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The Miscellaneous Writings and Speeches of Lord Macaulay.

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urged in Parliament, at the bar, or in private conversation. The
reason is evident. We cannot inspect them closely enough to
perceive their inaccuracy. We cannot readily compare them with
each other. We lose sight of one part of the subject before
another, which ought to be received in connection with it, comes
before us; and as there is no immutable record of what has been
admitted and of what has been denied, direct contradictions pass
muster with little difficulty. Almost all the education of a
Greek consisted in talking and listening. His opinions on
government were picked up in the debates of the assembly. If he
wished to study metaphysics, instead of shutting himself up with
a book, he walked down to the market-place to look for a sophist.
So completely were men formed to these habits, that even writing
acquired a conversational air. The philosophers adopted the form
of dialogue, as the most natural mode of communicating knowledge.
Their reasonings have the merits and the defects which belong to
that species of composition, and are characterised rather by
quickness and subtilty than by depth and precision. Truth is
exhibited in parts, and by glimpses. Innumerable clever hints
are given; but no sound and durable system is erected. The
argumentum ad hominem, a kind of argument most efficacious in
debate, but utterly useless for the investigation of general
principles, is among their favourite resources. Hence, though
nothing can be more admirable than the skill which Socrates
displays in the conversations which Plato has reported or
invented, his victories, for the most part, seem to us
unprofitable. A trophy is set up; but no new province is added
to the dominions of the human mind.

Still, where thousands of keen and ready intellects were
constantly employed in speculating on the qualiies of actions and
on the principles of government, it was impossible that history
should retain its whole character. It became less gossiping and
less picturesque; but much more accurate, and somewhat more

The history of Thucydides differs from that of Herodotus as a
portrait differs from the representation of an imaginary scene;
as the Burke or Fox of Reynolds differs from his Ugolino or his
Beaufort. In the former case, the archetype is given: in the
latter it is created. The faculties which are required for the
latter purpose are of a higher and rarer order than those which
suffice for the former, and indeed necessarily comprise them. He
who is able to paint what he sees with the eye of the mind will
surely be able to paint what he sees with the eye of the body.
He who can invent a story, and tell it well, will also be able to
tell, in an interesting manner, a story which he has not
invented. If, in practice, some of the best writers of fiction
have been among the worst writers of history, it has been because
one of their talents had merged in another so completely that it
could not be severed; because, having long been habituated to
invent and narrate at the same time, they found it impossible to
narrate without inventing.

Some capricious and discontented artists have affected to
consider portrait-painting as unworthy of a man of genius. Some
critics have spoken in the same contemptuous manner of history.
Johnson puts the case thus: The historian tells either what is
false or what is true: in the former case he is no historian:
in the latter he has no opportunity for displaying his abilities:
for truth is one: and all who tell the truth must tell it alike.

It is not difficult to elude both the horns of this dilemma. We
will recur to the analogous art of portrait-painting. Any man
with eyes and hands may be taught to take a likeness. The
process, up to a certain point, is merely mechanical. If this
were all, a man of talents might justly despise the occupation.
But we could mention portraits which are resemblances,--but not
mere resemblances; faithful,--but much more than faithful;
portraits which condense into one point of time, and exhibit, at
a single glance, the whole history of turbid and eventful lives--
in which the eye seems to scrutinise us, and the mouth to command
us--in which the brow menaces, and the lip almost quivers with
scorn--in which every wrinkle is a comment on some important
transaction. The account which Thucydides has given of the
retreat from Syracuse is, among narratives, what Vandyke's Lord
Strafford is among paintings.

Diversity, it is said, implies error: truth is one, and admits
of no degrees. We answer, that this principle holds good only in
abstract reasonings. When we talk of the truth of imitation in
the fine arts, we mean an imperfect and a graduated truth. No
picture is exactly like the original; nor is a picture good in
proportion as it is like the original. When Sir Thomas Lawrence
paints a handsome peeress, he does not contemplate her through a
powerful microscope, and transfer to the canvas the pores of the
skin, the blood-vessels of the eye, and all the other beauties
which Gulliver discovered in the Brobdingnagian maids of honour.
If he were to do this, the effect would not merely be unpleasant,
but, unless the scale of the picture were proportionably
enlarged, would be absolutely FALSE. And, after all, a
microscope of greater power than that which he had employed would
convict him of innumerable omissions. The same may be said of
history. Perfectly and absolutely true it cannot be: for, to be
perfectly and absolutely true, it ought to record ALL the
slightest particulars of the slightest transactions--all the
things done and all the words uttered during the time of which it
treats. The omission of any circumstance, however insignificant,
would be a defect. If history were written thus, the Bodleian
Library would not contain the occurrences of a week. What is
told in the fullest and most accurate annals bears an infinitely
small proportion to what is suppressed. The difference between
the copious work of Clarendon and the account of the civil wars
in the abridgment of Goldsmith vanishes when compared with the
immense mass of facts respecting which both are equally silent.

No picture, then, and no history, can present us with the whole
truth: but those are the best pictures and the best histories
which exhibit such parts of the truth as most nearly produce the
effect of the whole. He who is deficient in the art of selection
may, by showing nothing but the truth, produce all the effect of
the grossest falsehood. It perpetually happens that one writer
tells less truth than another, merely because he tells more
truths. In the imitative arts we constantly see this. There are
lines in the human face, and objects in landscape, which stand in
such relations to each other, that they ought either to be all
introduced into a painting together or all omitted together. A
sketch into which none of them enters may be excellent; but, if
some are given and others left out, though there are more points
of likeness, there is less likeness. An outline scrawled with a
pen, which seizes the marked features of a countenance, will give
a much stronger idea of it than a bad painting in oils. Yet the
worst painting in oils that ever hung at Somerset House resembles
the original in many more particulars. A bust of white marble
may give an excellent idea of a blooming face. Colour the lips
and cheeks of the bust, leaving the hair and eyes unaltered, and
the similarity, instead of being more striking, will be less so.

History has its foreground and its background: and it is
principally in the management of its perspective that one artist
differs from another. Some events must be represented on a large
scale, others diminished; the great majority will be lost in the
dimness of the horizon; and a general idea of their joint effect
will be given by a few slight touches.

In this respect no writer has ever equalled Thucydides. He was a
perfect master of the art of gradual diminution. His history is
sometimes as concise as a chronological chart; yet it is always
perspicuous. It is sometimes as minute as one of Lovelace's
letters; yet it is never prolix. He never fails to contract and
to expand it in the right place.

Thucydides borrowed from Herodotus the practice of putting
speeches of his own into the mouths of his characters. In
Herodotus this usage is scarcely censurable. It is of a piece
with his whole manner. But it is altogether incongruous in the
work of his successor, and violates, not only the accuracy of
history, but the decencies of fiction. When once we enter into
the spirit of Herodotus, we find no inconsistency. The
conventional probability of his drama is preserved from the
beginning to the end. The deliberate orations, and the familiar
dialogues, are in strict keeping with each other. But the
speeches of Thucydides are neither preceded nor followed by
anything with which they harmonise. They give to the whole book
something of the grotesque character of those Chinese pleasure-
grounds in which perpendicular rocks of granite start up in the
midst of a soft green plain. Invention is shocking where truth
is in such close juxtaposition with it.

Thucydides honestly tells us that some of these discourses are
purely fictitious. He may have reported the substance of others
correctly, but it is clear from the internal evidence that he has
preserved no more than the substance. His own peculiar habits of
thought and expression are everywhere discernible. Individual
and national peculiarities are seldom to be traced in the
sentiments, and never in the diction. The oratory of the
Corinthians and Thebans is not less Attic, either in matter or in
manner, than that of the Athenians. The style of Cleon is as
pure, as austere, as terse, and as significant, as that of

In spite of this great fault, it must be allowed that Thucydides
has surpassed all his rivals in the art of historical narration,
in the art of producing an effect on the imagination, by skilful
selection and disposition, without indulging in the license of
invention. But narration, though an important part of the
business of a historian, is not the whole. To append a moral to
a work of fiction is either useless or superfluous. A fiction
may give a more impressive effect to what is already known; but
it can teach nothing new. If it presents to us characters and
trains of events to which our experience furnishes us with
nothing similar, instead of deriving instruction from it, we
pronounce it unnatural. We do not form our opinions from it; but
we try it by our preconceived opinions. Fiction, therefore, is
essentially imitative. Its merit consists in its resemblance to
a model with which we are already familiar, or to which at least
we can instantly refer. Hence it is that the anecdotes which
interest us most strongly in authentic narrative are offensive
when introduced into novels; that what is called the romantic
part of history is in fact the least romantic. It is delightful
as history, because it contradicts our previous notions of human
nature, and of the connection of causes and effects. It is, on
that very account, shocking and incongruous in fiction. In
fiction, the principles are given, to find the facts: in
history, the facts are given, to find the principles; and the
writer who does not explain the phenomena as well as state them,
performs only one half of his office. Facts are the mere dross
of history. It is from the abstract truth which interpenetrates
them, and lies latent among them like gold in the ore, that the
mass derives its whole value: and the precious particles are
generally combined with the baser in such a manner that the
separation is a task of the utmost difficulty.

Here Thucydides is deficient: the deficiency, indeed, is not
discreditable to him. It was the inevitable effect of
circumstances. It was in the nature of things necessary that, in
some part of its progress through political science, the human
mind should reach that point which it attained in his time.
Knowledge advances by steps, and not by leaps. The axioms of an
English debating club would have been startling and mysterious
paradoxes to the most enlightened statesmen of Athens. But it
would be as absurd to speak contemptuously of the Athenian on
this account as to ridicule Strabo for not having given us an
account of Chili, or to talk of Ptolemy as we talk of Sir Richard
Phillips. Still, when we wish for solid geographical
information, we must prefer the solemn coxcombry of Pinkerton to
the noble work of Strabo. If we wanted instruction respecting
the solar system, we should consult the silliest girl from a
boarding-school, rather than Ptolemy.

Thucydides was undoubtedly a sagacious and reflecting man. This
clearly appears from the ability with which he discusses
practical questions. But the talent of deciding on the
circumstances of a particular case is often possessed in the
highest perfection by persons destitute of the power of
generalisation. Men skilled in the military tactics of civilised
nations have been amazed at the far-sightedness and penetration
which a Mohawk displays in concerting his stratagems, or in
discerning those of his enemies. In England, no class possesses
so much of that peculiar ability which is required for
constructing ingenious schemes, and for obviating remote
difficulties, as the thieves and the thief-takers. Women have
more of this dexterity than men. Lawyers have more of it than
statesmen: statesmen have more of it than philosophers. Monk
had more of it than Harrington and all his club. Walpole had
more of it than Adam Smith or Beccaria. Indeed, the species of
discipline by which this dexterity is acquired tends to contract
the mind, and to render it incapable of abstract reasoning.

