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Title: Alexandria and Her Schools
 - Four Lectures Delivered at the Philosophical Institution, Edinburgh
Author: Kingsley, Charles
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Alexandria and Her Schools
 - Four Lectures Delivered at the Philosophical Institution, Edinburgh" ***

Transcribed from the 1902 Macmillan and Co. “Historical Lectures and
Essays” edition by David Price, email ccx074@pglaf.org

                          [Picture: Book cover]

                     ALEXANDRIA AND HER SCHOOLS. {3}


I SHOULD not have presumed to choose for any lectures of mine such a
subject as that which I have tried to treat in this book.  The subject
was chosen by the Institution where the lectures were delivered.  Still
less should I have presumed to print them of my own accord, knowing how
fragmentary and crude they are.  They were printed at the special request
of my audience.  Least of all, perhaps, ought I to have presumed to
publish them, as I have done, at Cambridge, where any inaccuracy or
sciolism (and that such defects exist in these pages, I cannot but fear)
would be instantly detected, and severely censured: but nevertheless, it
seemed to me that Cambridge was the fittest place in which they could see
the light, because to Cambridge I mainly owe what little right method or
sound thought may be found in them, or indeed, in anything which I have
ever written.  In the heyday of youthful greediness and ambition, when
the mind, dazzled by the vastness and variety of the universe, must needs
know everything, or rather know about everything, at once and on the
spot, too many are apt, as I have been in past years, to complain of
Cambridge studies as too dry and narrow: but as time teaches the student,
year by year, what is really required for an understanding of the objects
with which he meets, he begins to find that his University, in as far as
he has really received her teaching into himself, has given him, in her
criticism, her mathematics, above all, in Plato, something which all the
popular knowledge, the lectures and institutions of the day, and even
good books themselves, cannot give, a boon more precious than learning;
namely, the art of learning.  That instead of casting into his lazy lap
treasures which he would not have known how to use, she has taught him to
mine for them himself; and has by her wise refusal to gratify his
intellectual greediness, excited his hunger, only that he may be the
stronger to hunt and till for his own subsistence; and thus, the deeper
he drinks, in after years, at fountains wisely forbidden to him while he
was a Cambridge student, and sees his old companions growing up into
sound-headed and sound-hearted practical men, liberal and expansive, and
yet with a firm standing-ground for thought and action, he learns to
complain less and less of Cambridge studies, and more and more of that
conceit and haste of his own, which kept him from reaping the full
advantage of her training.

These Lectures, as I have said, are altogether crude and fragmentary—how,
indeed, could they be otherwise, dealing with so vast a subject, and so
long a period of time?  They are meant neither as Essays nor as Orations,
but simply as a collection of hints to those who may wish to work out the
subject for themselves; and, I trust, as giving some glimpses of a
central idea, in the light of which the spiritual history of Alexandria,
and perhaps of other countries also, may be seen to have in itself a
coherence and organic method.

I was of course compelled, by the circumstances under which these
Lectures were delivered, to keep clear of all points which are commonly
called “controversial.”  I cannot but feel that this was a gain, rather
than a loss; because it forced me, if I wished to give any interpretation
at all of Alexandrian thought, any Theodicy at all of her fate, to refer
to laws which I cannot but believe to be deeper, wider, more truly
eternal than the points which cause most of our modern controversies,
either theological or political; laws which will, I cannot but believe
also, reassert themselves, and have to be reasserted by all wise
teachers, very soon indeed, and it may be under most novel embodiments,
but without any change in their eternal spirit.

For I may say, I hope, now (what if said ten years ago would have only
excited laughter), that I cannot but subscribe to the opinion of the many
wise men who believe that Europe, and England as an integral part
thereof, is on the eve of a revolution, spiritual and political, as vast
and awful as that which took place at the Reformation; and that,
beneficial as that revolution will doubtless be to the destinies of
mankind in general, it depends upon the wisdom and courage of each nation
individually, whether that great deluge shall issue, as the Reformation
did, in a fresh outgrowth of European nobleness and strength or usher in,
after pitiable confusions and sorrows, a second Byzantine age of
stereotyped effeminacy and imbecility.  For I have as little sympathy
with those who prate so loudly of the progress of the species, and the
advent of I know-not-what Cockaigne of universal peace and plenty, as I
have with those who believe on the strength of “unfulfilled prophecy,”
the downfall of Christianity, and the end of the human race to be at
hand.  Nevertheless, one may well believe that prophecy will be fulfilled
in this great crisis, as it is in every great crisis, although one be
unable to conceive by what method of symbolism the drying up of the
Euphrates can be twisted to signify the fall of Constantinople: and one
can well believe that a day of judgment is at hand, in which for every
nation and institution, the wheat will be sifted out and gathered into
God’s garner, for the use of future generations, and the chaff burnt up
with that fire unquenchable which will try every man’s work, without
being of opinion that after a few more years are over, the great majority
of the human race will be consigned hopelessly to never-ending torments.

If prophecy be indeed a divine message to man; if it be anything but a
cabbala, useless either to the simple-minded or to the logical, intended
only for the plaything of a few devout fancies, it must declare the
unchangeable laws by which the unchangeable God is governing, and has
always governed, the human race; and therefore only by understanding what
has happened, can we understand what will happen; only by understanding
history, can we understand prophecy; and that not merely by picking
out—too often arbitrarily and unfairly—a few names and dates from the
records of all the ages, but by trying to discover its organic laws, and
the causes which produce in nations, creeds, and systems, health and
disease, growth, change, decay and death.  If, in one small corner of
this vast field, I shall have thrown a single ray of light upon these
subjects—if I shall have done anything in these pages towards
illustrating the pathology of a single people, I shall believe that I
have done better service to the Catholic Faith and the Scriptures, than
if I did really “know the times and the seasons, which the Father has
kept in His own hand.”  For by the former act I may have helped to make
some one man more prudent and brave to see and to do what God requires of
him; by the latter I could only add to that paralysis of superstitious
fear, which is already but too common among us, and but too likely to
hinder us from doing our duty manfully against our real foes, whether it
be pestilence at home or tyranny abroad.

These last words lead me to another subject, on which I am bound to say a
few words.  I have, at the end of these Lectures, made some allusion to
the present war.  To have entered further into political questions would
have been improper in the place where those Lectures were delivered: but
I cannot refrain from saying here something more on this matter; and
that, first, because all political questions have their real root in
moral and spiritual ones, and not (as too many fancy) in questions merely
relating to the balance of power or commercial economy, and are (the
world being under the guidance of a spiritual, and not a physical Being)
finally decided on those spiritual grounds, and according to the just
laws of the kingdom of God; and, therefore, the future political
horoscope of the East depends entirely on the present spiritual state of
its inhabitants, and of us who have (and rightly) taken up their cause;
in short, on many of those questions on which I have touched in these
Lectures: and next, because I feel bound, in justice to myself, to guard
against any mistake about my meaning or supposition that I consider the
Turkish empire a righteous thing, or one likely to stand much longer on
the face of God’s earth.

The Turkish empire, as it now exists, seems to me an altogether
unrighteous and worthless thing.  It stands no longer upon the assertion
of the great truth of Islam, but on the merest brute force and
oppression.  It has long since lost the only excuse which one race can
have for holding another in subjection; that which we have for taking on
ourselves the tutelage of the Hindoos, and which Rome had for its
tutelage of the Syrians and Egyptians; namely, the governing with
tolerable justice those who cannot govern themselves, and making them
better and more prosperous people, by compelling them to submit to law.
I do not know when this excuse is a sufficient one.  God showed that it
was so for several centuries in the case of the Romans; God will show
whether it is in the case of our Indian empire: but this I say, that the
Turkish empire has not even that excuse to plead; as is proved by the
patent fact that the whole East, the very garden of the old world, has
become a desert and a ruin under the upas-blight of their government.

As for the regeneration of Turkey, it is a question whether the
regeneration of any nation which has sunk, not into mere valiant
savagery, but into effete and profligate luxury, is possible.  Still more
is it a question whether a regeneration can be effected, not by the rise
of a new spiritual idea (as in the case of the Koreish), but simply by
more perfect material appliances, and commercial prudence.  History gives
no instance, it seems to me, of either case; and if our attempt to
regenerate Greece by freeing it has been an utter failure, much more, it
seems to me, would any such attempt fail in the case of the Turkish race.
For what can be done with a people which has lost the one great quality
which was the tenure of its existence, its military skill?  Let any one
read the accounts of the Turkish armies in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and
seventeenth centuries, when they were the tutors and models of all Europe
in the art of war, and then consider the fact that those very armies
require now to be officered by foreign adventurers, in order to make them
capable of even keeping together, and let him ask himself seriously,
whether such a fall can ever be recovered.  When, in the age of
Theodosius, and again in that of Justinian, the Roman armies had fallen
into the same state; when the Italian legions required to be led by
Stilicho the Vandal, and the Byzantine by Belisar the Sclav and Narses
the Persian, the end of all things was at hand, and came; as it will come
soon to Turkey.

But if Turkey deserves to fall, and must fall, it must not fall by our
treachery.  Its sins will surely be avenged upon it: but wrong must not
avenge wrong, or the penalty is only passed on from one sinner to
another.  Whatsoever element of good is left in the Turk, to that we must
appeal as our only means, if not of saving him, still of helping him to a
quiet euthanasia, and absorption into a worthier race of successors.  He
is said (I know not how truly) to have one virtue left; that of
faithfulness to his word.  Only by showing him that we too abhor
treachery and bad faith, can we either do him good, or take a safe
standing-ground in our own peril.  And this we have done; and for this we
shall be rewarded.  But this is surely not all our duty.  Even if we
should be able to make the civil and religious freedom of the Eastern
Christians the price of our assistance to the Mussulman, the struggle
will not be over; for Russia will still be what she has always been, and
the northern Anarch will be checked, only to return to the contest with
fiercer lust of aggrandisement, to enact the part of a new Macedon,
against a new Greece, divided, not united, by the treacherous bond of
that balance of power, which is but war under the guise of peace.  Europe
needs a holier and more spiritual, and therefore a stronger union, than
can be given by armed neutralities, and the so-called cause of order.
She needs such a bond as in the Elizabethan age united the free states of
Europe against the Anarch of Spain, and delivered the Western nations
from a rising world-tyranny, which promised to be even more hideous than
the elder one of Rome.  If, as then, England shall proclaim herself the
champion of freedom by acts, and not by words and paper, she may, as she
did then, defy the rulers of the darkness of this world, for the God of
Light will be with her.  But, as yet, it is impossible to look without
sad forebodings upon the destiny of a war, begun upon the express
understanding that evil shall be left triumphant throughout Europe,
wheresoever that evil does not seem, to our own selfish
short-sightedness, to threaten us with immediate danger; with promises,
that under the hollow name of the Cause of Order—and that promise made by
a revolutionary Anarch—the wrongs of Italy, Hungary, Poland, Sweden,
shall remain unredressed, and that Prussia and Austria, two tyrannies,
the one far more false and hypocritical, the other even more rotten than
that of Turkey, shall, if they will but observe a hollow and uncertain
neutrality (for who can trust the liar and the oppressor?)—be allowed not
only to keep their ill-gotten spoils, but even now to play into the hands
of our foe, by guarding his Polish frontier for him, and keeping down the
victims of his cruelty, under pretence of keeping down those of their

It is true, the alternative is an awful one; one from which statesmen and
nations may well shrink: but it is a question, whether that alternative
may not be forced upon us sooner or later, whether we must not from the
first look it boldly in the face, as that which must be some day, and for
which we must prepare, not cowardly, and with cries about God’s wrath and
judgments against us—which would be abject, were they not expressed in
such second-hand stock-phrases as to make one altogether doubt their
sincerity, but chivalrously, and with awful joy, as a noble calling, an
honour put upon us by the God of Nations, who demands of us, as some
small return for all His free bounties, that we should be, in this great
crisis, the champions of Freedom and of Justice, which are the cause of
God.  At all events, we shall not escape our duty by being afraid of it;
we shall not escape our duty by inventing to ourselves some other duty,
and calling it “Order.”  Elizabeth did so at first.  She tried to keep
the peace with Spain; she shrank from injuring the cause of Order (then a
nobler one than now, because it was the cause of Loyalty, and not merely
of Mammon) by assisting the Scotch and the Netherlanders: but her duty
was forced upon her; and she did it at last, cheerfully, boldly, utterly,
like a hero; she put herself at the head of the battle for the freedom of
the world, and she conquered, for God was with her; and so that seemingly
most fearful of all England’s perils, when the real meaning of it was
seen, and God’s will in it obeyed manfully, became the foundation of
England’s naval and colonial empire, and laid the foundation of all her
future glories.  So it was then, so it is now; so it will be for ever: he
who seeks to save his life will lose it: he who willingly throws away his
life for the cause of mankind, which is the cause of God, the Father of
mankind, he shall save it, and be rewarded a hundred-fold.  That God may
grant us, the children of the Elizabethan heroes, all wisdom to see our
duty, and courage to do it, even to the death, should be our earliest
prayer.  Our statesmen have done wisely and well in refusing, in spite of
hot-headed clamours, to appeal to the sword as long as there was any
chance of a peaceful settlement even of a single evil.  They are doing
wisely and well now in declining to throw away the scabbard as long as
there is hope that a determined front will awe the offender into
submission: but the day may come when the scabbard must be thrown away;
and God grant that they may have the courage to do it.

It is reported that our rulers have said, that English diplomacy can no
longer recognise “nationalities,” but only existing “governments.”  God
grant that they may see in time that the assertion of national life, as a
spiritual and indefeasible existence, was for centuries the central idea
of English policy; the idea by faith in which she delivered first
herself, and then the Protestant nations of the Continent, successively
from the yokes of Rome, of Spain, of France; and that they may reassert
that most English of all truths again, let the apparent cost be what it

It is true, that this end will not be attained without what is called
nowadays “a destruction of human life.”  But we have yet to learn (at
least if the doctrines which I have tried to illustrate in this little
book have any truth in them) whether shot or shell has the power of
taking away human life; and to believe, if we believe our Bibles, that
human life can only be destroyed by sin, and that all which is lost in
battle is that animal life of which it is written, “Fear not those who
can kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do: but I
will forewarn you whom you shall fear; him who, after he has killed, has
power to destroy both body and soul in hell.”  Let a man fear him, the
destroying devil, and fear therefore cowardice, disloyalty, selfishness,
sluggishness, which are his works, and to be utterly afraid of which is
to be truly brave.  God grant that we of the clergy may remember this
during the coming war, and instead of weakening the righteous courage and
honour of our countrymen by instilling into them selfish and
superstitious fears, and a theory of the future state which represents
God, not as a saviour, but a tormentor, may boldly tell them that “He is
not the God of the dead but of the living; for all live unto Him;” and
that he who renders up his animal life as a worthless thing, in the cause
of duty, commits his real and human life, his very soul and self, into
the hands of a just and merciful Father, who has promised to leave no
good deed unrewarded, and least of all that most noble deed, the dying
like a man for the sake not merely of this land of England, but of the
freedom and national life of half the world.


BEFORE I begin to lecture upon the Physical and Metaphysical schools of
Alexandria, it may be better, perhaps, to define the meaning of these two
epithets.  Physical, we shall all agree, means that which belongs to
φύσις; _natura_; nature, that which φύεται, _nascitur_, grows, by an
organic life, and therefore decays again; which has a beginning, and
therefore, I presume, an end.  And Metaphysical means that which we learn
to think of after we think of nature; that which is supernatural, in
fact, having neither beginning nor end, imperishable, immovable, and
eternal, which does not become, but always is.  These, at least, are the
wisest definitions of these two terms for us just now; for they are those
which were received by the whole Alexandrian school, even by those
commentators who say that Aristotle, the inventor of the term
Metaphysics, named his treatise so only on account of its following in
philosophic sequence his book on Physics.

But, according to these definitions, the whole history of Alexandria
might be to us, from one point of view, a physical school; for
Alexandria, its society and its philosophy, were born, and grew, and fed,
and reached their vigour, and had their old age, their death, even as a
plant or an animal has; and after they were dead and dissolved, the atoms
of them formed food for new creations, entered into new organisations,
just as the atoms of a dead plant or animal might do.  Was Alexandria
then, from beginning to end, merely a natural and physical phenomenon?

It may have been.  And yet we cannot deny that Alexandria was also a
metaphysical phenomenon, vast and deep enough; seeing that it held for
some eighteen hundred years a population of several hundred thousand
souls; each of whom, at least according to the Alexandrian philosophy,
stood in a very intimate relation to those metaphysic things which are
imperishable and immovable and eternal, and indeed, contained them more
or less, each man, woman, and child of them in themselves; having wills,
reasons, consciences, affections, relations to each other; being parents,
children, helpmates, bound together by laws concerning right and wrong,
and numberless other unseen and spiritual relations.

Surely such a body was not merely natural, any more than any other
nation, society, or scientific school, made up of men and of the spirits,
thoughts, affections of men.  It, like them, was surely spiritual; and
could be only living and healthy, in as far as it was in harmony with
certain spiritual, unseen, and everlasting laws of God; perhaps, as
certain Alexandrian philosophers would have held, in as far as it was a
pattern of that ideal constitution and polity after which man was
created, the city of God which is eternal in the Heavens.  If so, may we
not suspect of this Alexandria that it was its own fault if it became a
merely physical phenomenon; and that it stooped to become a part of
nature, and took its place among the things which are born to die, only
by breaking the law which God had appointed for it; so fulfilling, in its
own case, St. Paul’s great words, that death entered into the world by
sin, and that sin is the transgression of the law?

Be that as it may, there must have been metaphysic enough to be learnt in
that, or any city of three hundred thousand inhabitants, even though it
had never contained lecture-room or philosopher’s chair, and had never
heard the names of Aristotle and Plato.  Metaphysic enough, indeed, to be
learnt there, could we but enter into the heart of even the most brutish
negro slave who ever was brought down the Nile out of the desert by
Nubian merchants, to build piers and docks in whose commerce he did not
share, temples whose worship he did not comprehend, libraries and
theatres whose learning and civilisation were to him as much a sealed
book as they were to his countryman, and fellow-slave, and only friend,
the ape.  There was metaphysic enough in him truly, and things eternal
and immutable, though his dark-skinned descendants were three hundred
years in discovering the fact, and in proving it satisfactorily to all
mankind for ever.  You must pardon me if I seem obscure; I cannot help
looking at the question with a somewhat Alexandrian eye, and talking of
the poor negro dock-worker as certain Alexandrian philosophers would have
talked, of whom I shall have to speak hereafter.

I should have been glad, therefore, had time permitted me, instead of
confining myself strictly to what are now called “the physic and
metaphysic schools” of Alexandria, to have tried as well as I could to
make you understand how the whole vast phenomenon grew up, and supported
a peculiar life of its own, for fifteen hundred years and more, and was
felt to be the third, perhaps the second city of the known world, and one
so important to the great world-tyrant, the Cæsar of Rome, that no Roman
of distinction was ever sent there as prefect, but the Alexandrian
national vanity and pride of race was allowed to the last to pet itself
by having its tyrant chosen from its own people.

But, though this cannot be, we may find human elements enough in the
schools of Alexandria, strictly so called, to interest us for a few
evenings; for these schools were schools of men; what was discovered and
taught was discovered and taught by men, and not by thinking-machines;
and whether they would have been inclined to confess it or not, their own
personal characters, likes and dislikes, hopes and fears, strength and
weakness, beliefs and disbeliefs, determined their metaphysics and their
physics for them, quite enough to enable us to feel for them as men of
like passions with ourselves; and for that reason only, men whose
thoughts and speculations are worthy of a moment’s attention from us.
For what is really interesting to man, save men, and God, the Father of

In the year 331 B.C. one of the greatest intellects whose influence the
world has ever felt, saw, with his eagle glance, the unrivalled advantage
of the spot which is now Alexandria; and conceived the mighty project of
making it the point of union of two, or rather of three worlds.  In a new
city, named after himself, Europe, Asia, and Africa were to meet and to
hold communion.  A glance at the map will show you what an ὀμφαλὸς γῆς, a
centre of the world, this Alexandria is, and perhaps arouse in your
minds, as it has often done in mine, the suspicion that it has not yet
fulfilled its whole destiny, but may become at any time a prize for
contending nations, or the centre of some world-wide empire to come.
Communicating with Europe and the Levant by the Mediterranean, with India
by the Red Sea, certain of boundless supplies of food from the
desert-guarded valley of the Nile, to which it formed the only key, thus
keeping all Egypt, as it were, for its own private farm, it was weak only
on one side, that of Judea.  That small strip of fertile mountain land,
containing innumerable military positions from which an enemy might annoy
Egypt, being, in fact, one natural chain of fortresses, was the key to
Phoenicia and Syria.  It was an eagle’s eyrie by the side of a pen of
fowls.  It must not be left defenceless for a single year.  Tyre and Gaza
had been taken; so no danger was to be apprehended from the seaboard: but
to subdue the Judean mountaineers, a race whose past sufferings had
hardened them in a dogged fanaticism of courage and endurance, would be a
long and sanguinary task.  It was better to make terms with them; to
employ them as friendly warders of their own mountain walls.  Their very
fanaticism and isolation made them sure allies.  There was no fear of
their fraternising with the Eastern invaders.  If the country was left in
their hands, they would hold it against all comers.  Terms were made with
them; and for several centuries they fulfilled their trust.

This I apprehend to be the explanation of that conciliatory policy of
Alexander’s toward the Jews, which was pursued steadily by the Ptolemies,
by Pompey, and by the Romans, as long as these same Jews continued to be
endurable upon the face of the land.  At least, we shall find the history
of Alexandria and that of Judea inextricably united for more than three
hundred years.

So arose, at the command of the great conqueror, a mighty city, around
those two harbours, of which the western one only is now in use.  The
Pharos was then an island.  It was connected with the mainland by a great
mole, furnished with forts and drawbridges.  On the ruins of that mole
now stands the greater part of the modern city; the vast site of the
ancient one is a wilderness.

But Alexander was not destined to carry out his own magnificent project.
That was left for the general whom he most esteemed, and to whose
personal prowess he had once owed his life; a man than whom history knows
few greater, Ptolemy, the son of Lagus.  He was an adventurer, the son of
an adventurer, his mother a cast-off concubine of Philip of Macedon.
There were those who said that he was in reality a son of Philip himself.
However, he rose at court, became a private friend of young Alexander,
and at last his Somatophylax, some sort of Colonel of the Life Guards.
And from thence he rose rapidly, till after his great master’s death he
found himself despot of Egypt.

