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Title: Critical, Historical, and Miscellaneous Essays; Vol. (1 of 6) - With a Memoir and Index
Author: Macaulay, Thomas Babbington
Language: English
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*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Critical, Historical, and Miscellaneous Essays; Vol. (1 of 6) - With a Memoir and Index" ***

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By Lord Macaulay

With A Memoir and Index

In Six Volumes. Vol. I.

New York: Sheldon and Company


[Illustration: 0001]

[Illustration: 0012]

[Illustration: 0013]


This edition of Lord Macaulay’s Critical, Historical, and Miscellaneous
Essays, contains all the articles published with the author’s correction
and revision (3 vols., London: Longman, Green, & Co.) during his
lifetime, and all the articles published by his friends (2 vols.,
London: Longman, Green & Co.) since his death. An Appendix contains
several essays attributed to Lord Macaulay, and unquestionably his, not
found in any other edition of his miscellaneous writings.

In this edition the Essays have been arranged in chronological order,
so that their perusal affords, so to speak, a complete biographical
portraiture of the brilliant author’s mind. No other edition possesses
the same advantage.

A very full Index has been especially prepared for this
edition,--without which the vast stores of historical learning and
pertinent anecdote contained in the Essays can be referred to only by
the fortunate man who possesses a memory as great as that of Macaulay
himself. In this respect it is superior to the English editions, and
wholly unlike any other American edition.

This edition also contains the pure text of Macaulay’s Essays. The
exact punctuation, orthography, etc. of the English editions have been

The portrait is from a photograph by Claudet, and represents the great
historian as he appeared in the latter years of his life.

The biographical and critical Introduction is from the well-known pen
of Mr. E. P. Whipple, who is fully entitled to speak with authority in
regard to the most brilliant essayist of the age.

The typographical excellence of the publication places it among the best
that have issued from the “Riverside” Press. We trust the public will
appreciate what has long been needed,--a complete and correct edition,
in handsome library style, of Lord Macaulay’s Essays.

Sheldon And Company.

New York, Oct 1860.


The materials for the biography of Lord Macaulay are scanty, and the
writer of the present sketch has been able to glean few facts regarding
his career which are not generally known. His life was comparatively
barren in events, and though he rose to conspicuous social, literary,
and political station, he had neither to struggle nor scramble for
advancement. Almost as soon as his talents were displayed they were
recognized and rewarded, and he attained fortune and power without using
any means which required the least sacrifice, either of the integrity or
the pride of his character.

Thomas Babington Macaulay was born at Rothley Temple, Leicestershire, on
the twenty-fifth of October, 1800. His father, Zachary Macaulay, the son
of a Scotch Presbyterian clergyman, was one of the worthiest and ablest
antislavery philanthropists and politicians of his time, distinguished,
even among such men as Wilberforce, Clarkson, and Stephen, for courage,
sagacity, integrity, and religious principle. His mother was the
daughter of Thomas Mills, a bookseller in Bristol, and belonged to
the Society of Friends. Under her loving care he received his early
education, and was not sent from home until his thirteenth year, when
he was placed in a private academy. As a boy, he astonished all who knew
him, by the brightness and eagerness of his mind, and the extent and
variety of his acquisitions. Two lately published letters, written
by Hannah More to his father, afford a pleasing glimpse of him, as he
appeared to a shrewd and affectionate observer of his early years. She
speaks of his “great superiority of intellect and quickness of passion,”
 at the age of eleven. He ought, she thinks, to have competitors, for “he
is like the prince who refused to play with anything but kings.”

“I never,” she says, “saw any one bad propensity in him; nothing except
natural frailty and ambition, inseparable perhaps from such talents and
so lively an imagination; he appears sincere, veracious, tender-hearted,
and affectionate.” He was a fertile versifier, even at that tender age,
but she “observed with pleasure that though he was quite wild till the
ebullitions of his muse were discharged, he thought no more of them
afterwards than the ostrich is said to do of her eggs after she has laid
them.” In another letter, written about two years afterwards, when the
bright lad was nearly fourteen, she says, “the quantity of reading
Tom has poured in, and the quantity of writing he has poured out, is
astonishing.” Poetry continued to be his passion, but his venerable
friend still testifies to his promising habit of throwing his verses
away as soon as he had read them to her. “We have poetry,” she writes,
“for breakfast, dinner, and supper. He recited all _Palestine_, while we
breakfasted, to our pious friend, Mr. Whalley, at my desire, and did it
incomparably.” She refers to his loquacity, but that quality seems not,
in her presence, to have been connected with dogmatism, for she calls
him very docile. At that early age he appears to have been sufficiently
master of his stores of information to play with them, and his wit kept
pace with his understanding. “Several men of sense and learning,” she
says, “have been struck with the union of gayety and rationality in
his conversation.” Accuracy of expression seems also to have been as
striking a trait of the boy’s mind as volubility of utterance. One fault
is mentioned, which was probably the result of his absorption in study
and composition. Incessantly occupied, mentally, he paid but little
attention to his personal appearance, and in dress was something of a
sloven. Neither his father nor Hannah More could cure him of this fault,
and, up to the time he became a peer, this neglect of externals seems to
have been a characteristic trait. A fellow-pupil at the academy to which
he was sent, describes him as “rather largely-built than otherwise,
but not fond of any of the ordinary physical sports of boys; with a
disproportionately large head, slouching or stooping shoulders, and a
whitish or pallid complexion; incessantly reading or writing, and
often reading or repeating poetry in his walks with his companions.” In
October, 1818, the precocious youth entered Trinity College, Cambridge,
and during the whole period of his residence at the University his
special studies did not divert him from gratifying his thirst for
general knowledge, and taste for general literature. In 1819 he gained
the chancellor’s medal for a poem on the subject of Pompeii, and in 1821
the same prize for one on Evening. For these, and for all compositions
of the kind, he afterwards professed to feel the utmost scorn. Two years
after his second success as a prize poet, we find him comparing prize
poems to prize sheep. “The object,” he says, “of the competitor for the
agricultural premium is to produce an animal fit, not to be eaten, but
to be weighed. The object of the poetical candidate is to produce, not a
good poem, but a poem of the exact degree of frigidity and bombast which
may appear to his censors to be correct or sublime. In general prize
sheep are good for nothing but to make tallow candles, and prize poems
are good for nothing but to light them.”

In 1821 he was elected Craven University Scholar; and in 1822 he
graduated, and received his degree of B. A.; though he did not compete
for honors, owing, it is said, to his dislike for mathematics. Between
this period and 1824, when he was elected Fellow of his College, he
contributed to Knight’s Quarterly Magazine the poems and essays,
in which, for the first time, we detect the leading traits of his
intellectual character. He possessed the feeling and the faculty of
the poet only so far as they are necessary for the interpretative
and representative requirements of the historian. He possessed the
understanding of the philosopher only so far as it is necessary to throw
into relations the vividly conceived facts derived from the records of
the annalist. He could not create, but he could reproduce; he could not
vitally combine, but he could logically dispose. The fair operation
of these mental qualities was disturbed by the peculiarities of
his disposition. He had boundless self-confidence, which had been
consciously or unconsciously pampered by friends who admired the
remarkable brilliancy of his powers. Independence of thought was thus
early connected with imperiousness of will and petulant disrespect for
other minds. Having no self-distrust, there was nothing to check the
positiveness of his judgments. Where more cautious thinkers doubted he
dogmatized; their probabilities were his certainties; and generally the
tone of his judgments seemed to imply his inward belief in the maxim
of the egotist--“difference from me is the measure of absurdity.” Lord
Melbourne afterwards acutely touched upon this foible, when he lazily
expressed his wish that he “was as sure of anything as Tom Macaulay was
of everything.”

A portion of this positiveness is perhaps to be referred as much to the
vividness of his perceptions as to the autocracy of his disposition. All
that he read he remembered; and his memory, being indissolubly connected
with his feelings and his imagination, vitalized all that it retained.
Facts and persons of a past age were not to him hidden in the words
which pretended to convey them to the mind, but were perceived as actual
events and living beings. He could recollect because he could realize
and reproduce. To his mental eye the past was present, and he had the
delight of the poet in viewing as things what the historian had recorded
in words. All men are more positive in regard to what they have seen
than in regard to what they have heard. If what they have seen awakens
in them joy and enthusiasm, their expression is instinctively dogmatic,
especially if they come into collision with persons of fainter and
colder perceptions, whose understandings are sceptical because their
sensibilities are dull. Such, to some degree, at least, was the
dogmatism of Macaulay in his statements of facts. In respect to his
positiveness in opinion, it may be said that his leading opinions were
blended with his moral passions, and an unmistakable love of truth
animates even his fiercest, haughtiest and most disdainful treatment
of the opinions of opponents. These qualities do not of course wholly
explain or extenuate the leading defect of his character; for behind
them, it must be admitted, were the triumphant consciousness of
personal vigor, the insolent sense of personal superiority, and
the relentlessness of temper which so often accompanies strength of
intellectual conviction.

Among his contributions to Knight’s Quarterly Magazine, the Fragment of
a Roman Tale and The Athenian Revels, indicate that at college he had
studied the ancient classics so thoroughly as to gain no little insight
into Greek and Roman life. Alcibiades, Cæsar, and Catiline, seem as real
to him as Canning and Wellington. In the papers on Mitford’s History of
Greece and The Athenian Orators, the same tendency of mind is displayed
in a critical direction. His intellect penetrates to the realities
of the society and the individuals he assumes to judge, and the
independence, originality, and decision of his thinking, correspond to
the clearness of his perceptions. The Conversation between Cowley
and Milton is an example of the same sympathetic historic imagination
exercised in the discussion of great historical questions, yet angrily
debated; and in the poem of The Battle of Naseby, which purports to be
written by Obadiah Bind-their-Kings-in-Chains-and-their-Nobles-with-
links-of-Iron, Serjeant in Ireton’s Regiment, an attempt is made to
reproduce the fiercest and gloomiest religious passions which raged in
the breasts of the military fanatics among the Puritans. The critical
papers on Dante and Petrarch exhibit the general characteristic of the
writer’s later literary criticism--intellectual sympathy superior to
rules, but submissive to laws; praising warmly, but at the same time,
judging keenly; and as intolerant of faults as sensitive to merits. The
style, both of the historical and critical articles, is substantially
the style of Macaulay’s more celebrated essays. There is less energy and
freedom of movement, a larger use of ornament for the sake of ornament,
and a more obvious rhetorical artifice in the declamatory passages, but
in essential elements it is the same.

In the choice of a profession, Macaulay fixed upon the law. He was
called to the bar in February, 1826, but we hear of no clients; and it
is doubtful if he ever mastered the details of his profession. Sydney
Smith, who knew him at this time, said afterwards--“I always prophesied
his greatness from the first moment I saw him, then a very young
and unknown man, on the Northern Circuit. There are no limits to his
knowledge, on small subjects as well as great: he is like a book
in breeches.” Indeed, politics and literature had, from the first,
attractions too strong for him to resist; and before he entered on the
practice of his profession, he had, by one article in a review, passed
at a bound to a conspicuous place among the writers of the time.

It might have been expected, from his family connections, that he would
be a zealous whig and abolitionist, and his first contribution to
the Edinburgh Review was on the subject of West India Slavery. It was
published in the number for January, 1825, and in extent of information,
force and acuteness of argument, severity of denunciation and sarcasm,
and fervor and brilliancy of style, it ranks high among the many
vigorous productions in which Macaulay has recorded his love of freedom
and hatred of oppression, and exhibited his power of making tyranny
ridiculous as well as odious. It is curious that this paper, so full
of the peculiar traits of his character and style, should not have
been generally recognized as his, after his subsequent articles had
familiarized the public with his manner of expression. But the date of
his first contribution to the Review is still commonly considered to be
the month of August, 1825, when his article on Milton appeared, and
at once attained a wide popularity. Though when, in 1848, the author
collected his Essays, he declared that this article “hardly contained a
paragraph that his matured judgment approved,” and regretted that he had
to leave it unpruned of the “gaudy and ungraceful ornament” with which
it was overloaded, its popularity has survived its author’s harsh

Whatever were its youthful faults of taste, impertinences of statement,
and errors of theory, few articles which had ever before appeared in
a British journal contained so much solid matter in so compact and
readable a form. If it did not touch the depths of the various topics it
so confidently discussed, it certainly contained a sufficient number of
strong and striking thoughts to rescue its brilliancy from the charge
of superficiality. If the splendor of its rhetoric seemed consciously
designed for display, this defect applies in great measure to Macaulay’s
rhetoric in general. He popularizes everything. He converts his
acquirements into accomplishments, and contrives that their show
shall always equal their substance; but in this essay, as in the
dazzling-series of essays which succeeded it, a discerning eye can
hardly fail to perceive beneath the external glitter of the periods, the
presence of two qualities which are sound and wholesome, namely, broad
common sense, and earnest enthusiasm.

Following the article on Milton, came, in the Edin burgh Review for
February, 1826, the month in which he was called to the bar, a paper on
the London University. This was succeeded in March, 1827, by a powerful
and well-reasoned, but exceedingly bitter and sarcastic antislavery
article on the Social and Industrial Capacities of Negroes. In June of
the same year, appeared a paper, evidently written by him, entitled
“The Present Administration,” one of the most acrimonious and audacious
political articles ever published in the Edinburgh Review. Its tone was
so violent and virulent, and excited so much opposition, that, in the
next number of the Review, a kind of apology was offered for it under
the form of explaining its real meaning. Macaulay’s real meaning is
evident; he “meant mischief;” but in the confused sentences of his
apologist hardly any meaning is perceptible; and there is something
ludicrous in the very supposition that the meaning of the clearest and
most decisive of writers could be mistaken by the public he addressed,
and especially by the Tories he assailed.

In all editions of his Essays, the admirable article on Machiavelli, one
of the ablest, most elaborate, and most thoughtful productions of his
mind, succeeds the article on Milton. It was published in the number of
the Review for March, 1827. Between 1827 and 1830 appeared the
articles on Dryden, History, Hallam’s Constitutional History, Southey’s
Colloquies on Society, and the three articles on the Utilitarian Theory
of Government. These proved the capacity of the author to discuss
both political and literary questions with a boldness, brilliancy, and
effectiveness, hardly known before in periodical literature. Each essay
included an amount of digested and generalized knowledge which might
easily have been expanded into a volume, but which, in its condensed
form and sparkling positiveness of expression, was all the more
efficient. To the Whig party as well as to the Whig Review, such an
ally had claims which could not be disregarded; and in 1830, through the
interest of Lord Lansdowne, he was elected a member of Parliament for
the borough of Caine. His reputation was so well established that no
idea of patronage entered into this arrangement; and he could afterwards
boast, with honest pride, that he was as independent when he sat in
Parliament as the nominee of Lord Lansdowne as when he represented the
popular constituencies of Leeds and Edinburgh.

As an orator, he won a reputation second only to his reputation as a man
of letters. From all accounts he owed little to his manner of speaking.
“His head,” we are told, “was set stiff on his shoulders, and his feet
were planted immovable on the floor. One hand was fixed behind him
across his back, and in this rigid attitude, with only a slight movement
of his right hand, he poured forth, with inconceivable velocity, his
sentences.” His first speech was on the Jews’ Disabilities Bill, on the
fifth of April, 1830, followed in December by one on Slavery in the West
Indies. Both evinced the broad views of the statesman as well as the
generous warmth of the reformer. He threw himself with characteristic
ardor into the great struggle for Parliamentary Reform, and his speeches
on that measure, not only drew forth unbounded applause from his party
and unwilling admiration from his opponents, but, as read now, after the
excitement of the occasion has subsided, justify in a great degree the
enthusiastic praise of those who heard them delivered. Clear and logical
in arrangement, abundant in precedents and arguments, fearless in tone,
and animated in movement, they are particularly marked by that fusion of
intelligence and sensibility which makes passion intelligent and reason
impassioned. The rush of the declamation is kept carefully within the
channels of the argument; they convince through the very process
by which they kindle. Their style is that of splendid and animated
conversation; though carefully premeditated they have the appearance
of being spontaneous; and indeed were not, as is commonly supposed,
originally written out and committed to memory, but thought out and
committed to memory. Without writing a word, he could prepare an
hour’s speech, in his mind, carefully attending even to the most minute
felicities of expression, and then deliver it with a rapidity so great
that no reporter could follow him. The effect on the House of these
declaimed disquisitions can perhaps be best estimated by quoting a
passage from one of his political opponents, whose pen, in the heat of
faction, was unrestrained by any of the proprieties of controversy. In
the number of the _Noctes Ambrosiano_, for August, 1831, Macaulay is
sneered at as a person whom it is the fashion among a small coterie to
call “the Burke of the age.” After admitting him to be “the cleverest
declaimer on the Whig side of the House,” the account thus proceeds:
“He is an ugly, cross-made, splay-footed, shapeless little dumpling of
a fellow, with a featureless face, too--except indeed a good expansive
forehead--sleek, puritanical, sandy hair, large glimmering eyes--and
a mouth from ear to ear. He has a lisp and burr, moreover, and speaks
thickly and huskily for several minutes before he gets into the swing
of his discourse; but after that nothing can be more dazzling than his
whole execution. What he says is substantially, of course, stuff
and nonsense; but it is so well-worded, and so volubly and
forcibly delivered--there is such an endless string of epigram and
antithesis--such a flashing of epithets--such an accumulation of
images--and the voice is so trumpetlike, and the action so grotesquely
emphatic, that you might hear a pin drop in the House. Even Manners
Sutton himself listens.”

In the Reformed Parliament, which met in January, 1833, Macaulay took
his seat as member for Leeds. He was soon after made Secretary of the
Board of Control. An economist of his reputation, he did not speak
often, but reserved himself for those occasions when he could speak with
effect. Throughout his parliamentary career he showed no inclination to
mingle in strictly extemporaneous debate, though it seems difficult
to conceive that a man of such intellectual hardihood as well as
intellectual capacity, and who in conversation was one of the most
fluent and well-informed of human beings, lacked the power of thinking
on his legs. It is probable that he disliked the drudgery of practical
political life, and was incapable of the continuous party passion which
sustains the professional politician. An ardent Whig partisan, his
partisanship was still roused by the principles of his party rather than
by its expedients. Literature and the philosophy of politics had more
fascination for him than the contentions of the House of Commons; and
he has repeatedly expressed contempt for the sophisms and misstatements
which, though they will not bear the test of careful perusal, pass in
the House for facts and arguments when volubly delivered in excited
debate. Indeed, from 1830 to 1834, the period when he was most ambitious
for political distinction and preferment, his contributions to the
Edinburgh Review indicate that while in Parliament he gave as much time
and thought to literature as he did before he became a member. To this
period belong his articles on Saddler’s Law of Population, Bunyan,
Byron, Hampden, Lord Burleigh, Mirabeau, Horace Walpole, the elder Pitt,
Croker’s Edition of Boswell’s Life of Johnson, the Civil Disabilities
of the Jews, and the War of the Succession in Spain. Only one of his
speeches can perhaps compare with the best of these articles In range
of thought and knowledge, and richness of diction. This was the speech
which he delivered as Secretary of the Board of Control, in July 1833,
on the new India Bill of the Whig government. Few persons were in
the house; but Jeffrey, who was in London, wrote to one of his
correspondents in regard to it:--“Mac is a marvellous person. He made
the very best speech that has been made this session on India. The
Speaker, who is a severe judge, says he rather thinks it the best speech
he ever heard.”

Since the time of Burke, no speech in Parliament on the subject of India
had equalled this in comprehensiveness of thought and knowledge. It
justified his appointment, made a few months after, of member and legal
adviser of the Supreme Council of India. Shiel, in a mocking defence of
Macaulay from the sneers of some person who questioned his abilities,
thus alluded to this appointment:--“Nonsense, sir! Don’t attempt to run
down Macaulay. He’s the cleverest man in Christendom. Didn’t he make
four speeches on the Reform Bill, and get £10,000 a year? Think of that,
and be dumb!” The largeness of the salary, nearly twice that of the
President of the United States, was probably Macaulay’s principal
inducement to accept the office. His means were small; the gains of
the office would in a few years make him independent of the world;
and though he seemed, in accepting it, to abandon the objects of his
political ambition, he really chose the right course to advance them.
Pecuniary independence would relieve him from all imputations of being
a political adventurer; and he had every reason to suppose that he might
reach, in England, high political office all the more surely if it were
understood that the emoluments of high political office were not the
primary objects of his ambition. Apart from such considerations as
these, there was something in the terms of his appointment eminently
calculated to induce him to accept it. The special object of his mission
was to prepare a new code of Indian law; and it is impossible to read
his articles on the Utilitarian Theory of Government, and Dumont’s
Recollections of Mirabeau, without perceiving that he had studied
jurisprudence as a science, and that he considered the province of the
jurist as even superior to that of the statesman. He went to India in
1834, with the feeling that he could prepare a code at once practical
and just. For four years he labored to solve this problem, and the
decision of his countrymen appeared to be that, though his solution
might be just, it was not practical. In the opinion, especially of those
East Indians whose interests were affected by its justice, it was a
“Black Code.” When it was published, on his return from India in 1838,
it was mercilessly denounced and ridiculed. Alarmists prophesied that,
if adopted, it would lead to the downfall of the British power in India.
Wits calculated, with malicious accuracy, the number of guineas which
each word cost the British people. Between alarmists and wits the whole
project fell through. There was a general impression that the code would
not work, and, while its ability was admitted, its practicability was

During his absence in India only two of his articles, the review of
Mackintosh’s History of the Revolution in England in 1688, and the paper
on Bacon, were published in the Edinburgh Review. The sketch of
Bacon’s life and philosophy is one of the most elaborate, ingenious
and brilliant products of his mind, but it is full of extravagant
overstatements. It is biography and criticism in a series of dazzling
epigrams; the exaggeration of epigram taints both the account of Bacon’s
life and the estimate of Bacon’s philosophy; but the charm of the
style is so great that, for a long time yet to come, it will probably
influence the opinion which even educated men form of Bacon, though to
thoughtful students of the age of Elizabeth and James, and to thoughtful
students of the history of scientific and metaphysical speculation, it
may seem as inaccurate in its disposition of facts as it is superficial
in philosophy.

Soon after his return from India, in June, 1838, Macaulay was offered
the office of Judge Advocate, which he declined. In 1839 the whigs
of Edinburgh invited him to offer himself as a candidate for the
representation of that city in Parliament. In a private letter to
Adam Black, he gave the reasons why, if elected, the position would
be agreeable to him. “I should,” he wrote, “be able to take part in
politics, as an independent Member of Parliament, with the weight and
authority which belongs to a man who speaks in the name of a great and
intelligent body of constituents. I should, during half the year, be at
leisure for other pursuits to which I am more inclined, and for which I
am perhaps better fitted; and I should be able to complete an
extensive literary work which I have long meditated.” He expressed
an unwillingness to accept office under the government he intended to
support, on the ground that he disliked the restraints of official life.
“I love,” he says, “freedom, leisure, and letters. Salary is no object
to me, for my income, though small, is sufficient for a man who has
no ostentatious tastes.” In regard to the expenses of the election,
he makes one condition which may surprise those American readers, who
suppose that none but English politicians who are corrupt, pay money to
get into Parliament. “I cannot,” he says, “spend more than £500 on the
election. If, therefore, there be any probability that the candidate
will be required to pay more than this, I hope you will look round
for another person.” On the 29th of May, 1839, he made a speech to the
electors, which for clearness and pungency of statement and argument
is a model for all orators who are called upon to address a popular
audience. It was probably this speech which drew forth the unintentional
compliment from the Edinburgh artisan, that he thought he could have
made it himself. “Ou! it was a wise-like speech, an’ no that
defecshunt in airgument; but, eh! man”--with a pause of intense
disappointment--“I’m thinkin’ I could ha’ said the haill o’ it mysel’!”

After some inefficient radical opposition, Macaulay, on the fourth of
June, was declared duly elected. In September of the same year he was
induced to accept the office of Secretary at War, in Lord Melbourne’s
administration. In 1841, when Sir Robert Peel came into power, he went
into opposition, and some of his ablest speeches were made during the
five years the tories were in office. In 1842, his “Lays of Ancient
Rome,” were published, and attained a wide popularity. In 1843 he
published a collection of his Essays, contributed to the Edinburgh
Review, including the masterly biographies of Temple, Clive, Hastings,
Frederic the Great, and Addison, and the papers on Church and
State, Ranke’s History of the Popes, and the Comic Dramatists of the
Restoration, written since his return from India. In July, 1846, on
the return of the Whigs to power, he was made Paymaster-General of the
Forces. Though his speech and vote on the Maynooth College Bill, in
1845, had roused a serious opposition to him among the dissenters of
Edinburgh, he was still reelected to Parliament, though not without a
severe struggle, on his acceptance of office. In 1847 Parliament was
dissolved. By this time his offences against the theological opinions of
his constituents had been increased by his support of what they called
the system of “godless education,” which the government to which he
belonged had patronized. The publicans and spirit dealers of the city
were also in ill-humor with the Whig government, on account of the
continuance of “undue restrictions in regard to their licenses.” From
the state of the mob that yelled and hissed round the hustings, there
would have seemed to be no “undue restriction” on the disposal of
spirituous liquors to carry the election. Adam Black sums up the
opposition to Macaulay as consisting of “the no-popery men, the
godless-education men, the crotchety coteries, and the dealers in
spirits.” To all these Macaulay was blunt and unconciliating, strong
in the feeling that he had excited their hatred by acts which his
conscience prompted and his reason approved. He would not recant a
single expression, much less a single opinion.

“The bray of Exeter Hall,” a phrase in his Maynooth speech particularly
obnoxious to the dissenters, he would not take back, and it was used
against him with great effect. A Mr. Cowan, a man of no note, was
selected as the opposing candidate, as if his enemies had determined to
mortify his pride as well as deprive him of his seat. His speeches from
the hustings were continually interrupted by a mob who, infuriated
by fanaticism or whiskey, received his statements with insults, and
answered his arguments by jeers. “If,” exclaimed Macaulay in one of
his speeches, “your representative be an honest man”--“Ay! but he’s no
that!” was a cry that came back from the crowd. To interruptions and
to insults, however, he presented a bold front, and met outrage
with defiance. He would not condescend to humor at the hustings the
prejudices he had offended in Parliament, but reaffirmed his opinions in
the most pointed and explicit language. One of his arguments was that,
in regal’d to the Maynooth grant, no principle was involved. A sum had
always been yearly voted to support that Roman Catholic College; the
only cause of complaint against him was that he had spoken and voted for
an additional sum. He was therefore opposed, not on a principle, but on
a quibble. “And,” he exclaimed, “if you want a representative who will
peril the peace of the empire for a mere quibble, that representative I
will not be.”

He was defeated, and after it was known that he was defeated, he was
hissed. In his speech to the crowd, announcing that his political
connection with Edinburgh was dissolved forever, he alluded to this last
circumstance as unprecedented in political warfare. To hiss a defeated
candidate, he reminded them, was below the ordinary magnanimity of the
most factious mob. In his farewell address to the electors, written
after he had returned to London, he indicated that, to an honest,
honorable, and patriotic statesman, there might be solid consolations,
even to personal pride, in the circumstances of his defeat. “I shall
always be proud,” he writes, “to think that I once enjoyed your favor,
but permit me to say I shall remember, not less proudly, how I risked
and how I lost it.” The following noble poem, published since his death,
contains, perhaps, the most authentic record of his feelings on the

_Lines Written In August, 1847._

               The day of tumult, strife, defeat, was o’er;

                   Worn out with toil and noise and scorn and spleen,

               I slumbered, and in slumber saw once more

                   A room in an old mansion, long unseen.

               That room, methought, was curtained from the light;

                   Yet through the curtains shone the moon’s cold ray

               Full on a cradle, where, in linen white,

                   Sleeping life’s first soft sleep, an infant lay.

               Pale flickered on the hearth the dying flame,

                   And all was silent in that ancient hall,

               Save when by fits on the low night-wind came

                   The murmur of the distant water-fall.

               And lo! the fairy queens who rule our birth

                   Drew nigh to speak the new-born baby’s doom:

               With noiseless step, which left no trace on earth,

                   From gloom they came, and vanished into gloom.

               Not deigning on the boy a glance to cast,

                   Swept careless by the gorgeous Queen of Gain;

               More scornful still, the Queen of Fashion passed,

                   With mincing gait and sneer of cold disdain.

               The Queen of Power tossed high her jewelled head,

                   And o’er her shoulder threw a wrathful frown:

               The Queen of Pleasure on the pillow shed

                   Scarce one stray rose-leaf from her fragrant crown.

               Still Fay in long procession followed Fay;

                   And still the little couch remained unblest;

               But, when those wayward sprites had passed away,

                   Came One, the last, the mightiest, and the best.

               Oh, glorious lady, with the eyes of light

                   And laurels clustering round thy lofty brow,

               Who by the cradle’s side didst watch that night,

                   Warbling a sweet strange music, who wast thou?

               “Yes, darling; let them go;” so ran the strain:

                   “Yes; let them go, gain, fashion, pleasure, power,

               And all the busy elves to whose domain

                   Belongs the nether sphere, the fleeting hour.

               “Without one envious sigh, one anxious scheme,

                   The nether sphere, the fleeting hour resign.

               Mine is the world of thought, the world of dream,

                   Mine all the past, and all the future mine.

               “Fortune, that lays in sport the mighty low,

                   Age, that to penance turns the joys of youth,

               Shall leave untouched the gifts which I bestow,

                   The sense of beauty and the thirst of truth.

               “Of the fair brotherhood who share my grace,

                   I, from thy natal day, pronounce thee free;

               And, if for some I keep a nobler place,

                   I keep for none a happier than for thee.

               “There are who, while to vulgar eyes they seem

                   Of all my bounties largely to partake,

               Of me as of some rival’s handmaid deem,

                   And court me but for gain’s, power’s, fashion’s sake.

               “To such, though deep their lore, though wide their fame,

                   Shall my great mysteries be all unknown:

               But thou, through good and evil, praise and blame,

                   Wilt not thou love me for myself alone?

               “Yes; thou wilt love me with exceeding love;

                   And I will tenfold all that love repay,

               Still smiling, though the tender may reprove,

                   Still faithful, though the trusted may betray.

               “For aye mine emblem was, and aye shall be,

                   The ever-during plant whose bough I wear,

               Brightest and greenest then, when every tree

                   That blossoms in the light of Time is bare.

               “In the dark hour of shame, I deigned to stand

                   Before the frowning peers at Bacon’s side:

               On a far shore I smoothed with tender hand,

                   Through months of pain, the sleepless bed of Hyde:

               “I brought the wise and brave of ancient days

                   To cheer the cell where Raleigh pined alone:

               I lighted Milton’s darkness with the blaze

                   Of the bright ranks that guard the eternal throne.

               “And even so, my child, it is my pleasure

                   That thou not then alone shouldst feel me nigh,

               When, in domestic bliss and studious leisure,

                   Thy weeks uncounted come, uncounted fly;

               “Not then alone, when myriads, closely pressed

                   Around thy car, the shout of triumph raise;

               Nor when, in gilded drawing-rooms, thy breast

                   Swells at the sweeter sound of woman’s praise.

               No: when on restless night dawns cheerless morrow,

                   When weary soul and wasting body pine,

               Thine am I still, in danger, sickness, sorrow’,

                   In conflict, obloquy, want, exile, thine;

               “Thine, where on mountain waves the snow-birds scream.

                   Where more than Thule’s winter barbs the breeze,

               Where scarce, through lowering clouds, one sickly gleam

                   Lights the drear May-day of Antarctic seas;

               “Thine, when around thy litter’s track all day

                   White sand-hills shall reflect the blinding glare;

               Thine, when, through forests breathing death, thy way

                   All night shall wind by many a tiger’s lair;

               “Thine most, when friends turn pale, when traitors fly,

                   When, hard beset, thy spirit, justly proud,

               For truth, peace, freedom, mercy, dares defy

                   A sullen priesthood and a raving crowd.

               “Amidst the din of all things fell and vile,

                   Hate’s yell and envy’s hiss and folly’s bray,

               Remember me; and with an unforced smile

                   See riches, baubles, flatterers, pass away.

               “Yes: they will pass away; nor deem it strange:

                   They come and go, as comes and goes the sea:

               And let them come and go: thou, through all change,

                   Fix thy firm gaze on virtue and on me."

He now devoted his time to a work he had long meditated, and for which
he had not only collected a considerable portion of the materials, but
had probably written some portion of the text,--the History of England,
from the Accession of James II. The first two volumes of this were
published in the autumn of 1848, and gave him a literary reputation far
beyond what he had acquired by his historical essays. The book was as
popular as any of Scott’s or Dickens’s novels, while its solid merits of
research and generalization placed it among the great historical works
of the century. Its circulation, large in England, was immense in
the United States; and in every portion of the world where English
literature is esteemed, it was widely read, either in the original text
or in carefully prepared translations.

In 1852, the city of Edinburgh, desirous of repairing the injustice it
had done to Macaulay in 1847, elected him its representative without his
appearing as a candidate. He accepted the trust, though his health
had begun to fail, and he was already visited with the symptoms of the
disease which eventually caused his death. He wrote to Adam Black, in
August, 1852, that “any excitement, or any violent exertion, instantly
brings on a derangement of the circulation, and an uneasy feeling of
the heart.” He was unable to perform his parliamentary duties to his
own satisfaction from the first, and repeatedly expressed his desire to
resign. He was withheld from so doing by the assurances he received
from Edinburgh that his constituents were satisfied with his partial
attendance on the duties of his post. At length, in January, 1856,
he became aware of his incapacity to serve any longer without serious
prejudice to his health, and resigned his seat. Meanwhile, two more
volumes of his History had been completed and published, evincing that
the energy of his mind was not affected by the ills of his body. He
also had devoted some time to preparing a volume of his speeches for the
press, and published them in 1854. In 1857, without any solicitation
on his part, and entirely to his own surprise, he was elevated to the
peerage. Though it was known that his health was infirm, there was
no apprehension on the part of the public that he would not live to
complete a large portion of the immense work he had contemplated. His
delightful biographies of Atterbury, Bunyan, Goldsmith, Johnson, and
Pitt, contributed to the new edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica,
proved that his faculties were in their full vigor and splendor. It
was therefore with a shock of painful surprise that all readers of the
English race heard of his sudden death, by disease of the heart, on the
28th of December, 1859. It was felt, even by those who most vehemently
disagreed with him in opinion, that in losing him England lost the
man who, beyond all other men, carried in his brain the facts of
her history. He was buried, with great pomp, in the Poet’s Corner of
Westminster Abbey, “at the foot of Addison’s monument and beside the
remains of Sheridan.”

The first and strongest impression we derive from a consideration
of Macaulay’s life and writings is that of the robust and masculine
qualities of his intellect and character. Since his death it has become
generally known that he was by no means deficient in those tender and
benevolent feelings which found little expression in his works.
Among his intimate friends and relations he passed as one of the most
affectionate of men, and his benevolence to unsuccessful artists and men
of letters, absorbed no inconsiderable portion of his income. But in his
speeches in parliament, in his essays, and in his history, he makes the
impression of a stout, strong, and tough polemic, who is thoroughly
well furnished for combat, and who neither gives nor expects quarter.
No tenderness to frailty interferes with the merciless severity of his
judgments. His own political and personal integrity was without a stain.
“You might,” said Sydney Smith, in testifying to his incorruptibility
and his patriotism, “lay ribbons, stars, garters, wealth, titles, before
him in vain. He has an honest, genuine love of his country, and the
world could not bribe him to neglect her interests.” This integrity
of character gave a certain puritan relentlessness of tone to his
intellectual and moral judgments. He had a warm love for what was
beautiful and true, but, in his writings, it generally took the negative
form of hatred for what was deformed and false. He abhorred meanness,
baseness, fraud, falsehood, conniption, and oppression, with his whole
heart and soul, and found a grim delight in holding them up to public
execration. His talent for this work, and his enjoyment of it, were so
great, that he was tempted at times to hunt after criminality for the
pleasure of punishing it. He acquired a diseased taste for character
that was morally tainted, in order that he might exercise on its
condemnation the rich resources of his scorn and invective. His progress
through a tract of history was marked by the erection of the gallows,
the gibbet, and the stake, and he was almost as insensible to mitigating
circumstances as Judge Jeffreys himself. He seemed to consider that the
glory of the judge rested on the number of the executions; and he has
hanged, drawn, and quartered many individuals, whose cases are now at
the bar of public opinion, in the course of being reheard.

The last and finest result of personal integrity is intellectual
conscientiousness, and this Macaulay cannot be said to have attained.
His intellect, bright and broad as it was, was the instrument of his
individuality. His sympathies and antipathies colored his statements,
and he rarely exhibited anything in “dry light.” In this respect, he is
inferior to Hallam and Mackintosh, who are inferior to him in extent of
information, and genius for narrative. The vividness of his perceptions
confirmed the autocracy of his disposition, and his convictions had to
him the certainty of facts. It must be admitted that he had some
reason for his dogmatism. He excelled all Englishmen of his time in his
knowledge of English history. There was no drudgery he would not endure
in order to obtain the most trivial fact which illustrated the opinions
or the manners of any particular age. Indeed, the minuteness of his
information astonished even antiquaries, and in society was sometimes
thought “to be erected into a colossal engine of colloquial oppression.”
 And this information was not a mere assemblage of dead facts. It was
vitalized by his passions and imagination; it was all alive in the
many-peopled domain of his “vast and joyous memory;” and it was so
completely possessed as to be always in readiness to sustain an argument
or illustrate a principle. The songs, ballads, satires, lampoons, plays,
private correspondence of a period, were as familiar to him as the
graver records of its annalists. But in disposing his immense materials
he followed the law of his own mind rather than the law inherent in the
facts. Instead of viewing things in their relations to each other, he
viewed things in their relation to himself. His representation of them,
therefore, partook of the limitations of his character. That character
was broad, but it would be absurd to say that it was as broad as the
English race. He _Macaulayized_ English history as a distinguished poet
of the century was said to have _Byronized_ human life. Even in some
of his most seemingly triumphant statements it will be found that
a different disposition of the facts will result in establishing an
opposite opinion. Take the article on Bacon, the most glaring of all
the instances in which he has refused to assume the point of view of the
person he has resolved to condemn; and any intellect, resolute enough to
resist the marvellous fascination of the narrative, can easily redispose
the facts so as to arrive at an opposite conclusion.

A prominent cause of Macaulay’s popularity is to be found in the
definiteness of his mind. He always aspired to present his matter
in such a form as to exclude the possibility of doubt, either in his
statement or argument. Of all great English writers he is therefore
the least suggestive. All that he demands of a reader is simple
receptiveness. Selection, arrangement, reasoning, pictorial
representation, are all done by himself. This explicitness, too, is
purchased at some sacrifice of truth. His comprehensiveness is apt to
be of that kind which arrives at broad generalizations by excluding
a number of the facts and principles it ought to include. Real
comprehensiveness of mind is impossible unless the interior life of the
separate facts included in the sweeping generalization is adequately
comprehended. Shakspeare, of all English minds, is the most
comprehensive; and Shakspeare, in virtue of his comprehensiveness, would
doubt in many instances where Macaulay is most certain. The most perfect
exhibition of Macaulay’s talent is his analysis and representation of
the character of James II., from a hostile point of view. He catches his
victim in a series of cunningly contrived traps, and the poor creature,
in Macaulay’s narrative, cannot move a step without falling into the
trap marked folly or the trap marked wickedness. Shakspeare’s method of
dealing with character was entirely different.

As an artist Macaulay is greater in his Essays than in his History
of England. Each of his essays is a unit. The results of analysis
are diffused through the veins of narration, and details are strictly
subordinated to leading conceptions. In his History details are so
numerous as to confuse the mind. Events succeed each other in their
chronological rather than their intellectual order; and his readers gain
an intense perception of particular facts without any general view of
the whole field. The power of the author to interest us is as evident in
his account of the Bank of England as in his account of the Massacre
of Glencoe. We pass from one topic to another without any sense of the
connection of topics. Picture succeeds picture as in the anarchy of
a panorama. It seems as if we were reading the work of a poet who had
turned annalist. By emphasizing everything, interest in particulars is
obtained at the expense of general effect. It is only by turning to the
table of contents that we are able to generalize the events of a reign.
There are scores of pages in the third and fourth volumes which we read
as we read a newspaper, where an account of a murder may be succeeded
immediately by an account of a masquerade. Prescott, who cannot be named
with Macaulay in respect to fulness of matter, fertility of thought,
originality of style, and unwearied energy of mind, is still superior to
him in the artistic disposition of his materials. In reading Prescott,
we have but a faint impression of the author and no feeling at all of
the felicity of the style, but the real business of the historian is
none the less performed, for we get a large view of facts in their true
relations, and are enabled to take in the subject he treats of as a
whole. In Macaulay the narrative of particular facts and incidents is
incomparably bright and stimulating, but the facts and incidents are not
seen from a commanding point.

In his essays, especially his biographical and historical essays, this
defect is not observable. They rank among the finest artistic products
of the century. They partake of the imperfections of his thinking and
the limitations of his character, but they are still perfect of their
kind. The articles on Machiavelli, Banyan, Clive, Hastings, Frederic the
Great, Barere, Chatham, not to mention others, are eminent specimens of
that critical and interpretative biography, in which the character of
the biographer appears chiefly to give unity to the representation of
facts and the application of principles. The amount of knowledge each of
them includes can only be estimated by those who have patiently read the
many volumes they so brilliantly condense. In style they show a mastery
of English which has been attained by no other English author who did
not possess a creative imagination. The art of the writer is shown as
much in his deliberate choice of common and colloquial phrases as
in those splendid passages in which he almost seems to exhaust the
resources of the English tongue. As a narrator, in his own province,
it would be difficult to name his equal among English writers; to
his narrative, all his talents and accomplishments combined to lend
fascination; and in it he exhibited the understanding of Hallam, and the
knowledge of Mackintosh, joined to the picturesqueness of Southey, and
the wit of Pope.

E. P. W.



{1}(Knight’s Quarterly Magazine, June 1823.)

It was an hour after noon. Ligarius was returning from the Campus
Martins. He strolled through one of the streets which led to the forum,
settling his gown, and calculating the odds on the gladiators who were
to fence at the approaching Saturnalia. While thus occupied, he overtook
Flaminius, who, with a heavy-step and a melancholy face, was sauntering
in the same direction. The light-hearted young man plucked him by the

“Good day, Flaminius. Are you to be of Catiline’s party this evening?”

“Not I.”

“Why so? Your little Tarentine girl will break her heart.”

“No matter. Catiline has the best cooks and the finest wine in Rome.
There are charming women at his parties. But the twelve-line board and
the dice-box pay for all. The Gods confound me if I did not lose two
millions of sesterces last night. My villa at Tibur, and all the statues
that my father the prætor {2}brought from Ephesus, must go to the
auctioneer. That is a high price, you will acknowledge, even for
Phonicopters, Chian, and Callinice.”

“High indeed, by Pollux.”

“And that is not the worst. I saw several of the leading senators this
morning. Strange things are whispered in the higher political circles.”

“The Gods confound the political circles. I have hated the name of
politician ever since Sylla’s proscription, when I was within a moment
of having my throat cut by a politician, who took me for another
politician. While there is a cask of Falernian in Campania, or a girl in
the Suburra, I shall be too well employed to think on the subject.”

“You will do well,” said Flaminius gravely, “to bestow some little
consideration upon it at present. Otherwise, I fear, you will soon renew
your acquaintance with politicians, in a manner quite as unpleasant as
that to which you allude.”

“Averting Gods! what do you mean?”

“I will tell you. There are rumors of conspiracy. The order of things
established by Lucius Sylla has excited the disgust of the people, and
of a large party of the nobles. Some violent convulsion is expected.”

“What is that to me? I suppose that they will hardly proscribe the
vintners and gladiators, or pass a law compelling every citizen to take
a wife.”

“You do not understand. Catiline is supposed to be the author of the
revolutionary schemes. You must have heard bold opinions at his table

“I never listen to any opinions upon such subjects, bold or timid.”

“Look to it. Your name has been mentioned.” {3}"Mine! good Gods! I call
heaven to witness that I never so much as mentioned Senate, Consul, or
Comitia, in Catiline’s house.”

“Nobody suspects you of any participation in the inmost counsels of the
party. But our great men surmise that you are among those whom he has
bribed so high with beauty, or entangled so deeply in distress, that
they are no longer their own masters. I shall never set foot within
his threshold again. I have been solemnly warned by men who understand
public affairs; and I advise you to be cautious.”

The friends had now turned into the forum, which was thronged with
the gay and elegant youth of Rome. “I can tell you more,” continued
Flaminius; “somebody was remarking to the Consul yesterday how loosely a
certain acquaintance of ours tied his girdle. ‘Let him look to himself,’
said Cicero, ‘or the state may find a tighter girdle for his neck.’”

“Good Gods! who is it? You cannot surely mean--”

“There he is.”

Flaminius pointed to a man who was pacing up and down the forum at a
little distance from them. He was in the prime of manhood. His
personal advantages were extremely striking, and were displayed with an
extravagant but not ungraceful foppery. His gown waved in loose folds;
his long dark curls were dressed with exquisite art, and shone and
steamed with odours; his step and gesture exhibited an elegant
and commanding figure in every posture of polite languor. But his
countenance formed a singular contrast to the general appearance of his
person. The high and imperial brow, the keen aquiline features, {4}the
compressed mouth, the penetrating eye, indicated the highest degree of
ability and decision. He seemed absorbed in intense meditation. With
eyes fixed on the ground, and lips working in thought, he sauntered
round the area, apparently unconscious how many of the young gallants
of Rome were envying the taste of his dress, and the ease of his
fashionable stagger.

“Good Heaven!” said Ligarius, “Caius Caesar is as unlikely to be in a
plot as I am.”

“Not at all.”

“He does nothing but game, feast, intrigue, read Greek, and write

“You know nothing of Caesar. Though he rarely addresses the Senate,
he is considered as the finest speaker there, after the Consul. His
influence with the multitude is immense. He will serve his rivals in
public life as he served me last night at Catiline’s. We were playing at
the twelve lines.(1)--Immense stakes. He laughed all the time, chatted
with Valeria over his shoulder, kissed her hand between every two moves,
and scarcely looked at the board. I thought that I had him. All at once
I found my counters driven into the corner. Not a piece to move,
by Hercules. It cost me two millions of Sesterces. All the Gods and
Goddesses confound him for it!”

“As to Valeria,” said Ligarius, “I forgot to ask whether you have heard
the news.”

“Not a word. What?”

     (1) Duodecim scripta, a game of mixed chance and skill,
     which seems to have been very fashionable in the higher
     circles of Rome. The famous lawyer Mucius was renowned for
     his skill in it.--( Cic. Oral. i. 50.)

“I was told at the baths to-day that Cæsar escorted {5}the lady home.
Unfortunately old Quintus Lutatius had come hack from his villa in
Campania, in a whim of jealousy. He was not expected for three days.
There was a fine tumidt. The old fool called for his sword and his
slaves, cursed his wife, and swore that he would cut Cæsar’s throat.”

“And Cæsar?”

“He laughed, quoted Anacreon, trussed his gown round his left arm,
closed with Quintus, flung him down, twisted his sword out of his hand,
burst through the attendants, ran a freed-man through the shoulder, and
was in the street in an instant.”

“Well done! Here he comes. Good day, Caius.” Cæsar lifted his head at
the salutation. His air of deep abstraction vanished; and he extended a
hand to each of the friends.

“How are you after your last night’s exploit?”

“As well as possible,” said Cæsar laughing.

“In truth we should rather ask how Quintus Lutatius is.”

“He, I understand, is as well as can be expected of a man with a
faithless spouse and a broken head. His freed-man is most seriously
hurt. Poor fellow! he shall have half of whatever I win to-night.
Flaminius, you shall have your revenge at Catiline’s.”

“You are very kind. I do not intend to be at Catiline’s till I wish to
part with my town-house. My villa is gone already.”

“Not at Catiline’s, base spirit! You are not of his mind, my gallant
Ligarius. Dice, Chian, and the loveliest Greek singing-girl that was
ever seen. Think of that, Ligarius. By Venus, she almost made me adore
her, by telling me that I talked Greek with the most Attic accent that
she had heard in Italy.” {6}"I doubt she will not say the same of me,”
 replied Ligarius. “I am just as able to decipher an obelisk as to read a
line of Homer.”

“You barbarous Scythian, who had the care of your education?”

“An old fool,--a Greek pedant,--a Stoic. He told me that pain was no
evil, and flogged me as if he thought so. At last one day, in the middle
of a lecture, I set fire to his enormous filthy beard, singed his face,
and sent him roaring out of the house. There ended my studies. From that
time to this I have had as little to do with Greece as the wine that
your poor old friend Lutatius calls his delicious Samian.”

“Well done, Ligarius. I hate a Stoic. I wish Marcus Cato had a beard
that you might singe it for him. The fool talked his two hours in the
Senate, yesterday, without changing a muscle of his face. He looked as
savage and as motionless as the mask in which Roscius acted Alecto. I
detest everything connected with him.”

“Except his sister, Servilia.”

“True. She is a lovely woman.”

“They say that you have told her so, Caius.”

“So I have.”

“And that she was not angry.”

“What woman is?”

“Aye,--but they say--”

“No matter what they say. Common fame lies like a Greek rhetorician.
You might know so much, Ligarius, without reading the philosophers. But
come, I will introduce you to little dark-eyed Zoe.”

“I tell you I can speak no Greek.”

“More shame for you. It is high time that you should begin. You will
never have such a charming* {7}instructress. Of what was your father
thinking when he sent for an old Stoic with a long beard to teach you?
There is no language-mistress like a handsome woman. When I was at
Athens, I learnt more Greek from a pretty flower-girl in the Peiræus
than from all the Portico and the Academy. She was no Stoic, Heaven
knows. But come along to Zoe. I will be your interpreter. Woo her in
honest Latin, and I will turn it into elegant Greek between the throws
of dice. I can make love and mind my game at once, as Flaminius can tell

“Well, then, to be plain, Cæsar, Flaminius has been talking to me about
plots, and suspicions, and politicians. I never plagued myself with such
things since Sylla’s and Marius’s days; and then I never could see much
difference between the parties. All that I am sure of is, that those who
meddle with such affairs are generally stabbed or strangled. And, though
I like Greek wine and handsome women, I do not wish to risk my neck for
them. Now, tell me as a friend, Caius;--is there no danger?”

“Danger!” repeated Cæsar, with a short, fierce, disdainful laugh: “what
danger do you apprehend?”

“That you should best know,” said Flaminius; “you are far more intimate
with Catiline than I. But I advise you to be cautious. The leading men
entertain strong suspicions.”

Cæsar drew up his figure from its ordinary state of graceful relaxation
into an attitude of commanding dignity, and replied in a voice of
which the deep and impassioned melody formed a strange contrast to
the humorous and affected tone of his ordinary conversation. “Let them
suspect. They suspect because they know what they have deserved. What
have they done {8}for Rome?--What for mankind?--Ask the citizens. Ask
the provinces. Have they had any other object than to perpetuate their
own exclusive power, and to keep us under the yoke of an oligarchical
tyranny, which unites in itself the worst evils of every other system,
and combines more than Athenian turbulence with more than Persian

“Good Gods! Cæsar. It is not safe for you to speak, or for us to listen
to, such things, at such a crisis.”

“Judge for yourselves what you will hear. I will judge for myself what
I will speak. I was not twenty years old, when I defied Lucius Sylla,
surrounded by the spears of legionaries and the daggers of assassins.
Do you suppose that I stand in awe of his paltry successors, who have
inherited a power which they never could have acquired; who would
imitate his proscriptions, though they have never equalled his

“Pompey is almost as little to be trifled with as Sylla. I heard a
consular senator say that, in consequence of the present alarming state
of affairs, he would probably be recalled from the command assigned to
him by the Manilian law.”

“Let him come,--the pupil of Sylla’s butcheries,--the gleaner of
Lucullus’s trophies,--the thief-taker of the Senate.”

“For heaven’s sake, Caius!--if you knew what the Consul said--”

“Something about himself, no doubt. Pity that such talents should be
coupled with such cowardice and coxcombry. He is the finest speaker
living,--infinitely superior to what Horten sins was, in his best
days;--a charming companion, except when he tells over for the twentieth
time all the jokes that he made at {9}Verres’s trial. But he is the
despicable tool of a despicable party.”

“Your language, Caius, convinces me that the reports which have been
circulated are not without foundation. I will venture to prophecy that
within a few months the republic will pass through a whole Odyssey of
strange adventures.”

“I believe so; an Odyssey of which Pompey will be the Polyphemus, and
Cicero the Siren. I would have the state imitate Ulysses: show no
mercy to the former; but contrive, if it can be done, to listen to
the enchanting voice of the other, without being seduced by it to

“But whom can your party produce as rivals to these two famous leaders?”

“Time will show. I would hope that there may arise a man, whose genius
to conquer, to conciliate, and to govern, may unite in one cause an
oppressed and divided people;--may do all that Sylla should have done,
and exhibit the magnificent spectacle of a great nation directed by a
great mind.”

“And where is such a man to be found?”

“Perhaps where you would least expect to find him. Perhaps he may be
one whose powers have hitherto been concealed in domestic or literary
retirement. Perhaps he may be one, who, while waiting for some adequate
excitement, for some worthy opportunity, squanders on trifles a genius
before which may yet be humbled the sword of Pompey and the gown of
Cicero. Perhaps he may now be disputing with a sophist; perhaps
prattling with a mistress; perhaps-----” and, as he spoke, he turned
away, and resumed his lounge, “strolling in the Forum.” {10}It was
almost midnight. The party had separated. Catiline and Cethegus were
still conferring in the supper-room, which was, as usual, the highest
apartment of the house. It formed a cupola, from which windows opened on
the flat roof that surrounded it. To this terrace Zoe had retired. With
eyes dimmed with fond and melancholy tears, she leaned over the
balustrade, to catch the last glimpse of the departing form of Cæsar, as
it grew more and more indistinct in the moonlight. Had he any thought of
her? Any love for her? He, the favourite of the high-born beauties of
Rome, the most splendid, the most graceful, the most eloquent of its
nobles? It could not be. His voice had, indeed, been touchingly soft
whenever he addressed her. There had been a fascinating tenderness even
in the vivacity of his look and conversation. But such were always the
manners of Cæsar towards women. He had wreathed a sprig of myrtle in her
hair as she was singing. She took it from her dark ringlets, and kissed
it, and wept over it, and thought of the sweet legends of her own dear
Greece,--of youths and girls, who, pining away in hopeless love, had
been transformed into flowers by the compassion of the Gods; and she
wished to become a flower, which Cæsar might sometimes touch, though he
should touch it only to weave a crown for some prouder and happier

She was roused from her musings by the loud step and voice of Cethegus,
who was pacing furiously up and down the supper-room.

“May all the gods confound me, if Cæsar be not the deepest traitor, or
the most miserable idiot, that ever intermeddled with a plot!”

Zoe shuddered. She drew nearer to the window. She stood concealed from
observation by the curtain {11}of fine network which hung over the
aperture, to exclude the annoying insects of the climate.

“And you, too!” continued Cethegus, turning fiercely on his accomplice;
“you to take his part against me!--you, who proposed the scheme

“My dear Caius Cethegus, you will not understand me. I proposed the
scheme; and I will join in executing it. But policy is as necessary
to our plans as boldness. I did not wish to startle Cæsar--to lose his
co-operation--perhaps to send him off with an information against us to
Cicero and Catulus. He was so indignant at your suggestion, that all my
dissimulation was scarcely sufficient to prevent a total rupture.”

“Indignant! The gods confound him!--He prated about humanity, and
generosity, and moderation. By Hercules, I have not heard such a lecture
since I was with Xenochares at Rhodes.”

“Cæsar is made up of inconsistencies. He has boundless ambition,
unquestioned courage, admirable sagacity. Yet I have frequently observed
in him a womanish weakness at the sight of pain. I remember that once
one of his slaves was taken ill while carrying his litter. He alighted,
put the fellow in his place, and walked home in a fall of snow. I wonder
that you could be so ill-advised as to talk to him of massacre,
and pillage, and conflagration. You might have foreseen that such
propositions would disgust a man of his temper.”

“I do not know. I have not your self-command, Lucius. I hate
such conspirators. What is the use of them? We must have
blood--blood,--hacking and tearing work--bloody work!”

“Do not grind your teeth, my dear Caius; and lay {12}down the
carving-knife. By Hercules, you have cut up all the stuffing of the

“No matter; we shall have couches enough soon,--and down to stuff
them with,--and purple to cover them,--and pretty women to loll
on them,--unless this fool, and such as he, spoil our plans. I had
something else to say. The essenced fop wishes to seduce Zoe from me.”

“Impossible! you misconstrue the ordinary gallantries which he is in the
habit of paying to every handsome face.”

“Curse on his ordinary gallantries, and his Akerses, and his
compliments, and his sprigs of myrtle! If Cæsar should dare--by
Hercules, I will tear him to pieces in the middle of the Forum.”

“Trust his destruction to me. We must use his talents and
influence--thrust him upon every danger--make him our instrument while
we are contending--our peace-offering to the Senate if we fail--our
first victim if we succeed.”

“Hark! what noise was that?”

“Somebody in the terrace!--lend me your dagger.” Catiline rushed to the
window. Zoe was standing in the shade. He stepped out. She darted
into the room--passed like a flash of lightning by the startled
Cethegus--flew down the stairs--through the court--through the
vestibule--through the street. Steps, voices, lights, came fast and
confusedly behind her;--but with the speed of love and terror she gained
upon her pursuers. She fled through the wilderness of unknown and dusky
streets, till she found herself, breathless and exhausted, in the midst
of a crowd of gallants, who, with chaplets on their heads, and torches
in their hands, were reeling from the portico of a stately mansion.
{13}The foremost of the throng was a youth whose slender figure and
beautiful countenance seemed hardly consistent with his sex. But the
feminine delicacy of his features rendered more frightful the mingled
sensuality and ferocity of their expression. The libertine audacity of
his stare, and the grotesque foppery of his apparel, seemed to indicate
at least a partial insanity. Flinging one arm round Zoe, and tearing
away her veil with the other, he disclosed to the gaze of his thronging
companions the regular features and large dark eyes which characterise
Athenian beauty.

“Clodius has all the luck to-night,” cried Ligarius. “Not so, by
Hercules,” said Marcus Colius; “the girl is fairly our common prize: we
will fling dice for her. The Venus (1) throw, as it ought to do, shall

“Let me go--let me go, for Heaven’s sake,” cried Zoe, struggling with

“What a charming Greek accent she has. Come into the house, my little
Athenian nightingale.”

“Oh! what will become of me? If you have mothers--if you have

“Clodius has a sister,” muttered Ligarius, “or he is much belied.”

“By Heaven, she is weeping,” said Clodius.

“If she were not evidently a Greek,” said Colius, “I should take her for
a vestal virgin.”

“And if she were a vestal virgin,” cried Clodius fiercely, “it should
not deter me. This way;--no struggling--no screaming.”

“Struggling! screaming!” exclaimed a gay and commanding voice; “You are
making very ungentle love, Clodius.”

     (1) Venus was the Roman term for the highest throw on the
     dice. {14}The whole party started. Cæsar had mingled with
     them unperceived.

The sound of his voice thrilled through the very heart of Zoe. With
a convulsive effort she burst from the grasp of her insolent admirer,
flung herself at the feet of Cæsar, and clasped his knees. The moon
shone full on her agitated and imploring face: her lips moved; but she
uttered no sound. He gazed at her for an instant--raised her--clasped
her to his bosom. “Fear nothing, my sweet Zoe.” Then, with folded
arms, and a smile of placid defiance, he placed himself between her and

Clodius staggered forward, flushed with wine and rage, and uttering
alternately a curse and a hiccup.

“By Pollux, this passes a jest. Cæsar, how dare you insult me thus?”

“A jest! I am as serious as a Jew on the Sabbath. Insult you; For such a
pair of eyes I would insult the whole consular bench, or I should be as
insensible as King Psammis’s mummy.”

“Good Gods, Cæsar!” said Marcus Colius, interposing; “you cannot think
it worth while to get into a brawl for a little Greek girl!”

“Why not? The Greek girls have used me as well as those of Rome.
Besides, the whole reputation of my gallantry is at stake. Give up such
a lovely woman to that drunken boy! My character would be gone for ever.
No more perfumed tablets, full of vows and raptures? No more toying
with fingers at the Circus. No more evening walks along the
Tiber. No more hiding in chests, or jumping from windows. I, the
favoured suitor of half the white stoles in Rome, could never again
aspire above a freed-woman. You a man of gallantry, and think of such
{14}a thin, lovely woman to that drunken boy! My character would be gone
for ever. No more perfumed tablets, full of vows and raptures? No more
toying with fingers at the Circus. No more evening walks along the
Tiber. No more hiding in chests, or jumping from windows. I, the
favoured suitor of half the white stoles in Rome, could never again
aspire above a freed-woman. You a man of gallantry, and think of such
{15}a thing! For shame, my dear Colius! Do not let Clodia hear of it.”

While Cæsar spoke he had been engaged in keeping Clodius at arm’s
length. The rage of the frantic libertine increased as the struggle
continued. “Stand back, as you value your life,” he cried; “I will

“Not this way, sweet Clodius. I have too much regard for you to suffer
you to make love at such disadvantage. You smell too much of Falernian
at present. Would you stifle your mistress? By Hercules, you are fit
to kiss nobody now, except old Piso, when he is tumbling home in the
morning from the vintners.” (1)

Clodius plunged his hand into his bosom, and drew a little dagger, the
faithful companion of many desperate adventures.

“Oh, Gods! he will be murdered!” cried Zoe.

The whole throng of revellers was in agitation. The street fluctuated
with torches and lifted hands. It was but for a moment. Cæsar watched
with a steady eye the descending hand of Clodius, arrested the blow,
seized his antagonist by the throat, and flung him against one of the
pillars of the portico with such violence that he rolled, stunned and
senseless, on the ground.

“He is killed,” cried several voices.

“Fair self-defence, by Hercules!” said Marcus Colius. “Bear witness, you
all saw him draw his dagger.”

“He is not dead--he breathes,” said Ligarius. “Carry him into the house;
he is dreadfully bruised.”

The rest of the party retired with Clodius. Colius turned to Cæsar.

“By all the Gods, Caius! you have won your (1) Cic. in Pis. {16}lady
fairly. A splendid victory! You deserve a triumph.”

“What a madman Clodius has become!”

“Intolerable. But come and sup with me on the Nones. You have no
objection to meet the Consul?”

“Cicero? None at all. We need not talk politics. Our old dispute about
Plato and Epicurus will furnish us with plenty of conversation. So
reckon upon me, my dear Marcus, and farewell.”

Caesar and Zoe turned away. As soon as they were beyond hearing, she
began in great agitation:--

“Cæsar, you are in danger. I know all. I overheard Catiline and
Cethegus. You are engaged in a project which must lead to certain

“My beautiful Zoe, I live only for glory and pleasure. For these I have
never hesitated to hazard an existence which they alone render valuable
to me. In the present case, I can assure you that our scheme presents
the fairest hopes of success.”

“So much the worse. You do not know--you do not understand me. I
speak not of open peril, but of secret treachery. Catiline hates
you;--Cethegus hates you;--your destruction is resolved. If you survive
the contest, you perish in the first hour of victory. They detest you
for your moderation;--they are eager for blood and plunder. I have
risked my life to bring you this warning; but that is of little moment.
Farewell!--Be happy----”

Cæsar stopped her. “Do you fly from my thanks, dear Zoe?”