The Grecian statesmen of the age of Thucydides were distinguished
by their practical sagacity, their insight into motives, their
skill in devising means for the attainment of their ends. A
state of society in which the rich were constantly planning the
oppression of the poor, and the poor the spoliation of the rich,
in which the ties of party had superseded those of country, in
which revolutions and counter-revolutions were events of daily
occurrence, was naturally prolific in desperate and crafty
political adventurers. This was the very school in which men
were likely to acquire the dissimulation of Mazarin, the
judicious temerity of Richelieu, the penetration, the exquisite
tact, the almost instinctive presentiment of approaching events
which gave so much authority to the counsel of Shaftesbury, that
"it was as if a man had inquired of the oracle of God." In this
school Thucydides studied; and his wisdom is that which such a
school would naturally afford. He judges better of circumstances
than of principles. The more a question is narrowed, the better
he reasons upon it. His work suggests many most important
considerations respecting the first principles of government and
morals, the growth of factions, the organisation of armies, and
the mutual relations of communities. Yet all his general
observations on these subjects are very superficial. His most
judicious remarks differ from the remarks of a really
philosophical historian, as a sum correctly cast up by a
bookkeeper from a general expression discovered by an algebraist.
The former is useful only in a single transaction; the latter may
be applied to an infinite number of cases.

This opinion will, we fear, be considered as heterodox. For, not
to speak of the illusion which the sight of a Greek type, or the
sound of a Greek diphthong, often produces, there are some
peculiarities in the manner of Thucydides which in no small
degree have tended to secure to him the reputation of profundity.
His book is evidently the book of a man and a statesman; and in
this respect presents a remarkable contrast to the delightful
childishness of Herodotus. Throughout it there is an air of
matured power, of grave and melancholy reflection, of
impartiality and habitual self-command. His feelings are rarely
indulged, and speedily repressed. Vulgar prejudices of every
kind, and particularly vulgar superstitions, he treats with a
cold and sober disdain peculiar to himself. His style is
weighty, condensed, antithetical, and not unfrequently obscure.
But, when we look at his political philosophy, without regard to
these circumstances, we find him to have been, what indeed it
would have been a miracle if he had not been, simply an Athenian
of the fifth century before Christ.

Xenophon is commonly placed, but we think without much reason, in
the same rank with Herodotus and Thucydides. He resembles them,
indeed, in the purity and sweetness of his style; but in spirit,
he rather resembles that later school of historians whose works
seem to be fables composed for a moral, and who, in their
eagerness to give us warnings and examples, forget to give us men
and women. The Life of Cyrus, whether we look upon it as a
history or as a romance, seems to us a very wretched performance.
The Expedition of the Ten Thousand, and the History of Grecian
Affairs, are certainly pleasant reading; but they indicate no
great power of mind. In truth, Xenophon, though his taste was
elegant, his disposition amiable, and his intercourse with the
world extensive, had, we suspect, rather a weak head. Such was
evidently the opinion of that extraordinary man to whom he early
attached himself, and for whose memory he entertained an
idolatrous veneration. He came in only for the milk with which
Socrates nourished his babes in philosophy. A few saws of
morality, and a few of the simplest doctrines of natural
religion, were enough for the good young man. The strong meat,
the bold speculations on physical and metaphysical science, were
reserved for auditors of a different description. Even the
lawless habits of a captain of mercenary troops could not change
the tendency which the character of Xenophon early acquired. To
the last, he seems to have retained a sort of heathen Puritanism.
The sentiments of piety and virtue which abound in his works are
those of a well-meaning man, somewhat timid and narrow-minded,
devout from constitution rather than from rational conviction.
He was as superstitious as Herodotus, but in a way far more
offensive. The very peculiarities which charm us in an infant,
the toothless mumbling, the stammering, the tottering, the
helplessness, the causeless tears and laughter, are disgusting in
old age. In the same manner, the absurdity which precedes a
period of general intelligence is often pleasing; that which
follows it is contemptible. The nonsense of Herodotus is that of
a baby. The nonsense of Xenophon is that of a dotard. His
stories about dreams, omens, and prophecies, present a strange
contrast to the passages in which the shrewd and incredulous
Thucydides mentions the popular superstitions. It is not quite
clear that Xenophon was honest in his credulity; his fanaticism
was in some degree politic. He would have made an excellent
member of the Apostolic Camarilla. An alarmist by nature, an
aristocrat by party, he carried to an unreasonable excess his
horror of popular turbulence. The quiet atrocity of Sparta did
not shock him in the same manner; for he hated tumult more than
crimes. He was desirous to find restraints which might curb the
passions of the multitude; and he absurdly fancied that he had
found them in a religion without evidences or sanction, precepts
or example, in a frigid system of Theophilanthropy, supported by
nursery tales.

Polybius and Arrian have given us authentic accounts of facts;
and here their merit ends. They were not men of comprehensive
minds; they had not the art of telling a story in an interesting
manner. They have in consequence been thrown into the shade by
writers who, though less studious of truth than themselves,
understood far better the art of producing effect,--by Livy and
Quintus Curtius.

Yet Polybius and Arrian deserve high praise when compared with
the writers of that school of which Plutarch may be considered as
the head. For the historians of this class we must confess that
we entertain a peculiar aversion. They seem to have been
pedants, who, though destitute of those valuable qualities which
are frequently found in conjunction with pedantry, thought
themselves great philosophers and great politicians. They not
only mislead their readers in every page, as to particular facts,
but they appear to have altogether misconceived the whole
character of the times of which they write. They were
inhabitants of an empire bounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the
Euphrates, by the ice of Scythia and the sands of Mauritania;
composed of nations whose manners, whose languages, whose
religion, whose countenances and complexions, were widely
different; governed by one mighty despotism, which had risen on
the ruins of a thousand commonwealths and kingdoms. Of liberty,
such as it is in small democracies, of patriotism, such as it is
in small independent communities of any kind, they had, and they
could have, no experimental knowledge. But they had read of men
who exerted themselves in the cause of their country with an
energy unknown in later times, who had violated the dearest of
domestic charities, or voluntarily devoted themselves to death
for the public good; and they wondered at the degeneracy of their
contemporaries. It never occurred to them that the feelings
which they so greatly admired sprung from local and occasional
causes; that they will always grow up spontaneously in small
societies; and that, in large empires, though they may be forced
into existence for a short time by peculiar circumstances, they
cannot be general or permanent. It is impossible that any man
should feel for a fortress on a remote frontier as he feels for
his own house; that he should grieve for a defeat in which ten
thousand people whom he never saw have fallen as he grieves for a
defeat which has half unpeopled the street in which he lives;
that he should leave his home for a military expedition in order
to preserve the balance of power, as cheerfully as he would leave
it to repel invaders who had begun to burn all the corn fields in
his neighbourhood.

The writers of whom we speak should have considered this. They
should have considered that in patriotism, such as it existed
amongst the Greeks, there was nothing essentially and eternally
good; that an exclusive attachment to a particular society,
though a natural, and, under certain restrictions, a most useful
sentiment, implies no extraordinary attainments in wisdom or
virtue; that, where it has existed in an intense degree, it has
turned states into gangs of robbers whom their mutual fidelity
has rendered more dangerous, has given a character of peculiar
atrocity to war, and has generated that worst of all political
evils, the tyranny of nations over nations.

Enthusiastically attached to the name of liberty, these
historians troubled themselves little about its definition. The
Spartans, tormented by ten thousand absurd restraints, unable to
please themselves in the choice of their wives, their suppers, or
their company, compelled to assume a peculiar manner, and to talk
in a peculiar style, gloried in their liberty. The aristocracy
of Rome repeatedly made liberty a plea for cutting off the
favourites of the people. In almost all the little commonwealths
of antiquity, liberty was used as a pretext for measures directed
against everything which makes liberty valuable, for measures
which stifled discussion, corrupted the administration of
justice, and discouraged the accumulation of property. The
writers, whose works we are considering, confounded the sound
with the substance, and the means with the end. Their
imaginations were inflamed by mystery. They conceived of liberty
as monks conceive of love, as cockneys conceive of the happiness
and innocence of rural life, as novel-reading sempstresses
conceive of Almack's and Grosvenor Square, accomplished
Marquesses and handsome Colonels of the Guards. In the relation
of events, and the delineation of characters, they have paid
little attention to facts, to the costume of the times of which
they pretend to treat, or to the general principles of human
nature. They have been faithful only to their own puerile and
extravagant doctrines. Generals and statesmen are metamorphosed
into magnanimous coxcombs, from whose fulsome virtues we turn
away with disgust. The fine sayings and exploits of their heroes
remind us of the insufferable perfections of Sir Charles
Grandison, and affect us with a nausea similar to that which we
feel when an actor, in one of Morton's or Kotzebue's plays, lays
his hand on his heart, advances to the ground-lights, and mouths
a moral sentence for the edification of the gods.

These writers, men who knew not what it was to have a country,
men who had never enjoyed political rights, brought into fashion
an offensive cant about patriotism and zeal for freedom. What
the English Puritans did for the language of Christianity, what
Scuderi did for the language of love, they did for the language
of public spirit. By habitual exaggeration they made it mean.
By monotonous emphasis they made it feeble. They abused it till
it became scarcely possible to use it with effect.

Their ordinary rules of morality are deduced from extreme cases.
The common regimen which they prescribe for society is made up of
those desperate remedies which only its most desperate distempers
require. They look with peculiar complacency on actions which
even those who approve them consider as exceptions to laws of
almost universal application--which bear so close an affinity to
the most atrocious crimes that, even where it may be unjust to
censure them, it is unsafe to praise them. It is not strange,
therefore, that some flagitious instances of perfidy and cruelty
should have been passed unchallenged in such company, that grave
moralists, with no personal interest at stake, should have
extolled, in the highest terms, deeds of which the atrocity
appalled even the infuriated factions in whose cause they were
perpetrated. The part which Timoleon took in the assassination
of his brother shocked many of his own partisans. The
recollection of it preyed long on his own mind. But it was
reserved for historians who lived some centuries later to
discover that his conduct was a glorious display of virtue, and
to lament that, from the frailty of human nature, a man who could
perform so great an exploit could repent of it.

The writings of these men, and of their modern imitators, have
produced effects which deserve some notice. The English have
been so long accustomed to political speculation, and have
enjoyed so large a measure of practical liberty, that such works
have produced little effect on their minds. We have classical
associations and great names of our own which we can confidently
oppose to the most splendid of ancient times. Senate has not to
our ears a sound so venerable as Parliament. We respect to the
Great Charter more than the laws of Solon. The Capitol and the
Forum impress us with less awe than our own Westminster Hall and
Westminster Abbey, the place where the great men of twenty
generations have contended, the place where they sleep together!
The list of warriors and statesmen by whom our constitution was
founded or preserved, from De Montfort down to Fox, may well
stand a comparison with the Fasti of Rome. The dying
thanksgiving of Sidney is as noble as the libation which Thrasea
poured to Liberating Jove: and we think with far less pleasure
of Cato tearing out his entrails than of Russell saying, as he
turned away from his wife, that the bitterness of death was past.
Even those parts of our history over which, on some accounts, we
would gladly throw a veil may be proudly opposed to those on
which the moralists of antiquity loved most to dwell. The enemy
of English liberty was not murdered by men whom he had pardoned
and loaded with benefits. He was not stabbed in the back by
those who smiled and cringed before his face. He was vanquished
on fields of stricken battle; he was arraigned, sentenced, and
executed in the face of heaven and earth. Our liberty is neither
Greek nor Roman; but essentially English. It has a character of
its own,--a character which has taken a tinge from the sentiments
of the chivalrous ages, and which accords with the peculiarities
of our manners and of our insular situation. It has a language,
too, of its own, and a language singularly idiomatic, full of
meaning to ourselves, scarcely intelligible to strangers.