His face, as it appears on his coins, is of the loftiest and most
Jove-like type of Greek beauty.  There is a possibility about it, as
about most old Greek faces, of boundless cunning; a lofty irony too, and
a contemptuousness, especially about the mouth, which puts one in mind of
Goethe’s expression; the face, altogether, of one who knew men too well
to respect them.  At least, he was a man of clear enough vision.  He saw
what was needed in those strange times, and he went straight to the thing
which he saw.  It was his wisdom which perceived that the huge amorphous
empire of Alexander could not be kept together, and advised its partition
among the generals, taking care to obtain himself the lion’s share; not
in size, indeed, but in capability.  He saw, too (what every man does not
see), that the only way to keep what he had got was to make it better,
and not worse, than he found it.  His first Egyptian act was to put to
death Cleomenes, Alexander’s lieutenant, who had amassed vast treasures
by extortion; and who was, moreover, (for Ptolemy was a prudent man) a
dangerous partisan of his great enemy, Perdiccas.  We do not read that he
refunded the treasures: but the Egyptians surnamed him Soter, the
Saviour; and on the whole he deserved the title.  Instead of the wretched
misrule and slavery of the conquering Persian dynasty, they had at least
law and order, reviving commerce, and a system of administration, we are
told (I confess to speaking here quite at second-hand), especially
adapted to the peculiar caste-society, and the religious prejudices of
Egypt.  But Ptolemy’s political genius went beyond such merely material
and Warburtonian care for the conservation of body and goods of his
subjects.  He effected with complete success a feat which has been
attempted, before and since, by very many princes and potentates, but has
always, except in Ptolemy’s case, proved somewhat of a failure, namely,
the making a new deity.  Mythology in general was in a rusty state.  The
old Egyptian gods had grown in his dominions very unfashionable, under
the summary iconoclasm to which they had been subjected by the Monotheist
Persians—the Puritans of the old world, as they have been well called.
Indeed, all the dolls, and the treasure of the dolls’ temples too, had
been carried off by Cambyses to Babylon.  And as for the Greek gods,
philosophers had sublimed them away sadly during the last century: not to
mention that Alexander’s Macedonians, during their wanderings over the
world, had probably become rather remiss in their religious exercises,
and had possibly given up mentioning the Unseen world, except for those
hortatory purposes for which it used to be employed by Nelson’s veterans.
But, as Ptolemy felt, people (women especially) must have something
wherein to believe.  The “Religious Sentiment” in man must be satisfied.
But, how to do it? How to find a deity who would meet the aspirations of
conquerors as well as conquered—of his most irreligious Macedonians, as
well as of his most religious Egyptians?  It was a great problem: but
Ptolemy solved it.  He seems to have taken the same method which Brindley
the engineer used in his perplexities, for he went to bed.  And there he
had a dream: How the foreign god Serapis, of Pontus (somewhere near this
present hapless Sinope), appeared to him, and expressed his wish to come
to Alexandria, and there try his influence on the Religious Sentiment.
So Serapis was sent for, and came—at least the idol of him,
and—accommodating personage!—he actually fitted.  After he had been there
awhile, he was found to be quite an old acquaintance—to be, in fact, the
Greek Jove, and two or three other Greek gods, and also two or three
Egyptian gods beside—indeed, to be no other than the bull Apis, after his
death and deification.  I can tell you no more.  I never could find that
anything more was known.  You may see him among Greek and Roman statues
as a young man, with a sort of high basket-shaped Persian turban on his
head.  But, at least, he was found so pleasant and accommodating a
conscience-keeper, that he spread, with Isis, his newly-found mother, or
wife, over the whole East, and even to Rome.  The Consuls there—50 years
B.C.—found the pair not too respectable, and pulled down their temples.
But, so popular were they, in spite of their bad fame, that seven years
after, the Triumvirs had to build the temples up again elsewhere; and
from that time forth, Isis and Serapis, in spite, poor things, of much
persecution, were the fashionable deities of the Roman world.  Surely
this Ptolemy was a man of genius!

But Ptolemy had even more important work to do than making gods.  He had
to make men; for he had few or none ready made among his old veterans
from Issus and Arbela.  He had no hereditary aristocracy: and he wanted
none.  No aristocracy of wealth; that might grow of itself, only too fast
for his despotic power.  But as a despot, he must have a knot of men
round him who would do his work.  And here came out his deep insight into
fact.  It had not escaped that man, what was the secret of Greek
supremacy.  How had he come there?  How had his great master conquered
half the world?  How had the little semi-barbarous mountain tribe up
there in Pella, risen under Philip to be the master-race of the globe?
How, indeed, had Xenophon and his Ten Thousand, how had the handfuls of
Salamis and Marathon, held out triumphantly century after century,
against the vast weight of the barbarian?  The simple answer was: Because
the Greek has mind, the barbarian mere brute force.  Because mind is the
lord of matter; because the Greek being the cultivated man, is the only
true man; the rest are βάρβαροι, mere things, clods, tools for the wise
Greeks’ use, in spite of all their material phantom-strength of
elephants, and treasures, and tributaries by the million.  Mind was the
secret of Greek power; and for that Ptolemy would work.  He would have an
aristocracy of intellect; he would gather round him the wise men of the
world (glad enough most of them to leave that miserable Greece, where
every man’s life was in his hand from hour to hour), and he would develop
to its highest the conception of Philip, when he made Aristotle the tutor
of his son Alexander.  The consequences of that attempt were written in
letters of blood, over half the world; Ptolemy would attempt it once
more, with gentler results.  For though he fought long, and often, and
well, as Despot of Egypt, no less than as general of Alexander, he was
not at heart a man of blood, and made peace the end of all his wars.

So he begins.  Aristotle is gone: but in Aristotle’s place Philetas the
sweet singer of Cos, and Zenodotus the grammarian of Ephesus, shall
educate his favourite son, and he will have a literary court, and a
literary age.  Demetrius Phalereus, the Admirable Crichton of his time,
the last of Attic orators, statesman, philosopher, poet, warrior, and
each of them in the most graceful, insinuating, courtly way, migrates to
Alexandria, after having had the three hundred and sixty statues, which
the Athenians had too hastily erected to his honour, as hastily pulled
down again.  Here was a prize for Ptolemy!  The charming man became his
bosom friend and fellow, even revised the laws of his kingdom, and fired
him, if report says true, with a mighty thought—no less a one than the
great public Library of Alexandria; the first such institution, it is
said, which the world had ever seen.

                                * * * * *

So a library is begun by Soter, and organised and completed by
Philadelphus; or rather two libraries, for while one part was kept at the
Serapeium, that vast temple on the inland rising ground, of which, as far
as we can discover, Pompey’s Pillar alone remains, one column out of four
hundred, the rest was in the Brucheion adjoining the Palace and the
Museum.  Philadelphus buys Aristotle’s collection to add to the stock,
and Euergetes cheats the Athenians out of the original MSS. of Æschylus,
Sophocles, and Euripides, and adds largely to it by more honest methods.
Eumenes, King of Pergamus in Asia Minor, fired with emulation, commences
a similar collection, and is so successful, that the reigning Ptolemy has
to cut off his rival’s supplies by prohibiting the exportation of
papyrus; and the Pergamenian books are henceforth transcribed on
parchment, parchemin, Pergamene, which thus has its name to this day,
from Pergamus.  That collection, too, found its way at last to
Alexandria.  For Antony having become possessor of it by right of the
stronger, gave it to Cleopatra; and it remained at Alexandria for seven
hundred years.  But we must not anticipate events.

Then there must be besides a Mouseion, a Temple of the Muses, with all
due appliances, in a vast building adjoining the palace itself, under the
very wing of royalty; and it must have porticos, wherein sages may
converse; lecture-rooms, where they may display themselves at their will
to their rapt scholars, each like a turkey-cock before his brood; and a
large dining-hall, where they may enjoy themselves in moderation, as
befits sages, not without puns and repartees, epigrams, anagrams, and
Attic salt, to be fatal, alas, to poor Diodorus the dialectician.  For
Stilpo, prince of sophists, having silenced him by some quibbling puzzle
of logic, Ptolemy surnamed him Chronos the Slow.  Poor Diodorus went
home, took pen and ink, wrote a treatise on the awful nothing, and died
in despair, leaving five “dialectical daughters” behind him, to be thorns
in the sides of some five hapless men of Macedonia, as “emancipated
women;” a class but too common in the later days of Greece, as they will
always be, perhaps, in civilisations which are decaying and crumbling to
pieces, leaving their members to seek in bewilderment what they are, and
what bonds connect them with their fellow-beings.  But to return: funds
shall be provided for the Museum from the treasury; a priest of rank,
appointed by royalty, shall be curator; botanical and zoological gardens
shall be attached; collections of wonders made.  In all things the
presiding genius of Aristotle shall be worshipped; for these, like
Alexander, were his pupils.  Had he not mapped out all heaven and earth,
things seen and unseen, with his entelechies, and energies, and dunameis,
and put every created and uncreated thing henceforth into its proper
place, from the ascidians and polypes of the sea to the virtues and the
vices—yea, to that Great Deity and Prime Cause (which indeed was all
things), _Noesis Noeseon_, “the Thought of Thoughts,” whom he discovered
by irrefragable processes of logic, and in whom the philosophers believe
privately, leaving Serapis to the women and the sailors?  All they had to
do was to follow in his steps; to take each of them a branch, of science
or literature, or as many branches as one man conveniently can; and
working them out on the approved methods, end in a few years, as
Alexander did, by weeping on the utmost shore of creation that there are
no more worlds left to conquer.

Alas! the Muses are shy and wild; and though they will haunt, like
skylarks, on the bleakest northern moor as cheerfully as on the sunny
hills of Greece, and rise thence singing into the heaven of heavens, yet
they are hard to tempt into a gilded cage, however amusingly made and
plentifully stored with comforts.  Royal societies, associations of
savants, and the like, are good for many things, but not for the breeding
of art and genius: for they are things which cannot be bred.  Such
institutions are excellent for physical science, when, as among us now,
physical science is going on the right method: but where, as in
Alexandria, it was going on an utterly wrong method, they stereotype the
errors of the age, and invest them with the prestige of authority, and
produce mere Sorbonnes, and schools of pedants.  To literature, too, they
do some good, that is, in a literary age—an age of reflection rather than
of production, of antiquarian research, criticism, imitation, when
book-making has become an easy and respectable pursuit for the many who
cannot dig, and are ashamed to beg.  And yet, by adding that same
prestige of authority, not to mention of good society and Court favour,
to the popular mania for literature, they help on the growing evil, and
increase the multitude of prophets who prophesy out of their own heart
and have seen nothing.

And this was, it must be said, the outcome of all the Ptolemæan

In Physics they did little.  In Art nothing.  In Metaphysics less than

We will first examine, as the more pleasant spectacle of the two, that
branch of thought in which some progress was really made, and in which
the Ptolemaic schools helped forward the development of men who have
become world-famous, and will remain so, I suppose, until the end of

Four names at once attract us: Euclid, Aristarchus, Eratosthenes,
Hipparchus.  Archimedes, also, should be included in the list, for he was
a pupil of the Alexandrian school, having studied (if Proclus is to be
trusted) in Egypt, under Conon the Samian, during the reigns of two
Ptolemies, Philadelphus and Euergetes.

Of Euclid, as the founder (according to Proclus) of the Alexandrian
Mathematical school, I must of course speak first.  Those who wish to
attain to a juster conception of the man and his work than they can do
from any other source, will do well to read Professor De Morgan’s
admirable article on him in “Smith’s Classical Dictionary;” which
includes, also, a valuable little sketch of the rise of Geometric
science, from Pythagoras and Plato, of whose school Euclid was, to the
great master himself.

I shall confine myself to one observation on Euclid’s genius, and on the
immense influence which it exerted on after generations.  It seems to me,
speaking under correction, that it exerted this, because it was so
complete a type of the general tendency of the Greek mind, deductive,
rather than inductive; of unrivalled subtlety in obtaining results from
principles, and results again from them _ad infinitum_: deficient in that
sturdy moral patience which is required for the examination of facts, and
which has made Britain at once a land of practical craftsmen, and of
earnest scientific discoverers.

Volatile, restless, “always children longing for something new,” as the
Egyptian priest said of them, they were too ready to believe that they
had attained laws, and then, tired with their toy, throw away those
hastily assumed laws, and wander off in search of others.  Gifted, beyond
all the sons of men, with the most exquisite perception of form, both
physical and metaphysical, they could become geometers and logicians as
they became sculptors and artists; beyond that they could hardly rise.
The were conscious of their power to build; and it made them ashamed to

Four men only among them seem, as far as I can judge, to have had a great
inductive power: Socrates and Plato in Metaphysics; Archimedes and
Hipparchus in Physics.  But these men ran so far counter to the national
genius, that their examples were not followed.  As you will hear
presently, the discoveries of Archimedes and Hipparchus were allowed to
remain where they were for centuries.  The Dialectic of Plato and
Socrates was degraded into a mere art for making anything appear
alternately true and false, and among the Megaric school, for undermining
the ground of all science, and paving the way for scepticism, by denying
the natural world to be the object of certain knowledge.  The only
element of Plato’s thought to which they clung was, as we shall find from
the Neoplatonists, his physical speculations; in which, deserting his
inductive method, he has fallen below himself into the popular cacoethes,
and Pythagorean deductive dreams about the mysterious powers of numbers,
and of the regular solids.

Such a people, when they took to studying physical science, would be, and
in fact were, incapable of Chemistry, Geognosy, Comparative Anatomy, or
any of that noble choir of sister sciences, which are now building up the
material as well as the intellectual glory of Britain.

To Astronomy, on the other hand, the pupils of Euclid turned naturally,
as to the science which required the greatest amount of their favourite
geometry: but even that they were content to let pass from its inductive
to its deductive stage—not as we have done now, after two centuries of
inductive search for the true laws, and their final discovery by Kepler
and Newton: but as soon as Hipparchus had propounded any theory which
would do instead of the true laws, content there to stop their
experiments, and return to their favourite work of commenting, deducing,
spinning notion out of notion, _ad infinitum_.

Still, they were not all of this temper.  Had they been, they would have
discovered, not merely a little, but absolutely nothing.  For after all,
if we will consider, induction being the right path to knowledge, every
man, whether he knows it or not, uses induction, more or less, by the
mere fact of his having a human reason, and knowing anything at all; as
M. Jourdain talked prose all his life without being aware of it.

Aristarchus is principally famous for his attempt to discover the
distance of the sun as compared with that of the moon.  His method was
ingenious enough, but too rough for success, as it depended principally
on the belief that the line bounding the bright part of the moon was an
exact straight line.  The result was of course erroneous.  He concluded
that the sun was 18 times as far as the moon, and not, as we now know,
400; but his conclusion, like his conception of the vast extent of the
sphere of the fixed stars, was far enough in advance of the popular
doctrine to subject him, according to Plutarch, to a charge of impiety.

Eratosthenes, again, contributed his mite to the treasure of human
science—his one mite; and yet by that he is better known than by all the
volumes which he seems to have poured out, on Ethics, Chronology,
Criticism on the Old Attic Comedy, and what not, spun out of his weary
brain during a long life of research and meditation.  They have all
perished,—like ninety-nine hundredths of the labours of that great
literary age; and perhaps the world is no poorer for the loss.  But one
thing, which he attempted on a sound and practical philosophic method,
stands, and will stand for ever.  And after all, is not that enough to
have lived for? to have found out one true thing, and, therefore, one
imperishable thing, in one’s life?  If each one of us could but say when
he died: “This one thing I have found out; this one thing I have proved
to be possible; this one eternal fact I have rescued from Hela, the realm
of the formless and unknown,” how rich one such generation might make the
world for ever!

But such is not the appointed method.  The finders are few and far
between, because the true seekers are few and far between; and a whole
generation has often nothing to show for its existence but one solitary
gem which some one man—often unnoticed in his time—has picked up for
them, and so given them “a local habitation and a name.”

Eratosthenes had heard that in Syene, in Upper Egypt, deep wells were
enlightened to the bottom on the day of the summer solstice, and that
vertical objects cast no shadows.

He had before suggested, as is supposed, to Ptolemy Euergetes, to make
him the two great copper armillæ, or circles for determining the equinox,
which stood for centuries in “that which is called the Square
Porch”—probably somewhere in the Museum.  By these he had calculated the
obliquity of the ecliptic, closely enough to serve for a thousand years
after.  That was one work done.  But what had the Syene shadows to do
with that?  Syene must be under that ecliptic.  On the edge of it.  In
short, just under the tropic.  Now he had ascertained exactly the
latitude of one place on the earth’s surface.  He had his known point
from whence to start on a world-journey, and he would use it; he would
calculate the circumference of the earth—and he did it.  By observations
made at Alexandria, he ascertained its latitude compared with that of
Syene; and so ascertained what proportion to the whole circumference was
borne by the 5000 stadia between Alexandria and Syene.  He fell into an
error, by supposing Alexandria and Syene to be under the same meridians
of longitude: but that did not prevent his arriving at a fair rough
result of 252,000 stadia—31,500 Roman miles; considerably too much; but
still, before him, I suppose, none knew whether it was 10,000, or
10,000,000.  The right method having once been found, nothing remained
but to employ it more accurately.

One other great merit of Eratosthenes is, that he first raised Geography
to the rank of a science.  His Geographica were an organic collection,
the first the world had ever seen, of all the travels and books of
earth-description heaped together in the Great Library, of which he was
for many years the keeper.  He began with a geognostic book, touched on
the traces of Cataclysms and Change visible on the earth’s surface;
followed by two books, one a mathematical book, the other on political
geography, and completed by a map—which one would like to see: but—not a
trace of all remains, save a few quoted fragments—

               We are such stuff
   As dreams are made of.

But if Eratosthenes had hold of eternal fact and law on one point, there
was a contemporary who had hold of it in more than one.  I mean
Archimedes; of whom, as I have said, we must speak as of an Alexandrian.
It was as a mechanician, rather than as an astronomer, that he gained his
reputation.  The stories of his Hydraulic Screw, the Great Ship which he
built for Hiero, and launched by means of machinery, his crane, his
war-engines, above all his somewhat mythical arrangement of mirrors, by
which he set fire to ships in the harbour—all these, like the story of
his detecting the alloy in Hiero’s crown, while he himself was in the
bath, and running home undressed shouting εὕρηκα—all these are
schoolboys’ tales.  To the thoughtful person it is the method of the man
which constitutes his real greatness, that power of insight by which he
solved the two great problems of the nature of the lever and of
hydrostatic pressure, which form the basis of all static and hydrostatic
science to this day.  And yet on that very question of the lever the
great mind of Aristotle babbles—neither sees the thing itself, nor the
way towards seeing it.  But since Archimedes spoke, the thing seems
self-evident to every schoolboy.  There is something to me very solemn in
such a fact as this.  It brings us down to some of the very deepest
questions of metaphysic.  This mental insight of which we boast so much,
what is it?  Is it altogether a process of our own brain and will?  If it
be, why have so few the power, even among men of power, and they so
seldom?  If brain alone were what was wanted, what could not Aristotle
have discovered?  Or is it that no man can see a thing unless God shows
it him?  Is it that in each separate act of induction, that mysterious
and transcendental process which cannot, let logicians try as they will,
be expressed by any merely logical formula, Aristotelian or other—is it I
say, that in each separate act of induction we do not find the law, but
the law is shown to us, by Him who made the law? Bacon thought so.  Of
that you may find clear proof in his writings.  May not Bacon be right?
May it not be true that God does in science, as well as in ethics, hide
things from the wise and prudent, from the proud, complete,
self-contained systematiser like Aristotle, who must needs explain all
things in heaven and earth by his own formulæ, and his entelechies and
energies, and the rest of the notions which he has made for himself out
of his own brain, and then pack each thing away in its proper niche in
his great cloud-universe of conceptions?  Is it that God hides things
from such men many a time, and reveals them to babes, to gentle,
affectionate, simple-hearted men, such as we know Archimedes to have
been, who do not try to give an explanation for a fact, but feel how
awful and divine it is, and wrestle reverently and stedfastly with it, as
Jacob with the Angel, and will not let it go, until it bless them?  Sure
I am, from what I have seen of scientific men, that there is an intimate
connection between the health of the moral faculties and the health of
the inductive ones; and that the proud, self-conceited, and passionate
man will see nothing: perhaps because nothing will be shown him.

But we must leave Archimedes for a man not perhaps so well known, but to
whom we owe as much as to the great Syracusan—Hipparchus the astronomer.
To his case much which I have just said applies.  In him astronomic
science seemed to awaken suddenly to a true inductive method, and after
him to fall into its old slumber for 300 years.  In the meantime
Timocharis, Aristyllus, and Conon had each added their mites to the
discoveries of Eratosthenes: but to Hipparchus we owe that theory of the
heavens, commonly called the Ptolemaic system, which, starting from the
assumption that the earth was the centre of the universe, attempted to
explain the motions of the heavenly bodies by a complex system of
supposed eccentrics and epicycles.  This has of course now vanished
before modern discoveries.  But its value as a scientific attempt lies in
this: that the method being a correct one, correct results were obtained,
though starting from a false assumption; and Hipparchus and his
successors were enabled by it to calculate and predict the changes of the
heavens, in spite of their clumsy instruments, with almost as much
accuracy as we do now.

For the purpose of working out this theory he required a science of
trigonometry, plane and spherical: and this he accordingly seems to have
invented.  To him also we owe the discovery of that vast gradual change
in the position of the fixed stars, in fact, of the whole celestial
system, now known by the name of the precession of the equinoxes; the
first great catalogue of fixed stars, to the number of 1080; attempts to
ascertain whether the length of years and days were constant; with which,
with his characteristic love of truth, he seems to have been hardly
satisfied.  He too invented the planisphere, or mode of representing the
starry heavens upon a plane, and is the father of true geography, having
formed the happy notion of mapping out the earth, as well as the heavens,
by degrees of latitude and longitude.

Strange it is, and somewhat sad, that we should know nothing of this
great man, should be hardly able to distinguish him from others of the
same name, but through the works of a commentator, who wrote and observed
in Alexandria 300 years after, during the age of the Antonines.  I mean,
of course, the famous Ptolemy, whose name so long bore the honour of that
system which really belonged to Hipparchus.