“I wish not for your thanks, but for your safety;--I desire not to
defraud Valeria or Servilia of one caress, extorted from gratitude or
pity. Be my feelings what they may, I have learnt in a fearful school
{17}to endure and to suppress them. I have been taught to abase a proud
spirit to the claps and hisses of the vulgar:--to smile on suitors
who united the insults of a despicable pride to the endearments of a
loathsome fondness;--to affect sprightliness with an aching head, and
eyes from which tears were ready to gush;--to feign love with curses
on my lips, and madness in my brain. Who feels for me any esteem,--any
tenderness? Who will shed a tear over the nameless grave which will soon
shelter from cruelty and scorn the broken heart of the poor Athenian
girl? But you, who alone have addressed her in her degradation with a
voice of kindness and respect, farewell. Sometimes think of me,--not
with sorrow;--no; I could bear your ingratitude, but not your distress.
Yet, if it will not pain you too much, in distant days, when your lofty
hopes and destinies are accomplished,--on the evening of some mighty
victory,--in the chariot of some magnificent triumph,--think on one who
loved you with that exceeding love which only the miserable can feel.
Think that, wherever her exhausted frame may have sunk beneath the
sensibilities of a tortured spirit,--in whatever hovel or whatever vault
she may have closed her eyes,--whatever strange scenes of horror and
pollution may have surrounded her dying bed, your shape was the last
that swam before her sight--your voice the last sound that was ringing
in her ears. Yet turn your face to me, Cæsar. Let me carry away one last
look of those features, and then----” He turned round. He looked at her.
He hid his face on her bosom, and burst into tears. With sobs long and
loud, and convulsive as those of a terrified child, he poured forth on
her bosom the tribute of impetuous and uncontrollable emotion. He raised
his head; but {18}he in vain struggled to restore composure to the brow
which had confronted the frown of Sylla, and the lips which had rivalled
the eloquence of Cicero. He several times attempted to speak, but in
vain; and his voice still faltered with tenderness, when, after a pause
of several minutes, he thus addressed her:

“My own dear Zoe, your love has been bestowed on one who, if he
cannot merit, can at least appreciate and adore you. Beings of similar
loveliness, and similar devotedness of affection, mingled, in all my
boyish dreams of greatness, with visions of curule chairs and ivory
cars, marshalled legions and laurelled fasces. Such I have endeavored
to find in the world; and, in their stead, I have met with selfishness,
with vanity, with frivolity, with falsehood. The life which you have
preserved is a boon less valuable than the affection----”

“Oh! Cæsar,” interrupted the blushing Zoe, “think only on your own
security at present. If you feel as you speak,--but you are only mocking
me,--or perhaps your compassion------”

“By Heaven!:--by every oath that is binding----”

“Alas! alas! Cæsar, were not all the same oaths sworn yesterday to
Valeria? But I will trust you, at least so far as to partake your
present dangers. Flight may be necessary:--form your plans. Be they what
they may, there is one who, in exile, in poverty, in peril, asks only to
wander, to beg, to die with you.”

“My Zoe, I do not anticipate any such necessity. To renounce the
conspiracy without renouncing the principles on which it was originally
undertaken,--to elude the vengeance of the Senate without losing
the confidence of the people,--is, indeed, an arduous, but not an
impossible, task. I owe it to myself and to my {19}country to make the
attempt. There is still ample time for consideration. At present I am
too happy in love to think of ambition or danger.”

They had reached the door of a stately palace. Cæsar struck it. It was
instantly opened by a slave. Zoe found herself in a magnificent hall,
surrounded by pillars of green marble, between which were ranged the
statues of the long line of Julian nobles.

“Call Endymion,” said Cæsar.

The confidential freed-man made his appearance, not without a slight
smile, which his patron’s good nature emboldened him to hazard, at
perceiving the beautiful Athenian.

“Arm my slaves, Endymion; there are reasons for precaution. Let
them relieve each other on guard during the night. Zoe, my love, my
preserver, why are your cheeks so pale? Let me kiss some bloom into
them. How you tremble! Endymion, a flask of Samian and some fruit. Bring
them to my apartments. This way, my sweet Zoe.”


{20}(Knight’s Quarterly Magazine, June 1823.)

This is the age of societies. There is scarcely one Englishman in ten
who has not belonged to some association for distributing books, or for
prosecuting them; for sending invalids to the hospital, or beggars to
the treadmill; for giving plate to the rich or blankets to the poor. To
be the most absurd institution among so many institutions is no small
distinction; it seems, however, to belong indisputably to the Royal
Society of Literature. At the first establishment of that ridiculous
academy, every sensible man predicted that, in spite of regal patronage
and episcopal management, it would do nothing, or do harm. And it will
scarcely be denied that those expectations have hitherto been fulfilled.

I do not attack the founders of the association. Their characters are
respectable; their motives, I am willing to believe, were laudable.
But I feel, and it is the duty of every literary man to feel, a strong
jealousy of their proceedings. Their society can be innocent only while
it continues to be despicable. Should they ever possess the power to
encourage merit, they must also possess the power to depress it. Which
power will be more frequently exercised, let every one who has studied
literary history, let every one who has studied human nature, declare.
{21}Envy and faction insinuate themselves into all communities. They
often disturb the peace, and pervert the decisions, of benevolent and
scientific associations. But it is in literary academies that they exert
the most extensive and pernicious influence. In the first place, the
principles of literary criticism, though equally fixed with those on
which the chemist and the surgeon proceed, are by no means equally
recognised. Men are rarely able to assign a reason for their approbation
or dislike on questions of taste; and therefore they willingly submit
to any guide who boldly asserts his claim to superior discernment. It is
more difficult to ascertain and establish the merits of a poem than
the powers of a machine or the benefits of a new remedy. Hence it is
in literature, that quackery is most easily puffed, and excellence most
easily decried.

In some degree this argument applies to academies of the fine arts; and
it is fully confirmed by all that I have ever heard of that institution
which annually disfigures the walls of Somerset-House with an acre of
spoiled canvass. But a literary tribunal is incomparably more dangerous.
Other societies, at least, have no tendency to call forth any opinions
on those subjects which most agitate and inflame the minds of men. The
sceptic and the zealot, the revolutionist and the placeman, meet on
common ground in a gallery of paintings or a laboratory of science. They
can praise or censure without reference to the differences which exist
between them. In a literary body this can never be the case. Literature
is, and always must be, inseparably blended with politics and theology;
it is the great engine which moves the feelings of a people on the most
momentous questions. It is, therefore, impossible that any society can
be formed so impartial as to {22}consider the literary character of an
individual abstracted from the opinions which his writings inculcate. It
is not to be hoped, perhaps it is not to be wished, that the feelings
of the man should be so completely forgotten in the duties of the
academician. The consequences are evident. The honours and censures
of this Star-chamber of the Muses will be awarded according to the
prejudices of the particular sect or faction which may at the time
predominate. Whigs would canvass against a Southey, Tories against a
Byron. Those who might at first protest against such conduct as unjust
would soon adopt it on the plea of retaliation; and the general good of
literature, for which the society was professedly instituted, would be
forgotten in the stronger claims of political and religious partiality.

Yet even this is not the worst. Should the institution ever acquire any
influence, it will afford most pernicious facilities to every malignant
coward who may desire to blast a reputation which he envies. It will
furnish a secure ambuscade, behind which the Maroons of literature may
take a certain and deadly aim. The editorial _we_ has often been fatal
to rising genius; though all the world knows that it is only a form of
speech, very often employed by a single needy blockhead. The academic
_we_ would have a far greater and more ruinous influence. Numbers, while
they increased the effect, would diminish the shame, of injustice.
The advantages of an open and those of an anonymous attack would be
combined; and the authority of avowal would be united to the security of
concealment. The serpents in Virgil, after they had destroyed Laocoön,
found an asylum from the vengeance of the enraged people behind
the shield of the statue of Minerva. And, in the same manner, every
{23}thing that is grovelling and venomous, every thing that can hiss,
and every thing that can sting, would take sanctuary in the recesses of
this new temple of wisdom.

The French academy was, of all such associations, the most widely and
the most justly celebrated. It was founded by the greatest of ministers;
it was patronised by successive kings; it numbered in its lists most of
the eminent French writers. Yet what benefit has literature derived from
its labours? What is its history but an uninterrupted record of servile
compliances--of paltry artifices--of deadly quarrels--of perfidious
friendships? Whether governed by the Court, by the Sorbonne, or by
the Philosophers, it was always equally powerful for evil, and equally
impotent for good. I might speak of the attacks by which it attempted
to depress the rising fame of Corneille; I might speak of the reluctance
with which it gave its tardy confirmation to the applauses which the
whole civilised world had bestowed on the genius of Voltaire. I might
prove by overwhelming evidence that, to the latest period of its
existence, even under the superintendence of the all-accomplished
D’Alembert, it continued to be a scene of the fiercest animosities and
the basest intrigues. I might cite Piron’s epigrams, and Marmontel’s
memoirs, and Montesquieu’s letters. But I hasten on to another topic.

One of the modes by which our Society proposes to encourage merit is the
distribution of prizes. The munificence of the king has enabled it
to offer an annual premium of a hundred guineas for the best essay in
prose, and another of fifty guineas for the best poem, which may be
transmitted to it. This is very laughable. In the first place the judges
may err. Those imperfections of human intellect to which, as {24}the
articles of the church tell us, even general councils are subject may
possibly be found even in the Royal Society of Literature. The French
academy, as I have already said, was the most illustrious assembly of
the kind, and numbered among its associates men much more distinguished
than ever will assemble at Mr. Hatchard’s to rummage the box of the
English Society. Yet this famous body gave a poetical prize, for which
Voltaire was a candidate, to a fellow who wrote some verses about _the
frozen and the burning pole_.

Yet, granting that the prizes were always awarded to the best
composition, that composition, I say without hesitation, will always be
bad. A prize poem is like a prize sheep. The object of the competitor
for the agricultural premium is to produce an animal fit, not to be
eaten, but to be weighed. Accordingly he pampers his victim into morbid
and unnatural fitness; and, when it is in such a state that it would
be sent away in disgust from any table, he offers it to the judges. The
object of the poetical candidate, in like manner, is to produce, not a
good poem, but a poem of that exact degree of frigidity or bombast which
may appear to his censors to be correct or sublime. Compositions thus
constructed will always be worthless. The few excellences which they may
contain will have an exotic aspect and flavour. In general, prize sheep
are good for nothing but to make tallow candles, and prize poems are
good for nothing but to light them.

The first subject proposed by the Society to the poets of England was
Dartmoor. I thought that they intended a covert sarcasm at their own
projects. Their institution was a literary Dartmoor scheme;--a plan
for forcing into cultivation the waste lands of intellect,--for raising
poetical produce, by means of bounties. {25}from soil too meagre to have
yielded any returns in the natural course of things. The plan for the
cultivation of Dartmoor has, I hear, been abandoned. I hope that this
may be an omen of the fate of the Society.

In truth, this seems by no means improbable. They have been offering for
several years the rewards which the king placed at their disposal, and
have not, as far as I can learn, been able to find in their box one
composition which they have deemed worthy of publication. At least no
publication has taken place. The associates may perhaps be astonished
at this. But I will attempt to explain it, after the manner of ancient
times, by means of an apologue.

About four hundred years after the deluge, King Gomer Chephoraod reigned
in Babylon. He united all the characteristics of an excellent sovereign.
He made good laws, won great battles, and white-washed long streets.
He was, in consequence, idolised by his people, and panegyrised by many
poets and orators. A book was then a serious undertaking; Neither paper
nor any similar material had been invented. Authors were therefore under
the necessity of inscribing their compositions on massive bricks. Some
of these Babylonian records are still preserved in European museums; but
the language in which they are written has never been deciphered. Gomer
Chephoraod was so popular that the clay of all the plains round the
Euphrates could scarcely furnish brick-kilns enough for his eulogists.
It is recorded in particular that Pharonezzar, the Assyrian Pindar,
published a bridge and four walls in his praise.

One day the king was going in state from his palace to the temple of
Belus. During this procession it was lawful for any Babylonian to offer
any petition or suggestion {26}to his sovereign. As the chariot passed
before a vintner’s shop, a large company, apparently half-drunk, sallied
forth into the street; and one of them thus addressed the king:

“Gomer Chephoraod, live for ever! It appears to thy servants that of all
the productions of the earth good wine is the best, and bad wine is the
worst. Good wine makes the heart cheerful, the eyes bright, the speech
ready. Bad wine confuses the head, disorders the stomach, makes us
quarrelsome at night, and sick the next morning. Now therefore let my
lord the king take order that thy servants may drink good wine.”

“And how is this to be done?” said the good-natured prince.

“Oh, King,” said his monitor, “this is most easy. Let the king make a
decree, and seal it with his royal signet: and let it be proclaimed that
the king will give ten she-asses, and ten slaves, and ten changes of
raiment, every year, unto the man who shall make ten measures of the
best wine. And whosoever wishes for the she-asses, and the slaves, and
the raiment, let him send the ten measures of wine to thy servants, and
we will drink thereof and judge. So shall there be much good wine in

The project pleased Gomer Chephoraod. “Be it so,” said he. The people
shouted. The petitioners prostrated themselves in gratitude. The same
night heralds were despatched to bear the intelligence to the remotest
districts of Assyria.

After a due interval the wines began to come in; and the examiners
assembled to adjudge the prize. The first vessel was unsealed. Its
odour was such that the judges, without tasting it, pronounced unanimous
{27}condemnation. The next was opened: it had a villainous taste of
clay. The third was sour and vapid. They proceeded from one cask of
execrable liquor to another, till at length, in absolute nausea, they
gave up the investigation.

The next morning they all assembled at the gate of the king, with pale
faces and aching heads. They owned that they could not recommend any
competitor as worthy of the rewards. They swore that the wine was little
better than poison, and intreated permission to resign the office of
deciding between such detestable potions.

“In the name of Belus, how can this have happened?” said the king.

Merolchazzar, the high-priest, muttered something about the anger of
the Gods at the toleration shown to a sect of impious heretics who ate
pigeons broiled, “whereas,” said he, “our religion commands us to
eat them roasted. Now therefore, oh King,” continued this respectable
divine, “give command to thy men of war, and let them smite the
disobedient people with the sword, them, and their wives, and their
children, and let their houses, and their flocks, and their herds,
be given to thy servants the priests. Then shall the land yield its
increase, and the fruits of the earth shall be no more blasted by the
vengeance of heaven.”

“Nay,” said the King, “the ground lies under no general curse from
heaven. The season has been singularly good. The wine which thou
didst thyself drink at the banquet a few nights ago, oh venerable
Merolchazzar, was of this year’s vintage. Dost thou not remember how
thou didst praise it? It was the same night that thou wast inspired by
Belus, and didst reel to and fro, and discourse sacred mysteries. These
{28}things are too hard for me. I comprehend them not. The only wine
which is had is that which is sent to my judges. Who can expound this to

The king scratched his head. Upon which all the courtiers scratched
their heads.

He then ordered proclamation to be made, that a purple robe and a golden
chain should be given to the man who could solve this difficulty.

An old philosopher, who had been observed to smile rather disdainfully
when the prize had first been instituted, came forward and spoke thus:--

“Gomer Chephoraod, live for ever! Marvel not at that which has happened.
It was no miracle, but a natural event. How could it be otherwise? It is
true that much good wine has been made this year. But who would send
it in for thy rewards? Thou know-est Ascobaruch who hath the great
vineyards in the north, and Cohahiroth who sendeth wine every year from
the south over the Persian gulf. Their wines are so delicious that ten
measures thereof are sold for an hundred talents of silver. Thinkest
thou that they will exchange them for thy slaves and thine asses? What
would thy prize profit any who have vineyards in rich soils?”

“Who then,” said one of the judges, “are the wretches who sent us this

“Blame them not,” said the sage, “seeing that you have been the authors
of the evil. They are men whose lands are poor, and have never yielded
them any returns equal to the prizes which the king proposed. Wherefore,
knowing that the lords of the fruitful vineyards would not enter into
competition with them, they planted vines, some on rocks, and some in
light sandy soil, and some in deep clay. Hence {29}their wines are bad.
For no culture or reward will make barren land bear good vines. Know
therefore, assuredly, that your prizes have increased the quantity of
bad but not of good wine.”

There was a long silence. At length the king spoke. “Give him the purple
robe and the chain of gold. Throw the wines into the Euphrates; and
proclaim that the Royal Society of Wines is dissolved.”


{30}(Knight’s Quarterly Magazine, January 1824.)



Scene--_A Street in Athens_.

_Enter_ Callidemus and Speusippus.


So, you young reprobate! You must be a man of wit, forsooth, and a man
of quality! You must spend as if you were as rich as Nicias, and prate
as if you were as wise as Pericles! You must dangle after sophists and
pretty women! And I must pay for all! I must sup on thyme and onions,
while you are swallowing thrushes and hares! I must drink water, that
you may play the cottabus (1) with Chian wine! I must wander about as
ragged as Pauson,(2) that you may be as fine as Alcibiades! I must lie
on bare boards, with a stone (3) for my pillow, and a rotten mat for
my coverlid, by the light of a wretched winking lamp, while you are
marching in state, with as many torches as one sees at the feast of
Ceres, to thunder with your hatchet(4) at the doors of half the Ionian
ladies in Peiræus.(5)

     (1) This game consisted in projecting wine out of cups; it
     was a diversion extremely fashionable at Athenian

     (2) Pauson was an Athenian painter, whose name was
     synonymous with beggary. See Aristophanes; Plutus, 602. From
     his poverty, I am inclined to suppose that he painted
     historical pictures.

     (3) See Aristophanes; Plutus, 542. {31}

     (4)See Theocritus; Idyll ii. 128.

     (5) This was the most disreputable part of Athens. See
     Aristophanes; Pax, 165.


Why, thou unreasonable old man! Thou most shameless of fathers!----


Ungrateful wretch; dare you talk so? Are you not afraid of the thunders
of Jupiter?


Jupiter thunder! nonsense! Anaxagoras says, that thunder is only an
explosion produced by----


He does! Would that it had fallen on his head for his pains!


Nay: talk rationally.


Rationally! You audacious young sophist! I will talk rationally. Do you
know that I am your father? What quibble can you make upon that?


Do I know that you are my father? Let us take the question to pieces, as
Melesigenes would say. First, then, we must inquire what is knowledge?
Secondly, what is a father? Now, knowledge, as Socrates said the other
day to Theætetus,---(1)

     (1) See Plato’s Theætetus.

CALLIDEMUS. {32}Socrates! what! the ragged flat-nosed old dotard, who
walks about all day barefoot, and filches cloaks, and dissects gnats,
and shoes(1) fleas with wax?


All fiction! All trumped up by Aristophanes!


By Pallas, if he is in the habit of putting shoes on his fleas, he is
kinder to them than to himself. But listen to me, boy; if you go on in
this way, you will be ruined. There is an argument for you. Go to your
Socrates and your Melesigenes, and tell them to refute that. Ruined! Do
you hear?




Ay, by Jupiter! Is such a show as you make to be supported on
nothing? During all the last war, I made not an obol from my farm; the
Peloponnesian locusts came almost as regularly as the Pleiades;--corn
burnt;--olives stripped;--fruit trees cut down;--wells stopped up;--and,
just when peace came, and I hoped that all would turn out well, you must
begin to spend as if you had all the mines of Thasus at command.


Now, by Neptune, who delights in horses----


If Neptune delights in horses, he does not resemble

     (1) See Aristophanes; Nubes, 150. {33}me. You must ride at
     the Panathenæa on a horse fit for the great king: four acres
     of my best vines went for that folly. You must retrench, or
     you will have nothing to eat. Does not Anaxagoras mention,
     among his other discoveries, that when a man has nothing to
     eat he dies?


You are deceived. My friends-----------


Oh, yes! your friends will notice you, doubtless, when you are squeezing
through the crowd, on a winter’s day, to warm yourself at the fire of
the baths;--or when you are fighting with beggars and beggars’ dogs for
the scraps of a sacrifice;--or when you are glad to earn three wretched
obols(1) by listening all day to lying speeches and crying children.


There are other means of support.


What! I suppose you will wander from house to house, like that wretched
buffoon Philippus(2), and beg every body who has asked a supper-party to
be so kind as to feed you and laugh at you; or you will turn sycophant;
you will get a bunch of grapes, or a pair of shoes, now and then, by
frightening some rich coward with a mock prosecution. Well! that is a
task for which your studies under the sophists may have fitted you.

     (1) The stipend of an Athenian juryman.

     (2) Xenophon, Convivium


You are wide of the mark.


Then what, in the name of Juno, is your scheme? Do you intend to join
Orestes,(1) and rob on the highway? Take care; beware of the eleven; (2)
beware of the hemlock. It may be very pleasant to live at other people’s
expense; but not very pleasant, I should think, to hear the pestle
give its last hang against the mortar, when the cold dose is ready.


Hemlock! Orestes! folly!--I aim at nobler objects. What say you to
politics,--the general assembly?


You an orator!--oh no! no! Cleon was worth twenty such fools as you.
You have succeeded, I grant, to his impudence, for which, if there
be justice in Tartarus, he is now soaking up to the eyes in his own
tan-pickle. But the Paphlagonian had parts.


And you mean to imply-----------


Not I. You are a Pericles in embryo, doubtless. Well: and when are you
to make your first speech? oh Pallas!


I thought of speaking, the other day, on the Sicilian expedition; but
Nicias (3) got up before me.

     (1) A celebrated highwayman of Attica. See Aristophanes;
     Aves, 711: and in several other passages.

     (2) The police officers of Athens.

     (3) See Thucydides, vi. 8.


{35}Nicias, poor honest man, might just as well have sate still; his
speaking did but little good. The loss of your oration is, doubtless, an
irreparable public calamity.


Why, not so; I intend to introduce it at the next assembly; it will suit
any subject.


That is to say, it will suit none. But pray, if it be not too
presumptuous a request, indulge me with a specimen.


Well; suppose the agora crowded;--an important subject under
discussion;--an ambassador from Argos, or from the great king;--the
tributes from the islands;--an impeachment;--in short, anything you
please. The crier makes proclamation.--“Any citizen above fifty years
old may speak--any citizen not disqualified may speak.” Then I rise:--a
great murmur of curiosity while I am mounting the stand.


Of curiosity! yes, and of something else too. You will infallibly be
dragged down by main force, like poor Glaucon (1) last year.


Never fear. I shall begin in this style:

“When I consider, Athenians, the importance of our city;--when I
consider the extent of its power,

     (1) See Xenophon; Memorabilia, iii.

{36}the wisdom of its laws, the elegance of its decorations--when
I consider by what names and by what exploits its annals are
adorned;--when I think on Harmodius and Aristogiton, on Themistocles
and Miltiades, on Cimon and Pericles;--when I contemplate our
pre-eminence in arts and letters;--when I observe so many flourishing
states and islands compelled to own the dominion, and purchase the
protection, of the City of the Violet Crown(1)--


I shall choke with rage. Oh, all ye gods and goddesses, what sacrilege,
what perjury have I ever committed, that I should be singled out from
among all the citizens of Athens to be the father of this fool?


What now? By Bacchus, old man, I would not advise you to give way to
such fits of passion in the streets. If Aristophanes were to see you,
you would infallibly be in a comedy next spring.


You have more reason to fear Aristophanes than any fool living. Oh, that
he could but hear you trying to imitate the slang of Straton(2) and the
lisp of Alcibiades!(3) You would be an inexhaustible subject. You would
console him for the loss of Cleon.


No, no. I may perhaps figure at the dramatic representations before
long; but in a very different way.

     (1) A favourite epithet of Athens. See Aristophanes; Acharn.

     (2) See Aristophanes; Equités, 1375.

     (3) See Aristophanes; Vespæ, 44.


{37}What do you mean?


What say you to a tragedy?


A tragedy of yours?


Even so.


Oh Hercules! Oh Bacchus! This is too much. Here is an universal genius;
sophist,--orator,--poet. To what a three-headed monster have I given
birth! a perfect Cerberus of intellect! And pray what may your piece
be about? Or will your tragedy, like your speech, serve equally for any


I thought of several plots;--Odipus,--Eteocles and Polynices,--the war
of Troy, the murder of Agamemnon.


And what have you chosen?


You know there is a law which permits any modern poet to retouch a play
of Æschylus, and bring it forward as his own composition. And, as there
is an absurd prejudice, among the vulgar, in favour of his extravagant
pieces, I have selected one of them, and altered it.


{38}Which of them?


Oh! that mass of barbarous absurdities, the Prometheus. But I have
framed it anew upon the model of Euripides. By Bacchus, I shall make
Sophocles and Agathon look about them. You would not know the play


By Jupiter, I believe not.


I have omitted the whole of the absurd dialogue between Vulcan and
Strength, at the beginning.


That may be, on the whole, an improvement. The play will then open with
that grand soliloquy of Prometheus, when he is chained to the rock.

                   “Oh! ye eternal heavens! Ye rushing winds!

                   Ye fountains of great streams! Ye ocean waves,

                   That in ten thousand sparkling dimples wreathe

                   Your azure smiles! All-generating earth!

                   All-seeing sun! On you, on you, I call.” (1)

Well, I allow that will be striking; I did not think you capable of that
idea. Why do you laugh?


Do you seriously suppose that one who has studied the plays of that
great man, Euripides, would ever begin a tragedy in such a ranting

     (1) See Æschylus; Prometheus, 88.


{39}What, does not your play open with the speech of Prometheus?


No doubt.


Then what, in the name of Bacchus, do you make him say?


You shall hear; and, if it be not in the very style of Euripides, call
me a fool.


That is a liberty which I shall venture to take, whether it be or no.
But go on.


Prometheus begins thus:

                   “Coelus begat Saturn and Briareus,

                   Cottus and Creius and Iapetus,

                   Gyges and Hyperion, Phoebe, Tethys,

                   Thea and Rhea and Mnemosyne.

                   Then Saturn wedded Rhea, and begat

                   Pluto and Neptune, Jupiter and Juno."


Very beautiful, and very natural; and, as you say, very like Euripides.


You are sneering. Really, father, you do not understand these things.
You had not those advantages in your youth--


Which I have been fool enough to let you have. No; in my early days,
lying had not been dignified into a science, nor politics degraded into
a trade. {40}wrestled, and read Homer’s battles, instead of dressing my
hair, and reciting lectures in verse out of Euripides. But I have some
notion of what a play should be; I have seen Phrynichus, and lived with
Æschylus. I saw the representation of the Persians.


A wretched play; it may amuse the fools who row the triremes; but it is
utterly unworthy to be read by any man of taste.


If you had seen it acted;--the whole theatre frantic with joy, stamping,
shouting, laughing, crying. There was Cynaegeirus, the brother of
Æschylus, who lost both his arms at Marathon, beating the stumps against
his sides with rapture. When the crowd remarked him--But where are you


To sup with Alcibiades; he sails with the expedition for Sicily in a few
days; this is his farewell entertainment.


So much the better; I should say, so much the worse. That cursed
Sicilian expedition! And you were one of the young fools(1) who stood
clapping and shouting while he was gulling the rabble, and who drowned
poor Nicias’s voice with your uproar. Look to it; a day of reckoning
will come. As to Alcibiades himself--


What can you say against him? His enemies themselves acknowledge his

     (1) See Thucydides, vi. 13.


{41}They acknowledge that he is clever, and handsome, and that he was
crowned at the Olympic games. And what other merits do his friends claim
for him? A. precious assembly you will meet at his house, no doubt.


The first men in Athens, probably.


Whom do you mean by the first men in Athens?




A sacrilegious, impious, unfeeling ruffian!




A fool, who can talk of nothing but his travels through Persia and
Egypt. Go, go. The gods fordid that I should detain you from such choice

[Exeunt severally.

     (1) Callicles plays a conspicuous part in the Gorgias of


Scene--_A Hall in the House of_ Alcibiades,

Alcibiades, Speusippus, Callicles, Hippomachus, Chariclea, _and others,
seated round a table, feasting._

ALCIBIADES. {42}Bring larger cups. This shall be our gayest revel. It is
probably the last--for some of us at least.


At all events, it ‘will be long before you taste such wine again,


Nay, there is excellent wine in Sicily. When I was there with
Eurymedon’s squadron, I had many a long carouse. You never saw finer
grapes than those of Ætna.


The Greeks do not understand the art of making wine. Your Persian is the
man. So rich, so fragrant, so sparkling. I will tell you what the Satrap
of Caria said to me about that when I supped with him.


Nay, sweet Hippomachus; not a word to-night about satraps, or the
great king, or the walls of Babylon, or the Pyramids, or the mummies.
Chariclea, why do you look so sad?


Can I be cheerful when you are going to leave me, Alcibiades?


My life, my sweet soul, it is but for a short time. In {43}a year we
conquer Sicily. In another, we humble Carthage. (1) I will bring back
such robes, such necklaces, elephants’ teeth by thousands, ay, and the
elephants themselves, if you wish to see them. Nay, smile, my Chariclea,
or I shall talk nonsense to no purpose.


The largest elephant that I ever saw was in the grounds of Teribazus,
near Susa. I wish that I had measured him.


I wish that he had trod upon you. Come, come, Chariclea, we shall soon
return, and then----


Yes; then, indeed.


Yes, then--

                   Then for revels; then for dances,

                   Tender whispers, melting glances.

                   Peasants, pluck your richest fruits:

                   Minstrels, sound your sweetest flutes:

                   Come in laughing crowds to greet us,

                   Dark-eyed daughters of Miletus;

                   Bring the myrtles, bring the dice,

                   Floods of Chian, hills of spice.


Whose lines are those, Alcibiades?


My own. Think you, because I do not shut myself up to meditate, and
drink water, and eat herbs, that I cannot write verses? By Apollo, if I
did not spend

     (1) See Thucydides, vi. 90.

{44}my days in politics, and my nights in revelry, I should have made
Sophocles tremble. But now I never go beyond a little song like this,
and never invoke any Muse but Chariclea. But come, Speusippus, sing. You
are a professed poet. Let us have some of your verses.


My verses! How can you talk so? I a professed poet.


Oh, content you, sweet Speusippus. We all know your designs upon the
tragic honours. Come, sing. A chorus of your new play.


Nay, nay--


When a guest who is asked to sing at a Persian banquet refuses----


In the name of Bacchus----


I am absolute. Sing.


Well, then, I will sing you a chorus, which, I think, is a tolerable
imitation of Euripides.


Of Euripides?--Not a word!


Why so, sweet Chariclea?

CHARICLEA. {45}Would you have me betray my sex? Would you have me forget
his Phædras and Sthenoboas? No: if I ever suffer any lines of that
woman-hater, or his imitators, to be sung in my presence, may I (1) sell
herbs like his mother, and wear rags like his Telephus. (2)


Then, sweet Chariclea, since you have silenced Speusippus, you shall
sing yourself.


What shall I sing?


Nay, choose for yourself.


Then I will sing an old Ionian hymn, which is chanted every spring at
the feast of Venus, near Miletus. I used to sing it in my own country
when I was a child; and--Ah, Alcibiades!


Dear Chariclea, you shall sing something else. This distresses you.


No: hand me the lyre:--no matter. You will hear the song to
disadvantage. But if it were sung as I have heard it sung;--if this were
a beautiful morning

     (1) The mother of Euripides was a herb-woman. This was a
     favourite topic of Aristophanes.

     (2) The hero of one of the lost plays of Euripides, who
     appears to have been brought upon the stage in the garb of a
     beggar. See Aristophanes; Acham. 430; and in other places.

{46}in spring, and if we were standing on a woody promontory, with the
sea, and the white sails, and the blue Cyclades beneath us,--and the
portico of a temple peeping through the trees on a huge peak above our
heads,--and thousands of people, with myrtles in their hands, thronging
up the winding path, their gay dresses and garlands disappearing and
emerging by turns as they passed round the angles of the rock,--then


Now, by Venus herself, sweet lady, where you are we shall lack neither
sun, nor flowers, nor spring, nor temple, nor goddess.


                   Let this sunny hour be given,

                        Venus, unto love and mirth:

                   Smiles like thine are in the heaven;

                        Bloom like thine is on the earth;

                   And the tinkling of the fountains,

                        And the murmurs of the sea,

                   And the echoes from the mountains,

                   Speak of youth, and hope, and thee.

                   By whate’er of soft expression

                        Thou hast taught to lovers’ eyes

                   Faint denial, slow confession,

                        Glowing cheeks and stifled sighs;

                   By the pleasure and the pain,

                        By the follies and the wiles,

                   Routing fondness, sweet disdain,

                        Happy tears and mournful smiles;

                   Come with music floating o’er thee;

                        Come with violets springing round:

                   Let the Graces dance before thee,

                        All their golden zones unbound;

                   Now in sport their faces hiding,

                        Now, with slender fingers fair,

                   From their laughing eyes dividing

                        The long curls of rose-crowned hair.

ALCIBIADES. {47}Sweetly sung; but mournfully, Chariclea; for which I
would chide you, but that I am sad myself. More wine there. I wish to
all the gods that I had fairly sailed from Athens.


And from me, Alcibiades?


Yes, from you, dear lady. The days which immediately precede separation
are the most melancholy of our lives.


Except those which immediately follow it.


No; when I cease to see you, other objects may compel my attention; but
can I be near you without thinking how lovely you are, and how soon I
must leave you?


Ay; travelling soon puts such thoughts out of men’s heads.


A battle is the best remedy for them.


A battle, I should think, might supply their place with others as


No. The preparations are rather disagreeable to a novice. But as soon
as the fighting begins, by Jupiter, it is a noble time;--men
trampling,--shields {48}clashing,--spears breaking,--and the poan
roaring louder than all.


But what if you are killed?


What indeed? You must ask Speusippus that question. He is a philosopher.


Yes, and the greatest of philosophers, if he can answer it.


Pythagoras is of opinion--


Pythagoras stole that and all his other opinions from Asia and Egypt.
The transmigration of the soul and the vegetable diet are derived from
India. I met a Brachman in Sogdiana--


All nonsense!


What think you, Alcibiades?


I think that, if the doctrine be true, your spirit will be transfused
into one of the doves who carry (1) ambrosia to the gods or verses to
the mistresses of poets. Do you remember Anacreon’s lines? How should
you like such an office?

     (1) Homer’s Odyssey, xii. 63.

CHARICLEA. {49}If I were to be your dove, Alcibiades, and you would
treat me as Anacreon treated his, and let me nestle in your breast and
drink from your cup, I would submit even to carry your love-letters to
other ladies.


What, in the name of Jupiter, is the use of all these speculations about
death? Socrates once (1) lectured me upon it the best part of a day.
I have hated the sight of him ever since. Such things may suit an old
sophist when he is fasting; but in the midst of wine and music--


I differ from you. The enlightened Egyptians bring skeletons into their
banquets, in order to remind their guests to make the most of their life
while they have it.


I want neither skeleton nor sophist to teach me that lesson. More wine,
I pray you, and less wisdom. If you must believe something which you
never can know why not be contented with the long stories about
the other world which are told us when we are initiated at the (2 )
Eleusinian mysteries.


And what are those stories?

     (1)See the close of Plato’s Gorgias.

     (2) The scene which follows is founded upon history.
     Thucydides tells us, in his sixth book, that about this time
     Alcibiades was suspected of having assisted at a mock
     celebration of these famous mysteries. It was the opinion of
     the vulgar among the Athenians that extraordinary privileges
     were granted in the other world to all who had been


{50}Are not you initiated, Chariclea?


No; My mother was a Lydian, a barbarian; and therefore--


I understand. Now the curse of Venus on the fools who made so hateful a
law. Speusippus, does not your friend Euripides (1) say--

               “The land where thou art prosperous is thy country?"

Surely we ought to say to every lady

               “The land where thou art pretty is thy country."

Besides, to exclude foreign beauties from the chorus of the initiated in
the Elysian fields is less cruel to them than to ourselves. Chariclea,
you shall be initiated.












But there must be an interval of a year between the purification and the


We will suppose all that.

     (1) The right of Euripides to this line is somewhat
     disputable. See Aristophanes; Plutus, 1152.


{51}And nine days of rigid mortification of the senses.


We will suppose that too. I am sure it was supposed, with as little
reason, when I was initiated.


But you are sworn to secrecy.


You a sophist, and talk of oaths! You a pupil of Euripides, and forget
his maxims!

               “My lips have sworn it; but my mind is free.” (1)


But Alcibiades----


What! Are you afraid of Ceres and Proserpine?


No--but--but--I--that is I--but it is best to be safe--I mean--Suppose
there should be something in it.


Now, by Mercury, I shall die with laughing. Oh Speusippus, Speusippus!
Go back to your old father. Dig vineyards, and judge causes, and be a
respectable citizen. But never, while you live, again dream of being a


Nay, I was only----

     (1)See Euripides; Hyppolytus, 606. For the jesuitical
     morality of this line Euripides is bitterly attacked by the
     comic poet.


{52}A pupil of Gorgias and Melesigenes afraid of Tartarus! In what
region of the infernal world do you expect your domicile to be fixed?
Shall you roll a stone like Sisyphus? Hard exercise, Speusippus!


In the name of all the gods--


Or shall you sit starved and thirsty in the midst of fruit and wine like
Tantalus? Poor fellow! I think I see your face as you are springing up
to the branches and missing your aim. Oh Bacchus! Oh Mercury!




Or perhaps you will be food for a vulture, like the huge fellow who was
rude to Latona.




Never fear. Minos will not be so cruel. Your eloquence will triumph
over all accusations. The furies will skulk away like disappointed
sycophants. Only address the judges of hell in the speech which you were
prevented from speaking last assembly. When I consider--is not that
the beginning of it? Come, man, do not be angry. Why do you pace up
and down with such long steps? You are not in Tartarus yet. You seem to
think that you are already stalking like poor Achilles,

                        “With stride

               “Majestic through the plain of Asphodel.” (1)

SPEÜSIPPÜS. {53}How can you talk so, when you know that I believe all
that foolery as little as you do?


Then march. You shall be the crier. (2) Callicles, you shall carry the
torch. Why do you stare?


I do not much like the frolic.


Nay, surely you are not taken with a fit of piety. If all be true that
is told of you, you have as little reason to think the gods vindictive
as any man breathing. If you be not belied, a certain golden goblet
which I have seen at your house was once in the temple of Juno at
Corcyra. And men say that there was a priestess at Tarentum----


A fig for the gods! I was thinking about the Archons. You will have an
accusation laid against you to-morrow. It is not very pleasant to be
tried before the king. (3)

     (1) See Homer’s Odyssey, xi. 538.

     (2) The crier and torch-hearer were important functionaries
     at the celebration of the Kleusinian mysteries.

     (3) The name of king was given in the Athenian democracy to
     the magistrate who exercised those spiritual functions which
     in the monarchical times had belonged to the sovereign. His
     court took cognisance of offences against the religion of
     the state.


{54}Never fear: there is not a sycophant in Attica who would dare to
breathe a word against me, for the golden (1) plane-tree of the great


That plane-tree----


Never mind the plane-tree. Come, Callicles, you were not so timid when
you plundered the merchantman off Cape Malea. Take up the torch and
move. Hippomachus, tell one of the slaves to bring a sow. (2)


And what part are you to play?


I shall be hierophant. Herald, to your office. Torch-bearer, advance
with the lights. Come forward, fair novice. We will celebrate the rite
within. (Exeunt.)

     (1) See Herodotus, viii. 28.

     (2) A sow was sacrificed to Ceres at the admission to the
     greater mysteries.


{55}(_Knight’s Quarterly Magazine_), January 1824.


               “Fairest of stars, last in the train of night

               If better thou belong not to the dawn,

               Sure pledge of day, that crown’st the smiling morn

               With thy bright circlet.”


In a review of Italian literature, Dante has a double claim to
precedency. He was the earliest and the greatest writer of his country.
He was the first man who fully descried and exhibited the powers of
his native dialect. The Latin tongue, which, under the most favourable
circumstances, and in the hands of the greatest masters, had still been
poor, feeble, and singularly unpoetical, and which had, in the age of
Dante, been debased by the admixture of innumerable barbarous words
and idioms, was still cultivated with superstitious veneration, and
received, in the last stage of corruption, more honours than it had
deserved in the period of its life and vigour. It was the language of
the cabinet, of the university, of the church. It was employed by all
who aspired to distinction in the higher walks of poetry. In compassion
to the ignorance of his mistress, a cavalier might now and then proclaim
his passion in Tuscan or Provençal rhymes. The vulgar might occasionally
be edified by a pious {56}allegory in the popular jargon. But no writer
had conceived it possible that the dialect of peasants and market-women
should possess sufficient energy and precision for a majestic and
durable work. Dante adventured first. He detected the rich treasures of
thought and diction which still lay latent in their ore. He refined them
into purity. He burnished them into splendour. He fitted them for every
purpose of use and magnificence. And he has thus acquired the glory, not
only of producing the finest narrative poem of modern times, but also of
creating a language, distinguished by unrivalled melody, and peculiarly
capable of furnishing to lofty and passionate thoughts their appropriate
garb of severe and concise expression.

To many this may appear a singular panegyric on the Italian tongue.
Indeed the great majority of the young gentlemen and young ladies, who,
when they are asked whether they read Italian, answer “Yes,” never go
beyond the stories at the end of their grammar,--The Pastor Fido,--or an
act of Artaserse. They could as soon read a Babylonian brick as a canto
of Dante. Hence it is a general opinion, among those who know little
or nothing of the subject, that this admirable language is adapted only
to the effeminate cant of sonnetteers, musicians, and connoisseurs.

The fact is that Dante and Petrarch have been the Oromasdes and
Arimanes of Italian literature. I wish not to detract from the merits
of Petrarch. No one can doubt that his poems exhibit, amidst some
imbecility and more affectation, much elegance, ingenuity, and
tenderness. They present us with a mixture which can only be compared to
the whimsical concert described by the humorous poet of Modena:

               “S’udian gli usignuoli, al primo albore,

               E gli asiui eantar versi d’ amore.” (1)

{57}I am not, however, at present speaking of the intrinsic excellencies
of his writings, which I shall take another opportunity to examine, hut
of the effect which they produce on the literature of Italy. The florid
and luxurious charms of his style enticed the poets and the public from
the contemplation of nobler and sterner models. In truth, though a
rude state of society is that in which great original works are
most frequently produced, it is also that in which they are worst
appreciated. This may appear paradoxical, but it is proved by
experience, and is consistent with reason. To be without any received
canons of taste is good for the few who can create, but bad for the many
who can only imitate and judge. Great and active minds cannot remain at
rest. In a cultivated age they are too often contented to move on in
the beaten path. But where no path exists they will make one. Thus
the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Divine Comedy, appeared in dark and half
barbarous times: and thus of the few original works which have been
produced in more polished ages, we owe a large proportion to men in low
stations and of uninformed minds. I will instance, in our own language,
the Pilgrim’s Progress and Robinson Crusoe. Of all the prose works of
fiction which we possess, these are, I will not say the best, but the
most peculiar, the most unprecedented, the most inimitable. Had Bunyan
and Defoe been educated gentlemen, they would probably have published
translations and imitations of French romances “by a person of quality.”
 I am not sure that we should have had Lear if Shakspeare had been able
to read Sophocles.

     (1) Tassoni; Seccliia Rapita, canto i. stanza G.

{58}But these circumstances, while they foster genius, are unfavourable
to the science of criticism. Men judge by comparison. They are unable
to estimate the grandeur of an object when there is no standard by which
they can measure it. One of the French philosophers (I beg Gerard’s
pardon), who accompanied Napoleon to Egypt, tells us that, when he first
visited the great Pyramid, he was surprised to see it so diminutive. It
stood alone in a boundless plain. There was nothing near it from which
he could calculate its magnitude. But when the camp was pitched beside
it, and the tents appeared like diminutive specks around its base, he
then perceived the immensity of this mightiest work of man. In the same
manner, it is not till a crowd of petty writers has sprung up that the
merit of the great master-spirits of literature is understood.

We have indeed ample proof that Dante was highly admired in his own and
the following age. I wish that we had equal proof that he was admired
for his excellencies. But it is a remarkable corroboration of what has
been said, that this great man seems to have been utterly unable to
appreciate himself. In his treatise _De Vulgari Eloquentia_, he talks
with satisfaction of what he has done for Italian literature, of the
purity and correctness of his style. “_Cependant_,” says a favourite
(1) writer of mine, “_il ri est ni pur, ni correct, mais il est
créateur.”_Considering the difficulties with which Dante had to
struggle, we may perhaps be more inclined than the French critic to
allow him this praise. Still it is by no means his highest or most
peculiar title to applause. It is scarcely necessary to say that those
qualities which escaped the notice of the poet himself were not likely
to attract the attention of the commentators. The fact is, that, while

     (1) Sismondi; Littérature du Midi de l’ Europe.

{59}public homage was paid to some absurdities with which his works
may be justly charged, and to many more which were falsely imputed to
them,--while lecturers were paid to expound and eulogise his physics,
his metaphysics, his theology, all bad of their kind,--while annotators
laboured to detect allegorical meanings of which the author never
dreamed, the great powers of his imagination, and the incomparable force
of his style, were neither admired nor imitated. Arimanes had prevailed.
The Divine Comedy was to that age what St. Paul’s Cathedral was to Omai.
The poor Otaheitean stared listlessly for a moment at the huge cupola,
and ran into a toyshop to play with beads. Italy, too, was charmed with
literary trinkets, and played with them for four centuries.

From the time of Petrarch to the appearance of Alfieri’s tragedies, we
may trace in almost every page of Italian literature the influence of
those celebrated sonnets which, from the nature both of their beauties
and their faults, were peculiarly unfit to be models for general
imitation. Almost all the poets of that period, however different in
the degree and quality of their talents, are characterised by great
exaggeration, and, as a necessary consequence, great coldness of
sentiment; by a passion for frivolous and tawdry ornament; and, above
all, by an extreme feebleness and diffuseness of style. Tasso, Marino,
Guarini, Metastasio, and a crowd of writers of inferior merit and
celebrity, were spell-bound in the enchanted gardens of a gaudy and
meretricious Alcina, who concealed debility and deformity beneath the
deceitful semblance of loveliness and health. Ariosto, the great Ariosto
himself, like his own Ruggiero, stooped for a time to linger amidst
the magic flowers and fountains, and to caress the gay {60}and painted
sorceress. But to him, as to his own Ruggiero, had been given the
omnipotent ring and the winged courser, which bore him from the paradise
of deception to the regions of light and nature.

The evil of which I speak was not confined to the graver poets. It
infected satire, comedy, burlesque. No person can admire more than I do
the great masterpieces of wit and humour which Italy has produced. Still
I cannot but discern and lament a great deficiency, which is common to
them all. I find in them abundance of ingenuity, of droll naïveté, of
profound and just reflection, of happy expression. Manners, characters,
opinions, are treated with “a most learned spirit of human dealing.” But
something is still wanting. We read, and we admire, and we yawn. We look
in vain for the bacchanalian fury which inspired the comedy of Athens,
for the fierce and withering scorn which animates the invectives of
Juvenal and Dryden, or even for the compact and pointed diction which
adds zest to the verses of Pope and Boileau. There is no enthusiasm,
no energy, no condensation, nothing which springs from strong
feeling, nothing which tends to excite it. Many fine thoughts and fine
expressions reward the toil of reading. Still it is a toil. The Secchia
Rapita, in some points the best poem of its kind, is painfully diffuse
and languid. The Animali Parlanti of Casti is perfectly intolerable. I
admire the dexterity of the plot, and the liberality of the opinions.
I admit that it is impossible to turn to a page which does not contain
something that deserves to be remembered; but it is at least six times
as long as it ought to be. And the garrulous feebleness of the style is
a still greater fault than the length of the work.

It may be thought that I have gone too far in attributing {61}these
evils to the influence of the works and the fame of Petrarch. It cannot,
however, be doubted that they have arisen, in a great measure, from a
neglect of the style of Dante. This is not more proved by the decline
of Italian poetry than by its resuscitation. After the lapse of four
hundred and fifty years, there appeared a man capable of appreciating
and imitating the father of Tuscan literature--Vittorio Alfieri. Like
the prince in the nursery tale, he sought and found the Sleeping Beauty
within the recesses which had so long concealed her from mankind. The
portal was indeed rusted by time;--the dust of ages had accumulated on
the banonnors;--the furniture was of antique fashion;--and the gorgeous
colour of the embroidery had faded. But the living charms which were
well worth all the rest remained in the bloom of eternal youth, and well
rewarded the bold adventurer who roused them from their long slumber. In
every line of the Philip and the Saul, the greatest poems, I think, of
the eighteenth century, we may trace the influence of that mighty
genius which has immortalised the ill-starred love of Francesca, and
the paternal agonies of Ugolino. Alfieri bequeathed the sovereignty of
Italian literature to the author of the Aristodemus--a man of genius
scarcely inferior to his own, and a still more devoted disciple of the
great Florentine. It must be acknowledged that this eminent writer has
sometimes pushed too far his idolatry of Dante. To borrow a sprightly
illustration from Sir John Denham, he has not only imitated his garb,
but borrowed his clothes. He often quotes his phrases; and he has,
not very judiciously as it appears to me, imitated his versification.
Nevertheless, he has displayed many of the higher excellencies of his
master; {62}and his works may justly inspire us with a hope that Italian
language will long flourish under a new literary dynasty, or rather
under the legitimate line, which has at length been restored to a throne
long occupied by specious usurpers.

The man to whom the literature of his country owes its origin and
its revival was horn in times singularly adapted to call forth his
extraordinary powers. Religious zeal, chivalrous love and honour,
democratic liberty, are the three most powerful principles that have
ever influenced the character of large masses of men. Each of them
singly has often excited the greatest enthusiasm, and produced the
most important changes. In the time of Dante all the three, often in
amalgamation, generally in conflict, agitated the public mind. The
preceding generation had witnessed the wrongs and the revenge of the
brave, the accomplished, the unfortunate Emperor Frederic the Second,--a
poet in an age of schoolmen,--a philosopher in an age of monks,--a
statesman in an age of crusaders. During the whole life of the poet,
Italy was experiencing the consequences of the memorable struggle which
he had maintained against the Church. The finest works of imagination
have always been produced in times of political convulsion, as the
richest vineyards and the sweetest flowers always grow on the soil which
has been fertilised by the fiery deluge of a volcano. To look no
further than the literary history of our own country, can we doubt
that Shakspeare was in a great measure produced by the Reformation,
and Wordsworth by the French Revolution? Poets often avoid political
transactions; they often affect to despise them. But, whether they
perceive it or not, they must be influenced by them. As long as their
minds have any {63}point of contact with those of their fellow-men,
the electric impulse, at whatever distance it may originate, will he
circuitously communicated to them.

This will be the case even in large societies, where the division of
labour enables many speculative men to observe the face of nature, or
to analyse their own minds, at a distance from the seat of political
transactions. In the little republic of which Dante was a member the
state of things was very different. These small communities are most
unmercifully abused by most of our modern professors of the science
of government. In such states, they tell us, factions are always
most violent: where both parties are cooped up within a narrow space,
political difference necessarily produces personal malignity. Every man
must be a soldier; every moment may produce a war. No citizen can lie
down secure that he shall not be roused by the alarum-bell, to repel
or avenge an injury. In such petty quarrels Greece squandered the blood
which might have purchased for her the permanent empire of the world,
and Italy wasted the energy and the abilities which would have enabled
her to defend her independence against the Pontiffs and the Cæsars.

All this is true: yet there is still a compensation. Mankind has not
derived so much benefit from the empire of Rome as from the city of
Athens, nor from the kingdom of France as from the city of Florence.
The violence of party feeling may be an evil; but it calls forth that
activity of mind which in some states of society it is desirable to
produce at any expense. Universal soldiership may be an evil; but where
every man is a soldier there will be no standing army. And is it no evil
that one man in every fifty should be bred to the trade of slaughter;
should live only by destroying {64}and by exposing himself to be
destroyed; should fight without enthusiasm and conquer without glory; be
sent to a hospital when wounded, and rot on a dunghill when old? Such,
over more than two-thirds of Europe, is the fate of soldiers. It was
something that the citizen of Milan or Florence fought, not merely in
the vague and rhetorical sense in which the words are often used, but
in sober truth, for his parents, his children, his lands, his house,
his altars. It was something that he marched forth to battle beneath the
Carroccio, which had been the object of his childish veneration; that
his aged father looked down from the battlements on his exploits; that
his friends and his rivals were the witnesses of his glory. If he fell,
he was consigned to no venal or heedless guardians. The same day saw him
conveyed within the walls which he had defended. His wounds were dressed
by his mother; his confession was whispered to the friendly priest
who had heard and absolved the follies of his youth; his last sigh was
breathed upon the lips of the lady of his love. Surely there is no sword
like that which is beaten out of a ploughshare. Surely this state of
things was not unmixedly bad: its evils were alleviated by enthusiasm
and by tenderness; and it will at least be acknowledged that it was well
fitted to nurse poetical genius in an imaginative and observant mind.

Nor did the religious spirit of the age tend less to this result than
its political circumstances. Fanaticism is an evil, but it is not the
greatest of evils. It is good that a people should be roused by any
means from a state of utter torpor;--that their minds should be diverted
from objects merely sensual, to meditations, however erroneous, on the
mysteries of the moral and intellectual world; and from interests which
are immediately {65}selfish to those which relate to the past, the
future, and the remote. These effects have sometimes been produced by
the worst superstitions that ever existed; but the Catholic religion,
even in the time of its utmost extravagance and atrocity, never wholly
lost the spirit of the Great Teacher, whose precepts form the noblest
code, as his conduct furnished the purest example, of moral excellence.
It is of all religions the most poetical. The ancient superstitions
furnished the fancy with beautiful images, but took no hold on the
heart. The doctrines of the Reformed Churches have most powerfully
influenced the feelings and the conduct of men, but have not presented
them with visions of sensible beauty and grandeur. The Roman Catholic
Church has united to the awful doctrines of the one what Mr. Coleridge
calls the “fair humanities” of the other. It has enriched sculpture
and painting with the loveliest and most majestic forms. To the Phidian
Jupiter it can oppose the Moses of Michael Angelo; and to the voluptuous
beauty of the Queen of Cyprus, the serene and pensive loveliness of
the Virgin Mother. The legends of its martyrs and its saints may vie
in ingenuity and interest with the mythological fables of Greece; its
ceremonies and processions were the delight of the vulgar; the huge
fabric of secular power with which it was connected attracted the
admiration of the statesman. At the same time, it never lost sight of
the most solemn and tremendous doctrines of Christianity,--the incarnate
God,--the judgment,--the retribution,--the eternity of happiness
or torment. Thus, while, like the ancient religions, it received
incalculable support from policy and ceremony, it never wholly became,
like those religions, a merely political and ceremonial institution.

{66}The beginning of the thirteenth century was, as Machiarelli has
remarked, the era of a great revival of this extraordinary system. The
policy of Innocent,--the growth of the inquisition and the mendicant
orders,--the wars against the Albigenses, the Pagans of the East, and
the unfortunate princes of the house of Swabia, agitated Italy during
the two following generations. In this point Dante was completely
under the influence of his age. He was a man of a turbid and melancholy
spirit. In early youth he had entertained a strong and unfortunate
passion, which, long after the death of her whom he loved, continued to
haunt him. Dissipation, ambition, misfortunes had not effaced it. He was
not only a sincere, but a passionate, believer. The crimes and abuses
of the Church of Pome were indeed loathsome to him; but to all its
doctrines and all its rites he adhered with enthusiastic fondness and
veneration; and, at length, driven from nis native country, reduced to
a situation the most painful to a man of his disposition, condemned
to learn by experience that no (1) food is so bitter as the bread of
dependence, and no ascent so painful as the staircase of a patron,--his
wounded spirit took refuge in visionary devotion. Beatrice, the
unforgotten object of his early tenderness, was invested by his
imagination with glorious and mysterious attributes; she was enthroned
among the highest of the celestial hierarchy: Almighty Wisdom had
assigned to her the care of the sinful and unhappy wanderer who had
loved her with such a perfect love. (2) By a confusion, like that which

                   (1)"Tu proverai si come sa di sale

                   Lo pane altrui, e come è duro calle

                   Lo scendere c’l salir per l’ altrui scale.”

                             Parndiso, canto xvii.

     (2) “L’ amico mio, e non della ventura.”--_Inferno_, canto

{67}takes place in dreams, he has sometimes lost sight of her human
nature, and even of her personal existence, and seems to consider her as
one of the attributes of the Deity.

But those religious hopes which had released the mind of the sublime
enthusiast from the terrors of death had not rendered his speculations
on human life more cheerful. This is an inconsistency which may often be
observed in men of a similar temperament. He hoped for happiness beyond
the grave: but he felt none on earth. It is from this cause, more than
from any other, that his description of Heaven is so far inferior to the
Hell or the Purgatory. With the passions and miseries of the suffering
spirits he feels a strong sympathy. But among the beatified he appears
as one who has nothing in common with them,--as one who is incapable of
comprehending, not only the degree, but the nature of their enjoyment.
We think that we see him standing; amidst those smiling; and radiant
spirits with that scowl of unutterable misery on his brow, and that curl
of bitter disdain on his lips, which all his portraits have preserved
and which might furnish Chantrey with hints for the head of his
projected Satan.

There is no poet whose intellectual and moral character are so closely
connected. The great source, as it appears to me, of the power of the
Divine Comedy is the strong belief with which the story seems to be
told. In this respect, the only books which approach to its excellence
are Gulliver’s Travels and Robinson Crusoe. The solemnity of his
asseverations, the consistency and minuteness of his details, the
earnestness with which he labors to make the reader understand the exact
shape and size of every thing that he describes, give an air of reality
to his wildest fictions. {68}I should only weaken this statement by
quoting instances of a feeling which pervades the whole work, and to
which it owes much of its fascination. This is the real justification
of the many passages in his poem which had critics have condemned as
grotesque. I am concerned to see that Mr. Cary, to whom Dante owes more
than ever poet owed to translator, has sanctioned an accusation utterly
unworthy of his abilities. “His solicitude,” says that gentleman, “to
define all his images in such a manner as to bring them within the
circle of our vision, and to subject them to the power of the pencil,
renders him little better than grotesque, where Milton has since taught
us to expect sublimity.” It is true that Dante has never shrunk from
embodying his conceptions in determinate words, that he has even given
measures and numbers, where Milton would have left his images to float
undefined in a gorgeous haze of language. Both were right. Milton
did not profess to have been in heaven or hell. He might therefore
reasonably confine himself to magnificent generalities. Far different
was the office of the lonely traveller, who had wandered through the
nations of the dead. Had he described the abode of the rejected spirits
in language resembling the splendid lines of the English poet,--had he
told us of--

               “An universe of death, which God by curse

               Created evil, for evil only good,

               Where all life dies, death lives, and Nature breeds

               Perverse all monstrous, all prodigious tilings,

               Abominable, unutterable, and worse

               Than fables yet have feigned, or fear conceived,

               Gorgons, and hydras, and chimæras dire,”--

this would doubtless have been noble writing. But where would have been
that strong impression of {69}reality, which, in accordance with his
plan, it should have been his great object to produce? It was absolutely
necessary for him to delineate accurately “all monstrous, all prodigious
things,”--to utter what might to others appear “unutterable,”--to relate
with the air of truth what fables had never feigned,--to embody what
fear had never conceived. And I will frankly confess that the vague
sublimity of Milton affects me less than these reviled details of Dante.
We read Milton; and we know that we are reading a great poet. When
we read Dante, the poet vanishes. We are listening to the man who has
returned from the valley of the “dolorous abyss;” (1)--we seem to see
the dilated eye of horror, to hear the shuddering accents with which
he tells his fearful tale. Considered in this light, the narratives are
exactly what they should be,--definite in themselves, but suggesting to
the mind ideas of awful and indefinite wonder. They are made up of the
images of the earth:--they are told in the language of the earth.--Yet
the whole effect is, beyond expression, wild and unearthly. The fact
is, that supernatural beings, as long as they are considered merely with
reference to their own nature, excite our feelings very feebly. It is
when the great gulf which separates them from us is passed, when we
suspect some strange and un definable relation between the laws of the
visible and the invisible world, that they rouse, perhaps, the strongest
emotions of which our nature is capable. How many children, and how many
men, are afraid of ghosts, who are not afraid of God! And this, because,
though they entertain a much stronger conviction of the existence of a
Deity than of the reality of apparitions, they have no

     (1) “La valle d’ abisso doloroso.”--_Inferno_, canto iv.

{70}apprehension that he will manifest himself to them in any sensible
manner. While this is the case, to describe super-human beings in the
language, and to attribute to them the actions, of humanity may be
grotesque, unphilosophical, inconsistent; but it will be the only
mode of working upon the feelings of men, and, therefore, the only mode
suited for poetry. Shakspeare understood this well, as he understood
every thing that belonged to his art. Who does not sympathise with
the rapture of Ariel, flying after sunset on the wings of the bat, or
sucking in the cups of flowers with the bee? Who does not shudder at the
caldron of Macbeth? Where is the philosopher who is not moved when he
thinks of the strange connection between the infernal spirits and “the
sow’s blood that hath eaten her nine farrow?” But this difficult task of
representing supernatural beings to our minds, in a manner which shall
be neither unintelligible to our intellects, nor wholly inconsistent
with our ideas of their nature, has never been so well performed as by
Dante. I will refer to three instances, which are, perhaps, the most
striking---the description of the transformations of the serpents and
the robbers, in the twenty-fifth canto of the Inferno,--the passage
concerning Nimrod, in the thirty-first canto of the same part,--and the
magnificent procession in the twenty-ninth canto of the Purgatorio.

The metaphors and comparisons of Dante harmonise admirably with that
air of strong reality of which I have spoken. They have a very peculiar
character. He is perhaps the only poet whose writings would become much
less intelligible if all illustrations of this sort were expunged. His
similes are frequently rather those of a traveller than of a poet.
He employs them {71}not to display his ingenuity by fanciful
analogies,--not to delight the reader by affording him a distant and
passing glimpse of beautiful images remote from the path in which he
is proceeding,--but to give an exact idea of the objects which he is
describing, by comparing them with others generally known. The boiling
pitch in Malebolge was like that in the Venetian arsenal:--the mound on
which he travelled along the banks of Phlegethon was like that between
Ghent and Bruges, but not so large:--the cavities where the Simoniacal
prelates are confined resembled the fonts in the Church of John at
Florence. Every reader of Dante will recall many other illustrations
of this description, which add to the appearance of sincerity and
earnestness from winch the narrative derives so much of its interest.

Many of his comparisons, again, are intended to give an exact idea of
his feelings under particular circumstances. The delicate shades of
grief, of fear, of anger, are rarely discriminated with sufficient
accuracy in the language of the most refined nations. A rude dialect
never abounds in nice distinctions of this kind. Dante therefore employs
the most accurate and infinitely the most poetical mode of marking
the precise state of his mind. Every person who has experienced the
bewildering effect of sudden bad tidings,--the stupefaction,--the vague
doubt of the truth of our own perceptions which they produce,--will
understand the following simile:--“I was as he is who dreameth his own
harm,--who, dreaming, wishes that it may be all a dream, so that he
desires that which is as though it were not.” This is only one out of a
hundred equally striking and expressive similitudes. The comparisons of
Homer and Milton are magnificent digressions. It scarcely injures
their effect to detach {72}them from the work. Those of Dante are very
different. They derive their beauty from the context, and reflect beauty
upon it. His embroidery cannot be taken out without spoiling the whole
web. I cannot dismiss this part of the subject without advising every
person who can muster sufficient Italian to read the smile of the
sheep, in the third canto of the Purgatorio. I think it the most
perfect passage of the kind in the world, the most imaginative, the most
picturesque, and the most sweetly expressed.

No person can have attended to the Divine Comedy without observing how
little impression the forms of the external world appear to have made on
the mind of Dante. His temper and his situation had led him to fix his
observation almost exclusively on human nature. The exquisite opening
of the eighth (1) canto of the Purgatorio affords a strong instance
of this. He leaves to others the earth, the ocean, and the sky. His
business is with man. To other writers, evening may be the season of
dews and stars and radiant clouds. To Dante it is the hour of fond
recollection and passionate devotion,--the hour which melts the heart of
the mariner and kindles the love of the pilgrim,--the hour when the toll
of the bell seems to mourn for another day which is gone and will return
no more.

     (1) I cannot help observing that Gray’s imitation of that
     noble line “Che paia’l giorno pianger che si muore,” is one
     of the most striking instances of injudicious plagiarism
     with which I am acquainted. Dante did not put this strong
     personification at the beginning of his description. The
     imagination of the reader is so well prepared for it by the
     previous lines, that it appears perfectly natural and
     pathetic. Placed as Gray has placed it, neither preceded nor
     followed by any thing that harmonises with it, it becomes a
     frigid conceit. Woe to the unskilful rider who ventures on
     the horses of Achilles.

{73}The feeling of the present age has taken a direction diametrically
opposite. The magnificence of the physical world, and its influence
upon the human mind, have been the favourite themes of our most eminent
poets. The herd of blue-stocking ladies and sonneteering gentlemen seem
to consider a strong sensibility to the “splendour of the grass, the
glory of the flower,” as an ingredient absolutely indispensable in the
formation of a poetical mind. They treat with contempt all writers who
are unfortunately

                        nec ponere lucurn

               Artifices, nec rus saturum laudare.

The orthodox poetical creed is more Catholic. The noblest earthly object
of the contemplation of man is man himself. The universe, and all its
fair and glorious forais, are indeed included in the wide empire of the
imagination; but she has placed her home and her sanctuary amidst the
inexhaustible varieties and the impenetrable mysteries of the mind.

