressed; but the feeling
still exists, and, debarred from its natural objects, preys on
the disordered mind and body of its victim. Thus it is in
convents---thus it is among ascetic sects--thus it was among the
Lacedaemonians. Hence arose that madness, or violence
approaching to madness, which, in spite of every external
restraint, often appeared among the most distinguished citizens
of Sparta. Cleomenes terminated his career of raving cruelty by
cutting himself to pieces. Pausanias seems to have been
absolutely insane; he formed a hopeless and profligate scheme; he
betrayed it by the ostentation of his behaviour, and the
imprudence of his measures; and he alienated, by his insolence,
all who might have served or protected him. Xenophon, a warm
admirer of Lacedaemon, furnishes us with the strongest evidence
to this effect. It is impossible not to observe the brutal and
senseless fury which characterises almost every Spartan with whom
he was connected. Clearchus nearly lost his life by his cruelty.
Chirisophus deprived his army of the services of a faithful guide
by his unreasonable and ferocious severity. But it is needless
to multiply instances. Lycurgus, Mr Mitford's favourite
legislator, founded his whole system on a mistaken principle. He
never considered that governments were made for men, and not men
for governments. Instead of adapting the constitution to the
people, he distorted the minds of the people to suit the
constitution, a scheme worthy of the Laputan Academy of
Projectors. And this appears to Mr Mitford to constitute his
peculiar title to admiration. Hear himself: "What to modern
eyes most strikingly sets that extraordinary man above all other
legislators is, that in so many circumstances, apparently out of
the reach of law, he controlled and formed to his own mind the

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