This single fact speaks volumes for the real weakness of the great
artificial school of literature and science founded by the kings of
Egypt.  From the father of Astronomy, as Delambre calls him, to Ptolemy,
the first man who seems really to have appreciated him, we have not a
discovery, hardly an observation or a name, to fill the gap.  Physical
sages there were; but they were geometers and mathematicians, rather than
astronomic observers and inquirers.  And in spite of all the huge
appliances and advantages of that great Museum, its inhabitants were
content, in physical science, as in all other branches of thought, to
comment, to expound, to do everything but open their eyes and observe
facts, and learn from them, as the predecessors whom they pretended to
honour had done.  But so it is always.  A genius, an original man
appears.  He puts himself boldly in contact with facts, asks them what
they mean, and writes down their answer for the world’s use.  And then
his disciples must needs form a school, and a system; and fancy that they
do honour to their master by refusing to follow in his steps; by making
his book a fixed dogmatic canon; attaching to it some magical
infallibility; declaring the very lie which he disproved by his whole
existence, that discovery is henceforth impossible, and the sum of
knowledge complete: instead of going on to discover as he discovered
before them, and in following his method, show that they honour him, not
in the letter, but in spirit and in truth.

For this, if you will consider, is the true meaning of that great
command, “Honour thy father and mother, that thy days may be long in the
land.”  On reverence for the authority of bygone generations depends the
permanence of every form of thought or belief, as much as of all social,
national, and family life: but on reverence of the spirit, not merely of
the letter; of the methods of our ancestors, not merely of their
conclusions.  Ay, and we shall not be able to preserve their conclusions,
not even to understand them; they will die away on our lips into skeleton
notions, and soulless phrases, unless we see that the greatness of the
mighty dead has always consisted in this, that they were seekers,
improvers, inventors, endued with that divine power and right of
discovery which has been bestowed on us, even as on them; unless we
become such men as they were, and go on to cultivate and develop the
precious heritage which they have bequeathed to us, instead of hiding
their talent in a napkin and burying it in the earth; making their
greatness an excuse for our own littleness, their industry for our
laziness, their faith for our despair; and prating about the old paths,
while we forget that paths were made that men might walk in them, and not
stand still, and try in vain to stop the way.

It may be said, certainly, as an excuse for these Alexandrian Greeks,
that they were a people in a state of old age and decay; and that they
only exhibited the common and natural faults of old age.  For as with
individuals, so with races, nations, societies, schools of thought—youth
is the time of free fancy and poetry; manhood of calm and strong
induction; old age of deduction, when men settle down upon their lees,
and content themselves with reaffirming and verifying the conclusions of
their earlier years, and too often, alas! with denying and anathematising
all conclusions which have been arrived at since their own meridian.  It
is sad: but it is patent and common.  It is sad to think that the day may
come to each of us, when we shall have ceased to hope for discovery and
for progress; when a thing will seem _à priori_ false to us, simply
because it is new; and we shall be saying querulously to the Divine Light
which lightens every man who comes into the world: “Hitherto shalt thou
come, and no further.  Thou hast taught men enough; yea rather, thou hast
exhausted thine own infinitude, and hast no more to teach them.”  Surely
such a temper is to be fought against, prayed against, both in ourselves,
and in the generation in which we live.  Surely there is no reason why
such a temper should overtake old age.  There may be reason enough, “in
the nature of things.”  For that which is of nature is born only to decay
and die.  But in man there is more than dying nature; there is spirit,
and a capability of spiritual and everlasting life, which renews its
youth like the eagle’s, and goes on from strength to strength, and which,
if it have its autumns and its winters, has no less its ever-recurring
springs and summers; if it has its Sabbaths, finds in them only rest and
refreshment for coming labour.  And why not in nations, societies,
scientific schools?  These too are not merely natural: they are
spiritual, and are only living and healthy in as far as they are in
harmony with spiritual, unseen, and everlasting laws of God.  May not
they, too, have a capability of everlasting life, as long as they obey
those laws in faith, and patience, and humility?  We cannot deny the
analogy between the individual man and these societies of men.  We
cannot, at least, deny the analogy between them in growth, decay, and
death.  May we not have hope that it holds good also for that which can
never die; and that if they do die, as this old Greek society did, it is
by no brute natural necessity, but by their own unfaithfulness to that
which they knew, to that which they ought to have known?  It is always
more hopeful, always, as I think, more philosophic, to throw the blame of
failure on man, on our own selves, rather than on God, and the perfect
law of His universe.  At least let us be sure for ourselves, that such an
old age as befell this Greek society, as befalls many a man nowadays,
need not be our lot.  Let us be sure that earth shows no fairer sight
than the old man, whose worn-out brain and nerves make it painful, and
perhaps impossible, to produce fresh thought himself: but who can yet
welcome smilingly and joyfully the fresh thoughts of others; who keeps
unwearied his faith in God’s government of the universe, in God’s
continual education of the human race; who draws around him the young and
the sanguine, not merely to check their rashness by his wise cautions,
but to inspirit their sloth by the memories of his own past victories;
who hands over, without envy or repining, the lamp of truth to younger
runners than himself, and sits contented by, bidding the new generation
God speed along the paths untrodden by him, but seen afar off by faith.
A few such old persons have I seen, both men and women; in whom the young
heart beat pure and fresh, beneath the cautious and practised brain of
age, and gray hairs which were indeed a crown of glory.  A few such have
I seen; and from them I seemed to learn what was the likeness of our
Father who is in heaven.  To such an old age may He bring you and me, and
all for whom we are bound to pray.


I SAID in my first Lecture, that even if royal influence be profitable
for the prosecution of physical science, it cannot be profitable for art.
It can only produce a literary age, as it did in the Ptolemaic era; a
generation of innumerable court-poets, artificial epigrammatists,
artificial idyllists, artificial dramatists and epicists; above all, a
generation of critics.  Or rather shall we say, that the dynasty was not
the cause of a literary age, but only its correlative?  That when the old
Greeks lost the power of being free, of being anything but the slaves of
oriental despots, as the Ptolemies in reality were, they lost also the
power of producing true works of art; because they had lost that youthful
vigour of mind from which both art and freedom sprang? Let the case be as
it will, Alexandrian literature need not detain us long—though, alas! it
has detained every boy who ever trembled over his Greek grammar, for many
a weary year; and, I cannot help suspecting, has been the main cause that
so many young men who have spent seven years in learning Greek, know
nothing about it at the end of the seven.  For I must say, that as far as
we can see, these Alexandrian pedants were thorough pedants; very
polished and learned gentlemen, no doubt, and, like Callimachus, the pets
of princes: but after all, men who thought that they could make up for
not writing great works themselves, by showing, with careful analysis and
commentation, how men used to write them of old, or rather how they
fancied men used to write them; for, consider, if they had really known
how the thing was done, they must needs have been able to do it
themselves.  Thus Callimachus, the favourite of Ptolemy Philadelphus, and
librarian of his Museum, is the most distinguished grammarian, critic,
and poet of his day, and has for pupils Eratosthenes, Apollonius Rhodius,
Aristophanes of Byzantium, and a goodly list more.  He is an encyclopædia
in himself.  There is nothing the man does not know, or probably, if we
spoke more correctly, nothing he does not know about.  He writes on
history, on the Museum, on barbarous names, on the wonders of the world,
on public games, on colonisation, on winds, on birds, on the rivers of
the world, and—ominous subject—a sort of comprehensive history of Greek
literature, with a careful classification of all authors, each under his
own heading.  Greek literature was rather in the sere and yellow leaf, be
sure, when men thought of writing that sort of thing about it.  But
still, he is an encyclopædic man, and, moreover, a poet.  He writes an
epic, “Aitia,” in four books, on the causes of the myths, religious
ceremonies, and so forth—an ominous sign for the myths also, and the
belief in them; also a Hecate, Galatæa, Glaucus—four epics, besides
comedies, tragedies, iambics, choriambics, elegies, hymns, epigrams
seventy-three—and of these last alone can we say that they are in any
degree readable; and they are courtly, far-fetched, neat, and that is
all.  Six hymns remain, and a few fragments of the elegies: but the most
famous elegy, on Berenice’s hair, is preserved to us only in a Latin
paraphrase of Catullus.  It is curious, as the earliest instance we have
of genuinely ungenuine Court poetry, and of the complimentary lie which
does not even pretend to be true; the flattery which will not take the
trouble to prevent your seeing that it is laughing in your face.

Berenice the queen, on Ptolemy’s departure to the wars, vows her
beautiful tresses to her favourite goddess, as the price of her husband’s
safe return; and duly pays her vow.  The hair is hung up in the temple:
in a day or two after it has vanished.  Dire is the wrath of Ptolemy, the
consternation of the priests, the scandal to religion; when Conon, the
court-astronomer, luckily searching the heavens, finds the missing
tresses in an utterly unexpected place—as a new constellation of stars,
which to this day bears the title of Coma Berenices.  It is so convenient
to believe the fact, that everybody believes it accordingly; and
Callimachus writes an elegy thereon, in which the constellified, or
indeed deified tresses, address in most melodious and highly-finished
Greek, bedizened with concetto on concetto, that fair and sacred head
whereon they grew, to be shorn from which is so dire a sorrow, that
apotheosis itself can hardly reconcile them to the parting.

Worthy, was not all this, of the descendants of the men who fought at
Marathon and Thermopylæ?  The old Greek civilisation was rotting swiftly
down; while a fire of God was preparing, slowly and dimly, in that
unnoticed Italian town of Rome, which was destined to burn up that dead
world, and all its works.

Callimachus’s hymns, those may read who list.  They are highly finished
enough; the work of a man who knew thoroughly what sort of article he
intended to make, and what were the most approved methods of making it.
Curious and cumbrous mythological lore comes out in every other line.
The smartness, the fine epithets, the recondite conceits, the bits of
effect, are beyond all praise; but as for one spark of life, of poetry,
of real belief, you will find none; not even in that famous Lavacrum
Palladis which Angelo Poliziano thought worth translating into Latin
elegiacs, about the same time that the learned Florentine, Antonio Maria
Salviano, found Berenice’s Hair worthy to be paraphrased back from
Catullus’ Latin into Greek, to give the world some faint notion of the
inestimable and incomparable original.  They must have had much time on
their hands.  But at the Revival of Letters, as was to be expected, all
works of the ancients, good and bad, were devoured alike with youthful
eagerness by the Medicis and the Popes; and it was not, we shall see, for
more than one century after, that men’s taste got sufficiently matured to
distinguish between Callimachus and the Homeric hymns, or between Plato
and Proclus.  Yet Callimachus and his fellows had an effect on the world.
His writings, as well as those of Philetas, were the model on which Ovid,
Propertius, Tibullus, formed themselves.

And so I leave him, with two hints.  If any one wishes to see the justice
of my censure, let him read one of the Alexandrian hymns, and immediately
after it, one of those glorious old Homeric hymns to the very same
deities; let him contrast the insincere and fulsome idolatry of
Callimachus with the reverent, simple and manful anthropomorphism of the
Homerist—and let him form his own judgment.

The other hint is this.  If Callimachus, the founder of Alexandrian
literature, be such as he is, what are his pupils likely to become, at
least without some infusion of healthier blood, such as in the case of
his Roman imitators produced a new and not altogether ignoble school?

Of Lycophron, the fellow-grammarian and poet of Callimachus, we have
nothing left but the Cassandra, a long iambic poem, stuffed with
traditionary learning, and so obscure, that it obtained for him the
surname of σκοτεινός, the dark one.  I have tried in vain to read it:
you, if you will, may do the same.

Philetas, the remaining member of the Alexandrian Triad, seems to have
been a more simple, genial, and graceful spirit than the other two, to
whom he was accordingly esteemed inferior.  Only a few fragments are
left; but he was not altogether without his influence, for he was, as I
have just said, one of the models on which Propertius and Ovid formed
themselves; and some, indeed, call him the Father of the Latin elegy,
with its terseness, grace, and clear epigrammatic form of thought, and,
therefore, in a great degree, of our modern eighteenth century poets; not
a useless excellence, seeing that it is, on the whole, good for him who
writes to see clearly what he wants to say, and to be able to make his
readers see it clearly also.  And yet one natural strain is heard amid
all this artificial jingle—that of Theocritus.  It is not altogether
Alexandrian.  Its sweetest notes were learnt amid the chestnut groves and
orchards, the volcanic glens and sunny pastures of Sicily; but the
intercourse, between the courts of Hiero and the Ptolemies seems to have
been continual.  Poets and philosophers moved freely from one to the
other, and found a like atmosphere in both; and in one of Theocritus’
idyls, two Sicilian gentlemen, crossed in love, agree to sail for
Alexandria, and volunteer into the army of the great and good king
Ptolemy, of whom a sketch is given worth reading; as a man noble,
generous, and stately, “knowing well who loves him, and still better who
loves him not.”  He has another encomium on Ptolemy, more laboured,
though not less interesting: but the real value of Theocritus lies in his
power of landscape-painting.

One can well conceive the delight which his idyls must have given to
those dusty Alexandrians, pent up forever between sea and sand-hills,
drinking the tank-water, and never hearing the sound of a running
stream—whirling, too, forever, in all the bustle and intrigue of a great
commercial and literary city.  Refreshing indeed it must have been to
them to hear of those simple joys and simple sorrows of the Sicilian
shepherd, in a land where toil was but exercise, and mere existence was
enjoyment.  To them, and to us also.  I believe Theocritus is one of the
poets who will never die.  He sees men and things, in his own light way,
truly; and he describes them simply, honestly, with little careless
touches of pathos and humour, while he floods his whole scene with that
gorgeous Sicilian air, like one of Titian’s pictures; with still
sunshine, whispering pines, the lizard sleeping on the wall, and the
sunburnt cicala shrieking on the spray, the pears and apples dropping
from the orchard bough, the goats clambering from crag to crag after the
cistus and the thyme, the brown youths and wanton lasses singing under
the dark chestnut boughs, or by the leafy arch of some

               Grot nymph-haunted,
   Garlanded over with vine, and acanthus, and clambering roses,
   Cool in the fierce still noon, where the streams glance clear in the

and here and there, beyond the braes and meads, blue glimpses of the
far-off summer sea; and all this told in a language and a metre which
shapes itself almost unconsciously, wave after wave, into the most
luscious song.  Doubt not that many a soul then, was the simpler, and
purer, and better, for reading the sweet singer of Syracuse.  He has his
immoralities; but they are the immoralities of his age: his naturalness,
his sunny calm and cheerfulness, are all his own.

And now, to leave the poets, and speak of those grammarians to whose
corrections we owe, I suppose, the texts of the Greek poets as they now
stand.  They seem to have set to work at their task methodically enough,
under the direction of their most literary monarch, Ptolemy Philadelphus.
Alexander the Ætolian collected and revised the tragedies, Lycophron the
comedies, Zenodotus the poems of Homer, and the other poets of the Epic
cycle, now lost to us.  Whether Homer prospered under all his expungings,
alterations, and transpositions—whether, in fact, he did not treat Homer
very much as Bentley wanted to treat Milton, is a suspicion which one has
a right to entertain, though it is long past the possibility of proof.
Let that be as it may, the critical business grew and prospered.
Aristophanes of Byzantium wrote glossaries and grammars, collected
editions of Plato and Aristotle, æsthetic disquisitions on Homer—one
wishes they were preserved, for the sake of the jest, that one might have
seen an Alexandrian cockney’s views of Achilles and Ulysses!  Moreover,
in a hapless moment, at least for us moderns, he invented Greek accents;
thereby, I fear, so complicating and confusing our notions of Greek
rhythm, that we shall never, to the end of time, be able to guess what
any Greek verse, saving the old Homeric Hexameter, sounded like.  After a
while, too, the pedants, according to their wont, began quarrelling about
their accents and their recessions.  Moreover, there was a rival school
at Pergamus where the fame of Crates all but equalled the Egyptian fame
of Aristarchus.  Insolent!  What right had an Asiatic to know anything?
So Aristarchus flew furiously on Crates, being a man of plain common
sense, who felt a correct reading a far more important thing than any of
Crates’s illustrations, æsthetic, historical, or mythological; a
preference not yet quite extinct, in one, at least, of our Universities.
“Sir,” said a clever Cambridge Tutor to a philosophically inclined
freshman, “remember, that our business is to translate Plato correctly,
not to discover his meaning.”  And, paradoxical as it may seem, he was
right.  Let us first have accuracy, the merest mechanical accuracy, in
every branch of knowledge.  Let us know what the thing is which we are
looking at.  Let us know the exact words an author uses.  Let us get at
the exact value of each word by that severe induction of which Buttmann
and the great Germans have set such noble examples; and then, and not
till then, we may begin to talk about philosophy, and æsthetics, and the
rest.  Very Probably Aristarchus was right in his dislike of Crates’s
preference of what he called criticism, to grammar.  Very probably he
connected it with the other object of his especial hatred, that fashion
of interpreting Homer allegorically, which was springing up in his time,
and which afterwards under the Neoplatonists rose to a frantic height,
and helped to destroy in them, not only their power of sound judgment,
and of asking each thing patiently what it was, but also any real
reverence for, or understanding of, the very authors over whom they
declaimed and sentimentalised.

Yes—the Cambridge Tutor was right.  Before you can tell what a man means,
you must have patience to find out what he says.  So far from wishing our
grammatical and philological education to be less severe than it is, I
think it is not severe enough.  In an age like this—an age of lectures,
and of popular literature, and of self-culture, too often random and
capricious, however earnest, we cannot be too careful in asking
ourselves, in compelling others to ask themselves, the meaning of every
word which they use, of every word which they read; in assuring them,
whether they will believe us or not, that the moral, as well as the
intellectual culture, acquired by translating accurately one dialogue of
Plato, by making out thoroughly the sense of one chapter of a standard
author, is greater than they will get from skimming whole folios of
Schlegelian æsthetics, resumes, histories of philosophy, and the like
second-hand information, or attending seven lectures a-week till their
lives’ end.   _It is better to know one thing_, _than to know about ten
thousand things_.  I cannot help feeling painfully, after reading those
most interesting Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli, that the especial
danger of this time is intellectual sciolism, vagueness, sentimental
eclecticism—and feeling, too, as Socrates of old believed, that
intellectual vagueness and shallowness, however glib, and grand, and
eloquent it may seem, is inevitably the parent of a moral vagueness and
shallowness, which may leave our age as it left the later Greeks, without
an absolute standard of right or of truth, till it tries to escape from
its own scepticism, as the later Neoplatonists did, by plunging
desperately into any fetish-worshipping superstition which holds out to
its wearied and yet impatient intellect, the bait of decisions already
made for it, of objects of admiration already formed and systematised.

Therefore let us honour the grammarian in his place; and, among others,
these old grammarians of Alexandria; only being sure that as soon as any
man begins, as they did, displaying himself peacock-fashion, boasting of
his science as the great pursuit of humanity, and insulting his
fellow-craftsmen, he becomes, ipso facto, unable to discover any more
truth for us, having put on a habit of mind to which induction is
impossible; and is thenceforth to be passed by with a kindly but a
pitying smile.  And so, indeed, it happened with these quarrelsome
Alexandrian grammarians, as it did with the Casaubons and Scaligers and
Daciers of the last two centuries.  As soon as they began quarrelling
they lost the power of discovering.  The want of the inductive faculty in
their attempts at philology is utterly ludicrous.  Most of their
derivations of words are about on a par with Jacob Böhmen’s etymology of
sulphur, wherein he makes _sul_, if I recollect right, signify some
active principle of combustion, and _phur_ the passive one.  It was left
for more patient and less noisy men, like Grimm, Bopp, and Buttmann, to
found a science of philology, to discover for us those great laws which
connect modern philology with history, ethnology, physiology, and with
the very deepest questions of theology itself.  And in the meanwhile,
these Alexandrians’ worthless criticism has been utterly swept away;
while their real work, their accurate editions of the classics, remain to
us as a precious heritage.  So it is throughout history: nothing dies
which is worthy to live.  The wheat is surely gathered into the garner,
the chaff is burnt up by that eternal fire which, happily for this
universe, cannot be quenched by any art of man, but goes on forever,
devouring without indulgence all the folly and the falsehood of the

As yet you have heard nothing of the metaphysical schools of Alexandria;
for as yet none have existed, in the modern acceptation of that word.
Indeed, I am not sure that I must not tell you frankly, that none ever
existed at all in Alexandria, in that same modern acceptation.  Ritter, I
think, it is who complains naïvely enough, that the Alexandrian
Neoplatonists had a bad habit, which grew on them more and more as the
years rolled on, of mixing up philosophy with theology, and so defiling,
or at all events colouring, its pure transparency.  There is no denying
the imputation, as I shall show at greater length in my next Lecture.
But one would have thought, looking back through history, that the
Alexandrians were not the only philosophers guilty of this shameful act
of syncretism.  Plato, one would have thought, was as great a sinner as
they.  So were the Hindoos.  In spite of all their logical and
metaphysical acuteness, they were, you will find, unable to get rid of
the notion that theological inquiries concerning Brahma, Atma, Creeshna,
were indissolubly mixed up with that same logic and metaphysic.  The
Parsees could not separate questions about Ahriman and Ormuzd from Kant’s
three great philosophic problems: What is Man?—What may be known?—What
should be done?  Neither, indeed, could the earlier Greek sages.  Not one
of them, of any school whatsoever—from the semi-mythic Seven Sages to
Plato and Aristotle—but finds it necessary to consider not in passing,
but as the great object of research, questions concerning the
gods:—whether they are real or not; one or many; personal or impersonal;
cosmic, and parts of the universe, or organisers and rulers of it; in
relation to man, or without relation to him.  Even in those who flatly
deny the existence of the gods, even in Lucretius himself, these
questions have to be considered, before the question, What is man? can
get any solution at all.  On the answer given to them is found to depend
intimately the answer to the question, What is the immaterial part of
man?  Is it a part of nature, or of something above nature?  Has he an
immaterial part at all?—in one word, Is a human metaphysic possible at
all?  So it was with the Greek philosophers of old, even, as Asclepius
and Ammonius say, with Aristotle himself.  “The object of Aristotle’s
metaphysic,” one of them says, “is theological.  Herein Aristotle
theologises.”  And there is no denying the assertion.  We must not then
be hard on the Neoplatonists, as if they were the first to mix things
separate from the foundation of the world.  I do not say that theology
and metaphysic are separate studies.  That is to be ascertained only by
seeing some one separate them.  And when I see them separated, I shall
believe them separable.  Only the separation must not be produced by the
simple expedient of denying the existence of either one of them, or at
least of ignoring the existence of one steadily during the study of the
other.  If they can be parted without injury to each other, let them be
parted; and till then let us suspend hard judgments on the Alexandrian
school of metaphysic, and also on the schools of that curious people the
Jews, who had at this period a steadily increasing influence on the
thought, as well as on the commercial prosperity, of Alexandria.