               In tutte parti impera, e quivi regge;

               Quivi è la sua cittade, e l’ alto seggio. (1)

Othello is perhaps the greatest work in the world. From what does it
derive its power? From the clouds? From the ocean? From the mountains?
Or from love strong as death, and jealousy cruel as the grave! What is
it that we go forth to see in Hamlet? Is it a reed shaken with the wind?
A small celandine? A bed of daffodils? Or is it to contemplate a mighty
and wayward mind laid bare before us to the inmost recesses? It may
perhaps be doubted whether the lakes and the hills are better fitted for
the education of a poet than the dusky streets of a huge capital. Indeed
who is not tired to death with pure description of

     (1) Inferno, canto i.

{74}scenery? Is it not the fact, that external objects never strongly
excite our feelings but when they are contemplated in reference to man,
as illustrating his destiny, or as influencing his character? The most
beautiful object in the world, it will be allowed, is a beautiful woman.
But who that can analyse his feelings is not sensible that she owes her
fascination less to grace of outline and delicacy of colour, than to
a thousand associations which, often unperceived by ourselves, connect
those qualities with the source of our existence, with the nourishment
of our infancy, with the passions of our youth, with the hopes of our
age, with elegance, with vivacity, with tenderness, with the strongest
of natural instincts, with the dearest of social ties?

To those who think thus, the insensibility of the Florentine poet to
the beauties of nature will not appear an unpardonable deficiency. On
mankind no writer, with the exception of Shakspeare, has looked with
a more penetrating eye. I have said that his poetical character had
derived a tinge from his peculiar temper. It is on the sterner and
darker passions that he delights to dwell. All love, excepting the half
mystic passion which he still felt for his buried Beatrice, had palled
on the fierce and restless exile. The sad story of Rimini is almost a
single exception. I know not whether it has been remarked, that, in one
point, misanthropy seems to have affected his mind as it did that of
Swift. Nauseous and revolting images seem to have had a fascination
for his mind; and he repeatedly places before his readers, with all
the energy of his incomparable style, the most loathsome objects of the
sewer and the dissecting-room.

There is another peculiarity in the poem of Dante, which, I think,
deserves notice. Ancient mythology {75}has hardly ever been successfully
interwoven with modern poetry. One class of writers have introduced the
fabulous deities merely as allegorical representatives of love, wine,
or wisdom. This necessarily renders their works tame and cold. We may
sometimes admire their ingenuity; but with what interest can we read
of beings of whose personal existence the writer does not suffer us
to entertain, for a moment, even a conventional belief? Even Spenser’s
allegory is scarcely tolerable, till we contrive to forget that Una
signifies innocence, and consider her merely as an oppressed lady under
the protection of a generous knight.

Those writers who have, more judiciously, attempted to preserve the
personality of the classical divinities have failed from a different
cause. They have been imitators, and imitators at a disadvantage;
Euripides and Catullus believed in Bacchus and Cybele as little as we
do. But they lived among men who did. Their imaginations, if not their
opinions, took the colour of the age. Hence the glorious inspiration of
the Bacchæ and the Atys. Our minds are formed by circumstances: and I do
not believe that it would be in the power of the greatest modern poet to
lash himself up to a degree of enthusiasm adequate to the production of
such works.

Dante alone, among the poets of later times, has been, in this respect,
neither an allegorist nor an imitator; and, consequently, he alone has
introduced the ancient fictions with effect. His Minos, his Charon,
his Pluto, are absolutely terrific. Nothing can be more beautiful or
original than the use which lie has made of the river of Lethe. He has
never assigned to his mythological characters any functions inconsistent
with the creed of the Catholic Church. He has {76}related nothing
concerning them which a good Christian of that age might not believe
possible. On this account, there is nothing in these passages that
appears puerile or pedantic. On the contrary, this singular use of
classical names suggests to the mind a vague and awful idea of some
mysterious revelation, anterior to all recorded history, of which the
dispersed fragments might have been retained amidst the impostures and
superstitions of later religions. Indeed the mythology of the Divine
Comedy is of the elder and more colossal mould. It breathes the spirit
of Homer and Æschylus, not of Ovid and Claudian.

This is the more extraordinary, since Dante seems to have been utterly
ignorant of the Greek language; and his favorite Latin models could only
have served to mislead him. Indeed, it is impossible not to remark his
admiration of writers far inferior to himself; and, in particular,
his idolatry of Virgil, who, elegant and splendid as he is, has no
pretensions to the depth and originality of mind which characterise his
Tuscan worshipper. In truth, it may be laid down as an almost universal
rule that good poets are bad critics. Their minds are under the tyranny
of ten thousand associations imperceptible to others. The worst writer
may easily happen to touch a spring which is connected in their minds
with a long succession of beautiful images. They are like the gigantic
slaves of Aladdin, gifted with matchless power, but bound by spells
so mighty that when a child whom they could have crushed touched a
talisman, of whose secret he was ignorant, they immediately became his
vassals. It has more than once happened to me to see minds, graceful
and majestic as the Titania of Shakspeare, bewitched by the charms of
an ass’s head, bestowing on it the fondest {77}caresses, and crowning it
with the sweetest flowers. I need only mention the poems attributed to
Ossian. They are utterly worthless, except as an edifying instance of
the success of a story without evidence, and of a book without merit.
They are a chaos of words which present no image, of images which have
no archetype:--they are without form and void; and darkness is upon the
face of them. Yet how many men of genius have panegyrised and imitated

The style of Dante is, if not his highest, perhaps his most peculiar
excellence. I know nothing with which it can be compared. The noblest
models of Greek composition must yield to it. His words are the fewest
and the best which it is possible to use. The first expression in which
he clothes his thoughts is always so energetic and comprehensive that
amplification would only injure the effect. There is probably no writer
in any language who has presented so many strong pictures to the mind.
Yet there is probably no writer equally concise. This perfection of
style is the principal merit of the Paradiso, which, as I have already
remarked, is by no means equal in other respects to the two preceding
parts of the poem. The force and felicity of the diction, however,
irresistibly attract the reader through the theological lectures and the
sketches of ecclesiastical biography, with which this division of the
work too much abounds. It may seem almost absurd to quote particular
specimens of an excellence which is diffused over all his hundred
cantos. I will, however, instance the third canto of the Inferno, and
the sixth of the Purgatorio, as passages incomparable in their kind. The
merit of the latter is, perhaps, rather oratorical than poetical; nor
can I recollect any thing in the great Athenian speeches {78}which
equals it in force of invective and bitterness of sarcasm. I have heard
the most eloquent statesman of the age remark that, next to Demosthenes,
Dante is the writer who ought to be most attentively studied by every
man who desires to attain oratorical eminence.

But it is time to close this feeble and rambling critique. I cannot
refrain, however, from saying a few words upon the translations of the
divine comedy. Boyd’s is as tedious and languid as the original is rapid
and forcible. The strange measure which he has chosen, and, for ought I
know, invented, is most unfit for such a work. Translations ought never
to be written in a verse which requires much command of rhyme. The
stanza becomes a bed of Procrustes; and the thoughts of the unfortunate
author are alternately racked and curtailed to fit their new receptacle.
The abrupt and yet consecutive style of Dante suffers more than that
of any other poet by a version diffuse in style, and divided into
paragraphs, for they deserve no other name, of equal length.

Nothing can be said in favour of Hayley’s attempt, but that it is better
than Boyd’s. His mind was a tolerable specimen of filagree work,--rather
elegant, and very feeble. All that can be said for his best works is
that they are neat. All that can be said against his worst is that they
are stupid. He might have translated Metastasio tolerably. But he was
utterly unable to do justice to the

                        “rime e aspre e chioce,

                   Come si converrebbe al tristo buco.” (1)

I turn with pleasure from these wretched performances to Mr. Cary’s
translation. It is a work which well deserves a separate discussion, and
on which, if

     (1)Inferno, canto xxxii.

{79}this article were not already too long, I could dwell with great
pleasure. At present I will only say that there is no other version in
the world, as far as I know, so faithful, yet that there is no other
version which so fully proves that the translator is himself a man of
poetical genius. Those who are ignorant of the Italian language should
read it to become acquainted with the Divine Comedy. Those who are most
intimate with Italian literature should read it for its original merits:
and I believe that they will find it difficult to determine whether the
author deserves most praise for his intimacy with the language of Dante,
or for his extraordinary mastery over his own.

{80}(_Knight’s Quarterly Magazine,_ April 1824.)


               Et vos, o lauri, carpam, et te, proxima myrte,

               Sic positæ quoniam suaves miscetis odores. _Virgil_.

It would not be easy to name a writer whose celebrity, when both its
extent and its duration are taken into the account, can be considered as
equal to that of Petrarch. Four centuries and a half have elapsed since
his death. Yet still the inhabitants of every nation throughout the
western world are as familiar with his character and his adventures as
with the most illustrious names, and the most recent anecdotes, of their
own literary history. This is indeed a rare distinction. His detractors
must acknowledge that it could not have been acquired by a poet
destitute of merit. His admirers will scarcely maintain that the
unassisted merit of Petrarch could have raised him to that eminence
which has not yet been attained by Shakspeare, Milton, or Dante,--that
eminence, of which perhaps no modern writer, excepting himself and
Cervantes, has long retained possession,--an European reputation.

It is not difficult to discover some of the causes to which this great
man has owed a celebrity, which I {81}cannot but think disproportioned
to his real claims on the admiration of mankind. In the first place, he
is an egotist. Egotism in conversation is universally abhorred. Lovers,
and, I believe, lovers alone, pardon it in each other. No services,
no talents, no powers of pleasing, render it endurable. Gratitude,
admiration, interest, fear, scarcely prevent those who are condemned to
listen to it from indicating their disgust and fatigue. The childless
uncle, the powerful patron, can scarcely extort this compliance. We
leave the inside of the mail in a storm, and mount the box, rather than
hear the history of our companion. The chaplain bites his lips in the
presence of the archbishop. The midshipman yawns at the table of
the First Lord. Yet, from whatever cause, this practice, the pest of
conversation, gives to writing a zest which nothing else can impart.
Rousseau made the boldest experiment of this kind; and it fully
succeeded. In our own time Lord Byron, by a series of attempts of the
same nature, made himself the object of general interest and admiration.
Wordsworth wrote with egotism more intense, but less obvious; and he has
been rewarded with a sect of worshippers, comparatively small in number,
but far more enthusiastic in their devotion. It is needless to multiply
instances. Even now all the walks of literature are infested with
mendicants for fame, who attempt to excite our interest by exhibiting
all the distortions of their intellects, and stripping the covering from
all the putrid sores of their feelings. Nor are there wanting many who
push their imitation of the beggars whom they resemble a step further,
and who find it easier to extort a pittance from the spectator, by
simulating deformity and debility from which they are exempt, than
by such {82}honest labour as their health and strength enable them to
perform. In the mean time the credulous public pities and pampers a
nuisance which requires only the tread-mill and the whip. This art,
often successful when employed by dunces, gives irresistible fascination
to works which possess intrinsic merit. We are always desirous to know
something of the character and situation of those whose writings we have
perused with pleasure. The passages in which Milton has alluded to
his own circumstances are perhaps read more frequently, and with more
interest, than any other lines in his poems. It is amusing to observe
with what labour critics have attempted to glean from the poems of
Homer some hints as to his situation and feelings. According to one
hypothesis, he intended to describe himself under the name of Demodocus.
Others maintain that he was the identical Phemius whose life Ulysses
spared. This propensity of the human mind explains, I think, in a great
degree, the extensive popularity of a poet whose works are little else
than the expression of his personal feelings.

In the second place, Petrarch was not only an egotist, but an amatory
egotist. The hopes and fears, the joys and sorrows, which he described,
were derived from the passion which of all passions exerts the widest
influence, and which of all passions borrows most from the imagination.
He had also another immense advantage. He was the first eminent amatory
poet who appeared after the great convulsion which had changed, not only
the political, but the moral, state of the world. The Greeks, who, in
their public institutions and their literary tastes, were diametrically
opposed to the oriental nations, bore a considerable resemblance to
those nations in their domestic habits. Like them, they {83}despised the
intellects and immured the persons of their women; and it was among
the least of the fright-fid evils to which this pernicious system gave
birth, that all the accomplishments of mind, and all the fascinations of
manner, which, in a highly-cultivated age, will generally be necessary
to attach men to their female associates, were monopolised by the
Phrynes and the Lamias. The indispensable ingredients of honourable and
chivalrous love were nowhere to be found united. The matrons and their
daughters, confined in the harem,--insipid, uneducated, ignorant of all
but the mechanical arts, scarcely seen till they were married,--could
rarely excite interest; while their brilliant rivals, half graces, half
harpies, elegant and informed, but fickle and rapacious, could never
inspire respect.

The state of society in Rome was, in this point, far happier; and
the Latin literature partook of the superiority. The Roman poets have
decidedly surpassed those of Greece in the delineation of the passion of
love. There is no subject which they have treated with so much success.
Ovid, Catullus, Tibullus, Horace, and Propertius, in spite of all their
faults, must be allowed to rank high in this department of the art. To
these I would add my favourite Plautus; who, though he took his plots
from Greece, found, I suspect, the originals of his enchanting female
characters at Rome.

Still many evils remained: and, in the decline of the great empire, all
that was pernicious in its domestic institutions appeared more strongly.
Under the influence of governments at once dependent and tyrannical,
which purchased, by cringing to their enemies, the power of trampling on
their subjects, the Romans sunk {84}into the lowest state of effeminacy
and debasement. Falsehood, cowardice, sloth, conscious and unrepining
degradation, formed the national character. Such a character is totally
incompatible with the stronger passions. Love, in particular, which, in
the modern sense of the word, implies protection and devotion on the one
side, confidence on the other, respect and fidelity on both, could not
exist among the sluggish and heartless slaves who cringed around the
thrones of Honorius and Augustulus. At this period the great renovation
commenced. The warriors of the north, destitute as they were of
knowledge and humanity, brought with them, from their forests and
marshes, those qualities without which humanity is a weakness, and
knowledge a curse,--energy--independence--the dread of shame--the
contempt of danger. It would be most interesting to examine the manner
in which the admixture of the savage conquerors and the effeminate
slaves, after many generations of darkness and agitation, produced the
modern European character;--to trace back, from the first conflict to
the final amalgamation, the operation of that mysterious alchemy, which,
from hostile and worthless elements, has extracted the pure gold of
human nature--to analyse the mass, and to determine the proportions
in which the ingredients are mingled. But I will confine myself to the
subject to which I have more particularly referred. The nature of the
passion of love had undergone a complete change. It still retained,
indeed, the fanciful and voluptuous character which it had possessed
among the southern nations of antiquity. But it was tinged with the
superstitious veneration with which the northern warriors had been
accustomed to regard women. Devotion and war had {85}imparted to it
their most solemn and animating feelings. It was sanctified by
the blessings of the Church, and decorated with the wreaths of the
tournament. Venus, as in the ancient fable, was again rising above the
dark and tempestuous waves which had so long covered her beauty. But she
rose not now, as of old, in exposed and luxurious loveliness. She still
wore the eestus of her ancient witchcraft; but the diadem of Juno was
on her brow, and the ægis of Pallas in her hand. Love might, in fact, be
called a new passion; and it is not astonishing that the first poet of
eminence who wholly devoted his genius to this theme should have excited
an extraordinary sensation. He may be compared to an adventurer who
accidentally lands in a rich and unknown island; and who, though he may
only set up an ill-shaped cross upon the shore, acquires possession of
its treasures, and gives it his name. The claim of Petrarch was indeed
somewhat like that of Amerigo Vespucci to the continent which should
have derived its appellation from Columbus. The Provençal poets were
unquestionably the masters of the Florentine. But they wrote in an age
which could not appreciate their merits; and their imitator lived at the
very period when composition in the vernacular language began to attract
general attention. Petrarch was in literature what a Valentine is
in love. The public preferred him, not because his merits were of a
transcendent order, but because he was the first person whom they saw
after they awoke from their long sleep.

Nor did Petrarch gain less by comparison with his immediate successors
than with those who had preceded him. Till more than a century after his
death Italy produced no poet who could be compared to him. This decay
of genius is doubtless to be ascribed, in a {86}great measure, to the
influence which his own works had exercised upon the literature of
his country. Yet it has conduced much to his fame. Nothing is more
favourable to the reputation of a writer than to be succeeded by a race
inferior to himself; and it is an advantage, from obvious causes, much
more frequently enjoyed by those who corrupt the national taste than by
those who improve it.

Another cause has co-operated with those which I have mentioned to
spread the renown of Petrarch. I mean the interest which is inspired by
the events of his life--an interest which must have been strongly felt
by his contemporaries, since, after an interval of five hundred years,
no critic can be wholly exempt from its influence. Among the great men
to whom we owe the resuscitation of science he deserves the foremost
place; and his enthusiastic attachment to this great cause constitutes
his most just and splendid title to the gratitude of posterity. He was
the votary of literature. He loved it with a perfect love. He worshipped
it with an almost fanatical devotion. He was the missionary, who
proclaimed its discoveries to distant countries--the pilgrim, who
travelled far and wide to collect its reliques--the hermit, who retired
to seclusion to meditate on its beauties--the champion, who fought its
battles--the conqueror, who, in more than a metaphorical sense, led
barbarism and ignorance in triumph, and received in the capitol the
laurel which his magnificent victory had earned.

Nothing can be conceived more noble or affecting than that ceremony. The
superb palaces and porticoes, by which had rolled the ivory chariots
of Marius and Cæsar, had long mouldered into dust. The laurelled
fasces--the golden eagles--the shouting legions--{87}the captives and
the pictured cities--were indeed wanting to his victorious procession.
The sceptre had passed away from Rome. But she still retained the
mightier influence of an intellectual empire, and was now to confer the
prouder reward of an intellectual triumph. To the man who had extended
the dominion of her ancient language--who had erected the trophies
of philosophy and imagination in the haunts of ignorance and
ferocity--whose captives were the hearts of admiring nations enchained
by the influence of his song--whose spoils were the treasures of ancient
genius rescued from obscurity and decay--the Eternal City offered the
just and glorious tribute of her gratitude. Amidst the ruined monuments
of ancient and the infant erections of modern art, he who had restored
the broken link between the two ages of human civilization was crowned
with the wreath which he had deserved from the moderns who owed to him
their refinement--from the ancients who owed to him their fame. Never
was a coronation so august witnessed by Westminster or by Rheims.

When we turn from this glorious spectacle to the private chamber of the
poet,--when we contemplate the struggle of passion and virtue,--the
eye dimmed, the cheek furrowed, by the tears of sinful and hopeless
desire,--when we reflect on the whole history of his attachment, from
the gay fantasy of his youth to the lingering despair of his age, pity
and affection mingle with our admiration. Even after death had placed
the last seal on his misery, we see him devoting to the cause of the
human mind all the strength and energy which love and sorrow had spared.
He lived the apostle of literature;--he fell its martyr:--he was found
dead with his head reclined on a book. {88}Those who have studied the
life and writings of Petrarch with attention, will perhaps be inclined
to make some deductions from this panegyric. It cannot be denied that
his merits were disfigured by a most unpleasant affectation. His zeal
for literature communicated a tinge of pedantry to all his feelings and
opinions. His love was the love of a sonnetteer:--his patriotism was the
patriotism of an antiquarian. The interest with which we contemplate
the works, and study the history, of those who, in former ages, have
occupied our country, arises from the associations which connect
them with the community in which are comprised all the objects of our
affection and our hope. In the mind of Petrarch these feelings were
reversed. He loved Italy, because it abounded with the monuments of the
ancient masters of the world. His native city--the fair and glorious
Florence--the modern Athens, then in all the bloom and strength of its
youth, could not obtain, from the most distinguished of its citizens,
any portion of that passionate homage which he paid to the decrepitude
of Rome. These and many other blemishes, though they must in candour be
acknowledged, can but in a very slight degree diminish the glory of
his career. For my own part, I look upon it with so much fondness and
pleasure that I feel reluctant to turn from it to the consideration of
his works, which I by no means contemplate with equal admiration.

Nevertheless, I think highly of the poetical powers of Petrarch. He did
not possess, indeed, the art of strongly presenting sensible objects to
the imagination;--and this is the more remarkable, because the talent of
which I speak is that which peculiarly distinguishes the Italian poets.
In the Divine Comedy it is displayed {89}in its highest perfection. It
characterises almost every celebrated poem in the language. Perhaps this
is to be attributed to the circumstance, that painting and sculpture
had attained a high degree of excellence in Italy before poetry had been
extensively cultivated. Men were debarred from books, but accustomed
from childhood to contemplate the admirable works of art, which, even in
the thirteenth century, Italy began to produce. Hence their imaginations
received so strong a bias that, even in their writings, a taste for
graphic delineation is discernible. The progress of things in England
has been in all respects different. The consequence is, that English
historical pictures are poems on canvass; while Italian poems are
pictures painted to the mind by means of words. Of this national
characteristic the writings of Petrarch are almost totally destitute.
His sonnets indeed, from their subject and nature, and his Latin poems,
from the restraints which always shackle one who writes in a dead
language, cannot fairly be received in evidence. But his Triumphs
absolutely required the exercise of this talent, and exhibit no
indications of it.

Genius, however, he certainly possessed, and genius of a high order. His
ardent, tender, and magnificent turn of thought, his brilliant fancy,
his command of expression, at once forcible and elegant, must be
acknowledged. Nature meant him for the prince of lyric writers. But by
one fatal present she deprived her other gifts of half their value. He
would have been a much greater poet had he been a less clever man. His
ingenuity was the bane of his mind. He abandoned the noble and natural
style, in which he might have excelled, for the conceits which he
produced with a facility at once admirable and disgusting. His muse
{90}like the Roman lady in Livy, was tempted by gaudy ornaments to
betray the fastnesses of her strength, and, like her, was crushed
beneath the glittering bribes which had seduced her.

The paucity of his thoughts is very remarkable. It is impossible to look
without amazement on a mind so fertile in combinations, yet so barren
of images. His amatory poetry is wholly made up of a very few topics,
disposed in so many orders, and exhibited in so many lights, that it
reminds us of those arithmetical problems about permutations, which so
much astonish the unlearned. The French cook, who boasted that he could
make fifteen different dishes out of a nettle-top, was not a greater
master of his art. The mind of Petrarch was a kaleidoscope. At every
turn it presents us with new forms, always fantastic, occasionally
beautiful; and we can scarcely believe that all these varieties have
been produced by the same worthless fragments of glass. The sameness of
his images is, indeed, in some degree, to be attributed to the sameness
of his subject. It would be unreasonable to expect perpetual variety
from so many hundred compositions, all of the same length, all in
the same measure, and all addressed to the same insipid and heartless
coquette. I cannot but suspect also that the perverted taste, which is
the blemish of his amatory verses, was to be attributed to the influence
of Laura, who probably, like most critics of her sex, preferred a gaudy
to a majestic style. Be this as it may, he no sooner changes his subject
than he changes his manner. When he speaks of the wrongs and degradation
of Italy, devastated by foreign invaders, and but feebly defended by
her pusillanimous children, the effeminate lisp of the sonnetteer is
exchanged for a cry, wild, and solemn, and piercing as {91}that which
proclaimed “Sleep no more” to the bloody house of Cawdor. “Italy seems
not to feel her sufferings,” exclaims her impassioned poet; “decrepit,
sluggish, and languid, will she sleep for ever? Will there be none to
awake her? Oh that I had my hands twisted in her hair!” (1)

Nor is it with less energy that he denounces against the Mahometan
Babylon the vengeance of Europe and of Christ. His magnificent
enumeration of the ancient exploits of the Greeks must always excite
admiration, and cannot be perused without the deepest interest, at a
time when the wise and good, bitterly disappointed in so many other
countries, are looking with breathless anxiety towards the natal land of
liberty,--the field of Marathon,--and the deadly pass where the Lion of
Lacedæmon turned to bay. (2)

His poems on religious subjects also deserve the highest commendation.
At the head of these must be placed the Ode to the Virgin. It is,
perhaps, the finest hymn in the world. His devout veneration receives an
exquisitely poetical character from the delicate perception of the sex
and the loveliness of his idol, which we may easily trace throughout the
whole composition.

I could dwell with pleasure on these and similar parts of the writings
of Petrarch; but I must return to his amatory poetry: to that he
entrusted his fame; and to that he has principally owed it.

The prevailing defect of his best compositions on this subject is the
universal brilliancy with which they

(1)                    Clie suoi guai non par che senta;

                   Vecchia, oziosa, e lenta.

                   Dormira sempre, e non fia chi la svegli?

                   Le man l’avess’ io avvolte entro e capegli.--Canzone xi.


                   Maratona, e le mortali strette

                   Che difese il Leon con poca gente.--Canzone v.

{92}are lighted up. The natural language of the passions is, indeed,
often figurative and fantastic; and with none is this more the case than
with that of love. Still there is a limit. The feelings should, indeed,
have their ornamental garb; but, like an elegant woman, they should be
neither muffled nor exposed. The drapery should be so arranged, as at
once to answer the purposes of modest concealment and judicious display.
The decorations should sometimes be employed to hide a defect, and
sometimes to heighten a beauty; but never to conceal, much less to
distort, the charms to which they are subsidiary. The love of Petrarch,
on the contrary, arrays itself like a foppish savage, whose nose is
bored with a golden ring, whose skin is painted with grotesque forms
and dazzling colours, and whose ears are drawn down his shoulders by the
weight of jewels. It is a rule, without any exception, in all kinds of
composition, that the principal idea, the predominant feeling, should
never be confounded with the accompanying decorations. It should
generally be distinguished from them by greater simplicity of
expression; as we recognise Napoleon in the pictures of his battles,
amidst a crowd of embroidered coats and plumes, by his grey cloak and
his hat without a feather. In the verses of Petrarch it is generally
impossible to say what thought is meant to be prominent. All is equally
elaborate. The chief wears the same gorgeous and degrading livery with
his retinue, and obtains only his share of the indifferent stare which
we bestow upon them in common. The poems have no strong lights and
shades, no background, no foreground;--they are like the illuminated
figures in an oriental manuscript,--plenty of rich tints and no
perspective. Such are the fruits of the most celebrated of these
compositions. {93}Of those which are universally acknowledged to be bad
it is scarcely possible to speak with patience. Yet they have much
in common with their splendid companions. They differ from them, as a
May-day procession of chimney-sweepers differs from the Field of Cloth
of Gold. They have the gaudiness but not the wealth. His muse belongs to
that numerous class of females who have no objection to be dirty,
while they can be tawdry. When his brilliant conceits are exhausted, he
supplies their place with metaphysical quibbles, forced antitheses, bad
puns, and execrable charades. In his fifth sonnet he may, I think, be
said to have sounded the lowest chasm of the Bathos. Upon the whole,
that piece may be safely pronounced to be the worst attempt at poetry,
and the worst attempt at wit, in the world.

A strong proof of the truth of these criticisms is, that almost all the
sonnets produce exactly the same effect on the mind of the reader. They
relate to all the various moods of a lover, from joy to despair:--yet
they are perused, as far as my experience and observation have gone,
with exactly the same feeling. The fact is, that in none of them are the
passion and the ingenuity mixed in just proportions. There is not enough
sentiment to dilute the condiments which are employed to season it. The
repast which he sets before us resembles the Spanish entertainment in
Dry-den’s _Mock Astrologer_, at which the relish of all the dishes
and sauces was overpowered by the common flavour of spice.
Fish,--flesh,--fowl,--everything at table tasted of nothing but red

The writings of Petrarch may indeed suffer undeservedly from one cause
to which I must allude. His imitators have so much familiarised the ear
of Italy {94}and of Europe to the favourite topics of amorous flattery
and lamentation, that we can scarcely think them original when we
find them in the first author; and, even when our understandings have
convinced us that they were new to him, they are still old to us. This
has been the fate of many of the finest passages of the most eminent
writers. It is melancholy to trace a noble thought from stage to stage
of its profanation; to see it transferred from the first illustrious
wearer to his lacqueys, turned, and turned again, and at last hung on a
scare-crow. Petrarch has really suffered much from this cause. Yet that
he should have so suffered is a sufficient proof that his excellences
were not of the highest order. A line may be stolen; but the pervading
spirit of a great poet is not to be sureptitiously obtained by a
plagiarist. The continued imitation of twenty-five centuries has left
Homer as it found him. If every simile and every turn of Dante had been
copied ten thousand times, the Divine Comedy would have retained all
its freshness. It was easy for the porter in Farquhar to pass for Beau
Clincher, by borrowing his lace and his pulvilio. It would have been
more difficult to enact Sir Harry Wildair.

Before I quit this subject I must defend Petrarch from one accusation,
which is in the present day frequently brought against him. His sonnets
are pronounced by a large sect of critics not to possess certain
qualities which they maintain to be indispensable to sonnets, with as
much confidence, and as much reason, as their prototypes of old insisted
on the unities of the drama. I am an exoteric--utterly unable to explain
the mysteries of this new poetical faith. I only know that it is a
faith, which except a man do keep pure and undefiled, without doubt he
shall be called a {95}blockhead. I cannot, however, refrain from asking
what is the particular virtue which belongs to fourteen as distinguished
from all other numbers. Does it arise from its being a multiple of
seven? Has this principle any reference to the sabbatical ordinance?
Or is it to the order of rhymes that these singular properties are
attached? Unhappily the sonnets of Shakspeare differ as much in this
respect from those of Petrarch, as from a Spenserian or an octave
stanza. Away with this unmeaning jargon! We have pulled down the old
regime of criticism. I trust that we shall never tolerate the equally
pedantic and irrational despotism, which some of the revolutionary
leaders would erect upon its ruins. We have not dethroned Aristotle and
Bossu for this.

These sonnet-fanciers would do well to reflect that, though the style of
Petrarch may not suit the standard of perfection which they have chosen,
they lie under great obligations to these very poems,--that, but for
Petrarch, the measure, concerning which they legislate so judiciously,
would probably never have attracted notice;--and that to him they owe
the pleasure of admiring, and the glory of composing, pieces, which seem
to have been produced by Master Slender, with the assistance of his man

I cannot conclude these remarks without making a few observations on the
Latin writings of Petrarch. It appears that, both by himself and by his
contemporaries, these were far more highly valued than his compositions
in the vernacular language. Posterity, the supreme court of literary
appeal, has not only reversed the judgment, but, according to its
general practice, reversed it with costs, and condemned the unfortunate
works to pay, not only for their own inferiority, but {96}also for the
injustice of those who had given them an unmerited preference. And
it must be owned that, without making large allowances for the
circumstances under which they were produced, we cannot pronounce a very
favourable judgment. They must be considered as exotics, transplanted to
a foreign climate, and reared in an unfavourable situation; and it would
be unreasonable to expect from them the health and the vigour which
we find in the indigenous plants around them, or which they might
themselves have possessed in their native soil. He has but very
imperfectly imitated the style of the Latin authors, and has not
compensated for the deficiency by enriching the ancient language with
the graces of modern poetry. The splendour and ingenuity, which we
admire, even when we condemn it, in his Italian works, is almost totally
wanting, and only illuminates with rare and occasional glimpses the
dreary obscurity of the Africa. The eclogues have more animation; but
they can only be called poems by courtesy. They have nothing in common
with his writings in his native language, except the eternal pun about
Laura and Daphne. None of these works would have placed him on a level
with Vida or Buchanan. Yet, when we compare him with those who preceded
him, when we consider that he went on the forlorn hope of literature,
that he was the first who perceived, and the first who attempted to
revive, the finer elegancies of the ancient language of the world, we
shall perhaps think more highly of him than of those who could never
have surpassed his beauties if they had not inherited them.

He has aspired to emulate the philosophical eloquence of Cicero, as well
as the poetical majesty of {97}Virgil. His essay on the Remedies of Good
and Evil Fortune is a singular work, in a colloquial form, and a most
scholastic style. It seems to be framed upon the model of the Tusculan
Questions,--with what success those who have read it may easily
determine. It consists of a series of dialogues: in each of these a
person is introduced who has experienced some happy or some adverse
event: he gravely states his case; and a reasoner, or rather Reason
personified, confutes him; a task not very difficult, since the disciple
defends his position only by pertinaciously repeating it, in almost
the same words, at the end of every argument of his antagonist. In this
manner Petrarch solves an immense variety of cases. Indeed, I doubt
whether it would be possible to name any pleasure or any calamity which
does not find a place in this dissertation. He gives excellent advice to
a man who is in expectation of discovering the philosopher’s stone;--to
another, who has formed a fine aviary;--to a third, who is delighted
with the tricks of a favourite monkey. His lectures to the unfortunate
are equally singular. He seems to imagine that a precedent in point is a
sufficient consolation for every form of suffering. “Our town is taken,”
 says one complainant;” “So was Troy,” replies his comforter. “My wife
has eloped,” says another; “If it has happened to you once, it happened
to Menelaus twice.” One poor fellow is in great distress at having
discovered that his wife’s son is none of his. “It is hard,” says he,
“that I should have had the expense of bringing up one who is
indifferent to me.”

“You are a man,” returns his monitor, quoting the famous line of
Terence; “and nothing that belongs to any other man ought to be
indifferent to you.” The physical calamities of life are not omitted;
{98}and there is in particular a disquisition on the advantages of
having the itch, which, if not convincing, is certainly very amusing.

The invectives on an unfortunate physician, or rather upon the medical
science, have more spirit. Petrarch was thoroughly in earnest on this
subject. And the bitterness of his feelings occasionally produces, in
the midst of his classical and scholastic pedantry, a sentence worthy of
the second Philippic. Swift himself might have envied the chapter on the
causes of the paleness of physicians.

Of his Latin works the Epistles are the most generally known and
admired. As compositions they are certainly superior to his essays.
But their excellence is only comparative. From so large a collection of
letters, written by so eminent a man, during so varied and eventful
a life, we should have expected a complete and spirited view of the
literature, the manners, and the politics of the age. A traveller--a
poet--a scholar--a lover--a courtier--a recluse--he might have
perpetuated, in an imperishable record, the form and pressure of the age
and body of the time. Those who read his correspondence, in the hope
of finding such information as this, will be utterly disappointed. It
contains nothing characteristic of the period or of the individual. It
is a series, not of letters, but of themes; and, as it is not generally
known, might be very safely employed at public schools as a magazine of
common-places. Whether he write on politics to the Emperor and the
Doge, or send advice and consolation to a private friend, every line is
crowded with examples and quotations, and sounds big with Anaxagoras and
Scipio. Such was the interest excited by the character of Petrarch, and
such the admiration {99}which was felt for his epistolary style, that
it was with difficulty that his letters reached the place of their
destination. The poet describes, with pretended regret and real
complacency, the importunity of the curious, who often opened, and
sometimes stole, these favourite compositions. It is a remarkable
fact that, of all his epistles, the least affected are those which are
addressed to the dead and the unborn. Nothing can be more absurd than
his whim of composing grave letters of expostulation and commendation to
Cicero and Seneca; yet these strange performances are written in a
far more natural manner than his communications to his living
correspondents. But of all his Latin works the preference must be given
to the Epistle to Posterity; a simple, noble, and pathetic composition,
most honourable both to his taste and his heart. If we can make
allowance for some of the affected humility of an author, we shall
perhaps think that no literary man has left a more pleasing memorial of

In conclusion, we may pronounce that the works of Petrarch were below
both his genius and his celebrity; and that the circumstances under
which he wrote were as adverse to the development of his powers as they
were favourable to the extension of his fame.


{100}(_Knight’s Quarterly Magazine_, April 1824.)


The parish of St. Dennis is one of the most pleasant parts of the
country in which it is situated. It is fertile, well wooded, well
watered, and of an excellent air. For many generations the manor had
been holden in tail-male by a worshipful family, who have always taken
precedence of their neighbor’s at the races and the sessions.

In ancient times the affairs of this parish were administered by a
Court-Baron, in which the freeholders were judges; and the rates were
levied by select vestries of the inhabitant householders. But at length
these good customs fell into disuse. The Lords of the Manor, indeed,
still held courts for form’s sake; but they or their stewards had the
whole management of affairs. They demanded services, duties, and customs
to which they had no just title. Nay, they would often bring actions
against their neighbours for their own private advantage, and then send
in the bill to the parish. No objection was made, during many years, to
these proceedings, so that the rates became heavier {101}and heavier:
nor was any person exempted from these demands, except the footmen and
gamekeepers of the squire and the rector of the parish. They indeed were
never checked in any excess. They would come to an honest labourer’s
cottage, eat his pancakes, tuck his fowls into their pockets, and cane
the poor man himself. If he went up to the great house to complain, it
was hard to get the speech of Sir Lewis; and, indeed, his only chance of
being righted was to coax the squire’s pretty housekeeper, who could do
what she pleased with her master. If he ventured to intrude upon the
Lord of the Manor without this precaution, he gained nothing by his
pains. Sir Lewis, indeed, would at first receive him with a civil face;
for, to give him his due, he could be a fine gentleman when he pleased.
“Good day, my friend,” he would say “what situation have you in my

“Bless your honour!” says the poor fellow, “I am not one of your
honour’s servants; I rent a small piece of ground, your honour.”

“Then, you dog,” quoth the squire, “what do you mean by coming here? Has
a gentleman nothing to do but to hear the complaints of clowns? Here!
Philip, James, Dick, toss this fellow in a blanket; or duck him, and set
him in the stocks to dry.”

One of these precious Lords of the Manor enclosed a deer-park; and, in
order to stock it, he seized all the pretty pet fawns that his tenants
had brought up, without paying them a farthing, or asking their leave.
It was a sad day for the parish of St. Dennis. Indeed, I do not believe
that all his oppressive exactions and long bills enraged the poor
tenants so much as this cruel measure.

Yet for a long time, in spite of all these inconveniences, {102}St.
Dennis’s was a very pleasant place. The people could not refrain from
capering if they heard the sound of a fiddle. And, if they were inclined
to be riotous, Sir Lewis had only to send for Punch, or the dancing
dogs, and all was quiet again. But this could not last for ever; they
began to think more and more of their condition; and, at last, a club of
foulmouthed, good-for-nothing rascals was held at the sign of the Devil,
for the purpose of abusing the squire and the parson. The doctor, to own
the truth, was old and indolent, extremely fat and greedy. He had not
preached a tolerable sermon for a long time. The squire was still worse:
so that, partly by truth and partly by falsehood, the club set the whole
parish against their superiors. The boys scrawled caricatures of the
clergyman upon the church-door, and shot at the landlord with pop-guns
as he rode a hunting. It was even whispered about that the Lord of the
Manor had no right to his estate, and that, if he were compelled to
produce the original title-deeds, it would be found that he only held
the estate in trust for the inhabitants of the parish.

In the mean time the squire was pressed more and more for money. The
parish could pay no more. The rector refused to lend a farthing. The
Jews were clamorous for their money; and the landlord had no other
resource than to call together the inhabitants of the parish, and to
request their assistance. They now attacked him furiously about their
grievances, and insisted that he should relinquish his oppressive
powers. They insisted that his footmen should be kept in order, that
the parson should pay his share of the rates, that the children of the
parish should be allowed to fish in the trout-stream, and to gather
blackberries in the {103}hedges. They at last went so far as to demand
that he should acknowledge that he held his estate only in trust for
them. His distress compelled him to submit. They, in return, agreed
to set him free from his pecuniary difficulties, and to suffer him
to inhabit the manor-house; and only annoyed him from time to time by
singing impudent ballads under his window.

The neighbouring gentlefolks did not look on these proceedings with much
complacency. It is true that Sir Lewis and his ancestors had plagued
them with law-suits, and affronted them at county-meetings. Still they
preferred the insolence of a gentleman to that of the rabble, and felt
some uneasiness lest the example should infect their own tenants.

A large party of them met at the house of Lord Cæsar Germain. Lord Cæsar
was the proudest man in the country. His family was very ancient and
illustrius ones, though not particularly opulent. He had invited most of
his wealthy neighbours. There was Mrs. Kitty North, the relict of poor
Squire Peter, respecting whom the coroner’s jury had found a verdict
of accidental death, but whose fate had nevertheless excited strange
whispers in the neighbourhood. There was Squire Don, the owner of the
great West Indian property, who was not so rich as he had formerly been,
but still retained his pride, and kept up his customary pomp; so that he
had plenty of plate but no breeches. There was Squire Von Blunderbussen,
who had succeeded to the estates of his uncle, old Colonel Frederic
Von Blunderbussen, of the hussar’s. The colonel was a very singular old
fellow; he used to learn a page of Chambaud’s grammar, and to translate
Telemaque, every morning, and he kept six French masters to teach him to
parleyvoo. Nevertheless, he was a {104}shrewd clever man, and improved
his estate with so much care, sometimes by honest and sometimes by
dishonest means, that he left a very pretty property to his nephew.

Lord Cæsar poured out a glass of Tokay for Mrs. Kitty. “Your health, my
dear madam, I never saw you look more charming. Pray, what think you of
these doings at St. Dennis’s?”

“Fine doings! indeed!” interrupted Von Blunderbussen;

“I wish that we had my old uncle alive, he would have had some of them
up to the halberts. He knew how to use a cat-o’-nine-tails. If things
go on in this way, a gentleman will not be able to horsewhip an impudent
farmer, or to say a civil word to a milkmaid.”

“Indeed, it’s very true, Sir,” said Mrs. Kitty; “their insolence is
intolerable. Look at me, for instance:--a poor lone woman!--My dear
Peter dead! I loved him:--so I did; and, when he died, I was so
hysterical you cannot think. And now I cannot lean on the arm of a
decent footman, or take a walk with a tall grenadier behind me, just to
protect me from audacious vagabonds, but they must have their nauseous
suspicions;--odious creatures!”--

“This must be stopped,” replied Lord Cæsar. “We ought to contribute to
support my poor brother-in-law against these rascals. I will write to
Squire Guelf on this subject by this night’s post. His name is always at
the head of our county subscriptions.”

If the people of St. Dennis’s had been angry before, they were well nigh
mad when they heard of this conversation. The whole parish ran to the
manor-house. Sir Lewis’s Swiss porter shut the door against them; but
they broke in and knocked him on the head for his {105}impudence. They
then seized the squire, hooted at him, pelted him, ducked him, and
carried him to the watch-house. They turned the rector into the street,
burnt his wig and band, and sold the church-plate by auction. They put
up a painted Jezebel in the pulpit to preach. They scratched out the
texts which were written round the church, and scribbled profane
scraps of songs and plays in their place. They set the organ playing
to pot-house tune. Instead of being decently asked in church, they were
married over a broomstick. But, of all their whims, the use of the new
patent steel-traps was the most remarkable.

This trap was constructed on a completely new principle. It consisted
of a cleaver hung in a frame like a window; when any poor wretch got
in, down it came with a tremendous din, and took off his head in a
twinkling. They got the squire into one of these machines. In order to
prevent any of his partisans from getting footing in the parish, they
placed traps at every corner. It was impossible to walk through the
highway at broad noon without tumbling into one or other of them. No
man could go about his business in security. Yet so great was the hatred
which the inhabitants entertained for the old family, that a few decent
honest people, who begged them to take down the steel-traps, and to put
up humane man-traps in their room, were very roughly handled for their
good nature.

In the mean time the neighbouring gentry undertook a suit against the
parish on the behalf of Sir Lewis’s heir, and applied to Squire Guelf
for his assistance.

Everybody knows that Squire Guelf is more closely tied up than any
gentleman in the shire. He could, therefore, lend them no help; but
he referred them to {106}the Vestry of the Parish of St. George in
the Water. These good people had long borne a grudge against their
neighbours on the other side of the stream; and some mutual trespasses
had lately occurred which increased their hostility.

There was an honest Irishman, a great favourite among them, who used to
entertain them with raree-shows, and to exhibit a magic lantern to the
children on winter evenings. He had gone quite mad upon this subject.
Sometimes he would call out in the middle of the street--“Take care
of that corner, neighbours; for the love of Heaven, keep clear of that
post, there is a patent steel-trap concealed thereabouts.” Sometimes he
would be disturbed by frightful dreams; then he would get up at dead of
night, open his window and cry “fire,” till the parish was roused, and
the engines sent for. The pulpit of the Parish of St. George seemed
likely to fall; I believe that the only reason was that the parson had
grown too fat and heavy; but nothing would persuade this honest man but
that it was a scheme of the people at St. Dennis’s, and that they had
sawed through the pillars in order to break the rector’s neck. Once he
went about with a knife in his pocket, and told all the persons whom he
met that it had been sharpened by the knife-grinder of the next parish
to cut their throats. These extravagancies had a great effect on the
people; and the more so because they were espoused by Squire Guelf’s
steward, who was the most influential person in the parish. He was a
very fair-spoken man, very attentive to the main chance, and the idol of
the old women, because he never played at skittles or danced with the
girls; and, indeed, never took any recreation but that of drinking
on Saturday nights with his friend Harry, the Scotch {107}pedlar. His
supporters called him Sweet William; his enemies the Bottomless Pit.

The people of St. Dennis’s, however, had their advocates. There was
Frank, the richest farmer in the parish, whose great grandfather had
been knocked oil the head many years before, in a squabble between the
parish and a former landlord. There was Dick, the merry-andrew, rather
light-fingered and riotous, but a clever droll fellow. Above all, there
was Charley, the publican, a jolly, fat, honest lad, a great favourite
with the women, who, if he had not been rather too fond of ale and
chuck-farthing, would have been the best fellow in the neighbourhood.

“My boys,” said Charley, “this is exceedingly well for Madam North;--not
that I would speak uncivilly of her; she put up my picture in her best
room, bless her for it! But, I say, this is very well for her, and for
Lord Cæsar, and Squire Don, and Colonel Von;--but what affair is it of
yours or mine? It is not to be wondered at, that gentlemen should wish
to keep poor people out of their own. But it is strange, indeed, that
they should expect the poor themselves to combine against their own
interests. If the folks at St. Dennis’s should attack us we have the law
and our cudgels to protect us. But why, in the name of wonder, are we to
attack them? When old Sir Charles, who was Lord of the Manor formerly,
and the parson, who was presented by him to the living, tried to bully
the vestry, did not we knock their heads together, and go to meeting to
hear Jeremiah Ringletub preach? And did the Squire Don, or the great Sir
Lewis, that lived at that time, or the Germains, say a word against us
for it? Mind your own business, my lads: law is not to {108}be had for
nothing; and we, you may be sure, shall have to pay the whole bill.”

Nevertheless the people of St. George’s were resolved on law. They cried
out most lustily, “Squire Guelf for ever! Sweet William for ever! No
steel traps!” Squire Guelf took all the rascally footmen who had worn
old Sir Lewis’s livery into his service. They were fed in the kitchen
on the very best of every thing, though they had no settlement. Many
people, and the paupers in particular, grumbled at these proceedings.
The steward, however, devised a way to keep them quiet.

There had lived in this parish for many years an old gentleman, named
Sir Habeas Corpus. He was said by some to be of Saxon, by some of
Norman, extraction. Some maintained that he was not born till after
the time of Sir Charles, to whom we have before alluded. Others are of
opinion that he was a legitimate son of old Lady Magna Charta, although
he was long concealed and kept out of his birthright. Certain it is that
he was a very benevolent person. Whenever any poor fellow was taken
up on grounds which he thought insufficient, he used to attend on his
behalf and bail him; and thus he had become so popular, that to take
direct measures against him was out of the question.

The steward, accordingly, brought a dozen physicians to examine Sir
Habeas. After consultation, they reported that he was in a very bad way,
and ought not, on any account, to be allowed to stir out for several
months. Fortified with this authority, the parish officers put him
to bed, closed his windows, and barred his doors. They paid him every
attention, and from {109}time to time issued bulletins of his health.
The steward never spoke of him without declaring that he was the best
gentleman in the world; but excellent care was taken that he should
never stir out of doors.

When this obstacle was removed, the Squire and the steward kept the
parish in excellent order; flogged this man, sent that man to the
stocks, and pushed forward the law-suit with a noble disregard of
expense. They were, however, wanting either in skill or in fortune.
And every thing went against them after their antagonists had begun to
employ Solicitor Nap.

Who does not know the name of Solicitor Nap? At what alehouse is not his
behaviour discussed? In what print-shop is not his picture seen? Yet how
little truth has been said about him! Some people hold that he used to
give laudanum by pints to his sick clerks for his amusement. Others,
whose number has very much increased since he was killed by the
gaol distemper, conceive that he was the very model of honour and
good-nature. I shall try to tell the truth about him.

He was assuredly an excellent solicitor. In his way he never was
surpassed. As soon as the parish began to employ him, their cause took
a turn. In a very little time they were successful; and Nap became rich.
He now set up for a gentleman; took possession of the old manor-house;
got into the commission of the peace, and affected to be on a par with
the best of the county. He governed the vestries as absolutely as the
old family had done. Yet, to give him his due, he managed things with
far more discretion than either Sir Lewis or the rioters who had pulled
the Lords of the Manor down. He kept his servants in tolerable order.
He {110}removed the steel traps from the highways and the corners of
the streets. He still left a few indeed In the more exposed parts of his
premises; and set up a board announcing that traps and spring guns were
set in his grounds. He brought the poor parson hack to the parish;
and, though he did not enable him to keep a fine house and a coach as
formerly, he settled him in a snug little cottage, and allowed him a
pleasant pad-nag. He whitewashed the church again; and put the stocks,
which had been much wanted of late, into good repair.

With the neighbouring gentry, however, he was no favourite. He was
crafty and litigious. He cared nothing for right, if he could raise a
point of law against them. He pounded their cattle, broke their hedges,
and seduced their tenants from them. He almost ruined Lord Caesar with
actions, in every one of which he was successful. Von Blunderbussen went
to law with him for an alleged trespass, but was cast, and almost ruined
by the costs of suit. He next took a fancy to the seat of Squire Don,
who was, to say the truth, little better than an idiot. He asked the
poor dupe to dinner, and then threatened to have him tossed in a blanket
unless he would make over his estates to him. The poor Squire signed and
sealed a deed by which the property was assigned to Joe, a brother of
Nap’s, in trust for and to the use of Nap himself. The tenants, however,
stood out. They maintained that the estate was entailed, and refused
to pay rents to the new landlord; and in this refusal they were stoutly
supported by the people in St. George’s.

About the same time Nap took it into his head to match with quality, and
nothing would serve him but one of the Miss Germains. Lord Cæsar swore
like {111}a trooper; but there was no help for it. Nap had twice put
executions in his principal residence, and had refused to discharge the
latter of the two, till he had extorted a bond from his Lordship, which
compelled him to comply.




{112}(_Knight’s Quarterly Magazine_, August 1824.)

                   “Referre sermones Deorum efe

                   Magna modis tenuare parvis.”--Horace.

I have thought it good to set down in writing a memorable debate,
wherein I was a listener, and two men of pregnant parts and great
reputation discoursers; hoping that my friends will not be displeased to
have a record both of the strange times through which I have lived, and
of the famous men with whom I have conversed. It chanced, in the warm
and beautiful spring of the year 1665, a little before the saddest
summer that ever London saw, that I went to the Bowling-Green at
Piccadilly, whither, at that time, the best gentry made continual
resort. There I met Mr. Cowley, who had lately left Barnelms. There
was then a house preparing for him at Chertsey; and, till it should be
finished, he had come up for a short time to London, that he might
urge a suit to his Grace of Buckingham touching certain lands of
her Majesty’s, whereof he requested a lease. I had the honour to be
familiarly acquainted with that worthy gentleman {113}and most excellent
poet, whose death hath been deplored with as general a consent of all
Powers that delight in the woods, or in verse, or in love, as was of old
that of Daphnis or of Gallus.

After some talk, which it is not material to set down at large,
concerning his suit and his vexations at the court, where indeed his
honesty did him more harm than his parts could do him good, I entreated
him to dine with me at my lodging in the Temple, which he most
courteously promised. And, that so eminent a guest might not lack a
better entertainment than cooks or vintners can provide, I sent to the
house of Mr. John Milton, in the Artillery-Walk, to beg that he would
also be my guest. For, though he had been secretary, first to the
Council of State, and, after that, to the Protector, and Mr. Cowley had
held the same post under the Lord St. Albans in his banishment, I hoped,
notwithstanding, that they would think themselves rather united by their
common art than divided by their different factions. And so indeed it
proved. For, while we sat at table, they talked freely of many men and
things, as well ancient as modern, with much civility. Nay, Mr. Milton,
who seldom tasted wine, both because of his singular temperance and
because of his gout, did more than once pledge. Mr. Cowley, who was
indeed no hermit in diet. At last, being heated, Mr. Milton begged that
I would open the windows. “Nay,” said I, “if you desire fresh air and
coolness, what should hinder us, as the evening is fair, from sailing
for an hour on the river?” To this they both cheerfully consented; and
forth we walked, Mr. Cowley and I leading Mr. Milton between us, to the
Temple Stairs. There we took a boat; and thence we were rowed up the
river. {114}The wind was pleasant; the evening fine; the sky, the earth,
and the water beautiful to look Upon. But Mr. Cowley and I held our
peace, and said nothing of the gay sights around us, lest we should too
feelingly remind Mr. Milton of his calamity; whereof, however, he needed
no monitor: for soon he said sadly, “Ah, Mr. Cowley, you are a happy
man. What would I now give but for one more look at the sun, and the
waters, and the gardens of this fair city!”

“I know not,” said Mr. Cowley, “whether we ought not rather to envy
you for that which makes you to envy others: and that specially in this
place, where all eyes which are not closed in blindness ought to become
fountains of tears. What can we look upon which is not a memorial of
change and sorrow, of fair things vanished, and evil things done? When
I see the gate of Whitehall, and the stately pillars of the Banqueting
House, I cannot choose but think of what I have there seen in former
days, masques, and pageants, and dances, and smiles, and the waving of
graceful heads, and the bounding of delicate feet. And then I turn to
thoughts of other things, which even to remember makes me to blush and
weep;--of the great black scaffold, and the axe and block, which were
placed before those very windows; and the voice seems to sound in mine
ears, the lawless and terrible voice, which cried out that the head of a
king was the head of a traitor. There stands Westminster Hall, which who
can look upon, and not tremble to think how time, and change, and death
confound the councils of the wise, and beat down the weapons of
the mighty? How have I seen it surrounded with tens of thousands of
petitioners crying for justice and privilege! How have I heard it shake
{115}with fierce and proud words, which made the hearts of the people
burn within them! Then it is blockaded by dragoons, and cleared by
pikemen. And they who have conquered their master go forth trembling at
the word of their servant. And yet a little while, and the usurper comes
forth from it, in his robe of ermine, with the golden staff in one
hand and the Bible in the other, amidst the roaring of the guns and the
shouting of the people. And yet again a little while, and the doors are
thronged with multitudes in black, and the hearse and the plumes come
forth; and the tyrant is borne, in more than royal pomp, to a royal
sepulchre. A few days more, and his head is fixed to rot on the
pinnacles of that very hall where he sat on a throne in his life, and
lay in state after his death. When I think on all these things, to look
round me makes me sad at heart. True it is that God hath restored to us
our old laws, and the rightful line of our kings. Yet, how I know not,
but it seems to me that something is wanting--that our court hath not
the old gravity, nor our people the old loyalty. These evil times, like
the great deluge, have overwhelmed and confused all earthly things. And,
even as those waters, though at last they abated, yet, as the learned
write, destroyed all trace of the garden of Eden, so that its place hath
never since been found, so hath this opening of all the flood-gates of
political evil effaced all marks of the ancient political paradise.”

“Sir, by your favour,” said Mr. Milton, “though, from many circumstances
both of body and of fortune, I might plead fairer excuses for
despondency than yourself, I yet look not so sadly either on the past
or on the future. That a deluge hath passed over this our nation, I deny
not. But I hold it not to be {116}such a deluge as that of which you
speak; but rather a blessed flood, like those of the Nile, which in
its overflow doth indeed wash away ancient landmarks, and confound
boundaries, and sweep away dwellings, yea, doth give birth to many foul
and dangerous reptiles. Yet hence is the fulness of the granary, the
beauty of the garden, the nurture of all living things.

“I remember well, Mr. Cowley, what you have said concerning these things
in your Discourse of the Government of Oliver Cromwell, which my friend
Elwood read to me last year. Truly, for elegance and rhetoric, that
essay is to be compared with the finest tractates of Isocrates and
Cicero. But neither that nor any other book, nor any events, which with
most men have, more than any book, weight and authority, have altered my
opinion, that, of all assemblies that ever were in this world, the best
and the most useful was our Long Parliament. I speak not this as wishing
to provoke debate; which neither yet do I decline.”

Mr. Cowley was, as I could see, a little nettled. Yet, as he was a man
of a kind disposition and a most refined courtesy, he put a force upon
himself, and answered with more vehemence and quickness indeed than was
his wont, yet not uncivilly. “Surely, Mr. Milton, you speak not as you
think. I am indeed one of those who believe that God hath reserved to
himself the censure of kings, and that their crimes and oppressions are
not to be resisted by the hands of their subjects. Yet can I easily
find excuse for the violence of such as are stung to madness by grievous
tyranny. But what shall we say for these men? Which of their just
demands was not granted? Which even of their cruel and unreasonable
requisitions, so as it {117}were not inconsistent with all law and
order, was refused? Had they not sent Strafford to the block and Laud to
the Tower? Had they not destroyed the Courts of the High Commission and
the Star Chamber? Had they not reversed the proceedings confirmed by the
voices of the judges of England, in the matter of ship-money? Had they
not taken from the king his ancient and most lawful power touching
the order of knighthood? Had they not provided that, after their
dissolution, triennial parliaments should be holden, and that their own
power should continue till of their great condescension they should be
pleased to resign it themselves? What more could they ask? Was it not
enough that they had taken from their king all his oppressive powers,
and many that were most salutary? Was it not enough that they had filled
his council-board with his enemies, and his prisons with his adherents?
Was it not enough that they had raised a furious multitude, to shout
and swagger daily under the very windows of his royal palace? Was it
not enough that they had taken from him the most blessed prerogative of
princely mercy; that, complaining of intolerance themselves, they had
denied all toleration to others; that they had urged, against forms,
scruples childish as those of any formalist; that they had persecuted
the least remnant of the popish rites with the fiercest bitterness of
the popish spirit? Must they besides all this have full power to command
his armies, and to massacre his friends?

“For military command, it was never known in any monarchy, nay, in any
well ordered republic, that it was committed to the debates of a large
and unsettled assembly. For their other requisition, that he should give
up to their vengeance all who had defended the {118}rights of his crown,
his honour must have been ruined if he had complied. Is it not therefore
plain that they desired these things only in order that, by refusing,
his Majesty might give them a pretence for war?

“Men have often risen up against fraud, against cruelty, against
rapine. But when before was it known that concessions were met with
importunities, graciousness with insults, the open palm of bounty with
the clenched fist of malice? Was it like trusty delegates of the Commons
of England, and faithful stewards of their liberty and their wealth, to
engage them for such causes in civil war, which both to liberty and
to wealth is of all things the most hostile. Evil indeed must be the
disease which is not more tolerable than such a medicine. Those who,
even to save a nation from tyrants, excite it to civil war do in general
but minister to it the same miserable kind of relief wherewith the
wizards of Pharaoh mocked the Egyptian. We read that, when Moses had
turned their waters into blood, those impious magicians, intending, not
benefit to the thirsting people, but vain and emulous ostentation of
their own art, did themselves also change into blood the water which the
plague had spared. Such sad comfort do those who stir up war minister
to the oppressed. But here where was the oppression? What was the
favour which had not been granted? What was the evil which had not been
removed? What further could they desire?”

“These questions,” said Mr. Milton, austerely, “have indeed often
deceived the ignorant; but that Mr. Cowley should have been so beguiled,
I marvel. You ask what more the Parliament could desire? I will
answer you in one word, security. What are votes, and statutes, and
resolutions? They have no {119}eyes to see, no hands to strike and
avenge. They must have some safeguard from without. Many things,
therefore, which in themselves were peradventure hurtful, was this
Parliament constrained to ask, lest otherwise good laws and precious
rights should be without defence. Nor did they want a great and signal
example of this danger. I need not remind you that, many years before,
the two Houses had presented to the king the Petition of Right, wherein
were set down all the most valuable privileges of the people of this
realm. Did not Charles accept it? Did he not declare it to be law? Was
it not as fully enacted as ever were any of those bills of the Long
Parliament concerning which you spoke? And were those privileges
therefore enjoyed more fully by the people? No: the king did from that
time redouble his oppressions as if to avenge himself for the shame of
having been compelled to renounce them. Then were our estates laid under
shameful impositions, our houses ransacked, our bodies imprisoned. Then
was the steel of the hangman blunted with mangling the ears of harmless
men. Then our very minds were fettered, and the iron entered into our
souls. Then we mere compelled to hide our hatred, our sorrow, and our
scorn, to laugh with hidden faces at the mummery of Laud, to curse under
our breath the tyranny of Wentworth. Of old time it was well and nobly
said, by one of our kings, that an Englishman ought to be free as his
thoughts. Our prince reversed the maxim; he strove to make our thoughts
as much slaves as ourselves. To sneer at a Romish pageant, to miscall a
lord’s crest, were crimes for which there was no mercy. These were all
the fruits which we gathered from those excellent laws of the former
Parliament, from these solemn promises of {120}the king. Were we to be
deceived again? Were we again to give subsidies, and receive nothing but
promises? Were we again to make wholesome statutes, and then leave
them to be broken daily and hourly, until the oppressor should have
squandered another supply, and should be ready for another perjury? You
ask what they could desire which he had not already granted. Let me
ask of you another question. What pledge could he give which he had not
already violated? From the first year of his reign, whenever he had need
of the purses of his Commons to support the revels of Buckingham or the
processions of Laud, he had assured them that, as he was a gentleman
and a king, he would sacredly preserve their rights. He had pawned
those solemn pledges, and pawned them again and again; but when had he
redeemed them? ‘Upon my faith,’--‘Upon my sacred word,’--Upon the honour
of a prince,’--came so easily from his lips, and dwelt so short a time
on his mind, that they were as little to be trusted as the ‘By these
hilts’ of an Alsatian dicer.

“Therefore it is that I praise this Parliament for what else I might
have condemned. If what he had granted had been granted graciously and
readily, if what he had before promised had been faithfully observed,
they could not be defended. It was because he had never yielded the
worst abuse without a long struggle, and seldom without a large bribe:
it was because he had no sooner disentangled himself from his troubles
than he forgot his promises; and, more like a villainous huckster than a
great king, kept both the prerogative and the large price which had been
paid to him to forego it; it was because of these things that it was
necessary and just to bind with forcible restraints {121}one who could
be bound neither by law nor honour. Nay, even while he was making those
very concessions of which you speak, he betrayed his deadly hatred
against the people and their friends. Not only did he, contrary to
all that ever was deemed lawful in England, order that members of the
Commons House of Parliament should be impeached of high treason at
the bar of the Lords; thereby violating both the trial by jury and the
privileges of the House; but, not content with breaking the law by his
ministers, he went himself armed to assail it. In the birth-place and
sanctuary of freedom, in the House itself, nay, in the very chair of the
speaker, placed for the protection of free speech and privilege, he sat,
rolling his eyes round the benches, searching for those whose blood he
desired, and singling out his opposers to the slaughter. This most foul
outrage fails. Then again for the old arts. Then come gracious messages.
Then come courteous speeches. Then is again mortgaged his often
forfeited honour. He will never again violate the laws. He will respect
their rights as if they were his own. He pledges the dignity of his
crown; that crown which had been committed to him for the weal of his
people, and which he never named, but that he might the more easily
delude and oppress them.

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

“For civil war, that it is an evil I dispute not. But that it is the
greatest of evils, that I stoutly deny. It {122}doth indeed appear to
the misjudging to be a worse calamity than bad government, because its
miseries are collected together within a short space and time, and may
easily at one view be taken in and perceived. But the misfortunes of
nations ruled by tyrants, being distributed over many centuries and many
places, as they are of greater weight and number, so are they of less
display. When the Devil of tyranny hath gone into the body politic he
departs not but with struggles, and foaming, and great convulsions.
Shall he, therefore, vex it for ever, lest, in going out, he for a
moment tear and rend it? Truly this argument touching the evils of war
would better become my friend Elwood, or some other of the people called
Quakers, than a courtier and a cavalier. It applies no more to this war
than to all others, as well foreign as domestic, and, in this war, no
more to the Houses than to the king; nay not so much, since he by a
little sincerity and moderation might have rendered that needless which
their duty to God and man then enforced them to do.”

“Pardon me, Mr. Milton,” said Mr. Cowley; “I grieve to hear you speak
thus of that good king. Most unhappy indeed he was, in that he reigned
at a time when the spirit of the then living generation was for freedom,
and the precedents of former ages for prerogative. His case was like to
that of Christopher Columbus, when he sailed forth on an unknown ocean,
and found that the compass, whereby he shaped his course, had shifted
from the north pole whereto before it had constantly pointed. So it
was with Charles. His compass varied; and therefore he could not tack
aright. If he had been an absolute king he would doubtless, like Titus
Vespasian, have been called the {123}delight of the human race. If he
had been a Doge of Venice, or a Stadtholder of Holland, he would never
have outstepped the laws. But he lived when our government had neither
clear definitions nor strong sanctions. Let, therefore, his faults be
ascribed to the time. Of his virtues the praise is his own.

