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The Miscellaneous Writings and Speeches of Lord Macaulay.

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wills and habits of his people." I should suppose that this
gentleman had the advantage of receiving his education under the
ferula of Dr Pangloss; for his metaphysics are clearly those of
the castle of Thunder-ten-tronckh: "Remarquez bien que les nez
ont ete faits pour porter des lunettes, aussi avons nous des
lunettes. Les jambes sont visiblement institues pour etre
chaussees, et nous avons des chausses. Les cochons etant faits
pour etre manges, nous mangeons du porc toute l'annee."

At Athens the laws did not constantly interfere with the tastes
of the people. The children were not taken from their parents by
that universal step-mother, the state. They were not starved
into thieves, or tortured into bullies; there was no established
table at which every one must dine, no established style in which
every one must converse. An Athenian might eat whatever he could
afford to buy, and talk as long as he could find people to
listen. The government did not tell the people what opinions
they were to hold, or what songs they were to sing. Freedom
produced excellence. Thus philosophy took its origin. Thus were
produced those models of poetry, of oratory, and of the arts,
which scarcely fall short of the standard of ideal excellence.
Nothing is more conducive to happiness than the free exercise of
the mind in pursuits congenial to it. This happiness, assuredly,
was enjoyed far more at Athens than at Sparta. The Athenians are
acknowledged even by their enemies to have been distinguished, in
private life, by their courteous and amiable demeanour. Their
levity, at least, was better than Spartan sullenness and their
impertinence than Spartan insolence. Even in courage it may be
questioned whether they were inferior to the Lacedaemonians. The
great Athenian historian has reported a remarkable observation of
the great Athenian minister. Pericles maintained that his
countrymen, without submitting to the hardships of a Spartan
education, rivalled all the achievements of Spartan valour, and
that therefore the pleasures and amusements which they enjoyed
were to be considered as so much clear gain. The infantry of
Athens was certainly not equal to that of Lacedaemon; but this
seems to have been caused merely by want of practice: the
attention of the Athenians was diverted from the discipline of
the phalanx to that of the trireme. The Lacedaemonians, in spite
of all their boasted valour, were, from the same cause, timid and
disorderly in naval action.

But we are told that crimes of great enormity were perpetrated by
the Athenian government, and the democracies under its
protection. It is true that Athens too often acted up to the
full extent of the laws of war in an age when those laws had not
been mitigated by causes which have operated in later times.
This accusation is, in fact, common to Athens, to Lacedaemon, to
all the states of Greece, and to all states similarly situated.
Where communities are very large, the heavier evils of war are
felt but by few. The ploughboy sings, the spinning-wheel turns
round, the wedding-day is fixed, whether the last battle were
lost or won. In little states it cannot be thus; every man feels
in his own property and person the effect of a war. Every man is
a soldier, and a soldier fighting for his nearest interests. His
own trees have been cut down--his own corn has been burnt--his
own house has been pillaged--his own relations have been killed.
How can he entertain towards the enemies of his country the same
feelings with one who has suffered nothing from them, except
perhaps the addition of a small sum to the taxes which he pays?
Men in such circumstances cannot be generous. They have too much
at stake. It is when they are, if I may so express myself,
playing for love, it is when war is a mere game at chess, it is
when they are contending for a remote colony, a frontier town,
the honours of a flag, a salute, or a title, that they can make
fine speeches, and do good offices to their enemies. The Black
Prince waited behind the chair of his captive; Villars
interchanged repartees with Eugene; George II. sent
congratulations to Louis XV., during a war, upon occasion of his
escape from the attempt of Damien: and these things are fine and
generous, and very gratifying to the author of the Broad Stone of
Honour, and all the other wise men who think, like him, that God
made the world only for the use of gentlemen. But they spring in
general from utter heartlessness. No war ought ever to be
undertaken but under circumstances which render all interchange
of courtesy between the combatants impossible. It is a bad thing
that men should hate each other; but it is far worse that they
should contract the habit of cutting one another's throats
without hatred. War is never lenient, but where it is wanton;
when men are compelled to fight in selfdefence, they must hate
and avenge: this may be bad; but it is human nature; it is the
clay as it came from the hand of the potter.