You must not suppose, in the meanwhile, that the philosophers whom the
Ptolemies collected (as they would have any other marketable article) by
liberal offers of pay and patronage, were such men as the old Seven Sages
of Greece, or as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.  In these three last
indeed, Greek thought reached not merely its greatest height, but the
edge of a precipice, down which it rolled headlong after their decease.
The intellectual defects of the Greek mind, of which I have already
spoken, were doubtless one great cause of this decay: but, to my mind,
moral causes had still more to do with it.  The more cultivated Greek
states, to judge from the writings of Plato, had not been an
over-righteous people during the generation in which he lived.  And in
the generations which followed, they became an altogether wicked people;
immoral, unbelieving, hating good, and delighting in all which was evil.
And it was in consequence of these very sins of theirs, as I think, that
the old Hellenic race began to die out physically, and population
throughout Greece to decrease with frightful rapidity, after the time of
the Achæan league.  The facts are well known; and foul enough they are.
When the Romans destroyed Greece, God was just and merciful.  The eagles
were gathered together only because the carrion needed to be removed from
the face of God’s earth.  And at the time of which I now speak, the signs
of approaching death were fearfully apparent.  Hapless and hopeless
enough were the clique of men out of whom the first two Ptolemies hoped
to form a school of philosophy; men certainly clever enough, and amusing
withal, who might give the kings of Egypt many a shrewd lesson in
king-craft, and the ways of this world, and the art of profiting by the
folly of fools, and the selfishness of the selfish; or who might amuse
them, in default of fighting-cocks, by puns and repartees, and battles of
logic; “how one thing cannot be predicated of another,” or “how the wise
man is not only to overcome every misfortune, but not even to feel it,”
and other such mighty questions, which in those days hid that deep
unbelief in any truth whatsoever which was spreading fast over the minds
of men.  Such word-splitters were Stilpo and Diodorus, the slayer and the
slain.  They were of the Megaran school, and were named Dialectics; and
also, with more truth, Eristics, or quarrellers.  Their clique had
professed to follow Zeno and Socrates in declaring the instability of
sensible presumptions and conclusions, in preaching an absolute and
eternal Being.  But there was this deep gulf between them and Socrates;
that while Socrates professed to be seeking for the Absolute and Eternal,
for that which is, they were content with affirming that it exists.  With
him, as with the older sages, philosophy was a search for truth.  With
them it was a scheme of doctrines to be defended.  And the dialectic on
which they prided themselves so much, differed from his accordingly.  He
used it inductively, to seek out, under the notions and conceptions of
the mind, certain absolute truths and laws of which they were only the
embodiment.  Words and thought were to him a field for careful and
reverent induction, as the phenomena of nature are to us the disciples of
Bacon.  But with these hapless Megarans, who thought that they had found
that for which Socrates professed only to seek dimly and afar off, and
had got it safe in a dogma, preserved as it were in spirits, and put by
in a museum, the great use of dialectic was to confute opponents.
Delight in their own subtlety grew on them, the worship not of objective
truth, but of the forms of the intellect whereby it may be demonstrated;
till they became the veriest word-splitters, rivals of the old sophists
whom their master had attacked, and justified too often Aristophanes’
calumny, which confounded Socrates with his opponents, as a man whose aim
was to make the worse appear the better reason.

We have here, in both parties, all the marks of an age of exhaustion, of
scepticism, of despair about finding any real truth.  No wonder that they
were superseded by the Pyrrhonists, who doubted all things, and by the
Academy, which prided itself on setting up each thing to knock it down
again; and so by prudent and well-bred and tolerant qualifying of every
assertion, neither affirming too much, nor denying too much, keep their
minds in a wholesome—or unwholesome—state of equilibrium, as stagnant
pools are kept, that everything may have free toleration to rot

These hapless caricaturists of the dialectic of Plato, and the logic of
Aristotle, careless of any vital principles or real results, ready enough
to use fallacies each for their own party, and openly proud of their
success in doing so, were assisted by worthy compeers of an outwardly
opposite tone of thought, the Cyrenaics, Theodorus and Hegesias.  With
their clique, as with their master Aristippus, the senses were the only
avenues to knowledge; man was the measure of all things; and “happiness
our being’s end and aim.”  Theodorus was surnamed the Atheist; and, it
seems, not without good reason; for he taught that there was no absolute
or eternal difference between good and evil; nothing really disgraceful
in crimes; no divine ground for laws, which according to him had been
invented by men to prevent fools from making themselves disagreeable; on
which theory, laws must be confessed to have been in all ages somewhat of
a failure.  He seems to have been, like his master, an impudent
light-hearted fellow, who took life easily enough, laughed at patriotism,
and all other high-flown notions, boasted that the world was his country,
and was no doubt excellent after-dinner company for the great king.
Hegesias, his fellow Cyrenaic, was a man of a darker and more melancholic
temperament; and while Theodorus contented himself with preaching a
comfortable selfishness, and obtaining pleasure, made it rather his study
to avoid pain.  Doubtless both their theories were popular enough at
Alexandria, as they were in France during the analogous period, the
Siècle Louis Quinze.  The “Contrat Social,” and the rest of their
doctrines, moral and metaphysical, will always have their admirers on
earth, as long as that variety of the human species exists for whose
especial behoof Theodorus held that laws were made; and the whole form of
thought met with great approbation in after years at Rome, where Epicurus
carried it to its highest perfection.  After that, under the pressure of
a train of rather severe lessons, which Gibbon has detailed in his
“Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” little or nothing was heard of
it, save _sotto voce_, perhaps, at the Papal courts of the sixteenth
century.  To revive it publicly, or at least as much of it as could be
borne by a world now for seventeen centuries Christian, was the glory of
the eighteenth century.  The moral scheme of Theodorus has now nearly
vanished among us, at least as a confessed creed; and, in spite of the
authority of Mr. Locke’s great and good name, his metaphysical scheme is
showing signs of a like approaching disappearance.  Let us hope that it
may be a speedy one; for if the senses be the only avenues to knowledge;
if man be the measure of all things; and if law have not, as Hooker says,
her fount and home in the very bosom of God himself, then was Homer’s
Zeus right in declaring man to be “the most wretched of all the beasts of
the field.”

And yet one cannot help looking with a sort of awe (I dare not call it
respect) at that melancholic faithless Hegesias.  Doubtless he, like his
compeers, and indeed all Alexandria for three hundred years, cultivated
philosophy with no more real purpose than it was cultivated by the
graceless _beaux-esprits_ of Louis XV.’s court, and with as little
practical effect on morality; but of this Hegesias alone it stands
written, that his teaching actually made men do something; and moreover,
do the most solemn and important thing which any man can do, excepting
always doing right.  I must confess, however, that the result of his
teaching took so unexpected a form, that the reigning Ptolemy, apparently
Philadelphus, had to interfere with the sacred right of every man to talk
as much nonsense as he likes, and forbade Hegesias to teach at
Alexandria.  For Hegesias, a Cyrenaic like Theodorus, but a rather more
morose pedant than that saucy and happy scoffer, having discovered that
the great end of man was to avoid pain, also discovered (his digestion
being probably in a disordered state) that there was so much more pain
than pleasure in the world, as to make it a thoroughly disagreeable
place, of which man was well rid at any price.  Whereon he wrote a book
called, Ἀποκαρτερῶν, in which a man who had determined to starve himself,
preached the miseries of human life, and the blessings of death, with
such overpowering force, that the book actually drove many persons to
commit suicide, and escape from a world which was not fit to dwell in.  A
fearful proof of how rotten the state of society was becoming, how
desperate the minds of men, during those frightful centuries which
immediately preceded the Christian era, and how fast was approaching that
dark chaos of unbelief and unrighteousness, which Paul of Tarsus so
analyses and describes in the first chapter of his Epistle to the
Romans—when the old light was lost, the old faiths extinct, the old
reverence for the laws of family and national life, destroyed, yea even
the natural instincts themselves perverted; that chaos whose darkness
Juvenal, and Petronius, and Tacitus have proved, in their fearful pages,
not to have been exaggerated by the more compassionate though more
righteous Jew.

And now observe, that this selfishness—this wholesome state of
equilibrium—this philosophic calm, which is really only a lazy pride,
was, as far as we can tell, the main object of all the schools from the
time of Alexander to the Christian era.  We know very little of those
Sceptics, Cynics, Epicureans, Academics, Peripatetics, Stoics, of whom
there has been so much talk, except at second-hand, through the Romans,
from whom Stoicism in after ages received a new and not ignoble life.
But this we do know of the later sets, that they gradually gave up the
search for truth, and propounded to themselves as the great type for a
philosopher, How shall a man save his own soul from this evil world? They
may have been right; it may have been the best thing to think about in
those exhausted and decaying times: but it was a question of ethics, not
of philosophy, in the sense which the old Greek sages put on that latter
word.  Their object was, not to get at the laws of all things, but to
fortify themselves against all things, each according to his scheme, and
so to be self-sufficient and alone.  Even in the Stoics, who boldly and
righteously asserted an immutable morality, this was the leading
conception.  As has been well said of them:

“If we reflect how deeply the feeling of an intercourse between men and a
divine race superior to themselves had worked itself into the Greek
character—what a number of fables, some beautiful, some impure, it had
impregnated and procured credence for—how it sustained every form of
polity and every system of laws, we may imagine what the effects must
have been of its disappearance.  If it is possible for any man, it was
not, certainly, possible for a Greek, to feel himself connected by any
real bonds with his fellow-creatures around him, while he felt himself
utterly separated from any being above his fellow-creatures.  But the
sense of that isolation would affect different minds very differently.
It drove the Epicurean to consider how he might make a world in which he
should live comfortably, without distracting visions of the past and
future, and the dread of those upper powers who no longer awakened in him
any feelings of sympathy.  It drove Zeno the Stoic to consider whether a
man may not find enough in himself to satisfy him, though what is beyond
him be ever so unfriendly. . . . We may trace in the productions which
are attributed to Zone a very clear indication of the feeling which was
at work in his mind.  He undertook, for instance, among other tasks, to
answer Plato’s ‘Republic.’  The truth that a man is a political being,
which informs and pervades that book, was one which must have been
particularly harassing to his mind, and which he felt must be got rid of,
before he could hope to assert his doctrine of a man’s solitary dignity.”

Woe to the nation or the society in which this individualising and
separating process is going on in the human mind!  Whether it take the
form of a religion or of a philosophy, it is at once the sign and the
cause of senility, decay, and death.  If man begins to forget that he is
a social being, a member of a body, and that the only truths which can
avail him anything, the only truths which are worthy objects of his
philosophical search, are those which are equally true for every man,
which will equally avail every man, which he must proclaim, as far as he
can, to every man, from the proudest sage to the meanest outcast, he
enters, I believe, into a lie, and helps forward the dissolution of that
society of which he is a member.  I care little whether what he holds be
true or not.  If it be true, he has made it a lie by appropriating it
proudly and selfishly to himself, and by excluding others from it.  He
has darkened his own power of vision by that act of self-appropriation,
so that even if he sees a truth, he can only see it refractedly,
discoloured by the medium of his own private likes and dislikes, and
fulfils that great and truly philosophic law, that he who loveth not his
brother is in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth.  And so it
befell those old Greek schools.  It is out of our path to follow them to
Italy, where sturdy old Roman patriots cursed them, and with good reason,
as corrupting the morals of the young.  Our business is with Alexandria;
and there, certainly, they did nothing for the elevation of humanity.
What culture they may have given, probably helped to make the
Alexandrians, what Cæsar calls them, the most ingenious of all nations:
but righteous or valiant men it did not make them.  When, after the three
great reigns of Soter, Philadelphus, and Euergetes, the race of the
Ptolemies began to wear itself out, Alexandria fell morally, as its
sovereigns fell; and during a miserable and shameful decline of a hundred
and eighty years, sophists wrangled, pedants fought over accents and
readings with the true _odium gammaticum_, and kings plunged deeper and
deeper into the abysses of luxury and incest, laziness and cruelty, till
the flood came, and swept them all away.  Cleopatra, the Helen of Egypt,
betrayed her country to the Roman; and thenceforth the Alexandrians
became slaves in all but name.

And now that Alexandria has become a tributary province, is it to share
the usual lot of enslaved countries and lose all originality and vigour
of thought?  Not so.  From this point, strangely enough, it begins to
have a philosophy of its own.  Hitherto it has been importing Greek
thought into Egypt and Syria, even to the furthest boundaries of Persia;
and the whole East has become Greek: but it has received little in
return.  The Indian Gymnosophists, or Brahmins, had little or no effect
on Greek philosophy, except in the case of Pyrrho: the Persian Dualism
still less.  The Egyptian symbolic nature-worship had been too gross to
be regarded by the cultivated Alexandrian as anything but a barbaric
superstition.  One eastern nation had intermingled closely with the
Macedonian race, and from it Alexandrian thought received a new impulse.

I mentioned in my first lecture the conciliatory policy which the
Ptolemies had pursued toward the Jews.  Soter had not only allowed but
encouraged them to settle in Alexandria and Egypt, granting them the same
political privileges with the Macedonians and other Greeks.  Soon they
built themselves a temple there, in obedience to some supposed prophecy
in their sacred writings, which seems most probably to have been a wilful
interpolation.  Whatsoever value we may attach to the various myths
concerning the translation of their Scriptures into Greek, there can be
no doubt that they were translated in the reign of Soter, and that the
exceedingly valuable Septuagint version is the work of that period.
Moreover, their numbers in Alexandria were very great.  When Amrou took
Constantinople in A.D. 640, there were 40,000 Jews in it; and their
numbers during the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, before their temporary
expulsion by Cyril about 412, were probably greater; and Egypt altogether
is said to have contained 200,000 Jews.  They had schools there, which
were so esteemed by their whole nation throughout the East, that the
Alexandrian Rabbis, the Light of Israel, as they were called, may be
fairly considered as the centre of Jewish thought and learning for
several centuries.

We are accustomed, and not without reason, to think with some contempt of
these old Rabbis.  Rabbinism, Cabbalism, are become by-words in the
mouths of men.  It may be instructive for us—it is certainly necessary
for us, if we wish to understand Alexandria—to examine a little how they
became so fallen.

Their philosophy took its stand, as you all know, on certain ancient
books of their people; histories, laws, poems, philosophical treatises,
which all have one element peculiar to themselves, namely, the assertion
of a living personal Ruler and Teacher, not merely of the Jewish race,
but of all the nations of the earth.  After the return of their race from
Babylon, their own records give abundant evidence that this strange
people became the most exclusive and sectarian which the world ever saw.
Into the causes of that exclusiveness I will not now enter; suffice it to
say, that it was pardonable enough in a people asserting Monotheism in
the midst of idolatrous nations, and who knew, from experience even more
bitter than that which taught Plato and Socrates, how directly all those
popular idolatries led to every form of baseness and immorality.  But we
may trace in them, from the date of their return from Babylon, especially
from their settlement in Alexandria, a singular change of opinion.  In
proportion as they began to deny that their unseen personal Ruler had
anything to do with the Gentiles—the nations of the earth, as they called
them—in proportion as they considered themselves as His only subjects—or
rather, Him and His guidance as their own private property—exactly in
that proportion they began to lose all living or practical belief that He
did guide them.  He became a being of the past; one who had taught and
governed their forefathers in old times: not one who was teaching and
governing them now.  I beg you to pay attention to this curious result;
because you will see, I think, the very same thing occurring in two other
Alexandrian schools, of which I shall speak hereafter.

The result to these Rabbis was, that the inspired books which spoke of
this Divine guidance and government became objects of superstitious
reverence, just in proportion as they lost all understanding of their
real value and meaning.  Nevertheless, this too produced good results;
for the greatest possible care was taken to fix the Canon of these books;
to settle, as far as possible, the exact time at which the Divine
guidance was supposed to have ceased; after which it was impious to claim
a Divine teaching; when their sages were left to themselves, as they
fancied, with a complete body of knowledge, on which they were henceforth
only to comment.  Thus, whether or not they were right in supposing that
the Divine Teacher had ceased to teach and inspire them, they did
infinite service by marking out for us certain writers whom He had
certainly taught and inspired.  No doubt they were right in their sense
of the awful change which had passed over their nation.  There was an
infinite difference between them and the old Hebrew writers.  They had
lost something which those old prophets possessed.  I invite you to
ponder, each for himself, on the causes of this strange loss; bearing in
mind that they lost their forefathers’ heirloom, exactly in proportion as
they began to believe it to be their exclusive possession, and to deny
other human beings any right to or share in it.  It may have been that
the light given to their forefathers had, as they thought, really
departed.  It may have been, also, that the light was there all around
them still, as bright as ever, but that they would not open their eyes
and behold it; or rather, could not open them, because selfishness and
pride had sealed them.  It may have been, that inspiration was still very
near _them_ too, if their spirits had been willing to receive it.  But of
the fact of the change there was no doubt.  For the old Hebrew seers were
men dealing with the loftiest and deepest laws: the Rabbis were shallow
pedants.  The old Hebrew seers were righteous and virtuous men: the
Rabbis became, in due time, some of the worst and wickedest men who ever
trod this earth.

Thus they too had their share in that downward career of pedantry which
we have seen characterise the whole past Alexandrine age.  They, like
Zenodotus and Aristarchus, were commentators, grammarians, sectarian
disputers: they were not thinkers or actors.  Their inspired books were
to them no more the words of living human beings who had sought for the
Absolute Wisdom, and found it after many sins and doubts and sorrows.
The human writers became in their eyes the puppets and mouthpieces of
some magical influence, not the disciples of a living and loving person.
The book itself was, in their belief, not in any true sense inspired, but
magically dictated—by what power they cared not to define.  His character
was unimportant to them, provided He had inspired no nation but their
own.  But, thought they, if the words were dictated, each of them must
have some mysterious value.  And if each word had a mysterious value, why
not each letter?  And how could they set limits to that mysterious value?
Might not these words, even rearrangements of the letters of them, be
useful in protecting them against the sorceries of the heathen, in
driving away those evil spirits, or evoking those good spirits, who,
though seldom mentioned in their early records, had after their return
from Babylon begun to form an important part of their unseen world?  For
as they had lost faith in the One Preserver of their race, they had
filled up the void by a ponderous demonology of innumerable preservers.
This process of thought was not confined to Alexandria.  Dr. Layard, in
his last book on Nineveh, gives some curious instances of its prevalence
among them at an earlier period, well worth your careful study.  But it
was at Alexandria that the Jewish Cabbalism formed itself into a system.
It was there that the Jews learnt to become the jugglers and
magic-mongers of the whole Roman world, till Claudius had to expel them
from Rome, as pests to rational and moral society.

And yet, among these hapless pedants there lingered nobler thoughts and
hopes.  They could not read the glorious heirlooms of their race without
finding in them records of antique greatness and virtue, of old
deliverances worked for their forefathers; and what seemed promises, too,
that that greatness should return.  The notion that those promises were
conditional; that they expressed eternal moral laws, and declared the
consequences of obeying those laws, they had lost long ago.  By looking
on themselves as exclusively and arbitrarily favoured by Heaven, they
were ruining their own moral sense.  Things were not right or wrong to
them because Right was eternal and divine, and Wrong the transgression of
that eternal right.  How could that be?  For then the right things the
Gentiles seemed to do would be right and divine;—and that supposition in
their eyes was all but impious.  None could do right but themselves, for
they only knew the law of God.  So, right with them had no absolute or
universal ground, but was reduced in their minds to the performance of
certain acts commanded exclusively to them—a form of ethics which rapidly
sank into the most petty and frivolous casuistry as to the outward
performance of those acts.  The sequel of those ethics is known to all
the world, in the spectacle of the most unrivalled religiosity, and
scrupulous respectability, combined with a more utter absence of moral
sense, in their most cultivated and learned men, than the world has ever
beheld before or since.

In such a state of mind it was impossible for them to look on their old
prophets as true seers, beholding and applying eternal moral laws, and,
therefore, seeing the future in the present and in the past.  They must
be the mere utterers of an irreversible arbitrary fate; and that fate
must, of course, be favourable to their nation.  So now arose a school
who picked out from their old prophets every passage which could be made
to predict their future glory, and a science which settled when that
glory was to return.  By the arbitrary rules of criticism a prophetic day
was defined to mean a year; a week, seven years.  The most simple and
human utterances were found to have recondite meanings relative to their
future triumph over the heathens whom they cursed and hated.  If any of
you ever come across the popular Jewish interpretations of The Song of
Solomon, you will there see the folly in which acute and learned men can
indulge themselves when they have lost hold of the belief in anything
really absolute and eternal and moral, and have made Fate, and Time, and
Self, their real deities.  But this dream of a future restoration was in
no wise ennobled, as far as we can see, with any desire for a moral
restoration.  They believed that a person would appear some day or other
to deliver them.  Even they were happily preserved by their sacred books
from the notion that deliverance was to be found for them, or for any
man, in an abstraction or notion ending in -ation or -ality.  In justice
to them it must be said, that they were too wise to believe that personal
qualities, such as power, will, love, righteousness, could reside in any
but in a person, or be manifested except by a person.  And among the
earlier of them the belief may have been, that the ancient unseen Teacher
of their race would be their deliverer: but as they lost the thought of
Him, the expected Deliverer became a mere human being: or rather not a
human being; for as they lost their moral sense, they lost in the very
deepest meaning their humanity, and forgot what man was like till they
learned to look only for a conqueror; a manifestation of power, and not
of goodness; a destroyer of the hated heathen, who was to establish them
as the tyrant race of the whole earth.  On that fearful day on which, for
a moment, they cast away even that last dream, and cried, “We have no
king but Cæsar,” they spoke the secret of their hearts.  It was a Cæsar,
a Jewish Cæsar, for whom they had been longing for centuries.  And if
they could not have such a deliverer, they would have none: they would
take up with the best embodiment of brute Titanic power which they could
find, and crucify the embodiment of Righteousness and Love.  Amid all the
metaphysical schools of Alexandria, I know none so deeply instructive as
that school of the Rabbis, “the glory of Israel.”