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

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

“Nay, but conceive me, Mr. Cowley,” said Mr. Milton; “inasmuch as, at
the beginning of his reign, he imitated those who had governed before
him, I blame him not. To expect that kings will, of their {124}own free
choice, abridge their prerogative, were argument of but slender wisdom.
Whatever, therefore, lawless, unjust, or cruel, he either did or
permitted during the first years of his reign, I pass by. But for what
was done after that he had solemnly given his consent to the Petition
of Right, where shall we find defence? Let it be supposed, which yet I
concede not, that the tyranny of his father and of Queen Elizabeth had
been no less rigorous than was his. But had his father, had that queen,
sworn, like him, to abstain from those rigours. Had they, like him, for
good and valuable consideration, aliened their hurtful prerogatives?
Surely not: from whatever excuse you can plead for him he had wholly
excluded himself. The borders of countries, we know, are mostly the
seats of perpetual wars and tumults. It was the same with the undefined
frontiers, which of old separated privilege and prerogative. They were
the debatable land of our polity. It was no marvel if, both on the one
side and on the other, inroads were often made. But, when treaties have
been concluded, spaces measured, lines drawn, landmarks set up, that
which before might pass for innocent error or just reprisal becomes
robbery, perjury, deadly sin. He knew not, you say, which of his powers
were founded on ancient law, and which only on vicious example. But had
he not read the Petition of Right? Had not proclamation been made from
his throne; _Soit fait comme il est desiré?_

“For his private virtues they are beside the question. Remember you
not,” and Mr. Milton smiled, but somewhat sternly, “what Dr. Caius saith
in the Merry Wives of Shakspeare? ‘What shall the honest man do in my
closet? There is no honest man that shall come in my closet.’ Even so
say I. There is no good {125}man who shall make us his slaves. If he
break his word to his people, is it a sufficient defence that he keeps
it to his companions? If he oppress and extort all day, shall he be held
blameless because he prayeth at night and morning? If he be insatiable
in plunder and revenge, shall we pass it by because in meat and drink
he is temperate? If he have lived like a tyrant, shall all be forgotten
because he hath died like a martyr?

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

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

“Sir,” said Mr. Milton, “I must have been of a hard and strange nature,
if the vehemence which was imputed to me in my younger days had not been
diminished by the afflictions wherewith it hath pleased Almighty God
to chasten my age. I will not now defend all that I may heretofore have
written. But this I say, that I perceive not wherefore a king should be
exempted from all punishment. Is it just that where most is given least
should be required? Or {126}politic that where there is the greatest
power to injure there should be no danger to restrain? But, you will
say, there is no such law. Such a law there is. There is the law of
self-preservation written by God himself on our hearts. There is the
primal compact and bond of society, not graven on stone, nor sealed with
wax, nor put down on parchment, nor set forth in any express form of
words by men when of old they came together; but implied in the very act
that they so came together, pre-supposed in all subsequent law, not to
be repealed by any authority, not invalidated by being omitted in any
code; inasmuch as from thence are all codes and all authority.

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

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

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

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

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

“And who,” said Mr. Cowley, “levied that army? Who commissioned those
officers? Was not the fate of the Commons as justly deserved as was that
of Diomedes, who was devoured by those horses whom he had himself taught
to feed on the flesh and blood of men? How could they hope that others
would respect laws which they had themselves insulted; that swords which
had been drawn against the prerogatives of the king would be put up at
an ordinance of the Commons? It was believed, of old, that there were
some devils easily raised but never to be laid; insomuch that, if a
magician called them up, he should be forced to find them always some
employment; for, though they would do all his bidding, yet, if he left
them but for one moment without some work of evil to perform, they would
turn their claws against himself. Such a fiend is an army. They who
evoke it cannot dismiss it. They are at once its masters and its slaves.
Let {128}them not fail to find for it task after task of blood and
rapine. Let them not leave it for a moment in repose, lest it tear them
in pieces.

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

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

“Therefore it was not strange that such things should follow. They who
had closed the barriers of London against the king could not defend
them against their own creatures. They who had so stoutly cried {129}for
privilege, when that prince, most unadvisedly no doubt, came among them
to demand their members, durst not wag their fingers when Oliver filled
their hall with soldiers, gave their mace to a corporal, put their keys
in his pocket, and drove them forth with base terms, borrowed half from
the conventicle and half from the ale-house. Then were we, like the
trees of the forest in holy writ, given over to the rule of the bramble;
then from the basest of the shrubs came forth the fire which devoured
the cedars of Lebanon. We bowed down before a man of mean birth, of
ungraceful demeanour, of stammering and most vulgar utterance, of
scandalous and notorious hypocrisy. Our laws were made and unmade at his
pleasure; the constitution of our parliaments changed by his writ and
proclamation; our persons imprisoned; our property plundered; our lands
and houses overrun with soldiers; and the great charter itself was
but argument for a scurrilous jest; and for all this we may thank that
parliament: for never, unless they had so violently shaken the vessel,
could such foul dregs have risen to the top.”

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

“First, as to the army. An army, as you have well set forth, is always
a weapon dangerous to those who use it; yet he who falls among thieves
spares not to fire his musquetoon, because he may be slain if it burst
in his hand. Nor must states refrain from defending themselves, lest
their defenders should at last turn {130}against them. Nevertheless,
against this danger statesmen should carefully provide; and, that they
may do so, they should take especial care that neither the officers nor
the soldiers do forget that they are also citizens. I do believe that
the English army would have continued to obey the parliament with all
duty, but for one act, which, as it was in intention, in seeming, and in
immediate effect, worthy to be compared with the most famous in history,
so was it, in its final consequence, most injurious. I speak of that
ordinance called the _self-denying_, and of the new model of the army.
By those measures the Commons gave up the command of their forces into
the hands of men who were not of themselves. Hence, doubtless, derived
no small honour to that noble assembly, which sacrificed to the hope of
public good the assurance of private advantage. And, as to the conduct
of the war, the scheme prospered. Witness the battle of Naseby, and the
memorable exploits of Fairfaix in the west. But thereby the Parliament
lost that hold on the soldiers and that power to control them, which
they retained while every regiment was commanded by their own members.
Politicians there be, who would wholly divide the legislative from
the executive power. In the golden age this may have succeeded; in the
millennium it may succeed again. But, where great armies and great taxes
are required, there the executive government must always hold a great
authority, which authority, that it may not oppress and destroy the
legislature, must be in some manner blended with it. The leaders of
foreign mercenaries have always been most dangerous to a country. The
officers of native armies, deprived of the civil privileges of other
men, are as much to be feared. This was the great {131}error of that
Parliament; and, though an error it were, it was an error generous,
virtuous, and more to be deplored than censured.

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

“For his faults, let us reflect that they who seem to lead are
oftentimes most constrained to follow. They who will mix with men, and
specially they who will {132}govern them, must, in many things, obey
them. They who will yield to no such conditions may be hermits, but
cannot be generals and statesmen. If a man will walk straight forward
without turning to the right or the left, he must walk in a desert, and
not in Cheapside.

“Thus was he enforced to do many things which jumped not with his
inclination nor made for his honour; because the army, on which alone he
could depend for power and life, might not otherwise be contented. And
I, for mine own part, marvel less that he sometimes was fain to indulge
their violence than that he could so often restrain it.

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

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

“Such was the case of Oliver. He gave to his country a form of
government so free and admirable that, in near six thousand years,
human wisdom hath never devised any more excellent contrivance for human
happiness. To himself he reserved so little power {133}that it would
scarcely have sufficed for his safety, and it is a marvel that it could
suffice for his ambition. When, after that, he found that the members of
his parliament disputed his right even to that small authority which he
had kept, when he might have kept all, then indeed I own that he began
to govern by the sword those who would not suffer him to govern by the

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

“Now look at that which we have taken in exchange. With the restored
king have come over to us vices of every sort, and most the basest and
most shameful,--lust without love--servitude, without loyalty--foulness
of speech--dishonesty of dealing--grinning contempt of all things good
and generous. The throne is surrounded by men whom the former Charles
would have spurned from his footstool. The altar is served by slaves
whose knees are supple to every being but God. Rhymers, whose books the
hangman should burn, pandars actors, and buffoons, these drink a health
and throw a main with the King; these have stars on their breasts and
gold sticks in {134}their hands; these shut out from his presence the
best and bravest of those who bled for his house. Even so doth God
visit those who know not how to value freedom. He gives them over to the
tyranny which they have desired.”

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

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

“The king hath judged ill. Had he been wise he would have remembered
that he owed his restoration only to confusions which had wearied us
out, and made us eager for repose. He would have known that the folly
and perfidy of a prince would restore to the good {135}old cause many
hearts which had been alienated thence by the turbulence of factions;
for, if I know aught of history, or of the heart of man, he will soon
learn that the last champion of the people was not destroyed when he
murdered Vane, nor seduced when he beguiled Fairfax.”

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

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

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

“When I was at Naples, I went with Signor Manso, a gentleman of
excellent parts and breeding, who had been the familiar friend of that
famous poet Torquato Tasso, to see the burning mountain Vesuvius. I
wondered how the peasants could venture to dwell so fearlessly and
cheerfully on its sides, when the lava was flowing from its summit;
but Manso smiled, and told me that when the fire descends freely they
retreat before it without haste or fear. They can tell how fast it will
move, and how far; and they know, moreover, that, though it may work
some little damage, it will soon cover the fields over which it hath
passed with rich vineyards and sweet flowers. But, when the flames are
pent up in the mountain, then it is that they have reason to fear; then
it is that the earth sinks and the {137}sea swells; then cities
are swallowed up; and their place knoweth them no more. So it is in
politics: where the people is most closely restrained, there it gives
the greatest shocks to peace and order; therefore would I say to all
kings, let your demagogues lead crowds, lest they lead armies; let them
bluster, lest they massacre; a little turbulence is, as it were, the
rainbow of the state; it shows indeed that there is a passing shower;
but it is a pledge that there shall be no deluge.”

“This is true,” said Mr. Cowley: “yet these admonitions are not less
needful to subjects than to sovereigns.”

“Surely,” said Mr. Milton; “and, that I may end this long debate with a
few words in which we shall both agree, I hold that, as freedom is the
only safeguard of governments, so are order and moderation generally
necessary to preserve freedom. Even the vainest opinions of men are not
to be outraged by those who propose to themselves the happiness of men
for their end, and who must work with the passions of men for their
means. The blind reverence for things ancient is indeed so foolish
that it might make a wise man laugh, if it were not also sometimes so
mischievous that it would rather make a good man weep. Yet, since it may
not be wholly cured, it must be discreetly indulged; and therefore those
who would amend evil laws should consider rather how much it may be safe
to spare, than how much it may be possible to change. Have you not heard
that men who have been shut up for many years in dungeons shrink if they
see the light, and fall down if their irons be struck off. And so, when
nations have long been in the house of bondage, the chains which have
crippled them are necessary to {138}support them, the darkness which
hath weakened their sight is necessary to preserve it. Therefore release
them not too rashly, lest they curse their freedom and pine for their

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

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


{139}(_Knight’s Quarterly Magazine_, August 1824.)

                   “To the famous orators repair,

                   Those ancient, whose resistless eloquence

                   Wielded at will that fierce démocratie,

                   Shook the arsenal, and fulmined over Greece

                   To Macedon and Artaxerxes’ throne.”--Milton.

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

The ancient writers themselves afford us but little {140}assistance.
When they particularise, they are commonly trivial: when they would
generalise, they become indistinct. An exception must, indeed, be made
in favour of Aristotle. Both in analysis and in combination, that great
man was without a rival. No philosopher has ever possessed, in an equal
degree, the talent either of separating established systems into their
primary elements, or of connecting detached phenomena in harmonious
systems. He was the great fashioner of the intellectual chaos; he
changed its darkness into light, and its discord into order. He brought
to literary researches the same vigor and amplitude of mind to which
both physical and metaphysical science are so greatly indebted. His
fundamental principles of criticism are excellent. To cite only a
single instance;--the doctrine which he established, that poetry is an
imitative art, when justly understood, is to the critic what the compass
is to the navigator. With it he may venture upon the most extensive
excursions. Without it he must creep cautiously along the coast, or lose
himself in a trackless expanse, and trust, at best, to the guidance of
an occasional star. It is a discovery which changes a caprice into a

The general propositions of Aristotle are valuable. But the merit of the
superstructure bears no proportion to that of the foundation. This is
partly to be ascribed to the character of the philosopher, who, though
qualified to do all that could be done by the resolving and combining
powers of the understanding, seems not to have possessed much of
sensibility or imagination. Partly, also, it may be attributed to the
deficiency of materials. The great works of genius which then existed
were not either sufficiently numerous {141}or sufficiently varied to
enable any man to form a perfect code of literature. To require that a
critic should conceive classes of composition which had never existed,
and then investigate their principles, would be as unreasonable as the
demand of Nebuchadnezzar, who expected his magicians first to tell him
his dream and then to interpret it.

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

Quintilian applied to general literature the same principles by which he
had been accustomed to judge of the declamations of his pupils. He looks
for nothing but rhetoric, and rhetoric not of the highest order. He
speaks coldly of the incomparable works of Æschylus. He admires, beyond
expression, those inexhaustible mines of common-places, the plays of
Euripides. He bestows a few vague words on the poetical character of
Homer. He then proceeds to consider him merely as an orator. An orator
Homer doubtless was, and a great orator. But surely nothing is more
remarkable, in his admirable works, than the art with which his
oratorical powers are made subservient to the purposes of poetry. Nor
can I think Quintilian a great critic in his own province. Just as are
many of his remarks, beautiful as are many of his illustrations, we can
perpetually detect in his thoughts {142}that flavour which the soil of
despotism generally communicates to all the fruits of genius. Eloquence
was, in his time, little more than a condiment which served to stimulate
in a despot the jaded appetite for panegyric, an amusement for
the travelled nobles and the blue-stocking matrons of Rome. It is,
therefore, with him, rather a sport than a war; it is a contest of
foils, not of swords. He appears to think more of the grace of the
attitude than of the direction and vigour of the thrust. It must be
acknowledged, in justice to Quintilian, that this is an error to which
Cicero has too often given the sanction, both of his precept and of his

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

Modern writers have been prevented by many causes from supplying the
deficiencies of their classical predecessors. At the time of the revival
of literature, no man could, without great and painful labour, acquire
an accurate and elegant knowledge of the ancient languages. And,
unfortunately, those grammatical and philological studies, without which
it was impossible to understand the great works of Athenian and Roman
genius, have a tendency to contract the views and deaden the sensibility
of those who follow them with extreme assiduity. A powerful mind, which
has been long employed in such studies, may be compared to the gigantic
spirit in the Arabian tale, who was persuaded to contract himself to
small dimensions in order to enter within the enchanted vessel, and when
his prison had been closed upon him, found himself unable to escape
from the narrow boundaries to the measure of which he had reduced his
stature. When the means have long been the objects of application, they
are naturally substituted for the end. It was said, by Eugene of Savoy,
that the greatest generals have commonly been those who have been at
once raised to command, and introduced to the great operations of war,
without being employed in the petty calculations and manoeuvres which
employ the time of an inferior officer. In literature the principle is
equally sound. The great tactics of criticism will, in general, be best
understood by those who have not had much practice in drilling syllables
and particles. {144}I remember to have observed among the French Anas
a ludicrous instance of this. A scholar, doubtless of great learning,
recommends the study of some long Latin treatise, of which I now forget
the name, on the religion, manners, government, and language of the
early Greeks. “For there,” says he, “you will learn every thing of
importance that is contained in the Iliad and Odyssey, without the
trouble of reading two such tedious books.” Alas! it had not occurred to
the poor gentleman that all the knowledge to which he attached so
much value was useful only as it illustrated the great poems which
he despised, and would be as worthless for any other purpose as the
mythology of Caffraria, or the vocabulary of Otaheite.

Of those scholars who have disdained to confine themselves to verbal
criticism few have been successful. The ancient languages have,
generally, a magical influence on their faculties. They were “fools
called into a circle by Greek invocations.” The Iliad and Æneid were
to them not books, but curiosities, or rather reliques. They no more
admired those works for their merits than a good Catholic venerates
the house of the Virgin at Loretto for its architecture. Whatever was
classical was good. Homer was a great poet; and so was Callimachus. The
epistles of Cicero were fine; and so were those of Phalaris. Even with
respect to questions of evidence they fell into the same error. The
authority of all narrations, written in Greek or Latin, was the same
with them. It never crossed their minds that the lapse of five hundred
years, or the distance of five hundred leagues, could affect the
accuracy of a narration;--that Livy could be a less veracious historian
than Polybius;--or that Plutarch could know less about the friends of
Xenophon {145}than Xenophon himself. Deceived by the distance of time,
they seem to consider all the Classics as contemporaries; just as I have
known people in England, deceived by the distance of place, take it for
granted that all persons who live in India are neighbours, and ask an
inhabitant of Bombay about the health of an acquaintance at Calcutta.
It is to be hoped that no barbarian deluge will ever again pass over
Europe. But, should such a calamity happen, it seems not improbable that
some future Rollin or Gillies will compile a history of England from
Miss Porter’s Scottish Chiefs, Miss Lee’s Recess, and Sir Nathaniel
Wraxall’s Memoirs.

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

It may be doubted-whether any compositions which have ever been produced
in the world are equally perfect in their kind with the great Athenian
orations. Genius is subject to the same laws which regulate the
production of cotton and molasses. The supply adjusts itself to the
demand. The quantity may be diminished by restrictions, and multiplied
by bounties. The singular excellence to which eloquence attained at
Athens is to be mainly attributed to the influence which it exerted
there. In turbulent times, under a constitution purely democratic,
among a people educated exactly to that point at which men are most
susceptible of strong and sudden impressions, acute, but {146}not sound
reasoners, warm in their feelings, unfixed in their principles,
and passionate admirers of fine composition, oratory received such
encouragement as it has never since obtained.

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

There seems to be, on the contrary, every reason to believe that, in
general intelligence, the Athenian populace far surpassed the lower
orders of any community that has ever existed. It must be considered,
that to be a citizen was to be a legislator,--a soldier,--a judge,--one
upon whose voice might depend the fate of the wealthiest tributary
state, of the most eminent public man. The lowest offices, both of
agriculture {147}and of trade, were, in common, performed by slaves. The
commonwealth supplied its meanest members with the support of life, the
opportunity of leisure, and the means of amusement. Books were indeed
few: but they were excellent; and they were accurately known. It is
not by turning over libraries, but by repeatedly perusing and intently
contemplating a few great models, that the mind is best disciplined. A
man of letters must now read much that he soon forgets, and much from
which he learns nothing worthy to be remembered. The best works employ,
in general, but a small portion of his time. Demosthenes is said to have
transcribed six times the history of Thucydides. If he had been a young
politician of the present age, he might in the same space of time have
skimmed innumerable newspapers and pamphlets. I do not condemn that
desultory mode of study which the state of things, in our day, renders
a matter of necessity. But I may be allowed to doubt whether the changes
on which the admirers of modern institutions delight to dwell have
improved our condition so much in reality as in appearance. Rumford,
it is said, proposed to the elector of Bavaria a scheme for feeding his
soldiers at a much cheaper rate than formerly. His plan was simply to
compel them to masticate their food thoroughly. A small quantity, thus
eaten, would, according to that famous projector, afford more sustenance
than a large meal hastily devoured. I do not know how Rumford’s
proposition was received; but to the mind, I believe, it will be found
more nutritious to digest a page than to devour a volume.

Books, however, were the least part of the education of an Athenian
citizen. Let us, for a moment, transport ourselves, in thought, to that
glorious city. Let {148}us imagine that we are entering its gates, in
the time of its power and glory. A crowd is assembled round a portico.
All are gazing with delight at the entablature; for Phidias is putting
up the frieze. We turn into another street; a rhapsodist is reciting
there: men, women, children are thronging round him: the tears are
running down their cheeks: their eyes are fixed: their very breath is
still; for he is telling how Priam fell at the feet of Achilles, and
kissed those hands,--the terrible,--the murderous,--which had slain
so many of his sons. (1) We enter the public place; there is a ring
of youths, all leaning forward, with sparkling eyes, and gestures of
expectation. Socrates is pitted against the famous atheist, from
Ionia, and has just brought him to a contradiction in terms. But we are
interrupted. The herald is crying--“Room for the Prytanes.” The
general assembly is to meet. The people are swarming in on every side.
Proclamation is made--“Who wishes to speak.” There is a shout, and a
clapping of hands; Pericles is mounting the stand. Then for a play of
Sophocles; and away to sup with Aspasia. I know of no modern university
which has so excellent a system of education.

Knowledge thus acquired and opinions thus formed were, indeed, likely
to be, in some respects, defective. Propositions which are advanced
in discourse generally result from a partial view of the question, and
cannot be kept under examination long enough to be corrected. Men of
great conversational powers almost universally practise a sort of
lively sophistry and exaggeration, which deceives, for the moment, both
themselves {149}and their auditors. Thus we see doctrines, which cannot
bear a close inspection, triumph perpetually in drawing-rooms, in
debating societies, and even in legislative or judicial assemblies. To
the conversational education of the Athenians I am inclined to attribute
the great looseness of reasoning which is remarkable in most of their
scientific writings. Even the most illogical of modern writers would
stand perfectly aghast at the puerile fallacies which seem to have
deluded some of the greatest men of antiquity. Sir Thomas Lethbridge
would stare at the political economy of Xenophon; and the author of
_Soirées de Pétersbourg_ would be ashamed of some of the metaphysical
arguments of Plato. But the very circumstances which retarded the growth
of science were peculiarly favourable to the cultivation of eloquence.
From the early habit of taking a share in animated discussion the
intelligent student would derive that readiness of resource, that
copiousness of language, and that knowledge of the temper and
understanding of an audience, which are far more valuable to an orator
than the greatest logical powers.

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

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

The effect of the great freedom of the press in England has been, in a
great measure, to destroy this distinction, {151}and to leave among us
little of what I call Oratory Proper. Our legislators, our candidates,
on great occasions even our advocates, address themselves less to the
audience than to the reporters. They think less of the few hearers than
of the innumerable readers. At Athens the case was different; there the
only object of the speaker was immediate conviction and persuasion. He,
therefore, who would justly appreciate the merit of the Grecian orators
should place himself, as nearly as possible, in the situation of
their auditors: he should divest himself of his modern feelings and
acquirements, and make the prejudices and interests of the Athenian
citizen his own. He who studies their works in this spirit will find
that many of those things which, to an English reader, appear to be
blemishes,--the frequent violation of those excellent rules of
evidence by which our courts of law are regulated,--the introduction
of extraneous matter,--the reference to considerations of political
expediency in judicial investigations,--the assertions, without
proof,--the passionate entreaties,--the furious invectives,--are really
proofs of the prudence and address of the speakers. He must not
dwell maliciously on arguments or phrases, but acquiesce in his first
impressions. It requires repeated perusal and reflection to decide
rightly on any other portion of literature. But with respect to works
of which the merit depends on their instantaneous effect the most hasty
judgment is likely to be best.

The history of eloquence at Athens is remarkable. From a very early
period great speakers had flourished there. Pisistratus and Themistocles
are said to have owed much of their influence to their talents for
debate. We learn, with more certainty, that Pericles was distinguished
by extraordinary oratorical powers. {152}The substance of some of his
speeches is transmitted to us by Thucydides; and that excellent writer
has doubtless faithfully reported the general line of his arguments. But
the manner, which in oratory is of at least as much consequence as the
matter, was of no importance to his narration. It is evident that he has
not attempted to preserve it. Throughout his work, every speech on every
subject, whatever may have been the character or the dialect of the
speaker, is in exactly the same form. The grave king of Sparta, the
furious demagogue of Athens, the general encouraging his army, the
captive supplicating for his life, all are represented as speakers
in one unvaried style,--a style moreover wholly unfit for oratorical
purposes. His mode of reasoning is singularly elliptical,--in reality
most consecutive,--yet in appearance often incoherent. His meaning, in
itself sufficiently perplexing, is compressed into the fewest possible
words. His great fondness for antithetical expression has not a little
conduced to’ this effect. Every one must have observed how much more the
sense is condensed in the verses of Pope and his imitators, who never
ventured to continue the same clause from couplet to couplet, than
in those of poets who allow themselves that license. Every artificial
division, which is strongly marked, and which frequently recurs, has
the same tendency. The natural and perspicuous expression which
spontaneously rises to the mind will often refuse to accommodate itself
to such a form. It is necessary either to expand it into weakness, or
to compress it into almost impenetrable density. The latter is generally
the choice of an able man, and was assuredly the choice of Thucydides.

It is scarcely necessary to say that such speeches could never have been
delivered. They are perhaps {153}among the most difficult passages
in the Greek language, and would probably have been scarcely more
intelligible to an Athenian auditor than to a modern reader. Their
obscurity was acknowledged by Cicero, who was as intimate with the
literature and language of Greece as the most accomplished of its
natives, and who seems to have held a respectable rank among the Greek
authors. Their difficulty to a modern reader lies, not in the words, but
in the reasoning. A dictionary is of far less use in studying them than
a clear head and a close attention to the context. They are valuable
to the scholar as displaying, beyond almost any other compositions, the
powers of the finest of languages: they are valuable to the philosopher
as illustrating the morals and manners of a most interesting age: they
abound in just thought and energetic expression. But they do not
enable us to form any accurate opinion on the merits of the early Greek

Though it cannot be doubted that, before the Persian wars, Athens had
produced eminent speakers, yet the period during which eloquence most
flourished among her citizens was by no means that of her greatest power
and glory. It commenced at the close of the Peloponnesian war. In
fact, the steps by which Athenian oratory approached to its finished
excellence seem to have been almost contemporaneous with those by which
the Athenian character and the Athenian empire sunk to degradation. At
the time when the little commonwealth achieved those victories which
twenty-five eventful centuries have left unequalled, eloquence was
in its infancy. The deliverers of Greece became its plunderers and
oppressors. Unmeasured exaction, atrocious vengeance, the madness of
the multitude, the tyranny {154}of the great, filled the Cyclades with
tears, and blood, and mourning. The sword unpeopled whole islands in
a day. The plough passed over the ruins of famous cities. The imperial
republic sent forth her children by thousands to pine in the quarries
of Syracuse, or to feed the vultures of Ægospotami. She was at length
reduced by famine and slaughter to humble herself before her enemies,
and to purchase existence by the sacrifice of her empire and her laws.
During these disastrous and gloomy years, oratory was advancing towards
its highest excellence. And it was when the moral, the political, and
the military character of the people was most utterly degraded, it was
when the viceroy of a Macedonian sovereign gave law to Greece, that the
courts of Athens witnessed the most splendid contest of eloquence that
the world has ever known.

The causes of this phenomenon it is not, I think, difficult to assign.
The division of labour operates on the productions of the orator as it
does on those of the mechanic. It was remarked by the ancients that the
Pentathlete, who divided his attention between several exercises, though
he could not vie with a boxer in the use of the cestus, or with one who
had confined his attention to running in the contest of the stadium,
yet enjoyed far greater general vigour and health than either. It is
the same with the mind. The superiority in technical skill is often more
than compensated by the inferiority in general intelligence. And this is
peculiarly the case in politics. States have always been best governed
by men who have taken a wide view of public affairs, and who have rather
a general acquaintance with many sciences than a perfect mastery of
one. The union of the political and military departments in Greece
contributed not a little to the splendour of its {155}early history.
After their separation more skilful generals and greater speakers
appeared; but the breed of statesmen dwindled and became almost extinct.
Themistocles or Pericles would have been no match for Demosthenes in
the assembly, or for Iphicrates in the field. But surely they were
incomparably better fitted than either for the supreme direction of

There is indeed a remarkable coincidence between the progress of the
art of war, and that of the art of oratory, among the Greeks. They
both advanced to perfection by contemporaneous steps, and from similar
causes. The early speakers, like the early warriors of Greece, were
merely a militia. It was found that in both employments practice and
discipline gave superiority. (1) Each pursuit therefore became first an
art, and then a trade. In proportion as the professors of each became
more expert in their particular craft, they became less respectable in
their general character.

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

I had intended to proceed to this examination, and to consider
separately the remains of Lysias, of Æschines, of Demosthenes, and of
Isocrates, who, though strictly speaking he was rather a pamphleteer
than an orator, deserves, on many accounts, a place in such a
disquisition. The length of my prolegomena and digressions compels me
to postpone this part of the subject to another occasion. A Magazine is
certainly a delightful invention for a very idle or a very busy man. He
is not compelled to complete his plan or to adhere to his subject. He
may ramble as far as lie is inclined, and stop as soon as he is tired.
No one takes the trouble to recollect his contradictory opinions or his
unredeemed pledges. He may be as superficial, as inconsistent, and as
careless as he chooses. Magazines resemble those little angels, who,
according to the pretty Rabbinical tradition, are generated every
morning by the brook which rolls over the flowers of Paradise,--whose
life is a song,--who {157}warble till sunset, and then sink back without
regret into nothingness. Such spirits have nothing to do with the
detecting spear of Ithuriel or the victorious sword of Michael. It is
enough for them to please and be forgotten.


{158}(_Knight’s Quarterly Magazine_, November 1824.)

How I became a prophet it is not very important to the reader to know.
Nevertheless I feel all the anxiety which, under similar circumstances,
troubled the sensitive mind of Sidrophel; and, like him, am eager to
vindicate myself from the suspicion of having practised forbidden arts,
or held intercourse with beings of another world. I solemnly declare,
therefore, that I never saw a ghost, like Lord Lyttleton; consulted a
gypsy, like Josephine; or heard my name pronounced by an absent person,
like Dr. Johnson. Though it is now almost as usual for gentlemen to
appear at the moment of their death to their friends as to call on them
during their life, none of my acquaintance have been so polite as to pay
me that customary attention. I have derived my knowledge neither from
the dead nor from the living; neither from the lines of a hand, nor from
the grounds of a tea-cup; neither from the stars of the firmament, nor
from the fiends of the abyss. I have never, like the Wesley family,
heard “that mighty leading angel,” who “drew after him the third part
of heaven’s sons,” {159}scratching in my cupboard. I have never been
enticed to sign any of those delusive bonds which have been the ruin of
so many poor creatures; and, having always been an indifferent horseman,
I have been careful not to venture myself on a broomstick.

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

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

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

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

Richard, however, though destined to exalt his family to distinction far
nobler than any which wealth or {160}titles can bestow, will be born to
a very scanty fortune He will display in his early youth such striking
talents as will attract the notice of Viscount Quongti, his third
cousin, then secretary of state for the Steam Department. At the expense
of this eminent nobleman, he will be sent to prosecute his studies at
the university of Tombuctoo. To that illustrious seat of the muses all
the ingenuous youth of every country will then be attracted by the high
scientific character of Professor Quashaboo, and the eminent literary
attainments of Professor Kissey Kickey. In spite of this formidable
competition, however, Quongti will acquire the highest honours in every
department of knowledge, and will obtain the esteem of his associates by
his amiable and unaffected manners. The guardians of the young Duke of
Carrington, premier peer of England, and the last remaining scion of the
ancient and illustrious house of Smith, will be desirous to secure so
able an instructor for their ward. With the Duke, Quongti will perform
the grand tour, and visit the polished courts of Sydney and Capetown.
After prevailing on his pupil, with great difficulty, to subdue a violent
and imprudent passion which he had conceived for a Hottentot lady, of
great beauty and accomplishments indeed, but of dubious character,
he will travel with him to the United States of America. But that
tremendous war which will be fatal to American liberty will at that time
be raging through the whole federation. At New York the travellers
will hear of the final defeat and death of the illustrious champion
of freedom, Jonathan Hioffinbottom, and of the elevation of Ebenezer
Hogsflesh to the perpetual Presidency. They will not choose to proceed
in a journey which would expose {161}them to the insults of that brutal
soldiery, whose cruelty and rapacity will have devastated Mexico and
Colombia, and now, at length, enslaved their own country.

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

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

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

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

“It is difficult to conceive a plot more perfect than that of the
‘Wellingtoniad.’ It is most faithful to the {162}manners of the age to
which it relates. It preserves exactly all the historical circumstances,
and interweaves them most artfully with all the _speciosa miracula_ of
supernatural agency.”

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

Some readers of the present day may think that Quongti is by no means
entitled to the compliments which his Negro critic pays him on his
adherence to the historical circumstances of the time in which he has
chosen his subject; that, where he introduces any trait of our manners,
it is in the wrong place, and that he confounds the customs of our age
with those of {163}much more remote periods. I can only say that the
charge is infinitely more applicable to Homer, Virgil, and Tasso. If,
therefore, the reader should detect, in the following abstract of the
plot, any little deviation from strict historical accuracy, let him
reflect, for a moment, whether Agamemnon would not have found as much to
censure in the Iliad,--Dido in the Æneid,--or Godfrey in the Jerusalem.
Let him not suffer his opinions to depend on circumstances which cannot
possibly affect the truth or falsehood of the representation. If it
be impossible for a single man to kill hundreds in battle, the
impossibility is not diminished by distance of time. If it be as certain
that Rinaldo never disenchanted a forest in Palestine as it is that the
Duke of Wellington never disenchanted the forest of Soignies, can we, as
rational men, tolerate the one story and ridicule the other? Of this, at
least, I am certain, that whatever excuse we have for admiring the plots
of those famous poems our children will have for extolling that of the

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


The poem commences, in form, with a solemn proposition of the subject.
Then the muse is invoked to give the poet accurate information as to the
causes of so terrible a commotion. The answer to this question, being,
it is to be supposed, the joint production of the poet and the muse,
ascribes the event to circumstances which have hitherto eluded all the
research of political writers, namely, the influence of the god Mars,
who, we are told had some forty years before usurped the {164}conjugal
rights of old Carlo Buonaparte, and given birth to Napoleon. By his
incitement it was that the emperor with his devoted companions was
now on the sea, returning to his ancient dominions. The gods were at
present, fortunately for the adventurer, feasting with the Ethiopians,
whose entertainments, according to the ancient custom described by
Homer, they annually attended, with the same sort of condescending
gluttony which now carries the cabinet to Guildhall on the 9th of
November. Neptune, was, in consequence, absent, and unable to prevent
the enemy of his favourite island from crossing his element. Boreas,
however, who had his abode on the banks of the Russian ocean, and who,
like Thetis in the Iliad, was not of sufficient quality to have an
invitation to Ethiopia, resolves to destroy the armament which brings
war and danger to his beloved Alexander. He accordingly raises a storm
which is most powerfully described. Napoleon bewails the inglorious fate
for which he seems to be reserved. “Oh! thrice happy,” says he, “those
who were frozen to death at Krasnoi, or slaughtered at Leipzic. Oh,
Kutusoff, bravest of the Russians, wherefore was I not permitted to fall
by thy victorious sword?” He then offers a prayer to Æolus, and vows
to him a sacrifice of a black ram. In consequence, the god recalls his
turbulent subject; the sea is calmed; and the ship anchors in the port
of Frejus. Napoleon and Bertrand, who is always called the faithful
Bertrand, land to explore the country; Mars meets them disguised as
a lancer of the guard, wearing the cross of the legion of honour. He
advises them to apply for necessaries of all kinds to the governor,
shows them the way, and disappears with a strong smell of gunpowder.
Napoleon makes a pathetic {165}speech, and enters the governor’s house.
Here he sees hanging up a fine print of the battle of Austerlitz,
himself in the foreground giving his orders. This puts him in high
spirits; he advances and salutes the governor, who receives him most
loyally, gives him an entertainment, and, according to the usage of all
epic hosts, insists after dinner on a full narration of all that has
happened to him since the battle of Leipzic.


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


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


The {166}scene changes to Paris. Fame, in the garb of an express,
brings intelligence of the landing of Napoleon. The king performs a
sacrifice: but the entrails are unfavourable; and the victim is without
a heart. He prepares to encounter the invader. A young captain of
the guard,--the son of Marie Antoinette by Apollo,--in the shape of a
fiddler, rushes in to tell him that Napoleon is approaching with a vast
army. The royal forces are drawn out for battle. Full catalogues
are given of the regiments on both sides: their colonels,
lieutenant-colonels, and uniform.


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


Neptune, {167}returned from his Ethiopian revels, sees with rage the
events which have taken place in Europe. He flies to the cave of Alecto,
and drags out the fiend, commanding her to excite universal hostility
against Napoleon. The Fury repairs to Lord Castlereagli; and, as,
when she visited Tumus, she assumed the form of an old woman, she here
appears in the kindred shape of Mr. Vansittart, and in an impassioned
address exhorts his lordship to war. His lordship, like Tumus, treats
this unwonted monitor with great disrespect, tells him that he is an old
doting fool, and advises him to look after the ways and means, and leave
questions of peace and war to his betters. The Fury then displays all
her terrors. The neat powdered hair bristles up into snakes; the black
stockings appear clotted with blood; and, brandishing a torch, she
announces her name and mission. Lord Castlereagh, seized with fury,
flies instantly to the Parliament, and recommends war with a torrent
of eloquent invective. All the members instantly clamour for vengeance,
seize their arms which are hanging round the walls of the house, and
rash forth to prepare for instant hostilities.


In this book intelligence arrives at London of the flight of the
Duchess d’Angoulême from France. It is stated that this heroine, armed
from head to foot, defended Bordeaux against the adherents of Napoleon,
and that she fought hand to hand with Clausel, and beat him down with
an enormous stone. Deserted by her followers, she at last, like Tumus,
plunged, armed {168}as she was, into the Garonne, and swam to an English
ship which lay off the coast. This intelligence yet more inflames the
English to war.

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


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


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


Mars, seeing the English army thus inactive, hastens to rouse Napoleon,
who, conducted by Night and Silence, unexpectedly attacks the Prussians.
The slaughter is immense. Napoleon kills many whose histories and
families are happily particularised. He slays Herman, the craniologist,
who dwelt by the linden-shadowed Elbe, and measured with his eye the
skulls of all who walked through the streets of Berlin. Alas! his own
skull is now cleft by the Corsican sword. Four pupils of the University
of Jena advance together to encounter the Emperor; at four blows he
destroys them all. Blucher rushes to arrest the devastation; Napoleon
strikes him to the ground, and is on the point of killing him, but
Gneisenau, Ziethen, Billow, and all the other heroes of the Prussian
army, gather round him, and bear the venerable chief to a distance from
the field. The slaughter is continued till night. In {170}the meantime
Neptune has despatched Fame to bear the intelligence to the Duke, who
is dancing at Brussels. The whole army is put in motion. The Duke of
Brunswick’s horse speaks to admonish him of his danger, but in vain.


Picton, the Duke of Brunswick, and the Prince of Orange, engage Ney at
Quatre Bras. Ney kills the Duke of Brunswick, and strips him, sending
his belt to Napoleon. The English fall back on Waterloo. Jupiter calls
a council of the gods, and commands that none shall interfere on either
side. Mars and Neptune make very eloquent speeches. The battle of
Waterloo commences. Napoleon kills Picton and Delaney. Ney engages
Ponsonby and kills him. The Prince of Orange is wounded by Soult. Lord
Uxbridge flies to check the carnage. He is severely wounded by Napoleon,
and only saved by the assistance of Lord Hill. In the mean time the
Duke makes a tremendous carnage among the French. He encounters General
Duhesme and vanquishes him, but spares his life. He kills Toubert, who
kept the gaming-house in the Palais Royal, and Maronet, who loved to
spend whole nights in drinking champagne. Clerval, who had been hooted
from the stage, and had then become a captain in the Imperial Guard,
wished that he had still continued to face the more harmless enmity of
the Parisian pit. But Larrey, the son of Esculapius, whom his father had
instructed in all the secrets of his art, and who was surgeon-general of
the French army, embraced the knees of the destroyer, and conjured him
not to give death to one whose office it was to give life. The Duke
raised him, and bade him live. {171}But we must hasten to the close.
Napoleon rushes to encounter Wellington. Both armies stand in mute
amaze. The heroes fire their pistols; that of Napoleon misses, but that
of Wellington, formed by the hand of Vulcan, and primed by the Cyclops,
wounds the Emperor in the thigh. He flies, and takes refuge among his
troops. The flight becomes promiscuous. The arrival of the Prussians,
from a motive of patriotism, the poet completely passes over.


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


{172}(_Knight’s Quarterly Magazine_, November 1824.)

This is a book which enjoys a great and increasing popularity: but,
while it has attracted a considerable share of the public attention, it
has been little noticed by the critics. Mr. Mitford has almost succeeded
in mounting, unperceived by those whose office it is to watch such
aspirants, to a high place among historians. He has taken a seat on
the dais without being challenged by a single seneschal. To oppose the
progress of his fame is now almost a hopeless enterprise. Had he been
reviewed with candid severity, when he had published only his first
volume, his work would either have deserved its reputation, or would
never have obtained it. “Then,” as Indra says of Kehama, “then was the
time to strike.” The time was neglected; and the consequence is that
Mr. Mitford, like Kehama, has laid his victorious hand on the literary
Amreeta, and seems about to taste the precious elixir of immortality. I
shall venture to emulate the courage of the honest Glendoveer--

                             “When now

               He saw the Amreeta in Kehama’s hand,

               An impulse that defied all self-command,

                        In that extremity,

               Stung him, and he resolved to seize the cup,

               And dare the Rajah’s force in Seeva’s sight.

               Forward he sprung to tempt the unequal fray."

In plain words, I shall offer a few considerations, {173}which may tend
to reduce an overpraised writer to his proper level.

The principal characteristic of this historian, the origin of his
excellencies and his defects, is a love of singularity. He has no
notion of going with a multitude to do either good or evil. An exploded
opinion, or an unpopular person, has an irresistible charm for him. The
same perverseness may be traced in his diction. His style would
never have been elegant; but it might at least have been manly and
perspicuous; and nothing but the most elaborate care could possibly have
made it so bad as it is. It is distinguished by harsh phrases, strange
collocations, occasional solecisms, frequent obscurity, and, above all,
by a peculiar oddity, which can no more be described than it can be
overlooked. Nor is this all. Mr. Mitford piques himself on spelling
better than any of his neighbours; and this not only in ancient names,
which he mangles in defiance both of custom and of reason, but in the
most ordinary words of the English language. It is, in itself, a matter
perfectly indifferent whether we call a foreigner by the name which he
bears in his own language, or by that which corresponds to it in ours;
whether we say Lorenzo de Medici, or Lawrence de Medici, Jean Chauvin,
or John Calvin. In such cases established usage is considered as law
by all writers except Mr. Mitford. If he were always consistent
with himself, he might be excused for sometimes disagreeing with his
neighbours; but he proceeds on no principle but that of being unlike
the rest of the world. Every child has heard of Linnæus; therefore
Mr. Mitford calls him Linné: Rousseau is known all over Europe as Jean
Jacques; therefore Mr. Mitford bestows on him the strange appellation
of John James. {174}Had Mr. Mitford undertaken a history of any other
country than Greece, this propensity would have rendered his work
useless and absurd. His occasional remarks on the affairs of ancient
Rome and of modern Europe are full of errors: but he writes of times
with respect to which almost every other writer has been in the wrong;
and, therefore, by resolutely deviating from his predecessors, he is
often in the right.

Almost all the modern historians of Greece have shown the grossest
ignorance of the most obvious phenomena of human nature. In their
representations the generals and statesmen of antiquity are absolutely
divested of all individuality. They are personifications; they are
passions, talents, opinions, virtues, vices, but not men. Inconsistency
is a thing of which these writers have no notion. That a man may have
been liberal in his youth and avaricious in his age, cruel to one enemy
and merciful to another, is to them utterly inconceivable. If the facts
be undeniable, they suppose some, strange and deep design, in order to
explain what, as every one who has observed his own mind knows, needs
no explanation at all. This is a mode of writing very acceptable to the
multitude who have always been accustomed to make gods and daemons
out of men very little better or worse than themselves; but it appears
contemptible to all who have watched the changes of human character--to
all who have observed the influence of time, of circumstances, and
of associates, on mankind--to all who have seen a hero in the gout, a
democrat in the church, a pedant in love, or a philosopher in liquor.
This practice of painting in nothing but black and white is unpardonable
even in the drama. It is the great fault of Alfieri; {175}and how much
it injures the effect of his compositions will be obvious to every one
who will compare his Rosmunda with the Lady Macbeth of Shakspeare. The
one is a wicked woman; the other is a fiend. Her only feeling is hatred;
all her words are curses. We are at once shocked and fatigued by the
spectacle of such raving cruelty, excited by no provocation, repeatedly
changing its object, and constant in nothing but in its inextinguishable
thirst for blood.

In history this error is far more disgraceful. Indeed, there is no fault
which so completely ruins a narrative in the opinion of a judicious
reader. We know that the line of demarcation between good and bad men
is so faintly marked as often to elude the most careful investigation
of those who have the best opportunities for judging. Public men, above
all, are surrounded with so many temptations and difficulties that
some doubt must almost always hang over their real dispositions and
intentions. The lives of Pym, Cromwell, Monk, Clarendon, Marlborough,
Burnet, Walpole, are well known to us. We are acquainted with their
actions, their speeches, their writings; we have abundance of letters
and well-authenticated anecdotes relating to them: yet what candid man
will venture very positively to say which of them were honest and which
of them were dishonest men. It appears easier to pronounce decidedly
upon the great characters of antiquity, not because we have greater
means of discovering truth, but simply because we have less means of
detecting error. The modern historians of Greece have forgotten this.
Their heroes and villains are as consistent in all their sayings and
doings as the cardinal virtues and the deadly sins in an allegory. We
should as soon expect a good action from giant Slaygood {176}in Bunyan
as from Dionysius; and a crime of Epaminondas would seem as incongruous
as a _faux-pas_ of the grave and comely damsel, called Discretion, who
answered the bell at the door of the house Beautiful.

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

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

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

The first and most important difference between Mr. Mitford and those
who have preceded him is in his narration. Here the advantage lies, for
the most part, on his side. His principle is to follow the contemporary
historians, to look with doubt on all statements which are not in
some degree confirmed by them, and absolutely to reject all which are
contradicted by them. While he retains the guidance of some writer in
whom he can place confidence, he goes on excellently. When he loses it,
he falls to the level, or perhaps below the level, of the writers whom
he so much despises: he is {178}as absurd as they, and very much duller.
It is really amusing to observe how be proceeds with his narration when
he has no better authority than poor Diodorus. He is compelled to relate
something; yet he believes nothing. He accompanies every fact with
a long statement of objections. His account of the administration of
Dionysius is in no sense a history. It ought to be entitled--“Historic
doubts as to certain events, alleged to have taken place in Sicily.”

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

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

The errors of both parties arise from an ignorance or a neglect of the
fundamental principles of political science. The writers on one side
imagine popular government {170}to be always a blessing; Mr. Mitford
omits no opportunity of assuring us that it is always a curse. The fact
is, that a good government, like a good coat, is that which fits the
body for which it is designed, A man who, upon abstract principles,
pronounces a constitution to be good, without an exact knowledge of the
people who are to be governed by it, judges as absurdly as a tailor
who should measime the Belvidere Apollo for the clothes of all his
customers. The demagogues who wished to see Portugal a republic, and
the wise critics who revile the Virginians for not having instituted a
peerage, appear equally ridiculous to all men of sense and candour.

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

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

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

               “How nations sink, by darling schemes oppressed,

               When vengeance listens to the fool’s request."

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

Hence it may be concluded that the happiest state of society is that in
which supreme power resides in {181}the whole body of a well-informed
people. This is an imaginary, perhaps an unattainable, state of things.
Yet, in some measure, we may approximate to it; and he alone deserves
the name of a great statesman, whose principle it is to extend the power
of the people in proportion to the extent of their knowledge, and to
give them every facility for obtaining such a degree of knowledge as may
render it safe to trust them with absolute power. In the mean time, it
is dangerous to praise or condemn constitutions in the abstract; since,
from the despotism of St. Petersburg to the democracy of Washington,
there is scarcely a form of government which might not, at least in some
hypothetical case, be the best possible.

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

The shades in the Athenian character strike the eye more rapidly than
those in the Lacedaemonian: not because they are darker, but because
they are on a brighter ground. The law of ostracism is an instance
of this. Nothing can be conceived more odious than the practice of
punishing a citizen, simply and professedly, for his eminence;--and
nothing in the institutions of Athens is more frequently or more justly
censured. Lacedaemon; was free from this. And why? Lacedæmon {182}did
not need it. Oligarchy is an ostracism of itself,--an ostracism not
occasional, but permanent,--not dubious, but certain. Her laws prevented
the development of merit, instead of attacking its maturity. They did
not cut down the plant in its high and palmy state, but cursed the
soil with eternal sterility. In spite of the law of ostracism, Athens
produced, within a hundred and fifty years, the greatest public men that
ever existed. Whom had Sparta to ostracise? She produced, at most, four
eminent men, Brasidas, Gylip-pus, Lysander, and Agesilaus. Of these, not
one rose to distinction within her jurisdiction. It was only when
they escaped from the region within which the influence of aristocracy
withered everything good and noble, it was only when they ceased to be
Lacedæmonians, that they became great men. Brasidas, among the cities
of Thrace, was strictly a democratical leader, the favourite minister
and general of the people. The same may be said of Gylippus, at
Syracuse. Lysander, in the Hellespont, and Agesilaus, in Asia, were
liberated for a time from the hateful restraints imposed by the
constitution of Lycurgus. Both acquired feme abroad; and both returned
to be watched and depressed at home. This is not peculiar to Sparta.
Oligarchy, wherever it has existed, has always stunted the growth of
genius. Thus it was at Rome, till about a century before the Christian
era: we read of abundance of consuls and dictators who won battles,
and enjoyed triumphs; but we look in vain for a single man of the first
order of intellect,--for a Pericles, a Demosthenes, or a Hannibal.
The Gracchi formed a strong democratical party; Marius revived it; the
foundations of the old aristocracy were shaken; and two generations
fertile in really great men appeared. {183}Venice is a still more
remarkable instance: in her history we see nothing but the state;
aristocracy had destroyed every seed of genius and virtue. Her dominion
was like herself, lofty and magnificent, but founded on filth and weeds.
God forbid that there should ever again exist a powerful and civilised
state, which, after existing through thirteen hundred eventful years,
shall not bequeath to mankind the memory of one great name or one
generous action.

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

The Spartans purchased for their government a prolongation of its
existence by the sacrifice of happiness at home and dignity abroad. They
cringed to the powerful; they trampled on the weak; they massacred their
Helots; they betrayed their allies; they contrived to be a day too
late for the battle of Marathon; they attempted to avoid the battle of
Salamis; they suffered the Athenians, to whom they owed then-lives
and liberties, to be a second time driven from their country by the
Persians, that they might finish their own fortifications on the
Isthmus; they attempted to take advantage of the distress to which
exertions {184}in their cause had reduced their preservers, in order to
make them their slaves; they strove to prevent those who had abandoned
their walls to defend them, from rebuilding them to defend themselves;
they commenced the Peloponnesian war in violation of their engagements
with Athens; they abandoned it in violation of their engagements with
their allies; they gave up to the sword whole cities which had placed
themselves under their protection; they bartered, for advantages
confined to themselves, the interest, the freedom, and the lives
of those who had served them most faithfully; they took with equal
complacency, and equal infamy, the stripes of Elis and the bribes of
Persia; they never showed either resentment or gratitude; they abstained
from no injury; and they revenged none. Above all, they looked on a
citizen who served them well as their deadliest enemy. These are the
arts which protract the existence of governments.

Nor were the domestic institutions of Lacedæmon less hateful or less
contemptible than her foreign policy. A perpetual interference with
every part of the system of human life, a constant struggle against
nature and reason, characterised all her laws. To violate even
prejudices which have taken deep root in the minds of a people is
scarcely expedient; to think of extirpating natural appetites and
passions is frantic: the external symptoms may be occasionally
repressed; but the feeling still exists, and, debarred from its natural
objects, preys on the disordered mind and body of its victim. Thus it
is in convents--thus it is among ascetic sects--thus it was among the

Hence arose that madness, or violence approaching to madness, which, in
spite of every external {185}restraint, often appeared among the most
distinguished citizens of Sparta. Cleomenes terminated his career of
raving cruelty by cutting himself to pieces. Pausanias seems to have
been absolutely insane: he formed a hopeless and profligate scheme; he
betrayed it by the ostentation of his behaviour, and the imprudence of
his measures; and he alienated, by his insolence, all who might have
served or protected him. Xenophon, a warm admirer of Lacedaemon,
furnishes us with the strongest evidence to this effect. It is
impossible not to observe the brutal and senseless fury which
characterises almost every Spartan with whom he was connected. Clearchus
nearly lost his life by his cruelty. Chirisophus deprived his army
of the services of a faithful guide by his unreasonable and ferocious
severity. But it is needless to multiply instances. Lycurgus, Mr.
Mitford’s favourite legislator, founded his whole system on a mistaken
principle. He never considered that governments were made for men, and
not men for governments. Instead of adapting the constitution to the
people, he distorted the minds of the people to suit the constitution, a
scheme worthy of the Laputan Academy of Projectors. And this appears
to Mr. Mitford to constitute his peculiar title to admiration. Hear
himself: “What to modern eyes most strikingly sets that extraordinary
man above all other legislators is, that in so many circumstances,
apparently out of the reach of law, he controlled and formed to his own
mind the wills and habits of his people.” I should suppose that this
gentleman had the advantage of receiving his education under the ferula
of Dr. Pangloss; for his metaphysics are clearly those of the castle
of Thunder-ten-tronckh: “Remarquez bien epie les nez ont été faits pour
porter des lunettes, {186}aussi avons nous des lunettes. Les jambes sont
visiblement instituées pour être chaussées, et nous avons des chausses.
Les cochons étant faits pour être mangés, nous mangeons du porc toute

At Athens the laws did not constantly interfere with the tastes of
the people. The children were not taken from their parents by that
universal step-mother, the state. They were not starved into thieves, or
tortured into bullies; there was no established table at which every
one must dine, no established style in which every one must converse. An
Athenian might eat whatever he could afford to buy, and talk as long as
he could find people to listen. The government did not tell the people
what opinions they were to hold, or what songs they were to sing.
Freedom produced excellence. Thus philosophy took its origin. Thus were
produced those models of poetry, of oratory, and of the arts, which
scarcely fall short of the standard of ideal excellence. Nothing is more
conducive to happiness than the free exercise of the mind in pursuits
congenial to it. This happiness, assuredly, was enjoyed far more at
Athens than at Sparta. The Athenians are acknowledged even by their
enemies to have been distinguished, in private life, by their courteous
and amiable demeanour. Their levity, at least, was better then Spartan
sullenness, and their impertinence, than Spartan insolence. Even
in courage it may be questioned whether they were inferior to the
Lacedæmonians. The great Athenian historian has reported a remarkable
observation of the great Athenian minister. Pericles maintained that his
countrymen, without submitting to the hardships of a Spartan education,
rivalled all the achievements of Spartan valour, and that therefore the
pleasures and {187}amusements which they enjoyed were to be considered
as so much clear gain. The infantry of Athens was certainly not equal to
that of Lacedæmon; but this seems to have been caused merely by want
of practice; the attention of the Athenians was diverted from the
discipline of the phalanx to that of the trireme. The Lacedæinonians, in
spite of all their boasted valour, were, from the same cause, timid and
disorderly in naval action.

But we are told that crimes of great enormity were perpetrated by the
Athenian Government, and the democracies under its protection. It is
true that Athens too often acted up to the full extent of the laws of
war, in an age when those laws had not been mitigated by causes which
have operated in later times. This accusation is, in fact, common to
Athens, to Lacedæmon, to all the states of Greece, and to all states
similarly situated. Where communities are very large, the heavier evils
of war are felt but by few. The plough-boy sings, the spinning-wheel
turns round, the wedding-day is fixed, whether the last battle were lost
or won. In little states it cannot be thus; every man feels in his own
property and person the effect of a war. Every man is a soldier, and a
soldier fighting for his nearest interests. His own trees have been cut
down--his own corn has been burnt--his own house has been pillaged--his
own relations have been killed. How can he entertain towards the enemies
of his country the same feelings with one who has suffered nothing; from
them, except perhaps the addition of a small sum to the taxes which he
pays. Men in such circumstances cannot be generous. They have too much
at stake. It is when they are, if I may so express myself, playing
for love, it is when war is a mere game at chess, it is when they are
contending for a remote colony, a frontier town, {188}the honours of
a flag, a salute, or a title, that they can make fine speeches, and do
good offices to their enemies. The Black Prince waited behind the chair
of his captive; Villars interchanged repartees with Eugene: George II.
sent congratulations to Louis XV., during a war, upon occasion of
his escape from the attempt of Damien: and these things are fine and
generous, and very gratifying to the author of the Broad Stone of
Honour, and all the other wise men who think, like him, that God made
the world only for the use of gentlemen. But they spring in general
from utter heartlessness. No war ought ever to be undertaken but under
circumstances which render all interchange of courtesy between the
combatants impossible. It is a bad thing that men should hate each
other; but it is far worse that they should contract the habit of
cutting one another’s throats without hatred. War is never lenient, but
where it is wanton; when men are compelled to fight in self-defence,
they must hate and avenge: this may be bad; but it is human nature: it
is the clay as it came from the hand of the potter.

It is true that among the dependencies of Athens seditions assumed
a character more ferocious than even in France, during the reign of
terror--the accursed Saturnalia of an accursed bondage. It is true
that in Athens itself, where such convulsions were scarcely known,
the condition of the higher orders was dis agreeable; that they were
compelled to contribute large sums for the service or the amusement
of the public; and that they were sometimes harassed by vexatious
informers. Whenever such cases occur, Mr. Mitford’s scepticism vanishes.
The “if,” the “but,” the “it is said,” the “if we may believe,” with
which he qualifies every charge against a tyrant or an aristocracy, are
at {189}once abandoned. The blacker the story, the firmer is his belief;
and he never fails to inveigh with hearty bitterness against democracy
as the source of every species of crime.

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

The effect of slavery is completely to dissolve the connection which
naturally exists between the higher and lower classes of free citizens.
The rich spend their wealth in purchasing and maintaining slaves. There
is no demand for the labour of the poor; the fable of Menenius ceases to
be applicable; the belly communicates no nutriment to the members; there
is an atrophy in the body politic. The two parties, therefore, proceed
to extremities utterly unknown in countries where they have mutually
need of each other. In Rome the oligarchy was too powerful to be
subverted by force; and neither the tribunes nor the popular assemblies,
though constitutionally omnipotent, could maintain a successful contest
against men who possessed the whole property of the state. Hence the
necessity for measures tending; to unsettle the whole frame of society,
and to take away every motive of industry; the abolition of debts, and
the agrarian laws--propositions absurdly condemned by men who do
not consider the circumstances from which they sprung. They were
the desperate remedies of a desperate disease. In {190}Greece the
oligarchical interest was not in general so deeply rooted as at Rome.
The multitude, therefore, often redressed by force grievances which, at
Rome, were commonly attacked under the forais of the constitution. They
drove out or massacred the rich, and divided their property. If the
superior union or military skill of the rich rendered them victorious,
they took measures equally violent, disarmed all in whom they could not
confide, often slaughtered great numbers and occasionally expelled the
whole commonalty from the city, and remained, with their slaves, the
sole inhabitants.

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

Lacedæmon, cursed with a system of slavery more odious than has ever
existed in any other country, avoided this evil by almost totally
annihilating private property. Lycurgus began by an agrarian law. He
abolished all professions except that of arms; he made the whole of his
community a standing army, every member of which had a common right to
the services of a crowd of miserable bondmen; he secured the state from
sedition at the expense of the Helots. Of all the parts of his system
this is the most creditable to his head, and the most disgraceful to his
heart. {191}These considerations, and many others of equal importance,
Mr. Mitford lias neglected; but he has yet a heavier charge to answer.
He has made not only illogical inferences, but false statements. While
he never states, without qualifications and objections, the charges
which the earliest and best historians have brought against his
favourite tyrants, Pisistratus, Hip-pias, and Gelon, he transcribes,
without any hesitation, the grossest abuse of the least authoritative
writers against every democracy and every demagogue. Such an accusation
should not be made without being supported; and I will therefore select
one out of many passages which will fully substantiate the charge,
and convict Mr. Mitford of wilful misrepresentation, or of negligence
scarcely less culpable. Mr. Mitford is speaking of one of the greatest
men that ever lived, Demosthenes, and comparing him with his rival,
Æschines. Let him speak for himself.

“In earliest youth Demosthenes earned an opprobrious nickname by
the effeminacy of his dress and manner.” Does Mr. Mitford know that
Demosthenes denied this charge, and explained the nickname in a
perfectly different manner? (1) And if he knew it, should he not
have stated it? He proceeds thus:--“On emerging from minority, by the
Athenian law, at five-and-twenty, he earned another opprobrious
nickname by a prosecution of his guardians, which was considered as a
dishonourable attempt to extort money from them.” In the first place,
Demosthenes was not five-and-twenty years of age. Mr. Mitford might have
learned, from so common a book as the Archæologia of Archbishop Potter,
that at twenty Athenian citizens were freed from the control of their

     (1) See the speech of Æschines against Timarchus.

{192}and began to manage their own property. The very speech of
Demosthenes against his guardians proves most satisfactorily that he
was under twenty. In his speech against Midias, he says that when
he undertook that prosecution he was quite a boy. His youth might,
therefore, excuse the step, even if it had been considered, as
Mr. Mitford says, a dishonourable attempt to extort money. But who
considered it as such? «Not the judges, who condemned the guardians. The
Athenian courts of justice were not the purest in the world; but their
decisions were at least as likely to be just as the abuse of a deadly
enemy. Mr. Mitford refers for confirmation of his statement to Æschines
and Plutarch..Æschines by no means beat’s him out; and Plutarch directly
contradicts him. “Hot long after,” says Mr. Mitford, “he took blows
publicly in the theater” (I preserve the orthography, if it can be
so called, of this historian) “from a petulant youth of rank, named
Meidias.” Here are two disgraceful mistakes. In the first place, it was
long after; eight years at the very least, probably much more. In the
next place, the petulant youth, of whom Mr. Mitford speaks, was fifty
years old. (2) Really Mr. Mitford has less reason to censure the
carelessness of his predecessors than to reform his own. After this
monstrous inaccuracy, with regard to facts, we may be able to judge what
degree of credit ought to be given to the vague abuse of such a writer.
“The cowardice of Demosthenes in the field afterwards became notorious.”
 Demosthenes was a civil character; war was

     (2)Whoever will read the speech of Demosthenes against
     Midias will find the statements in the text confirmed, and
     will have, moreover, the pleasure of becoming acquainted
     with one of the finest compositions in the world.

{193}not his business. In his time the division between military
and political offices was beginning to be strongly marked; yet the
recollection of the days when every citizen was a soldier was still
recent. In such states of society a certain degree of disrepute always
attaches to sedentary men; but that any leader of the Athenian democracy
could have been, as Mr. Mitford says of Demosthenes, a few lines before,
remarkable for “an extraordinary deficiency of personal courage,” is
absolutely impossible. What mercenary warrior of the time exposed his
life to greater or more constant perils? Was there a single soldier at
Chæronea who had more cause to tremble for his safety than the orator,
who, in case of defeat, could scarcely hope for mercy from the people
whom he had misled or the prince whom lie had opposed? Were not the
ordinary fluctuations of popular feeling enough to deter any coward from
engaging in political conflicts? Isocrates, whom Mr. Mitford extols,
because he constantly employed all the flowers of his school-boy
rhetoric to decorate oligarchy and tyranny, avoided the judicial and
political meetings of Athens from mere timidity, and seems to have hated
democracy only because he durst not look a popular assembly in the face.
Demosthenes was a man of a feeble constitution: his nerves were weak;
but his spirit was high: and the energy and enthusiasm of his feelings
supported him through life and in death.

So much for Demosthenes. Now for the orator of aristocracy. I do not
wish to abuse Æschines. He may have been an honest man. He was certainly
a great man; and I feel a reverence, of which Mr. Mitford seems to have
no notion, for great men of every party. But, when Mr. Mitford says
that the private character {194}of Æscliines was without stain, does
he remember what Æschines has himself confessed in his speech against
Timarchus? I can make allowances, as well as Mr. Mitford, for persons
who lived under a different system of laws and morals; but let them be
made impartially. If Demosthenes is to be attacked on account of some
childish improprieties, proved only by the assertion of an antagonist,
what shall we say of those maturer vices which that antagonist has
himself acknowledged? “Against the private character of Æschines,”
 says Mr. Mitford, “Demosthenes seems not to have had an insinuation
to oppose.” Has Mr. Mitford ever read the speech of Demosthenes on the
Embassy? Or can he have forgotten, what was never forgotten by any one
else who ever read it, the story which Demosthenes relates with such
terrible energy of language concerning the drunken brutality of his
rival? True or false, here is something more than an insinuation; and
nothing can vindicate the historian, who has overlooked it, from the
charge of negligence or of partiality. But Æschines denied the story.
And did not Demosthenes also deny the story respecting his childish
nickname, which Mr. Mitford has nevertheless told without any
qualification? But the judges, or some part of them, showed, by their
clamour, their disbelief of the relation of Demosthenes. And did not
the judges, who tried the cause between Demosthenes and his guardians,
indicate, in a much clearer manner, their approbation of the
prosecution? But Demosthenes was a demagogue, and is to be slandered.
Æscliines was an aristocrat, and is to be panegyrised. Is this a
history, or a party pamphlet?