It is true that among the dependencies of Athens seditions
assumed a character more ferocious than even in France, during
the reign of terror--the accursed Saturnalia of an accursed
bondage. It is true that in Athens itself, where such
convulsions were scarcely known, the condition of the higher
orders was disagreeable; that they were compelled to contribute
large sums for the service or the amusement of the public; and
that they were sometimes harassed by vexatious informers.
Whenever such cases occur, Mr Mitford's scepticism vanishes. The
"if," the "but," the "it is said," the "if we may believe," with
which he qualifies every charge against a tyrant or an
aristocracy, are at once abandoned. The blacker the story, the
firmer is his belief, and he never fails to inveigh with hearty
bitterness against democracy as the source of every species of

The Athenians, I believe, possessed more liberty than was good
for them. Yet I will venture to assert that, while the
splendour, the intelligence, and the energy of that great people
were peculiar to themselves, the crimes with which they are
charged arose from causes which were common to them with every
other state which then existed. The violence of faction in that
age sprung from a cause which has always been fertile in every
political and moral evil, domestic slavery.

The effect of slavery is completely to dissolve the connection
which naturally exists between the higher and lower classes of
free citizens. The rich spend their wealth in purchasing and
maintaining slaves. There is no demand for the labour of the
poor; the fable of Menenius ceases to be applicable; the belly
communicates no nutriment to the members; there is an atrophy in
the body politic. The two parties, therefore, proceed to
extremities utterly unknown in countries where they have mutually
need of each other. In Rome the oligarchy was too powerful to be
subverted by force; and neither the tribunes nor the popular
assemblies, though constitutionally omnipotent, could maintain a
successful contest against men who possessed the whole property
of the state. Hence the necessity for measures tending to
unsettle the whole frame of society, and to take away every
motive of industry; the abolition of debts, and the agrarian
laws--propositions absurdly condemned by men who do not consider
the circumstances from which they sprung. They were the
desperate remedies of a desperate disease. In Greece the
oligarchical interest was not in general so deeply rooted as at
Rome. The multitude, therefore, often redressed by force
grievances which, at Rome, were commonly attacked under the forms
of the constitution. They drove out or massacred the rich, and
divided their property. If the superior union or military skill
of the rich rendered them victorious, they took measures equally
violent, disarmed all in whom they could not confide, often
slaughtered great numbers, and occasionally expelled the whole
commonalty from the city, and remained, with their slaves, the
sole inhabitants.

From such calamities Athens and Lacedaemon alone were almost
completely free. At Athens the purses of the rich were laid
under regular contribution for the support of the poor; and this,
rightly considered, was as much a favour to the givers as to the
receivers, since no other measure could possibly have saved their
houses from pillage and their persons from violence. It is
singular that Mr Mitford should perpetually reprobate a policy
which was the best that could be pursued in such a state of
things, and which alone saved Athens from the frightful outrages
which were perpetrated at Corcyra.

Lacedaemon, cursed with a system of slavery more odious than has
ever existed in any other country, avoided this evil by almost
totally annihilating private property. Lycurgus began by an
agrarian law. He abolished all professions except that of arms;
he made the whole of his community a standing army, every member
of which had a common right to the services of a crowd of
miserable bondmen; he secured the state from sedition at the
expense of the Helots. Of all the parts of his system this is
the most creditable to his head, and the most disgraceful to his

These considerations, and many others of equal importance, Mr
Mitford has neglected; but he has yet a heavier charge to answer.
He has made not only illogical inferences, but false statements.
While he never states, without qualifications and objections, the
charges which the earliest and best historians have brought
against his favourite tyrants, Pisistratus, Hippias, and Gelon,
he transcribes, without any hesitation, the grossest abuse of the
least authoritative writers against every democracy and every
demagogue. Such an accusation should not be made without being
supported; and I will therefore select one out of many passages
which will fully substantiate the charge, and convict Mr Mitford
of wilful misrepresentation, or of negligence scarcely less
culpable. Mr Mitford is speaking of one of the greatest men that
ever lived, Demosthenes, and comparing him with his rival,
Aeschines. Let him speak for himself.