But you will say: “This does not look like a school likely to regenerate
Alexandrian thought.”  True: and yet it did regenerate it, both for good
and for evil; for these men had among them and preserved faithfully
enough for all practical purposes, the old literature of their race; a
literature which I firmly believe, if I am to trust the experience of
1900 years, is destined to explain all other literatures; because it has
firm hold of the one eternal root-idea which gives life, meaning, Divine
sanction, to every germ or fragment of human truth which is in any of
them.  It did so, at least, in Alexandria for the Greek literature.
About the Christian era, a cultivated Alexandrian Jew, a disciple of
Plato and of Aristotle, did seem to himself to find in the sacred books
of his nation that which agreed with the deepest discoveries of Greek
philosophy; which explained and corroborated them.  And his announcement
of this fact, weak and defective as it was, had the most enormous and
unexpected results.  The father of New Platonism was Philo the Jew.


WE now approach the period in which Alexandria began to have a philosophy
of its own—to be, indeed, the leader of human thought for several

I shall enter on this branch of my subject with some fear and trembling;
not only on account of my own ignorance, but on account of the great
difficulty of handling it without trenching on certain controversial
subjects which are rightly and wisely forbidden here.  For there was not
one school of Metaphysic at Alexandria: there were two; which, during the
whole period of their existence, were in internecine struggle with each
other, and yet mutually borrowing from each other; the Heathen, namely,
and the Christian.  And you cannot contemplate, still less can you
understand, the one without the other.  Some of late years have become
all but unaware of the existence of that Christian school; and the word
Philosophy, on the authority of Gibbon, who, however excellent an
authority for facts, knew nothing about Philosophy, and cared less, has
been used exclusively to express heathen thought; a misnomer which in
Alexandria would have astonished Plotinus or Hypatia as much as it would
Clement or Origen.  I do not say that there is, or ought to be, a
Christian Metaphysic.  I am speaking, as you know, merely as a historian,
dealing with facts; and I say that there was one; as profound, as
scientific, as severe, as that of the Pagan Neoplatonists; starting
indeed, as I shall show hereafter, on many points from common ground with
theirs.  One can hardly doubt, I should fancy, that many parts of St.
John’s Gospel and Epistles, whatever view we may take of them, if they
are to be called anything, are to be called metaphysic and philosophic.
And one can no more doubt that before writing them he had studied Philo,
and was expanding Philo’s thought in the direction which seemed fit to
him, than we can doubt it of the earlier Neoplatonists.  The technical
language is often identical; so are the primary ideas from which he
starts, howsoever widely the conclusions may differ.  If Plotinus
considered himself an intellectual disciple of Plato, so did Origen and
Clemens.  And I must, as I said before, speak of both, or of neither.  My
only hope of escaping delicate ground lies in the curious fact, that
rightly or wrongly, the form in which Christianity presented itself to
the old Alexandrian thinkers was so utterly different from the popular
conception of it in modern England, that one may very likely be able to
tell what little one knows about it, almost without mentioning a single
doctrine which now influences the religious world.

But far greater is my fear, that to a modern British auditory, trained in
the school of Locke, much of ancient thought, heathen as well as
Christian, may seem so utterly the product of the imagination, so utterly
without any corresponding reality in the universe, as to look like mere
unintelligible madness.  Still, I must try; only entreating my hearers to
consider, that how much soever we may honour Locke and his great Scotch
followers, we are not bound to believe them either infallible, or
altogether world-embracing; that there have been other methods than
theirs of conceiving the Unseen; that the common ground from which both
Christian and heathen Alexandrians start, is not merely a private vagary
of their own, but one which has been accepted undoubtingly, under so many
various forms, by so many different races, as to give something of an
inductive probability that it is not a mere dream, but may be a right and
true instinct of the human mind.  I mean the belief that the things which
we see—nature and all her phenomena—are temporal, and born only to die;
mere shadows of some unseen realities, from whom their laws and life are
derived; while the eternal things which subsist without growth, decay, or
change, the only real, only truly existing things, in short, are certain
things which are not seen; inappreciable by sense, or understanding, or
imagination, perceived only by the conscience and the reason.  And that,
again, the problem of philosophy, the highest good for man, that for the
sake of which death were a gain, without which life is worthless, a
drudgery, a degradation, a failure, and a ruin, is to discover what those
unseen eternal things are, to know them, possess them, be in harmony with
them, and thereby alone to rise to any real and solid power, or safety,
or nobleness.  It is a strange dream.  But you will see that it is one
which does not bear much upon “points of controversy,” any more than on
“Locke’s philosophy;” nevertheless, when we find this same strange dream
arising, apparently without intercommunion of thought, among the old
Hindoos, among the Greeks, among the Jews; and lastly, when we see it
springing again in the Middle Age, in the mind of the almost forgotten
author of the “Deutsche Theologie,” and so becoming the parent, not
merely of Luther’s deepest belief, or of the German mystic schools of the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but of the great German Philosophy
itself as developed by Kant, and Fichte, and Schelling, and Hegel, we
must at least confess it to be a popular delusion, if nothing better,
vast enough and common enough to be worth a little patient investigation,
wheresoever we may find it stirring the human mind.

But I have hope, still, that I may find sympathy and comprehension among
some, at least, of my audience, as I proceed to examine the ancient
realist schools of Alexandria, on account of their knowledge of the
modern realist schools of Germany.  For I cannot but see, that a
revulsion is taking place in the thoughts of our nation upon metaphysic
subjects, and that Scotland, as usual, is taking the lead therein.  That
most illustrious Scotchman, Mr. Thomas Carlyle, first vindicated the
great German Realists from the vulgar misconceptions about them which
were so common at the beginning of this century, and brought the minds of
studious men to a more just appreciation of the philosophic severity, the
moral grandeur, of such thinkers as Emmanuel Kant, and Gottlieb Fichte.
To another Scotch gentleman, who, I believe, has honoured me by his
presence here to-night, we owe most valuable translations of some of
Fichte’s works; to be followed, I trust, by more.  And though, as a
humble disciple of Bacon, I cannot but think that the method both of Kant
and Fichte possesses somewhat of the same inherent defect as the method
of the Neoplatonist school, yet I should be most unfair did I not express
my deep obligations to them, and advise all those to study them
carefully, who wish to gain a clear conception either of the old
Alexandrian schools, or of those intellectual movements which are
agitating the modern mind, and which will, I doubt not, issue in a
clearer light, and in a nobler life, if not for us, yet still for our
children’s children for ever.

The name of Philo the Jew is now all but forgotten among us.  He was
laughed out of sight during the last century, as a dreamer and an
allegorist, who tried eclectically to patch together Plato and Moses.
The present age, however, is rapidly beginning to suspect that all who
thought before the eighteenth century were not altogether either fools or
impostors; old wisdom is obtaining a fairer hearing day by day, and is
found not to be so contradictory to new wisdom as was supposed.  We are
beginning, too, to be more inclined to justify Providence, by believing
that lies are by their very nature impotent and doomed to die; that
everything which has had any great or permanent influence on the human
mind, must have in it some germ of eternal truth; and setting ourselves
to separate that germ of truth from the mistakes which may have distorted
and overlaid it.  Let us believe, or at least hope, the same for a few
minutes, of Philo, and try to find out what was the secret of his power,
what the secret of his weakness.

First: I cannot think that he had to treat his own sacred books unfairly,
to make them agree with the root-idea of Socrates and Plato.  Socrates
and Plato acknowledged a Divine teacher of the human spirit; that was the
ground of their philosophy.  So did the literature of the Jews.  Socrates
and Plato, with all the Greek sages till the Sophistic era, held that the
object of philosophy was the search after that which truly exists: that
he who found that, found wisdom: Philo’s books taught him the same truth:
but they taught him also, that the search for wisdom was not merely the
search for that which is, but for Him who is; not for a thing, but for a
person.  I do not mean that Plato and the elder Greeks had not that
object also in view; for I have said already that Theology was with them
the ultimate object of all metaphysic science: but I do think that they
saw it infinitely less clearly than the old Jewish sages.  Those sages
were utterly unable to conceive of an absolute truth, except as residing
in an absolutely true person; of absolute wisdom, except in an absolutely
wise person; of an absolute order and law, except in a lawgiver; of an
absolute good, except in an absolutely good person: any more than either
they or we can conceive of an absolute love, except in an absolutely
loving person.  I say boldly, that I think them right, on all grounds of
Baconian induction.  For all these qualities are only known to us as
exhibited in persons; and if we believe them to have any absolute and
eternal existence at all, to be objective, and independent of us, and the
momentary moods and sentiments of our own mind, they must exist in some
absolute and eternal person, or they are mere notions, abstractions,
words, which have no counterparts.

But here arose a puzzle in the mind of Philo, as it in reality had, we
may see, in the minds of Socrates and Plato.  How could he reconcile the
idea of that absolute and eternal one Being, that Zeus, Father of Gods
and men, self-perfect, self-contained, without change or motion, in whom,
as a Jew, he believed even more firmly than the Platonists, with the
Dæmon of Socrates, the Divine Teacher whom both Plato and Solomon
confessed?  Or how, again, could he reconcile the idea of Him with the
creative and providential energy, working in space and time, working on
matter, and apparently affected and limited, if not baffled, by the
imperfection of the minds which he taught, by the imperfection of the
matter which he moulded?  This, as all students of philosophy must know,
was one of the great puzzles of old Greek philosophy, as long as it was
earnest and cared to have any puzzles at all: it has been, since the days
of Spinoza, the great puzzle of all earnest modern philosophers.  Philo
offered a solution in that idea of a Logos, or Word of God, Divinity
articulate, speaking and acting in time and space, and therefore by
successive acts; and so doing, in time and space, the will of the
timeless and spaceless Father, the Abysmal and Eternal Being, of whom he
was the perfect likeness.  In calling this person the Logos, and making
him the source of all human reason, and knowledge of eternal laws, he
only translated from Hebrew into Greek the name which he found in his
sacred books, “The Word of God.”  As yet we have found no unfair
allegorising of Moses, or twisting of Plato.  How then has he incurred
this accusation?

I cannot think, again, that he was unfair in supposing that he might hold
at the same time the Jewish belief concerning Creation, and the Platonic
doctrine of the real existence of Archetypal ideas, both of moral and of
physical phenomena.  I do not mean that such a conception was present
consciously to the mind of the old Jews, as it was most certainly to the
mind of St. Paul, a practised Platonic dialectician; but it seems to me,
as to Philo, to be a fair, perhaps a necessary, corollary from the
Genetic Philosophy, both of Moses and of Solomon.

But in one thing he was unfair; namely, in his allegorising.  But unfair
to whom?  To Socrates and Plato, I believe, as much as to Moses and to
Samuel.  For what is the part of the old Jewish books which he evaporates
away into mere mystic symbols of the private experiences of the devout
philosopher?  Its practical everyday histories, which deal with the
common human facts of family and national life, of man’s outward and
physical labour and craft.  These to him have no meaning, except an
allegoric one.  But has he thrown them away for the sake of getting a
step nearer to Socrates, or Plato, or Aristotle?  Surely not.  To them,
as to the old Jewish sages, man is most important when regarded not
merely as a soul, but as a man, a social being of flesh and blood.
Aristotle declares politics to be the architectonical science, the family
and social relations to be the eternal master-facts of humanity.  Plato,
in his Republic, sets before himself the Constitution of a State, as the
crowning problem of his philosophy.  Every work of his, like every saying
of his master Socrates, deals with the common, outward, vulgar facts of
human life, and asserts that there is a divine meaning in them, and that
reverent induction from them is the way to obtain the deepest truths.
Socrates and Plato were as little inclined to separate the man and the
philosopher as Moses, Solomon, or Isaiah were.  When Philo, by
allegorising away the simple human parts of his books, is untrue to
Moses’s teaching, he becomes untrue to Plato’s.  He becomes untrue, I
believe, to a higher teaching than Plato’s.  He loses sight of an eternal
truth, which even old Homer might have taught him, when he treats Moses
as one section of his disciples in after years treated Homer.

For what is the secret of the eternal freshness, the eternal beauty, ay,
I may say boldly, in spite of all their absurdities and immoralities, the
eternal righteousness of those old Greek myths?  What is it which made
Socrates and Plato cling lovingly and reverently to them, they scarce
knew why, while they deplored the immoralities to which they had given
rise?  What is it which made those myths, alone of all old mythologies,
the parents of truly beautiful sculpture, painting, poetry? What is it
which makes us love them still; find, even at times against our
consciences, new meaning, new beauty in them; and brings home the story
of Perseas or of Hercules, alike to the practised reason of Niebuhr, and
the untutored instincts of Niebuhr’s little child, for whom he threw them
into simplest forms?  Why is it that in spite of our disagreeing with
their creed and their morality, we still persist—and long may we persist,
or rather be compelled—as it were by blind instinct, to train our boys
upon those old Greek dreams; and confess, whenever we try to find a
substitute for them in our educational schemes, that we have as yet none?
Because those old Greek stories do represent the Deities as the
archetypes, the kinsmen, the teachers, the friends, the inspirers of men.
Because while the schoolboy reads how the Gods were like to men, only
better, wiser, greater; how the Heroes are the children of the Gods, and
the slayers of the monsters which devour the earth; how Athene taught men
weaving, and Phœbus music, and Vulcan the cunning of the stithy; how the
Gods took pity on the noble-hearted son of Danae, and lent him celestial
arms and guided him over desert and ocean to fulfil his vow—that boy is
learning deep lessons of metaphysic, more in accordance with the _reine
vernunft_, the pure reason whereby man perceives that which is moral, and
spiritual, and eternal, than he would from all disquisitions about being
and becoming, about actualities and potentialities, which ever tormented
the weary brain of man.

Let us not despise the gem because it has been broken to fragments,
obscured by silt and mud.  Still less let us fancy that one least
fragment of it is not more precious than the most brilliant paste jewel
of our own compounding, though it be polished and faceted never so
completely.  For what are all these myths but fragments of that great
metaphysic idea, which, I boldly say, I believe to be at once the
justifier and the harmoniser of all philosophic truth which man has ever
discovered, or will discover; which Philo saw partially, and yet clearly;
which the Hebrew sages perceived far more deeply, because more humanly
and practically; which Saint Paul the Platonist, and yet the Apostle,
raised to its highest power, when he declared that the immutable and
self-existent Being, for whom the Greek sages sought, and did not
altogether seek in vain, has gathered together all things both in heaven
and in earth in one inspiring and creating Logos, who is both God and

Be this as it may, we find that from the time of Philo, the deepest
thought of the heathen world began to flow in a theologic channel.  All
the great heathen thinkers henceforth are theologians.  In the times of
Nero, for instance, Epictetus the slave, the regenerator of Stoicism, is
no mere speculator concerning entities and quiddities, correct or
incorrect.  He is a slave searching for the secret of freedom, and
finding that it consists in escaping not from a master, but from self:
not to wealth and power, but to Jove.  He discovers that Jove is, in some
most mysterious, but most real sense, the Father of men; he learns to
look up to that Father as his guide and friend.

Numenius, again, in the second century, was a man who had evidently
studied Philo.  He perceived so deeply, I may say so exaggeratedly, the
analogy between the Jewish and the Platonic assertions of an Absolute and
Eternal Being, side by side with the assertion of a Divine Teacher of
man, that he is said to have uttered the startling saying: “What is Plato
but Moses talking Attic?”  Doubtless Plato is not that: but the
expression is remarkable, as showing the tendency of the age.  He too
looks up to God with prayers for the guidance of his reason.  He too
enters into speculation concerning God in His absoluteness, and in His
connection with the universe.  “The Primary God,” he says, “must be free
from works and a King; but the Demiurgus must exercise government, going
through the heavens.  Through Him comes this our condition; through Him
Reason being sent down in efflux, holds communion with all who are
prepared for it: God then looking down, and turning Himself to each of
us, it comes to pass that our bodies live and are nourished, receiving
strength from the outer rays which come from Him.  But when God turns us
to the contemplation of Himself, it comes to pass that these things are
worn out and consumed, but that the reason lives, being partaker of a
blessed life.”

This passage is exceedingly interesting, as containing both the marrow of
old Hebrew metaphysic, and also certain notional elements, of which we
find no trace in the Scripture, and which may lead—as we shall find they
afterwards did lead—to confusing the moral with the notional, and finally
the notional with the material; in plain words, to Pantheism.

You find this tendency, in short, in all the philosophers who flourished
between the age of Augustus and the rise of Alexandrian Neoplatonism.
Gibbon, while he gives an approving pat on the back to his pet
“Philosophic Emperor,” Marcus Aurelius, blinks the fact that Marcus’s
philosophy, like that of Plutarch, contains as an integral element, a
belief which to him would have been, I fear, simply ludicrous, from its
strange analogy with the belief of John, the Christian Apostle.  What is
Marcus Aurelius’s cardinal doctrine?  That there is a God within him, a
Word, a Logos, which “has hold of him,” and who is his teacher and
guardian; that over and above his body and his soul, he has a Reason
which is capable of “hearing that Divine Word, and obeying the monitions
of that God.”  What is Plutarch’s cardinal doctrine?  That the same Word,
the Dæmon who spoke to the heart of Socrates, is speaking to him and to
every philosopher; “coming into contact,” he says, “with him in some
wonderful manner;” addressing the reason of those who, like Socrates,
keep their reason pure, not under the dominion of passion, nor mixing
itself greatly with the body, and therefore quick and sensitive in
responding to that which encountered it.

You see from these two extracts what questions were arising in the minds
of men, and how they touched on ethical and theological questions.  I say
arising in their minds: I believe that I ought to say rather, stirred up
in their minds by One greater than they.  At all events, there they
appeared, utterly independent of any Christian teaching.  The belief in
this Logos or Dæmon speaking to the Reason of man, was one which neither
Plutarch nor Marcus, neither Numenius nor Ammonius, as far as we can see,
learnt from the Christians; it was the common ground which they held with
them; the common battlefield which they disputed with them.

Neither have we any reason to suppose that they learnt it from the
Hindoos.  That much Hindoo thought mixed with Neoplatonist speculation we
cannot doubt; but there is not a jot more evidence to prove that
Alexandrians borrowed this conception from the Mahabharavata, than that
George Fox the Quaker, or the author of the “Deutsche Theologie,” did so.
They may have gone to Hindoo philosophy, or rather, to second and third
hand traditions thereof, for corroborations of the belief; but be sure,
it must have existed in their own hearts first, or they would never have
gone thither.  Believe it; be sure of it.  No earnest thinker is a
plagiarist pure and simple.  He will never borrow from others that which
he has not already, more or less, thought out for himself.  When once a
great idea, instinctive, inductive (for the two expressions are nearer
akin than most fancy), has dawned on his soul, he will welcome lovingly,
awfully, any corroboration from foreign schools, and cry with joy:
“Behold, this is not altogether a dream: for others have found it also.
Surely it must be real, universal, eternal.”  No; be sure there is far
more originality (in the common sense of the word), and far less (in the
true sense of the word), than we fancy; and that it is a paltry and
shallow doctrine which represents each succeeding school as merely the
puppets and dupes of the preceding.  More originality, because each
earnest man seems to think out for himself the deepest grounds of his
creed.  Less originality, because, as I believe, one common Logos, Word,
Reason, reveals and unveils the same eternal truth to all who seek and
hunger for it.

Therefore we can, as the Christian philosophers of Alexandria did,
rejoice over every truth which their heathen adversaries beheld, and
attribute them, as Clement does, to the highest source, to the
inspiration of the one and universal Logos.  With Clement, philosophy is
only hurtful when it is untrue to itself, and philosophy falsely so
called; true philosophy is an image of the truth, a divine gift bestowed
on the Greeks.  The Bible, in his eyes, asserts that all forms of art and
wisdom are from God.  The wise in mind have no doubt some peculiar
endowment of nature, but when they have offered themselves for their
work, they receive a spirit of perception from the Highest Wisdom, giving
them a new fitness for it.  All severe study, all cultivation of
sympathy, are exercises of this spiritual endowment.  The whole
intellectual discipline of the Greeks, with their philosophy, came down
from God to men.  Philosophy, he concludes in one place, carries on “an
inquiry concerning Truth and the nature of Being; and this Truth is that
concerning which the Lord Himself said: ‘I am the Truth.’  And when the
initiated find, or rather receive, the true philosophy, they have it from
the Truth itself; that is from Him who is true.”

While, then, these two schools had so many grounds in common, where was
their point of divergence?  We shall find it, I believe, fairly expressed
in the dying words of Plotinus, the great father of Neoplatonism.  “I am
striving to bring the God which is in us into harmony with the God which
is in the universe.”  Whether or not Plotinus actually so spoke, that was
what his disciples not only said that he spoke, but what they would have
wished him to speak.  That one sentence expresses the whole object of
their philosophy.

But to that Pantænus, Origen, Clement, and Augustine would have answered:
“And we, on the other hand, assert that the God which is in the universe,
is the same as the God which is in you, and is striving to bring you into
harmony with Himself.”  There is the _experimentum crucis_.  There is the
vast gulf between the Christian and the Heathen schools, which when any
man had overleaped, the whole problem of the universe was from that
moment inverted.  With Plotinus and his school man is seeking for God:
with Clement and his, God is seeking for man.  With the former, God is
passive, and man active: with the latter, God is active, man is
passive—passive, that is, in so far as his business is to listen when he
is spoken to, to look at the light which is unveiled to him, to submit
himself to the inward laws which he feels reproving and checking him at
every turn, as Socrates was reproved and checked by his inward Dæmon.

Whether of these two theorems gives the higher conception either of the
Divine Being, or of man, I leave it for you to judge.  To those old
Alexandrian Christians, a being who was not seeking after every single
creature, and trying to raise him, could not be a Being of absolute
Righteousness, Power, Love; could not be a Being worthy of respect or
admiration, even of philosophic speculation.  Human righteousness and
love flows forth disinterestedly to all around it, however unconscious,
however unworthy they may be; human power associated with goodness, seeks
for objects which it may raise and benefit by that power.  We must
confess this, with the Christian schools, or, with the Heathen schools,
we must allow another theory, which brought them into awful depths; which
may bring any generation which holds it into the same depths.

If Clement had asked the Neoplatonists: “You believe, Plotinus, in an
absolutely Good Being.  Do you believe that it desires to shed forth its
goodness on all?”  “Of course,” they would have answered, “on those who
seek for it, on the philosopher.”