Here, therefore, the effect of books such as those which we have
been considering has been harmless. They have, indeed, given
currency to many very erroneous opinions with respect to ancient
history. They have heated the imaginations of boys. They have
misled the judgment and corrupted the taste of some men of
letters, such as Akenside and Sir William Jones. But on persons
engaged in public affairs they have had very little influence.
The foundations of our constitution were laid by men who knew
nothing of the Greeks but that they denied the orthodox
procession and cheated the Crusaders; and nothing of Rome, but
that the Pope lived there. Those who followed, contented
themselves with improving on the original plan. They found
models at home and therefore they did not look for them abroad.
But, when enlightened men on the Continent began to think about
political reformation, having no patterns before their eyes in
their domestic history, they naturally had recourse to those
remains of antiquity, the study of which is considered throughout
Europe as an important part of education. The historians of whom
we have been speaking had been members of large communities, and
subjects of absolute sovereigns. Hence it is, as we have already
said, that they commit such gross errors in speaking of the
little republics of antiquity. Their works were now read in the
spirit in which they had been written. They were read by men
placed in circumstances closely resembling their own,
unacquainted with the real nature of liberty, but inclined to
believe everything good which could be told respecting it. How
powerfully these books impressed these speculative reformers, is
well known to all who have paid any attention to the French
literature of the last century. But, perhaps, the writer on whom
they produced the greatest effect was Vittorio Alfieri. In some
of his plays, particularly in Virginia, Timoleon, and Brutus the
Younger, he has even caricatured the extravagance of his masters.

It was not strange that the blind, thus led by the blind, should
stumble. The transactions of the French Revolution, in some
measure, took their character from these works. Without the
assistance of these works, indeed, a revolution would have taken
place,--a revolution productive of much good and much evil,
tremendous but shortlived, evil dearly purchased, but durable
good. But it would not have been exactly such a revolution. The
style, the accessories, would have been in many respects
different. There would have been less of bombast in language,
less of affectation in manner, less of solemn trifling and
ostentatious simplicity. The acts of legislative assemblies, and
the correspondence of diplomatists, would not have been disgraced
by rants worthy only of a college declamation. The government of
a great and polished nation would not have rendered itself
ridiculous by attempting to revive the usages of a world which
had long passed away, or rather of a world which had never
existed except in the description of a fantastic school of
writers. These second-hand imitations resembled the originals
about as much as the classical feast with which the Doctor in
Peregrine Pickle turned the stomachs of all his guests resembled
one of the suppers of Lucullus in the Hall of Apollo.

These were mere follies. But the spirit excited by these writers
produced more serious effects. The greater part of the crimes
which disgraced the revolution sprung indeed from the relaxation
of law, from popular ignorance, from the remembrance of past
oppression, from the fear of foreign conquest, from rapacity,
from ambition, from party-spirit. But many atrocious proceedings
must, doubtless, be ascribed to heated imagination, to perverted
principle, to a distaste for what was vulgar in morals, and a
passion for what was startling and dubious. Mr Burke has touched
on this subject with great felicity of expression: "The
gradation of their republic," says he, "is laid in moral
paradoxes. All those instances to be found in history, whether
real or fabulous, of a doubtful public spirit, at which morality
is perplexed, reason is staggered, and from which affrighted
nature recoils, are their chosen and almost sole examples for the
instruction of their youth." This evil, we believe, is to be
directly ascribed to the influence of the historians whom we have
mentioned, and their modern imitators.

Livy had some faults in common with these writers. But on the
whole he must be considered as forming a class by himself: no
historian with whom we are acquainted has shown so complete an
indifference to truth. He seems to have cared only about the
picturesque effect of his book, and the honour of his country.
On the other hand, we do not know, in the whole range of
literature, an instance of a bad thing so well done. The
painting of the narrative is beyond description vivid and
graceful. The abundance of interesting sentiments and splendid
imagery in the speeches is almost miraculous. His mind is a soil
which is never over-teemed, a fountain which never seems to
trickle. It pours forth profusely; yet it gives no sign of
exhaustion. It was probably to this exuberance of thought and
language, always fresh, always sweet, always pure, no sooner
yielded than repaired, that the critics applied that expression
which has been so much discussed lactea ubertas.

All the merits and all the defects of Livy take a colouring from
the character of his nation. He was a writer peculiarly Roman;
the proud citizen of a commonwealth which had indeed lost the
reality of liberty, but which still sacredly preserved its forms
--in fact, the subject of an arbitrary prince, but in his own
estimation one of the masters of the world, with a hundred kings
below him, and only the gods above him. He, therefore, looked
back on former times with feelings far different from those which
were naturally entertained by his Greek contemporaries, and which
at a later period became general among men of letters throughout
the Roman Empire. He contemplated the past with interest and
delight, not because it furnished a contrast to the present, but
because it had led to the present. He recurred to it, not to
lose in proud recollections the sense of national degradation,
but to trace the progress of national glory. It is true that his
veneration for antiquity produced on him some of the effects
which it produced on those who arrived at it by a very different
road. He has something of their exaggeration, something of their
cant, something of their fondness for anomalies and lusus naturae
in morality. Yet even here we perceive a difference. They talk
rapturously of patriotism and liberty in the abstract. He does
not seem to think any country but Rome deserving of love; nor is
it for liberty as liberty, but for liberty as a part of the Roman
institutions, that he is zealous.

Of the concise and elegant accounts of the campaigns of Caesar
little can be said. They are incomparable models for military
despatches. But histories they are not, and do not pretend to

The ancient critics placed Sallust in the same rank with Livy;
and unquestionably the small portion of his works which has come
down to us is calculated to give a high opinion of his talents.
But his style is not very pleasant: and his most powerful work,
the account of the Conspiracy of Catiline, has rather the air of
a clever party pamphlet than that of a history. It abounds with
strange inconsistencies, which, unexplained as they are,
necessarily excite doubts as to the fairness of the narrative.
It is true, that many circumstances now forgotten may have been
familiar to his contemporaries, and may have rendered passages
clear to them which to us appear dubious and perplexing. But a
great historian should remember that he writes for distant
generations, for men who will perceive the apparent
contradictions, and will possess no means of reconciling them.
We can only vindicate the fidelity of Sallust at the expense of
his skill. But in fact all the information which we have from
contemporaries respecting this famous plot is liable to the same
objection, and is read by discerning men with the same
incredulity. It is all on one side. No answer has reached our
times. Yet on the showing of the accusers the accused seem
entitled to acquittal. Catiline, we are told, intrigued with a
Vestal virgin, and murdered his own son. His house was a den of
gamblers and debauchees. No young man could cross his threshold
without danger to his fortune and reputation. Yet this is the
man with whom Cicero was willing to coalesce in a contest for the
first magistracy of the republic; and whom he described, long
after the fatal termination of the conspiracy, as an accomplished
hypocrite, by whom he had himself been deceived, and who had
acted with consummate skill the character of a good citizen and a
good friend. We are told that the plot was the most wicked and
desperate ever known, and, almost in the same breath, that the
great body of the people, and many of the nobles, favoured it;
that the richest citizens of Rome were eager for the spoliation
of all property, and its highest functionaries for the
destruction of all order; that Crassus, Caesar, the Praetor
Lentulus, one of the consuls of the year, one of the consuls
elect, were proved or suspected to be engaged in a scheme for
subverting institutions to which they owed the highest honours,
and introducing universal anarchy. We are told that a
government, which knew all this, suffered the conspirator, whose
rank, talents, and courage rendered him most dangerous, to quit
Rome without molestation. We are told that bondmen and
gladiators were to be armed against the citizens. Yet we find
that Catiline rejected the slaves who crowded to enlist in his
army, lest, as Sallust himself expresses it, "he should seem to
identify their cause with that of the citizens." Finally, we are
told that the magistrate, who was universally allowed to have
saved all classes of his countrymen from conflagration and
massacre, rendered himself so unpopular by his conduct that a
marked insult was offered to him at the expiration of his office,
and a severe punishment inflicted on him shortly after.

Sallust tells us, what, indeed, the letters and speeches of
Cicero sufficiently prove, that some persons consider the
shocking, and atrocious parts of the plot as mere inventions of
the government, designed to excuse its unconstitutional measures.
We must confess ourselves to be of that opinion. There was,
undoubtedly, a strong party desirous to change the
administration. While Pompey held the command of an army, they
could not effect their purpose without preparing means for
repelling force, if necessary, by force. In all this there is
nothing different from the ordinary practice of Roman factions.
The other charges brought against the conspirators are so
inconsistent and improbable, that we give no credit whatever to
them. If our readers think this scepticism unreasonable, let
them turn to the contemporary accounts of the Popish plot. Let
them look over the votes of Parliament, and the speeches of the
king; the charges of Scroggs, and the harangues of the managers
employed against Strafford. A person who should form his
judgment from these pieces alone would believe that London was
set on fire by the Papists, and that Sir Edmondbury Godfrey was
murdered for his religion. Yet these stories are now altogether
exploded. They have been abandoned by statesmen to aldermen, by
aldermen to clergymen, by clergymen to old women, and by old
women to Sir Harcourt Lees.

Of the Latin historians, Tacitus was certainly the greatest. His
style, indeed, is not only faulty in itself, but is, in some
respects, peculiarly unfit for historical composition. He
carries his love of effect far beyond the limits of moderation.
He tells a fine story finely, but he cannot tell a plain story
plainly. He stimulates till stimulants lose their power.
Thucydides, as we have already observed, relates ordinary
transactions with the unpretending clearness and succinctness of
a gazette. His great powers of painting he reserves for events
of which the slightest details are interesting. The simplicity
of the setting gives additional lustre to the brilliants. There
are passages in the narrative of Tacitus superior to the best
which can be quoted from Thucydides. But they are not enchased
and relieved with the same skill. They are far more striking
when extracted from the body of the work to which they belong
than when they occur in their place, and are read in connection
with what precedes and follows.

In the delineation of character, Tacitus is unrivalled among
historians, and has very few superiors among dramatists and
novelists. By the delineation of character, we do not mean the
practice of drawing up epigrammatic catalogues of good and bad
qualities, and appending them to the names of eminent men. No
writer, indeed, has done this more skilfully than Tacitus; but
this is not his peculiar glory. All the persons who occupy a
large space in his works have an individuality of character which
seems to pervade all their words and actions. We know them as if
we had lived with them. Claudius, Nero, Otho, both the
Agrippinas, are masterpieces. But Tiberius is a still higher
miracle of art. The historian undertook to make us intimately
acquainted with a man singularly dark and inscrutable,--with a
man whose real disposition long remained swathed up in intricate
folds of factitious virtues, and over whose actions the hypocrisy
of his youth, and the seclusion of his old age, threw a singular
mystery. He was to exhibit the specious qualities of the tyrant
in a light which might render them transparent, and enable us at
once to perceive the covering and the vices which it concealed.
He was to trace the gradations by which the first magistrate of a
republic, a senator mingling freely in debate, a noble
associating with his brother nobles, was transformed into an
Asiatic sultan; he was to exhibit a character, distinguished by
courage, self-command, and profound policy, yet defiled by all

"th' extravagancy
And crazy ribaldry of fancy."