"In earliest youth Demosthenes earned an opprobrious nickname by
the effeminacy of his dress and manner." Does Mr Mitford know
that Demosthenes denied this charge, and explained the nickname
in a perfectly different manner? (See the speech of Aeschines
against Timarchus.) And, if he knew it, should he not have
stated it? He proceeds thus: "On emerging from minority, by the
Athenian law, at five-and-twenty, he earned another opprobrious
nickname by a prosecution of his guardians, which was considered
as a dishonourable attempt to extort money from them." In the
first place Demosthenes was not five-and-twenty years of age. Mr
Mitford might have learned, from so common a book as the
Archaeologia of Archbishop Potter, that at twenty Athenian
citizens were freed from the control of their guardians, and
began to manage their own property. The very speech of
Demosthenes against his guardians proves most satisfactorily that
he was under twenty. In his speech against Midias, he says that
when he undertook that prosecution he was quite a boy.
(Meirakullion on komide.) His youth might, therefore, excuse the
step, even if it had been considered, as Mr Mitford says, a
dishonourable attempt to extort money. But who considered it as
such? Not the judges who condemned the guardians. The Athenian
courts of justice were not the purest in the world; but their
decisions were at least as likely to be just as the abuse of a
deadly enemy. Mr Mitford refers for confirmation of his
statement to Aeschines and Plutarch. Aeschines by no means bears
him out; and Plutarch directly contradicts him. "Not long
after," says Mr Mitford, "he took blows publicly in the theater"
(I preserve the orthography, if it can be so called, of this
historian) "from a petulant youth of rank, named Meidias." Here
are two disgraceful mistakes. In the first place, it was long
after; eight years at the very least, probably much more. In the
next place the petulant youth, of whom Mr Mitford speaks, was
fifty years old. (Whoever will read the speech of Demosthenes
against Midias will find the statements in the text confirmed,
and will have, moreover, the pleasure of becoming acquainted with
one of the finest compositions in the world.) Really Mr Mitford
has less reason to censure the carelessness of his predecessors
than to reform his own. After this monstrous inaccuracy, with
regard to facts, we may be able to judge what degree of credit
ought to be given to the vague abuse of such a writer. "The
cowardice of Demosthenes in the field afterwards became
notorious." Demosthenes was a civil character; war was not his
business. In his time the division between military and
political offices was beginning to be strongly marked; yet the
recollection of the days when every citizen was a soldier was
still recent. In such states of society a certain degree of
disrepute always attaches to sedentary men; but that any leader
of the Athenian democracy could have been, as Mr Mitford says of
Demosthenes, a few lines before, remarkable for "an extraordinary
deficiency of personal courage," is absolutely impossible. What
mercenary warrior of the time exposed his life to greater or more
constant perils? Was there a single soldier at Chaeronea who had
more cause to tremble for his safety than the orator, who, in
case of defeat, could scarcely hope for mercy from the people
whom he had misled or the prince whom he had opposed? Were not
the ordinary fluctuations of popular feeling enough to deter any
coward from engaging in political conflicts? Isocrates, whom Mr
Mitford extols, because he constantly employed all the flowers of
his school-boy rhetoric to decorate oligarchy and tyranny,
avoided the judicial and political meetings of Athens from mere
timidity, and seems to have hated democracy only because he durst
not look a popular assembly in the face. Demosthenes was a man
of a feeble constitution: his nerves were weak, but his spirit
was high; and the energy and enthusiasm of his feelings supported
him through life and in death.