These passages, all selected from a single page of Mr. Mitford’s work,
may give some notion to those {195}readers, who have not the means of
comparing his statements with the original authorities, of his extreme
partiality and carelessness. Indeed, whenever this historian mentions
Demosthenes, he violates all the laws of candour and even of decency;
he weighs no authorities; he makes no allowances; he forgets the best
authenticated facts in the history of the times, and the most generally
recognised principles of human nature. The opposition of the great
orator to the policy of Philip he represents as neither more nor less
than deliberate villainy. I hold almost the same opinion with Mr.
Mitford respecting the character and the views of that great and
accomplished prince. But am I, therefore, to pronounce Demosthenes
profligate and insincere? Surely not. Do we not perpetually see men of
the greatest talents and the purest intentions misled by national or
factious prejudices? The most respectable people in England were, little
more than forty years ago, in the habit of uttering the bitterest abuse
against Washington and Franklin. It is certainly to be regretted that
men should err so grossly in their estimate of character. But no person
who knows anything of human nature will impute such errors to depravity.

Mr. Mitford is not more consistent with himself than with reason. Though
he is the advocate of all oligarchies, he is also a warm admirer of
all kings, and of all citizens who raised themselves to that species of
sovereignty which the Greeks denominated tyranny. If monarchy, as Mr.
Mitford holds, be in itself a blessing, democracy must be a better
form of government than aristocracy, which is always opposed to the
supremacy, and even to the eminence, of individuals. On the other hand,
it is {196}but one step that separates the demagogue and the sovereign.

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

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

                   “From whose mouth issued forth

               Mellifluous streams that watered all the schools

               Of Academics, old and new, with those

               Surnamed Peripatetics, and the sect

               Epicurean, and the Stoic severe."

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

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

All wise statesmen have agreed to consider the prosperity or adversity
of nations as made up of the happiness or misery of individuals, and to
reject as chimerical all notions of a public interest of the community,
distinct from the interest of the component parts. It {198}is therefore
strange that those whose office it is to supply statesmen with examples
and warnings should omit, as too mean for the dignity of history,
circumstances which exert the most extensive influence on the state of
society. In general, the under current of human life flows steadily on,
unruffled by the storms which agitate the surface. The happiness of the
many commonly depends on causes independent of victories or defeats, of
revolutions or restorations,--causes which can be regulated by no laws,
and which are recorded in no archives. These causes are the things which
it is of main importance to us to know, not how the Lacedæmonian phalanx
was broken at Leuctra--not whether Alexander died of poison or by
diseased History, without these, is a shell without a kernel; and
such is almost all the history which is extant in the world. Paltry
skirmishes and plots are reported with absurd and useless minuteness;
but improvements the most essential to the comfort of human life extend
themselves over the world, and introduce themselves into every cottage,
before any annalist can condescend, from the dignity of writing about
generals and ambassadors, to take the least notice of them. Thus the
progress of the most salutary inventions and discoveries is buried in
impenetrable mystery; mankind are deprived of a most useful species of
knowledge, and their benefactors of their honest fame. In the meantime
every child knows by heart the dates and adventures of a long line of
barbarian kings. The history of nations, in the sense in which I use
the word, is often best studied in works not professedly historical.
Thucydides, as far as he goes, is an excellent writer; yet he affords
ns far less knowledge of the most important particulars relating {199}to
Athens than Plato or Aristophanes. The little treatise of Xenophon on
Domestic Economy contains more historical information than all the seven
hooks of his Hellenics. The same may be said of the Satires of Horace,
of the Letters of Cicero, of the novels of Le Sage, of the memoirs of
Marin on tel. Many others might be mentioned; but these sufficiently
illustrate my meaning.

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

Of the indifference which Mr. Mitford shows on this subject I will not
speak; for I cannot speak with fairness. It is a subject on which I love
to forget the accuracy of a judge, in the veneration of a worshipper
and the gratitude of a child. If we consider merely the subtlety of
disquisition, the force of imagination, {200}the perfect energy and
elegance of expression, which characterise the great works of Athenian
genius, we must pronounce them intrinsically most valuable; but what
shall we say when we reflect that from hence have sprung, directly or
indirectly, all the noblest creations of the human intellect; that from
hence were the vast accomplishments, and the brilliant fancy of Cicero;
the withering fire of Juvenal; the plastic imagination of Dante; the
humour of Cervantes; the comprehension of Bacon; the wit of Butler;
the supreme and universal excellence of Shakspeare? All the triumphs of
truth and genius over prejudice and power, in every country and in every
age, have been the triumphs of Athens. Wherever a few great minds have
made a stand against violence and fraud, in the cause of liberty and
reason, there has been her spirit in the midst of them; inspiring,
encouraging, consoling;--by the lonely lamp of Erasmus; by the restless
bed of Pascal; in the tribune of Mirabeau; in the cell of Galileo; on
the scaffold of Sidney. But who shall estimate her influence on private
happiness? Who shall say how many thousands have been made wiser,
happier, and better, by those pursuits in which she has taught mankind
to engage; to how many the studies which took their rise from her
have been wealth in poverty,--liberty in bondage,--health in sickness,
--society in solitude? Her power is indeed manifested at the bar, in the
senate, in the field of battle, in the schools of philosophy. But these
are not her glory. Wherever literature consoles sorrow, or assuages
pain,--wherever it brings gladness to eyes which fail with wakefulness
and tears, and ache for the dark house and the long sleep,--there
is exhibited, in its noblest form, the immortal influence of Athens.
{201}The dervise, in the Arabian tale, did not hesitate to abandon to
his comrade the camels with their load of jewels and gold, while he
retained the casket of that mysterious juice which enabled him to behold
at one glance all the hidden riches of the universe. Surely it is no
exaggeration to say that no external advantage is to be compared with
that purification of the intellectual eye which gives us to contemplate
the infinite wealth of the mental world, all the hoarded treasures of
its primeval dynasties, all the shapeless ore of its yet unexplored
mines. This is the gift of Athens to man. Her freedom and her power
have for more than twenty centuries been annihilated; her people have
degenerated into timid slaves: her language into a barbarous jargon;
her temples have been given up to the successive depredations of Romans,
Turks, and Scotchmen; but her intellectual empire is imperishable. And
when those who have rivalled her greatness shall have shared her fate;
when civilisation and knowledge shall have fixed their abode in distant
continents; when the sceptre shall have passed away from England;
when, perhaps, travellers from distant regions shall in vain labour to
decipher on some mouldering pedestal the name of our proudest chief;
shall hear savage hymns chaunted to some misshapen idol, over the ruined
dome of our proudest temple; and shall see a single naked fisherman wash
his nets in the river of the ten thousand masts;--her influence and
her glory will still survive,--fresh in eternal youth, exempt from
mutability and decay, immortal as the intellectual principle from which
they derived their origin, and over which they exercise their control.


{202}(_Edinburgh Review_, August 1825.)

Towards the close of the year 1823, Mr. Lemon, deputy keeper of the
state papers, in the course of his researches among the presses of his
office, met with a large Latin manuscript. With it were found corrected
copies of the foreign despatches written by Milton, while he filled the
office of Secretary, and several papers relating to the Popish Trials
and the Rye-house Plot. The whole was wrapped up in an envelope,
superscribed _To Mr. Skinner, Merchant_. On examination, the large
manuscript proved to be the long lost Essay on the Doctrines of
Christianity, which, according to Wood and Toland, Milton finished after
the Restoration, and deposited with Cyriac Skinner. Skinner, it is well
known, held the same political opinions with his illustrious friend. It
is therefore probable, as Mr. Lemon conjectures, that he may have fallen
under the suspicions of the government during that persecution of the
Whigs which followed the dissolution of the Oxford parliament, and that,
in consequence of a general seizure of his papers, this work may have

     (1) _Jonnis Miltoni, Angli, de Doctrinâ Cliristicinâ libri
     duo posthumi_. A Treatise on Christian Doctrine, compiled
     from the Holy Scriptures alone, by John Milton, translated
     from the Original by Charles R. Sumner, M.A. &c. &c. 1825.

{203}brought to the office in which it has been found. But whatever the
adventures of the manuscript may have been, no doubt can exist that it
is a genuine relic of the great poet.

Mr. Sumner, who was commanded by his Majesty to edite and translate the
treatise, has acquitted himself of his task in a manner honourable to
his talents and to his character. His version is not indeed very easy or
elegant; but it is entitled to the praise of clearness and fidelity.
His notes abound with interesting quotations, and have the rare merit
of really elucidating the text. The preface is evidently the work of
a sensible and candid man, firm in his own religious opinions, and
tolerant towards those of others.

The book itself will not add much to the fame of Milton. It is, like all
his Latin works, well written, though not exactly in the style of the
prize essays of Oxford and Cambridge. There is no elaborate imitation
of classical antiquity, no scrupulous purity, none of the ceremonial
cleanness which characterizes the diction of our academical Pharisees.
The author does not attempt to polish and brighten his composition into
the Ciceronian gloss and brilliancy. He does not in short sacrifice
sense and spirit to pedantic refinements. The nature of his subject
compelled him to use many words

               “That would have made Quintilian stare and gasp."

But he writes with as much ease and freedom as if Latin were his mother
tongue; and, where he is least happy, his failure seems to arise from
the carelessness of a native, not from the ignorance of a foreigner.
We may apply to him what Denham with great felicity says of Cowley. He
wears the garb, but not the clothes of the ancients. {204}Throughout the
volume are discernible the traces of a powerful and independent mind,
emancipated from the influence of authority, and devoted to the search
of truth. Milton professes to form his system from the Bible alone; and
his digest of scriptural texts is certainly among the best that have
appeared. But he is not always so happy in his inferences as in his

Some of the heterodox doctrines which he avows seemed to have excited
considerable amazement, particularly his Arianism, and his theory on the
subject of polygamy. Yet we can scarcely conceive that any person could
have read the Paradise Lost without suspecting him of the former; nor do
we think that any reader, acquainted with the history of his life, ought
to be much startled at the latter. The opinions which he has expressed
respecting the nature of the Deity, the eternity of matter, and the
observation of the Sabbath, might, we think, have caused more just

But we will not go into the discussion of these points. The book, were
it far more orthodox or far more heretical than it is, would not much
edify or corrupt the present generation. The men of our time are not to
be converted or perverted by quartos. A few more days, and this essay
will follow the _Defensio Populi_, to the dust and silence of the
upper shelf. The name of its author, and the remarkable circumstances
attending its publication, will secure to it a certain degree of
attention. For a month or two it will occupy a few minutes of chat in
every drawing-room, and a few columns in every magazine; and it will
then, to borrow the elegant language of the play-bills, be withdrawn, to
make room for the forthcoming novelties. {205}We wish however to avail
ourselves of the interest, transient as it may he, which this work has
excited. The dexterous Capuchins never choose to preach on the life and
miracles of a saint, till they have awakened the devotional feelings of
their auditors by exhibiting some relic of him, a thread of his garment,
a lock of his hair, or a drop of his blood. On the same principle, we
intend to take advantage of the late interesting discovery, and, while
this memorial of a great and good man is still in the hands of all,
to say something of his moral and intellectual qualities. Nor, we are
convinced, will the severest of our readers blame us if, on an occasion
like the present, we turn for a short time from the topics of the day,
to commemorate, in all love and reverence, the genius and virtues of
John Milton, the poet, the statesman, the philosopher, the glory of
English literature, the champion and the martyr of English liberty.

It is by his poetry that Milton is best known; and it is of his poetry
that we wish first to speak. By the general suffrage of the civilised
world, his place has been assigned among the greatest masters of the
art. His detractors, however, though outvoted, have not been silenced.
There are many critics, and some of great name, who contrive in the
same breath to extol the poems and to decry the poet. The works they
acknowledge, considered in themselves, may be classed among the noblest
productions of the human mind. But they will not allow the author to
rank with those great men who, born in the infancy of civilisation,
supplied, by their own powers, the want of instruction, and, though
destitute of models themselves, bequeathed to posterity models which
defy imitation. Milton, it is said, inherited what his predecessors
created: he lived {206}in an enlightened age; he received a finished
education; and we must therefore, if we would form a just estimate of
his powers, make large deductions in consideration of these advantages.

We venture to say, on the contrary, paradoxical as the remark may
appear, that no poet has ever had to struggle with more unfavourable
circumstances than Milton. He doubted, as he has himself owned, whether
he had not been born “an age too late.” For this notion Johnson has
thought fit to make him the butt of much clumsy ridicule. The poet, we
believe, understood the nature of his art better than the critic. He
knew that his poetical genius derived no advantage from the civilisation
which surrounded him, or from the learning which he had acquired; and he
looked back with something like regret to the ruder age of simple words
and vivid impressions.

We think that, as civilisation advances, poetry almost necessarily
declines. Therefore, though we fervently admire those great works of
imagination which have appeared in dark ages, we do not admire them the
more because they have appeared in dark ages. On the contrary, we hold
that the most wonderful and splendid proof of genius is a great poem
produced in a civilised age. We cannot understand why those who believe
in that most orthodox article of literary faith, that the earliest poets
are generally the best, should wonder at the rule as if it were
the exception. Surely the uniformity of the phænomenon indicates a
corresponding uniformity in the cause.

The fact is, that common observers reason from the progress of the
experimental sciences to that of the imitative arts. The improvement of
the former is gradual and slow. Ages are spent in collecting materiales
{207}more in separating and combining them. Even when a system has been
formed, there is still something to add, to alter, or to reject. Every
generation enjoys the use of a vast hoard bequeathed to it by antiquity,
and transmits that hoard, augmented by fresh acquisitions, to future
ages. In these pursuits, therefore, the first speculators lie under
great disadvantages, and, even when they fail, are entitled to praise.
Their pupils, with far inferior intellectual powers, speedily surpass
them in actual attainments. Every girl who has read Mrs. Marcet’s little
dialogues on Political Economy could teach Montague or Walpole many
lessons in finance. Any intelligent man may now, by resolutely applying
himself for a few years to mathematics, learn more than the great Newton
knew after half a century of study and meditation.

But it is not thus with music, with painting, or with sculpture. Still
less is it thus with poetry. The progress of refinement rarely supplies
these arts with better objects of imitation. It may indeed improve the
instruments which are necessary to the mechanical operations of the
musician, the sculptor, and the painter. But language, the machine of
the poet, is best fitted for his purpose in its rudest state. Nations,
like individuals, first perceive, and then abstract. They advance
from particular images to general terms. Hence the vocabulary of an
enlightened society is philosophical, that of a half-civilised people is

This change in the language of men is partly the cause and partly the
effect of a corresponding change in the nature of their intellectual
operations, of a change by which science gains and poetry loses.
Generalisation is necessary to the advancement of knowledge; but
particularly is indispensable to the creations {208}of the imagination.
In proportion as men know more and think more, they look less at
individuals and more at classes. They therefore make better theories
and worse poems. They give us vague phrases instead of images, and
personified qualities instead of men. They may be better able to analyse
human nature than their predecessors. But analysis is not the business
of the poet. His office is to portray, not to dissect. He may believe
in a moral sense, like Shaftesbury; he may refer all human actions to
self-interest, like Helvetius; or he may never think about the matter
at all. His creed on such subjects will no more influence his poetry,
properly so called, than the notions which a painter may have conceived
respecting the lacrymal glands, or the circulation of the blood,
will affect the tears of his Niobe, or the blushes of his Aurora. If
Shakespeare had written a book on the motives of human actions, it is
by no means certain that it would have been a good one. It is extremely
improbable that it would have contained half so much able reasoning
on the sulbject as is to be found in the Fable of the Bees. But
could Mandeville have created an Iago? Well as he knew how to resolve
characters into their elements, would he have been able to combine
those elements in such a manner as to make up a man, a real, living,
individual man?

Perhaps no person can be a poet, or can even enjoy poetry, without a
certain unsoundness of mind, if any thing which gives so much pleasure
ought to be called unsoundness. By poetry we mean not all writing in
verse, nor even all good writing in verse. Our definition excludes
many metrical compositions which, on other grounds, deserve the highest
praise. By poetry we mean the art of employing words in such a manner
{209}as to produce an illusion on the imagination, the art of doing
by means of words what the painter does by means of colours. Thus the
greatest of poets has described it, in lines universally admired for the
vigour and felicity of their diction, and still more valuable on account
of the just notion which they convey of the art in which he excelled:

                        “As imagination bodies forth

               The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen

               Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing

               A local habitation and a name."

These are the fruits of the “fine frenzy” which he ascribes to the
poet,--a fine frenzy doubtless, but still a frenzy. Truth, indeed, is
essential to poetry; but it is the truth of madness. The reasonings are
just; but the premises are false. After the first suppositions have been
made, every thing ought to be consistent; but those first suppositions
require a degree of credulity which almost amounts to a partial and
temporary derangement of the intellect. Hence of all people children are
the most imaginative. They abandon themselves without reserve to every
illusion. Every image which is strongly presented to their mental eye
produces on them the effect of reality. No man, whatever his sensibility
may be, is ever affected by Hamlet or Lear, as a little girl is affected
by the story of poor Red Riding-hood. She knows that it is all false,
that wolves cannot speak, that there are no wolves in England. Yet in
spite of her knowledge she believes; she weeps; she trembles; she dares
not go into a dark room lest she should feel the teeth of the monster at
her throat. Such is the despotism of the imagination over uncultivated

In a rude state of society men are children with a {210}greater variety
of ideas. It is therefore in such a state of society that we may expect
to find the poetical temperament in its highest perfection. In an
enlightened age there will be much intelligence, much science, much
philosophy, abundance of just classification and subtle analysis,
abundance of wit and eloquence, abundance of verses, and even of good
ones; but little poetry. Men will judge and compare; but they will not
create. They will talk about the old poets, and comment on them, and to
a certain degree enjoy them. But they will scarcely be able to conceive
the effect which poetry produced on their ruder ancestors, the agony,
the ecstasy, the plenitude of belief. The Greek Rhapsodists, according
to Plato, could scarce recite Homer without falling into convulsions.
The Mohawk hardly feels the scalping knife while he shouts his
death-song. The power which the ancient bards of Wales and Germany
exercised over their auditors seems to modern readers almost miraculous.
Such feelings are very rare in a civilised community, and most rare
among those who participate most in its improvements. They linger
longest among the peasantry.

Poetry produces an illusion on the eye of the mind, as a magic lantern
produces an illusion on the eye of the body. And, as the magic lantern
acts best in a dark room, poetry effects its purpose most completely in
a dark age. As the light of knowledge breaks in upon its exhibitions, as
the outlines of certainty become more and more definite and the shades
of probability more and more distinct, the hues and lineaments’ of the
phantoms which the poet calls up grow fainter and fainter. We cannot
unite the incompatible advantages of reality and deception, the clear
discernment of truth and the exquisite enjoyment of fiction. {211}He
who, in an enlightened and literary society, aspires to be a great poet,
must first become a little child. He must take to pieces the whole web
of his mind. He must unlearn much of that knowledge which has perhaps
constituted hitherto his chief title to superiority. His very talents
will be a hindrance to him. His difficulties will be proportioned to
his proficiency in the pursuits which are fashionable among his
contemporaries; and that proficiency will in general be proportioned to
the vigour and activity of his mind. And it is well if, after all his.
sacrifices and exertions, his works do not resemble a lisping man or a
modern ruin. We have seen in our own time great talents, intense labour,
and long meditation, employed in this struggle against the spirit of the
age, and employed, we will not say absolutely in vain, but with dubious
success and feeble applause.

If these reasonings be just, no poet has ever triumphed over greater
difficulties than Milton. He received a learned education: he was a
profound and elegant classical scholar: he had studied all the mysteries
of Rabbinical literature: he was intimately acquainted with every
language of modern Europe, from which either pleasure or information was
then to be derived. He was perhaps the only great poet of later times
who has been distinguished by the excellence of his Latin verse. The
genius of Petrarch was scarcely of the first order; and his poems in the
ancient language, though much praised by those who have never read
them, are wretched compositions. Cowley, with all his admirable wit and
ingenuity, had little imagination: nor indeed do we think his classical
diction comparable to that of Milton. The authority of Johnson is
against us on this point. But Johnson had studied {212}the bad writers
of the middle ages till he had become utterly insensible to the Augustan
elegance, and was as ill qualified to judge between two Latin styles as
a habitual drunkard to set up for a wine-taster.

Versification in a dead language is an exotic, a farfetched, costly,
sickly, imitation of that which elsewhere may be found in healthful and
spontaneous perfection. The soils on which this rarity flourishes are in
general as ill suited to the production of vigorous native poetry as the
flower-pots of a hot-house to the growth of oaks. That the author of
the Paradise Lost should have written the Epistle to Manso was truly
wonderful. Never before were such marked originality and such exquisite
mimicry found together. Indeed in all the Latin poems of Milton the
artificial manner indispensable to such works is admirably preserved,
while, at the same time, his genius gives to them a peculiar charm, an
air of nobleness and freedom, which distinguishes them from all other
writings of the same class. They remind us of the amusements of those
angelic warriors who composed the cohort of Gabriel:

               “About him exercised heroic games

               The unarmed youth of heaven. But o’er their heads

               Celestial armoury, shield, helm, and spear,

               Hung high, with diamond flaming and with gold."

We cannot look upon the sportive exercises for which the genius of
Milton ungirds itself, without catching la glimpse of the gorgeous and
terrible panoply which it is accustomed to wear. The strength of his
imagination triumphed over every obstacle. So intense and ardent was the
fire of his mind, that it not only was not suffocated beneath the weight
of fuel, but penetrated the whole superincumbent mass with its own heat
and radiance. {213}It is not our intention to attempt any thing like a
complete examination of the poetry of Milton. The public has long been
agreed as to the merit of the most remarkable passages, the incomparable
harmony of the numbers, and the excellence of that style, which no rival
has been able to equal, and no parodist to degrade, which displays In
their highest perfection the idiomatic powers of the English tongue,
and to which every ancient and every modern language has contributed
something of grace, of energy, or of music. In the vast field of
criticism on which we are entering, innumerable reapers have already put
their sickles. Yet the harvest is so abundant that the negligent search
of a straggling gleaner may be rewarded with a sheaf.

The most striking characteristic of the poetry of Milton is the extreme
remoteness of the associations by means of which it acts on the reader.
Its effect is produced, not so much by what it expresses, as by what
it suggests; not so much by the ideas which it directly conveys, as
by other ideas which are connected with them. He electrifies the mind
through conductors. The most unimaginative man must understand the
Iliad. Homer gives him no choice, and requires from him no exertion, but
takes the whole upon himself, and sets the images in so clear a light,
that it is impossible to be blind to them. The works of Milton cannot be
comprehended or enjoyed, unless the mind of the reader co-operate with
that of the writer. He does not paint a finished picture, or play for
a mere passive listener. He sketches, and leaves others to fill up the
outline. He strikes the key-note, and expects his hearer to make out the

We often hear of the magical influence of poetry. The expression in
general means nothing: but applied {214}to the writings of Milton, it
is most appropriate. His poetry acts like an incantation. Its merit lies
less in its obvious meaning than in its occult power. There would seem,
at first sight, to be no more in his words than in other words. But they
are words of enchantment. No sooner are they pronounced, than the past
is present and the distant near. New forms of beauty start at once into
existence, and all the burial-places of the memory give up their dead.
Change the structure of the sentence; substitute one synonyme for
another, and the whole effect is destroyed. The spell loses its power;
and he who should then hope to conjure with it would find himself as
much mistaken as Cassim in the Arabian tale, when he stood crying, “Open
Wheat,” “Open Barley,” to the door which obeyed no sound but “Open
Sesame.” The miserable failure of Dryden in his attempt to translate
into his own diction some parts of the Paradise Lost, is a remarkable
instance of this.

In support of these observations we may remark, that scarcely any
passages in the poems of Milton are more generally known or more
frequently repeated than those which are little more than muster-rolls
of names. They are not always more appropriate or more melodious than
other names. But they are charmed names. Every one of them is the first
link in a long chain of associated ideas. Like the dwelling-place of our
infancy revisited in manhood, like the song of our country heard in a
strange land, they produce upon us an effect wholly independent of their
intrinsic value. One transports us back to a remote period of history.
Another places us among the novel scenes and manners of a distant
region. A third evokes all the dear classical recollection of childhood,
the school-room, {215}the dog-eared Virgil, the holiday, and the prize.
A fourth brings before us the splendid phantoms of chivalrous romance,
the trophied lists, the embroidered housings, the quaint devices, the
haunted forests, the enchanted gardens, the achievements of enamoured
knights, and the smiles of rescued princesses.

In none of the works of Milton is his peculiar manner more happily
displayed than in the Allegro and the Penseroso. It is impossible
to conceive that the mechanism of language can be brought to a more
exquisite degree of perfection. These poems differ from others, as atar
of roses differs from ordinary rose water, the close packed essence
from the thin diluted mixture. They are indeed not so much poems, as
collections of hints, from each of which the reader is to make out a
poem for himself. Every epithet is a text for a stanza.

The Comus and the Sampson Agonistes are works which, though of very
different merit, offer some marked points of resemblance. Both are
lyric poems in the form of plays. There are perhaps no two kinds of
composition so essentially dissimilar as the drama and the ode. The
business of the dramatist is to keep himself out of sight, and to let
nothing appear but his characters. As soon as he attracts notice to his
personal feelings, the illusion is broken. The effect is as unpleasant
as that which is produced on the stage by the voice of a prompter or the
entrance of a scene-shifter. Hence it was, that the tragedies of Byron
were his least successful performances. They resemble those pasteboard
pictures invented by the friend of children, Mr. Newbery, in which a
single moveable head goes round twenty different bodies, so that the
same face looks out upon us successively, from the uniform of a
hussar, the furs of a judge, and the rags of a beggar. {216}In all the
characters, patriots and tyrants, haters and lovers, the frown and sneer
of Harold were discernible in an instant. But this species of egotism,
though fatal to the drama, is the inspiration of the ode. It is the
part of the lyric poet to abandon himself, without reserve, to his own

Between these hostile elements many great men have endeavoured to effect
an amalgamation, but never with complete success. The Greek Drama, on
the model of which the Samson was written, sprang from the Ode. The
dialogue was ingrafted on the chorus, and naturally partook of its
character. The genius of the greatest of the Athenian dramatists
co-operated with the circumstances under which tragedy made its first
appearance. Æschylus was, head and heart, a lyric poet. In his time, the
Greeks had far more intercourse with the East than in the days of
Homer; and they had not yet acquired that immense superiority in war, in
science, and in the arts, which, in the following generation, led them
to treat the Asiatics with contempt. From the narrative of Herodotus it
should seem that they still looked up, with the veneration of disciples,
to Egypt and Assyria. At this period, accordingly, it was natural that
the literature of Greece should be tinctured with the Oriental style.
And that style, we think, is discernible in the works of Pindar and
Æschylus. The latter often reminds us of the Hebrew writers. The book of
Job, indeed, in conduct and diction, bears a considerable resemblance
to some of his dramas. Considered as plays, his works are absurd;
considered as choruses, they are above all praise. If, for instance, we
examine the address of Clytemnestra to Agamemnon on his return, or the
description of the seven Argive chiefs, by the principles of dramatic
{217}writing, we shall instantly condemn them as monstrous. But if we
forget the characters, and think only of the poetry, we shall admit that
it has never been surpassed in energy and magnificence. Sophocles made
the Greek drama as dramatic as was consistent with its original form.
His portraits of men have a sort of similarity; but it is the similarity
not of a painting, but of a bas-relief. It suggests a resemblance; but
it does not produce an illusion. Euripides attempted to carry the reform
further. But it was a task far beyond his powers, perhaps beyond any
powers. Instead of correcting what was bad, he destroyed what was
excellent. He substituted crutches for stilts, bad sermons for good

Milton, it is well known, admired Euripides highly, much more highly
than, in our opinion, Euripides deserved. Indeed the caresses which
this partiality leads our countryman to bestow on “sad Electra’s poet,”
 sometimes remind us of the beautiful Queen of Fairy-land kissing the
long ears of Bottom. At all events, there can be no doubt that this
veneration for the Athenian, whether just or not, was injurious to the
Samson Agonistes. Had Milton taken Æschylus for his model, he would have
given himself up to the lyric inspiration, and poured out profusely all
the treasures of his mind, without bestowing a thought on those dramatic
proprieties which the nature of the work rendered it impossible to
preserve. In the attempt to reconcile things in their own nature
inconsistent, he has failed, as every one else must have failed. We
cannot identify ourselves with the characters, as in a good play.
We cannot identify ourselves with the poet, as in a good ode. The
conflicting ingredients, like an acid and an alkali mixed, neutralise
each other. {218}We are by no means insensible to the merits of this
celebrated piece, to the severe dignity of the style, the graceful
and pathetic solemnity of the opening speech, or the wild and barbaric
melody which gives so striking an effect to the choral passages. But
we think it, we confess, the least successful effort of the genius of

The Comus is framed on the model of the Italian Masque, as the Samson
is framed on the model of the Greek Tragedy. It is certainly the noblest
performance of the kind which exists in any language. It is as far
superior to the Faithful Shepherdess, as the Faithful Shepherdess is
to the Aminta, or the Aminta to the Pastor Fido. It was well for Milton
that he had here no Euripides to mislead him. He understood and loved
the literature of modern Italy. But he did not feel for it the same
veneration which he entertained for the remains of Athenian and Roman
poetry, consecrated by so many lofty and endearing recollections. The
faults, moreover, of his Italian predecessors were of a kind to which
his mind had a deadly antipathy. He could stoop to a plain style,
sometimes even to a bald style; but false brilliancy was his utter
aversion. His muse had no objection to a russet attire; but she turned
with disgust from the finery of Guarini, as tawdry and as paltry as the
rags of a chimney-sweeper on May-day. Whatever ornaments she wears are
of massive gold, not only dazzling to the sight, but capable of standing
the severest test of the crucible.

Milton attended in the Comus to the distinction which he afterwards
neglected in the Samson. He made his Masque what it ought to be,
essentially lyrical, and dramatic only in semblance. He has not
{219}attempted a fruitless struggle against a defect inherent In the
nature of that species of composition; and he has therefore succeeded,
wherever success was not impossible. The speeches must be read as
majestic soliloquies; and he who so reads them will be enraptured with
their eloquence, their sublimity, and their music. The interruptions of
the dialogue, however, impose a constraint upon the writer, and break
the illusion of the reader. The finest passages are those which are
lyric in form as well as in spirit. “I should much commend,” says the
excellent Sir Henry Wotton in a letter to Milton, “the tragical part if
the lyrical did not ravish me with a certain Dorique delicacy in your
songs and odes, whereunto, I must plainly confess to you, I have seen
yet nothing parallel in our language.” The criticism was just. It
is when Milton escapes from the shackles of the dialogue, when he is
discharged from the labour of uniting two incongruous styles, when he is
at liberty to indulge his choral raptures without reserve, that he rises
even above himself. Then, like his own good Genius bursting from the
earthly form and weeds of Thyrsis, he stands forth in celestial freedom
and beauty; he seems to cry exultingly,

                   “Now my task is smoothly done,

                   I can fly or I can run,"

to skim the earth, to soar above the clouds, to bathe in the Elysian dew
of the rainbow, and to inhale the balmy smells of nard and cassia, which
the musky winds of the zephyr scatter through the cedared alleys of the

There are several of the minor poems of Milton on which we would
willingly make a few remarks. Still more willingly would we enter into a
detailed examination {220}of that admirable poem, the Paradise Regained,
which, strangely enough, is scarcely ever mentioned except as an
instance of the blindness of the parental affection which men of letters
bear towards the offspring of their intellects. That Milton was mistaken
in preferring this work, excellent as it is, to the Paradise Lost, we
readily admit. But we are sure that the superiority of the Paradise Lost
to the Paradise Regained is not more decided, than the superiority of
the Paradise Regained to every poem which has since made its appearance.
Our limits, however, prevent us from discussing the point at length. We
hasten on to that extraordinary production which the general suffrage of
critics has placed in the highest class of human compositions.

The only poem of modern times which can be compared with the Paradise
Lost is the Divine Comedy. The subject of Milton, in some points,
resembled that of Dante; but he has treated it in a widely different
manner. We cannot, we think, better illustrate our opinion respecting
our own great poet, than by contrasting him with the father of Tuscan

The poetry of Milton differs from that of Dante, as the hieroglyphics of
Egypt differed from the picturewriting of Mexico. The images which Dante
employs speak for themselves; they stand simply for what they are. Those
of Milton have a signification which is often discernible only to the
initiated. Their value depends less on what they directly represent than
on what they remotely suggest. However strange, however grotesque, may
be the appearance which Dante undertakes to describe, he never shrinks
from describing it. He gives us the shape, the colour, the sound, the
smell, the taste; he counts the numbers; he measares {221}the size.
His similes are the illustrations of a traveller. Unlike those of
other poets, and especially of Milton, they are introduced in a plain,
business-like manner; not for the sake of any beauty in the objects from
which they are drawn; not for the sake of any ornament which they may
impart to the poem; but simply in order to make the meaning of the
writer as clear to the reader as it is to himself. The ruins of the
precipice which led from the sixth to the seventh circle of hell were
like those of the rock which fell into the Adige on the south of Trent.
The cataract of Phlegethon was like that of Aqua Cheta at the monastery
of St. Benedict. The place where the heretics were confined in burning
tombs resembled the vast cemetery of Arles.

Now let us compare with the exact details of Dante the dim intimations
of Milton. We will cite a few examples. The English poet has never
thought of taking the measure of Satan. He gives us merely a vague
idea of vast bulk. In one passage the fiend lies stretched out huge in
length, floating many a rood, equal in size to the earth-born enemies
of Jove, or to the sea-monster which the mariner mistakes for an island.
When he addresses himself to battle against the guardian angels, he
stands like Teneriffe or Atlas: his stature reaches the sky. Contrast
with these descriptions the lines in which Dante has described the
gigantic spectre of Nimrod. “His face seemed to me as long and as
broad as the ball of St. Peter’s at Rome; and his other limbs were
in proportion; so that the bank, which concealed him from the waist
downwards, nevertheless showed so much of him, that three tall Germans
would in vain have attempted to reach to his hair.” We are sensible that
we do no {222}justice to the admirable style of the Florentine poet. But
Mr. Cary’s translation is not at hand; and our version, however rude, is
sufficient to illustrate our meaning.

Once more, compare the lazar-house in the eleventh book of the Paradise
Lost with the last ward of Malebolge in Dante. Milton avoids the
loathsome details, and takes refuge in indistinct but solemn and
tremendous imagery, Despair hurrying from couch to couch to mock the
wretches with his attendance, Death shaking his dart over them, but, in
spite of supplications, delaying to strike. What says Dante? “There was
such a moan there as there would be if all the sick who, between July
and September, are in the hospitals of Valdichiana, and of the Tuscan
swamps, and of Sardinia, were in one pit together; and such a stench was
issuing forth as is wont to issue from decayed limbs.”

We will not take upon ourselves the invidious office of settling
precedency between two such writers. Each in his own department is
incomparable; and each, we may remark, has wisely, or fortunately,
taken a subject adapted to exhibit his peculiar talent to the greatest
advantage. The Divine Comedy is a personal narrative. Dante is the
eye-witness and ear-witness of that which he relates. He is the very man
who has heard the tormented spirits crying out for the second death,
who has read the dusky characters on the portal within which there is
no hope, who has hidden his face from the terrors of the Gorgon, who
has fled from the hooks and the seething pitch of Barbariccia and
Drag-hignazzo. His own hands have grasped the shaggy sides of Lucifer.
His own feet have climbed the mountain of expiation. His own brow has
been {223}marked by the purifying angel. The reader would throw aside
such a tale in incredulous disgust, unless it were told with the
strongest air of veracity, with a sobriety even in its horrors, with
the greatest precision and multiplicity in its details. The narrative of
Milton in this respect differs from that of Dante, as the adventures of
Amadis differ from those of Gulliver. The author of Amadis would have
made his book ridiculous if he had introduced those minute particulars
which give such a charm to the work of Swift, the nautical observations,
the affected delicacy about names, the official documents transcribed
at foil length, and all the unmeaning gossip and scandal of the court,
springing out of nothing, and tending to nothing. We are not shocked
at being told that a man who lived, nobody knows when, saw many very
strange sights, and we can easily abandon ourselves to the illusion of
the romance. But when Lemuel Gulliver, surgeon, resident at Rotherhithe,
tells us of pygmies and giants, flying islands, and philosophising
horses, nothing but such circumstantial touches could produce for a
single moment a deception on the imagination.

Of all the poets who have introduced into their works the agency of
supernatural beings, Milton has succeeded best. Here Dante decidedly
yields to him: and as this is a point on which many rash and
ill-considered judgments have been pronounced, we feel inclined to dwell
on it a little longer. The most fatal error which a poet can possibly
commit in the management of his machinery, is that of attempting to
philosophise too much. Milton has been often censured for ascribing to
spirits many functions of which spirits must be incapable. But these
objections, though sanctioned by eminent names, originate, we venture
to say, in profound ignorance of the art of poetry. {224}What is spirit?
What are our own minds, the portion of spirit with which we are best
acquainted? We observe certain phænomena. We cannot explain them into
material causes. We therefore infer that there exists something which
is not material. But of this something we have no idea. We can define
it only in negatives. We can reason about it only by symbols. We use the
word: but we have no more of the things; and the business of poetry
is with images, and not with words. The poet uses words indeed; but they
are merely the instruments of his art, not its objects. They are the
materials which he is to dispose in such a manner as to present a
picture to the mental eye. And if they are not so disposed, they are
no more entitled to be called poetry than a bale of canvas and a box of
colours to be called a painting.

Logicians may reason about abstractions. But the great mass of men
must have images. The strong tendency of the multitude in all a^es and
nations to idolatry can be explained on no other principle. The first
inhabitants of Greece, there is reason to believe, worshipped one
invisible Deity. But the necessity of having something more definite to
adore produced, in a few centuries, the innumerable crowd of Gods and
Goddesses. In like manner the ancient Persians thought it impious to
exhibit the Creator under a human form. Yet even these transferred to
the Sun the worship which, in speculation, they considered due only to
the Supreme Mind. The History of the Jews is the record of a continued
struggle between pure Theism, supported by the most terrible sanctions,
and the strangely fascinating desire of having some visible and tangible
object of adoration. Perhaps none of the secondary causes which Gibbon
has assigned for the rapidity with which Christianity spread over the
world, {225}while Judaism scarcely ever acquired a proselyte,
operated more powerfully than this feeling. God, the uncreated,
the incomprehensible, the invisible, attracted few worshippers. A
philosopher might admire so noble a conception: but the crowd turned
away in disgust from words which presented no image to their minds. It
was before Deity embodied in a human form, walking among men, partaking
of their infirmities, leaning on their bosoms, weeping over their
graves, slumbering in the manger, bleeding on the cross, that the
prejudices of the Synagogue, and the doubts of the Academy, and the
pride of the portico, and the fasces of the Lictor, and the swords of
thirty legions, were humbled in the dust. Soon after Christianity had
achieved its triumph, the principle which had assisted it began to
corrupt it. It became a new Paganism. Patron saints assumed the offices
of household gods. St. George took the place of Mars. St. Elmo consoled
the mariner for the loss of Castor and Pollux. The Virgin Mother and
Cecilia succeeded to Venus and the Muses. The fascination of sex and
loveliness was again joined to that of celestial dignity; and the homage
of chivalry was blended with that of religion. Reformers have often made
a stand against these feelings; but never with more than apparent and
partial success. The men who demolished the images in Cathedrals have
not always been able to demolish those which were enshrined in their
minds. It would not be difficult to show that in politics the same rule
holds good. Doctrines, we are afraid, must generally be embodied before
they can excite a strong public feeling. The multitude is more easily
interested for the most unmeaning badge, or the most insignificant name,
than for the most important principle. {226}From these considerations,
we infer that no poet, who should affect that metaphysical accuracy for
the want of which Milton has been blamed, would escape a disgraceful
failure. Still, however, there was another extreme, which, though far
less dangerous, was also to be avoided. The imaginations of men are in
a groat measure under the control of their opinions. The most exquisite
art of poetical colouring can produce no illusion, when it is employed
to represent that which is at once perceived to be incongruous and
absurd. Milton wrote in an age of philosophers and theologians. It was
necessary, therefore, for him to abstain from giving such a shock to
their understandings as might break the charm which it was his object
to throw over their imaginations. This is the real explanation of
the indistinctness and inconsistency with which he has often been
reproached. Dr. Johnson acknowledges that it was absolutely necessary
that the spirit should be clothed with material forms. “But,” says he,
“the poet should have secured the consistency of his system by keeping
immateriality out of sight, and seducing the reader to drop it from his
thoughts.” This is easily said; but what if Milton could not seduce his
readers to drop immateriality from their thoughts? What if the contrary
opinion had taken so full a possession of the minds of men as to leave
no room even for the half belief which poetry requires? Such we
suspect to have been the case. It was impossible for the poet to adopt
altogether the material or the immaterial system. He therefore took his
stand on the debatable ground. He left the whole in ambiguity. He
has, doubtless, by so doing, laid himself open to the charge of
inconsistency. But, though philosophically in the wrong, we cannot
but believe that he was poetically {227}in the right. This task, which
almost any other writer would have found impracticable, was easy to
him. The peculiar art which he possessed of communicating his meaning
circuitously through a long succession of associated ideas, and of
intimating more than he expressed, enabled him to disguise those
incongruities which he could not avoid.

Poetry which relates to the beings of another world ought to be at
once mysterious and picturesque. That of Milton is so. That of Dante
is picturesque indeed beyond any that ever was written. Its effect
approaches to that produced by the pencil or the chisel. But it is
picturesque to the exclusion of all mystery. This is a fault on the
right side, a fault inseparable from the plan of Dante’s poem, which,
as we have already observed, rendered the utmost accuracy of description
necessary. Still it is a fault. The supernatural agents excite an
interest; but it is not the interest which is proper to supernatural
agents. We feel that we could talk to the ghosts and dæmons without any
emotion of unearthly awe. We could, like Don Juan, ask them to supper,
and eat heartily in their company. Dante’s angels are good men with
wings. His devils are spiteful ugly executioners. His dead men are
merely living men in strange situations. The scene which passes between
the poet and Farinata is justly celebrated. Still, Farinata in the
burning tomb is exactly what Farinata would have been at an _auto da
fe_. Nothing can be more touching than the first interview of Dante and
Beatrice. Yet what is it, but a lovely woman chiding, with sweet austere
composure, the lover for whose affection she is grateful, but whose
vices she reprobates? The feelings which give the passage its charm
would suit the streets of {228}Florence as well as the summit of the
Mount of Purgatory.

The spirits of Milton are unlike those of almost all other writers.
His fiends, in particular, are wonderful creations. They are not
metaphysical abstractions. They are not wicked men. They are not ugly
beasts. They have no horns, no tails, none of the fee-faw-fum of Tasso
and Klopstock. They have just enough in common with human nature to be
intelligible to human beings. Their characters are, like their forms,
marked by a certain dim resemblance to those of men, but exaggerated to
gigantic dimensions, and veiled in mysterious gloom.

Perhaps the gods and dæmons of Æschylus may best bear a comparison with
the angels and devils of Milton. The style of the Athenian had, as
we have remarked, something of the Oriental character; and the same
peculiarity may be traced in his mythology. It has nothing of the
amenity and elegance which we generally find in the superstitions of
Greece. All is rugged, barbaric, and colossal. The legends of Æschylus
seem to harmonize less with the fragrant groves and graceful porticoes
in which his countrymen paid their vows to the God of Light and Goddess
of Desire, than with those huge and grotesque labyrinths of eternal
granite in which Egypt enshrined her mystic Osiris, or in which
Hindostan still bows down to her seven-headed idols. His favourite
gods are those of the elder generation, the sons of heaven and earth,
compared with whom Jupiter himself was a stripling and an upstart, the
gigantic Titans, and the inexorable Furies. Foremost among his creations
of this class stands Prometheus, half fiend, half redeemer, the friend
of man, the sullen and implacable enemy of heaven. Prometheus {229}bears
undoubtedly a considerable resemblance, to the Satan of Milton. In both
we find the same impatience of control, the same ferocity, the same
unconquerable pride. In both characters also are mingled, though in
very different proportions, some kind and generous feelings. Prometheus,
however, is hardly superhuman enough. He talks too much of his chains
and his uneasy posture: he is rather too much depressed and agitated.
His resolution seems to depend on the knowledge which he possesses that
he holds the fate of his torturer in his hands, and that the hour of his
release will surely come. But Satan is a creature of another sphere.
The might of his intellectual nature is victorious over the extremity
of pain. Amidst agonies which cannot be conceived without horror, he
deliberates, resolves, and even exults. Against the sword of Michael,
against the thunder of Jehovah, against the flaming lake, and the
marl burning with solid fire, against the prospect of an eternity of
unintermitted misery, his spirit bears up unbroken, resting on its own
innate energies, requiring no support from any thing external, nor even
from hope itself.

To return for a moment to the parallel which we have been attempting
to draw between Milton and Dante, we would add that the poetry of these
great men has in a considerable degree taken its character from their
moral qualities. They are not egotists. They rarely obtrude their
idiosyncrasies on their readers. They have, nothing in common with those
modern beggars for fame, who extort a pittance from the compassion of
the inexperienced by exposing the nakedness and sores of their minds.
Yet it would be difficult to name two writers whose works have been more
completely, though undesignedly, coloured by their personal feelings.
{230}The character of Milton was peculiarly distinguished by loftiness
of spirit; that of Dante by intensity of feeling. In every line of
the Divine Comedy we discern the asperity which is produced by pride
struggling with misery. There is perhaps no work in the world so deeply
and uniformly sorrowful. The melancholy of Dante was no fantastic
caprice. It was not, as far as at this distance of time can be judged,
the effect of external circumstances. It was from within. Neither love
nor glory, neither the conflicts of earth nor the hope of heaven could
dispel it. It turned every consolation and every pleasure into its own
nature. It resembled that noxious Sardinian soil of which the intense
bitterness is said to have been perceptible even in its honey. His mind
was, in the noble language of the Hebrew poet, “a land of darkness, as
darkness itself, and where the light was as darkness.” The gloom of
his character discolours all the passions of men, and all the face of
nature, and tinges with its own livid hue the flowers of Paradise
and the glories of the eternal throne. All the portraits of him are
singularly characteristic. No person can look on the features, noble
even to ruggedness, the dark furrows of the cheek, the haggard and woful
stare of the eye, the sullen and contemptuous curve of the lip, and
doubt that they belong to a man too proud and too sensitive to be happy.

Milton was, like Dante, a statesman and a lover; and, like Dante, he had
been unfortunate in ambition and in love. He had survived his health and
his sight, the comforts of his home, and the prosperity of his party.
Of the great men by whom he had been distinguished at his entrance into
life, some had been taken away from the evil to come; some had carried
into foreign climates their unconquerable hatred of oppression;
{231}some were pining in dungeons; and some had poured forth their blood
on scaffolds. Venal and licentious scribblers, with just sufficient
talent to clothe the thoughts of a pandar in the style of a bellman,
were now the favourite writers of the Sovereign and of the public. It
was a loathsome herd, which could be compared to nothing so fitly as
to the rabble of Cornus, grotesque monsters, half bestial half human,
dropping with wine, bloated with gluttony, and reeling in obscene
dances. Amidst these that fair Muse was placed, like the chaste lady of
the Masque, lofty, spotless, and serene, to be chattered at, and pointed
at, and grinned at, by the whole rout of Satyrs and Goblins. If ever
despondency and asperity could be excused in any man, they might have
been excused in Milton. But the strength of his mind overcame every
calamity. Neither blindness, nor gout, nor age, nor penury, nor domestic
afflictions, nor political disappointments, nor abuse, nor proscription,
nor neglect, had power to disturb his sedate and majestic patience. His
spirits do not seem to have been high, but they were singularly equable.
His temper was serious, perhaps stern; but it was a temper which no
sufferings could render sullen or fretful. Such as it was when, on
the eve of great events, he returned from his travels, in the prime of
health and manly beauty, loaded with literary distinctions, and glowing
with patriotic hopes, such it continued to be when, after having
experienced every calamity which is incident to our nature, old, poor,
sightless and disgraced, he retired to his hovel to die.

Hence it was that, though he wrote the Paradise Lost at a time of life
when images of beauty and tenderness are in general beginning to
fade, even from those minds in which they have not been effaced by
{232}anxiety and disappointment, he adorned it with all that is most
lovely and delightful in the physical and in the moral world. Neither
Theocritus nor Ariosto had a finer or a more healthful sense of the
pleasantness of external objects, or loved better to luxuriate amidst
sunbeams and flowers, the songs of nightingales, the juice of summer
fruits, and the coolness of shady fountains. His conception of love
unites all the voluptuousness of the Oriental harem, and all the
gallantry of the chivalric tournament, with all the pure and quiet
affection of an English fireside. His poetry reminds us of the miracles
of Alpine scenery. Nooks and dells, beautiful as fairy land, are
embosomed in its most rugged and gigantic elevations. The roses and
myrtles bloom unchilled on the verge of the avalanche.

Traces, indeed, of the peculiar character of Milton may be found in
all his works; but it is most strongly displayed in the Sonnets.
Those remarkable poems have been undervalued by critics who have not
understood their nature. They have no epigrammatic point. There is
none of the ingenuity of Filicaja in the thought, none of the hard and
brilliant enamel of Petrarch in the style. They are simple but majestic
records of the feelings of the poet; as little tricked out for the
public eye as his diary would have been. A victory, an expected attack
upon the city, a momentary fit of depression or exultation, a jest
thrown out against one of his books, a dream which for a short time
restored to him that beautiful face over which the grave had closed for
ever, led him to musings, which, without effort, shaped themselves into
verse. The unity of sentiment and severity of style which characterise
these little pieces remind us of the Greek Anthology, or perhaps still
more of the Collects of the {233}English Liturgy. The noble poem on the
Massacres of Piedmont is strictly a Collect in verse.

The Sonnets are more or less striking, according as the occasions which
gave birth to them are more or less interesting. But they are, almost
without exception, dignified by a sobriety and greatness of mind to
which we know not where to look for a parallel. It would, indeed, be
scarcely safe to draw any decided inferences as to the character of a
writer from passages directly egotistical. But the qualities which we
have ascribed to Milton, though perhaps most strongly marked in
those parts of his works which treat of his personal feelings, are
distinguishable in every page, and impart to all his writings, prose and
poetry, English, Latin, and Italian, a strong family likeness.

His public conduct was such as was to be expected from a man of a spirit
so high and of an intellect so powerful. He lived at one of the most
memorable eras in the history of mankind, at the very crisis of the
great conflict between Oromasdes and Arimanes, liberty and despotism,
reason and prejudice. That great battle was fought for no single
generation, for no single land. The destinies of the human race were
staked on the same cast with the freedom of the English people. Then
were first proclaimed those mighty principles which have since worked
their way into the depths of the American forests, which have roused
Greece from the slavery and degradation of two thousand years, and
which, from one end of Europe to the other, have kindled an unquenchable
fire in the hearts of the oppressed, and loosed the knees of the
oppressors with an unwonted fear.

Of those principles, then struggling for their infant existence, Milton
was the most devoted and eloquent literary {234}champion. We need not
say how much we admire his public conduct. But we cannot disguise
from ourselves that a large portion of his countrymen still think it
unjustifiable. The civil war, indeed, has been more discussed, and
is less understood, than any event in English history. The friends of
liberty laboured under the disadvantage of which the lion in the fable
complained so bitterly. Though they were the conquerors, their enemies
were the painters. As a body, the Roundheads had done their utmost to
decry and ruin literature; and literature was even with them, as, in the
long run, it always is with its enemies. The best book on their side of
the question is the charming narrative of Mrs. Hutchinson. May’s History
of the Parliament is good; but it breaks off at the most interesting
crisis of the struggle. The performance of Ludlow is foolish and
violent; and most of the later writers who have espoused the same cause,
Oldmixon for instance, and Catherine Macaulay, have, to say the least,
been more distinguished by zeal than either by candour or by skill.
On the other side are the most authoritative and the most popular
historical works in our language, that of Clarendon, and that of Hume.
The former is not only ably written and full of valuable information,
but has also an air of dignity and sincerity which makes even the
prejudices and errors with which it abounds respectable. Hume, from
whose fascinating narrative the great mass of the reading public are
still contented to take their opinions, hated religion so much that he
hated liberty for having been allied with religion, and has pleaded the
cause of tyranny with the dexterity of an advocate while affecting the
impartiality of a judge.

The public conduct of Milton must be approved or {235}condemned
according as the resistance of the people to Charles the First shall
appear to be justifiable or criminal. We shall therefore make no apology
for dedicating a few pages to the discussion of that interesting and
most important question. We shall not argue it on general grounds. We
shall not recur to those primary principles from which the claim of any
government to the obedience of its subjects is to be deduced. We are
entitled to that vantage ground; but we will relinquish it. We are, on
this point, so confident of superiority, that we are not unwilling to
imitate the ostentatious generosity of those ancient knights, who vowed
to joust without helmet or shield against all enemies, and to give
their antagonists the advantage of sun and wind. We will take the naked
constitutional question. We confidently affirm, that every reason which
can be urged in favour of the Revolution of 1688 may be urged with at
least equal force in favour of what is called the Great Rebellion.

In one respect, only, we think, can the warmest admirers of Charles
venture to say that he was a better sovereign than his son. He was not,
in name and profession, a Papist; we say in name and profession, because
both Charles himself and his creature Laud, while they abjured the
innocent badges of Popery, retained all its worst vices, a complete
subjection of reason to authority, a weak preference of form to
substance, a childish passion for mummeries, an idolatrous veneration
for the priestly character, and, above all, a merciless intolerance.
This, however, we waive. We will concede that Charles was a good
Protestant; but we say that his Protestantism does not make the
slightest distinction between his case and that of James.

The principles of the Revolution have often been {236}grossly
misrepresented, and never more than in the course of the present year.
There is a certain class of men, who, while they profess to hold in
reverence the great names and great actions of former times never look
at them for any other purpose than in order to find in them some excuse
for existing abuses. In every venerable precedent they pass by what is
essential, and take only what is accidental: they keep out of sight what
is beneficial, and hold up to public imitation all that is defective.
If, in any part of any great example, there be any thing unsound, these
flesh-flies detect it with an unerring instinct, and dart upon it with
a ravenous delight. If some good end has been attained in spite of them,
they feel, with their prototype, that

               “Their labour must be to pervert that end,

               And out of good still to find means of evil."

To the blessings which England has derived from the Revolution these
people are utterly insensible. The expulsion of a tyrant, the solemn
recognition of popular rights, liberty, security, toleration, all go for
nothing with them. One sect there was, which, from unfortunate temporary
causes, it was thought necessary to keep under close restraint. One part
of the empire there was so unhappily circumstanced, that at that time
its misery was necessary to our happiness, and its slavery to our
freedom. These are the parts of the Revolution which the politicians of
whom we speak, love to contemplate, and which seem to them not indeed
to vindicate, but in some degree to palliate, the good which it has
produced. Talk to them of Naples, of Spain, or of South America. They
stand forth zealots for the doctrine of Divine Right which has now come
back to us, like a thief from transportation, {237}under the _alias_ of
Legitimacy. But mention the miseries of Ireland. Then William is a
hero. Then Somers and Shrewsbury are great men. Then the Revolution is a
glorious era. The very same persons who, in this country, never omit an
opportunity of reviving every wretched Jacobite slander respecting the
Whigs of that period, have no sooner crossed St. George’s Channel, than
they begin to fill their bumpers to the glorious and immortal memory.
They may truly boast that they look not at men, but at measures. So that
evil be done, they care not who does it; the arbitrary Charles, or the
liberal William, Ferdinand the Catholic, or Frederic the Protestant. On
such occasions their deadliest opponents may reckon upon their candid
construction. The bold assertions of these people have of late impressed
a large portion of the public with an opinion that James the Second was
expelled simply because he was a Catholic, and that the Revolution was
essentially a Protestant Revolution.

But this certainly was not the case; nor can any person who has acquired
more knowledge of the history of those times than is to be found in
Goldsmith’s Abridgment believe that, if James had held his own religious
opinions without wishing to make proselytes, or if, wishing even to
make proselytes, he had contented himself with exerting only his
constitutional influence for that purpose, the Prince of Orange would
ever have been invited over. Our ancestors, we suppose, knew their own
meaning; and, if we may believe them, their hostility was primarily not
to popery, but to tyranny. They did not drive out a tyrant because he
was a Catholic; but they excluded Catholics from the crown, because they
thought them likely {238}to be tyrants. The ground on which they, in
their famous resolution, declared the throne vacant, was this, “that
James had broken the fundamental laws of the kingdom.” Every man,
therefore, who approves of the Revolution of 1688 must hold that the
breach of fundamental laws on the part of the sovereign justifies
resistance. The question, then, is this; Had Charles the First broken
the fundamental laws of England?

No person can answer in the negative, unless he refuses credit, not
merely to all the accusations brought against Charles by his opponents,
but to the narratives of the warmest Royalists, and to the confessions
of the King himself. If there be any truth in any historian of any party
who has related the events of that reign, the conduct of Charles,
from his accession to the meeting of the Long Parliament, had been a
continued course of oppression and treachery. Let those who applaud
the Revolution, and condemn the Rebellion, mention one act of James
the Second to which a parallel is not to be found in the history of
his father. Let them lay their fingers on a single article in the
Declaration of Right, presented by the two Houses to William and Mary,
which Charles is not acknowledged to have violated. He had, according
to the testimony of his own friends, usurped the functions of the
legislature, raised taxes without the consent of parliament, and
quartered troops on the people in the most illegal and vexatious
manner. Not a single session of parliament had passed without some
unconstitutional attack on the freedom of debate; the right of petition
was grossly violated; arbitrary judgments, exorbitant fines, and
unwarranted imprisonments, were grievances of daily occurrence. If these
things do not justify resistance, {239}the Revolution was treason; if
they do, the Great Rebellion was laudable.

But, it is said, why not adopt milder measures? Why, after the King
had consented to so many reforms, and renounced so many oppressive
prerogatives, did the parliament continue to rise in their demands at
the risk of provoking a civil war? The ship-money had been given up.
The Star Chamber had been abolished. Provision had been made for the
frequent, convocation and secure deliberation of parliaments. Why not
pursue an end confessedly good by peaceable and regular means? We recur
again to the analogy of the Revolution. Why was James driven from the
throne? Why was he not retained upon conditions? He too had offered to
call a free parliament and to submit to its decision all the matters
in dispute. Yet we are in the habit of praising our forefathers, who
preferred a revolution, a disputed succession, a dynasty of strangers,
twenty years of foreign and intestine war, a standing army, and a
national debt, to the rule, however restricted, of a tried and proved
tyrant. The Long Parliament acted on the same principle, and is entitled
to the same praise. They could not trust the King. He had no doubt
passed salutary laws; but what assurance was there that he would not
break them? He had renounced oppressive prerogatives; but where was the
security that he would not resume them? The nation had to deal with a
man whom no tie could bind, a man who made and broke promises with equal
facility, a man whose honour had been a hundred times pawned, and never

Here, indeed, the Long Parliament stands on still stronger ground
than the Convention of 1688. No action of James can be compared to the
conduct of {240}Charles with respect to the Petition of Right. The Lords
and Commons present him with a bill in which the constitutional limits
of his power are marked out. He hesitates; he evades; at last he
bargains to give his assent for five subsidies. The bill receives his
solemn assent; the subsidies are voted; but no sooner is the tyrant
relieved, than he returns at once to all the arbitrary measures which he
had bound himself to abandon, and violates all the clauses of the very
Act which he had been paid to pass.

For more than ten years the people had seen the rights which were theirs
by a double claim, by immemorial inheritance and by recent purchase,
infringed by the perfidious king who had recognised them. At length
circumstances compelled Charles to summon another parliament: another
chance was given to our fathers: were they to throw it away as they had
thrown away the former? Were they again to be cozened by le Roi le
vent? Were they again to advance their money on pledges which had been
forfeited over and over again? Were they to lay a second Petition of
Right at the foot of the throne, to grant another lavish aid in exchange
for another unmeaning ceremony, and then to take their departure, till,
after ten years more of fraud and oppression, their prince should again
require a supply, and again repay it with a perjury? They were compelled
to choose whether they would trust a tyrant or conquer him. We think
that they chose wisely and nobly.

The advocates of Charles, like the advocates of other malefactors
against whom overwhelming evidence is produced, generally decline
all controversy about the facts, and content themselves with calling
testimony to character. He had so many private virtues! And {241}had
James the Second no private virtues? Was Oliver Cromwell, his bitterest
enemies themselves being judges, destitute of private virtues? And what,
after all, are the virtues ascribed to Charles? A religious zeal, not
more sincere than that of his son, and fully as weak and narrow-minded,
and a few of the ordinary household decencies which half the tombstones
in England claim for those who lie beneath them. A good father! A
good husband! Ample apologies indeed for fifteen years of persecution,
tyranny and falsehood!

We charge him with having broken his coronation oath; and we are told
that he kept his marriage vow! We accuse him of having given up
his people to the merciless inflictions of the most hot-headed and
hard-hearted of prelates; and the defence is, that he took his little
son on his knee and kissed him! We censure him for having violated the
articles of the Petition of Right, after having, for good and valuable
consideration, promised to observe them; and we are informed that he was
accustomed to hear prayers at six o’clock in the morning! It is to such
considerations as these, together with his Vandyke dress, his handsome
face, and his peaked beard, that he owes, we verily believe, most of his
popularity with the present generation.

For ourselves, we own that we do not understand the common phrase, a
good man, but a bad king. We can as easily conceive a good man and an
unnatural father, or a good man and a treacherous friend. We cannot,
in estimating the character of an individual, leave out of our
consideration his conduct in the most important of all human relations;
and if in that relation we find him to have been selfish, cruel, and
deceitful, we shall take the liberty to call him a bad {242}man, in
spite of all his temperance at table, and all his regularity at chapel.

We cannot refrain from adding a few words respecting a topic on which
the defenders of Charles are fond of dwelling. If, they say, he governed
his people ill, he at least governed them after the example of his
predecessors. If he violated their privileges, it was because those
privileges had not been accurately defined. No act of oppression has
ever been imputed to him which has not a parallel in the annals of
the Tudors. This point Hume has laboured, with an art which is as
discreditable in a historical work as it would be admirable in a
forensic address. The answer is short, clear, and decisive. Charles
had assented to the Petition of Right. He had renounced the oppressive
powers said to have been exercised by his predecessors, and he had
renounced them for money He was not entitled to set up his antiquated
claims against his own recent release.

These arguments are so obvious, that it may seem superfluous to dwell
upon them. But those who have observed how much the events of that time
are misrepresented and misunderstood will not blame us for stating
the case simply. It is a case of which the simplest statement is the

The enemies of the Parliament, indeed, rarely choose to take issue on
the great points of the question. They content themselves with exposing
some of the crimes and follies to which public commotions necessarily
give birth. They bewail the unmerited fate of Stafford. They execrate
the lawless violence of the army. They laugh at the Scripitural names
of the preachers. Major-generals fleecing their districts; soldiers
revelling on the spoils of a ruined peasantry; upstarts, enriched by
{243}the public plunder, taking possession of the hospitable firesides
and hereditary trees of the old gentry; boys smashing the beautiful
windows of cathedrals; Quakers riding naked through the market-place;
Fifth-monarchy men shouting for King Jesus; agitators lecturing from
the tops of tubs on the fate of Agag; all these, they tell us, were the
offspring of the Great Rebellion.

Be it so. We are not careful to answer in this matter. These charges,
were they infinitely more important, would not alter our opinion of
an event which alone has made us to differ from the slaves who crouch
beneath despotic sceptres. Many evils, no doubt, were produced by the
civil war. They were the price of our liberty. Has the acquisition been
worth the sacrifice? It is the nature of the Devil of tyranny to
tear and rend the body which he leaves. Are the miseries of continued
possession less horrible than the struggles of the tremendous exorcism?