He was to mark the gradual effect of advancing age and
approaching death on this strange compound of strength and
weakness; to exhibit the old sovereign of the world sinking into
a dotage which, though it rendered his appetites eccentric, and
his temper savage, never impaired the powers of his stern and
penetrating mind--conscious of failing strength, raging with
capricious sensuality, yet to the last the keenest of observers,
the most artful of dissemblers, and the most terrible of masters.
The task was one of extreme difficulty. The execution is almost

The talent which is required to write history thus bears a
considerable affinity to the talent of a great dramatist. There
is one obvious distinction. The dramatist creates; the historian
only disposes. The difference is not in the mode of execution,
but in the mode of conception. Shakspeare is guided by a model
which exists in his imagination; Tacitus, by a model furnished
from without. Hamlet is to Tiberius what the Laocoon is to the
Newton of Roubilliac.

In this part of his art Tacitus certainly had neither equal nor
second among the ancient historians. Herodotus, though he wrote
in a dramatic form, had little of dramatic genius. The frequent
dialogues which he introduces give vivacity and movement to the
narrative, but are not strikingly characteristic. Xenophon is
fond of telling his readers, at considerable length, what he
thought of the persons whose adventures he relates. But he does
not show them the men, and enable them to judge for themselves.
The heroes of Livy are the most insipid of all beings, real or
imaginary, the heroes of Plutarch always excepted. Indeed, the
manner of Plutarch in this respect reminds us of the cookery of
those continental inns, the horror of English travellers, in
which a certain nondescript broth is kept constantly boiling, and
copiously poured, without distinction, over every dish as it
comes up to table. Thucydides, though at a wide interval, comes
next to Tacitus. His Pericles, his Nicias, his Cleon, his
Brasidas, are happily discriminated. The lines are few, the
colouring faint: but the general air and expression is caught.

We begin, like the priest in Don Quixote's library, to be tired
with taking down books one after another for separate judgment,
and feel inclined to pass sentence on them in masses. We shall
therefore, instead of pointing out the defects and merits of the
different modern historians, state generally in what particulars
they have surpassed their predecessors, and in what we conceive
them to have failed.

They have certainly been, in one sense, far more strict in their
adherence to truth than most of the Greek and Roman writers.
They do not think themselves entitled to render their narrative
interesting by introducing descriptions, conversations, and
harangues which have no existence but in their own imagination.
This improvement was gradually introduced. History commenced
among the modern nations of Europe, as it had commenced among the
Greeks, in romance. Froissart was our Herodotus. Italy was to
Europe what Athens was to Greece. In Italy, therefore, a more
accurate and manly mode of narration was early introduced.
Machiavelli and Guicciardini, in imitation of Livy and
Thucydides, composed speeches for their historical personages.
But, as the classical enthusiasm which distinguished the age of
Lorenzo and Leo gradually subsided, this absurd practice was
abandoned. In France, we fear, it still, in some degree, keeps
its ground. In our own country, a writer who should venture on
it would be laughed to scorn. Whether the historians of the last
two centuries tell more truth than those of antiquity, may
perhaps be doubted. But it is quite certain that they tell fewer

In the philosophy of history, the moderns have very far surpassed
the ancients. It is not, indeed, strange that the Greeks and
Romans should not have carried the science of government, or any
other experimental science, so far as it has been carried in our
time; for the experimental sciences are generally in a state of
progression. They were better understood in the seventeenth
century than in the sixteenth, and in the eighteenth century than
in the seventeenth. But this constant improvement, this natural
growth of knowledge, will not altogether account for the immense
superiority of the modern writers. The difference is a
difference not in degree, but of kind. It is not merely that new
principles have been discovered, but that new faculties seem to
be exerted. It is not that at one time the human intellect
should have made but small progress, and at another time have
advanced far: but that at one time it should have been
stationary, and at another time constantly proceeding. In taste
and imagination, in the graces of style, in the arts of
persuasion, in the magnificence of public works, the ancients
were at least our equals. They reasoned as justly as ourselves
on subjects which required pure demonstration. But in the moral
sciences they made scarcely any advance. During the long period
which elapsed between the fifth century before the Christian era
and the fifth century after it little perceptible progress was
made. All the metaphysical discoveries of all the philosophers,
from the time of Socrates to the northern invasion, are not to be
compared in importance with those which have been made in England
every fifty years since the time of Elizabeth. There is not the
least reason to believe that the principles of government,
legislation, and political economy, were better understood in the
time of Augustus Caesar than in the time of Pericles. In our own
country, the sound doctrines of trade and jurisprudence have
been, within the lifetime of a single generation, dimly hinted,
boldly propounded, defended, systematised, adopted by all
reflecting men of all parties, quoted in legislative assemblies,
incorporated into laws and treaties.

To what is this change to be attributed? Partly, no doubt, to
the discovery of printing, a discovery which has not only
diffused knowledge widely, but, as we have already observed, has
also introduced into reasoning a precision unknown in those
ancient communities, in which information, was, for the most
part, conveyed orally. There was, we suspect, another cause,
less obvious, but still more powerful.

The spirit of the two most famous nations of antiquity was
remarkably exclusive. In the time of Homer the Greeks had not
begun to consider themselves as a distinct race. They still
looked with something of childish wonder and awe on the riches
and wisdom of Sidon and Egypt. From what causes, and by what
gradations, their feelings underwent a change, it is not easy to
determine. Their history, from the Trojan to the Persian war, is
covered with an obscurity broken only by dim and scattered gleams
of truth. But it is certain that a great alteration took place.
They regarded themselves as a separate people. They had common
religious rites, and common principles of public law, in which
foreigners had no part. In all their political systems,
monarchical, aristocratical, and democratical, there was a strong
family likeness. After the retreat of Xerxes and the fall of
Mardonius, national pride rendered the separation between the
Greeks and the barbarians complete. The conquerors considered
themselves men of a superior breed, men who, in their intercourse
with neighbouring nations, were to teach, and not to learn. They
looked for nothing out of themselves. They borrowed nothing.
They translated nothing. We cannot call to mind a single
expression of any Greek writer earlier than the age of Augustus,
indicating an opinion that anything worth reading could be
written in any language except his own. The feelings which
sprung from national glory were not altogether extinguished by
national degradation. They were fondly cherished through ages of
slavery and shame. The literature of Rome herself was regarded
with contempt by those who had fled before her arms, and who
bowed beneath her fasces. Voltaire says, in one of his six
thousand pamphlets, that he was the first person who told the
French that England had produced eminent men besides the Duke of
Marlborough. Down to a very late period, the Greeks seem to have
stood in need of similar information with respect to their
masters. With Paulus Aemilius, Sylla, and Caesar, they were well
acquainted. But the notions which they entertained respecting
Cicero and Virgil were, probably, not unlike those which Boileau
may have formed about Shakspeare. Dionysius lived in the most
splendid age of Latin poetry and eloquence. He was a critic,
and, after the manner of his age, an able critic. He studied the
language of Rome, associated with its learned men, and compiled
its history. Yet he seems to have thought its literature
valuable only for the purpose of illustrating its antiquities.
His reading appears to have been confined to its public records,
and to a few old annalists. Once, and but once, if we remember
rightly, he quotes Ennius, to solve a question of etymology. He
has written much on the art of oratory: yet he has not mentioned
the name of Cicero.

The Romans submitted to the pretensions of a race which they
despised. Their epic poet, while he claimed for them pre-
eminence in the arts of government and war, acknowledged their
inferiority in taste, eloquence, and science. Men of letters
affected to understand the Greek language better than their own.
Pomponius preferred the honour of becoming an Athenian, by
intellectual naturalisation, to all the distinctions which were
to be acquired in the political contests of Rome. His great
friend composed Greek poems and memoirs. It is well-known that
Petrarch considered that beautiful language in which his sonnets
are written, as a barbarous jargon, and intrusted his fame to
those wretched Latin hexameters which, during the last four
centuries, have scarcely found four readers. Many eminent Romans
appear to have felt the same contempt for their native tongue as
compared with the Greek. The prejudice continued to a very late
period. Julian was as partial to the Greek language as Frederic
the Great to the French: and it seems that he could not express
himself with elegance in the dialect of the state which he ruled.

Even those Latin writers who did not carry this affectation so
far looked on Greece as the only fount of knowledge. From Greece
they derived the measures of their poetry, and, indeed, all of
poetry that can be imported. From Greece they borrowed the
principles and the vocabulary of their philosophy. To the
literature of other nations they do not seem to have paid the
slightest attention. The sacred books of the Hebrews, for
example, books which, considered merely as human compositions,
are invaluable to the critic, the antiquarian, and the
philosopher, seem to have been utterly unnoticed by them. The
peculiarities of Judaism, and the rapid growth of Christianity,
attracted their notice. They made war against the Jews. They
made laws against the Christians. But they never opened the
books of Moses. Juvenal quotes the Pentateuch with censure. The
author of the treatise on "the Sublime" quotes it with praise:
but both of them quote it erroneously. When we consider what
sublime poetry, what curious history, what striking and peculiar
views of the Divine nature and of the social duties of men, are
to be found in the Jewish scriptures, when we consider that two
sects on which the attention of the government was constantly
fixed appealed to those scriptures as the rule of their faith and
practice, this indifference is astonishing. The fact seems to
be, that the Greeks admired only themselves, and that the Romans
admired only themselves and the Greeks. Literary men turned away
with disgust from modes of thought and expression so widely
different from all that they had been accustomed to admire. The
effect was narrowness and sameness of thought. Their minds, if
we may so express ourselves, bred in and in, and were accordingly
cursed with barrenness and degeneracy. No extraneous beauty or
vigour was engrafted on the decaying stock. By an exclusive
attention to one class of phenomena, by an exclusive taste for
one species of excellence, the human intellect was stunted.
Occasional coincidences were turned into general rules.
Prejudices were confounded with instincts. On man, as he was
found in a particular state of society--on government, as it had
existed in a particular corner of the world, many just
observations were made; but of man as man, or government as
government, little was known. Philosophy remained stationary.
Slight changes, sometimes for the worse and sometimes for the
better, were made in the superstructure. But nobody thought of
examining the foundations.

The vast despotism of the Caesars, gradually effacing all
national peculiarities, and assimilating the remotest provinces
of the empire to each other, augmented the evil. At the close of
the third century after Christ, the prospects of mankind were
fearfully dreary. A system of etiquette, as pompously frivolous
as that of the Escurial, had been established. A sovereign
almost invisible; a crowd of dignitaries minutely distinguished
by badges and titles; rhetoricians who said nothing but what had
been said ten thousand times; schools in which nothing was taught
but what had been known for ages: such was the machinery
provided for the government and instruction of the most
enlightened part of the human race. That great community was
then in danger of experiencing a calamity far more terrible than
any of the quick, inflammatory, destroying maladies, to which
nations are liable,--a tottering, drivelling, paralytic
longevity, the immortality of the Struldbrugs, a Chinese
civilisation. It would be easy to indicate many points of
resemblance between the subjects of Diocletian and the people of
that Celestial Empire, where, during many centuries, nothing has
been learned or unlearned; where government, where education,
where the whole system of life, is a ceremony; where knowledge
forgets to increase and multiply, and, like the talent buried in
the earth, or the pound wrapped up in the napkin, experiences
neither waste no augmentation.