So much for Demosthenes. Now for the orator of aristocracy. I
do not wish to abuse Aeschines. He may have been an honest man.
He was certainly a great man; and I feel a reverence, of which Mr
Mitford seems to have no notion, for great men of every party.
But, when Mr Mitford says that the private character of Aeschines
was without stain, does he remember what Aeschines has himself
confessed in his speech against Timarchus? I can make
allowances, as well as Mr Mitford, for persons who lived under a
different system of laws and morals; but let them be made
impartially. If Demosthenes is to be attacked on account of some
childish improprieties, proved only by the assertion of an
antagonist, what shall we say of those maturer vices which that
antagonist has himself acknowledged? "Against the private
character of Aeschines," says Mr Mitford, "Demosthenes seems not
to have had an insinuation to oppose." Has Mr Mitford ever read
the speech of Demosthenes on the Embassy? Or can he have
forgotten, what was never forgotten by anyone else who ever read
it, the story which Demosthenes relates with such terrible energy
of language concerning the drunken brutality of his rival? True
or false, here is something more than an insinuation; and nothing
can vindicate the historian, who has overlooked it, from the
charge of negligence or of partiality. But Aeschines denied the
story. And did not Demosthenes also deny the story respecting
his childish nickname, which Mr Mitford has nevertheless told
without any qualification? But the judges, or some part of them,
showed, by their clamour, their disbelief of the relation of
Demosthenes. And did not the judges, who tried the cause between
Demosthenes and his guardians, indicate, in a much clearer
manner, their approbation of the prosecution? But Demosthenes
was a demagogue, and is to be slandered. Aeschines was an
aristocrat, and is to be panegyrised. Is this a history, or a

These passages, all selected from a single page of Mr Mitford's
work, may give some notion to those readers, who have not the
means of comparing his statements with the original authorities,
of his extreme partiality and carelessness. Indeed, whenever
this historian mentions Demosthenes, he violates all the laws of
candour and even of decency; he weighs no authorities; he makes
no allowances; he forgets the best authenticated facts in the
history of the times, and the most generally recognised
principles of human nature. The opposition of the great orator
to the policy of Philip he represents as neither more nor less
than deliberate villany. I hold almost the same opinion with Mr
Mitford respecting the character and the views of that great and
accomplished prince. But am I, therefore, to pronounce
Demosthenes profligate and insincere? Surely not. Do we not
perpetually see men of the greatest talents and the purest
intentions misled by national or factious prejudices? The most
respectable people in England were, little more than forty years
ago, in the habit of uttering the bitterest abuse against
Washington and Franklin. It is certainly to be regretted that
men should err so grossly in their estimate of character. But no
person who knows anything of human nature will impute such errors
to depravity.

Mr Mitford is not more consistent with himself than with reason.
Though he is the advocate of all oligarchies, he is also a warm
admirer of all kings, and of all citizens who raised themselves
to that species of sovereignty which the Greeks denominated
tyranny. If monarchy, as Mr Mitford holds, be in itself a
blessing, democracy must be a better form of government than
aristocracy, which is always opposed to the supremacy, and even
to the eminence, of individuals. On the other hand, it is but
one step that separates the demagogue and the sovereign.

If this article had not extended itself to so great a length, I
should offer a few observations on some other peculiarities of
this writer,--his general preference of the Barbarians to the
Greeks,--his predilection for Persians, Carthaginians, Thracians,
for all nations, in short, except that great and enlightened
nation of which he is the historian. But I will confine myself
to a single topic.