If it were possible that a people brought up under an intolerant and
arbitrary system could subvert that system without acts of cruelty
and folly, half the objections to despotic power would be removed.
We should, in that case, be compelled to acknowledge that it at least
produces no pernicious effects on the intellectual and moral character
of a nation. We deplore the outrages which accompany revolutions.
But the more violent the outrages, the more assured we feel that a
revolution was necessary. The violence of those outrages will always
be proportioned to the ferocity and ignorance of the people; and
the ferocity and ignorance of the people will be proportioned to the
oppression and degradation under which they have been accustomed to
live. Thus it was in our civil war. The heads of the church and state
reaped only that {244}which they had sown. The government had prohibited
free discussion: it had done its best to keep the people unacquainted
with their duties and their rights. The retribution was just and
natural. If our rulers suffered from popular ignorance, it was because
they had themselves taken away the key of knowledge. If they were
assailed with blind fury, it was because they had exacted an equally
blind submission.

It is the character of such revolutions that we always see the worst of
them at first. Till men have been some time free, they know not how to
use their freedom. The natives of wine countries are generally sober. In
climates where wine is a rarity intemperance abounds. A newly liberated
people may be compared to a northern army encamped on the Rhine or the
Xeres. It is said that, when soldiers in such a situation first
find themselves able to indulge without restraint in such a rare and
expensive luxury, nothing is to be seen but intoxication. Soon, however,
plenty teaches discretion; and, after wine has been for a few months
their daily fare, they become more temperate than they had ever been in
their own country. In the same manner, the final and permanent fruits
of liberty are wisdom, moderation, and mercy. Its immediate effects are
often atrocious crimes, conflicting errors, scepticism on points the
most clear, dogmatism on points the most mysterious. It is just at
this crisis that its enemies love to exhibit it. They pull down the
scaffolding from the half-finished edifice: they point to the flying
dust, the falling bricks, the comfortless rooms, the frightful
irregularity of the whole appearance; and then ask in scorn where
the promised splendour and comfort is to be found. If such miserable
sophisms were to prevail there would never be a good house or a good
government in the world. {245}Ariosto tells a pretty story of a fairy,
who, by some mysterious law of her nature, was condemned to appear at
certain seasons in the form of a foul and poisonous snake. Those who
injured her during the period of her disguise were for ever excluded
from participation in the blessings which she bestowed. But to those
who, in spite of her loathsome aspect, pitied and protected her, she
afterwards revealed herself in the beautiful and celestial form which
was natural to her, accompanied their steps, granted all their wishes,
filled their houses with wealth, made them happy in love and victorious
in war. Such a spirit is Liberty. At times she takes the form of a
hateful reptile. She grovels, she hisses, she stings. But woe to those
who in disgust shall venture to crush her! And happy are those who,
having dared to receive her in her degraded and frightful shape, shall
at length be rewarded by her in the time of her beauty and her glory!

There is only one cure for the evils which newly acquired freedom
produces; and that cure is freedom. When a prisoner first leaves his
cell he cannot bear the light of day: he is unable to discriminate
colours, or recognise faces. But the remedy is, not to remand him into
his dungeon, but to accustom him to the rays of the sun. The blaze of
truth and liberty may at first dazzle and bewilder nations which have
become half blind in the house of bondage. But let them gaze on, and
they will soon be able to bear it. In a few years men learn to reason.
The extreme violence of opinions subsides. Hostile theories correct each
other. The scattered elements of truth cease to contend, and begin to
coalesce. And at length a system of justice and order is educed out of
the chaos.

Many politicians of our time are in the habit of laying {246}it down as
a self-evident proposition, that no people ought to be free till they
are fit to use their freedom? The maxim is worthy of the fool in the old
story who resolved not to go into the water till he had learnt to
swim. If men are to wait for liberty till they become wise and good in
slavery, they may indeed wait for ever.

Therefore it is that we decidedly approve of the conduct of Milton and
the other wise and good men who, in spite of much that was ridiculous
and hateful in the conduct of their associates, stood firmly by the
cause of Public Liberty. We are not aware that the poet has been charged
with personal participation in any of the blameable excesses of that
time. The favourite topic of his enemies is the line of conduct which
he pursued with regard to the execution of the King. Of that celebrated
proceeding we by no means approve. Still we must say, in justice to
the many eminent persons who concurred in it, and in justice more
particularly to the eminent person who defended it, that nothing can be
more absurd than the imputations which, for the last hundred and sixty
years, it has been the fashion to cast upon the Regicides. We have,
throughout, abstained from appealing to first principles. We will
not appeal to them now. We recur again to the parallel case of the
Revolution. What essential distinction can be drawn between
the execution of the father and the deposition of the son? What
constitutional maxim is there which applies to the former and not to
the latter? The King can do no wrong. If so, James was as innocent as
Charles could have been. The minister only ought to be responsible for
the acts of the Sovereign. If so, why not impeach Jefferies and retain
James? The person of a King is sacred. Was the person of {247}James
considered sacred at the Boyne? To discharge cannon against an army
in which a King is known to be posted is to approach pretty near to
regicide. Charles, too, it should always be remembered, was put to death
by men who had been exasperated by the hostilities of several years,
and who had never been bound to him by any other tie than that which
was common to them with all their fellow-citizens. Those who drove James
from his throne, who seduced his army, who alienated his friends, who
first imprisoned him in his palace, and then turned him out of it, who
broke in upon his very slumbers by imperious messages, who pursued him
with fire and sword from one part of the empire to another, who hanged,
drew, and quartered his adherents, and attainted his innocent heir, were
his nephew and his two daughters. When we reflect on all these things,
we are at a loss to conceive how the same persons who, on the fifth of
November, thank God for wonderfully conducting his servant William, and
for making all opposition fall before him until he became our King and
Governor, can, on the thirtieth of January, contrive to be afraid that
the blood of the Royal Martyr may be visited on themselves and their

We disapprove, we repeat, of the execution of Charles; not because the
constitution exempts the King from responsibility, for we know that all
such maxims, however excellent, have their exceptions; nor because
we feel any peculiar interest in his character, for we think that his
sentence describes him with perfect justice as “a tyrant, a traitor,
a murderer, and a public enemy;” but because we are convinced that the
measure was most injurious to the cause of freedom, He whom it removed
was a captive and a hostage: his {248}heir, to whom the allegiance
of every Royalist was instantly transferred, was at large. The
Presbyterians could never have been perfectly reconciled to the father:
they had no such rooted enmity to the son. The great body of the
people, also, contemplated that proceeding with feelings which, however
unreasonable, no government could safely venture to outrage.

But though we think the conduct of the Regicides blameable, that of
Milton appears to us in a very different light. The deed was done. It
could not be undone. The evil was incurred; and the object was to render
it as small as possible. We censure the chiefs of the army for not
yielding to the popular opinion; but we cannot censure Milton for
wishing to change that opinion. The very feeling which would have
restrained us from committing the act would have led us, after it
had been committed, to defend it against the ravings of servility and
superstition. For the sake of public liberty, we wish that the thing had
not been done, while the people disapproved of it. But, for the sake of
public liberty, we should also have wished the people to approve of it
when it was done. If any thing more were wanting to the justification
of Milton, the book of Salmasius would furnish it. That miserable
performance is now with justice considered only as a beacon to
word-catchers, who wish to become statesmen. The celebrity of the man
who refuted it, the “Æneæ magni dextra,” gives it all its fame with the
present generation. In that age the state of things was different. It
was not then fully understood how vast an interval separates the mere
classical scholar from the political philosopher. Nor can it be doubted
that a treatise which, bearing the name of so eminent a critic, attacked
the fundamental principles of all free {249}governments, must, if
suffered to remain unanswered, have produced a most pernicious effect on
the public mind.

We wish to add a few words relative to another subject, on which
the enemies of Milton delight to dwell, his conduct during the
administration of the Protector. That an enthusiastic votary of liberty
should accept office under a military usurper seems, no doubt, at first
sight, extraordinary. But all the circumstances in which the country was
then placed were extraordinary. The ambition of Oliver was of no vulgar
kind. He never seems to have coveted despotic power. He at first fought
sincerely and manfully for the Parliament, and never deserted it, till
it had deserted its duty. If he dissolved it by force, it was not
till he found that the few members who remained after so many deaths,
secessions, and expulsions, were desirous to appropriate to themselves
a power which they held only in trust, and to inflict upon England the
curse of a Venetian oligarchy. But even when thus placed by violence
at the head of affairs, he did not assume unlimited power. He gave the
country a constitution far more perfect than any which had at that time
been known in the world. He reformed the representative system in a
manner which has extorted praise even from Lord Clarendon. For himself
he demanded indeed the first place in the commonwealth; but with powers
scarcely so great as those of a Dutch stadtholder, or an American
president. He gave the Parliament a voice in the appointment of
ministers, and left to it the whole legislative authority, not even
reserving; to himself a veto on its enactments; and he did not require
that the chief magistracy should be hereditary in his family. Thus far,
we think, if the circumstances of the time {250}and the opportunities
which he had of aggrandizing himself he fairly considered, he will not
lose by comparison with Washington or Bolivar. Had his moderation been
met by corresponding moderation, there is no reason to think that he
would have overstepped the line which he had traced for himself. But
when he found that his parliaments questioned the authority under which
they met, and that he was in danger of being deprived of the restricted
power which was absolutely necessary to his personal safety, then, it
must be acknowledged, he adopted a more arbitrary policy.

Yet, though we believe that the intentions of Cromwell were at first
honest, though we believe that he was driven from the noble course
which he had marked out for himself by the almost irresistible force of
circumstances, though we admire, in common with all men of all parties,
the ability and energy of his splendid administration, we are not
pleading for arbitrary and lawless power, even in his hands. We know
that a good constitution is infinitely better than the best despot.
But we suspect, that at the time of which we speak, the violence of
religious and political enmities rendered a stable and happy settlement
next to impossible. The choice lay, not between Cromwell and liberty,
but between Cromwell and the Stuarts. That Milton chose well, no man can
doubt who fairly compares the events of the protectorate with those of
the thirty years which succeeded it, the darkest and most disgraceful
in the English annals. Cromwell was evidently laying, though in an
irregular manner, the foundations of an admirable system. Never before
had religious liberty and the freedom of discussion been enjoyed in a
greater degree. Never had the national honour been better upheld abroad,
or the seat of justice {251}better filled at home. And it was rarely
that any opposition which stopped short of open rebellion provoked the
resentment of the liberal and magnanimous usurper. The institutions
which he had established, as set down in the Instrument of Government,
and the Humble Petition and Advice, were excellent. His practice, it is
true, too often departed from the theory of these institutions. But, had
he lived a few years longer, it is probable that his institutions would
have survived him, and that his arbitrary practice would have died with
him. His power had not been consecrated by ancient prejudices. It was
upheld only by his great personal qualities. Little, therefore, was to
be dreaded from a second protector, unless he were also a second Oliver
Cromwell. The events which followed his decease are the most complete
vindication of those who exerted themselves to uphold his authority. His
death dissolved the whole frame of society. The army rose against the
parliament, the different corps of the army against each other. Sect
raved against sect. Party plotted against party. The Presbyterians, in
their eagerness to be revenged on the Independents, sacrificed their
own liberty, and deserted all their old principles. Without casting one
glance on the past, or requiring one stipulation for the future, they
threw down their freedom at the feet of the most frivolous and heartless
of tyrants.

Then came those days, never to be recalled without a blush, the days
of servitude without loyalty and sensuality without love, of dwarfish
talents and gigantic vices, the paradise of cold hearts and narrow
minds, the golden age of the coward, the bigot, and the slave. The King
cringed to his rival that he might trample on his people, sank into
a viceroy of France, and pocketed, {252}with complacent infamy, her
degrading insults, and her more degrading gold. The caresses of harlots,
and the jests of buffoons, regulated the policy of the state. The
government had just ability enough to deceive, and just religion enough
to persecute. The principles of liberty were the scoff of every grinning
courtier, and the Anathema Maranatha of every fawning dean. In every
high place, worship was paid to Charles and James, Belial and Moloch;
and England propitiated those obscene and cruel idols with the blood of
her best and bravest children. Crime succeeded to crime, and disgrace to
disgrace, till the race accursed of God and man was a second time driven
forth, to wander on the face of the earth, and to be a by-word and a
shaking of the head to the nations.

Most of the remarks which we have hitherto made on the public character
of Milton, apply to him only as one of a large body. We shall proceed
to notice some of the peculiarities which distinguished him from his
contemporaries. And, for that purpose, it is necessary to take a short
survey of the parties into which the political world was at that time
divided. We must premise, that our observations are intended to apply
only to those who adhered, from a sincere preference, to one or to the
other side. In days of public commotion, every fiction, like an Oriental
army, is attended by a crowd of camp-followers, an useless and heartless
rabble, who prowl round its line of march in the hope of picking up
something under its protection, but desert it in the day of battle, and
often join to exterminate it after a defeat. England, at the time of
which we are treating, abounded with fickle and selfish politicians, who
transferred their support to every government as it rose, who kissed the
hand of the King in 1640, and {253}spat in his face in 1649, who shouted
with equal glee when Cromwell was inaugurated in Westminster Hall, and
when he was dug up to be hanged at Tyburn, who dined on calves’
heads, or stuck up oak-branches, as circumstances altered, without the
slightest shame or repugnance. These we leave out of the account. We
take our estimate of parties from those who really deserve to be called

We would speak first of the Puritans, the most remarkable body of men,
perhaps, which the world has ever produced. The odious and ridiculous
parts of their character lie on the surface. He that runs may read them;
nor have there been wanting attentive and malicious observers to point
them out. For many years after the Restoration, they were the theme
of unmeasured invective and derision. They were exposed to the utmost
licentiousness of the press and of the stage, at the time when the press
and the stage were most licentious. They were not men of letters; they
were, as a body, unpopular; they could not defend themselves; and the
public would not take them under its protection. They were therefore
abandoned, without reserve, to the tender mercies of the satirists
and dramatists. The ostentatious simplicity of their dress, their sour
aspect, their nasal twang, their stiff posture, their long graces, their
Hebrew names, the Scriptural phrases which they introduced on every
occasion, their contempt of human learning, their detestation of polite
amusements, were indeed fair game for the laughers. But it is not from
the laughers alone that the philosophy of history is to be learnt.
And he who approaches this subject should carefully guard against the
influence of that potent ridicule which has already misled so many
excellent writers.

                   “Ecco {254}il fonte del riso, ed ecco il rio

                   Che mortali perigli in se contiene:

                   Hor qui teuer a fren nostro desio,

                   Ed esser cauti niolto a noi conviene."

Those who roused the people to resistance, who directed their measures
through a long series of eventful years, who formed, out of the most
unpromising materials, the finest army that Europe had ever seen, who
trampled down King, Church, and Aristocracy, who, in the short intervals
of domestic sedition and rebellion, made the name of England terrible to
every nation on the face of the earth, were no vulgar fanatics. Most
of their absurdities were mere external badges, like the signs of
freemasonry, or the dresses of friars. We regret that these badges were
not more attractive. We regret that a body to whose courage and talents
mankind has owed inestimable obligations had not the lofty elegance
which distinguished some of the adherents of Charles the First, or
the easy good-breeding for which the court of Charles the Second was
celebrated. But, if we must make our choice, we shall, like Bassanio in
the play, turn from the specious caskets which contain only the Death’s
head and the Fool’s head, and fix on the plain leaden chest which
conceals the treasure.

The Puritans were men whose minds had derived a peculiar character from
the daily contemplation of superior beings and eternal interests. Not
content with acknowledging, in general terms, an overruling Providence,
they habitually ascribed every event to the will of the Great Being, for
whose power nothing was too vast, for whose inspection nothing was too
minute. To know him, to serve him, to enjoy him, was with them the great
end of existence. They rejected with contempt the ceremonious homage
which other sects substituted {255}for the pure worship of the soul.
Instead of catching occasional glimpses of the Deity through an
obscuring veil, they aspired to gaze full on his intolerable brightness,
and to commune with him face to face. Hence originated their contempt
for terrestrial distinctions. The difference between the greatest
and the meanest of mankind seemed to vanish, when compared with the
boundless interval which separated the whole race from him on whom their
own eyes were constantly fixed. They recognised no title to superiority
but his favour; and, confident of that favour, they despised all
the accomplishments and all the dignities of the world. If they were
unacquainted with the works of philosophers and poets, they were
deeply read in the oracles of God. If their names were not found in the
registers of heralds, they were recorded in the Book of Life. If their
steps were not accompanied by a splendid train of menials, legions of
ministering angels had charge over them. Their palaces were houses not
made with hands; their diadems crowns of glory which should never fade
away. On the rich and the eloquent, on nobles and priests they looked
down with contempt: for they esteemed themselves rich in a more precious
treasure, and eloquent in a more sublime language, nobles by the right
of an earlier creation, and priests by the imposition of a mightier
hand. The very meanest of them was a being to whose fate a mysterious
and terrible importance belonged, on whose slightest action the spirits
of light and darkness looked with anxious interest, who had been
destined, before heaven and earth were created, to enjoy a felicity
which should continue when heaven and earth should have passed away.
Events which short-sighted politicians ascribed to earthly causes, had
been ordained on his {256}account. For his sake empires had risen, and
flourished, and decayed. For his sake the Almighty had proclaimed his
will by the pen of the Evangelist, and the harp of the prophet. He had
been wrested by no common deliverer from the grasp of no common foe. He
had been ransomed by the sweat of no vulgar agony, by the blood of no
earthly sacrifice. It was for him that the sun had been darkened, that
the rocks had been rent, that the dead had risen, that all nature had
shuddered at the sufferings of her expiring God.

Thus the Puritan was made up of two different men, the one all
self-abasement, penitence, gratitude, passion, the other proud, calm,
inflexible, sagacious. He prostrated himself in the dust before his
Maker: but he set his foot on the neck of his king. In his devotional
retirement, he prayed with convulsions, and groans, and tears. He was
half-maddened by glorious or terrible illusions. He heard the lyres
of angels or the tempting whispers of fiends. He caught a gleam of the
Beatific Vision, or woke screaming from dreams of everlasting fire. Like
Vane, he thought himself intrusted with the sceptre of the millennial
year. Like Fleetwood, he cried in the bitterness of his soul that God
had hid his face from him. But when he took his seat in the council, or
girt on his sword for war, these impestuous workings of the soul had
left no perceptible trace behind them. People who saw nothing of the
godly but their uncouth visages, and heard nothing from them but their
groans and their whining hymns, yet laugh at them. But those had little
reason to laugh who encountered them in the hall of debate or in the
field of battle. These fanatics brought to civil and military affairs a
coolness of judgment and an immutability of purpose which some writers
have thought {257}inconsistent with their religious zeal, but which were
in fact the necessary effects of it. The intensity of their feelings
on one subject made them tranquil on every other. One overpowering
sentiment had subjected to itself pity and hatred, ambition and fear.
Death had lost its terrors and pleasure its charms. They had their
smiles and their tears, their raptures and their sorrows, but not for
the things of this world. Enthusiasm had made them Stoics, had cleared
their minds from every vulgar passion and prejudice, and raised them
above the influence of danger and of corruption. It sometimes might lead
them to pursue unwise ends, but never to choose unwise means. They went
through the world, like Sir Artegal’s iron man Talus with his flail,
crushing and trampling down oppressors, mingling with human beings, but
having neither part nor lot in human infirmities, insensible to fatigue,
to pleasure, and to pain, not to be pierced by any weapon, not to be
withstood by any barrier.

Such we believe to have been the character of the Puritans. We perceive
the absurdity of their manners. We dislike the sullen gloom of their
domestic habits. We acknowledge that the tone of their minds was often
injured by straining after things too high for mortal reach: and we know
that, in spite of their hatred of Popery, they too often fell into the
worst vices of that bad system, intolerance and extravagant austerity,
that they had their anchorites and their crusades, their Dunstans and
their De Monforts, their Dominies and their Escobars. Yet, when all
circumstances are taken into consideration, we do not hesitate to
pronounce them a brave, a wise, an honest, and an useful body.

The Puritans espoused the cause of civil liberty {258}mainly because
it was the cause of religion. There was another party, by no means
numerous, but distinguished by learning and ability, which acted with
them on very different principles. We speak of those whom Cromwell was
accustomed to call the Heathens, men who were, in the phraseology
of that time, doubting; Thomases or careless Gallios with regard to
religious subjects, but passionate worshippers of freedom. Heated by the
study of ancient literature, they set up their country as their idol,
and proposed to themselves the heroes of Plutarch as their examples.
They seem to have borne some resemblance to the Brissotines of
the French Revolution. But it is not very easy to draw the line of
distinction between them and their devout associates, whose tone and
manner they sometimes found it convenient to affect, and sometimes, it
is probable, imperceptibly adopted.

We now come to the Royalists. We shall attempt to speak of them, as we
have spoken of their antagonists, with perfect candour. We shall not
charge upon a whole party the profligacy and baseness of the horseboys,
gamblers and bravoes, whom the hope of license and plunder attracted
from all the dens of Whitefriars to the standard of Charles, and
who disgraced their associates by excesses which, under the stricter
discipline of the Parliamentary armies, were never tolerated. We will
select a more favourable specimen. Thinking as we do that the cause of
the King was the cause of bigotry and tyranny, we yet cannot refrain
from looking with complacency on the character of the honest old
Cavaliers. We feel a national pride in comparing them with the
instruments which the despots of other countries are compelled
to employ, with the mutes who throng their antechambers, and the
Janissaries who {259}mount guard at their gates. Our royalist countrymen
were not heartless, dangling courtiers, bowing at every step, and
simpering at every word. They were not mere machines for destruction,
dressed up in uniforms, caned into skill, intoxicated into valour,
defending without love, destroying without hatred. There was a freedom
in them subserviency, a nobleness in their very degradation. The
sentiment of individual independence was strong within them. They were
indeed misled, but by no base or selfish motive. Compassion and romantic
honour, the prejudices of childhood, and the venerable names of
history, threw over them a spell potent as that of Duessa; and, like
the Red-Cross Knight, they thought that they were doing battle for an
injured beauty, while they defended a false and loathsome sorceress.
In truth they scarcely entered at all into the merits of the political
question. It was not for a treacherous king or an intolerant church that
they fought, but for the old banner which had waved in so many battles
over the heads of their fathers, and for the altars at which they
had received the hands of their brides. Though nothing could be more
erroneous than their political opinions, they possessed, in a far
greater degree than their adversaries, those qualities which are the
grace of private life. With many of the vices of the Round Table,
they had also many of its virtues, courtesy, generosity, veracity,
tenderness, and respect for women. They had far more both of profound
and of polite learning than the Puritans. Their manners were more
engaging, their tempers more amiable, their tastes more elegant, and
their households more cheerful.

Milton did not strictly belong to any of the classes which we have
described. He was not a Puritan. He {260}was not a freethinker. He was
not a Royalist. In his character the noblest qualities of every party
were combinée! in harmonious union. From the Parliament and from the
Court, from the conventicle and from the Gothic cloister, from the
gloomy and sepulchral circles of the Roundheads, and from the Christmas
revel of the hospitable Cavalier, his nature selected and drew to
itself whatever was great and good, while it rejected all the base and
pernicious ingredients by which those finer elements were defiled. Like
the Puritans, he lived

                   “As ever in his great task-master’s eye."

Like them, he kept his mind continually fixed on an Almighty Judge and
an eternal reward. And hence he acquired their contempt of external
circumstances, their fortitude, their tranquillity, their inflexible
resolution. But not the coolest sceptic or the most profane scoffer was
more perfectly free from the contagion of their frantic delusions, their
savage manners, their ludicrous jargon, their scorn of science, and
their aversion to pleasure. Hating tyranny with a perfect hatred, he
had nevertheless all the estimable and ornamental qualities which were
almost entirely monopolised by the party of the tyrant. There was none
who had a stronger sense of the value of literature, a finer relish for
every elegant amusement, or a more chivalrous delicacy of honour
and love. Though his opinions were democratic, his tastes and his
associations were such as harmonise best with monarchy and aristocracy.
He was under the influence of all the feelings by which the gallant
Cavaliers were misled. But of those feelings he was the master and
not the slave. Like the hero of Homer, he enjoyed all the pleasures of
fascination; but he was not fascinated. {261}He listened to the song of
the Syrens; yet he glided by without being seduced to their fatal
shore. He tasted the cup of Circe; but he bore about him a sure antidote
against the effects of its bewitching sweetness. The allusions which
captivated his imagination never impaired his reasoning powers. The
statesman was proof against the splendour, the solemnity, and the
romance which enchanted the poet. Any person who will contrast the
sentiments expressed in his treatises on Prelacy with the exquisite
lines on ecclesiastical architecture and music in the Penseroso, which
was published about the same time, will understand our meaning. This is
an inconsistency which, more than any thing else, raises his character
in our estimation, because it shows how many private tastes and feelings
he sacrificed, in order to do what he considered his duty to mankind.
It is the very struggle of the noble Othello. His heart relents; but his
hand is firm. He does nought in hate, but all in honour. He kisses the
beautiful deceiver before he destroys her.

That from which the public character of Milton derives its great and
peculiar splendour, still remains to be mentioned. If he exerted himself
to overthrow a forsworn king and a persecuting hierarchy, he exerted
himself in conjunction with others. But the glory of the battle which he
fought for the species of freedom which is the most valuable, and which
was then the least understood, the freedom of the human mind, is all
his own. Thousands and tens of thousands among his contemporaries raised
their voices against Ship-money and the Star-chamber. But there were few
indeed who discerned the more fearful evils of moral and intellectual
slavery, and the benefits which would result from the liberty of the
press and the unfettered {262}exercise of private judgment. These were
the objects which Milton justly conceived to be the most important. He
was desirous that the people should think for themselves as well as tax
themselves, and should be emancipated from the dominion of prejudice
as well as from that of Charles. He knew that those who, with the best
intentions, overlooked these schemes of reform, and contented themselves
with pulling down the King and imprisoning the malignants, acted like
the heedless brothers in his own poem, who, in their eagerness to
disperse the train of the sorcerer, neglected the means of liberating
the captive. They thought only of conquering when they should have
thought of disenchanting.

               “Oh, ye mistook! Ye should have snatched his wand

               And bound him fast. Without the rod reversed,

               And backward mutters of dissevering power,

               We cannot free the lady that sits here

               Bound in strong fetters fixed and motionless."

To reverse the rod, to spell the charm backward, to break the ties which
bound a stupefied people to the seat of enchantment, was the noble aim
of Milton. To this all his public conduct was directed. For this he
joined the Presbyterians; for this he forsook them. He fought their
perilous battle; but he turned away with disdain from their insolent
triumph. He saw that they, like those whom they had vanquished, were
hostile to the liberty of thought. He therefore joined the Independents,
and called upon Cromwell to break the secular chain, and to save free
conscience from the paw of the Presbyterian wolf. With a view to the
same great object, he attacked the licensing system, in that sublime
treatise which every statesman should wear as a sign upon his hand and
as frontlets between his eyes. His attacks were, in general, directed
less {263}against particular abuses than against those deeply-seated
errors on which almost all abuses are founded, the servile worship of
eminent men and the irrational dread of innovation.

That he might shake the foundations of these debasing sentiments
more effectually, he always selected for himself the boldest literary
services. He never came up in the rear, when the outworks had been
carried and the breach entered. He pressed into the forlorn hope. At
the beginning of the changes, he wrote with incomparable energy and
eloquence against the bishops. But, when his opinion seemed likely to
prevail, he passed on to other subjects, and abandoned prelacy to the
crowd of writers who now hastened to insult a falling party. There is no
more hazardous enterprise than that of bearing the torch of truth into
those dark and infected recesses in which no light has ever shone. But
it was the choice and the pleasure of Milton to penetrate the noisome
vapours, and to brave the terrible explosion. Those who most disapprove
of his opinions must respect the hardihood with which he maintained
them. He, in general, left to others the credit of expounding and
defending the popular parts of his religious and political creed. He
took his own stand upon those which the great body of his countrymen
reprobated as criminal, or derided as paradoxical. He stood up for
divorce and regicide. He attacked the prevailing systems of education.
His radiant and beneficent career resembled that of the god of light and

               ” Nitor in adversum; nec me, qui caetera, vincit

               Impetus, et rapido contrarius evehor orbi."

It is to be regretted that the prose writings of Milton should, in
our time, be so little read. As compositions, {264}they deserve the
attention of every man who wishes to become acquainted with the full
power of the English language. They abound with passages compared with
which the finest declamations of Burke sink into insignificance. They
are a perfect field of cloth of gold. The style is stiff with gorgeous
embroidery. Not even in the earlier hooks of the Paradise Lost has the
great poet ever risen higher than in those parts of his controversial
works in which his feelings, excited by conflict, find a vent in bursts
of devotional and lyric rapture. It is, to borrow his own majestic
language, “a sevenfold chorus of hallelujahs and harping symphonies.”

We had intended to look more closely at these performances, to analyse
the peculiarities of the diction, to dwell at some length on the sublime
wisdom of the Areopagitica and the nervous rhetoric of the Iconoclast,
and to point out some of those magnificent passages which occur in the
Treatise of Reformation, and the Animadversions on the Remonstrant.
But the length to which our remarks have already extended renders this

We must conclude. And yet we can scarcely tear ourselves away from the
subject. The days immediately following the publication of this relic of
Milton appear to be peculiarly set apart, and consecrated to his memory.
And we shall scarcely be censured if, on this his festival, we be found
lingering near his shrine, how worthless soever may be the offering
which we bring to it. While this book lies on our table, we seem to be
contemporaries of the writer. We are transported a hundred and fifty
years back. We can almost fancy that we are visiting him in his small
lodging; that we see him sitting at the old organ beneath {265}the
faded green hangings; that we can catch the quick twinkle of his eyes,
rolling in vain to find the day; that we are reading in the lines of his
noble countenance the proud and mournful history of his glory and his
affliction. We image to ourselves the breathless silence in which we
should listen to his slightest word, the passionate veneration with
which we should kneel to kiss his hand and weep upon it, the earnestness
with which we should endeavour to console him, if indeed such a spirit
could need consolation, for the neglect of an age unworthy of his
talents and his virtues, the eagerness with which we should contest
with his daughters, or with his Quaker friend Elwood, the privilege
of reading Homer to him, or of taking down the immortal accents which
flowed from his lips.

These are perhaps foolish feelings. Yet we cannot be ashamed of them;
nor shall we be sorry if what we have written shall in any degree excite
them in other minds. We are not much in the habit of idolizing either
the living or the dead. And we think that there is no more certain
indication of a weak and ill-regulated intellect than that propensity
which, for want of a better name, we will venture to christen
Boswellism. But there are a few characters which have stood the closest
scrutiny and the severest tests, which have been tried in the furnace
and have proved pure, which have been weighed in the balance and have
not been found wanting, which have been declared sterling by the general
consent of mankind, and which are visibly stamped with the image and
superscription of the Most High. These great men we trust that we know
how to prize; and of these was Milton. The sight of his books, the
sound of his name, are pleasant to us. His thoughts resemble {266}those
celestial fruits and flowers which the Virgin Martyr of Massinger
sent down from the gardens of Paradise to the earth, and which were
distinguished from the productions of other soils, not only by superior
bloom and sweetness, but by miraculous efficacy to invigorate and to
heal. They are powerful, not only to delight, but to elevate and purify.
Nor do we envy the man who can study either the life or the writings of
the great poet and patriot, without aspiring to emulate, not indeed the
sublime works with which his genius has enriched our literature, but
the zeal with which he laboured for the public good, the fortitude with
which he endured every private calamity, the lofty disdain with which he
looked down on temptations and dangers, the deadly hatred which he bore
to bigots and tyrants, and the faith which he so sternly kept with his
country and with his fame.


{267}(_Edinburgh Review_, March 1827.)

Those who have attended to this practice of our literary tribunal are
well aware that, by means of certain legal fictions similar to those of
Westminster Hall, we are frequently enabled to take cognisance of cases
lying beyond the sphere of our original jurisdiction. We need hardly
say, therefore, that in the present instance M. Périer is merely a
Richard Roe, who will not be mentioned in any subsequent stage of the
proceedings, and whose name is used for the sole purpose of bringing
Machiavelli into court.

We doubt whether any name in literary history be so generally odious as
that of the man whose character and writings we now propose to consider.
The terms in which he is commonly described would seem to import that
he was the Tempter, the Evil Principle, the discoverer of ambition
and revenge, the original inventor of perjury, and that, before the
publication of his fatal Prince, there had never been a hypocrite, a
tyrant, or a traitor, a simulated virtue, or a convenient crime.
One writer gravely assures us that Maurice of Saxony learned all his
fraudulent policy from that execrable volume. Another remarks that since
it was

     (1) Ouvres completes de Machiavel, traduites par J. V.
     Perier. Paris: 1825.

{268}translated into Turkish, the Sultans have been more addicted than
formerly to the custom of strangling their brothers. Lord Lyttelton
charges the poor Florentine with the manifold treasons of the house of
Guise, and with the massacre of St. Bartholomew. Several authors have
hinted that the Gunpowder Plot is to be primarily attributed to his
doctrines, and seem to think that his effigy ought to be substituted for
that of Guy Faux, in those processions by which the ingenious youth of
England annually commemorate the preservation of the Three Estates. The
Church of Rome has pronounced his works accursed things. Nor have our
own countrymen been backward in testifying their opinion of his merits.
Out of his surname they have coined an epithet for a knave, and out of
his Christian name a synonyme for the Devil. (1)

It is indeed scarcely possible for any person, not well acquainted
with the history and literature of Italy, to read without horror and
amazement the celebrated treatise winch has brought so much obloquy on
the name of Machiavelli. Such a display of wickedness, naked yet not
ashamed, such cool, judicious, scientific atrocity, seemed rather to
belong to a fiend than to the most depraved of men. Principles which
the most hardened ruffian would scarcely hint to his most trusted
accomplice, or avow, without the disguise of some palliating
sophism, even to his own mind, are professed without the slightest
circumlocution, and assumed as the fundamental axioms of all political

It is not strange that ordinary readers should regard

                   (1) Nick Machiavel had ne’er a trick,

                   Tho’ he gave his name to our old Nick.

                        Hudibras, Part III. Canto I.

But, we believe, there is a schism on this subject among the
antiquarians. {269}the author of such a book as the most depraved and
shameless of human beings. Wise men, however, have always been inclined
to look with great suspicion on the angels and dæmons of the multitude:
and in the present instance, several circumstances have led even
superficial observers to question the justice of the vulgar decision. It
is notorious that Machiavelli was, through life, a zealous republican.
In the same year in which he composed his manual of King-craft, he
suffered imprisonment and torture in the cause of public liberty. It
seems inconceivable that the martyr of freedom should have designedly
acted as the apostle of tyranny. Several eminent writers have,
therefore, endeavoured to detect in this unfortunate performance some
concealed meaning, more consistent with the character and conduct of the
author than that which appears at the first glance.

One hypothesis is that Machiavelli intended to practise on the young
Lorenzo de Medici a fraud similar to that which Sunderland is said to
have employed against our James the Second, and that he urged his pupil
to violent and perfidious measures, as the surest means of accelerating
the moment of deliverance and revenge. Another supposition which Lord
Bacon seems to countenance, is that the treatise was merely a piece of
grave irony, intended to warn nations against the arts of ambitious men.
It would be easy to show that neither of these solutions is consistent
with many passages in The Prince itself. But the most decisive
refutation is that which is furnished by the other works of Machiavelli.
In all the writings which he gave to the public, and in all those
which the research of editors has, in the course of three centuries,
discovered, in his Comedies, designed for the entertainment of the
{270}multitude, in his Comments on Livy, intended for the perusal of the
most enthusiastic patriots of Florence, in his History, inscribed to
one of the most amiable and estimable of the Popes, in his public
dispatches, in his private memoranda, the same obliquity of moral
principle for which The Prince is so severely censured is more or less
discernible. We doubt whether it would be possible to find, in all the
many volumes of his compositions, a single expression indicating that
dissimulation and treachery had ever struck him as discreditable.

After this, it may seem ridiculous to say that we are acquainted with
few writings which exhibit so much elevation of sentiment, so pure and
warm a zeal for the public good, or so just a view of the duties and
rights of citizens, as those of Machiavelli. Yet so it is. And even
from The Prince itself we could select many passages in support of this
remark. To a reader of our age and country this inconsistency is, at
first, perfectly bewildering. The whole man seems to be an enigma,
a grotesque assemblage of incongruous qualities, selfishness and
generosity, cruelty and benevolence, craft and simplicity, abject
villany and romantic heroism. One sentence is such as a veteran
diplomatist would scarcely write in cipher for the direction of his most
confidential spy; the next seems to be extracted from a theme composed
by an ardent schoolboy on the death of Leonidas. An act of dexterous
perfidy, and an act of patriotic self-devotion, call forth the same kind
and the same degree of respectful admiration. The moral sensibility of
the writer seems at once to be morbidly obtuse and morbidly acute. Two
characters altogether dissimilar are united in him. They are not merely
joined, but interwoven. They {271}are the warp and the woof of his mind;
and their combination, like that of the variegated threads in shot silk,
gives to the whole texture a glancing and ever-changing appearance. The
explanation might have been easy, if he had been a very weak or a very
affected man. But he was evidently neither the one nor the other.
His works prove, beyond all contradiction, that his understanding was
strong, his taste pure, and his sense of the ridiculous exquisitely

This is strange: and yet the strangest is behind. There is no reason
whatever to think, that those amongst whom he lived saw any thing
shocking or incongruous in his writings. Abundant proofs remain of the
high estimation in which both his works and his person were held by
the most respectable among his contemporaries. Clement the Seventh
patronised the publication of those very books which the Council of
Trent, in the following generation, pronounced unfit for the perusal
of Christians. Some members of the democratical party censured the
Secretary for dedicating The Prince to a patron who bore the unpopular
name of Medici. But to those immoral doctrines which have since called
forth such severe reprehensions no exception appears to have been taken.
The cry against them was first raised beyond the Alps, and seems to have
been heard with amazement in Italy. The earliest assailant, as far as we
are aware, was a countryman of our own, Cardinal Pole. The author of the
Anti-Machiavelli was a French Protestant.

It is, therefore, in the state of moral feeling among the Italians of
those times that we must seek for the real explanation of what seems
most mysterious in the life and writings of this remarkable man. As this
is a subject which suggests many interesting considerations, {272}both
political and metaphysical, we shall make no apology for discussing it
at some length.

During the gloomy and disastrous centuries which followed the downfall
of the Roman Empire, Italy had preserved, in a far greater degree than
any other part of Western Europe, the traces of ancient civilisation.
The night which descended upon her was the night of an Arctic summer.
The dawn began to reappear before the last reflection of the preceding
sunset had faded from the horizon. It was in the time of the French
Merovingians and of the Saxon Heptarchy that ignorance and ferocity
seemed to have done their worst. Yet even then the Neapolitan provinces,
recognising the authority of the Eastern Empire, preserved something
of Eastern knowledge and refinement. Rome, protected by the sacred
character of her Pontiffs, enjoyed at least comparative security and
repose. Even in those regions where the sanguinary Lombards had fixed
their monarchy, there was incomparably more of wealth, of information,
of physical comfort, and of social order, than could be found in Gaul,
Britain, or Germany.

That which most distinguished Italy from the neighbouring countries
was the importance which the population of the towns, at a very early
period, began to acquire. Some cities had been founded in wild and
remote situations, by fugitives who had escaped from the rage of the
barbarians. Such were Venice and Genoa, which preserved their freedom
by their obscurity, till they became able to preserve it by their power.
Other cities seem to have retained, under all the changing dynasties of
invaders, under Odoacer and Theodoric, Narses and Alboin, the municipal
institutions which had been conferred on them by the liberal policy of
the {273}Great Republic. In provinces which the central government was
too feeble either to protect or to oppress, these institutions gradually
acquired stability and vigour. The citizens, defended by their walls,
and governed by their own magistrates and their own by-laws, enjoyed a
considerable share of republican independence. Thus a strong democratic
spirit was called into action. The Carlovingian sovereigns were too
imbecile to subdue it. The generous policy of Otlio encouraged it. It
might perhaps have been suppressed by a close coalition between
the Church and the Empire. It was fostered and invigorated by their
disputes. In the twelfth century it attained its full vigour, and, after
a long and doubtful conflict, triumphed over the abilities and courage
of the Swabian Princes.

The assistance of the Ecclesiastical power had greatly contributed to
the success of the Guelfs. That success would, however, have been a
doubtful good, if its only effect had been to substitute a moral for
a political servitude, and to exalt the Popes at the expense of the
Cæsars. Happily the public mind of Italy had long contained the seeds of
free opinions, which were now rapidly developed by the genial influence
of free institutions. The people of that country had observed the
whole machinery of the church, its saints and its miracles, its lofty
pretensions and its splendid ceremonial, its worthless blessings and its
harmless curses, too long and too closely to be duped. They stood behind
the scenes on which others were gazing with childish awe and interest.
They witnessed the arrangement of the pullies, and the manufacture of
the thunders. They saw the natural faces and heard the natural voices of
the actors. Distant nations looked on the Pope as the vicegerent of
the Almighty, the oracle of {274}the All-wise, the umpire from whose
decisions, in the disputes either of theologians or of kings, no
Christian ought to appeal. The Italians were acquainted with all the
follies of his youth, and with all the dishonest arts by which he had
attained power. They knew how often he had employed the keys of the
Church to release himself from the most sacred engagements, and its
wealth to pamper his mistresses and nephews. The doctrines and rites of
the established religion they treated with decent reverence. But though
they still called themselves Catholics, they had ceased to be Papists.
Those spiritual arms which carried terror into the palaces and camps
of the proudest sovereigns excited only contempt in the immediate
neighbourhood of the Vatican. Alexander, when he commanded our Henry the
Second to submit to the lash before the tomb of a rebellious subject,
was himself an exile. The Romans, apprehending that he entertained
designs against their liberties, had driven him from their city; and,
though he solemnly promised to confine himself for the future to his
spiritual functions, they still refused to readmit him.

In every other part of Europe, a large and powerful privileged class
trampled on the people and defied the government. But, in the
most flourishing parts of Italy, the feudal nobles were reduced to
comparative insignificance. In some districts they took shelter under
the protection of the powerful commonwealths which they were unable to
oppose, and gradually sank into the mass of burghers. In other places
they possessed great influence; but it was an influence widely different
from that which was exercised by the aristocracy of any Transalpine
kingdom. They were not petty princes, but eminent citizens. Instead
of strengthening {275}their fastnesses among the mountains, they
embellished their palaces in the market-place. The state of society in
the Neapolitan dominions, and in some parts of the Ecclesiastical State,
more nearly resembled that which existed in the great monarchies of
Europe. But the governments of Lombardy and Tuscany, through all their
revolutions, preserved a different character. A people, when assembled
in a town, is far more formidable to its rulers than when dispersed
over a wide extent of country. The most arbitrary of the Cæsars found it
necessary to feed and divert the inhabitants of their unwieldly capital
at the expense of the provinces. The citizens of Madrid have more than
once besieged their sovereign in his own palace, and extorted from him
the most humiliating concessions. The Sultans have often been compelled
to propitiate the furious rabble of Constantinople with the head of
an unpopular Vizier. From the same cause there was a certain tinge of
democracy in the monarchies and aristocracies of Northern Italy.

Thus liberty, partially indeed and transiently, revisited Italy; and
with liberty came commerce and empire, science and taste, all the
comforts and all the ornaments of life. The Crusades, from which the
inhabitants of other countries gained nothing but relics and wounds,
brought to the rising commonwealths of the Adriatic and Tyrrhene seas
a large increase of wealth, dominion, and knowledge. The moral and the
geographical position of those commonwealths enabled them to profit
alike by the barbarism of the West and by the civilisation of the East.
Italian ships covered every sea. Italian factories rose on every
shore. The tables of Italian money-changers were set in every city.
Manufactures flourished. Banks were established. {276}The operations
of the commercial machine were facilitated by many useful and beautiful
inventions. We doubt whether any country of Europe, our own excepted,
have at the present time reached so high a point of wealth and
civilisation as some parts of Italy had attained four hundred years ago.
Historians rarely descend to those details from which alone the real
state of a community can be collected. Hence posterity is too often
deceived by the vague hyperboles of poets and rhetoricians, who mistake
the splendour of a court for the happiness of a people. Fortunately,
John Villani has given us an ample and precise account of the state of
Florence in the early part of the fourteenth century. The revenue of
the Republic amounted to three hundred thousand florins; a sum which,
allowing for the depreciation of the precious metals, was at least
equivalent to six hundred thousand pounds sterling; a larger sum than
England and Ireland, two centuries ago, yielded annually to Elizabeth.
The manufacture of wool alone employed two hundred factories and thirty
thousand workmen. The cloth annually produced sold, at an average, for
twelve hundred thousand florins; a sum fully equal, in exchangeable
value, to two millions and a half of our money. Four hundred thousand
florins were annually coined. Eighty banks conducted the commercial
operations, not of Florence only, but of all Europe. The transactions
of these establishments were sometimes of a magnitude which may surprise
even the contemporaries of the Barings and the Rothschilds. Two houses
advanced to Edward the Third of England upwards of three hundred
thousand marks, at a time when the mark contained more silver than fifty
shillings of the present day, and when the value of silver was more
{277}than quadruple of what it now is. The city and its environs
contained a hundred and seventy thousand inhabitants. In the various
schools about ten thousand children were taught to read: twelve hundred
studied arithmetic; six hundred received a learned education.

The progress of elegant literature and of the fine arts was proportioned
to that of the public prosperity. Under the despotic successors of
Augustus, all the fields of the intellect had been turned into arid
wastes, still marked out by formal boundaries, still retaining the
traces of old cultivation, but yielding neither flowers nor fruit.
The deluge of barbarism came. It swept away all the landmarks. It
obliterated all the signs of former tillage. But it fertilised while it
devastated. When it receded, the wilderness was as the garden of God,
rejoicing on every side, laughing, clapping its hands, pouring forth,
in spontaneous abundance, every thing brilliant, or fragrant, or
nourishing. A new language, characterised by simple sweetness and simple
energy, had attained perfection. No tongue ever furnished more gorgeous
and vivid tints to poetry; nor was it long before a poet appeared, who
knew how to employ them. Early in the fourteenth century came forth the
Divine Comedy, beyond comparison the greatest work of imagination which
had appeared since the poems of Homer. The following generation produced
indeed no second Dante: but it was eminently distinguished by general
intellectual activity. The study of the Latin writers had never been
wholly neglected in Italy. But Petrarch introduced a more profound,
liberal, and elegant scholarship, had communicated to his countrymen
that enthusiasm for the literature, the history, and the antiquities
of Rome, which divided his own heart with a frigid mistress and a more
frigid {278}Muse. Boccaccio turned their attention to the more sublime
and graceful models of Greece.

From this time, the admiration of learning and genius became almost an
idolatry among the people of Italy. Kings and republics, cardinals
and doges, vied with each other in honouring and flattering Petrarch.
Embassies from rival states solicited the honour of his instructions.
His coronation agitated the Court of Naples and the people of Rome as
much as the most important political transaction could have done. To
collect books and antiques, to found professorships, to patronise men of
learning, became almost universal fashions among the great. The spirit
of literary research allied itself to that of commercial enterprise.
Every place to which the merchant princes of Florence extended their
gigantic traffic, from the bazars of the Tigris to the monasteries
of the Clyde, was ransacked for medals and manuscripts. Architecture,
painting, and sculpture, were munificently encouraged. Indeed it would
be difficult to name an Italian of eminence, during the period of which
we speak, who, whatever may have been his general character, did not at
least affect a love of letters and of the arts.

Knowledge and public prosperity continued to advance together. Both
attained their meridian in the age of Lorenzo the Magnificent. We
cannot refrain from quoting the splendid passage, in which the Tuscan
Thucydides describes the state of Italy at that period. “Ridotta tutta
in somma pace e tranquillità, coltivata non meno ne’ luoghi più montuosi
e pin sterili che nelle pianure e regîoni più fertili, ne sottoposta ad
altro imperio che de’ suoi medesimi, non solo era abbon-dantissima d’
abitatori c di ricchezze; ma illustrata, sommamente dalla magnificenza
di molti principi, dallo {279}splendore cli moite nobilissime e
bellissime città, dalla sedia e maestà della religione, fioriva d’
nomini prestantissimi ela amministrazione delle cose publiche, e d’
ingegni molto nobili in tutte le scienze, ed in qua-lunque arte preelara
ed industriosa.” When we peruse this just and splendid description, we
can scarcely persuade ourselves that we are reading of times in which
the annals of England and France present us only with a frightful
spectacle of poverty, barbarity, and ignorance. From the oppressions of
illiterate masters, and the sufferings of a degraded peasantry, it is
delightful to turn to the opulent and enlightened States of Italy, to
the vast and magnificent cities, the ports, the arsenals, the villas,
the museums, the libraries, the marts filled with every article of
comfort or luxury, the factories swarming with artisans, the Apennines
covered with rich cultivation up to their very summits, the Po wafting
the harvests of Lombardy to the granaries of Venice, and carrying back
the silks of Bengal and the furs of Siberia to the palaces of Milan.
With peculiar pleasure, every cultivated mind must repose on the fair,
the happy, the glorious Florence, the halls which rang with the mirth
of Pulci, the cell where twinkled the midnight lamp of Politian, the
statues on which the young eye of Michael Angelo glared with the frenzy
of a kindred inspiration, the gardens in which Lorenzo meditated some
sparkling song for the May-day dance of the Etrurian virgins. Alas for
the beautiful city! Alas, for the wit and the learning, the genius and
the love!

               “Le donne, e i cavalier, gli affanni, e gli agi,

               Clie ne’nvogliava amore e cortesia

               Là dove i cuor son fatti si malvagi."

A time was at hand, when all the seven vials of the {280}Apocalypse were
to be poured forth and shaken out over those pleasant countries, a time
of slaughter, famine, beggary, infamy, slavery, despair.

In the Italian States, as in many natural bodies, untimely decrepitude
was the penalty of precocious maturity. Their early greatness, and their
early decline, are principally to be attributed to the same cause, the
preponderance which the towns acquired in the political system.

In a community of hunters or of shepherds, every man easily and
necessarily becomes a soldier. His ordinary avocations are perfectly
compatible with all the duties of military service. However remote may
be the expedition on which he is bound, he finds it easy to transport
with him the stock from which he derives his subsistence. The whole
people is an army; the whole year a march. Such was the state of society
which facilitated the gigantic conquests of Attila and Tamerlane.

But a people which subsists by the cultivation of the earth is in a very
different situation. The husbandman is bound to the soil on which he
labours. A long campaign would be ruinous to him. Still his pursuits
are such as give to his frame both the active and the passive strength
necessary to a soldier. Nor do they, at least in the infancy of
agricultural science, demand his uninterrupted attention. At particular
times of the year he is almost wholly unemployed, and can, without
injury to himself, afford the time necessary for a short expedition.
Thus the legions of Rome were supplied during its earlier wars. The
season during which the fields did not require the presence of the
cultivators sufficed for a short inroad and a battle. These operations,
too frequently interrupted to produce {281}decisive results, yet served
to keep up among the people a degree of discipline and courage which
rendered them, not only secure, but formidable. The archers and billmen
of the middle ages, who, with provisions for forty days at their backs,
left the fields for the camp, were troops of the same description.

But when commerce and manufactures begin to flourish a great change
takes place. The sedentary habits of the desk and the loom render the
exertions and hardships of war insupportable. The business of traders
and artisans requires their constant presence and attention. In such a
community there is little superfluous time; but there is generally much
superfluous money. Some members of the society are, therefore, hired
to relieve the rest from a task inconsistent with their habits and

The history of Greece is, in this, as in many other respects, the
best commentary on the history of Italy. Five hundred years before the
Christian era, the citizens of the republics round the Ægean Sea formed
perhaps the finest militia that ever existed. As wealth and refinement
advanced, the system underwent a gradual alteration. The Ionian States
were the first in which commerce and the arts were cultivated, and the
first in which the ancient discipline decayed. Within eighty years
after the battle of Platæa, mercenary troops were every where plying for
battles and sieges. In the time of Demosthenes, it was scarcely possible
to persuade or compel the Athenians to enlist for foreign service.
The laws of Lycurgus prohibited trade and manufactures. The Spartans,
therefore, continued to form a national force long after their
neighbours had begun to hire soldiers. But their military spirit
declined with their singular institutions. In {282}the second century
before Christ, Greece contained only one nation of warriors, the savage
highlanders of Ætolia, who were some generations behind their countrymen
in civilisation and intelligence.

All the causes which produced these effects among the Greeks acted still
more strongly on the modern Italians. Instead of a power like Sparta,
in its nature warlike, they had amongst them an ecclesiastical state,
in its nature pacific. Where there are numerous slaves, every freeman is
induced by the strongest motives to familiarise himself with the use of
arms. The commonwealths of Italy did not, like those of Greece, swarm
with thousands of these household enemies. Lastly, the mode in which
military operations were conducted during the prosperous times of Italy
was peculiarly unfavourable to the formation of an efficient militia.
Men covered with iron from head to foot, armed with ponderous lances,
and mounted on horses of the largest breed, were considered as composing
the strength of an army. The infantry was regarded as comparatively
worthless, and was neglected till it became really so. These tactics
maintained their ground for centuries in most parts of Europe. That foot
soldiers could withstand the charge of heavy cavalry was thought utterly
impossible, till, towards the close of the fifteenth century, the rude
mountaineers of Switzerland dissolved the spell, and astounded the most
experienced generals by receiving the dreaded shock on an impenetrable
forest of pikes.

The use of the Grecian spear, the Roman sword, or the modern bayonet,
might be acquired with comparative ease. But nothing short of the daily
exercise of years could train the man at arms to support his ponderous
panoply, and manage his unwieldy weapon. Throughout {283}Europe this
most important branch of war became a separate profession. Beyond the
Alps, indeed, though a profession, it was not generally a trade. It was
the duty and the amusement of a large class of country gentlemen. It was
the service by which they held their lands, and the diversion by which,
in the absence of mental resources, they beguiled their leisure. But in
the Northern States of Italy, as we have already remarked, the growing
power of the cities, where it had not exterminated this order of men,
had completely changed their habits. Here, therefore, the practice of
employing mercenaries became universal, at a time when it was almost
unknown in other countries.

When war becomes the trade of a separate class, the least dangerous
course left to a government is to form that class into a standing army.
It is scarcely possible, that men can pass their lives in the service of
one state, without feeling some interest in its greatness. Its victories
are their victories. Its defeats are their defeats. The contract loses
something of its mercantile character. The services of the soldier are
considered as the effects of patriotic zeal, his pay as the tribute of
national gratitude. To betray the power which employs him, to be even
remiss in its service, are in his eyes the most atrocious and degrading
of crimes.

When the princes and commonwealths of Italy began to use hired
troops, their wisest course would have been to form separate military
establishments. Unhappily this was not done. The mercenary warriors of
the Peninsula, instead of being attached to the service of different
powers, were regarded as the common property of all. The connection
between the state and its defenders was reduced to the most simple and
naked traffic. The adventurer brought his horse, {284}his weapons,
his strength, and his experience, into the market. Whether the King of
Naples or the Duke of Milan, the Pope or the Signory of Florence, struck
the bargain, was to him a matter of perfect indifference. He was for the
highest wages and the longest term. When the campaign for which he had
contracted was finished, there was neither law nor punctilio to prevent
him from instantly turning his arms against his late masters. The
soldier was altogether disjoined from the citizen and from the subject.

The natural consequences followed. Left to the conduct of men who
neither loved those whom they defended, nor hated those whom they
opposed, who were often bound by stronger ties to the army against
which they fought than to the state which they served, who lost by
the termination of the conflict, and gained by its prolongation, war
completely changed its character. Every man came into the field of
battle impressed with the knowledge that, in a few days, he might be
taking the pay of the power against which he was then employed,
and fighting by the side of his enemies against his associates. The
strongest interests and the strongest feelings concurred to mitigate the
hostility of those who had lately been brethren in arms, and who might
soon be brethren in arms once more. Their common profession was a bond
of union not to be forgotten even when they were engaged in the service
of contending parties. Hence it was that operations, languid and
indecisive beyond any recorded in history, marches and countermarches,
pillaging expeditions and blockades, bloodless capitulations and equally
bloodless combats, make up the military history of Italy during the
course of nearly two centuries. Mighty armies fight from sunrise to
sunset. A great {285}victory is won. Thousands of prisoners are taken;
and hardly a life is lost. A pitched battle seems to have been really
less dangerous than an ordinary civil tumult.

Courage was now no longer necessary even to the military character.
Men grew old in camps, and acquired the highest renown by their warlike
achievements, without being once required to face serious danger.
The political consequences are too well known. The richest and most
enlightened part of the world was left undefended to the assaults of
every barbarous invader, to the brutality of Switzerland, the insolence
of France, and the fierce rapacity of Arragon. The moral effects which
followed from this state of things were still more remarkable.

Among the rude nations which lay beyond the Alps, valour was absolutely
indispensable. Without it none could be eminent; few could be secure.
Cowardice was, therefore, naturally considered as the foulest reproach.
Among the polished Italians, enriched by commerce, governed by law, and
passionately attached to literature, every thing was done by superiority
of intelligence. Their very wars, more pacific than the peace of their
neighbours, required rather civil than military qualifications. Hence,
while courage was the point of honour in other countries, ingenuity
became the point of honour in Italy.

From these principles were deduced, by processes strictly analogous, two
opposite systems of fashionable morality. Through the greater part of
Europe, the vices which peculiarly belong to timid dispositions, and
which are the natural defence of weakness, fraud, and hypocrisy, have
always been most disreputable. On the other hand, the excesses of
haughty and daring {286}spirits have been treated with indulgence, and
even with respect. The Italians regarded with corresponding lenity those
crimes which require self-command, address, quick observation, fertile
invention, and profound knowledge of human nature.

Such a prince as our Henry the Fifth would have been the idol of the
North. The follies of his youth, the selfish ambition of his manhood,
the Lollards roasted at slow fires, the prisoners massacred on the
field of battle, the expiring lease of priestcraft renewed for another
century, the dreadful legacy of a causeless and hopeless war bequeathed
to a people who had no interest in its event, every thing is forgotten
but the victory of Agincourt. Francis Sforza, on the other hand, was the
model of Italian heroes. He made his employers and his rivals alike his
tools. He first overpowered his open enemies by the help of faithless
allies; he then armed himself against his allies with the spoils taken
from his enemies. By his incomparable dexterity, he raised himself from
the precarious and dependent situation of a military adventurer to
the first throne of Italy. To such a man much was forgiven, hollow
friendship, ungenerous enmity, violated faith. Such are the opposite
errors which men commit, when their morality is not a science but a
taste, when they abandon eternal principles for accidental associations.

We have illustrated our meaning by an instance taken from history. We
will select another from fiction. Othello murders his wife; he gives
orders for the murder of his lieutenant; he ends by murdering himself.
Yet he never loses the esteem and affection of Northern readers.
His intrepid and ardent spirit redeems every thing. The unsuspecting
confidence {287}with which he listens to his adviser, the agony with
which he shrinks from the thought of shame, the tempest of passion with
which he commits his crimes, and the haughty fearlessness with which he
avows them, give an extraordinary interest to his character. Iago, on
the contrary, is the object of universal loathing. Many are inclined to
suspect that Shakspeare has been seduced into an exaggeration unusual
with him, and has drawn a monster who has no archetype in human nature.
Now we suspect that an Italian audience in the fifteenth century would
have felt very differently. Othello would have inspired nothing but
detestation and contempt. The folly with which he trusts the friendly
professions of a man whose promotion he had obstructed, the credulity
with which he takes unsupported assertions, and trivial circumstances,
for unanswerable proofs, the violence with which he silences the
exculpation till the exculpation can only aggravate his misery, would
have excited the abhorrence and disgust of the spectators. The conduct
of Iago they would assuredly have condemned; but they would have
condemned it as we condemn that of his victim. Something of interest and
respect would have mingled with their disapprobation. The readiness of
the traitor’s wit, the clearness of his judgment, the skill with which
he penetrates the dispositions of others and conceals his own, would
have insured to him a certain portion of their esteem.

So wide was the difference between the Italians and their neighbours.
A similar difference existed between the Greeks of the second century
before Christ, and their masters the Romans. The conquerors, brave and
resolute, faithful to their engagements, and strongly influenced by
religious feelings, were, at the same time. {288}ignorant, arbitrary,
and cruel. With the vanquished people were deposited all the art,
the science, and the literature of the Western world. In poetry, in
philosophy, in painting, in architecture, in sculpture, they had no
rivals. Their manners were polished, their perceptions acute, their
invention ready; they were tolerant, affable, humane; but of courage
and sincerity they were almost utterly destitute. Every rude centurion
consoled himself for his intellectual inferiority, by remarking that
knowledge and taste seemed only to make men atheists, cowards, and
slaves. The distinction long continued to be strongly marked, and
furnished an admirable subject for the fierce sarcasms of Juvenal.

The citizen of an Italian commonwealth was the Greek of the time of
Juvenal and the Greek of the time of Pericles, joined in one. Like the
former, he was timid and pliable, artful and mean. But, like the latter,
he had a country. Its independence and prosperity were dear to him. If
his character were degraded by some base crimes, it was, on the other
hand, ennobled by public spirit and by an honourable ambition.

A vice sanctioned by the general opinion is merely a vice. The evil
terminates in itself. A vice condemned by the general opinion produces a
pernicious effect on the whole character. The former is a local malady,
the latter a constitutional taint. When the reputation of the offender
is lost, he too often flings the remains of his virtue after it in
despair. The Highland gentleman who, a century ago, lived by taking
black mail from his neighbours, committed the same crime for which Wild
was accompanied to Tyburn by the huzzas of two hundred thousand people.
{289}But there can be no doubt that he was a much less depraved man than
Wild. The deed for which Mrs. Brownrigg was hanged sinks into nothing,
when compared with the conduct of the Roman who treated the public to a
hundred pair of gladiators. Yet we should greatly wrong such a Roman if
we supposed that his disposition was as cruel as that of Mrs. Brownrigg.

In our own country, a woman forfeits her place in society by what, in
a man, is too commonly considered as an honourable distinction, and,
at worst, as a venial error. The consequence is notorious. The moral
principle of a woman is frequently more impaired by a single lapse
from virtue than that of a man by twenty years of intrigues. Classical
antiquity would furnish us with instances stronger, if possible, than
those to which we have referred.

We must apply this principle to the case before us. Habits of
dissimulation and falsehood, no doubt, mark a man of our age and country
as utterly worthless and abandoned. But it by no means follows that a
similar judgment would be just in the case of an Italian in the middle
ages. On the contrary, we frequently find those faults which we are
accustomed to consider as certain indications of a mind altogether
depraved, in company with great and good qualities, with generosity,
with benevolence, with disinterestedness. From such a state of
society, Palamedes, in the admirable dialogue of Hume, might have drawn
illustrations of his theory as striking as any of those with which
Fourli furnished him. These are not, we well know, the lessons which
historians are generally most careful to teach, or readers most willing
to learn. But they are not therefore useless. How Philip disposed his
troops at Cheronea, where Hannibal crossed the Alps, whether Mary blew
{290}up Darnley, or Siquier shot Charles the Twelfth, and ten thousand
other questions of the same description, are in themselves unimportant.
The inquiry may amuse us, but the decision leaves us no wiser. He
alone reads history aright who, observing how powerfully circumstances
influence the feelings and opinions of men, how often vices pass
into virtues and paradoxes into axioms, learns to distinguish what is
accidental and transitory in human nature from what is essential and

In this respect no history suggests more important reflections than that
of the Tuscan and Lombard commonwealths. The character of the Italian
statesman seems, at first sight, a collection of contradictions, a
phantom as monstrous as the portress of hell in Milton, half divinity,
half snake, majestic and beautiful above, grovelling and poisonous
below. We see a man whose thoughts and words have no connection with
each other, who never hesitates at an oath when he wishes to seduce,
who never wants a pretext when he is inclined to betray. His cruelties
spring, not from the heat of blood, or the insanity of uncontrolled
power, but from deep and cool meditation. His passions, like
well-trained troops, are impetuous by rule, and in their most headstrong
fury never forget the discipline to which they have been accustomed. His
whole soul is occupied with vast and complicated schemes of ambition:
yet his aspect and language exhibit nothing but philosophical
moderation. Hatred and revenge eat into his heart: yet every look is
a cordial smile, every gesture a familiar caress. He never excites
the suspicion of his adversaries by petty provocations. His purpose
is disclosed only when it is accomplished. His face is unruffled, his
speech is courteous, till vigilance is laid {291}asleep, till a vital
point is exposed, till a sure aim is taken; and then he strikes for the
first and last time. Military courage, the boast of the sottish German,
of the frivolous and prating Frenchman, of the romantic and arrogant
Spaniard, he neither possesses nor values. He shuns danger, not because
he is insensible to shame, but because, in the society in which he
lives, timidity has ceased to be shameful. To do an injury openly is, in
his estimation, as wicked as to do it secretly, and far less profitable.
With him the most honourable means are those which are the surest,
the speediest, and the darkest. He cannot comprehend how a man should
scruple to deceive those whom he does not scruple to destroy. He would
think it madness to declare open hostilities against rivals whom he
might stab in a friendly embrace, or poison in a consecrated wafer.