“But not, it seems, Plotinus, on the herd, the brutal, ignorant mass,
wallowing in those foul crimes above which you have risen?”  And at that
question there would have been not a little hesitation.  These brutes in
human form, these souls wallowing in earthly mire, could hardly, in the
Neoplatonists’ eyes, be objects of the Divine desire.

“Then this Absolute Good, you say, Plotinus, has no relation with them,
no care to raise them.  In fact, it cannot raise them, because they have
nothing in common with it.  Is that your notion?”  And the Neoplatonists
would have, on the whole, allowed that argument.  And if Clement had
answered, that such was not his notion of Goodness, or of a Good Being,
and that therefore the goodness of their Absolute Good, careless of the
degradation and misery around it, must be something very different from
his notions of human goodness; the Neoplatonists would have
answered—indeed they did answer—“After all, why not?  Why should the
Absolute Goodness be like our human goodness?”  This is Plotinus’s own
belief.  It is a question with him, it was still more a question with
those who came after him, whether virtues could be predicated of the
Divine nature; courage, for instance, of one who had nothing to fear;
self-restraint, of one who had nothing to desire.  And thus, by setting
up a different standard of morality for the divine and for the human,
Plotinus gradually arrives at the conclusion, that virtue is not the end,
but the means; not the Divine nature itself, as the Christian schools
held, but only the purgative process by which man was to ascend into
heaven, and which was necessary to arrive at that nature—that nature
itself being—what?

And how to answer that last question was the abysmal problem of the whole
of Neoplatonic philosophy, in searching for which it wearied itself out,
generation after generation, till tired equally of seeking and of
speaking, it fairly lay down and died.  In proportion as it refused to
acknowledge a common divine nature with the degraded mass, it deserted
its first healthy instinct, which told it that the spiritual world is
identical with the moral world, with right, love, justice; it tried to
find new definitions for the spiritual; it conceived it to be identical
with the intellectual.  That did not satisfy its heart.  It had to
repeople the spiritual world, which it had emptied of its proper
denizens, with ghosts; to reinvent the old dæmonologies and
polytheisms—from thence to descend into lower depths, of which we will
speak hereafter.

But in the meanwhile we must look at another quarrel which arose between
the two twin schools of Alexandria.  The Neoplatonists said that there is
a divine element in man.  The Christian philosophers assented fervently,
and raised the old disagreeable question: “Is it in every man?  In the
publicans and harlots as well as in the philosophers?  We say that it
is.”  And there again the Neoplatonist finds it over hard to assent to a
doctrine, equally contrary to outward appearance, and galling to
Pharisaic pride; and enters into a hundred honest self-puzzles and
self-contradictions, which seem to justify him at last in saying, No.  It
is in the philosopher, who is ready by nature, as Plotinus has it, and as
it were furnished with wings, and not needing to sever himself from
matter like the rest, but disposed already to ascend to that which is
above.  And in a degree too, it is in the “lover,” who, according to
Plotinus, has a certain innate recollection of beauty, and hovers round
it, and desires it, wherever he sees it.  Him you may raise to the
apprehension of the one incorporeal Beauty, by teaching him to separate
beauty from the various objects in which it appears scattered and
divided.  And it is even in the third class, the lowest of whom there is
hope, namely, the musical man, capable of being passively affected by
beauty, without having any active appetite for it; the sentimentalist, in
short, as we should call him nowadays.

But for the herd, Plotinus cannot say that there is anything divine in
them.  And thus it gradually comes out in all Neoplatonist writings which
I have yet examined, that the Divine only exists in a man, in proportion
as he is conscious of its existence in him.  From which spring two
conceptions of the Divine in man.  First, is it a part of him, if it is
dependent for its existence on his consciousness of it? Or is it, as
Philo, Plutarch, Marcus Aurelius would have held, as the Christians held,
something independent of him, without him, a Logos or Word speaking to
his reason and conscience?  With this question Plotinus grapples,
earnestly, shrewdly, fairly.  If you wish to see how he does it, you
should read the fourth and fifth books of the sixth Ennead, especially if
you be lucky enough to light on a copy of that rare book, Taylor’s
faithful though crabbed translation.

Not that the result of his search is altogether satisfactory.  He enters
into subtle and severe disquisitions concerning soul.  Whether it is one
or many.  How it can be both one and many.  He has the strongest
perception that, to use the noble saying of the Germans, “Time and Space
are no gods.”  He sees clearly that the soul, and the whole unseen world
of truly existing being, is independent of time and space: and yet, after
he has wrestled with the two Titans, through page after page, and
apparently conquered them, they slip in again unawares into the
battle-field, the moment his back is turned.  He denies that the one
Reason has parts—it must exist as a whole wheresoever it exists: and yet
he cannot express the relation of the individual soul to it, but by
saying that we are parts of it; or that each thing, down to the lowest,
receives as much soul as it is capable of possessing.  Ritter has worked
out at length, though in a somewhat dry and lifeless way, the hundred
contradictions of this kind which you meet in Plotinus; contradictions
which I suspect to be inseparable from any philosophy starting from his
grounds.  Is he not looking for the spiritual in a region where it does
not exist; in the region of logical conceptions and abstractions, which
are not realities, but only, after all, symbols of our own, whereby we
express to ourselves the processes of our own brain?  May not his
Christian contemporaries have been nearer scientific truth, as well as
nearer the common sense and practical belief of mankind, in holding that
that which is spiritual is personal, and can only be seen or conceived of
as residing in persons; and that that which is personal is moral, and has
to do, not with abstractions of the intellect, but with right and wrong,
love and hate, and all which, in the common instincts of men, involves a
free will, a free judgment, a free responsibility and desert? And that,
therefore, if there were a Spirit, a Dæmonic Element, an universal
Reason, a Logos, a Divine Element, closely connected with man, that one
Reason, that one Divine Element, must be a person also?  At least, so
strong was the instinct of even the Heathen schools in this direction,
that the followers of Plotinus had to fill up the void which yawned
between man and the invisible things after which he yearned, by reviving
the whole old Pagan Polytheism, and adding to it a Dæmonology borrowed
partly from the Chaldees, and partly from the Jewish rabbis, which formed
a descending chain of persons, downward from the highest Deities to
heroes, and to the guardian angel of each man; the meed of the
philosopher being, that by self-culture and self-restraint he could rise
above the tutelage of some lower and more earthly dæmon, and become the
pupil of a God, and finally a God himself.

These contradictions need not lower the great Father of Neoplatonism in
our eyes, as a moral being.  All accounts of him seem to prove him to
have been what Apollo, in a lengthy oracle, declared him to have been,
“good and gentle, and benignant exceedingly, and pleasant in all his
conversation.”  He gave good advice about earthly matters, was a faithful
steward of moneys deposited with him, a guardian of widows and orphans, a
righteous and loving man.  In his practical life, the ascetic and gnostic
element comes out strongly enough.  The body, with him, was not evil,
neither was it good; it was simply nothing—why care about it? He would
have no portrait taken of his person: “It was humiliating enough to be
obliged to carry a shadow about with him, without having a shadow made of
that shadow.”  He refused animal food, abstained from baths, declined
medicine in his last illness, and so died about 200 A.D.

It is in his followers, as one generally sees in such cases, that the
weakness of his conceptions comes out.  Plotinus was an earnest thinker,
slavishly enough reverencing the opinion of Plato, whom he quotes as an
infallible oracle, with a “He says,” as if there were but one he in the
universe: but he tried honestly to develop Plato, or what he conceived to
be Plato, on the method which Plato had laid down.  His dialectic is far
superior, both in quantity and in quality, to that of those who come
after him.  He is a seeker.  His followers are not.  The great work which
marks the second stage of his school is not an inquiry, but a
justification, not only of the Egyptian, but of all possible theurgies
and superstitions; perhaps the best attempt of the kind which the world
has ever seen; that which marks the third is a mere cloud-castle, an
inverted pyramid, not of speculation, but of dogmatic assertion, patched
together from all accessible rags and bones of the dead world.  Some here
will, perhaps, guess from my rough descriptions, that I speak of
Iamblichus and Proclus.

Whether or not Iamblichus wrote the famous work usually attributed to
him, which describes itself as the letter of Abamnon the Teacher to
Porphyry, he became the head of that school of Neoplatonists who fell
back on theurgy and magic, and utterly swallowed up the more rational,
though more hopeless, school of Porphyry.  Not that Porphyry, too, with
all his dislike of magic and the vulgar superstitions—a dislike
intimately connected with his loudly expressed dislike of the common
herd, and therefore of Christianity, as a religion for the common
herd—did not believe a fact or two, which looks to us, nowadays, somewhat
unphilosophical.  From him we learn that one Ammonius, trying to crush
Plotinus by magic arts, had his weapons so completely turned against
himself, that all his limbs were contracted.  From him we learn that
Plotinus, having summoned in the temple of Isis his familiar spirit, a
god, and not a mere dæmon, appeared.  He writes sensibly enough however
to one Anebos, an Egyptian priest, stating his doubts as to the popular
notions of the Gods, as beings subject to human passions and vices, and
of theurgy and magic, as material means of compelling them to appear, or
alluring them to favour man.  The answer of Abamnon, Anebos, Iamblichus,
or whoever the real author may have been, is worthy of perusal by every
metaphysical student, as a curious phase of thought, not confined to that
time, but rife, under some shape or other, in every age of the world’s
history, and in this as much as in any.  There are many passages full of
eloquence, many more full of true and noble thought: but on the whole, it
is the sewing of new cloth into an old garment; the attempt to suit the
old superstition to the new one, by eclectically picking and choosing,
and special pleading, on both sides; but the rent is only made worse.
There is no base superstition which Abamnon does not unconsciously
justify.  And yet he is rapidly losing sight of the real eternal human
germs of truth round which those superstitions clustered, and is really
further from truth and reason than old Homer or Hesiod, because further
from the simple, universal, everyday facts, and relations, and duties of
man, which are, after all, among the most mysterious, and also among the
most sacred objects which man can contemplate.

It was not wonderful, however, that Neoplatonism took the course it did.
Spirit, they felt rightly, was meant to rule matter; it was to be freed
from matter only for that very purpose.  No one could well deny that.
The philosopher, as he rose and became, according to Plotinus, a god, or
at least approached toward the gods, must partake of some mysterious and
transcendental power.  No one could well deny that conclusion, granting
the premiss.  But of what power?  What had he to show as the result of
his intimate communion with an unseen Being?  The Christian Schools, who
held that the spiritual is the moral, answered accordingly.  He must show
righteousness, and love, and peace in a Holy Spirit.  That is the
likeness of God.  In proportion as a man has them, he is partaker of a
Divine nature.  He can rise no higher, and he needs no more.  Platonists
had said—No, that is only virtue; and virtue is the means, not the end.
We want proof of having something above that; something more than any man
of the herd, any Christian slave, can perform; something above nature;
portents and wonders.  So they set to work to perform wonders; and
succeeded, I suppose, more or less.  For now one enters into a whole
fairyland of those very phenomena which are puzzling us so
nowadays—ecstasy, clairvoyance, insensibility to pain, cures produced by
the effect of what we now call mesmerism.  They are all there, these
modern puzzles, in those old books of the long bygone seekers for wisdom.
It makes us love them, while it saddens us to see that their difficulties
were the same as ours, and that there is nothing new under the sun.  Of
course, a great deal of it all was “imagination.”  But the question then,
as now is, what is this wonder-working imagination?—unless the word be
used as a mere euphemism for lying, which really, in many cases, is
hardly fair.  We cannot wonder at the old Neoplatonists for attributing
these strange phenomena to spiritual influence, when we see some who
ought to know better doing the same thing now; and others, who more
wisely believe them to be strictly physical and nervous, so utterly
unable to give reasons for them, that they feel it expedient to ignore
them for awhile, till they know more about those physical phenomena which
can be put under some sort of classification, and attributed to some sort
of inductive law.

But again.  These ecstasies, cures, and so forth, brought them rapidly
back to the old priestcrafts.  The Egyptian priests, the Babylonian and
Jewish sorcerers, had practised all this as a trade for ages, and reduced
it to an art.  It was by sleeping in the temples of the deities, after
due mesmeric manipulations, that cures were even then effected.  Surely
the old priests were the people to whom to go for information.  The old
philosophers of Greece were venerable.  How much more those of the East,
in comparison with whom the Greeks were children?  Besides, if these
dæmons and deities were so near them, might it not be possible to behold
them?  They seemed to have given up caring much for the world and its

             Effugerant adytis templisque relictis
    Dî quibus imperium steterat.

The old priests used to make them appear—perhaps they might do it again.
And if spirit could act directly and preternaturally on matter, in spite
of the laws of matter, perhaps matter might act on spirit.  After all,
were matter and spirit so absolutely different?  Was not spirit some sort
of pervading essence, some subtle ethereal fluid, differing from matter
principally in being less gross and dense?  This was the point to which
they went down rapidly enough; the point to which all philosophies, I
firmly believe, will descend, which do not keep in sight that the
spiritual means the moral.  In trying to make it mean exclusively the
intellectual, they will degrade it to mean the merely logical and
abstract; and when that is found to be a barren and lifeless phantom, a
mere projection of the human brain, attributing reality to mere
conceptions and names, and confusing the subject with the object, as
logicians say truly the Neoplatonists did, then in despair, the school
will try to make the spiritual something real, or, at least, something
conceivable, by reinvesting it with the properties of matter, and talking
of it as if it were some manner of gas, or heat, or electricity, or
force, pervading time and space, conditioned by the accidents of brute
matter, and a part of that nature which is born to die.

The culmination of all this confusion we see in Proclus.  The unfortunate
Hypatia, who is the most important personage between him and Iamblichus,
has left no writings to our times; we can only judge of her doctrine by
that of her instructors and her pupils.  Proclus was taught by the men
who had heard her lecture; and the golden chain of the Platonic
succession descended from her to him.  His throne, however, was at
Athens, not at Alexandria.  After the murder of the maiden philosopher,
Neoplatonism prudently retired to Greece.  But Proclus is so essentially
the child of the Alexandrian school that we cannot pass him over.
Indeed, according to M. Cousin, as I am credibly informed, he is _the_
Greek philosopher; the flower and crown of all its schools; in whom, says
the learned Frenchman, “are combined, and from whom shine forth, in no
irregular or uncertain rays, Orpheus, Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Zeno,
Plotinus, Porphyry, and Iamblichus;” and who “had so comprehended all
religions in his mind, and paid them such equal reverence, that he was,
as it were, the priest of the whole universe!”

I have not the honour of knowing much of M. Cousin’s works.  I never came
across them but on one small matter of fact, and on that I found him
copying at second hand an anachronism which one would have conceived
palpable to any reader of the original authorities.  This is all I know
of him, saving these his raptures over Proclus, of which I have quoted
only a small portion, and of which I can only say, in Mr. Thomas
Carlyle’s words, “What things men will worship, in their extreme need!”
Other moderns, however, have expressed their admiration of Proclus; and,
no doubt, many neat sayings may be found in him (for after all he was a
Greek), which will be both pleasing and useful to those who consider
philosophic method to consist in putting forth strings of brilliant
apophthegms, careless about either their consistency or coherence: but of
the method of Plato or Aristotle, any more than of that of Kant or Mill,
you will find nothing in him.  He seems to my simplicity to be at once
the most timid and servile of commentators, and the most cloudy of
declaimers.  He can rave symbolism like Jacob Böhmen, but without an atom
of his originality and earnestness.  He can develop an inverted pyramid
of dæmonology, like Father Newman himself, but without an atom of his
art, his knowledge of human cravings.  He combines all schools, truly,
Chaldee and Egyptian as well as Greek; but only scraps from their
mummies, drops from their quintessences, which satisfy the heart and
conscience as little as they do the logical faculties.  His Greek gods
and heroes, even his Alcibiades and Socrates, are “ideas;” that is,
symbols of certain notions or qualities: their flesh and bones, their
heart and brain, have been distilled away, till nothing is left but a
word, a notion, which may patch a hole in his huge
heaven-and-earth-embracing system.  He, too, is a commentator and a
deducer; all has been discovered; and he tries to discover nothing more.
Those who followed him seem to have commented on his comments.  With him
Neoplatonism properly ends.  Is its last utterance a culmination or a
fall?  Have the Titans sealed heaven, or died of old age, “exhibiting,”
as Gibbon says of them, “a deplorable instance of the senility of the
human mind?” Read Proclus, and judge for yourselves: but first contrive
to finish everything else you have to do which can possibly be useful to
any human being.  Life is short, and Art—at least the art of obtaining
practical guidance from the last of the Alexandrians—very long.

And yet—if Proclus and his school became gradually unfaithful to the
great root-idea of their philosophy, we must not imitate them.  We must
not believe that the last of the Alexandrians was under no divine
teaching, because he had be-systemed himself into confused notions of
what that teaching was like.  Yes, there was good in poor old Proclus;
and it too came from the only source whence all good comes.  Were there
no good in him I could not laugh at him as I have done; I could only hate
him.  There are moments when he rises above his theories; moments when he
recurs in spirit, if not in the letter, to the faith of Homer, almost to
the faith of Philo.  Whether these are the passages of his which his
modern admirers prize most, I cannot tell.  I should fancy not:
nevertheless I will read you one of them.

He is about to commence his discourses on the Parmenides, that book in
which we generally now consider that Plato has been most untrue to
himself, and fallen from his usual inductive method to the ground of a
mere _à priori_ theoriser—and yet of which Proclus is reported to have
said, and, I should conceive, said honestly, that if it, the Timæus, and
the Orphic fragments were preserved, he did not care whether every other
book on earth were destroyed.  But how does he commence?

“I pray to all the gods and goddesses to guide my reason in the
speculation which lies before me, and having kindled in me the pure light
of truth, to direct my mind upward to the very knowledge of the things
which are, and to open the doors of my soul to receive the divine
guidance of Plato, and, having directed my knowledge into the very
brightness of being, to withdraw me from the various forms of opinion,
from the apparent wisdom, from the wandering about things which do not
exist, by that purest intellectual exercise about the things which do
exist, whereby alone the eye of the soul is nourished and brightened, as
Socrates says in the Phædrus; and that the Noetic Gods will give to me
the perfect reason, and the Noeric Gods the power which leads up to this,
and that the rulers of the Universe above the heaven will impart to me an
energy unshaken by material notions and emancipated from them, and those
to whom the world is given as their dominion a winged life, and the
angelic choirs a true manifestation of divine things, and the good dæmons
the fulness of the inspiration which comes from the Gods, and the heroes
a grand, and venerable, and lofty fixedness of mind, and the whole divine
race together a perfect preparation for sharing in Plato’s most mystical
and far-seeing speculations, which he declares to us himself in the
Parmenides, with the profundity befitting such topics, but which _he_
(_i.e._ his master Syrianus) completed by his most pure and luminous
apprehensions, who did most truly share the Platonic feast, and was the
medium for transmitting the divine truth, the guide in our speculations,
and the hierophant of these divine words; who, as I think, came down as a
type of philosophy, to do good to the souls that are here, in place of
idols, sacrifices, and the whole mystery of purification, a leader of
salvation to the men who are now and who shall be hereafter.  And may the
whole band of those who are above us be propitious; and may the whole
force which they supply be at hand, kindling before us that light which,
proceeding from them, may guide us to them.”

Surely this is an interesting document.  The last Pagan Greek prayer, I
believe, which we have on record; the death-wail of the old world—not
without a touch of melody.  One cannot altogether admire the style; it is
inflated, pedantic, written, I fear, with a considerable consciousness
that he was saying the right thing and in the very finest way: but still
it is a prayer.  A cry for light—by no means, certainly, like that noble
one in Tennyson’s “In Memoriam:”

    So runs my dream.  But what am I?
       An infant crying in the night;
       An infant crying for the light;
    And with no language but a cry.

Yet he asks for light: perhaps he had settled already for himself—like
too many more of us—what sort of light he chose to have: but still the
eye is turned upward to the sun, not inward in conceited fancy that self
is its own illumination.  He asks—surely not in vain.  There was light to
be had for asking.  That prayer certainly was not answered in the letter:
it may have been ere now in the spirit.  And yet it is a sad prayer
enough.  Poor old man, and poor old philosophy!

This he and his teachers had gained by despising the simpler and yet far
profounder doctrine of the Christian schools, that the Logos, the Divine
Teacher in whom both Christians and Heathens believed, was the very
archetype of men, and that He had proved that fact by being made flesh,
and dwelling bodily among them, that they might behold His glory, full of
grace and truth, and see that it was at once the perfection of man and
the perfection of God: that that which was most divine was most human,
and that which was most human, most divine.  That was the outcome of
_their_ metaphysic, that they had found the Absolute One; because One
existed in whom the apparent antagonism between that which is eternally
and that which becomes in time, between the ideal and the actual, between
the spiritual and the material, in a word, between God and man, was
explained and reconciled for ever.

And Proclus’s prayer, on the other hand, was the outcome of the
Neoplatonists’ metaphysic, the end of all _their_ search after the One,
the Indivisible, the Absolute, this cry to all manner of innumerable
phantoms, ghosts of ideas, ghosts of traditions, neither things nor
persons, but thoughts, to give the philosopher each something or other,
according to the nature of each.  Not that he very clearly defines what
each is to give him; but still he feels himself in want of all manner of
things, and it is as well to have as many friends at court as
possible—Noetic Gods, Noeric Gods, rulers, angels, dæmons, heroes—to
enable him to do what?  To understand Plato’s most mystical and
far-seeing speculations.  The Eternal Nous, the Intellectual Teacher has
vanished further and further off; further off still some dim vision of a
supreme Goodness.  Infinite spaces above that looms through the mist of
the abyss a Primæval One.  But even that has a predicate, for it is one;
it is not pure essence.  Must there not be something beyond that again,
which is not even one, but is nameless, inconceivable, absolute?  What an
abyss!  How shall the human mind find anything whereon to rest, in the
vast nowhere between it and the object of its search?  The search after
the One issues in a wail to the innumerable; and kind gods, angels, and
heroes, not human indeed, but still conceivable enough to satisfy at
least the imagination, step in to fill the void, as they have done since,
and may do again; and so, as Mr. Carlyle has it, “the bottomless pit got
roofed over,” as it may be again ere long.