The torpor was broken by two great revolutions, the one moral,
the other political, the one from within, the other from without.
The victory of Christianity over Paganism, considered with
relation to this subject only, was of great importance. It
overthrew the old system of morals; and with it much of the old
system of metaphysics. It furnished the orator with new topics
of declamation, and the logician with new points of controversy.
Above all, it introduced a new principle, of which the operation
was constantly felt in every part of society. It stirred the
stagnant mass from the inmost depths. It excited all the
passions of a stormy democracy in the quiet and listless
population of an overgrown empire. The fear of heresy did what
the sense of oppression could not do; it changed men, accustomed
to be turned over like sheep from tyrant to tyrant, into devoted
partisans and obstinate rebels. The tones of an eloquence which
had been silent for ages resounded from the pulpit of Gregory. A
spirit which had been extinguished on the plains of Philippi
revived in Athanasius and Ambrose.

Yet even this remedy was not sufficiently violent for the
disease. It did not prevent the empire of Constantinople from
relapsing, after a short paroxysm of excitement, into a state of
stupefaction, to which history furnishes scarcely any parallel.
We there find that a polished society, a society in which a most
intricate and elaborate system of jurisprudence was established,
in which the arts of luxury were well understood, in which the
works of the great ancient writers were preserved and studied,
existed for nearly a thousand years without making one great
discovery in science, or producing one book which is read by any
but curious inquirers. There were tumults, too, and
controversies, and wars in abundance: and these things, bad as
they are in themselves, have generally been favourable to the
progress of the intellect. But here they tormented without
stimulating. The waters were troubled; but no healing influence
descended. The agitations resembled the grinnings and writhings
of a galvanised corpse, not the struggles of an athletic man.

From this miserable state the Western Empire was saved by the
fiercest and most destroying visitation with which God has ever
chastened his creatures--the invasion of the Northern nations.
Such a cure was required for such a distemper. The fire of
London, it has been observed was a blessing. It burned down the
city; but it burned out the plague. The same may be said of the
tremendous devastation of the Roman dominions. It annihilated
the noisome recesses in which lurked the seeds of great moral
maladies; it cleared an atmosphere fatal to the health and vigour
of the human mind. It cost Europe a thousand years of barbarism
to escape the fate of China.

At length the terrible purification was accomplished; and the
second civilisation of mankind commenced, under circumstances
which afforded a strong security that it would never retrograde
and never pause. Europe was now a great federal community. Her
numerous states were united by the easy ties of international law
and a common religion. Their institutions, their languages,
their manners, their tastes in literature, their modes of
education, were widely different. Their connection was close
enough to allow of mutual observation and improvement, yet not so
close as to destroy the idioms of national opinion and feeling.

The balance of moral and intellectual influence thus established
between the nations of Europe is far more important than the
balance of political power. Indeed, we are inclined to think
that the latter is valuable principally because it tends to
maintain the former. The civilised world has thus been preserved
from a uniformity of character fatal to all improvement. Every
part of it has been illuminated with light reflected from every
other. Competition has produced activity where monopoly would
have produced sluggishness. The number of experiments in moral
science which the speculator has an opportunity of witnessing has
been increased beyond all calculation. Society and human nature,
instead of being seen in a single point of view, are presented to
him under ten thousand different aspects. By observing the
manners of surrounding nations, by studying their literature, by
comparing it with that of his own country and of the ancient
republics, he is enabled to correct those errors into which the
most acute men must fall when they reason from a single species
to a genus. He learns to distinguish what is local from what is
universal: what is transitory from what is eternal; to
discriminate between exceptions and rules; to trace the operation
of disturbing causes; to separate those general principles which
are always true and everywhere applicable from the accidental
circumstances with which, in every community, they are blended,
and with which, in an isolated community, they are confounded by
the most philosophical mind.

Hence it is that, in generalisation, the writers of modern times
have far surpassed those of antiquity. The historians of our own
country are unequalled in depth and precision of reason; and,
even in the works of our mere compilers, we often meet with
speculations beyond the reach of Thucydides or Tacitus.

But it must, at the same time, be admitted that they have
characteristic faults, so closely connected with their
characteristic merits, and of such magnitude, that it may well be
doubted whether, on the whole, this department of literature has
gained or lost during the last two-and-twenty centuries.

The best historians of later times have been seduced from truth,
not by their imagination, but by their reason. They far excel
their predecessors in the art of deducing general principles from
facts. But unhappily they have fallen into the error of
distorting facts to suit general principles. They arrive at a
theory from looking at some of the phenomena; and the remaining
phenomena they strain or curtail to suit the theory. For this
purpose it is not necessary that they should assert what is
absolutely false; for all questions in morals and politics are
questions of comparison and degree. Any proposition which does
not involve a contradiction in terms may by possibility be true;
and, if all the circumstances which raise a probability in its
favour, be stated and enforced, and those which lead to an
opposite conclusion be omitted or lightly passed over, it may
appear to be demonstrated. In every human character and
transaction there is a mixture of good and evil: a little
exaggeration, a little suppression, a judicious use of epithets,
a watchful and searching scepticism with respect to the evidence
on one side, a convenient credulity with respect to every report
or tradition on the other, may easily make a saint of Laud, or a
tyrant of Henry the Fourth.

This species of misrepresentation abounds in the most valuable
works of modern historians. Herodotus tells his story like a
slovenly witness, who, heated by partialities and prejudices,
unacquainted with the established rules of evidence, and
uninstructed as to the obligations of his oath, confounds what he
imagines with what he has seen and heard, and brings out facts,
reports, conjectures, and fancies, in one mass. Hume is an
accomplished advocate. Without positively asserting much more
than he can prove, he gives prominence to all the circumstances
which support his case; he glides lightly over those which are
unfavourable to it; his own witnesses are applauded and
encouraged; the statements which seem to throw discredit on them
are controverted; the contradictions into which they fall are
explained away; a clear and connected abstract of their evidence
is given. Everything that is offered on the other side is
scrutinised with the utmost severity; every suspicious
circumstance is a ground for comment and invective; what cannot
be denied is extenuated, or passed by without notice; concessions
even are sometimes made: but this insidious candour only
increases the effect of the vast mass of sophistry.

We have mentioned Hume as the ablest and most popular writer of
his class; but the charge which we have brought against him is
one to which all our most distinguished historians are in some
degree obnoxious. Gibbon, in particular, deserves very severe
censure. Of all the numerous culprits, however, none is more
deeply guilty than Mr Mitford. We willingly acknowledge the
obligations which are due to his talents and industry. The
modern historians of Greece had been in the habit of writing as
if the world had learned nothing new during the last sixteen
hundred years. Instead of illustrating the events which they
narrated by the philosophy of a more enlightened age, they judged
of antiquity by itself alone. They seemed to think that notions,
long driven from every other corner of literature, had a
prescriptive right to occupy this last fastness. They considered
all the ancient historians as equally authentic. They scarcely
made any distinction between him who related events at which he
had himself been present and him who five hundred years after
composed a philosophic romance for a society which had in the
interval undergone a complete change. It was all Greek, and all
true! The centuries which separated Plutarch from Thucydides
seemed as nothing to men who lived in an age so remote. The
distance of time produced an error similar to that which is
sometimes produced by distance of place. There are many good
ladies who think that all the people in India live together, and
who charge a friend setting out for Calcutta with kind messages
to Bombay. To Rollin and Barthelemi, in the same manner, all the
classics were contemporaries.

Mr Mitford certainly introduced great improvements; he showed us
that men who wrote in Greek and Latin sometimes told lies; he
showed us that ancient history might be related in such a manner
as to furnish not only allusions to schoolboys, but important
lessons to statesmen. From that love of theatrical effect and
high-flown sentiment which had poisoned almost every other work
on the same subject his book is perfectly free. But his passion
for a theory as false, and far more ungenerous, led him
substantially to violate truth in every page. Statements
unfavourable to democracy are made with unhesitating confidence,
and with the utmost bitterness of language. Every charge brought
against a monarch or an aristocracy is sifted with the utmost
care. If it cannot be denied, some palliating supposition is
suggested; or we are at least reminded that some circumstances
now unknown MAY have justified what at present appears
unjustifiable. Two events are reported by the same author in the
same sentence; their truth rests on the same testimony; but the
one supports the darling hypothesis, and the other seems
inconsistent with it. The one is taken and the other is left.

The practice of distorting narrative into a conformity with
theory is a vice not so unfavourable as at first sight it may
appear to the interests of political science. We have compared
the writers who indulge in it to advocates; and we may add, that
their conflicting fallacies, like those of advocates, correct
each other. It has always been held, in the most enlightened
nations, that a tribunal will decide a judicial question most
fairly when it has heard two able men argue, as unfairly as
possible, on the two opposite sides of it; and we are inclined to
think that this opinion is just. Sometimes, it is true, superior
eloquence and dexterity will make the worse appear the better
reason; but it is at least certain that the judge will be
compelled to contemplate the case under two different aspects.
It is certain that no important consideration will altogether
escape notice.

This is at present the state of history. The poet laureate
appears for the Church of England, Lingard for the Church of
Rome. Brodie has moved to set aside the verdicts obtained by
Hume; and the cause in which Mitford succeeded is, we understand,
about to be reheard. In the midst of these disputes, however,
history proper, if we may use the term, is disappearing. The
high, grave, impartial summing up of Thucydides is nowhere to be

While our historians are practising all the arts of controversy,
they miserably neglect the art of narration, the art of
interesting the affections and presenting pictures to the
imagination. That a writer may produce these effects without
violating truth is sufficiently proved by many excellent
biographical works. The immense popularity which well-written
books of this kind have acquired deserves the serious
consideration of historians. Voltaire's Charles the Twelfth,
Marmontel's Memoirs, Boswell's Life of Johnson, Southey's account
of Nelson, are perused with delight by the most frivolous and
indolent. Whenever any tolerable book of the same description
makes its appearance, the circulating libraries are mobbed; the
book societies are in commotion; the new novel lies uncut; the
magazines and newspapers fill their columns with extracts. In
the meantime histories of great empires, written by men of
eminent ability, lie unread on the shelves of ostentatious

The writers of history seem to entertain an aristocratical
contempt for the writers of memoirs. They think it beneath the
dignity of men who describe the revolutions of nations to dwell
on the details which constitute the charm of biography. They
have imposed on themselves a code of conventional decencies as
absurd as that which has been the bane of the French drama. The
most characteristic and interesting circumstances are omitted or
softened down, because, as we are told, they are too trivial for
the majesty of history. The majesty of history seems to resemble
the majesty of the poor King of Spain, who died a martyr to
ceremony because the proper dignitaries were not at hand to
render him assistance.