Yet this man, black with the vices which we consider as most loathsome,
traitor, hypocrite, coward, assassin, was by no means destitute even
of those virtues which we generally consider as indicating superior
elevation of character. In civil courage, in perseverance, in presence
of mind, those barbarous warriors, who were foremost in the battle or
the breach, were far his inferiors. Even the dangers which he avoided
with a caution almost pusillanimous never confused his perceptions,
never paralysed his inventive faculties, never wrung out one secret from
his smooth tongue, and his inscrutable brow. Though a dangerous enemy,
and a still more dangerous accomplice, he could be a just and beneficent
ruler. With so much unfairness in his policy, there was an extraordinary
degree of fairness in his intellect. Indifferent to truth in the
transactions of life, he was honestly devoted to truth in the researches
of speculation. Wanton cruelty was not in his nature. {292}On the
contrary, where no political object was at stake, his disposition was
soft and humane. The susceptibility of his nerves and the activity of
his imagination inclined him to sympathise with the feelings of
others, and to delight in the charities and courtesies of social life.
Perpetually descending to actions which might seem to mark a mind
diseased through all its faculties, he had nevertheless an exquisite
sensibility, both for the natural and the moral sublime, for every
graceful and every lofty conception. Habits of petty intrigue and
dissimulation might have rendered him incapable of great general views,
but that the expanding effect of his philosophical studies counteracted
the narrowing tendency. He had the keenest enjoyment of wit, eloquence,
and poetry. The fine arts profited alike by the severity of his
judgment, and by the liberality of his patronage. The portraits of some
of the remarkable Italians of those times are perfectly in harmony with
this description. Ample and majestic ^ foreheads, brows strong and dark,
but not frowning, eyes of which the calm full gaze, while it expresses
nothing, seems to discern every thing, cheeks pale with thought and
sedentary habits, lips formed with feminine delicacy, but compressed
with more than masculine decision, mark out men at once enterprising and
timid, men equally skilled in detecting the purposes of others, and
in concealing their own, men who must have been formidable enemies and
unsafe allies, but men, at the same time, whose tempers were mild and
equable, and who possessed an amplitude and subtlety of intellect which
would have rendered them eminent either in active or in contemplative
life, and fitted them either to govern or to instruct mankind.

Every age and every nation has certain characteristic {293}vices, which
prevail almost universally, which scarcely any person scruples to
avow, and which even rigid moralists but faintly censure. Succeeding
generations change the fashion of their morals, with the fashion of
their hats and their coaches; take some other kind of wickedness under
their patronage, and wonder at the depravity of their ancestors. Nor is
this all. Posterity, that high court of appeal which is never tired of
eulogising its own justice and discernment, acts on such occasions like
a Roman dictator after a general mutiny. Finding the delinquents too
numerous to be all punished, it selects some of them at hazard, to
hear the whole penalty of an offence in which they are not more deeply
implicated than those who escape. Whether decimation be a convenient
mode of military execution, we know not; but we solemnly protest against
the introduction of such a principle into the philosophy of history.

In the present instance, the lot has fallen on Machavelli, a man whose
public conduct was upright and honourable, whose views of morality,
where they differed from those of the persons around him, seemed to have
differed for the better, and whose only fault was, that, having adopted
some of the maxims then generally received, he arranged them more
luminously, and expressed them more forcibly, than any other writer.

Having now, we hope, in some degree cleared the personal character of
Machiavelli, we come to the consideration of his works. As a poet he is
not entitled to a high place; but his comedies deserve attention.

The Mandragola, in particular, is superior to the best of Goldoni, and
inferior only to the best of Molière. It is the work of a man who, if he
had devoted himself to the drama, would probably have attained {294}the
highest eminence, and produced a permanent and salutary effect on the
national taste. This we infer, not so much from the degree, as from
the kind of its excellence. There are compositions which indicate still
greater talent, and which are perused with still greater delight, from
which we should have drawn very different conclusions. Books quite
worthless are quite harmless. The sure sign of the general decline of
an art is the frequent occurrence, not of deformity, but of misplaced
beauty. In general, Tragedy is corrupted by eloquence, and Comedy by

The real object of the drama is the exhibition of human character. This,
we conceive, is no arbitrary canon, originating in local and temporary
associations, like those canons which regulate the number of acts in
a play, or of syllables in a line. To this fundamental law every other
regulation is subordinate. The situations which most signally develop
character form the best plot. The mother tongue of the passions is the
best style.

This principle, rightly understood, does not debar the poet from any
grace of composition. There is no style in which some man may not, under
some circumstances, express himself. There is therefore no style which
the drama rejects, none which it does not occasionally require. It is
in the discernment of place, of time, and of person, that the inferior
artists fail. The fantastic rhapsody of Mercutio, the elaborate
declamation of Antony, are, where Shakspeare has placed them, natural
and pleasing. But Dryden would have made Mer-cutio challenge Tybalt in
hyperboles as fanciful as those in which he describes the chariot of
Mab. Corneille would have represented Antony as scolding and coaxing
Cleopatra with all the measured rhetoric of a funeral oration. {295}No
writers have injured the Comedy of England so deeply as Congreve and
Sheridan. Both were men of splendid wit and polished taste. Unhappily,
they made all their characters in their own likeness. Their works bear
the same relation to the legitimate drama, which a transparency bears to
a painting. There are no delicate touches, no hues imperceptibly fading
into each other: the whole is lighted up with an universal glare.
Outlines and tints are forgotten in the common blaze whicli illuminates
all. The flowers and fruits of the intellect abound; but it is the
abundance of a jungle, not of a garden, unwholesome, bewildering,
unprofitable from its very plenty, rank from its very fragrance. Every
fop, every boor, every valet, is a man of wit. The very butts and dupes,
Tattle, Witwould, Puff, Acres, outshine the whole Hotel of Rambouillet.
To prove the whole system of this school erroneous, it is only necessary
to apply the test which dissolved the enchanted Florimel, to place the
true by the false Thalia, to contrast the most celebrated characters
which have been drawn by the writers of whom we speak with the Bastard
in King John, or the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet. It was not surely from
want of wit that Shakspeare adopted so different a manner. Benedick
and Beatrice throw Mirabel and Millamant into the shade. All the good
sayings of the facetious houses of Absolute and Surface might have been
clipped from the single character of Falstaff without being missed. It
would have been easy for that fertile mind to have given Bardolph and
Shallow as much wit as Prince Hal, and to have made Dogberry and Verges
retort on each other in sparkling epigrams. But he knew that such
indiscriminate prodigality was, to use his own admirable language, “from
the purpose of playing, whose end, {296}both at the first and now, was,
and is, to hold, as it were, the mirror up to Nature.”

This digression will enable our readers to understand what we mean when
we say that in the Mandragola, Machiavelli has proved that he completely
understood the nature of the dramatic art, and possessed talents which
would have enabled him to excel in it. By the correct and vigorous
delineation of human nature, it produces interest without a pleasing or
skilful plot, and laughter without the least ambition of wit. The lover,
not a very delicate or generous lover, and his adviser the parasite, are
drawn with spirit. The hypocritical confessor is an admirable portrait.
He is, if we mistake not, the original of Father Dominic, the best comic
character of Dryden. But old Nicias is the glory of the piece. We cannot
call to mind any thing that resembles him. The follies which Molière
ridicules are those of affectation, not those of fatuity. Coxcombs and
pedants, not absolute simpletons, are his game. Shakspeare has indeed a
vast assortment of fools; but the precise species of which we speak is
not, if we remember right, to be found there. Shallow is a fool. But
his animal spirits supply, to a certain degree, the place of cleverness.
His talk is to that of Sir John what soda water is to champagne. It has
the effervescence though not the body or the flavour. Slender and Sir
Andrew Aguecheek are fools, troubled with an uneasy consciousness of
their folly, which, in the latter produces meekness and docility, and in
the former, awkwardness, obstinacy, and confusion. Cloten is an arrogant
fool, Osric a foppish fool, Ajax a savage fool; but Nicias is, as
Thersites says of Patroclus, a fool positive. His mind is occupied by no
strong feeling; it takes every character, and retains none; its aspect
is {297}diversified, not by passions, but by faint and transitory
semblances of passion, a mock joy, a mock fear, a mock love, a mock
pride, which chase each other like shadows over its surface, and vanish
as soon as they appear. He is just idiot enough to be an object, not
of pity or horror, but of ridicule. He bears some resemblance to poor
Calandrino, whose mishaps, as recounted by Boccaccio, have made all
Europe merry for more than four centuries. He perhaps resembles still
more closely Simon da Villa, to whom Bruno and Buffalmacco promised
the love of the Countess Civilian. Nicias is, like Simon, of a learned
profession; and the dignity with which he wears the doctoral fur,
renders his absurdities infinitely more grotesque. The old Tuscan is the
very language for such a being. Its peculiar simplicity gives even to
the most forcible reasoning and the most brilliant wit an infantine
air, generally delightful, but to a foreign reader sometimes a little
ludicrous. Heroes and statesmen seem to lisp when they use it. It
becomes Nicias incomparably, and renders all his silliness infinitely
more silly.

We may add, that the verses with which the Man-dragola is interspersed,
appear to us to be the most spirited and correct of all that Machiavelli
has written in metre. He seems to have entertained the same opinion; for
he has introduced some of them in other places. The contemporaries of
the author were not blind to the merits of this striking piece. It was
acted at Florence with the greatest success. Leo the Tenth was among its
admirers, and by his order it was represented at Rome. (1)

     (1) Nothing can be more evident than that Paulus Jovius
     designates the Mandragola under the name of the Nicias. We
     should not have noticed what is so perfectly obvious, were
     it not that this natural and palpable misnomer has led the
     sagacious and industrious Bayle into a gross error.

{298}The Clizia is an imitation of the Casina of Plautus, which is
itself an imitation of the lost (work) of Diphilus. Plautus was,
unquestionably, one of the best Latin writers; but the Casina is by no
means one of his best plays; nor is it one which offers great facilities
to an imitator. The story is as alien from modern habits of life, as the
manner in which it is developed from the modern fashion of composition.
The lover remains in the country and the heroine in her chamber during
the whole action, leaving; their fate to be decided by a foolish
father, a cunning mother, and two knavish servants. Machiavelli has
executed his task with judgment and taste. He has accommodated the plot
to a different state of society, and has very dexterously connected it
with the history of his own times. The relation of the trick put on
the doting old lover is exquisitely humorous. It is far superior to the
corresponding passage in the Latin comedy, and scarcely yields to the
account which Falstaff gives of his ducking.

Two other comedies without titles, the one in prose, the other in verse,
appear among the works of Machiavelli. The former is very short, lively
enough, but of no great value. The latter we can scarcely believe to
be genuine. Neither its merits nor its defects remind us of the reputed
author. It was first printed in 1796, from a manuscript discovered in
the celebrated library of the Strozzi. Its genuineness, if we have been
rightly informed, is established solely by the comparison of hands.
Our suspicions are strengthened by the circumstance, that the same
manuscript contained a description of the plague of 1527, which has
also, in consequence, been added to the works of Machiavelli. Of this
last composition, the strongest {299}external evidence would scarcely
induce us to believe him guilty. Nothing was ever written more
detestable in matter and manner. The narrations, the reflections, the
jokes, the lamentations, are all the very worst of their respective
kinds, at once trite and affected, threadbare tinsel from the Rag Fairs
and Monmouth Streets of literature. A foolish schoolboy might write
such a piece, and, after he had written it, think it much finer than the
incomparable introduction of the Decameron. But that a shrewd statesman,
whose earliest works are characterised by manliness of thought and
language, should, at near sixty years of age, descend to such puerility,
is utterly inconceivable.

The little novel of Belphegor is pleasantly conceived, and pleasantly
told. But the extravagance of the satire in some measure injures its
effect. Machiavelli was unhappily married; and his wish to avenge his
own cause and that of his brethren in misfortune, carried him beyond
even the licence of fiction. Jonson seems to have combined some hints
taken from this tale, with others from Boccaccio, in the plot of The
Devil is an Ass, a play which, though not the most highly finished of
his compositions, is perhaps that which exhibits the strongest proofs of

The political correspondence of Machiavelli, first published in 1767, is
unquestionably genuine, and highly valuable. The unhappy circumstances
in which his country was placed during the greater part of his public
life gave extraordinary encouragement to diplomatic talents. From
the moment that Charles the Eighth descended from the Alps, the whole
character of Italian politics was changed. The governments of the
Peninsula ceased to form an independent system. Drawn from their old
orbit by the attraction of the {300}larger bodies which now approached
them, they became mere satellites of France and Spain. All their
disputes, internal and external, were decided by foreign influence. The
contests of opposite factions were carried on, not as formerly in the
senate-house or in the market-place, but in the antechambers of Louis
and Ferdinand. Under these circumstances, the prosperity of the Italian
States depended far more on the ability of their foreign agents, than
on the conduct of those who were intrusted with the domestic
administration. The ambassador had to discharge functions far more
delicate than transmitting orders of knighthood, introducing tourists,
or presenting his brethren with the homage of his high consideration. He
was an advocate to whose management the dearest interests of his clients
were intrusted, a spy clothed with an inviolable character. Instead of
consulting, by a reserved manner and ambiguous style, the dignity of
those whom he represented, he was to plunge into all the intrigues of
the court at which he resided, to discover and flatter every weakness
of the prince, and of the favourite who governed the prince, and of the
lacquey who governed the favourite. He was to compliment the mistress
and bribe the confessor, to panegyrize or supplicate, to laugh or weep,
to accommodate himself to every caprice, to lull every suspicion, to
treasure every hint, to be every thing, to observe every thing, to
endure every thing. High as the art of political intrigue had been
carried in Italy, these were times which required it all.

On these arduous errands Machiavelli was frequently employed. He
was sent to treat with the King of the Romans and with the Duke of
Valentinois. He was twice ambassador at the Court of Rome, and thrice
at {301}that of France. In these missions, and in several others of
inferior importance, he acquitted himself with great dexterity. His
despatches form one of the most amusing and instructive collections
extant. The narratives are clear and agreeably written; the remarks on
men and things clever and judicious. The conversations are reported in
a spirited and characteristic manner. We find ourselves introduced into
the presence of the men who, during twenty eventful years, swayed the
destinies of Europe. Their wit and their folly, their fretfulness and
their merriment, are exposed to us. We are admitted to overhear their
chat, and to watch their familiar gestures. It is interesting and
curious to recognise, in circumstances which elude the notice of
historians, the feeble violence and shallow cunning of Louis the
Twelfth; the bustling insignificance of Maximilian, cursed with an
impotent pruriency for renown, rash yet timid, obstinate yet fickle,
always in a hurry, yet always too late; the fierce and haughty energy
which gave dignity to the eccentricities of Julius; the soft and
graceful manners which masked the insatiable ambition and the implacable
hatred of Cæsar Borgia.

We have mentioned Cæsar Borgia. It is impossible not to pause for a
moment on the name of a man in whom the political morality of Italy was
so strongly personified, partially blended with the sterner lineaments
of the Spanish character. On two important occasions Machiavelli was
admitted to his society; once, at the moment when Cæsar’s splendid
villany achieved its most signal triumph, when he caught in one snare
and crushed at one blow all his most formidable rivals; and again when,
exhausted by disease and overwhelmed by misfortunes, which no human
prudence {302}could have averted, he was the prisoner of the deadliest
enemy of his house. These interviews between the greatest speculative
and the greatest practical statesmen of the age are folly described in
the Correspondence, and form perhaps the most interesting part of it.
From some passages in The Prince, and perhaps also from some indistinct
traditions, several writers have supposed a connection between those
remarkable men much closer than ever existed. The Envoy has even been
accused of prompting the crimes of the artful and merciless tyrant. But
from the official documents it is clear that their intercourse, though
ostensibly amicable, was in reality hostile. It cannot be doubted,
however, that the imagination of Machiavelli was strongly impressed, and
his speculations on government coloured, by the observations which he
made on the singular character and equally singular fortunes of a man
who under such disadvantages had achieved such exploits; who, when
sensuality, varied through innumerable forms, could no longer stimulate
his sated mind, found a more powerful and durable excitement in the
intense thirst of empire and revenge; who emerged from the sloth and
luxury of the Roman purple the first prince and general of the age; who,
trained in an unwarlike profession, formed a gallant army out of the
dregs of an unwarlike people; who, after acquiring sovereignty by
destroying his enemies, acquired popularity by destroying his tools; who
had begun to employ for the most salutary ends the power which he had
attained by the most atrocious means; who tolerated within the sphere of
his iron despotism no plunderer or oppressor but himself; and who fell
at last amidst the mingled curses and regrets of a people of whom his
genius had been the wonder, and might {303}have been the salvation. Some
of those crimes of Borgia which to ns appear the most odious would not,
from causes which we have already considered, have struck an Italian of
the fifteenth century with equal horror. Patriotic feeling also might
induce Machiavelli to look with some indulgence and regret on the o o
memory of the only leader who could have defended the independence of
Italy against the confederate spoilers of Cambray.

On this subject Machiavelli felt most strongly. Indeed the expulsion of
the foreign tyrants, and the restoration of that golden age which had
preceded the irruption of Charles the Eighth, were projects which, at
that time, fascinated all the master-spirits of Italy. The magnificent
vision delighted the great but ill-regulated mind of Julius. It divided
with manuscripts and sauces, painters and falcons, the attention of the
frivolous Leo. It prompted the generous treason of Morone. It imparted
a transient energy to the feeble mind and body of the last Sforza. It
excited for one moment an honest ambition in the false heart of
Pescara. Ferocity and insolence were not among the vices of the national
character. To the discriminating Cruelties of politicians, committed
for great ends on select victims, the moral code of the Italians was
too indulgent. But though they might have recourse to barbarity as an
expedient, they did not require it as a stimulant. They turned with
loathing from the atrocity of the strangers who seemed to love blood
for its own sake, who, not content with subjugating, were impatient to
destroy, who found a fiendish pleasure in razing magnificent cities,
cutting the throats of enemies who cried for quarter, or suffocating
an unarmed population by thousands in the caverns to which it had fled
{304}for safety. Such were the cruelties which daily excited the terror
and disgust of a people among whom, till lately, the worst that a
soldier had to fear in a pitched battle was the loss of his horse and
the expense of his ransom. The swinish intemperance of Switzerland,
the wolfish avarice of Spain, the gross licentiousness of the French,
indulged in violation of hospitality, of decency, of love itself, the
wanton inhumanity which was common to all the invaders, had made them
objects of deadly hatred to the inhabitants of the Peninsula. The wealth
which had been accumulated during centuries of prosperity and repose
was rapidly melting away. The intellectual superiority of the oppressed
people only rendered them more keenly sensible of their political
degradation. Literature and taste, indeed, still disguised with a flush
of hectic loveliness and brilliancy the ravages of an incurable decay.
The iron had not yet entered into the soul. The time was not yet come
when eloquence was to be gagged, and reason to be hoodwinked, when the
harp of the poet was to be hung on the willows of Arno, and the right
hand of the painter to forget its cunning. Yet a discerning eye might
even then have seen that genius and learning would not long survive the
state of things from which they had sprung, and that the great men whose
talents gave lustre to that melancholy period had been formed under the
influence of happier days, and would leave no successors behind them.
The times which shine with the greatest splendour in literary history
are not always those to which the human mind is most indebted. Of this
we may be convinced, by comparing the generation which follows them with
that which had preceded them. The first fruits which are reaped under
a bad system often spring from seed {305}sown under a good one. Thus it
was, in some measure, with the Augustan age. Thus it was with the age of
Raphael and Ariosto, of Aldus and Vida.

Machiavelli deeply regretted the misfortunes of his country, and clearly
discerned the cause and the remedy. It was the military system of the
Italian people which had extinguished their valor and discipline, and
left their wealth an easy prey to every foreign plunderer. The Secretary
projected a scheme alike honourable to his heart and to his intellect,
for abolishing the use of mercenary troops, and for organizing a
national militia.

The exertions which he made to effect this great object ought alone to
rescue his name from obloquy. Though his situation and his habits were
pacific, he studied with intense assiduity the theory of war. He made
himself master of all its details. The Florentine government entered
into his views. A council of war was appointed. Levies were decreed. The
indefatigable minister flew from place to place in order to superintend
the execution of his design. The times were, in some respects,
favourable to the experiment. The system of military tactics had
undergone a great revolution. The cavalry was no longer considered as
forming the strength of an army. The hours which a citizen could
spare from his ordinary employments, though by no means sufficient to
familiarise him with the exercise of a man-at-arms, might render him an
useful foot-soldier. The dread of a foreign yoke, of plunder, massacre,
and conflagration, might have conquered that repugnance to military
pursuits which both the industry and the idleness of great towns
commonly generate. For a time the scheme promised well. The new troops
acquitted themselves respectably in the {306}field. Machiavelli looked
with parental rapture on the success of his plan, and began to hope that
the arms of Italy might once more be formidable to the barbarians of
the Tagus and the Rhine. But the tide of misfortune came on before
the barriers which should have withstood it were prepared. For a time,
indeed, Florence might be considered as peculiarly fortunate. Famine
and sword and pestilence had devastated the fertile plains and stately
cities of the Po. All the curses denounced of old against Tyre seemed to
have fallen on Venice. Her merchants already stood afar off, lamenting
for their great city. The time seemed near when the sea-weed should
overgrow her silent Rialto, and the fisherman wash his nets in her
deserted arsenal. Naples had been four times conquered and reconquered
by tyrants equally indifferent to its welfare, and equally greedy
for its spoils. Florence, as yet, had only to endure degradation and
extortion, to submit to the mandates of foreign powers, to buy over and
over again, at an enormous price, what was already justly her own, to
return thanks for being wronged, and to ask pardon for being in the
right. She was at length deprived of the blessings even of this infamous
and servile repose. Her military and political institutions were swept
away together. The Medici returned, in the train of foreign invaders,
from their long exile. The policy of Machiavelli was abandoned; and his
public services were requited with poverty, imprisonment, and torture.

The fallen statesman still clung to his project with unabated ardour.
With the view of vindicating it from some popular objections and of
refuting some prevailing errors on the subject of military science, he
wrote his seven books on the Art of War. This excellent {307}work is
in the form of a dialogue. The opinions of the writer are put into the
mouth of Fabrizio Colonna, a powerful nobleman of the Ecclesiastical
State, and an officer of distinguished merit in the service of the King
of Spain. Colonna visits Florence on his way from Lombardy to his own
domains. He is invited to meet some friends at the house of Cosimo
Rucellai, an amiable and accomplished young man, whose early death
Machiavelli feelingly deplores. After partaking of an elegant
entertainment, they retire from the heat into the most shady recesses
of the garden. Fabrizio is struck by the sight of some uncommon plants.
Cosimo says that, though rare, in modern days, they are frequently
mentioned by the classical authors, and that his grandfather, like many
other Italians, amused himself with practising the ancient methods of
gardening. Fabrizio expresses his regret that those who, in later times,
affected the manners of the old Romans should select for imitation the
most trifling pursuits. This leads to a conversation on the decline
of military discipline and on the best means of restoring it. The
institution of the Florentine militia is ably defended; and several
improvements are suggested in the details.

The Swiss and the Spaniards were, at that time, regarded as the best
soldiers in Europe. The Swiss battalion consisted of pikemen, and bore a
close resemblance to the Greek phalanx. The Spaniards, like the soldiers
of Rome, were armed with the sword and the shield. The victories of
Flamininus and Æmilius over the Macedonian kings seem to prove the
superiority of the weapons used by the legions. The same experiment had
been recently tried with the same result at the battle of Ravenna, one
of those {308}tremendous days into which human folly and wickedness
compress the whole devastation of a famine or a plague. In that
memorable conflict, the infantry of Arragon, the old companions of
Gonsalvo, deserted by all their allies, hewed a passage through the
thickest of the imperial pikes, and effected an unbroken retreat, in the
face of the gendarmerie of De Foix, and the renowned artillery of Este.
Fabrizio, or rather Machiavelli, proposes to combine the two systems,
to arm the foremost lines with the pike for the purpose of repulsing
cavalry, and those in the rear with the sword, as being a weapon
better adapted for every other purpose. Throughout the work, the author
expresses the highest admiration of the military science of the ancient
Romans, and the greatest contempt for the maxims which had been in vogue
amongst the Italian commanders of the preceding generation. He prefers
infantry to cavalry, and fortified camps to fortified towns. He is
inclined to substitute rapid movements and decisive engagements for
the languid and dilatory operations of his countrymen. He attaches very
little importance to the invention of gunpowder. Indeed he seems to
think that it ought scarcely to produce any change in the mode of arming
or of disposing troops. The general testimony of historians, it must
be allowed, seems to prove that the ill-constructed and ill-served
artillery of those times, though useful in a siege, was of little value
on the field of battle.

Of the tactics of Machiavelli we will not venture to give an opinion:
but we are certain that his book is most able and interesting. As a
commentary on the history of his times, it is invaluable. The ingenuity,
the grace, and the perspicuity of the style, and the {309}eloquence and
animation of particular passages, must give pleasure even to readers who
take no interest in the subject.

The Prince and the Discourses on Livy were written after the fall of the
Republican Government. The former was dedicated to the Young Lorenzo de’
Medici. This circumstance seems to have disgusted the contemporaries of
the writer far more than the doctrines which have rendered the name of
the work odious in later times. It was considered as an indication
of political apostasy. The fact however seems to have been that
Machiavelli, despairing of the liberty of Florence, was inclined to
support any government which might preserve her independence. The
interval which separated a democracy and a despotism, Soderini and
Lorenzo, seemed to vanish when compared with the difference between
the former and the present state of Italy, between the security, the
opulence, and the repose which she had enjoyed under its native rulers,
and the misery in which she had been plunged since the fatal year in
which the first foreign tyrant had descended from the Alps. The noble
and pathetic exhortation with which The Prince concludes shows how
strongly the writer felt upon this subject.

The Prince traces the progress of an ambitious man, the Discourses the
progress of an ambitious people. The same principles on which, in the
former work, the elevation of an individual is explained, are applied
in the latter, to the longer duration and more complex interest of a
society. To a modern statesman the form of the Discourses may appear to
be puerile. In truth Livy is not an historian on whom implicit reliance
can be placed, even in cases where he must have possessed considerable
means of {310}information. And the first Decade, to which Machiavelli
has confined himself, is scarcely entitled to more credit than our
Chronicle of British Kings who reigned before the Roman invasion. But
the commentator is indebted to Livy for little more than a few texts
which he might as easily have extracted from the Vulgate or the
Decameron. The whole train of thought is original.

On the peculiar immorality which has rendered The Prince unpopular, and
which is almost equally discernible in the Discourses, we have already
given our opinion at length. We have attempted to show that it belonged
rather to the age than to the man, that it was a partial taint, and by
no means implied general depravity. We cannot however deny that it is a
great blemish, and that it considerably diminishes the pleasure which,
in other respects, those works must afford to every intelligent mind.

It is, indeed, impossible to conceive a more healthful and vigorous
constitution of the understanding than that which these works indicate.
The qualities of the active and the contemplative statesman appear to
have been blended in the mind of the writer into a rare and exquisite
harmony. His skill in the details of business had not been acquired at
the expense of his general powers. It had not rendered his mind less
comprehensive; but it had served to correct his speculations, and
to impart to them that vivid and practical character which so
widely distinguishes them from the vague theories of most political

Every man who has seen the world knows that nothing is so useless as
a general maxim. If it be very moral and very true, it may serve for a
copy to a charity-boy. If, like those of Rochefoucault, it be sparkling
and whimsical, it may make an excellent {311}motto for an essay. But few
indeed of the many wise apophthegms which have been uttered, from
the time of the Seven Sages of Greece to that of Poor Richard, have
prevented a single foolish action. We give the highest and the most
peculiar praise to the precepts of Machiavelli when we say that they
may frequently be of real use in regulating conduct, not so much because
they are more just or more profound than those which might be culled
from other authors, as because they can be more readily applied to the
problems of real life.

There are errors in these works. But they are errors which a writer,
situated like Machiavelli, could scarcely avoid. They arise, for the
most part, from a single defect which appears to us to pervade his
whole system. In his political scheme, the means had been more deeply
considered than the ends. The great principle, that societies and laws
exist only for the purpose of increasing the sum of private happiness,
is not recognised with sufficient clearness. The good of the body,
distinct from the good of the members, and sometimes hardly compatible
with the good of the members, seems to be the object which he proposes
to himself. Of all political fallacies, this has perhaps had the widest
and the most mischievous operation. The state of society in the little
commonwealths of Greece, the close connection and mutual dependence of
the citizens, and the severity of the laws of war, tended to encourage
an opinion which, under such circumstances, could hardly be called
erroneous. The interests of every individual were inseparably bound
up with those of the state. An invasion destroyed his corn-fields and
vineyards, drove him from his home, and compelled him to encounter all
the hardships of a military {312}life. A treaty of peace restored him
to security and comfort. A victory doubled the number of his slaves.
A defeat perhaps made him a slave himself. When Pericles, in the
Peloponnesian war, told the Athenians, that, if their country triumphed,
their private losses would speedily be repaired, but that, if their
arms failed of success, every individual amongst them would probably
be ruined, he spoke no more than the truth. He spoke to men whom the
tribute of vanquished cities supplied with food and clothing, with
the luxury of the bath and the amusements of the theatre, on whom the
greatness of their country conferred rank, and before whom the members
of less prosperous communities trembled; to men who, in case of a change
in the public fortunes, would, at least, be deprived of every comfort
and every distinction which they enjoyed. To be butchered on the smoking
ruins of their city, to be dragged in chains to a slave-market, to see
one child torn from them to dig in the quarries of Sicily, and another
to guard the harems of Per-sepolis, these were the frequent and probable
consequences of national calamities. Hence, among the Greeks, patriotism
became a governing principle, or rather an ungovernable passion.
Their legislators and their philosophers took it for granted that, in
providing for the strength and greatness of the state, they sufficiently
provided for the happiness of the people. The writers of the Roman
empire lived under despots, into whose dominion a hundred nations
were melted down, and whose gardens would have covered the little
commonwealths of Plilius and Platæa. Yet they continued to employ the
same language, and to cant about the duty of sacrificing every thing to
a country to which they owed nothing. {313}Causes similar to those which
had influenced the disposition of the Greeks operated powerfully on the
less vigorous and daring character of the Italians. The Italians, like
the Greeks, were members of small communities. Every man was deeply
interested in the welfare of the society to which he belonged, a
partaker in its wealth and its poverty, in its glory and its shame. In
the age of Machiavelli this was peculiarly the case. Public events had
produced an immense sum of misery to private citizens. The Northern
invaders had brought want to their boards, infamy to their beds, fire to
their roofs, and the knife to their throats. It was natural that a man
who lived in times like these should overrate the importance of those
measures by which a nation is rendered formidable to its neighbours, and
undervalue those which make it prosperous within itself.

Nothing is more remarkable in the political treatises of Machiavelli
than the fairness of mind which they indicate. It appears where the
author is in the wrong, almost as strongly as where he is in the right.
He never advances a false opinion because it is new or splendid,
because he can clothe it in a happy phrase, or defend it by an ingenious
sophism. His errors are at once explained by a reference to the
circumstances in which he was placed. They evidently were not sought
out; they lay in his way, and could scarcely be avoided. Such mistakes
must necessarily be committed by early speculators in every science.

In this respect it is amusing to compare The Prince and the Discourses
with the Spirit of Laws. Montesquieu enjoys, perhaps, a wider celebrity
than any political writer of modern Europe. Something he doubtless owes
to his merit, but much more to his fortune. {314}He had the good luck of
a Valentine. He caught the eye of the French nation, at the moment when
it was waking from the long sleep of political and religious bigotry;
and, in consequence, he became a favourite. The English, at that time,
considered a Frenchman who talked about constitutional checks and
fundamental laws as a prodigy not less astonishing than the learned
pig or the musical infant. Specious but shallow, studious of effect,
indifferent to truth, eager to build a system, but careless of
collecting those materials out of which alone a sound and durable system
can be built, the lively President constructed theories as rapidly
and as slightly as card-houses, no sooner projected than completed, no
sooner completed than blown away, no sooner blown away than forgotten.
Machiavelli errs only because his experience, acquired in a very
peculiar state of society, could not always enable him to calculate the
effect of institutions differing from those of which he had observed the
operation. Montesquieu errs, because he has a fine thing to say, and is
resolved to say it. If the phænomena which lie before him will not suit
his purpose, all history must be ransacked. If nothing established by
authentic testimony can be racked or chipped to suit his Procrustean
hypothesis, he puts up with some monstrous fable about Siam, or Bantam,
or Japan, told by writers compared with whom Lucian and Gulliver were
veracious, liars by a double right, as travellers and as Jesuits.

Propriety of thought, and propriety of diction, are commonly found
together. Obscurity and affectation are the two greatest faults of
style. Obscurity of expression generally springs from confusion
of ideas; and the same wish to dazzle at any cost which produces
affectation in the manner of a writer, is likely to produce
{315}sophistry in his reasonings. The judicious and candid mind of
Machiavelli shows itself in his luminous, manly, and polished language.
The style of Montesquieu, on the other hand, indicates in every page a
lively and ingenious, but an unsound mind. Every trick of expression,
from the mysterious conciseness of an oracle to the flippancy of a
Parisian coxcomb, is employed to disguise the fallacy of some positions,
and the triteness of others. Absurdities are brightened into epigrams;
truisms are darkened into enigmas. It is with difficulty that
the strongest eye can sustain the glare with which some parts are
illuminated, or penetrate the shade in which others are concealed.

The political works of Machiavelli derive a peculiar interest from the
mournful earnestness which he manifests whenever he touches on topics
connected with the calamities of his native land. It is difficult to
conceive any situation more painful than that of a great man, condemned
to watch the lingering agony of an exhausted country, to tend it
during the alternate fits of stupefaction and raving which precede its
dissolution, and to see the symptoms of vitality disappear one by one,
till nothing is left but coldness, darkness, and corruption. To this
joyless and thankless duty was Machiavelli called. In the energetic
language of the prophet, he was “mad for the sight of his eyes which
he saw,” disunion in the council, effeminacy in the camp, liberty
extinguished, commerce decaying, national honour sullied, an enlightened
and flourishing people given over to the ferocity of ignorant savages.
Though his opinions had not escaped the contagion of that political
immorality which was common among his: countrymen, his natural
disposition seems to have been {316}rather stern and impetuous than
pliant and artful. When the misery and degradation of Florence and the
foul outrage which he had himself sustained recur to his mind the smooth
craft of his profession and his nation is exchanged for the honest
bitterness of scorn and anger. He speaks like one sick of the calamitous
times and abject people among whom his lot is cast. He pines for the
strength and glory of ancient Rome, for the fasces of Brutus and the
sword of Scipio, the gravity of the curule chair, and the bloody pomp
of the triumphal sacrifice. He seems to be transported back to the days
when eight hundred thousand Italian warriors sprung to arms at the rumor
of a Gallic invasion. He breathes all the spirit of those intrepid and
haughty senators who forgot the dearest ties of nature in the claims of
public duty, who looked with disdain on the elephants and on the gold of
Pyrrhus, and listened with unaltered composure to the tremendous tidings
of Cannae. Like an ancient temple deformed by the barbarous architecture
of a later age, his character acquires an interest from the very
circumstances which debase it. The original proportions are rendered
more striking by the contrast which they present to the mean and
incongruous additions.

The influence of the sentiments which we have described was not apparent
in his writings alone. His enthusiasm, barred from the career which it
would have selected for itself, seems to have found a vent in desperate
levity. He enjoyed a vindictive pleasure in outraging the opinions of
a society which he despised. He became careless of the decencies which
were expected from a man so highly distinguished in the literary and
political world. The sarcastic bitterness {317}of his conversation
disgusted those who were more inclined to accuse his licentiousness than
their own degeneracy, and who were unable to conceive the strength of
those emotions which are concealed by the jests of the wretched, and by
the follies of the wise.

The historical works of Machiavelli still remain to be considered. The
life of Castruccio Castracani will occupy us for a very short time, and
would scarcely have demanded our notice, had it not attracted a much
greater share of public attention than it deserves. Few books, indeed,
could be more interesting than a careful and judicious account, from
such a pen, of the illustrious Prince of Lucca, the most eminent of
those Italian chiefs, who like Pisistratus and Gelon, acquired a power
felt rather than seen, and resting, not on law or on prescription, but
on the public favour and on their great personal qualities. Such a work
would exhibit to us the real nature of that species of sovereignty,
so singular and so often misunderstood, which the Greeks denominated
tyranny, and which, modified in some degree by the feudal system,
reappeared in the commonwealths of Lombardy and Tuscany. But this
little composition of Machiavelli is in no sense a history. It has
no pretensions to fidelity. It is a trifle, and not a very successful
trifle. It is scarcely more authentic than the novel of Belphegor, and
is very much duller.

The last great work of this illustrious man was the history of his
native city. It was written by command of the Pope, who, as chief of the
house of Medici, was at that time sovereign of Florence. The characters
of Cosmo, of Piero, and of Lorenzo, are, however, treated with a freedom
and impartiality equally honourable {318}to the writer and to the
patron. The miseries and humiliations of dependence, the bread which
is more bitter than every other food, the stairs which are more painful
than every other ascent, had not broken the spirit of Machiavelli. The
most corrupting post in a corrupting profession had not depraved the
generous heart of Clement.

The History does not appear to be the fruit of much industry or
research. It is unquestionably inaccurate. But it is elegant, lively,
and picturesque, beyond any other in the Italian language. The reader,
we believe, carries away from it a more vivid and a more faithful
impression of the national character and manners than from more correct
accounts. The truth is, that the book belongs rather to ancient than to
modern literature. It is in the style, not of Davila and Clarendon, but
of Herodotus and Tacitus. The classical histories may almost be
called romances founded in fact. The relation is, no doubt, in all its
principal points, strictly true. But the numerous little incidents which
heighten the interest, the words, the gestures, the looks, are evidently
furnished by the imagination of the author. The fashion of later times
is different. A more exact narrative is given by the writer. It may be
doubted whether more exact notions are conveyed to the reader. The
best portraits are perhaps those in which there is a slight mixture
of caricature, and we are not certain, that the best histories are not
those in which a little of the exaggeration of fictitious narrative is
judiciously employed. Something is lost in accuracy; but much is gained
in effect. The fainter lines are neglected; but the great characteristic
features are imprinted on the mind for ever.

The History terminates with the death of Lorenzo de’ Medici.
{319}Machiavelli had, it seems, intended to continue his narrative to a
later period. But his death prevented the execution of his design;
and the melancholy task of recording the desolation and shame of Italy
devolved on Guicciardini.

Machiavelli lived long enough to see the commencement of the last
struggle for Florentine liberty. Soon after his death monarchy was
finally established, not such a monarchy as that of which Cosmo had laid
the foundations deep in the institutions and feelings of his countrymen,
and which Lorenzo had embellished with the trophies of every science and
every art; but a loathsome tyranny, proud and mean, cruel and feeble,
bigotted and lascivious. The character of Machiavelli was hateful to
the new masters of Italy; and those parts of his theory which were in
strict accordance with their own daily practice afforded a pretext for
blackening his memory. His works were misrepresented by the learned,
misconstrued by the ignorant, censured by the church, abused with all
the rancour of simulated virtue, by the tools of a base government, and
the priests of a baser superstition. The name of the man whose genius
had illuminated all the dark places of policy, and to whose patriotic
wisdom an oppressed people had owed their last chance of emancipation
and revenge, passed into a proverb of infamy. For more than two hundred
years his bones lay undistinguished. At length, an English nobleman paid
the last honours to the greatest statesman of Florence. In the church of
Santa Croce a monument was erected to his memory, which is contemplated
with reverence by all who can distinguish the virtues of a great
mind through the corruptions of a degenerate age, and which will be
approached with still deeper homage when the object to {320}which his
public life was devoted shall be attained, when the foreign yoke shall
be broken, when a second Procida shall avenge the wrongs of Naples, when
a happier Rienzi shall restore the good estate of Rome, when the streets
of Florence and Bologna shall again resound with their ancient war-cry,
_Popolo; popolo; muoano i tiranni!_


{321}(_Edinburgh Review_, January 1828.)

The public voice has assigned to Dryden the first place in the
second rank of our poets,--no mean station in a table of intellectual
precedency so rich in illustrious names. It is allowed that, even of
the few who were his superiors in genius, none has exercised a more
extensive or permanent influence on the national habits of thought and
expression. His life was commensurate with the period during which
a great revolution in the public taste was effected; and in that
revolution he played the part of Cromwell. By unscrupulously taking the
lead in its wildest excesses, he obtained the absolute guidance of it.
By trampling on laws, he acquired the authority of a legislator. By
signalising himself as the most daring and irreverent of rebels, he
raised himself to the dignity of a recognised prince. He commenced his
career by the most frantic outrages. He terminated it in the repose of
established sovereignty,--the author of a new code, the root of a new

Of Dryden, however, as of almost every man who has been distinguished
either in the literary or in the political world, it may be said that
the course which he

     (1) _The Poetical Works of_ John Dryden. In 2 volumes.
     University Edition. London, 1826.

{322}pursued, and the effect which he produced, depended less on his
personal qualities than on the circumstances in which he was placed.
Those who have read history with discrimination know the fallacy of
those panegyrics and invectives which represent individuals as effecting
great moral and intellectual revolutions, subverting established
systems, and imprinting a new character on their age. The difference
between one man and another is by no means so great as the superstitious
crowd supposes. But the same feelings which in ancient Rome produced the
apotheosis of a popular emperor, and in modern Rome the canonisation of
a devout prelate, led men to cherish an illusion which furnishes them
with something to adore. By a law of association, from the operation of
which even minds the most strictly regulated by reason are not wholly
exempt, misery disposes us to hatred, and happiness to love, although
there may be no person to whom our misery or our happiness can be
ascribed. The peevishness of an invalid vents itself even on those who
alleviate his pain. The good humour of a man elated by success often
displays itself towards enemies. In the same manner, the feelings of
pleasure and admiration, to which the contemplation of great events
gives birth, make an object where they do not find it. Thus, nations
descend to the absurdities of Egyptian idolatry, and worship stocks and
reptiles--Sacheverells and Wilkeses. They even fall prostrate before a
deity to which they have themselves given the form which commands their
veneration, and which, unless fashioned by them, would have remained a
shapeless block. They persuade themselves that they are the creatures of
what they have themselves created. For, in fact, it is the age that
forms the man, not the man that {323}forms the age. Great minds do
indeed only pay with interest what they have received. We extol Bacon
and sneer at Aquinas. But, if their situations had been changed, Bacon
might have been the Angelical Doctor, the most subtle Aristotelian of
the schools; the Dominican might have led forth the sciences from their
house of bondage. If Luther had been born in the tenth century, he would
have effected no reformation. If he had never been born at all, it is
evident that the sixteenth century could not have elapsed without a
great schism in the church. Voltaire, in the days of Louis the
Fourteenth, would probably have been, like most of the literary men of
that time, a zealous Jansenist, eminent among the defenders of
efficacious grace, a bitter assailant of the lax morality of the Jesuits
and the unreasonable decisions of the Sorbonne. If Pascal had entered on
his literary career when intelligence was more general, and abuses at
the same time more flagrant, when the church was polluted by the
Iscariot Dubois, the court disgraced by the orgies of Canillac, and the
nation sacrificed to the juggles of Law, if he had lived to see a
dynasty of harlots, an empty treasury and a crowded harem, an army
formidable only to those whom it should have protected, a priesthood
just religious enough to be intolerant, he might possibly, like every
man of genius in France, have imbibed extravagant prejudices against
monarchy and Christianity. The wit which blasted the sophisms of
Escobar--the impassioned eloquence which defended the sisters of Port
Royal--the intellectual hardihood which was not beaten down even by
Papal authority--might have raised him to the Patriarchate of the
Philosophical {324}Church. It was long disputed whether the honour of
inventing the method of Fluxions belonged to Newton or to Leibnitz. It
is now generally allowed that these great men made the same discovery at
the same time. Mathematical science, indeed, had then reached such a
point that, if neither of them had ever existed, the principle must
inevitably have occurred to some person within a few years. So in our
own time the doctrine of rent, now universally received by political
economists, was propounded, almost at the same moment, by two writers
unconnected with each other. Preceding speculators had long been
blundering round about it; and it could not possibly have been missed
much longer by the most heedless inquirer. We are inclined to think
that, with respect to every great addition which has been made to the
stock of human knowledge, the case has been similar; that without
Copernicus we should have been Copernicans,--that without Columbus
America would have been discovered,--that without Locke we should have
possessed a just theory of the origin of human ideas. Society indeed has
its great men and its little men, as the earth has its mountains and its
valleys. But the inequalities of intellect, like the inequalities of the
surface of our globe, bear so small a proportion to the mass, that, in
calculating its great revolutions, they may safely be neglected. The sun
illuminates the hills, while it is still below the horizon; and truth is
discovered by the highest minds a little before it becomes manifest to
the multitude. This is the extent of their superiority. They are the
first to catch and reflect a light, which, without their assistance,
must, in a short time, be visible to those who lie far beneath them.
{325}The same remark will apply equally to the fine arts. The laws on
which depend the progress and decline of poetry, painting, and
sculpture, operate with little less certainty than those which regulate
the periodical returns of heat and cold, of fertility and barrenness.
Those who seem to lead the public taste are, in general, merely
outrunning it in the direction which it is spontaneously pursuing.
Without a just apprehension of the laws to which we have alluded, the
merits and defects of Dryden can be but imperfectly understood. We will,
therefore, state what we conceive them to be.

The ages in which the master-pieces of imagination have been produced
have by no means been those in which taste has been most correct. It
seems that the creative faculty, and the critical faculty, cannot exist
together in their highest perfection. The causes of this phenomenon it
is not difficult to assign.

It is true that the man who is best able to take a machine to pieces,
and who most clearly comprehends the manner in which all its wheels and
springs conduce to its general effect, will be the man most competent to
form another machine of similar power. In all the branches of physical
and moral science which admit of perfect analysis, he who can resolve
will be able to combine. But the analysis which criticism can effect
of poetry is necessarily imperfect. One element must for ever elude its
researches; and that is the very element by which poetry is poetry. In
the description of nature, for example, a judicious reader will easily
detect an incongruous image. But he will find it impossible to explain
in what consists the art of a writer who, in a few words, brings some
spot before him so vividly that he shall know it as if he had lived
there from childhood; while another, employing the {326}same materials,
the same verdure, the same water, and the same flowers, committing
no inaccuracy, introducing nothing which can be positively pronounced
superfluous, omitting nothing which can be positively pronounced
necessary, shall produce no more effect than an advertisement of a
capital residence and a desirable pleasure-ground. To take another
example: the great features of the character of Hotspur are obvious to
the most superficial reader. We at once perceive that his courage is
splendid, his thirst of glory intense, his animal spirits high, his
temper careless, arbitrary, and petulant; that he indulges his own
humour without caring whose feelings he may wound, or whose enmity he
may provoke, by his levity. Thus far criticism will go. But something
is still wanting. A man might have all those qualities, and every other
quality which the most minute examiner can introduce into his catalogue
of the virtues and faults of Hotspur, and yet he would not be Hotspur.
Almost everything that we have said of him applies equally to Falcon
bridge. Yet in the mouth of Falconbridge most of his speeches would seem
out of place. In real life this perpetually occurs. We are sensible of
nude differences between men whom, if we were required to describe them,
we should describe in almost the same terms. If we were attempting to
draw elaborate characters of them, we should scarcely be able to
point out any strong distinction; yet we approach them with feelings
altogether dissimilar. We cannot conceive of them as using the
expressions or the gestures of each other. Let us suppose that a
zoologist should attempt to give an account of some animal, a porcupine
for instance, to people who had never seen it. The porcupine, he might
say, is of the genus mammalia, and the order {327}glires. There are
whiskers on its face; it is two feet long; it has four toes before, five
behind, two fore teeth, and eight grinders. Its body is covered with
hair and quills. And, when all this had been said, would any one of the
auditors have formed a just idea of a porcupine? Would any two of
them have formed the same idea? There might exist innumerable races of
animals, possessing all the characteristics which have been mentioned,
yet altogether unlike to each other. What the description of our
naturalist is to a real porcupine, the remarks of criticism are to the
images of poetry. What it so imperfectly decomposes it cannot perfectly
re-construct. It is evidently as impossible to produce an Othello or a
Macbeth by reversing an analytical process so defective, as it would
be for an anatomist to form a living man out of the fragments of his
dissecting-room. In both cases the vital principle eludes the finest
instruments, and vanishes in the very instant in which its seat is
touched. Hence those who, trusting to their critical skill, attempt to
write poems give us, not images of things, but catalogues of qualities.
Their characters are allegories; not good men and bad men, but cardinal
virtues and deadly sins. We seem to have fallen among the acquaintances
of our old friend Christian: sometimes we meet Mistrust and Timorous;
sometimes Mr. Hate-good and Mr. Love-lust; and then again Prudence,
Piety, and Charity.

That critical discernment is not sufficient to make men poets, is
generally allowed. Why it should keep them from becoming poets, is not
perhaps equally evident: but the fact is, that poetry requires not an
examining but a believing frame of mind. Those feel it most, and
write it best, who forget that it is a work {328}of art; to whom its
imitations, like the realities from which they are taken, are subjects,
not for connoisseur-ship, but for tears and laughter, resentment and
affection; who are too much under the influence of the illusion to
admire the genius which has produced it; who are too much frightened for
Ulysses in the cave of Polyphemus to care whether the pun about Outis be
good or bad; who forget that such a person as Shakspeare ever existed,
while they weep and curse with Lear. It is by giving faith to the
creations of the imagination that a man becomes a poet. It is by
treating those creations as deceptions, and by resolving them, as nearly
as possible, into their elements, that he becomes a critic. In the
moment in which the skill of the artist is perceived, the spell of the
art is broken.

These considerations account for the absurdities into which the greatest
writers have fallen, when they have attempted to give general rules for
composition, or to pronounce judgment on the works of others. They are
unaccustomed to analyse what they feel; they, therefore, perpetually
refer their emotions to causes which have not in the slightest degree
tended to produce them. They feel pleasure in reading a book. They
never consider that this pleasure may be the effect of ideas which
some unmeaning expression, striking on the first link of a chain of
associations, may have called up in their own minds--that they have
themselves furnished to the author the beauties which they admire.

Cervantes is the delight of all classes of readers. Every school-boy
thumbs to pieces the most wretched translations of his romance, and
knows the lantern jaws of the Knight Errant, and the broad cheeks of
the Squire, as well as the faces of his own playfellow’s. {329}The most
experienced and fastidious judges are amazed at the perfection of that
art which extracts inextinguishable laughter from the greatest of human
calamities without once violating the reverence due to it; at that
discriminating delicacy of touch which makes a character exquisitely
ridiculous, without impairing its worth, its grace, or its dignity. In
Don Quixote are several dissertations on the principles of poetic and
dramatic writing. No passages in the whole work exhibit stronger marks
of labour and attention; and no passages in any work with which we
are acquainted are more worthless and puerile. In our time they would
scarcely obtain admittance into the literary department of the Morning
Post. Every reader of the Divine Comedy must be struck by the veneration
which Dante expresses for writers far inferior to himself. He will not
lift up his eyes from the ground in the presence of Brunetto, all whose
works are not worth the worst of his own hundred cantos. He does
not venture to walk in the same line with the bombastic Statius. His
admiration of Virgil is absolute idolatry. If indeed it had been excited
by the elegant, splendid, and harmonious diction of the Roman poet,
it would not have been altogether unreasonable; but it is rather as an
authority on all points of philosophy, than as a work of imagination,
that he values the Æneid. The most trivial passages he regards as
oracles of the highest authority, and of the most recondite meaning. He
describes his conductor as the sea of all wisdom--the sun which heals
every disordered sight. As he judged of Virgil, the Italians of the
fourteenth century judged of him; they were proud of him; they praised
him; they struck medals bearing his head; they quarrelled {330}for the
honour of possessing his remains; they maintained professors to expound
his writings. But what they admired was not that mighty imagination
which called a new world into existence, and made all its sights and
sounds familiar to the eye and ear of the mind. They said little of
those awful and lovely creations on which later critics delight to
dwell--Farinata lifting his haughty and tranquil brow from his couch of
everlasting fire--the lion-like repose of Sordello--or the light which
shone from the celestial smile of Beatrice. They extolled their great
poet for his smattering of ancient literature and history; for his
logic and his divinity; for his absurd physics, and his more absurd
metaphysics; for everything but that in which he preeminently excelled.
Like the fool in the story, who ruined his dwelling by digging for gold,
which, as he had dreamed, was concealed under its foundations, they laid
waste one of the noblest works of human genius, by seeking in it
for buried treasures of wisdom which existed only in their own wild
reveries. The finest passages were little valued till they had been
debased into some monstrous allegory. Louder applause was given to
the lecture on fate and free-will, or to the ridiculous astronomical
theories, than to those tremendous lines which disclose the secrets
of the tower of hunger, or to that half-told tale of guilty love, so
passionate and so full of tears.

We do not mean to say that the contemporaries of Dante read with less
emotion than their descendants of Ugolino groping among the wasted
corpses of his children, or of Francesca starting at the tremulous kiss
and dropping the fatal volume. Far from it. We believe that they admired
these things less than ourselves, but that they felt them more. We
should perhaps {331}say that they felt them too much to admire them. The
progress of a nation from barbarism to civilisation produces a change
similar to that which takes place during the progress of an individual
from infancy to mature age. What man does not remember with regret the
first time that he read Robinson Crusoe? Then, indeed, he was unable
to appreciate the powers of the writer; or, rather, he neither knew nor
cared whether the book had a writer at all. He probably thought it not
half so fine as some rant of Macpherson about dark-browed Foldath, and
white-bosomed Strinadona.

He now values Fingal and Temora only as showing with how little evidence
a story may be believed, and with how little merit a book may be
popular. Of the romance of Defoe he entertains the highest opinion. He
perceives the hand of a master in ten thousand touches which formerly he
passed by without notice. But, though he understands the merits of the
narrative better than formerly, he is far less interested by it. Xury
and Friday, and pretty Poll, the boat with the shoulder-of-mutton sail,
and the canoe which could not be brought down to the water edge, the
tent with its hedge and ladders, the preserve of kids, and the den where
the old goat died, can never again be to him the realities which
they were. The days when his favourite volume set him upon making
wheel-barrows and chairs, upon digging caves and fencing huts in the
garden, can never return. Such is the law of our nature. Our judgment
ripens; our imagination decays. We cannot at once enjoy the flowers of
the spring of life and the fruits of its autumn, the pleasures of close
investigation and those of agreeable error. We cannot sit at once in
the front of the stage and behind the scenes. We cannot be under the
illusion of the {332}spectacle, while we are watching the movements of
the ropes and pulleys which dispose it.

The chapter in which Fielding describes the behaviour of Partridge at
the theatre affords so complete an illustration of our proposition, that
we cannot refrain from quoting some parts of it.

“Partridge gave that credit to Mr. Garrick which he had denied to Jones,
and fell into so violent a trembling that his knees knocked against each
other. Jones asked him what was the matter, and whether he was afraid of
the warrior npon the stage?--‘O, la, sir,’ said he, ‘I perceive now it
is what you told me. I am not afraid of anything, for I know it is but
a play; and if it was really a ghost, it could do one no harm at such a
distance and in so much company; and yet, if I was frightened, I am not
the only person.’--‘Why, who,’ cries Jones, ‘dost thou take to be such
a coward here besides thyself?’--‘Nay, you may call me a coward if you
will; but if that little man there npon the stage is not frightened, I
never saw any man frightened in my life.’.... He sat with his eyes fixed
partly on the ghost and partly on Hamlet, and with his mouth open; the
same passions which succeeded each other in Hamlet, succeeding likewise
in him.......

“Little more worth remembering occurred during the play, at the end of
which Jones asked him which of the players he liked best. To this he
answered, with some appearance of indignation at the question, ‘The
King, without doubt.’--‘Indeed, Mr. Partridge,’ says Mrs. Miller, ‘you
are not of the same opinion with the town; for they are all agreed that
Hamlet is acted by the best player who was ever on the stage.’ ‘He the
best player!’ cries Partridge, with a contemptuous sneer; ‘why I could
act as well as he myself. I am sure, if I had seen a ghost, I should
have looked in the very same manner, and done just as he did. And then,
to be sure, in that scene, as you called it, between him and his mother,
where you told me he acted so fine, why, any man, that is, any good man,
that had such a mother, would have done exactly the same. I know you are
only joking with me; but indeed, madam, though I never was at a play in
London, yet I have seen acting before in the country, and the King, for
my money, he speaks all his words distinctly, and half as loud again
as the other. Anybody may see he is an actor.’” {333}In this excellent
passage Partridge is represented as a very bad theatrical critic. But
none of those who laugh at him possess the tithe of his sensibility to
theatrical excellence. He admires in the wrong place; but he trembles
in the right place. It is indeed because he is so much excited by the
acting of Garrick, that he ranks him below the strutting, mouthing
performer, who personates the King. So, we have heard it said that,
in some parts of Spain and Portugal, an actor who should represent a
depraved character finely, instead of calling down the applauses of the
audience, is hissed and pelted without mercy. It would be the same
in England, if we, for one moment, thought that Shylock or Iago was
standing before us. While the dramatic art was in its infancy at Athens,
it produced similar effects on the ardent and imaginative spectators.
It is said that they blamed Æschylus for frightening them into fits
with his Furies. Herodotus tells us that, when Phrynichus produced
his tragedy on the fall of Miletus, they fined him in a penalty of
a thousand drachmas for torturing their feelings by so pathetic an
exhibition. They did not regard him as a great artist, but merely as
a man who had given them pain. When they woke from the distressing
illusion, they treated the author of it as they would have treated a
messenger who should have brought them fatal and alarming tidings which
turned out to be false. In the same manner, a child screams with terror
at the sight of a person in an ugly mask. He has perhaps seen the
mask put on. But his imagination is too strong for his reason; and he
intreats that it may be taken off.

We should act in the same manner if the grief and horror produced in us
by works of the imagination amounted to real torture. But in us these
emotions are {334}comparatively languid. They rarely affect our appetite
or our sleep. They leave us sufficiently at ease to trace them to their
causes, and to estimate the powers which produce them. Our attention is
speedily diverted from the images which call forth our tears to the art
by which those images have been selected and combined. We applaud the
genius of the writer. We applaud our own sagacity and sensibility; and
we are comforted.

Yet, though, we think that in the progress of nations towards refinement
the reasoning powers are improved at the expense of the imagination, we
acknowledge that to this rule there are many apparent exceptions. We
are not, however, quite satisfied that they are more than apparent. Men
reasoned better, for example, in the time of Elizabeth than in the time
of Egbert; and they also wrote better poetry. But we must distinguish
between poetry as a mental act, and poetry as a species of composition.
If we take it in the latter sense, its excellence depends, not solely on
the vigour of the imagination, but partly also on the instruments which
the imagination employs. Within certain limits, therefore, poetry may he
improving while the poetical faculty is decaying. The vividness of the
picture presented to the reader is not necessarily proportioned to the
vividness of the prototype which exists in the mind of the writer. In
the other arts we see this clearly. Should a man, gifted by nature with
all the genius of Canova, attempt to carve a statue without instruction
as to the management of his chisel, or attention to the anatomy of
the human body, he would produce something compared with which the
Highlander at the door of a snuff shop would deserve admiration. If an
uninitiated Raphael were to attempt {335}a painting, it would be a mere
daub; indeed, the connoisseurs say that the early works of Raphael are
little better. Yet, who can attribute this to want of imagination? Who
can doubt that the youth of that great artist was passed amidst an
ideal world of beautiful and majestic forms? Or, who will attribute
the difference which appears between his first rude essays and his
magnificent Transfiguration to a change in the constitution of his
mind? In poetry, as in painting and sculpture, it is necessary that
the imitator should be well acquainted with that which he undertakes to
imitate, and expert in the mechanical part of his art. Genius will not
furnish him with a vocabulary: it will not teach him what word most
exactly corresponds to his idea, and will most fully convey it to
others: it will not make him a great descriptive poet, till he has
looked with attention on the face of nature; or a great dramatist,
till he has felt and witnessed much of the influence of the passions.
Information and experience are, therefore, necessary; not for the
purpose of strengthening the imagination, which is never so strong as in
people incapable of reasoning--savages, children, madmen, and
dreamers; but for the purpose of enabling the artist to communicate his
conceptions to others.

In a barbarous age the imagination exercises a despotic power. So strong
is the perception of what is unreal that it often overpowers all the
passions of the mind and all the sensations of the body. At first,
indeed, the phantasm remains undivulged, a hidden treasure, a wordless
poetry, an invisible painting, a silent music, a dream of which the
pains and pleasures exist to the dreamer alone, a bitterness which the
heart only knoweth, a joy with which a stranger intermeddleth not. The
machinery, by which ideas are to be conveyed {336}from one person to
another, is as yet rude and defective. Between mind and mind there is
a great gulf. The imitative arts do not exist, or are in their lowest
state. But the actions of men amply prove that the faculty which gives
birth to those arts is morbidly active. It is not yet the inspiration of
poets and sculptors; but it is the amusement of the day, the terror of
the night, the fertile source of wild superstitions. It turns the clouds
into gigantic shapes, and the winds into doleful voices. The belief
which springs from it is more absolute and undoubting than any which can
be derived from evidence. It resembles the faith which we repose in our
own sensations. Thus, the Arab, when covered with wounds, saw nothing
but the dark eyes and the green kerchief of a beckoning Houri. The
Northern warrior laughed in the pangs of death when he thought of the
mead of Valhalla.

The first works of the imagination are, as we have said, poor and rude,
not from the want of genius, but from the want of materials. Phidias
could have done nothing with an old tree and a fish-bone, or Homer with
the language of New Holland.

Yet the effect of these early performances, imperfect as they must
necessarily be, is immense. All deficiencies are supplied by the
susceptibility of those to whom they are addressed. We all know what
pleasure a wooden doll, which may be bought for sixpence, will afford
to a little girl. She will require no other company. She will nurse it,
dress it, and talk to it all day. No grown-up man takes half so much
delight in one of the incomparable babies of Chantrey. In the same
manner, savages are more affected by the rude compositions of their
bards than nations more advanced in civilisation by the greatest
master-pieces of poetry. {337}In process of time, the instruments by
which the imagination works are brought to perfection. Men have not more
imagination than their rude ancestors. We strongly suspect that they
have much less. But they produce better works of imagination. Thus, up
to a certain period, the diminution of the poetical powers is far more
than compensated by the improvement of all the appliances and means
of which those powers stand in need. Then comes the short period of
splendid and consummate excellence. And then, from causes against
which it is vain to struggle, poetry begins to decline. The progress
of language, which was at first favourable, becomes fatal to it, and,
instead of compensating for the decay of the imagination, accelerates
that decay, and renders it more obvious. When the adventurer in the
Arabian tale anointed one of his eyes with the contents of the magical
box, all the riches of the earth, however widely dispersed, however
sacredly concealed, became visible to him. But, when he tried the
experiment on both eyes, he was struck with blindness. What the
enchanted elixir was to the sight of the body, language is to the sight
of the imagination. At first it calls up a world of glorious illusions;
but, when it becomes too copious, it altogether destroys the visual

As the development of the mind proceeds, symbols, instead of being
employed to convey images, are substituted for them. Civilised men think
as they trade, not in kind, but by means of a circulating medium. In
these circumstances, the sciences improve rapidly, and criticism among
the rest; but poetry, in the highest sense of the word, disappears. Then
comes the dotage of the fine arts, a second childhood, as feeble as the
former, and far more, hopeless. This is the age of {338}critical poetry,
of poetry by courtesy, of poetry to which the memory, the judgment, and
the wit contribute far more than the imagination. We readily allow that
many works of this description are excellent: we will not contend with
those who think them more valuable than the great poems of an earlier
period. We only maintain that they belong to a different species of
composition, and are produced by a different faculty.

It is some consolation to reflect that this critical school of poetry
improves as the science of criticism improves; and that the science
of criticism, like every other science, is constantly tending towards
perfection. As experiments are multiplied, principles are better

In some countries, in our own, for example, there has been an interval
between the downfall of the creative school and the rise of the
critical, a period during which imagination has been in its decrepitude,
and taste in its infancy. Such a revolutionary interregnum as this will
be deformed by every species of extravagance.