Mr Mitford has remarked, with truth and spirit, that "any history
perfectly written, but especially a Grecian history perfectly
written should be a political institute for all nations." It has
not occurred to him that a Grecian history, perfectly written,
should also be a complete record of the rise and progress of
poetry, philosophy, and the arts. Here his work is extremely
deficient. Indeed, though it may seem a strange thing to say of
a gentleman who has published so many quartos, Mr Mitford seems
to entertain a feeling, bordering on contempt, for literary and
speculative pursuits. The talents of action almost exclusively
attract his notice; and he talks with very complacent disdain of
"the idle learned." Homer, indeed, he admires; but principally,
I am afraid, because he is convinced that Homer could neither
read nor write. He could not avoid speaking of Socrates; but he
has been far more solicitous to trace his death to political
causes, and to deduce from it consequences unfavourable to
Athens, and to popular governments, than to throw light on the
character and doctrines of the wonderful man,

"From whose mouth issued forth
Mellifluous streams that watered all the schools
Of Academics, old and new, with those
Surnamed Peripatetics, and the sect
Epicurean, and the Stoic severe."

He does not seem to be aware that Demosthenes was a great orator;
he represents him sometimes as an aspirant demagogue, sometimes
as an adroit negotiator, and always as a great rogue. But that
in which the Athenian excelled all men of all ages, that
irresistible eloquence, which at the distance of more than two
thousand years stirs our blood, and brings tears into our eyes,
he passes by with a few phrases of commonplace commendation. The
origin of the drama, the doctrines of the sophists, the course of
Athenian education, the state of the arts and sciences, the whole
domestic system of the Greeks, he has almost completely
neglected. Yet these things will appear, to a reflecting man,
scarcely less worthy of attention than the taking of Sphacteria
or the discipline of the targeteers of Iphicrates.

This, indeed, is a deficiency by no means peculiar to Mr Mitford.
Most people seem to imagine that a detail of public occurrences--
the operations of sieges---the changes of administrations--the
treaties--the conspiracies--the rebellions--is a complete
history. Differences of definition are logically unimportant;
but practically they sometimes produce the most momentous
effects. Thus it has been in the present case. Historians have,
almost without exception, confined themselves to the public
transactions of states, and have left to the negligent
administration of writers of fiction a province at least equally
extensive and valuable.

All wise statesmen have agreed to consider the prosperity or
adversity of nations as made up of the happiness or misery of
individuals, and to reject as chimerical all notions of a public
interest of the community, distinct from the interest of the
component parts. It is therefore strange that those whose office
it is to supply statesmen with examples and warnings should omit,
as too mean for the dignity of history, circumstances which exert
the most extensive influence on the state of society. In
general, the under current of human life flows steadily on,
unruffled by the storms which agitate the surface. The happiness
of the many commonly depends on causes independent of victories
or defeats, of revolutions or restorations,--causes which can be
regulated by no laws, and which are recorded in no archives.
These causes are the things which it is of main importance to us
to know, not how the Lacedaemonian phalanx was broken at
Leuctra,--not whether Alexander died of poison or by disease.
History, without these, is a shell without a kernel; and such is
almost all the history which is extant in the world. Paltry
skirmishes and plots are reported with absurd and useless
minuteness; but improvements the most essential to the comfort of
human life extend themselves over the world, and introduce
themselves into every cottage, before any annalist can
condescend, from the dignity of writing about generals and
ambassadors, to take the least notice of them. Thus the progress
of the most salutary inventions and discoveries is buried in
impenetrable mystery; mankind are deprived of a most useful
species of knowledge, and their benefactors of their honest fame.
In the meantime every child knows by heart the dates and
adventures of a long line of barbarian kings. The history of
nations, in the sense in which I use the word, is often best
studied in works not professedly historical. Thucydides, as far
as he goes, is an excellent writer; yet he affords us far less
knowledge of the most important particulars relating to Athens
than Plato or Aristophanes. The little treatise of Xenophon on
Domestic Economy contains more historical information than all
the seven books of his Hellenics. The same may be said of the
Satires of Horace, of the Letters of Cicero, of the novels of Le
Sage, of the memoirs of Marmontel. Many others might be
mentioned; but these sufficiently illustrate my meaning.