That history would be more amusing if this etiquette were relaxed
will, we suppose, be acknowledged. But would it be less
dignified or less useful? What do we mean when we say that one
past event is important and another insignificant? No past event
has any intrinsic importance. The knowledge of it is valuable
only as it leads us to form just calculations with respect to the
future. A history which does not serve this purpose, though it
may be filled with battles, treaties, and commotions, is as
useless as the series of turnpike tickets collected by Sir
Matthew Mite.

Let us suppose that Lord Clarendon, instead of filling hundreds
of folio pages with copies of state papers, in which the same
assertions and contradictions are repeated till the reader is
overpowered with weariness, had condescended to be the Boswell of
the Long Parliament. Let us suppose that he had exhibited to us
the wise and lofty self-government of Hampden, leading while he
seemed to follow, and propounding unanswerable arguments in the
strongest forms with the modest air of an inquirer anxious for
information; the delusions which misled the noble spirit of Vane;
the coarse fanaticism which concealed the yet loftier genius of
Cromwell, destined to control a motionless army and a factious
people, to abase the flag of Holland, to arrest the victorious
arms of Sweden, and to hold the balance firm between the rival
monarchies of France and Spain. Let us suppose that he had made
his Cavaliers and Roundheads talk in their own style; that he had
reported some of the ribaldry of Rupert's pages, and some of the
cant of Harrison and Fleetwood. Would not his work in that case
have been more interesting? Would it not have been more

A history in which every particular incident may be true may on
the whole be false. The circumstances which have most influence
on the happiness of mankind, the changes of manners and morals,
the transition of communities from poverty to wealth, from
knowledge to ignorance, from ferocity to humanity--these are, for
the most part, noiseless revolutions. Their progress is rarely
indicated by what historians are pleased to call important
events. They are not achieved by armies, or enacted by senates.
They are sanctioned by no treaties, and recorded in no archives.
They are carried on in every school, in every church, behind ten
thousand counters, at ten thousand firesides. The upper current
of society presents no certain criterion by which we can judge of
the direction in which the under current flows. We read of
defeats and victories. But we know that nations may be miserable
amidst victories and prosperous amidst defeats. We read of the
fall of wise ministers and of the rise of profligate favourites.
But we must remember how small a proportion the good or evil
effected by a single statesman can bear to the good or evil of a
great social system.

Bishop Watson compares a geologist to a gnat mounted on an
elephant, and laying down theories as to the whole internal
structure of the vast animal, from the phenomena of the hide.
The comparison is unjust to the geologists; but is very
applicable to those historians who write as if the body politic
were homogeneous, who look only on the surface of affairs, and
never think of the mighty and various organisation which lies
deep below.

In the works of such writers as these, England, at the close of
the Seven Years' War, is in the highest state of prosperity: at
the close of the American war she is in a miserable and degraded
condition; as if the people were not on the whole as rich, as
well governed, and as well educated at the latter period as at
the former. We have read books called Histories of England,
under the reign of George the Second, in which the rise of
Methodism is not even mentioned. A hundred years hence this
breed of authors will, we hope, be extinct. If it should still
exist, the late ministerial interregnum will be described in
terms which will seem to imply that all government was at an end;
that the social contract was annulled; and that the hand of every
man was against his neighbour, until the wisdom and virtue of the
new cabinet educed order out of the chaos of anarchy. We are
quite certain that misconceptions as gross prevail at this moment
respecting many important parts of our annals.

The effect of historical reading is analogous, in many respects,
to that produced by foreign travel. The student, like the
tourist, is transported into a new state of society. He sees new
fashions. He hears new modes of expression. His mind is
enlarged by contemplating the wide diversities of laws, of
morals, and of manners. But men may travel far, and return with
minds as contracted as if they had never stirred from their own
market-town. In the same manner, men may know the dates of many
battles and the genealogies of many royal houses, and yet be no
wiser. Most people look at past times as princes look at foreign
countries. More than one illustrious stranger has landed on our
island amidst the shouts of a mob, has dined with the king, has
hunted with the master of the stag-hounds, has seen the guards
reviewed, and a knight of the garter installed, has cantered
along Regent Street, has visited Saint Paul's, and noted down its
dimensions; and has then departed, thinking that he has seen
England. He has, in fact, seen a few public buildings, public
men, and public ceremonies. But of the vast and complex system
of society, of the fine shades of national character, of the
practical operation of government and laws, he knows nothing. He
who would understand these things rightly must not confine his
observations to palaces and solemn days. He must see ordinary
men as they appear in their ordinary business and in their
ordinary pleasures. He must mingle in the crowds of the exchange
and the coffee-house. He must obtain admittance to the convivial
table and the domestic hearth. He must bear with vulgar
expressions. He must not shrink from exploring even the retreats
of misery. He who wishes to understand the condition of mankind
in former ages must proceed on the same principle. If he attends
only to public transactions, to wars, congresses, and debates,
his studies will be as unprofitable as the travels of those
imperial, royal, and serene sovereigns who form their judgment of
our island from having gone in state to a few fine sights, and
from having held formal conferences with a few great officers.

The perfect historian is he in whose work the character and
spirit of an age is exhibited in miniature. He relates no fact,
he attributes no expression to his characters, which is not
authenticated by sufficient testimony. But, by judicious
selection, rejection, and arrangement, he gives to truth those
attractions which have been usurped by fiction. In his narrative
a due subordination is observed: some transactions are
prominent; others retire. But the scale on which he represents
them is increased or diminished, not according to the dignity of
the persons concerned in them, but according to the degree in
which they elucidate the condition of society and the nature of
man. He shows us the court, the camp, and the senate. But he
shows us also the nation. He considers no anecdote, no
peculiarity of manner, no familiar saying, as too insignificant
for his notice which is not too insignificant to illustrate the
operation of laws, of religion, and of education, and to mark the
progress of the human mind. Men will not merely be described,
but will be made intimately known to us. The changes of manners
will be indicated, not merely by a few general phrases or a few
extracts from statistical documents, but by appropriate images
presented in every line.

If a man, such as we are supposing, should write the history of
England, he would assuredly not omit the battles, the sieges, the
negotiations, the seditions, the ministerial changes. But with
these he would intersperse the details which are the charm of
historical romances. At Lincoln Cathedral there is a beautiful
painted window, which was made by an apprentice out of the pieces
of glass which had been rejected by his master. It is so far
superior to every other in the church, that, according to the
tradition, the vanquished artist killed himself from
mortification. Sir Walter Scott, in the same manner, has used
those fragments of truth which historians have scornfully thrown
behind them in a manner which may well excite their envy. He has
constructed out of their gleanings works which, even considered
as histories, are scarcely less valuable than theirs. But a
truly great historian would reclaim those materials which the
novelist has appropriated. The history of the government, and
the history of the people, would be exhibited in that mode in
which alone they can be exhibited justly, in inseparable
conjunction and intermixture. We should not then have to look
for the wars and votes of the Puritans in Clarendon, and for
their phraseology in Old Mortality; for one half of King James in
Hume, and for the other half in the Fortunes of Nigel.

The early part of our imaginary history would be rich with
colouring from romance, ballad, and chronicle. We should find
ourselves in the company of knights such as those of Froissart,
and of pilgrims such as those who rode with Chaucer from the
Tabard. Society would be shown from the highest to the lowest,--
from the royal cloth of state to the den of the outlaw; from the
throne of the legate to the chimney-corner where the begging
friar regaled himself. Palmers, minstrels, crusaders,--the
stately monastery, with the good cheer in its refectory and the
high-mass in its chapel,--the manor-house, with its hunting and
hawking,--the tournament, with the heralds and ladies, the
trumpets and the cloth of gold,--would give truth and life to the
representation. We should perceive, in a thousand slight
touches, the importance of the privileged burgher, and the fierce
and haughty spirit which swelled under the collar of the degraded
villain. The revival of letters would not merely be described in
a few magnificent periods. We should discern, in innumerable
particulars, the fermentation of mind, the eager appetite for
knowledge, which distinguished the sixteenth from the fifteenth
century. In the Reformation we should see, not merely a schism
which changed the ecclesiastical constitution of England and the
mutual relations of the European powers, but a moral war which
raged in every family, which set the father against the son, and
the son against the father, the mother against the daughter, and
the daughter against the mother. Henry would be painted with the
skill of Tacitus. We should have the change of his character
from his profuse and joyous youth to his savage and imperious old
age. We should perceive the gradual progress of selfish and
tyrannical passions in a mind not naturally insensible or
ungenerous; and to the last we should detect some remains of that
open and noble temper which endeared him to a people whom he
oppressed, struggling with the hardness of despotism and the
irritability of disease. We should see Elizabeth in all her
weakness and in all her strength, surrounded by the handsome
favourites whom she never trusted, and the wise old statesmen
whom she never dismissed, uniting in herself the most
contradictory qualities of both her parents,--the coquetry, the
caprice, the petty malice of Anne,--the haughty and resolute
spirit of Henry. We have no hesitation in saying that a great
artist might produce a portrait of this remarkable woman at least
as striking as that in the novel of Kenilworth, without employing
a single trait not authenticated by ample testimony. In the
meantime, we should see arts cultivated, wealth accumulated, the
conveniences of life improved. We should see the keeps, where
nobles, insecure themselves, spread insecurity around them,
gradually giving place to the halls of peaceful opulence, to the
oriels of Longleat, and the stately pinnacles of Burleigh. We
should see towns extended, deserts cultivated, the hamlets of
fishermen turned into wealthy havens, the meal of the peasant
improved, and his hut more commodiously furnished. We should see
those opinions and feelings which produced the great struggle
against the House of Stuart slowly growing up in the bosom of
private families, before they manifested themselves in
parliamentary debates. Then would come the civil war. Those
skirmishes on which Clarendon dwells so minutely would be told,
as Thucydides would have told them, with perspicuous conciseness.
They are merely connecting links. But the great characteristics
of the age, the loyal enthusiasm of the brave English gentry, the
fierce licentiousness of the swearing, dicing, drunken
reprobates, whose excesses disgraced the royal cause,--the
austerity of the Presbyterian Sabbaths in the city, the
extravagance of the independent preachers in the camp, the
precise garb, the severe countenance, the petty scruples, the
affected accent, the absurd names and phrases which marked the
Puritans,--the valour, the policy, the public spirit, which
lurked beneath these ungraceful disguises,--the dreams of the
raving Fifth-monarchy-man, the dreams, scarcely less wild, of the
philosophic republican, all these would enter into the
representation, and render it at once more exact and more

The instruction derived from history thus written would be of a
vivid and practical character. It would be received by the
imagination as well as by the reason. It would be not merely
traced on the mind, but branded into it. Many truths, too, would
be learned, which can be learned in no other manner. As the
history of states is generally written, the greatest and most
momentous revolutions seem to come upon them like supernatural
inflictions, without warning or cause. But the fact is, that
such revolutions are almost always the consequences of moral
changes, which have gradually passed on the mass of the
community, and which originally proceed far before their progress
is indicated by any public measure. An intimate knowledge of the
domestic history of nations is therefore absolutely necessary to
the prognosis of political events. A narrative, defective in
this respect, is as useless as a medical treatise which should
pass by all the symptoms attendant on the early stage of a
disease and mention only what occurs when the patient is beyond
the reach of remedies.