Are we then to say, that Neoplatonism was a failure?  That Alexandria,
during four centuries of profound and earnest thought, added nothing?
Heaven forbid that we should say so of a philosophy which has exercised
on European thought, at the crisis of its noblest life and action, an
influence as great as did the Aristotelian system during the Middle Ages.
We must never forget, that during the two centuries which commence with
the fall of Constantinople, and end with our civil wars, not merely
almost all great thinkers, but courtiers, statesmen, warriors, poets,
were more or less Neoplatonists.  The Greek grammarians, who migrated
into Italy, brought with them the works of Plotinus, Iamblichus, and
Proclus; and their gorgeous reveries were welcomed eagerly by the
European mind, just revelling in the free thought of youthful manhood.
And yet the Alexandrian impotence for any practical and social purposes
was to be manifested, as utterly as it was in Alexandria or in Athens of
old.  Ficinus and Picus of Mirandola worked no deliverance, either for
Italian morals or polity, at a time when such deliverance was needed
bitterly enough.  Neoplatonism was petted by luxurious and heathen popes,
as an elegant play of the cultivated fancy, which could do their real
power, their practical system, neither good nor harm.  And one cannot
help feeling, while reading the magnificent oration on Supra-sensual
Love, which Castiglione, in his admirable book “The Courtier,” puts into
the mouth of the profligate Bembo, how near mysticism may lie not merely
to dilettantism or to Pharisaism, but to sensuality itself.  But in
England, during Elizabeth’s reign, the practical weakness of Neoplatonism
was compensated by the noble practical life which men were compelled to
live in those great times; by the strong hold which they had of the ideas
of family and national life, of law and personal faith.  And I cannot but
believe it to have been a mighty gain to such men as Sidney, Raleigh, and
Spenser, that they had drunk, however slightly, of the wells of Proclus
and Plotinus.  One cannot read Spenser’s “Fairy Queen,” above all his
Garden of Adonis, and his cantos on Mutability, without feeling that his
Neoplatonism must have kept him safe from many a dark eschatological
superstition, many a narrow and bitter dogmatism, which was even then
tormenting the English mind, and must have helped to give him altogether
a freer and more loving conception, if not a consistent or accurate one,
of the wondrous harmony of that mysterious analogy between the physical
and the spiritual, which alone makes poetry (and I had almost said
philosophy also) possible, and have taught him to behold alike in suns
and planets, in flowers and insects, in man and in beings higher than
man, one glorious order of love and wisdom, linking them all to Him from
whom they all proceed, rays from His cloudless sunlight, mirrors of His
eternal glory.

But as the Elizabethan age, exhausted by its own fertility, gave place to
the Caroline, Neoplatonism ran through much the same changes.  It was
good for us, after all, that the plain strength of the Puritans,
unphilosophical as they were, swept it away.  One feels in reading the
later Neoplatonists, Henry More, Smith, even Cudworth (valuable as he
is), that the old accursed distinction between the philosopher, the
scholar, the illuminate, and the plain righteous man, was growing up
again very fast.  The school from which the “Religio Medici” issued was
not likely to make any bad men good, or any foolish men wise.

Besides, as long as men were continuing to quote poor old Proclus as an
irrefragable authority, and believing that he, forsooth, represented the
sense of Plato, the new-born Baconian philosophy had but little chance in
the world.  Bacon had been right in his dislike of Platonism years
before, though he was unjust to Plato himself.  It was Proclus whom he
was really reviling; Proclus as Plato’s commentator and representative.
The lion had for once got into the ass’s skin, and was treated
accordingly.  The true Platonic method, that dialectic which the
Alexandrians gradually abandoned, remains yet to be tried, both in
England and in Germany; and I am much mistaken, if, when fairly used, it
be not found the ally, not the enemy, of the Baconian philosophy; in
fact, the inductive method applied to words, as the expressions of
Metaphysic Laws, instead of to natural phenomena, as the expressions of
Physical ones.  If you wish to see the highest instances of this method,
read Plato himself, not Proclus.  If you wish to see how the same method
can be applied to Christian truth, read the dialectic passages in
Augustine’s “Confessions.”  Whether or not you shall agree with their
conclusions, you will not be likely, if you have a truly scientific habit
of mind, to complain that they want either profundity, severity, or

So concludes the history of one of the Alexandrian schools of Metaphysic.
What was the fate of the other is a subject which I must postpone to my
next Lecture.


I TRIED to point out, in my last Lecture, the causes which led to the
decay of the Pagan metaphysic of Alexandria.  We have now to consider the
fate of the Christian school.

You may have remarked that I have said little or nothing about the
positive dogmas of Clement, Origen, and their disciples; but have only
brought out the especial points of departure between them and the
Heathens.  My reason for so doing was twofold: first, I could not have
examined them without entering on controversial ground; next, I am very
desirous to excite some of my hearers, at least, to examine these
questions for themselves.

I entreat them not to listen to the hasty sneer to which many of late
have given way, that the Alexandrian divines were mere mystics, who
corrupted Christianity by an admixture of Oriental and Greek thought.  My
own belief is that they expanded and corroborated Christianity, in spite
of great errors and defects on certain points, far more than they
corrupted it; that they presented it to the minds of cultivated and
scientific men in the only form in which it would have satisfied their
philosophic aspirations, and yet contrived, with wonderful wisdom, to
ground their philosophy on the very same truths which they taught to the
meanest slaves, and to appeal in the philosophers to the same inward
faculty to which they appealed in the slave; namely, to that inward eye,
that moral sense and reason, whereby each and every man can, if he will,
“judge of himself that which is right.”  I boldly say that I believe the
Alexandrian Christians to have made the best, perhaps the only, attempt
yet made by men, to proclaim a true world-philosophy; whereby I mean a
philosophy common to all races, ranks, and intellects, embracing the
whole phenomena of humanity, and not an arbitrarily small portion of
them, and capable of being understood and appreciated by every human
being from the highest to the lowest.  And when you hear of a system of
reserve in teaching, a _disciplina arcani_, of an esoteric and exoteric,
an inner and outer school, among these men, you must not be frightened at
the words, as if they spoke of priestcraft, or an intellectual
aristocracy, who kept the kernel of the nut for themselves, and gave the
husks to the mob.  It was not so with the Christian schools; it was so
with the Heathen ones.  The Heathens were content that the mob, the herd,
should have the husks.  Their avowed intention and wish was to leave the
herd, as they called them, in the mere outward observance of the old
idolatries, while they themselves, the cultivated philosophers, had the
monopoly of those deeper spiritual truths which were contained under the
old superstitions, and were too sacred to be profaned by the vulgar eyes.
The Christian method was the exact opposite.  They boldly called those
vulgar eyes to enter into the very holy of holies, and there gaze on the
very deepest root-ideas of their philosophy.  They owned no ground for
their own speculations which was not common to the harlots and the slaves
around.  And this was what enabled them to do this; this was what brought
on them the charge of demagogism, the hatred of philosophers, the
persecution of princes—that their ground was a moral ground, and not a
merely intellectual one; that they started, not from any notions of the
understanding, but from the inward conscience, that truly pure Reason in
which the intellectual and the moral spheres are united, which they
believed to exist, however dimmed or crushed, in every human being,
capable of being awakened, purified, and raised up to a noble and heroic
life.  They concealed nothing moral from their disciples: only they
forbade them to meddle with intellectual matters, before they had had a
regular intellectual training.  The witnesses of reason and conscience
were sufficient guides for all men, and at them the many might well stop
short.  The teacher only needed to proceed further, not into a higher
region, but into a lower one, namely, into the region of the logical
understanding, and there make deductions from, and illustrations of,
those higher truths which he held in common with every slave, and held on
the same ground as they.

And the consequence of this method of philosophising was patent.  They
were enabled to produce, in the lives of millions, generation after
generation, a more immense moral improvement than the world had ever seen
before.  Their disciples did actually become righteous and good men, just
in proportion as they were true to the lessons they learnt.  They did,
for centuries, work a distinct and palpable deliverance on the earth;
while all the solemn and earnest meditation of the Neoplatonists, however
good or true, worked no deliverance whatsoever.  Plotinus longed at one
time to make a practical attempt.  He asked the Emperor Gallienus, his
patron, to rebuild for him a city in Campania; to allow him to call it
Platonopolis, and put it into the hands of him and his disciples, that
they might there realise Plato’s ideal republic.  Luckily for the
reputation of Neoplatonism, the scheme was swamped by the courtiers of
Gallienus, and the earth was saved the sad and ludicrous sight of a
realised Laputa; probably a very quarrelsome one.  That was his highest
practical conception: the foundation of a new society: not the
regeneration of society as it existed.

That work was left for the Christian schools; and up to a certain point
they performed it.  They made men good.  _This_ was the test, which of
the schools was in the right: this was the test, which of the two had
hold of the eternal roots of metaphysic.  Cicero says, that he had learnt
more philosophy from the Laws of the Twelve Tables than from all the
Greeks.  Clement and his school might have said the same of the Hebrew
Ten Commandments and Jewish Law, which are so marvellously analogous to
the old Roman laws, founded, as they are, on the belief in a Supreme
Being, a Jupiter—literally a Heavenly Father—who is the source and the
sanction of law; of whose justice man’s justice is the pattern; who is
the avenger of crimes against marriage, property, life; on whom depends
the sanctity of an oath.  And so, to compare great things with small,
there was a truly practical human element here in the Christian teaching;
purely ethical and metaphysical, and yet palpable to the simplest and
lowest, which gave to it a regenerating force which the highest efforts
of Neoplatonism could never attain.

And yet Alexandrian Christianity, notoriously enough, rotted away, and
perished hideously.  Most true.  But what if the causes of its decay and
death were owing to its being untrue to itself?

I do not say that they had no excuses for being untrue to their own
faith.  We are not here to judge them.  That peculiar subtlety of mind,
which rendered the Alexandrians the great thinkers of the then world, had
with Christians, as well as Heathens, the effect of alluring them away
from practice to speculation.  The Christian school, as was to be
expected from the moral ground of their philosophy, yielded to it far
more slowly than the Heathen, but they did yield, and especially after
they had conquered and expelled the Heathen school.  Moreover, the long
battle with the Heathen school had stirred up in them habits of
exclusiveness, of denunciation; the spirit which cannot assert a fact,
without dogmatising rashly and harshly on the consequences of denying
that fact.  Their minds assumed a permanent habit of combativeness.
Having no more Heathens to fight, they began fighting each other,
excommunicating each other; denying to all who differed from them any
share of that light, to claim which for all men had been the very ground
of their philosophy.  Not that they would have refused the Logos to all
men in words.  They would have cursed a man for denying the existence of
the Logos in every man; but they would have equally cursed him for acting
on his existence in practice, and treating the heretic as one who had
that within him to which a preacher might appeal.  Thus they became
Dogmatists; that is, men who assert a truth so fiercely, as to forget
that a truth is meant to be used, and not merely asserted—if, indeed, the
fierce assertion of a truth in frail man is not generally a sign of some
secret doubt of it, and in inverse proportion to his practical living
faith in it: just as he who is always telling you that he is a man, is
not the most likely to behave like a man.  And why did this befall them?
Because they forgot practically that the light proceeded from a Person.
They could argue over notions and dogmas deduced from the notion of His
personality: but they were shut up in those notions; they had forgotten
that if He was a Person, His eye was on them, His rule and kingdom within
them; and that if He was a Person, He had a character, and that that
character was a righteous and a loving character: and therefore they were
not ashamed, in defending these notions and dogmas about Him, to commit
acts abhorrent to His character, to lie, to slander, to intrigue, to
hate, even to murder, for the sake of what they madly called His glory:
but which was really only their own glory—the glory of their own dogmas;
of propositions and conclusions in their own brain, which, true or false,
were equally heretical in their mouths, because they used them only as
watchwords of division.  Orthodox or unorthodox, they lost the knowledge
of God, for they lost the knowledge of righteousness, and love, and
peace.  That Divine Logos, and theology as a whole, receded further and
further aloft into abysmal heights, as it became a mere dreary system of
dead scientific terms, having no practical bearing on their hearts and
lives; and then they, as the Neoplatonists had done before them, filled
up the void by those dæmonologies, images, base Fetish worships, which
made the Mohammedan invaders regard them, and I believe justly, as
polytheists and idolaters, base as the pagan Arabs of the desert.

I cannot but believe them, moreover, to have been untrue to the teaching
of Clement and his school, in that coarse and materialist admiration of
celibacy which ruined Alexandrian society, as their dogmatic ferocity
ruined Alexandrian thought.  The Creed which taught them that in the
person of the Incarnate Logos, that which was most divine had been proved
to be most human, that which was most human had been proved to be most
divine, ought surely to have given to them, as it has given to modern
Europe, nobler, clearer, simpler views of the true relation of the sexes.
However, on this matter they did not see their way.  Perhaps, in so
debased an age, so profligate a world, as that out of which Christianity
had risen, it was impossible to see the true beauty and sanctity of those
primary bonds of humanity.  And while the relation of the sexes was
looked on in a wrong light, all other social relations were necessarily
also misconceived.  “The very ideas of family and national life,” as it
has been said, “those two divine roots of the Church, severed from which
she is certain to wither away into that most cruel and most godless of
spectres, a religious world, had perished in the East, from the evil
influence of the universal practice of slave-holding, as well as from the
degradation of that Jewish nation which had been for ages the great
witness for these ideas; and all classes, like their forefather
Adam—like, indeed, the Old Adam—the selfish, cowardly, brute nature in
every man and in every age—were shifting the blame of sin from their own
consciences to human relationships and duties, and therein, to the God
who had appointed them; and saying, as of old, ‘The woman whom Thou
gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.’”

Much as Christianity did, even in Egypt, for woman, by asserting her
moral and spiritual equality with the man, there seems to have been no
suspicion that she was the true complement of the man, not merely by
softening him, but by strengthening him; that true manhood can be no more
developed without the influence of the woman, than true womanhood without
the influence of the man.  There is no trace among the Egyptian celibates
of that chivalrous woman-worship which our Gothic forefathers brought
with them into the West, which shed a softening and ennobling light round
the mediæval convent life, and warded off for centuries the worst effects
of monasticism.  Among the religious of Egypt, the monk regarded the nun,
the nun the monk, with dread and aversion; while both looked on the
married population of the opposite sex with a coarse contempt and disgust
which is hardly credible, did not the foul records of it stand written to
this day, in Rosweyde’s extraordinary “Vitæ Patrum Eremiticorum;” no
barren school of metaphysic, truly, for those who are philosophic enough
to believe that all phenomena whatsoever of the human mind are worthy
matter for scientific induction.

And thus grew up in Egypt a monastic world, of such vastness that it was
said to equal in number the laity.  This produced, no doubt, an enormous
increase in the actual amount of moral evil.  But it produced three other
effects, which were the ruin of Alexandria.  First, a continually growing
enervation and numerical decrease of the population; next, a carelessness
of, and contempt for social and political life; and lastly, a most
brutalising effect on the lay population; who, told that they were, and
believing themselves to be, beings of a lower order, and living by a
lower standard, sank down more and more generation after generation.
They were of the world, and the ways of the world they must follow.
Political life had no inherent sanctity or nobleness; why act holily and
nobly in it?  Family life had no inherent sanctity or nobleness; why act
holily and nobly in it either, if there were no holy, noble, and divine
principle or ground for it?  And thus grew up, both in Egypt, Syria, and
Byzantium, a chaos of profligacy and chicanery, in rulers and people, in
the home and the market, in the theatre and the senate, such as the world
has rarely seen before or since; a chaos which reached its culmination in
the seventh century, the age of Justinian and Theodora, perhaps the two
most hideous sovereigns, worshipped by the most hideous empire of
parasites and hypocrites, cowards and wantons, that ever insulted the
long-suffering of a righteous God.

But, for Alexandria at least, the cup was now full.  In the year 640 the
Alexandrians were tearing each other in pieces about some Jacobite and
Melchite controversy, to me incomprehensible, to you unimportant, because
the fighters on both sides seem to have lost (as all parties do in their
old age) the knowledge of what they were fighting for, and to have so
bewildered the question with personal intrigues, spites, and quarrels, as
to make it nearly as enigmatic as that famous contemporary war between
the blue and green factions at Constantinople, which began by backing in
the theatre, the charioteers who drove in blue dresses, against those
wild drove in green; then went on to identify themselves each with one of
the prevailing theological factions; gradually developed, the one into an
aristocratic, the other into a democratic, religious party; and ended by
a civil war in the streets of Constantinople, accompanied by the most
horrible excesses, which had nearly, at one time, given up the city to
the flames, and driven Justinian from his throne.

In the midst of these Jacobite and Melchite controversies and riots,
appeared before the city the armies of certain wild and unlettered Arab
tribes.  A short and fruitless struggle followed; and, strange to say, a
few months swept away from the face of the earth, not only the wealth,
the commerce, the castles, and the liberty, but the philosophy and the
Christianity of Alexandria; crushed to powder by one fearful blow, all
that had been built up by Alexander and the Ptolemies, by Clement and the
philosophers, and made void, to all appearance, nine hundred years of
human toil.  The people, having no real hold on their hereditary Creed,
accepted, by tens of thousands, that of the Mussulman invaders.  The
Christian remnant became tributaries; and Alexandria dwindled, from that
time forth, into a petty seaport town.

And now—can we pass over this new metaphysical school of Alexandria? Can
we help inquiring in what the strength of Islamism lay?  I, at least,
cannot.  I cannot help feeling that I am bound to examine in what
relation the creed of Omar and Amrou stands to the Alexandrian
speculations of five hundred years, and how it had power to sweep those
speculations utterly from the Eastern mind.  It is a difficult problem;
to me, as a Christian priest, a very awful problem.  What more awful
historic problem, than to see the lower creed destroying the higher? to
see God, as it were, undoing his own work, and repenting Him that He had
made man?  Awful indeed: but I can honestly say, that it is one from the
investigation of which I have learnt—I cannot yet tell how much: and of
this I am sure, that without that old Alexandrian philosophy, I should
not have been able to do justice to Islam; without Islam I should not
have been able to find in that Alexandrian philosophy, an ever-living and
practical element.

I must, however, first entreat you to dismiss from your minds the vulgar
notion that Mohammed was in anywise a bad man, or a conscious deceiver,
pretending to work miracles, or to do things which he did not do.  He
sinned in one instance: but, as far as I can see, only in that one—I mean
against what he must have known to be right.  I allude to his relaxing in
his own case those wise restrictions on polygamy which he had proclaimed.
And yet, even in this case, the desire for a child may have been the true
cause of his weakness.  He did not see the whole truth, of course: but he
was an infinitely better man than the men around: perhaps, all in all,
one of the best men of his day.  Many here may have read Mr. Carlyle’s
vindication of Mohammed in his Lectures on Hero Worship; to those who
have not, I shall only say, that I entreat them to do so; and that I
assure them, that though I differ in many things utterly from Mr.
Carlyle’s inferences and deductions in that lecture, yet that I am
convinced, from my own acquaintance with the original facts and
documents, that the picture there drawn of Mohammed is a true and a just
description of a much-calumniated man.

Now, what was the strength of Islam?  The common answer is, fanaticism
and enthusiasm.  To such answers I can only rejoin: Such terms must be
defined before they are used, and we must be told what fanaticism and
enthusiasm are.  Till then I have no more _à priori_ respect for a long
word ending in -ism or -asm than I have for one ending in -ation or
-ality.  But while fanaticism and enthusiasm are being defined—a work
more difficult than is commonly fancied—we will go on to consider another
answer.  We are told that the strength of Islam lay in the hope of their
sensuous Paradise and fear of their sensuous Gehenna.  If so, this is the
first and last time in the world’s history that the strength of any large
body of people—perhaps of any single man—lay in such a hope.  History
gives us innumerable proofs that such merely selfish motives are the
parents of slavish impotence, of pedantry and conceit, of pious frauds,
often of the most devilish cruelty: but, as far as my reading extends, of
nothing better.  Moreover, the Christian Greeks had much the same hopes
on those points as the Mussulmans; and similar causes should produce
similar effects: but those hopes gave them no strength.  Besides,
according to the Mussulmans’ own account, this was _not_ their great
inspiring idea; and it is absurd to consider the wild battle-cries of a
few imaginative youths, about black-eyed and green-kerchiefed Houris
calling to them from the skies, as representing the average feelings of a
generation of sober and self-restraining men, who showed themselves
actuated by far higher motives.

Another answer, and one very popular now, is that the Mussulmans were
strong, because they believed what they said; and the Greeks weak,
because they did not believe what they said.  From this notion I shall
appeal to another doctrine of the very same men who put it forth, and ask
them, Can any man be strong by believing a lie?  Have you not told us,
nobly enough, that every lie is by its nature rotten, doomed to death,
certain to prove its own impotence, and be shattered to atoms the moment
you try to use it, to bring it into rude actual contact with fact, and
Nature, and the eternal laws?  Faith to be strong must be faith in
something which is not one’s self; faith in something eternal, something
objective, something true, which would exist just as much though we and
all the world disbelieved it.  The strength of belief comes from that
which is believed in; if you separate it from that, it becomes a mere
self-opinion, a sensation of positiveness; and what sort of strength that
will give, history will tell us in the tragedies of the Jews who opposed
Titus, of the rabble who followed Walter the Penniless to the Crusades,
of the Munster Anabaptists, and many another sad page of human folly.  It
may give the fury of idiots; not the deliberate might of valiant men.
Let us pass this by, then; believing that faith can only give strength
where it is faith in something true and right: and go on to another
answer almost as popular as the last.

We are told that the might of Islam lay in a certain innate force and
savage virtue of the Arab character.  If we have discovered this in the
followers of Mohammed, they certainly had not discovered it in
themselves.  They spoke of themselves, rightly or wrongly, as men who had
received a divine light, and that light a moral light, to teach them to
love that which was good, and refuse that which was evil; and to that
divine light they stedfastly and honestly attributed every right action
of their lives.  Most noble and affecting, in my eyes, is that answer of
Saad’s aged envoy to Yezdegird, king of Persia, when he reproached him
with the past savagery and poverty of the Arabs.  “Whatsoever thou hast
said,” answered the old man, “regarding the former condition of the Arabs
is true.  Their food _was_ green lizards; they buried their infant
daughters alive; nay, some of them feasted on dead carcases, and drank
blood; while others slew their kinsfolk, and thought themselves great and
valiant, when by so doing they became possessed of more property.  They
_were_ clothed with hair garments, they knew not good from evil, and made
no distinction between that which was lawful and unlawful.  Such was our
state; but God in his mercy has sent us, by a holy prophet, a sacred
volume, which teaches us the true faith.”