I would hope that there may yet appear a writer who may despise
the present narrow limits, and assert the rights of history over
every part of her natural domain. Should such a writer engage in
that enterprise, in which I cannot but consider Mr Mitford as
having failed, he will record, indeed, all that is interesting
and important in military and political transactions; but he will
not think anything too trivial for the gravity of history which
is not too trivial to promote or diminish the happiness of man.
He will portray in vivid colours the domestic society, the
manners, the amusements, the conversation of the Greeks. He will
not disdain to discuss the state of agriculture, of the
mechanical arts, and of the conveniences of life. The progress
of painting, of sculpture, and of architecture, will form an
important part of his plan. But, above all, his attention will
be given to the history of that splendid literature from which
has sprung all the strength, the wisdom, the freedom, and the
glory, of the western world.

Of the indifference which Mr Mitford shows on this subject I will
not speak; for I cannot speak with fairness. It is a subject on
which I love to forget the accuracy of a judge, in the veneration
of a worshipper and the gratitude of a child. If we consider
merely the subtlety of disquisition, the force of imagination,
the perfect energy and elegance of expression which characterise
the great works of Athenian genius, we must pronounce them
intrinsically most valuable; but what shall we say when we
reflect that from hence have sprung directly or indirectly, all
the noblest creations of the human intellect; that from hence
were the vast accomplishments and the brilliant fancy of Cicero;
the withering fire of Juvenal; the plastic imagination of Dante;
the humour of Cervantes; the comprehension of Bacon; the wit of
Butler; the supreme and universal excellence of Shakspeare? All
the triumphs of truth and genius over prejudice and power, in
every country and in every age, have been the triumphs of Athens.
Wherever a few great minds have made a stand against violence and
fraud, in the cause of liberty and reason, there has been her
spirit in the midst of them; inspiring, encouraging, consoling;--
by the lonely lamp of Erasmus; by the restless bed of Pascal; in
the tribune of Mirabeau; in the cell of Galileo; on the scaffold
of Sidney. But who shall estimate her influence on private
happiness? Who shall say how many thousands have been made
wiser, happier, and better, by those pursuits in which she has
taught mankind to engage: to how many the studies which took
their rise from her have been wealth in poverty,--liberty in
bondage,--health in sickness,--society in solitude? Her power is
indeed manifested at the bar, in the senate, in the field of
battle, in the schools of philosophy. But these are not her
glory. Wherever literature consoles sorrow, or assuages pain,--
wherever it brings gladness to eyes which fail with wakefulness
and tears, and ache for the dark house and the long sleep,--there
is exhibited, in its noblest form, the immortal influence of

The dervise, in the Arabian tale, did not hesitate to abandon to
his comrade the camels with their load of jewels and gold, while
he retained the casket of that mysterious juice which enabled him
to behold at one glance all the hidden riches of the universe.
Surely it is no exaggeration to say that no external advantage is
to be compared with that purification of the intellectual eye
which gives us to contemplate the infinite wealth of the mental
world, all the hoarded treasures of its primeval dynasties, all
the shapeless ore of its yet unexplored mines. This is the gift
of Athens to man. Her freedom and her power have for more than
twenty centuries been annihilated; her people have degenerated
into timid slaves; her language into a barbarous jargon; her
temples have been given up to the successive depredations of
Romans, Turks, and Scotchmen; but her intellectual empire is
imperishable. And when those who have rivalled her greatness
shall have shared her fate; when civilisation and knowledge shall
have fixed their abode in distant continents; when the sceptre
shall have passed away from England; when, perhaps, travellers
from distant regions shall in vain labour to decipher on some
mouldering pedestal the name of our proudest chief; shall hear
savage hymns chaunted to some misshapen idol over the ruined dome
of our proudest temple; and shall see a single naked fisherman
wash his nets in the river of the ten thousand masts;--her
influence and her glory will still survive,--fresh in eternal
youth, exempt from mutability and decay, immortal as the
intellectual principle from which they derived their origin, and
over which they exercise their control.

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