A historian, such as we have been attempting to describe, would
indeed be an intellectual prodigy. In his mind, powers scarcely
compatible with each other must be tempered into an exquisite
harmony. We shall sooner see another Shakspeare or another
Homer. The highest excellence to which any single faculty can be
brought would be less surprising than such a happy and delicate
combination of qualities. Yet the contemplation of imaginary
models is not an unpleasant or useless employment of the mind.
It cannot indeed produce perfection; but it produces improvement
and nourishes that generous and liberal fastidiousness which is
not inconsistent with the strongest sensibility to merit, and
which, while it exalts our conceptions of the art, does not
render us unjust to the artist.



(March 1829.)

"Essays on Government, Jurisprudence, the Liberty of the Press,
Prisons, and Prison Discipline, Colonies, the Law of Nations, and
Education." By James Mill, Esq., author of the History of
British India. Reprinted by permission from the Supplement to
the Encyclopaedia Britannica. (Not for sale.) London, 1828.

Of those philosophers who call themselves Utilitarians, and whom
others generally call Benthamites, Mr Mill is, with the exception
of the illustrious founder of the sect, by far the most
distinguished. The little work now before us contains a summary
of the opinions held by this gentleman and his brethren on
several subjects most important to society. All the seven essays
of which it consists abound in curious matter. But at present we
intend to confine our remarks to the Treatise on Government,
which stands first in the volume. On some future occasion, we
may perhaps attempt to do justice to the rest.

It must be owned that to do justice to any composition of Mr Mill
is not, in the opinion of his admirers, a very easy task. They
do not, indeed, place him in the same rank with Mr Bentham; but
the terms in which they extol the disciple, though feeble when
compared with the hyperboles of adoration employed by them in
speaking of the master, are as strong as any sober man would
allow himself to use concerning Locke or Bacon. The essay before
us is perhaps the most remarkable of the works to which Mr Mill
owes his fame. By the members of his sect, it is considered as
perfect and unanswerable. Every part of it is an article of
their faith; and the damnatory clauses, in which their creed
abounds far beyond any theological symbol with which we are
acquainted, are strong and full against all who reject any
portion of what is so irrefragably established. No man, they
maintain, who has understanding sufficient to carry him through
the first proposition of Euclid, can read this masterpiece of
demonstration and honestly declare that he remains unconvinced.

We have formed a very different opinion of this work. We think
that the theory of Mr Mill rests altogether on false principles,
and that even on those false principles he does not reason
logically. Nevertheless, we do not think it strange that his
speculations should have filled the Utilitarians with admiration.
We have been for some time past inclined to suspect that these
people, whom some regard as the lights of the world and others as
incarnate demons, are in general ordinary men, with narrow
understandings and little information. The contempt which they
express for elegant literature is evidently the contempt of
ignorance. We apprehend that many of them are persons who,
having read little or nothing, are delighted to be rescued from
the sense of their own inferiority by some teacher who assures
them that the studies which they have neglected are of no value,
puts five or six phrases into their mouths, lends them an old
number of the Westminster Review, and in a month transforms them
into philosophers. Mingled with these smatterers, whose
attainments just suffice to elevate them from the insignificance
of dunces to the dignity of bores, and to spread dismay among
their pious aunts and grandmothers, there are, we well know, many
well-meaning men who have really read and thought much; but whose
reading and meditation have been almost exclusively confined to
one class of subjects; and who, consequently, though they possess
much valuable knowledge respecting those subjects, are by no
means so well qualified to judge of a great system as if they had
taken a more enlarged view of literature and society.

Nothing is more amusing or instructive than to observe the manner
in which people who think themselves wiser than all the rest of
the world fall into snares which the simple good sense of their
neighbours detects and avoids. It is one of the principle tenets
of the Utilitarians that sentiment and eloquence serve only to
impede the pursuit of truth. They therefore affect a quakerly
plainness, or rather a cynical negligence and impurity, of style.
The strongest arguments, when clothed in brilliant language, seem
to them so much wordy nonsense. In the meantime they surrender
their understandings, with a facility found in no other party, to
the meanest and most abject sophisms, provided those sophisms
come before them disguised with the externals of demonstration.
They do not seem to know that logic has its illusions as well as
rhetoric,--that a fallacy may lurk in a syllogism as well as in a

Mr Mill is exactly the writer to please people of this
description. His arguments are stated with the utmost
affectation of precision; his divisions are awfully formal; and
his style is generally as dry as that of Euclid's Elements.
Whether this be a merit, we must be permitted to doubt. Thus
much is certain: that the ages in which the true principles of
philosophy were least understood were those in which the
ceremonial of logic was most strictly observed, and that the time
from which we date the rapid progress of the experimental
sciences was also the time at which a less exact and formal way
of writing came into use.

The style which the Utilitarians admire suits only those subjects
on which it is possible to reason a priori. It grew up with the
verbal sophistry which flourished during the dark ages. With
that sophistry it fell before the Baconian philosopher in the day
of the great deliverance of the human mind. The inductive method
not only endured but required greater freedom of diction. It was
impossible to reason from phenomena up to principles, to mark
slight shades of difference in quality, or to estimate the
comparative effect of two opposite considerations between which
there was no common measure, by means of the naked and meagre
jargon of the schoolmen. Of those schoolmen Mr Mill has
inherited both the spirit and the style. He is an Aristotelian
of the fifteenth century, born out of due season. We have here
an elaborate treatise on Government, from which, but for two or
three passing allusions, it would not appear that the author was
aware that any governments actually existed among men. Certain
propensities of human nature are assumed; and from these premises
the whole science of politics is synthetically deduced! We can
scarcely persuade ourselves that we are not reading a book
written before the time of Bacon and Galileo,--a book written in
those days in which physicians reasoned from the nature of heat
to the treatment of fever, and astronomers proved syllogistically
that the planets could have no independent motion,--because the
heavens were incorruptible, and nature abhorred a vacuum!

The reason, too, which Mr Mill has assigned for taking this
course strikes us as most extraordinary.

"Experience," says he, "if we look only at the outside of the
facts, appears to be DIVIDED on this subject. Absolute monarchy,
under Neros and Caligulas, under such men as the Emperors of
Morocco and Sultans of Turkey, is the scourge of human nature.
On the other side, the people of Denmark, tired out with the
oppression of an aristocracy, resolved that their king should be
absolute; and, under their absolute monarch, are as well governed
as any people in Europe."

This Mr Mill actually gives as a reason for pursuing the a priori
method. But, in our judgment, the very circumstances which he
mentions irresistibly prove that the a priori method is
altogether unfit for investigations of this kind, and that the
only way to arrive at the truth is by induction. EXPERIENCE can
never be divided, or even appear to be divided, except with
reference to some hypothesis. When we say that one fact is
inconsistent with another fact, we mean only that it is
inconsistent with THE THEORY which we have founded on that other
fact. But, if the fact be certain, the unavoidable conclusion is
that our theory is false; and, in order to correct it, we must
reason back from an enlarged collection of facts to principles.

Now here we have two governments which, by Mr Mill's own account,
come under the same head in his THEORETICAL classification. It
is evident, therefore, that, by reasoning on that theoretical
classification, we shall be brought to the conclusion that these
two forms of government must produce the same effects. But Mr
Mill himself tells us that they do not produce the same effects.
Hence he infers that the only way to get at truth is to place
implicit confidence in that chain of proof a priori from which it
appears that they must produce the same effects! To believe at
once in a theory and in a fact which contradicts it is an
exercise of faith sufficiently hard: but to believe in a theory
BECAUSE a fact contradicts it is what neither philosopher nor
pope ever before required. This, however, is what Mr Mill
demands of us. He seems to think that, if all despots, without
exception, governed ill, it would be unnecessary to prove, by a
synthetical argument, what would then be sufficiently clear from
experience. But, as some despots will be so perverse as to
govern well, he finds himself compelled to prove the
impossibility of their governing well by that synthetical
argument which would have been superfluous had not the facts
contradicted it. He reasons a priori, because the phenomena are
not what, by reasoning a priori, he will prove them to be. In
other words, he reasons a priori, because, by so reasoning, he is
certain to arrive at a false conclusion!

In the course of the examination to which we propose to subject
the speculations of Mr Mill we shall have to notice many other
curious instances of that turn of mind which the passage above
quoted indicates.

The first chapter of his Essay relates to the ends of government.
The conception on this subject, he tells us, which exists in the
minds of most men is vague and undistinguishing. He first
assumes, justly enough, that the end of government is "to
increase to the utmost the pleasures, and diminish to the utmost
the pains, which men derive from each other." He then proceeds
to show, with great form, that "the greatest possible happiness
of society is attained by insuring to every man the greatest
possible quantity of the produce of his labour." To effect this
is, in his opinion, the end of government. It is remarkable that
Mr Mill, with all his affected display of precision, has here
given a description of the ends of government far less precise
than that which is in the mouths of the vulgar. The first man
with whom Mr Mill may travel in a stage coach will tell him that
government exists for the protection of the PERSONS and property
of men. But Mr Mill seems to think that the preservation of
property is the first and only object. It is true, doubtless,
that many of the injuries which are offered to the persons of men
proceed from a desire to possess their property. But the
practice of vindictive assassination as it has existed in some
parts of Europe--the practice of fighting wanton and sanguinary
duels, like those of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in
which bands of seconds risked their lives as well as the
principals;--these practices, and many others which might be
named, are evidently injurious to society; and we do not see how
a government which tolerated them could be said "to diminish to
the utmost the pains which men derive from each other."
Therefore, according to Mr Mill's very correct assumption, such a
government would not perfectly accomplish the end of its
institution. Yet such a government might, as far as we can
perceive, "insure to every man the greatest possible quantity of
the produce of his labour." Therefore such a government might,
according to Mr Mill's subsequent doctrine, perfectly accomplish
the end of its institution. The matter is not of much
consequence, except as an instance of that slovenliness of
thinking which is often concealed beneath a peculiar ostentation
of logical neatness.

Having determined the ends, Mr Mill proceeds to consider the
means. For the preservation of property some portion of the
community must be intrusted with power. This is government; and
the question is, how are those to whom the necessary power is
intrusted to be prevented from abusing it?

Mr Mill first passes in review the simple forms of government.
He allows that it would be inconvenient, if not physically
impossible, that the whole community should meet in a mass; it
follows, therefore, that the powers of government cannot be
directly exercised by the people. But he sees no objection to
pure and direct Democracy, except the difficulty which we have

"The community," says he, "cannot have an interest opposite to
its interests. To affirm this would be a contradiction in terms.
The community within itself, and with respect to itself, can have
no sinister interest. One community may intend the evil of
another; never its own. This is an indubitable proposition, and
one of great importance."

Mr Mill then proceeds to demonstrate that a purely aristocratical
form of government is necessarily bad.

"The reason for which government exists is, that one man, if
stronger than another, will take from him whatever that other
possesses and he desires. But if one man will do this, so will
several. And if powers are put into the hands of a comparatively
small number, called an aristocracy,--powers which make them
stronger than the rest of the community, they will take from the
rest of the community as much as they please of the objects of
desire. They will thus defeat the very end for which government
was instituted. The unfitness, therefore, of an aristocracy to
be intrusted with the powers of government, rests on

In exactly the same manner Mr Mill proves absolute monarchy to be
a bad form of government.