These words, I think, show us the secret of Islam.  They are a just
comment on that short and rugged chapter of the Koran which is said to
have been Mohammed’s first attempt either at prophecy or writing; when,
after long fasting and meditation among the desert hills, under the
glorious eastern stars, he came down and told his good Kadijah that he
had found a great thing, and that she must help him to write it down.
And what was this which seemed to the unlettered camel-driver so
priceless a treasure?  Not merely that God was one God—vast as that
discovery was—but that he was a God “who showeth to man the thing which
he knew not;” a “most merciful God;” a God, in a word, who could be
trusted; a God who would teach and strengthen; a God, as he said, who
would give him courage to set his face like a flint, and would put an
answer in his mouth when his idolatrous countrymen cavilled and sneered
at his message to them, to turn from their idols of wood and stone, and
become righteous men, as Abraham their forefather was righteous.

“A God who showeth to man the thing which he knew not.”  That idea gave
might to Islam, because it was a real idea, an eternal fact; the result
of a true insight into the character of God.  And that idea alone,
believe me, will give conquering might either to creed, philosophy, or
heart of man.  Each will be strong, each will endure, in proportion as it
believes that God is one who shows to man the thing which he knew not: as
it believes, in short, in that Logos of which Saint John wrote, that He
was the light who lightens every man who comes into the world.

In a word, the wild Koreish had discovered, more or less clearly, that
end and object of all metaphysic whereof I have already spoken so often;
that external and imperishable beauty for which Plato sought of old; and
had seen that its name was righteousness, and that it dwelt absolutely in
an absolutely righteous person; and moreover, that this person was no
careless self-contented epicurean deity; but that He was, as they loved
to call Him, the most merciful God; that He cared for men; that He
desired to make men righteous.  Of that they could not doubt.  The fact
was palpable, historic, present.  To them the degraded Koreish of the
desert, who as they believed, and I think believed rightly, had fallen
from the old Monotheism of their forefathers Abraham and Ismael, into the
lowest fetishism, and with that into the lowest brutality and
wretchedness—to them, while they were making idols of wood and stone;
eating dead carcases; and burying their daughters alive; careless of
chastity, of justice, of property; sunk in unnatural crimes, dead in
trespasses and sins; hateful and hating one another—a man, one of their
own people had come, saying: “I have a message from the one righteous
God.  His curse is on all this, for it is unlike Himself.  He will have
you righteous men, after the pattern of your forefather Abraham.  Be
that, and arise, body, soul, and spirit, out of your savagery and
brutishness.  Then you shall be able to trample under font the profligate
idolaters, to sweep the Greek tyrants from the land which they have been
oppressing for centuries, and to recover the East for its rightful heirs,
the children of Abraham.”  Was this not, in every sense, a message from
God?  I must deny the philosophy of Clement and Augustine, I must deny my
own conscience, my own reason, I must outrage my own moral sense, and
confess that I have no immutable standard of right, that I know no
eternal source of right, if I deny it to have been one; if I deny what
seems to me the palpable historic fact, that those wild Koreish had in
them a reason and a conscience, which could awaken to that message, and
perceive its boundless beauty, its boundless importance, and that they
did accept that message, and lived by it in proportion as they received
it fully, such lives as no men in those times, and few in after times,
have been able to live.  If I feel, as I do feel, that Abubekr, Omar, Abu
Obeidah, and Amrou, were better men than I am, I must throw away all that
Philo—all that a Higher authority—has taught me: or I must attribute
their lofty virtues to the one source of all in man which is not
selfishness, and fancy, and fury, and blindness as of the beasts which

Why, then, has Islamism become one of the most patent and complete
failures upon earth, if the true test of a system’s success be the
gradual progress and amelioration of the human beings who are under its
influence?  First, I believe, from its allowing polygamy.  I do not judge
Mohammed for having allowed it.  He found it one of the ancestral and
immemorial customs of his nation.  He found it throughout the Hebrew
Scriptures.  He found it in the case of Abraham, his ideal man; and, as
he believed, the divinely-inspired ancestor of his race.  It seemed to
him that what was right for Abraham, could not be wrong for an Arab.  God
shall judge him, not I.  Moreover, the Christians of the East, divided
into either monks or profligates; and with far lower and more brutal
notions of the married state than were to be found in Arab poetry and
legend, were the very last men on earth to make him feel the eternal and
divine beauty of that pure wedded love which Christianity has not only
proclaimed, but commanded, and thereby emancipated woman from her old
slavery to the stronger sex.  And I believe, from his chivalrous
faithfulness to his good wife Kadijah, as long as she lived, that
Mohammed was a man who could have accepted that great truth in all its
fulness, had he but been taught it.  He certainly felt the evil of
polyamy so strongly as to restrict it in every possible way, except the
only right way—namely, the proclamation of the true ideal of marriage.
But his ignorance, mistake, sin, if you will, was a deflection from the
right law, from the true constitution of man, and therefore it avenged
itself.  That chivalrous respect for woman, which was so strong in the
early Mohammedans, died out.  The women themselves—who, in the first few
years of Islamism, rose as the men rose, and became their helpmates,
counsellors, and fellow-warriors—degenerated rapidly into mere
playthings.  I need not enter into the painful subject of woman’s present
position in the East, and the social consequences thereof.  But I firmly
believe, not merely as a theory, but as a fact which may be proved by
abundant evidence, that to polygamy alone is owing nine-tenths of the
present decay and old age of every Mussulman nation; and that till it be
utterly abolished, all Western civilisation and capital, and all the
civil and religious liberty on earth, will not avail one jot toward their
revival.  You must regenerate the family before you can regenerate the
nation, and the relation of husband and wife before the family; because,
as long as the root is corrupt, the fruit will be corrupt also.

But there is another cause of the failure of Islamism, more intimately
connected with those metaphysical questions which we have been hitherto
principally considering.

Among the first Mussulmans, as I have said, there was generally the most
intense belief in each man that he was personally under a divine guide
and teacher.  But their creed contained nothing which could keep up that
belief in the minds of succeeding generations.  They had destroyed the
good with the evil, and they paid the penalty of their undistinguishing
wrath.  In sweeping away the idolatries and fetish worships of the Syrian
Catholics, the Mussulmans had swept away also that doctrine which alone
can deliver men from idolatry and fetish worships—if not outward and
material ones, yet the still more subtle, and therefore more dangerous
idolatries of the intellect.  For they had swept away the belief in the
Logos; in a divine teacher of every human soul, who was, in some
mysterious way, the pattern and antitype of human virtue and wisdom.  And
more, they had swept away that belief in the incarnation of the Logos,
which alone can make man feel that his divine teacher is one who can
enter into the human duties, sorrows, doubts, of each human spirit.  And,
therefore, when Mohammed and his personal friends were dead, the belief
in a present divine teacher, on the whole, died with them; and the
Mussulmans began to put the Koran in the place of Him of whom the Koran
spoke.  They began to worship the book—which after all is not a book, but
only an irregular collection of Mohammed’s meditations, and notes for
sermons—with the most slavish and ridiculous idolatry.  They fell into a
cabbalism, and a superstitious reverence for the mere letters and words
of the Koran, to which the cabbalism of the old Rabbis was moderate and
rational.  They surrounded it, and the history of Mohammed, with all
ridiculous myths, and prodigies, and lying wonders, whereof the book
itself contained not a word; and which Mohammed, during his existence,
had denied and repudiated, saying that he worked no miracles, and that
none were needed; because only reason was required to show a man the hand
of a good God in all human affairs.  Nevertheless, these later Mussulmans
found the miracles necessary to confirm their faith: and why?  Because
they had lost the sense of a present God, a God of order; and therefore
hankered, as men in such a mood always will, after prodigious and
unnatural proofs of His having been once present with their founder

And in the meanwhile that absolute and omnipotent Being whom Mohammed,
arising out of his great darkness, had so nobly preached to the Koreish,
receded in the minds of their descendants to an unapproachable and
abysmal distance.  For they had lost the sense of His present guidance,
His personal care.  They had lost all which could connect Him with the
working of their own souls, with their human duties and struggles, with
the belief that His mercy and love were counterparts of human mercy and
human love; in plain English, that He was loving and merciful at all.
The change came very gradually, thank God; you may read of noble sayings
and deeds here and there, for many centuries after Mohammed: but it came;
and then their belief in God’s omnipotence and absoluteness dwindled into
the most dark, and slavish, and benumbing fatalism.  His unchangeableness
became in their minds not an unchangeable purpose to teach, forgive, and
deliver men—as it seemed to Mohammed to have been—but a mere brute
necessity, an unchangeable purpose to have His own way, whatsoever that
way might be.  That dark fatalism, also, has helped toward the decay of
the Mohammedan nations.  It has made them careless of self-improvement;
faithless of the possibility of progress; and has kept, and will keep,
the Mohammedan nations, in all intellectual matters, whole ages behind
the Christian nations of the West.

How far the story of Omar’s commanding the baths of Alexandria to be
heated with the books from the great library is true, we shall never
know.  Some have doubted the story altogether: but so many fresh
corroborations of it are said to have been lately discovered, in Arabic
writers, that I can hardly doubt that it had some foundation in fact.
One cannot but believe that John Philoponus, the last of the Alexandrian
grammarians, when he asked his patron Amrou the gift of the library, took
care to save some, at least, of its treasures; and howsoever strongly
Omar may have felt or said that all books which agreed with the Koran
were useless, and all which disagreed with it only fit to be destroyed,
the general feeling of the Mohammedan leaders was very different.  As
they settled in the various countries which they conquered, education
seems to have been considered by them an important object.  We even find
some of them, in the same generation as Mohammed, obeying strictly the
Prophet’s command to send all captive children to school—a fact which
speaks as well for the Mussulmans’ good sense, as it speaks ill for the
state of education among the degraded descendants of the Greek conquerors
of the East.  Gradually philosophic Schools arose, first at Bagdad, and
then at Cordova; and the Arabs carried on the task of commenting on
Aristotle’s Logic, and Ptolemy’s Megiste Syntaxis—which last acquired
from them the name of Almagest, by which it was so long known during the
Middle Ages.

But they did little but comment, though there was no Neoplatonic or
mystic element in their commentaries.  It seems as if Alexandria was
preordained, by its very central position, to be the city of
commentators, not of originators.  It is worthy of remark, that
Philoponus, who may be considered as the man who first introduced the
simple warriors of the Koreish to the treasures of Greek thought, seems
to have been the first rebel against the Neoplatonist eclecticism.  He
maintained, and truly, that Porphyry, Proclus, and the rest, had entirely
misunderstood Aristotle, when they attempted to reconcile him with Plato,
or incorporate his philosophy into Platonism.  Aristotle was henceforth
the text-book of Arab savants.  It was natural enough.  The Mussulman
mind was trained in habits of absolute obedience to the authority of
fixed dogmas.  All those attempts to follow out metaphysic to its highest
object, theology, would be useless if not wrong in the eyes of a
Mussulman, who had already his simple and sharply-defined creed on all
matters relating to the unseen world.  With him metaphysic was a study
altogether divorced from man’s higher life and aspirations.  So also were
physics.  What need had he of Cosmogonies? what need to trace the
relations between man and the universe, or the universe and its Maker?
He had his definite material Elysium and Tartarus, as the only ultimate
relation between man and the universe; his dogma of an absolute fiat,
creating arbitrary and once for all, as the only relation between the
universe and its Maker: and further it was not lawful to speculate.  The
idea which I believe unites both physic and metaphysic with man’s highest
inspirations and widest speculations—the Alexandria idea of the Logos, of
the Deity working in time and space by successive thoughts—he had not
heard of; for it was dead, as I have said, in Alexandria itself; and if
he had heard of it, he would have spurned it as detracting from the
absoluteness of that abysmal one Being, of whom he so nobly yet so
partially bore witness.  So it was to be; doubtless it was right that it
should be so.  Man’s eye is too narrow to see a whole truth, his brain
too weak to carry a whole truth.  Better for him, and better for the
world, is perhaps the method on which man has been educated in every age,
by which to each school, or party, or nation, is given some one great
truth, which they are to work out to its highest development, to
exemplify in actual life, leaving some happier age—perhaps, alas! only
some future state—to reconcile that too favoured dogma with other truths
which lie beside it, and without which it is always incomplete, and
sometimes altogether barren.

But such schools of science, founded on such a ground as this, on the
mere instinct of curiosity, had little chance of originality or vitality.
All the great schools of the world, the elder Greek philosophy, the
Alexandrian, the present Baconian school of physics, have had a deeper
motive for their search, a far higher object which they hope to discover.
But indeed, the Mussulmans did not so much wish to discover truth, as to
cultivate their own intellects.  For that purpose a sharp and subtle
systematist, like Aristotle, was the very man whom they required; and
from the destruction of Alexandria may date the rise of the Aristotelian
philosophy.  Translations of his works were made into Arabic, first, it
is said, from Persian and Syriac translations; the former of which had
been made during the sixth and seventh centuries, by the wreck of the
Neoplatonist party, during their visit to the philosophic Chozroos.  A
century after, they filled Alexandria.  After them Almansoor, Hairoun
Alraschid, and their successors, who patronised the Nestorian Christians,
obtained from them translations of the philosophic, medical, and
astronomical Greek works; while the last of the Omniades, Abdalrahman,
had introduced the same literary taste into Spain, where, in the
thirteenth century, Averroës and Maimonides rivalled the fame of
Avicenna, who had flourished at Bagdad a century before.

But, as I have said already, these Arabs seem to have invented nothing;
they only commented.  And yet not only commented; for they preserved for
us those works of whose real value they were so little aware.  Averroës,
in quality of commentator on Aristotle, became his rival in the minds of
the mediæval schoolmen; Avicenna, in quality of commentator on
Hippocrates and Galen, was for centuries the text-book of all European
physicians; while Albatani and Aboul Wefa, as astronomers, commented on
Ptolemy, not however without making a few important additions to his
knowledge; for Aboul Wefa discovered a third inequality of the moon’s
motion, in addition to the two mentioned by Ptolemy, which he did,
according to Professor Whewell, in a truly philosophic manner—an
apparently solitary instance, and one which, in its own day, had no
effect; for the fact was forgotten, and rediscovered centuries after by
Tycho Brahe.  To Albatani, however, we owe two really valuable heirlooms.
The one is the use of the sine, or half-chord of the double arc, instead
of the chord of the arc itself, which had been employed by the Greek
astronomers; the other, of even more practical benefit, was the
introduction of the present decimal arithmetic, instead of the
troublesome sexagesimal arithmetic of the Greeks.  These ten digits,
however, seem, says Professor Whewell, by the confession of the Arabians
themselves, to be of Indian origin, and thus form no exception to the
sterility of the Arabian genius in scientific inventions.  Nevertheless
we are bound, in all fairness, to set against his condemnation of the
Arabs Professor De Morgan’s opinion of the Moslem, in his article on
Euclid: “Some writers speak slightingly of this progress, the results of
which they are too apt to compare with those of our own time.  They ought
rather to place the Saracens by the side of their own Gothic ancestors;
and making some allowance for the more advantageous circumstances under
which the first started, they should view the second systematically
dispersing the remains of Greek civilisation, while the first were
concentrating the geometry of Alexandria, the arithmetic and algebra of
India, and the astronomy of both, to form a nucleus for the present state
of science.”

To this article of Professor De Morgan’s on Euclid, {127} and to
Professor Whewell’s excellent “History of the Inductive Sciences,” from
which I, being neither Arabic scholar nor astronomer, have drawn most of
my facts about physical science, I must refer those who wish to know more
of the early rise of physics, and of their preservation by the Arabs,
till a great and unexpected event brought them back again to the quarter
of the globe where they had their birth, and where alone they could be
regenerated into a new and practical life.

That great event was the Crusades.  We have heard little of Alexandria
lately.  Its intellectual glory had departed westward and eastward, to
Cordova and to Bagdad; its commercial greatness had left it for Cairo and
Damietta.  But Egypt was still the centre of communication between the
two great stations of the Moslem power, and indeed, as Mr. Lane has shown
in his most valuable translation of the “Arabian Nights,” possessed a
peculiar life and character of its own.

It was the rash object of the Crusaders to extinguish that life.
Palestine was their first point of attack: but the later Crusaders seem
to have found, like the rest of the world, that the destinies of
Palestine could not be separated from those of Egypt; and to Damietta,
accordingly, was directed that last disastrous attempt of St. Louis,
which all may read so graphically described in the pages of Joinville.

The Crusaders failed utterly of the object at which they aimed.  They
succeeded in an object of which they never dreamed; for in those Crusades
the Moslem and the Christian had met face to face, and found that both
were men, that they had a common humanity, a common eternal standard of
nobleness and virtue.  So the Christian knights went home humbler and
wiser men, when they found in the Saracen emirs the same generosity,
truth, mercy, chivalrous self-sacrifice, which they had fancied their own
peculiar possession, and added to that, a civilisation and a learning
which they could only admire and imitate.  And thus, from the era of the
Crusades, a kindlier feeling sprang up between the Crescent and the
Cross, till it was again broken by the fearful invasions of the Turks
throughout Eastern Europe.  The learning of the Moslem, as well as their
commerce, began to pour rapidly into Christendom, both from Spain, Egypt,
and Syria; and thus the Crusaders were, indeed, rewarded according to
their deeds.  They had fancied that they were bound to vindicate the
possession of the earth for Him to whom they believed the earth belonged.
He showed them—or rather He has shown us, their children—that He can
vindicate His own dominion better far than man can do it for Him; and
their cruel and unjust aim was utterly foiled.  That was not the way to
make men know or obey Him.  They took the sword, and perished by the
sword.  But the truly noble element in them—the element which our hearts
and reasons recognise and love, in spite of all the loud words about the
folly and fanaticism of the Crusades, whensoever we read “The Talisman”
or “Ivanhoe”—the element of loyal faith and self-sacrifice—did not go
unrequited.  They learnt wider, juster views of man and virtue, which I
cannot help believing must have had great effect in weakening in their
minds their old, exclusive, and bigoted notions, and in paving the way
for the great outburst of free thought, and the great assertion of the
dignity of humanity, which the fifteenth century beheld.  They opened a
path for that influx of scientific knowledge which has produced, in after
centuries, the most enormous effects on the welfare of Europe, and made
life possible for millions who would otherwise have been pent within the
narrow bounds of Europe, to devour each other in the struggle for room
and bread.

But those Arabic translations of Greek authors were a fatal gift for
Egypt, and scarcely less fatal gift for Bagdad.  In that Almagest of
Ptolemy, in that Organon of Aristotle, which the Crusaders are said to
have brought home, lay, rude and embryotic, the germs of that physical
science, that geographical knowledge which has opened to the European the
commerce and the colonisation of the globe.  Within three hundred years
after his works reached Europe, Ptolemy had taught the Portuguese to sail
round Africa; and from that day the stream of eastern wealth flowed no
longer through the Red Sea, or the Persian Gulf, on its way to the new
countries of the West; and not only Alexandria, but Damietta and Bagdad,
dwindled down to their present insignificance.  And yet the whirligig of
time brings about its revenges.  The stream of commerce is now rapidly
turning back to its old channel; and British science bids fair to make
Alexandria once more the inn of all the nations.

It is with a feeling of awe that one looks upon the huge possibilities of
her future.  Her own physical capacities, as the great mind of Napoleon
saw, are what they always have been, inexhaustible; and science has
learnt to set at naught the only defect of situation which has ever
injured her prosperity, namely, the short land passage from the Nile to
the Red Sea.  The fate of Palestine is now more than ever bound up with
her fate; and a British or French colony might, holding the two
countries, develop itself into a nation as vast as sprang from
Alexander’s handful of Macedonians, and become the meeting point for the
nations of the West and those great Anglo-Saxon peoples who seem destined
to spring up in the Australian ocean.  Wide as the dream may appear,
steam has made it a far narrower one than the old actual fact, that for
centuries the Phoenician and the Arabian interchanged at Alexandria the
produce of Britain for that of Ceylon and Hindostan.  And as for
intellectual development, though Alexandria wants, as she has always
wanted, that insular and exclusive position which seems almost necessary
to develop original thought and original national life, yet she may still
act as the point of fusion for distinct schools and polities, and the
young and buoyant vigour of the new-born nations may at once teach, and
learn from, the prudence, the experience, the traditional wisdom of the
ancient Europeans.

This vision, however possible, may be a far-off one: but the first step
towards it, at least, is being laid before our eyes—and that is, a fresh
reconciliation between the Crescent and the Cross.  Apart from all
political considerations, which would be out of place here, I hail, as a
student of philosophy, the school which is now, both in Alexandria and in
Constantinople, teaching to Moslem and to Christians the same lesson
which the Crusaders learnt in Egypt five hundred years ago.  A few years’
more perseverance in the valiant and righteous course which Britain has
now chosen, will reward itself by opening a vast field for capital and
enterprise, for the introduction of civil and religious liberty among the
down-trodden peasantry of Egypt; as the Giaour becomes an object of
respect, and trust, and gratitude to the Moslem; and as the feeling that
Moslem and Giaour own a common humanity, a common eternal standard of
justice and mercy, a common sacred obligation to perform our promises,
and to succour the oppressed, shall have taken place of the old brute
wonder at our careless audacity, and awkward assertion of power, which
now expresses itself in the somewhat left-handed Alexandrian
compliment—“There is one Satan, and there are many Satans: but there is
no Satan like a Frank in a round hat.”

                                * * * * *

It would be both uncourteous and unfair of me to close these my hasty
Lectures, without expressing my hearty thanks for the great courtesy and
kindness which I have received in this my first visit to your most noble
and beautiful city; and often, I am proud to say, from those who differ
from me deeply on many important points; and also for the attention with
which I have been listened to while trying, clumsily enough, to explain
dry and repulsive subjects, and to express opinions which may be new, and
perhaps startling, to many of my hearers.  If my imperfect hints shall
have stirred up but one hearer to investigate this obscure and yet most
important subject, and to examine for himself the original documents, I
shall feel that my words in this place have not been spoken in vain; for
even if such a seeker should arrive at conclusions different from my own
(and I pretend to no infallibility), he will at least have learnt new
facts, the parents of new thought, perhaps of new action; he will have
come face to face with new human beings, in whom he will have been
compelled to take a human interest; and will surely rise from his
researches, let them lead him where they will, at least somewhat of a
wider-minded and a wider-hearted man.


{3}  These Lectures were delivered at the Philosophical Institution,
Edinburgh, in February, 1854, at the commencement of the Crimean War.

{127}  Smith’s “Classical Dictionary.”

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