"If government is founded upon this as a law of human nature,
that a man, if able, will take from others anything which they
have and he desires, it is sufficiently evident, that when a man
is called a king he does not change his nature; so that when he
has got power to enable him to take from every man what he
pleases, he will take whatever he pleases. To suppose that he
will not, is to affirm that government is unnecessary, and that
human beings will abstain from injuring one another of their own

"It is very evident that this reasoning extends to every
modification of the smaller number. Whenever the powers of
government are placed in any hands other than those of the
community, whether those of one man, of a few, or of several,
those principles of human nature which imply that government is
at all necessary, imply that those persons will make use of them
to defeat the very end for which government exists."

But is it not possible that a king or an aristocracy may soon be
saturated with the objects of their desires, and may then protect
the community in the enjoyment of the rest? Mr Mill answers in
the negative. He proves, with great pomp, that every man desires
to have the actions of every other correspondent to his will.
Others can be induced to conform to our will only by motives
derived from pleasure or from pain. The infliction of pain is of
course direct injury; and, even if it take the milder course, in
order to produce obedience by motives derived from pleasure, the
government must confer favours. But, as there is no limit to its
desire of obedience, there will be no limit to its disposition to
confer favours; and, as it can confer favours only by plundering
the people, there will be no limit to its disposition to plunder
the people. It is therefore not true that there is in the mind
of a king, or in the minds of an aristocracy, any point of
saturation with the objects of desire.

Mr Mill then proceeds to show that, as monarchical and
oligarchical governments can influence men by motives drawn from
pain, as well as by motives drawn from pleasure, they will carry
their cruelty, as well as their rapacity, to a frightful extent.
As he seems greatly to admire his own reasonings on this subject,
we think it but fair to let him speak for himself.

"The chain of inference in this case is close and strong to a
most unusual degree. A man desires that the actions of other men
shall be instantly and accurately correspondent to his will. He
desires that the actions of the greatest possible number shall be
so. Terror is the grand instrument. Terror can work only
through assurance that evil will follow any failure of conformity
between the will and the actions willed. Every failure must
therefore be punished. As there are no bounds to the mind's
desire of its pleasure, there are, of course, no bounds to its
desire of perfection in the instruments of that pleasure. There
are, therefore, no bounds to its desire of exactness in the
conformity between its will and the actions willed; and by
consequence to the strength of that terror which is its procuring
cause. Even the most minute failure must be visited with the
heaviest infliction; and as failure in extreme exactness must
frequently happen, the occasions of cruelty must be incessant.

"We have thus arrived at several conclusions of the highest
possible importance. We have seen that the principle of human
nature, upon which the necessity of government is founded, the
propensity of one man to possess himself of the objects of desire
at the cost of another, leads on, by infallible sequence, where
power over a community is attained, and nothing checks, not only
to that degree of plunder which leaves the members (excepting
always the recipients and instruments of the plunder) the bare
means of subsistence, but to that degree of cruelty which is
necessary to keep in existence the most intense terrors."

Now, no man who has the least knowledge of the real state of the
world, either in former ages or at the present moment, can
possibly be convinced, though he may perhaps be bewildered, by
arguments like these. During the last two centuries, some
hundreds of absolute princes have reigned in Europe. Is it true,
that their cruelty has kept in existence the most intense degree
of terror; that their rapacity has left no more than the bare
means of subsistence to any of their subjects, their ministers
and soldiers excepted? Is this true of all of them? Of one half
of them? Of one tenth part of them? Of a single one? Is it
true, in the full extent, even of Philip the Second, of Louis the
Fifteenth, or of the Emperor Paul? But it is scarcely necessary
to quote history. No man of common sense, however ignorant he
may be of books, can be imposed on by Mr Mill's argument; because
no man of common sense can live among his fellow-creatures for a
day without seeing innumerable facts which contradict it. It is
our business, however, to point out its fallacy; and happily the
fallacy is not very recondite.

We grant that rulers will take as much as they can of the objects
of their desires; and that, when the agency of other men is
necessary to that end, they will attempt by all means in their
power to enforce the prompt obedience of such men. But what are
the objects of human desire? Physical pleasure, no doubt, in
part. But the mere appetites which we have in common with the
animals would be gratified almost as cheaply and easily as those
of the animals are gratified, if nothing were given to taste, to
ostentation, or to the affections. How small a portion of the
income of a gentleman in easy circumstances is laid out merely in
giving pleasurable sensations to the body of the possessor! The
greater part even of what is spent on his kitchen and his cellar
goes, not to titillate his palate, but to keep up his character
for hospitality, to save him from the reproach of meanness in
housekeeping, and to cement the ties of good neighbourhood. It
is clear that a king or an aristocracy may be supplied to satiety
with mere corporal pleasures, at an expense which the rudest and
poorest community would scarcely feel.

Those tastes and propensities which belong to us as reasoning and
imaginative beings are not indeed so easily gratified. There is,
we admit, no point of saturation with objects of desire which
come under this head. And therefore the argument of Mr Mill will
be just, unless there be something in the nature of the objects
of desire themselves which is inconsistent with it. Now, of
these objects there is none which men in general seem to desire
more than the good opinion of others. The hatred and contempt of
the public are generally felt to be intolerable. It is probable
that our regard for the sentiments of our fellow-creatures
springs, by association, from a sense of their ability to hurt or
to serve us. But, be this as it may, it is notorious that, when
the habit of mind of which we speak has once been formed, men
feel extremely solicitous about the opinions of those by whom it
is most improbable, nay, absolutely impossible, that they should
ever be in the slightest degree injured or benefited. The desire
of posthumous fame and the dread of posthumous reproach and
execration are feelings from the influence of which scarcely any
man is perfectly free, and which in many men are powerful and
constant motives of action. As we are afraid that, if we handle
this part of the argument after our own manner, we shall incur
the reproach of sentimentality, a word which, in the sacred
language of the Benthamites, is synonymous with idiocy, we will
quote what Mr Mill himself says on the subject, in his Treatise
on Jurisprudence.

"Pains from the moral source are the pains derived from the
unfavourable sentiments of mankind...These pains are capable of
rising to a height with which hardly any other pains incident to
our nature can be compared. There is a certain degree of
unfavourableness in the sentiments of his fellow-creatures, under
which hardly any man, not below the standard of humanity, can
endure to live.

"The importance of this powerful agency, for the prevention of
injurious acts, is too obvious to need to be illustrated. If
sufficiently at command, it would almost supersede the use of
other means...

"To know how to direct the unfavourable sentiments of mankind, it
is necessary to know in as complete, that is, in as
comprehensive, a way as possible, what it is which gives them
birth. Without entering into the metaphysics of the question, it
is a sufficient practical answer, for the present purpose, to say
that the unfavourable sentiments of man are excited by everything
which hurts them."

It is strange that a writer who considers the pain derived from
the unfavourable sentiments of others as so acute that, if
sufficiently at command, it would supersede the use of the
gallows and the tread-mill, should take no notice of this most
important restraint when discussing the question of government.
We will attempt to deduce a theory of politics in the
mathematical form, in which Mr Mill delights, from the premises
with which he has himself furnished us.


No rulers will do anything which may hurt the people.

This is the thesis to be maintained; and the following we humbly
offer to Mr Mill, as its syllogistic demonstration.

No rulers will do that which produces pain to themselves.

But the unfavourable sentiments of the people will give pain to

Therefore no rulers will do anything which may excite the
unfavourable sentiments of the people.

But the unfavourable sentiments of the people are excited by
everything which hurts them.

Therefore no rulers will do anything which may hurt the people.
Which was the thing to be proved.

Having thus, as we think, not unsuccessfully imitated Mr Mill's
logic, we do not see why we should not imitate, what is at least
equally perfect in its kind, its self-complacency, and proclaim
our Eureka in his own words: "The chain of inference, in this
case, is close and strong to a most unusual degree."

The fact is, that, when men, in treating of things which cannot
be circumscribed by precise definitions, adopt this mode of
reasoning, when once they begin to talk of power, happiness,
misery, pain, pleasure, motives, objects of desire, as they talk
of lines and numbers, there is no end to the contradictions and
absurdities into which they fall. There is no proposition so
monstrously untrue in morals or politics that we will not
undertake to prove it, by something which shall sound like a
logical demonstration from admitted principles.

Mr Mill argues that, if men are not inclined to plunder each
other, government is unnecessary; and that, if they are so
inclined, the powers of government, when entrusted to a small
number of them, will necessarily be abused. Surely it is not by
propounding dilemmas of this sort that we are likely to arrive at
sound conclusions in any moral science. The whole question is a
question of degree. If all men preferred the moderate
approbation of their neighbours to any degree of wealth or
grandeur, or sensual pleasure, government would be unnecessary.
If all men desired wealth so intensely as to be willing to brave
the hatred of their fellow-creatures for sixpence, Mr Mill's
argument against monarchies and aristocracies would be true to
the full extent. But the fact is, that all men have some desires
which impel them to injure their neighbours, and some desires
which impel them to benefit their neighbours. Now, if there were
a community consisting of two classes of men, one of which should
be principally influenced by the one set of motives and the other
by the other, government would clearly be necessary to restrain
the class which was eager for plunder and careless of reputation:
and yet the powers of government might be safely intrusted to the
class which was chiefly actuated by the love of approbation.
Now, it might with no small plausibility be maintained that, in
many countries, THERE ARE two classes which, in some degree,
answer to this description; that the poor compose the class which
government is established to restrain, and the people of some
property the class to which the powers of government may without
danger be confided. It might be said that a man who can barely
earn a livelihood by severe labour is under stronger temptations
to pillage others than a man who enjoys many luxuries. It might
be said that a man who is lost in the crowd is less likely to
have the fear of public opinion before his eyes than a man whose
station and mode of living render him conspicuous. We do not
assert all this. We only say that it was Mr Mill's business to
prove the contrary; and that, not having proved the contrary, he
is not entitled to say, "that those principles which imply that
government is at all necessary, imply that an aristocracy will
make use of its power to defeat the end for which governments
exist." This is not true, unless it be true that a rich man is
as likely to covet the goods of his neighbours as a poor man, and
that a poor man is as likely to be solicitous about the opinions
of his neighbours as a rich man.

But we do not see that, by reasoning a priori on such subjects as
these, it is possible to advance one single step. We know that
every man has some desires which he can gratify only by hurting
his neighbours, and some which he can gratify only by pleasing
them. Mr Mill has chosen to look only at one-half of human
nature, and to reason on the motives which impel men to oppress
and despoil others, as if they were the only motives by which men
could possibly be influenced. We have already shown that, by
taking the other half of the human character, and reasoning on it
as if it were the whole, we can bring out a result diametrically
opposite to that at which Mr Mill has arrived. We can, by such a
process, easily prove that any form of government is good, or
that all government is superfluous.

We must now accompany Mr Mill on the next stage of his argument.

Does any combination of the three simple forms of government
afford the requisite securities against the abuse of power? Mr
Mill complains that those who maintain the affirmative generally

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