The first victory of good taste is over the bombast and conceits which
deform such times as these. But criticism is still in a very imperfect
state. What is accidental is for a long time confounded with what is
essential. General theories are drawn from detached facts. How many
hours the action of a play may be allowed to occupy,--how many similes
an Epic Poet may introduce into his first book,--whether a piece, which
is acknowledged to have a beginning and an end, may not be without a
middle, and other questions as puerile as these, formerly occupied the
attention of men of letters in France, and even in this country. Poets,
in such circumstances as these, exhibit all the {339}narrowness and
feebleness of the criticism by which their manner has been fashioned.
From outrageous absurdity they are preserved indeed by their timidity.
But they perpetually sacrifice nature and reason to arbitrary canons
of taste. In their eagerness to avoid the _mala prohibita_ of a foolish
code, they are perpetually rushing on the _mala in se_. Their great
predecessors, it is true, were as bad critics as themselves, or perhaps
worse: but those predecessors, as we have attempted to show, were
inspired by a faculty independent of criticism, and, therefore, wrote
well while they judged ill.

In time men begin to take more rational and comprehensive views of
literature. The analysis of poetry, which, as we have remarked, must at
best be imperfect, approaches nearer and nearer to exactness. The merits
of the wonderful models of former times are justly appreciated. The
frigid productions of a later age are rated at no more than their proper
value. Pleasing and ingenious imitations of the manner of the great
masters appear. Poetry has a partial revival, a Saint Martin’s Summer,
which, after a period of dreariness and decay, agreeably reminds us
of the splendour of its June. A second harvest is gathered in; though,
growing on a spent soil, it has not the heart of the former. Thus, in
the present age, Monti has successfully imitated the style of Dante;
and something of the Elizabethan inspiration has been caught by several
eminent countrymen of our own. But never will Italy produce another
Inferno, or England another Hamlet. We look on the beauties of the
modern imitations with feelings similar to those with which we see
flowers disposed in vases, to ornament the drawing-rooms of a capital.
We doubtless regard {340}them with pleasure, with greater pleasure,
perhaps, because, in the midst of a place ungenial to them, they
remind us of the distant spots on which they flourish in spontaneous
exuberance. But we miss the sap, the freshness and the bloom. Or, if
we may borrow another illustration from Queen Scheherezade, we would
compare the writers of this school to the jewellers who were employed to
complete the unfinished window of the palace of Aladdin. Whatever skill
or-cost could do was done. Palace and bazaar were ransacked for precious
stones. Yet the artists, with all their dexterity, with all their
assiduity, and with all their vast means, were unable to produce
anything comparable to the wonders which a spirit of a higher order had
wrought in a single night.

The history of every literature with which we are acquainted confirms,
we think, the principles which we have laid down. In Greece we see
the imaginative school of poetry gradually fading into the critical.
Æschylus and Pindar were succeeded by Sophocles, Sophocles by Euripides,
Euripides by the Alexandrian versifiers. Of these last, Theocritus
alone has left compositions which deserve to be read. The splendour and
grotesque fairyland of the Old Comedy, rich with such gorgeous hues,
peopled with such fantastic shapes, and vocal alternately with the
sweetest peals of music and the loudest bursts of elvish laughter,
disappeared for ever. The master-pieces of the New Comedy are known
to us by Latin translations of extraordinary merit. From these
translations, and from the expressions of the ancient critics, it is
clear that the original compositions were distinguished by grace and
sweetness, that they sparkled with wit, and abounded with pleading
sentiment; but that the creative power was {341}gone. Julius Cæsar
called Terence a half Menander,--a sure proof that Menander was not a
quarter Aristophanes.

The literature of the Romans was merely a continuation of the literature
of the Greeks. The pupils started from the point at which their masters
had, in the course of many generations, arrived. They thus almost wholly
missed the period of original invention. The only Latin poets whose
writings exhibit much vigour of imagination are Lucretius and Catullus.
The Augustan age produced nothing equal to their finer passages.

In France, that licensed jester, whose jingling cap and motley coat
concealed more genius than ever mustered in the saloon of Ninon or of
Madame Géoffrin, was succeeded by writers as decorous and as tiresome as

The poetry of Italy and of Spain has undergone the same change. But
nowhere has the revolution been more complete and violent than in
England. The same person, who, when a boy, had clapped his thrilling
hands at the first representation of the Tempest might, without
attaining to a marvellous longevity, have lived to read the earlier
works of Prior and Addison. The change, we believe, must, sooner or
later, have taken place. But its progress was accelerated, and its
character modified, by the political occurrences of the times, and
particularly by two events, the closing of the theatres under the
commonwealth, and the restoration of the House of Stuart.

We have said that the critical and poetical faculties are not only
distinct, but almost incompatible. The state of our literature during
the reigns of Elizabeth and James the First is a strong confirmation of
this {342}remark. The greatest works of imagination that the world
has ever seen were produced at that period. The national taste, in
the meantime, was to the last degree detestable. Alliterations,
puns, antithetical forms of expression lavishly employed where no
corresponding opposition existed between the thoughts expressed,
strained allegories, pedantic allusions, everything, in short, quaint
and affected, in matter and manner, made up what was then considered
as fine writing. The eloquence of the bar, the pulpit, and the
council-board, was deformed by conceits which would have disgraced
the rhyming shepherds of an Italian academy. The king quibbled on the
throne. We might, indeed, console ourselves by reflecting that his
majesty was a fool. But the chancellor quibbled in concert from the
wool-sack: and the chancellor was Francis Bacon. It is needless to
mention Sidney and the whole tribe of Euphuists; for Shakspeare himself,
the greatest poet that ever lived, falls into the same fault whenever he
means to be particularly fine. While he abandons himself to the impulse
of his imagination, his compositions are not only the sweetest and the
most sublime, but also the most faultless, that the world has ever seen.
But, as soon as his critical powers come into play, he sinks to the
level of Cowley; or rather he does ill what Cowley did well. All that
is bad in his works is bad elaborately, and of malice aforethought. The
only thing wanting to make them perfect was, that he should never have
troubled himself with thinking whether they were good or not. Like the
angels in Milton, he sinks “with compulsion and laborious flight.” His
natural tendency is upwards. That he may soar, it is only necessary that
he should not struggle to fall. He resembles an American {343}Cacique,
who, possessing in unmeasured abundance the metals which in polished
societies are esteemed the most precious, was utterly unconscious of
their value, and gave up treasures more valuable than the imperial
crowns of other countries, to secure some gaudy and far-fetched but
worthless bauble, a plated button, or a necklace of coloured glass.

We have attempted to show that, as knowledge is extended and as the
reason developes itself, the imitative arts decay. We should, therefore,
expect that the corruption of poetry would commence in the educated
classes of society. And this, in fact, is almost constantly the case.
The few great works of imagination which appear in a critical age are,
almost without exception, the works of uneducated men. Thus, at a
time when persons of quality translated French romances, and when the
universities celebrated royal deaths in verses about tritons and fauns,
a preaching tinker produced the Pilgrim’s Progress. And thus a ploughman
startled a generation which had thought Hayley and Beattie great poets,
with the adventures of Tam O’Shanter. Even in the latter part of the
reign of Elizabeth the fashionable poetry had degenerated. It retained
few vestiges of the imagination of earlier times. It had not yet been
subjected to the rules of good taste. Affectation had completely tainted
madrigals and sonnets. The grotesque conceits and the tuneless numbers
of Donne were, in the time of James, the favourite models of composition
at Whitehall and at the Temple. But, though the literature of the Court
was in its decay, the literature of the people was in its perfection.
The Muses had taken sanctuary in the theatres, the haunts of a class
whose taste was not better than that of the Right Honourables and
{344}singular good Lords who admired metaphysical love-verses, but whose
imagination retained all its freshness and vigour; whose censure and
approbation might be erroneously bestowed, but whose tears and laughter
were never in the wrong. The infection which had tainted lyric and
didactic poetry had but slightly and partially touched the drama. While
the noble and the learned were comparing eyes to burning-glasses, and
tears to terrestrial globes, coyness to an enthymeme, absence to a pair
of compasses, and an unrequited passion to the fortieth remainder-man in
an entail, Juliet leaning from the balcony, and Miranda smiling over the
chess-board, sent home many spectators, as kind and simple-hearted
as the master and mistress of Fletcher’s Ralpho, to cry themselves to

No species of fiction is so delightful to us as the old English drama.
Even its inferior productions possess a charm not to be found in any
other kind of poetry. It is the most lucid mirror that ever was held up
to nature. The creations of the great dramatists of Athens produce the
effect of magnificent sculptures, conceived by a mighty imagination,
polished with the utmost delicacy, embodying ideas of ineffable majesty
and beauty, but cold, pale, and rigid, with no bloom on the check, and
no speculation in the eye. In all the draperies, the figures, and the
faces, in the lovers and the tyrants, the Bacchanals and the Furies,
there is the same marble chillness and deadness. Most of the characters
of the French stage resemble the waxen gentlemen and ladies in the
window of a perfumer, rouged, curled, and bedizened, but fixed in
such stiff attitudes, and staring with eyes expressive of such utter
unmeaningness, that they cannot produce an illusion for a single
moment. In the English plays alone is to {345}be found the warmth, the
mellowness, and the reality of painting. We know the minds of the men
and women, as we know the faces of the men and women of Vandyke.

The excellence of these works is in a great measure the result of
two peculiarities, which the critics of the French school consider as
defects,--from the mixture of tragedy and comedy, and from the length
and extent of the action. The former is necessary to render the drama a
just representation of a world in which the laughers and the weepers are
perpetually jostling each other,--in which every event has its
serious and ludicrous side. The latter enables us to form an intimate
acquaintance with characters with which we could not possibly become
familiar during the few hours to which the unities restrict the poet.
In this respect, the works of Shakspeare, in particular, are miracles
of art. In a piece, which may be read aloud in three hours, we see a
character gradually unfold all its recesses to us. We see it change with
the change of circumstances. The petulant youth rises into the politic
and warlike sovereign. The profuse and courteous philanthropist sours
into a hater and scorn er of his kind. The tyrant is altered, by the
chastening of affliction, into a pensive moralist. The veteran general,
distinguished by coolness, sagacity, and self-command, sinks under a
conflict between love strong as death, and jealousy cruel as the grave.
The brave and loyal subject passes, step by step, to the extremities
of human depravity. We trace his progress, from the first dawnings of
unlawful ambition to the cynical melancholy of his impenitent remorse.
Yet, in these pieces, there are no unnatural transitions. Nothing is
omitted: nothing is crowded. Great as are the changes, narrow as is
{346}the compass within which they are exhibited, they shock us as
little as the gradual alterations of those familiar faces which we see
every evening and every morning. The magical skill of the poet resembles
that of the Dervise in the Spectator, who condensed all the events of
seven years into the single moment during which the king held his head
under the water.

It is deserving of remark, that, at the time of which we speak, the
plays even of men not eminently distinguished by genius,--such, for
example, as Jonson,--were far superior to the best works of imagination
in other departments. Therefore, though we conceive that, from causes
which we have already investigated, our poetry must necessarily have
declined, we think that, unless its fate had been accelerated by
external attacks, it might have enjoyed an euthanasia, that genius might
have been kept alive by the drama till its place could, in some degree,
be supplied by taste,--that there would have been scarcely any interval
between the age of sublime invention and that of agreeable imitation.
The works of Shakspeare, which were not appreciated with any degree of
justice before the middle of the eighteenth century, might then have
been the recognized standards of excellence during the latter part of
the seventeenth; and he and the great Elizabethan writers might have
been almost immediately succeeded by a generation of poets similar to
those who adorn our own times.

But the Puritans drove imagination from its last asylum. They prohibited
theatrical representations, and stigmatised the whole race of dramatists
as enemies of morality and religion. Much that is objectionable may be
found in the writers whom they reprobated; but whether they took the
best measures for stopping {347}the evil appears to us very doubtful,
and must, we think, have appeared doubtful to themselves, when, after
the lapse of a few years, they saw the unclean spirit whom they had cast
out return to his old haunts, with seven others fouler than himself.

By the extinction of the drama, the fashionable school of poetry,--a
school without truth of sentiment or harmony of versification,--without
the powers of an earlier, or the correctness of a later age,--was left
to enjoy undisputed ascendency. A vicious ingenuity, a morbid quickness
to perceive resemblances and analogies between things apparently
heterogeneous, constituted almost its only claim to admiration. Suckling
was dead. Milton was absorbed in political and theological controversy.
If Waller differed from the Cow-lei an sect of writers, he differed for
the worse. He had as little poetry as they, and much less wit; nor is
the languor of his verses less offensive than the ruggeedness of theirs.
In Dedham alone the faint dawn of a better manner was discernible.

But, low as was the state of our poetry during the civil war and the
Protectorate, a still deeper fall was at hand. Hitherto our literature
had been idiomatic. In mind as in situation we had been islanders. The
revolutions in our taste, like the revolutions in our government, had
been settled without the interference of strangers. Had this state of
things continued, the same just principles of reasoning which, about
this time, were applied with unprecedented success to every part of
philosophy would soon have conducted our ancestors to a sounder code of
criticism. There were already strong signs of improvement. Our prose
had at length worked itself clear from those quaint conceits which
still deformed almost every metrical composition. {348}The parliamentary
debates, and the diplomatic correspondence of that eventful period,
had contributed much to this reform. In such bustling times, it was
absolutely necessary to speak and write to the purpose. The absurdities
of Puritanism had, perhaps, done more. At the time when that odious
style, which deforms the writings of Hall and of Lord Bacon, was almost
universal, had appeared that stupendous work, the English Bible,--a
book which, if everything else in our language should perish, would
alone suffice to show the whole extent of its beauty and power. The
respect which the translators felt for the original prevented them from
adding any of the hideous decorations then in fashion. The ground-work
of the version, indeed, was of an earlier age. The familiarity with
which the Puritans, on almost every occasion, used the Scriptural
phrases was no doubt very ridiculous; but it produced good effects. It
was a cant; but it drove out a cant far more offensive.

The highest kind of poetry is, in a great measure, independent of those
circumstances which regulate the style of composition in prose. But with
that inferior species of poetry which succeeds to it the case is widely
different. In a few years, the good sense and good taste which had
weeded out affectation from moral and political treatises would, in the
natural course of things, have effected a similar reform in the sonnet
and the ode. The rigour of the victorious sectaries had relaxed.

A dominant religion is never ascetic. The Government connived at
theatrical representations. The influence of Shakspeare was once more
felt. But darker days were approaching. A foreign yoke was to be imposed
on our literature. Charles, surrounded by the companions of his long
exile, returned to govern {349}a nation which ought never to have cast
him out or never to have received him back. Every year which he
had passed among strangers had rendered him more unfit to rule his
countrymen. In France he had seen the refractory magistracy humbled, and
royal prerogative, though exercised by a foreign priest in the name of
a child, victorious over all opposition. This spectacle naturally
gratified a prince to whose family the opposition of Parliaments had
been so fatal. Politeness was his solitary good quality. The insults
which he had suffered in Scotland had taught him to prize it. The
effeminacy and apathy of his disposition fitted him to excel in it. The
elegance and vivacity of the French manners fascinated him. With the
political maxims and the social habits of his favourite people, he
adopted their taste in composition, and, when seated on the throne, soon
rendered it fashionable, partly by direct patronage, but still more by
that contemptible policy which, for a time, made England the last of the
nations, and raised Louis the Fourteenth to a height of power and fame,
such as no French sovereign had ever before attained.

It was to please Charles that rhyme was first introduced into our plays.
Thus, a rising blow, which would at any time have been mortal, was
dealt to the English Drama, then just recovering from its languishing
condition. Two detestable manners, the indigenous and the imported, were
now in a state of alternate conflict and amalgamation. The bombastic
meanness of the new style was blended with the ingenious absurdity of
the old; and the mixture produced something which the world had never
before seen, and which, we hope, it will never see again,--something, by
the side of which the worst nonsense of all other ages {350}appears to
advantage,--something, which those who have attempted to caricature it
have, against their will, been forced to flatter,--of which the tragedy
of Bayes is a very favourable specimen. What Lord Dorset observed
to Edward Howard might have been addressed to almost all his

               “As skilful divers to the bottom fall

               Swifter than those who cannot swim at all;

               So, in this way of writing without thinking,

               Thou hast a strange alacrity in sinking.”

From this reproach some clever men of the world must be excepted, and
among them Dorset himself. Though by no means great poets, or even good
versifiers, they always wrote with meaning, and sometimes with wit.
Nothing indeed more strongly shows to what a miserable state literature
had fallen, than the immense superiority which the occasional rhymes,
carelessly thrown on paper by men of this class, possess over the
elaborate productions of almost all the professed authors. The reigning
taste was so bad, that the success of a writer was in inverse proportion
to his labour, and to his desire of excellence. An exception must be
made for Butler, who had as much wit and learning as Cowley, and who
knew, what Cowley never knew, how to use them. A great command of good
homely English distinguishes him still more from the other writers of
the time. As for Gondibert, those may criticise it who can read
it. Imagination was extinct. Taste was depraved. Poetry, driven from
palaces, colleges, and theatres, had found an asylum in the obscure
dwelling where a Great Man, born out of due season, in disgrace, penury,
pain, and blindness, still kept uncontaminated a character and a genius
worthy of a better age. {351}Everything about Milton is wonderful; but
nothing is so wonderful as that, in an age so unfavourable to poetry, he
should have produced the greatest of modern epic poems. We are not sure
that this is not in some degree to be attributed to his want of sight.
The imagination is notoriously most active when the external world
is shut out. In sleep its illusions are perfect. They produce all the
effect of realities. In darkness its visions are always more distinct
than in the light. Every person who amuses himself with what is called
building castles in the air must have experienced this. We know artists
who, before they attempt to draw a face from memory, close their eyes,
that they may recall a more perfect image of the features and the
expression. We are therefore inclined to believe that the genius
of Milton may have been preserved from the influence of times so
unfavourable to it by his infirmity. Be this as it may, his works at
first enjoyed a very small share of popularity. To be neglected by his
contemporaries was the penalty which he paid for surpassing them.
His great poem was not generally studied or admired till writers far
inferior to him had, by obsequiously cringing to the public taste,
acquired sufficient favour to reform it.

Of these, Dryden was the most eminent. Amidst the crowd of authors who,
during the earlier years of Charles the Second, courted notoriety
by every species of absurdity and affectation, he speedily became
conspicuous. No man exercised so much influence on the age. The reason
is obvious. On no man did the age exercise so much influence. He was
perhaps the greatest of those whom we have designated as the critical
poets; and his literary career exhibited, on a reduced scale, the whole
history of the school to which {352}he belonged,--the rudeness and
extravagance of its infancy,--the propriety, the grace, the dignified
good sense, the temperate splendour of its maturity. His imagination
was torpid, till it was awakened by his judgment. He began with quaint
parallels and empty mouthing. He gradually acquired the energy of the
satirist, the gravity of the moralist, the rapture of the lyric poet.
The revolution through which English literature has been passing, from
the time of Cowley to that of Scott, may be seen in miniature within the
compass of his volumes.

His life divides itself into two parts. There is some debatable ground
on the common frontier; but the line may be drawn with tolerable
accuracy. The year 1678 is that on which we should be inclined to fix
as the date of a great change in his manner. During the preceding period
appeared some of his courtly panegyrics,--his Annus Mirabilis, and
most of his plays; indeed, all his rhyming tragedies. To the subsequent
period belong his best dramas,--All for Love, The Spanish Friar, and
Sebastian,--his satires, his translations, his didactic poems, his
fables, and his odes.

Of the small pieces which were presented to chancellors and princes it
would scarcely be fair to speak. The greatest advantage which the Fine
Arts derive from the extension of knowledge is, that the patronage of
individuals becomes unnecessary. Some writers still affect to regret the
age of patronage. None but bad writers have reason to regret it. It is
always an age of general ignorance. Where ten thousand readers are eager
for the appearance of a book, a small contribution from each makes up
a splendid remuneration for the author. Where literature is a
luxury, confined to few, each of them must pay high. If the Empress
{353}Catherine, for example, wanted an epic poem, she must have wholly
supported the poet;--just as, in a remote country village, a man who
wants a mutton-chop is sometimes forced to take the whole sheep;--a
thing which never happens where the demand is large. But men who pay
largely for the gratification of their taste will expect to have it
united with some gratification to their vanity. Flattery is carried to a
shameless extent; and the habit of flattery almost inevitably introduces
a false taste into composition. Its language is made up of hyperbolical
common-places,--offensive from their triteness,--still more offensive
from their extravagance. In no school is the trick of overstepping the
modesty of nature so speedily acquired. The writer, accustomed to find
exaggeration acceptable and necessary on one subject, uses it on all. It
is not strange, therefore, that the early panegyrical verses of Dryden
should be made up of meanness and bombast. They abound with the conceits
which his immediate predecessors had brought into fashion. But his
language and his versification were already far superior to their’s.

The Annus Mirabilis shows great command of expression, and a fine ear
for heroic rhyme. Here its merits end. Not only has it no claim to be
called poetry, but it seems to be the work of a man who could never, by
any possibility, write poetry. Its affected similes are the best part
of it. Gaudy weeds present a more encouraging spectacle than utter
barrenness. There is scarcely a single stanza in this long work to which
the imagination seems to have contributed anything. It is produced, not
by creation, but by construction. It is made up, not of pictures, but
of inferences. We will give a single instance, and {354}certainly a
favourable instance,--a quatrain which Johnson has praised. Dryden is
describing the sea-fight with the Dutch.--

               “Amidst whole heaps of spices lights a ball;

               And now their odours armed against them fly.

               Some preciously by shattered porcelain fall.

               And some by aromatic splinters die."

The poet should place his readers, as nearly as possible, in the
situation of the sufferers or the spectators. His narration ought to
produce feelings similar to those which would be excited by the event
itself. Is this the case here? Who, in a sea-fight, ever thought of the
price of the china which beats out the brains of a sailor; or of the
odour of the splinter which shatters his leg? It is not by an act of the
imagination, at once calling up the scene before the interior eye, but
by painful meditation,--by turning the subject round and round,--by
tracing out facts into remote consequences,--that these incongruous
topics are introduced into the description. Homer, it is true,
perpetually uses epithets which are not peculiarly appropriate.
Achilles is the-swift-footed, when he is sitting still. Ulysses is the
much-enduring, when he has nothing to endure. Every spear casts a long
shadow, every ox has crooked horns, and every woman a high bosom, though
these particulars may be quite beside the purpose. In our old ballads a
similar practice prevails. The gold is always red, and the ladies always
gay, though nothing whatever may depend on the hue of the gold, or the
temper of the ladies. But these adjectives are mere customary additions.
They merge in the substantives to which they are attached. If they at
all colour the idea, it is with a tinge so slight as in no respect to
alter the general effect. In the {355}passage which we have quoted from
Dryden the case is very different.._Preciously_ and _aromatic_ divert
our whole attention to themselves, and dissolve the image of the battle
in a moment. The whole poem reminds us of Lucan, and of the worst parts
of Lucan,--the sea-fight in the Bay of Marseilles, for example. The
description of the two fleets during the night is perhaps the only
passage which ought to be exempted from this censure. If it was from
the Annus Mirabilis that Milton formed his opinion, when he pronounced
Dryden a good rhymer but no poet, he certainly judged correctly. But
Dryden was, as we have said, one of those writers in whom the period of
imagination does not precede, but follow, the period of observation and

His plays, his rhyming plays in particular, are admirable subjects for
those who wish to study the morbid anatomy of the drama. He was utterly
destitute of the power of exhibiting real human beings. Even in the far
inferior talent of composing characters out of those elements into
which the imperfect process of our reason can resolve them, he was very
deficient. His men are not even good personifications; they are not
well-assorted assemblages of qualities. Now and then, indeed, he seizes
a very coarse and marked distinction, and gives us, not a likeness, but
a strong caricature, in which a single peculiarity is protruded, and
everything else neglected; like the Marquis of Granby at an inn-door,
whom we know by nothing but his baldness; or Wilkes, who is Wilkes only
in his squint. These are the best specimens of his skill. For most of
his pictures seem, like Turkey carpets, to have been expressly designed
not to resemble anything in the heavens above, in the earth beneath, or
in the waters under the earth. {356}The latter manner he practises
most frequently in his tragedies, the former in his comedies. The comic
characters are, without mixture, loathsome and despicable. The men of
Etherege and Vanbrugh are bad enough. Those of Smollett are perhaps
worse. But they do not approach to the Celadons, the Wildbloods, the
Woodalls, and the Rhodophils of Dryden. The vices of these last are
set off by a certain fierce hard impudence, to which we know nothing
comparable. Their love is the appetite of beasts; their friendship the
confederacy of knaves. The ladies seem to have been expressly created to
form helps meet for such gentlemen. In deceiving and insulting their
old fathers they do not perhaps exceed the license which, by im memorial
prescription, has been allowed to heroines. But they also cheat at
cards, rob strong boxes, put up their favours to auction, betray their
friends, abuse their rivals in the style of Billingsgate, and
invite their lovers in the language of the Piazza. These, it must be
remembered, are not the valets and waiting-women, the Mascarilles and
Nerines, but the recognised heroes and heroines, who appear as the
representatives of good society, and who, at the end of the fifth act,
marry and live very happily ever after. The sensuality, baseness, and
malice of their natures is unredeemed by any quality of a different
description,--by any touch of kindness,--or even by any honest burst of
hearty hatred and revenge. We are in a world where there is no humanity,
no veracity, no sense of shame,--a world for which any good-natured man
would gladly take in exchange the society of Milton’s devils. But, as
soon as we enter the regions of Tragedy, we find a great change. There
is no lack of fine sentiment there. Metastasio is surpassed {357}in his
own department. Scuderi is out-scuderied. We are introduced to people
whose proceedings we can trace to no motive,--of whose feelings we
can form no more idea than of a sixth sense. We have left a race of
creatures, whose love is as delicate and affectionate as the passion
which an alderman feels for a turtle. We find ourselves among being’s,
whose love is a purely disinterested emotion,--a loyalty extending to
passive obedience,--a religion, like that of the Quietists, unsupported
by any sanction of hope or fear. We see nothing but despotism without
power, and sacrifices without compensation.

We will give a few instances. In Aurengzebe, Arimant, governor of Agra,
falls in love with his prisoner Indamora. She rejects his suit with
scorn; but assures him that she shall make great use of her power over
him. He threatens to be angry. She answers, very coolly:

               “Do not: your anger, like your love, is vain:

               Whene’er I please, you must be pleased again.

               Knowing what power I have your will to bend,

               I’ll use it; for I need just such a friend."

This is no idle menace. She soon brings a letter addressed to
his rival,--orders him to read it,--asks him whether he thinks it
sufficiently tender,--and finally commands him to carry it himself. Such
tyranny as this, it may be thought, would justify resistance. Arimant
does indeed venture to remonstrate:--

                   “This fatal paper rather let me tear,

                   Than, like Bellerophon, my sentence bear."

The answer of the lady is incomparable:--

                   “You may; but ’twill not be your best advice;

                   Twill only give me pains of writing twice.

                   You know you must obey me, soon or late.

                   Why should you vainly struggle with your fate?"

{358}Poor Arimant seems to be of the same opinion. He mutters something
about fate and free-will, and walks off with the billet-doux.

In the Indian Emperor, Montezuma presents Alméria with a garland as a
token of his love, and offers to make her his queen. She replies:--

               “I take this garland, not as given by you;

               But as my merit’s and my beauty’s due;

               As for the crown which you, my slave, possess,

               To share it with you would but make me less."

In return for such proofs of tenderness as these, her admirer consents
to murder his two sons and a benefactor to whom he feels the warmest
gratitude. Lyndaraxa, in the Conquest of Granada, assumes the same lofty
tone with Abdelmelech. He complains that she smiles upon his rival.

               “Lynd. And when did I my power so far resign,

                   That you should regulate each look of mine?

               Abdel. Then, when you gave your love, you gave that power.

               Lynd.’Twas during pleasure--’tis revoked this hour.

               Abdel. I’ll hate you, and this visit is my last.

               Lynd. Do, if you can: you know I hold you fast."

That these passages violate all historical propriety, that sentiments to
which nothing similar was ever even affected except by the cavaliers of
Europe, are transferred to Mexico and Agra, is a light accusation. We
have no objection to a conventional world, an Illyrian puritan, or a
Bohemian sea-port. While the faces are good, we care little about the
back-ground. Sir Joshua Reynolds says that the curtains and hangings
in a historical painting ought to be, not velvet or cotton, but merely
drapery. The same principle should be applied to poetry and romance. The
truth of character is the first object; the truth of place and time is
to be considered only in the second place. Puff himself could tell the
actor to turn out his toes, and remind him that {359}Keeper Hatton was
a great dancer. We wish that, in our own time, a writer of a very
different order from Puff had not too often forgotten human nature in
the niceties of upholstery, millinery, and cookery.

We blame Dryden, not because the persons of his dramas are not Moors or
Americans, but because they are not men and women;--not because love,
such as he represents it, could not exist in a harem or in a wigwam, but
because it could not exist anywhere. As is the love of his heroes, such
are all their other emotions. All their qualities, their courage, their
generosity, their pride, are on the same colossal scale. Justice and
prudence are virtues which can exist only in a moderate degree, and
which change their nature and their name if pushed to excess. Of justice
and prudence, therefore, Dryden leaves his favourites destitute. He
did not care to give them what he could not give without measure. The
tyrants and ruffians are merely the heroes altered by a few touches,
similar to those which transformed the honest face of Sir Roger de
Coverley into the Saracen’s head. Through the grin and frown the
original features are still perceptible.

It is in the tragi-comedies that these absurdities strike us most.
The two races of men, or rather the angels and the baboons, are there
presented to us together. We meet in one scene with nothing but
gross, selfish, unblushing, lying libertines of both sexes, who, as
a punishment, we suppose, for their depravity, are condemned to talk
nothing but prose. But, as soon as we meet with people who speak in
verse, we know that we are in society which would have enraptured the
Cathos and Madelon of Moliere, in society for which Croondates would
have too little of the lover, and Clelia too much of the coquette.
{360}As Dryden was unable to render his plays interesting by means of
that which is the peculiar and appropriate excellence of the drama,
it was necessary that he should find some substitute for it. In his
comedies he supplied its place, sometimes by wit, but more frequently
by intrigue, by disguises, mistakes of persons, dialogues at cross
purposes, hair-breadth escapes, perplexing concealments, and surprising
disclosures. He thus succeeded at least in making these pieces very

In his tragedies he trusted, and not altogether without reason, to
his diction and his versification. It was on this account, in all
probability, that he so eagerly adopted, and so reluctantly abandoned,
the practice of rhyming in his plays. What is unnatural appears less
unnatural in that species of verse than in fines which approach more
nearly to common conversation; and in the management of the heroic
couplet Dryden has never been equalled. It is unnecessary to urge any
arguments against a fashion now universally condemned. But it is worthy
of observation, that, though Dryden was deficient in that talent which
blank verse exhibits to the greatest advantage, and was certainly the
best writer of heroic rhyme in our language, yet the plays which have,
from the time of their first appearance, been considered as his best,
are in blank verse. No experiment can be more decisive.

It must be allowed that the worst even of the rhyming tragedies contains
good description and magnificent rhetoric. But, even when we forget that
they are plays, and, passing by their dramatic improprieties, consider
them with reference to the language, we are perpetually disgusted by
passages which it is difficult to conceive how any author could have
written, or any {361}audience have tolerated, rants in which the raving
violence of the manner forms a strange contrast with the abject tameness
of the thought. The author laid the whole fault on the audience, and
declared that, when he wrote them, he considered them bad enough to
please. This defence is unworthy of a man of genius, and, after all, is
no defence. Otway pleased without rant; and so might Dryden have done,
if he had possessed the powers of Otway. The fact is, that he had a
tendency to bombast, which, though subsequently corrected by time
and thought, was never wholly removed, and which showed itself in
performances not designed to please the rude mob of the theatre.

Some indulgent critics have represented this failing as an indication
of genius, as the profusion of unlimited wealth, the wantonness of
exuberant vigour. To us it seems to bear a nearer affinity to the
tawdriness of poverty, or the spasms and convulsions of weakness. Dryden
surely had not more imagination than Homer, Dante, or Milton, who
never fall into this vice. The swelling diction of Æschylus and Isaiah
resembles that of Almanzor and Maximin no more than the tumidity of a
muscle resembles the tumidity of a boil. The former is symptomatic
of health and strength, the latter of debility and disease. If ever
Shakspeare rants, it is not when his imagination is hurrying him along,
but when he is hurrying his imagination along,--when his mind is for a
moment jaded,--when, as was said of Euripides, he resembles a lion, who
excites his own fury by lashing himself with his tail. What happened
to Shakspeare from the occasional suspension of his powers happened
to Dryden from constant impotence. He, like his confederate Lee, had
judgment enough to appreciate the great poets of the preceding age,
but not {362}judgment enough to shun competition with them. He felt and
admired their wild and daring sublimity. That it belonged to another age
than that in which he lived and required other talents than those which
he possessed, that, in aspiring to emulate it, he was wasting, in
a hopeless attempt, powers which might render him pre-eminent in a
different career, was a lesson which he did not learn till late. As
those knavish enthusiasts, the French prophets, courted inspiration by
mimicking the writhings, swoonings, and gaspings which they considered
as its symptoms, he attempted, by affected fits of poetical fury,
to bring on a real paroxysm; and, like them, he got nothing but his
distortions for his pains.

Horace very happily compares those who, in his time, imitated Pindar
to the youth who attempted to fly to heaven on waxen wings, and who
experienced so fatal and ignominious a fall. His own admirable good
sense preserved him from this error, and taught him to cultivate a
style in which excellence was within his reach. Dryden had not the same
self-knowledge. He saw that the greatest poets were never so successful
as when they rushed beyond the ordinary bounds, and that some
inexplicable good fortune preserved them from tripping even when they
staggered on the brink of nonsense. He did not perceive that they were
guided and sustained by a power denied to himself. They wrote from
the dictation of the imagination; and they found a response in the
imaginations of others. He, on the contrary, sat down to work himself,
by reflection and argument, into a deliberate wildness, a rational

In looking over the admirable designs which accompany the Faust, we have
always been much struck by {363}one which represents the wizard and the
tempter riding at full speed. The demon sits on his furious horse as
heedlessly as if he were reposing on a chair. That he should keep his
saddle in such a posture, would seem impossible to any who did not
know that he was secure in the privileges of a superhuman nature. The
attitude of Faust, on the contrary, is the perfection of horsemanship.
Poets of the first order might safely write as desperately as
Mephistophiles rode. But Dryden, though admitted to communion with
higher spirits, though armed with a portion of their power, and
intrusted with some of their secrets, was of another race. What they
might securely venture to do, it was madness in him to attempt. It
was necessary that taste and critical science should supply his

We will give a few examples. Nothing can be finer than the description
of Hector at the Grecian wall:--

[Illustration: 0411]

What daring expressions! Yet how significant! How picturesque! Hector
seems to rise up in his strength and fury. The gloom of night in his
frown,--the fire burning in his eyes,--the javelins and the
blazing armour,--the mighty rush through the gates and down
the battlements,--the trampling and the infinite roar of the
multitude,--everything is with us; everything is real. {364}Dryden has
described a very similar event in Maximin, and has done his best to he
sublime, as follows:--

               “There with a forest of their darts he strove,

               And stood like Capaneus defying Jove;

               With his broad sword the boldest beating down,

               Till Fate grew pale, lest he should win the town,

               And turned the iron leaves of its dark book

               To make new dooms, or mend what it mistook."

How exquisite is the imagery of the fairy songs in the Tempest and in
the Midsummer Night’s Dream; Ariel riding through the twilight on the
bat, or sucking in the bells of flowers with the bee; or the little
bower-women of Titania, driving the spiders from the couch of the Queen!
Dryden truly said, that

               “Shakspeare’s magic could not copied be:

               Within that circle none durst walk but he."

It would have been well if he had not himself dared to step within
the enchanted line, and drawn on himself a fate similar to that
which, according to the old superstition, punished such presumptuous
interference. The following lines are parts of the song of his

               “Merry, merry, merry, we sail from the East,

               Half-tippled at a rainbow feast.

               In the bright moonshine, while winds whistle loud,

               Tivv, tivy, tivy, we mount and we fly,

               All racking along in a downy white cloud;

               And lest our leap from the sky prove too far,

               We slide on the back of a new falling star,

               And drop from above

               In a jelly of love."

These are very favourable instances. Those who wish for a bad one may
read the dying speeches of Maximin, and may compare them with the last
scenes of Othello and Lear.

If Dryden had died before the expiration of the first of the periods
into which we have divided his literary {365}life, he would have left
a reputation, at best, little higher than that of Lee or Davenant. He
would have been known only to men of letters; and by them he would have
been mentioned as a writer who threw away, on subjects which he was
incompetent to treat, powers which, judiciously employed, might have
raised him to eminence; whose diction and whose numbers had sometimes
very high merit; but all whose works were blemished by a false taste,
and by errors of gross negligence. A few of his prologues and epilogues
might perhaps still have been remembered and quoted. In these little
pieces he early showed all the powers which afterwards rendered him the
greatest of modern satirists. But, during the latter part of his
life, he gradually abandoned the drama. His plays appeared at longer
intervals. He renounced rhyme in tragedy. His language became less
turgid--his characters less exaggerated. He did not indeed produce
correct representations of human nature; but he ceased to daub such
monstrous chimeras as those which abound in his earlier pieces. Here and
there passages occur worthy of the best ages of the British stage. The
style which the drama requires changes with every change of character
and situation. He who can vary his manner to suit the variation is the
great dramatist; but he who excels in one manner only will, when that
manner happens to be appropriate, appear to be a great dramatist; as the
hands of a watch which does not go point right once in the twelve hours.
Sometimes there is a scene of solemn debate. This a mere rhetorician may
write as well as the greatest tragedian that ever lived. We confess
that to us the speech of Sempronius in Cato seems very nearly as good
as Shakspeare could have made it. But when the senate breaks up,
and {366}we find that the lovers and their mistresses, the hero, the
villain, and the deputy-villain, all continue to harangue in the same
style, we perceive the difference between a man who can write a play
and a man who can write a speech. In the same manner, wit, a talent
for description, or a talent for narration, may, for a time, pass for
dramatic genius. Dryden was an incomparable reasoned in verse. He was
conscious of his power; he was proud of it; and the authors of
the Rehearsal justly charged him with abusing it. His warriors and
princesses are fond of discussing points of amorous casuistry, such
as would have delighted a Parliament of Love. They frequently go still
deeper, and speculate on philosophical necessity and the origin of evil.

There were, however, some occasions which absolutely required this
peculiar talent. Then Dryden was indeed at home. All his best scenes are
of this description. They are all between men; for the heroes of Dryden,
like many other gentlemen, can never talk sense when ladies are in
company. They are all intended to exhibit the empire of reason
over violent passion. We have two interlocutors, the one eager and
impassioned, the other high, cool, and judicious. The composed and
rational character gradually acquires the ascendency. His fierce
companion is first inflamed to rage by his reproaches, then overawed
by his equanimity, convinced by his arguments, and soothed by his
persuasions. This is the case in the scene between Hector and Troilus,
in that between Antony and Ventidius, and in that between Sebastian and
Dorax. Nothing of the same kind in Shakspeare is equal to them, except
the quarrel between Brutus and Cassius, which is worth them all three.
{367}Some years before his death, Dryden altogether ceased to write for
the stage. He had turned his powers in a new direction, with success
the most splendid and decisive. His taste had gradually awakened his
creative faculties. The first rank in poetry was beyond his reach; but
he challenged and secured the most honorable place in the second. His
imagination resembled the wings of an ostrich. It enabled him to run,
though not to soar. When he attempted the highest flights, he became
ridiculous; but, while he remained in a lower region, he outstripped all

All his natural and all his acquired powers fitted him to found a good
critical school of poetry. Indeed he carried his reforms too far for
his age. After his death, our literature retrograded: and a century was
necessary to bring it back to the point at which he left it. The general
soundness and healthfulness of his mental constitution, his information
of vast superficies though of small volume, his wit scarcely inferior to
that of the most distinguished followers of Donne, his eloquence, grave,
deliberate, and commanding, could not save him from disgraceful failure
as a rival of Shakspeare, but raised him far above the level of Boileau.
His command of language was immense. With him died the secret of the
old poetical diction of England,--the art of producing rich effects by
familiar words. In the following century, it was as completely lost as
the Gothic method of painting glass, and was but poorly supplied by
the laborious and tesselated imitations of Mason and Gray. On the
other hand, he was the first writer under whose skilful management the
scientific vocabulary fell into natural and pleasing verse. In this
department, he succeeded as completely as his contemporary Gibbons
succeeded in the similar {368}enterprise of carving the most delicate
flowers from heart of oak. The toughest and most knotty parts of
language became ductile at his touch. His versification in the same
manner, while it gave the first model of that neatness and precision
which the following generation esteemed so highly, exhibited, at the
same time, the last examples of nobleness, freedom, variety of pause,
and cadence. His tragedies in rhyme, however worthless in themselves,
had at least served the purpose of nonsense-verses; they had taught him
all the arts of melody which the heroic couplet admits. For bombast, his
prevailing vice, his new subjects gave little opportunity; his better
taste gradually discarded it.

He possessed, as we have said, in a pre-eminent degree, the power of
reasoning in verse; and this power was now peculiarly useful to him. His
logic is by no means uniformly sound. On points of criticism, he always
reasons ingeniously; and, when he is disposed to be honest, correctly.
But the theological and political questions which he undertook to treat
in verse were precisely those which he understood least. His arguments,
therefore, are often worthless. But the manner in which they are stated
is beyond all praise. The style is transparent. The topics follow each
other in the happiest order. The objections are drawn up in such a
manner that the whole fire of the reply may be brought to bear on them.
The circumlocutions which are substituted for technical phrases are
clear, neat, and exact. The illustrations at once adorn and elucidate
the reasoning. The sparkling epigrams of Cowley, and the simple
garrulity of the buidesque poets of Italy, are alternately employed, in
the happiest manner, to give effect to what is obvious, or clearness
to what is obscure. {369}His literary creed was catholic, even
to latitudinarianism; not from any want of acuteness, but from a
disposition to be easily satisfied. He was quick to discern the smallest
glimpse of merit; he was indulgent even to gross improprieties, when
accompanied by any redeeming talent. When he said a severe thing, it
was to serve a temporary purpose,--to support an argument, or to tease a
rival. Never was so able a critic so free from fastidiousness. He loved
the old poets, especially Shakspeare. He admired the ingenuity which
Donne and Cowley had so wildly abused. He did justice, amidst the
general silence, to the memory of Milton. He praised to the skies the
school-boy lines of Addison. Always looking on the fair side of every
object, he admired extravagance on account of the invention which he
supposed it to indicate; he excused affectation in favour of wit; he
tolerated even tameness for the sake of the correctness which was its

It was probably to this turn of mind, rather than to the more
disgraceful causes which Johnson has assigned, that we are to attribute
the exaggeration which dis-’figures the panegyrics of Dryden. No writer,
it must be owned, has carried the flattery of dedication to a greater
length. But this was not, we suspect, merely interested servility: it
was the overflowing of a mind singularly disposed to admiration,--of a
mind which diminished vices, and magnified virtues and obligations. The
most adulatory of his addresses is that in which he dedicates the State
of Innocence to Mary of Modena. Johnson thinks it strange that any
man should use such language without self-detestation. But he has not
remarked that to the very same work is prefixed an eulogium on Milton,
which certainly could not have {370}been acceptable at the court of
Charles the Second. Many years later, when Whig principles were in a
great measure triumphant, Sprat refused to admit a monument of John
Philips into Westminster Abbey--because, in the epitaph, the name of
Milton incidently occurred. The walls of his church, he declared, should
not be polluted by the name of a republican! Dryden was attached, both
by principle and interest, to the Court. But nothing could deaden his
sensibility to excellence. We are unwilling to accuse him severely,
because the same disposition, which prompted him to pay so generous a
tribute to the memory of a poet whom his patrons detested, hurried him
into extravagance when he described a princess distinguished by the
splendour of her beauty and the graciousness of her manners.

This is an amiable temper; but it is not the temper of great men. Where
there is elevation of character, there will be fastidiousness. It
is only in novels and on tombstones that we meet with people who are
indulgent to the faults of others, and unmerciful to their own; and
Dry den, at all events, was not one of these paragons. His charity was
extended most liberally to » others; but it certainly began at home. In
taste he was by no means deficient. His critical work! are, beyond all
comparison, superior to any which had, till then, appeared in England.
They were generally intended as apologies for his own poems, rather than
as expositions of general principles; he, therefore, often attempts
to deceive the reader by sophistry which could scarcely have
deceived himself. His dicta are the dicta, not of a judge, but of an
advocate;--often of an advocate in an unsound cause. Yet, in the very
act of misrepresenting the laws of composition, he shows how {371}well
he understands them. But he was perpetually acting against his better
knowledge. His sins were sins against light. He trusted that what was
bad would be pardoned for the sake of what was good. What was good, he
took no pains to make better. He was not, like most persons who rise to
eminence, dissatisfied even with his best productions. He had set up no
unattainable standard of perfection, the contemplation of which might
at once improve and mortify him. His path was not attended by an
unapproachable mirage of excellence, for ever receding, and for ever
pursued. He was not disgusted by the negligence of others; and he
extended the same toleration to himself. His mind was of a slovenly
character,--fond of splendour, but indifferent to neatness. Hence most
of his writings exhibit the sluttish magnificence of a Russian noble,
all vermin and diamonds, dirty linen and inestimable sables. Those
faults which spring from affectation, time and thought in a great
measure removed from his poems. But his carelessness he retained to the
last. If towards the close of his life he less frequently went wrong
from negligence, it was only because long habits of composition
rendered it more easy to go right. In his best pieces we find false
rhymes,--triplets, in which the third line appears to be a mere
intruder, and, while it breaks the music, adds nothing to the
meaning,--gigantic Alexandrines of fourteen and sixteen syllables,
and truncated verses for which he never troubled himself to find a
termination or a partner.

Such are the beauties and the faults which may be found in profusion
throughout the later works of Dry-den. A more just and complete estimate
of his natural and acquired powers,--of the merits of his style and of
its blemishes,--may be formed from the Hind and {372}Panther, than from
any of his other writings. As a didactic poem, it is far superior to
the Religio Laici. The satirical parts, particularly the character
of Burnet, are scarcely inferior to the best passages in Absalom and
Achitophel. There are, moreover, occasional touches of a tenderness
which effects us more, because it is decent, rational, and manly, and
reminds us of the best scenes in his tragedies. His versification sinks
and swells in happy unison with the subject; and his wealth of
language seems to be unlimited. Yet, the carelessness with which he has
constructed his plot, and the innumerable inconsistencies into which
he is every moment falling, detract much from the pleasure which such
various excellence affords.

In Absalom and Achitophel he hit upon a new and rich vein, which he
worked with signal success. The ancient satirists were the subjects of
a despotic government. They were compelled to abstain from political
topics, and to confine their attention to the frailties of private life.
They might, indeed, sometimes venture to take liberties with public men,
“Quorum Flaminia tegitur cinis atque Latina.”

Thus Juvenal immortalised the obsequious senators who met to decide the
fate of the memorable turbot. His fourth satire frequently reminds us of
the great political poem of Dryden; but it was not written till Domitian
had fallen: and it wants something of the peculiar flavour which belongs
to contemporary invective alone. His anger has stood so long that,
though the body is not impaired, the effervescence, the first cream,
is gone. Boileau lay under similar restraints; and, if he had been free
from all restraint, would have been no match for our countryman.

The advantages which Dryden derived from the nature {373}of his subject
he improved to the very utmost. His maimer is almost perfect. The style
of Horace and Boileau is fit only for light subjects. The Frenchman
did indeed attempt to turn the theological reasonings of the Provincial
Letters into verse, but with very indifferent success. The glitter of
Pope is cold. The ardour of Persius is without brilliancy. Magnificent
versification and ingenious combinations rarely harmonise with the
expression of deep feeling. In Juvenal and Dryden alone we have the
sparkle and the heat together. Those great satirists succeeded in
communicating; the fervour of their feelings to materials the most
incombustible, and kindled the whole mass into a blaze, at once dazzling
and destructive. We cannot, indeed, think, without regret, of the part
which so eminent a writer as Dryden took in the disputes of that period.
There was, no doubt, madness and wickedness on both sides. But there was
liberty on the one, and despotism on the other. On this point, however,
we will not dwell. At Talavera the English and French troops for a
moment suspended their conflict, to drink of a stream which flowed
between them. The shells were passed across from enemy to enemy without
apprehension or molestation. We, in the same manner, would rather
assist our political adversaries to drink with us of that fountain of
intellectual pleasure, which should be the common refreshment of both
parties, than disturb and pollute it with the havock of unseasonable

Macflenoe is inferior to Absalom and Achitophel, only in the subject.
In the execution it is even superior. But the greatest work of Dryden
was the last, the Ode on Saint Cecilia’s day. It is the master-piece
of the second class of poetry, and ranks but just below {374}the great
models of the first. It reminds us of the Pedasus of Achilles.

By comparing it with the impotent ravings of the heroic tragedies,
we may measure the progress which the mind of Dryden had made. He had
learned to avoid a too audacious competition with higher natures, to
keep at a distance from the verge of bombast or nonsense, to venture
on no expression which did not convey a distinct idea to his own mind.
There is none of that “darkness visible” of style which he had formerly
affected, and in which the greatest poets only can succeed. Everything
is definite, significant, and picturesque. His early writings resembled
the gigantic works of those Chinese gardeners who attempt to rival
nature herself, to form cataracts of terrific height and sound, to
raise precipitous ridges of mountains, and to imitate in artificial
plantations the vastness and the gloom of some primeval forest. This
manner he abandoned; nor did he ever adopt the Dutch taste which Pope
affected, the trim parterres, and the rectangular walks. He rather
resembled our Kents and Browns, who, imitating the great features of
landscape without emulating them, consulting the genius of the place,
assisting nature and carefully disguising their art, produced, not a
Chainouni or a Niagara, but a Stowe or a Hagley.

We are, on the whole, inclined to regret that Dryden did not accomplish
his purpose of writing an epic poem. It certainly would not have been
a work of the highest rank. It would not have rivalled the Iliad, the
Odyssey, or the Paradise Lost; but it would have been superior to the
productions of Apollonius, Lucan, or Statius, and not inferior to
the Jerusalem Delivered. {375}It would probably have been a vigorous
narrative, animated with something of the spirit of the old romances,
enriched with much splendid description, and interspersed with fine
declamations and disquisitions. The danger of Dryden would have been
from aiming too high; from dwelling too much, for example, on his angels
of kingdoms, and attempting a competition with that great writer who
in his own time had so incomparably succeeded in representing to us the
sights and sounds of another world. To Milton, and to Milton alone,
belonged the secrets of the great deep, the beach of sulphur, the ocean
of fire, the palaces of the fallen dominations, glimmering through the
everlasting shade, the silent wilderness of verdure and fragrance where
armed angels kept watch over the sleep of the first lovers, the portico
of diamond, the sea of jasper, the sapphire pavement empurpled with
celestial roses, and the infinite ranks of the Cherubim, blazing with
adamant and gold. The council, the tournament, the procession, the
crowded cathedral, the camp, the guardroom, the chase, were the proper
scenes for Dryden.

But we have not space to pass in review all the works which Dryden
wrote. We, therefore, will not speculate longer on those which he might
possibly have written. He may, on the whole, be pronounced to have been
a man possessed of splendid talents, which he often abused, and of a
sound judgment, the admonitions of which he often neglected; a man who
succeeded only in an inferior department of his art, but who, in that
department, succeeded pre-eminently; and who, with a more independent
spirit, a more anxious desire of excellence, and more respect for
himself, would, in his own walk, have attained to absolute perfection.


{376}(_Edinburgh Review_, May 1828.)

To write history respectably--that is, to abbreviate despatches, and
make extracts from speeches, to intersperse in due proportion epithets
of praise and abhorrence, to draw up antithetical characters of great
men, setting forth how many contradictory virtues and vices they united,
and abounding in _withs_ and _withouts_--all this is very easy. But
to be a really great historian is perhaps the rarest of intellectual
distinctions. Many scientific works are, in their kind, absolutely
perfect. There are poems which we should be inclined to designate as
faultless, or as disfigured only by blemishes which pass unnoticed in
the general blaze of excellence. There are speeches, some speeches of
Demosthenes particularly, in which it would be impossible to alter a
word without altering it for the worse. But we are acquainted with
no history which approaches to our notion of what a history ought to
be--with no history which does not widely depart, either on the right
hand or on the left, from the exact line.

The cause may easily be assigned. This province of literature is a
debatable land. It lies on the confines of two distinct territories. It
is under the

     (1) _The Romance of History. England_. By Henry Neete.
     London, 1828.

jurisdiction {377}of two hostile powers; and, like other districts
similarly situated, it is ill-defined, ill cultivated, and ill
regulated. Instead of being equally shared between its two rulers, the
Reason and the Imagination, it falls alternately under the sole and
absolute dominion of each. It is sometimes fiction. It is sometimes

History, it has been said, is philosophy teaching by examples.
Unhappily, what the philosophy gains in soundness and depth the examples
generally lose in vividness. A perfect historian must possess an
imagination sufficiently powerful to make his narrative affecting and
picturesque. Yet he must control it so absolutely as to content himself
with the materials which he finds, and to refrain from supplying
deficiencies by additions of his own. He must be a profound and
ingenious reasoner. Yet he must possess sufficient self-command to
abstain from casting his facts in the mould of his hypothesis. Those who
can justly estimate these almost insuperable difficulties will not think
it strange that every writer should have failed, either in the narrative
or in the speculative department of history.

It may be laid down as a general rule, though subject to considerable
qualifications and exceptions, that _history begins in novel and ends
in essay_. Of the romantic historians Herodotus is the earliest and the
best. His animation, his simple-hearted tenderness, his wonderful talent
for description and dialogue, and the pure sweet flow of his language,
place him at the head of narrators. He reminds us of a delightful child.
There is a grace beyond the reach of affectation in his awkwardness, a
malice in his innocence, an intelligence in his nonsense, an insinuating
eloquence in his lisp. We know of no writer who makes such {378}interest
for himself and his hook in the heart of the reader. At the distance
of three-and-twenty centuries, we feel for him the same sort of pitying
fondness which Fontaine and Gay are said to have inspired in society.
He has written an incomparable book. He has written something better
perhaps than the best history; but he has not written a good history;
he is, from the first to the last chapter, an inventor. We do not here
refer merely to those gross fictions with which he has been reproached
by the critics of later times. We speak of that colouring which is
equally diffused over his whole narrative, and which perpetually leaves
the most sagacious reader in doubt what to reject and what to receive.
The most authentic parts of his work bear the same relation to his
wildest legends which Henry the Fifth bears to the Tempest. There was
an expedition undertaken by Xerxes against Greece; and there was an
invasion of France. There was a battle at Platæa; and there was a battle
at Agincourt. Cambridge and Exeter, the Constable and the Dauphin,
were persons as real as Demaratus and Pausa-nias. The harangue of the
Archbishop on the Salic Law and the Book of Numbers differs much less
from the orations which have in all ages proceeded from the right
reverend bench than the speeches of Mardonius and Artabanus from those
which were delivered at the council-board of Susa. Shakspeare gives us
enumerations of armies, and returns of killed and wounded, which are
not, we suspect, much less accurate than those of Herodotus. There are
passages in Herodotus nearly as long as acts of Shakspeare, in which
everything is told dramatically, and in which the narrative serves only
the purpose of stage-directions. It is possible, no doubt, that the
substance of some real conversations{379} may have been reported to the
historian. But events, which, if they ever happened, happened in ages
and nations so remote that the particulars could never have been known
to him, are related with the greatest minuteness of detail. We have all
that Candaules said to Gyges, and all that passed between Astyages and
Harpagus. We are, therefore, unable to judge whether, in the account
which he gives of transactions respecting which he might possibly have
been well informed, we can trust to anything beyond the naked outline;
whether, for example, the answer of Gelon to the ambassadors of the
Grecian confederacy, or the expressions which passed between Aristides
and Themistocles at their famous interview, have been correctly
transmitted to us. The great events, are, no doubt, faithfully related.
So, probably, are many of the slighter circumstances; but which of them
it is impossible to ascertain. The fictions are so much like the facts,
and the facts so much like the fictions, that, with respect to many most
interesting particulars, our belief is neither given nor withheld, but
remains in an uneasy and interminable state of abeyance. We know that
there is truth; but we cannot exactly decide where it lies.

The faults of Herodotus are the faults of a simple and imaginative
mind. Children and servants are remarkably Herodotean in their style of
narration. They tell everything dramatically. Their _says hes_ and _says
shes_ are proverbial. Every person who has had to settle their disputes
knows that, even when they have no intention to deceive, their reports
of conversation always require to be carefully sifted. If an educated
man were giving an account of the late change of administration, he
would say--“Lord Goderich resigned; {380}and the King, in consequence,
sent for the Duke of Wellington.” A porter tells the story as if he
had been hid behind the curtains of the royal bed at Windsor: “So Lord
Goderich says, ‘I cannot manage this business; I must go out.’ So
the King says,--says he, ‘Well, then, I must send for the Duke of
Wellington--that’s all.’” This is in the very manner of the father of

Herodotus wrote as it was natural that he should write. He wrote for a
nation susceptible, curious, lively, insatiably desirous of novelty
and excitement; for a nation in which the fine arts had attained their
highest excellence, but in which philosophy was still in its infancy.
His countrymen had but recently begun to cultivate prose composition.
Public transactions had generally been recorded in verse. The first
historians might, therefore, indulge without fear of censure in the
license allowed to their predecessors the bards. Books were few. The
events of former times were learned from tradition and from popular
ballads; the manners of foreign countries from the reports of
travellers. It is well known that the mystery which overhangs what is
distant, either in space or time, frequently prevents us from censuring
as unnatural what we perceive to be impossible. We stare at a dragoon
who has killed three French cuirassiers, as a prodigy; yet we read,
without the least disgust, how Godfrey slew his thousands, and Rinaldo
his ten thousands. Within the last hundred years, stories about China
and Bantam, which ought not to have imposed on an old nurse, were
gravely laid down as foundations of political theories by eminent
philosophers. What the time of the Crusades is to us, the generation of
Croesus and Solon was to the Greeks of the time of Herodotus. Babylon
{381}was to them what Pekin was to the French academicians of the last

For such a people was the book of Herodotus composed; and, if we may
trust to a report, not sanctioned indeed by writers of high authority,
but in itself not improbable, it was composed, not to be read, but to
be heard. It was not to the slow circulation of a few copies, which the
rich only could possess, that the aspiring author looked for his reward.
The great Olympian festival,--the solemnity which collected multitudes,
proud of the Grecian name, from the wildest mountains of Doris, and the
remotest colonies of Italy and Libya,--was to witness his triumph. The
interest of the narrative, and the beauty of the style, were aided
by the imposing effect of recitation,--by the splendour of the
spectacle,--by the powerful influence of sympathy. A critic who could
have asked for authorities in the midst of such a scene must have been
of a cold and sceptical nature; and few such critics were there: As was
the historian, such were the auditors,--inquisitive, credulous, easily
moved by religious awe or patriotic enthusiasm. They were the very
men to hear with delight of strange beasts, and birds, and trees,--of
dwarfs, and giants, and cannibals,--of gods, whose very names it was
impiety to utter,--of ancient dynasties, which had left behind them
monuments surpassing all the works of later times,--of towns like
provinces,--of rivers like seas,--of stupendous walls, and temples, and
pyramids,--of the rites which the Magi performed at daybreak on the tops
of the mountains,--of the secrets inscribed on the eternal obelisks of
Memphis. With equal delight they would have listened to the
graceful romances of their own country. They now heard of the exact
{382}accomplishment of obscure predictions, of the punishment of crimes
over which the justice of heaven had seemed to slumber,--of dreams,
omens, warnings from the dead,--of princesses, for whom noble suitors
contended in every generous exercise of strength and skill,--of infants,
strangely preserved from the dagger of the assassin, to fulfil high

As the narrative approached their own times, the interest became still
more absorbing. The chronicler had now to tell the story of that
great conflict from which Europe dates its intellectual and political
supremacy,--a story which, even at this distance of time, is the most
marvellous and the most touching in the annals of the human race,--a
story abounding with all that is wild and wonderful, with all that is
pathetic and animating; with the gigantic caprices of infinite wealth
and despotic power--with the mightier miracles of wisdom, of virtue,
and of courage. He told them of rivers dried up in a day,--of
provinces famished for a meal,--of a passage for ships hewn through the
mountains,--of a road for armies spread upon the waves,--of monarchies
and commonwealths swept away,--of anxiety, of terror, of confusion, of
despair!--and then of proud and stubborn hearts tried in that extremity
of evil, and not found wanting,--of resistance long maintained against
desperate odds,--of lives dearly sold, when resistance could be
maintained no more,--of signal deliverance, and of unsparing revenge.
Whatever gave a stronger air of reality to a narrative so well
calculated to inflame the passions, and to flatter national pride, was
certain to be favourably received.

Between the time at which Herodotus is said to have composed his
history, and the close of the Peloponnesian {383}war, about forty years
elapsed,--forty years, crowded with great military and political events.
The circumstances of that period produced a great effect on the
Grecian character; and nowhere was this effect so remarkable as in the
illustrious democracy of Athens. An Athenian, indeed, even in the
time of Herodotus, would scarcely have written a book so romantic and
garrulous as that of Herodotus. As civilisation advanced, the citizens
of that famous republic became still less visionary, and still less
simple-hearted. They aspired to know where their ancestors had been
content to doubt; they began to doubt where their ancestors had thought
it their duty to believe. Aristophanes is fond of alluding to this
change in the temper of his countrymen. The father and son, in the
Clouds, are evidently representatives of the generations to which they
respectively belonged. Nothing more clearly illustrates the nature of
this moral revolution than the change which passed upon tragedy. The
wild sublimity of Æschylus became the scoff of every young Phidippides.
Lectures on abstruse points of philosophy, the fine distinctions of
casuistry, and the dazzling fence of rhetoric, were substituted for
poetry. The language lost something of that infantine sweetness which
had characterised it. It became less like the ancient Tuscan, and more
like the modern French.

The fashionable logic of the Greeks, was, indeed, far from strict. Logic
never can be strict where books are scarce, and where information is
conveyed orally. We are all aware how frequently fallacies, which, when
set down on paper, are at once detected, pass for unanswerable arguments
when dexterously and volubly urged in Parliament, at the bar, or in
private conversation. The reason is evident. We cannot inspect {384}them
closely enough to perceive their inaccuracy. We cannot readily compare
them with each other. We lose sight of one part of the subject before
another, which ought to be received in connection with it, comes before
us; and, as there is no immutable record of what has been admitted and
of what has been denied, direct contradictions pass muster with little
difficulty. Almost all the education of a Greek consisted in talking and
listening. His opinions on government were picked up in the debates of
the assembly. If he wished to study metaphysics, instead of shutting
himself up with a book, he walked down to the market-place to look for
a sophist. So completely were men formed to these habits, that even
writing acquired a conversational air. The philosophers adopted the form
of dialogue, as the most natural mode of communicating knowledge. Their
reasonings have the merits and the defects which belong to that species
of composition, and are characterised rather by quickness and subtilty
than by depth and precision. Truth is exhibited in parts, and by
glimpses. Innumerable clever hints are given; but no sound and durable
system is erected. The _argumentum ad hominem_, a kind of argument most
efficacious in debate, but utterly useless for the investigation of
general principles, is among their favourite resources. Hence, though
nothing can be more admirable than the skill which Socrates displays in
the conversations which Plato has reported or invented, his victories,
for the most part, seem to us unprofitable. A trophy is set up; but no
new province is added to the dominions of the human mind.

Still, where thousands of keen and ready intellects were constantly
employed in speculating on the qualities {385}of actions and on the
principles of government, it was impossible that history should retain
its old character. It became less gossiping and less picturesque; but
much more accurate, and somewhat more scientific.

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

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

It is not difficult to elude both the horns of this {386}dilemma. We
will recur to the analogous art of portrait-painting. Any man with eyes
and hands may be taught to take a likeness. The process, up to a certain
point, is merely mechanical. If this were all, a man of talents might
justly despise the occupation. But we could mention portraits which are
resemblances,--but not mere resemblances; faithful,--but much more than
faithful; portraits which condense into one point of time, and exhibit,
at a single glance, the whole history of turbid and eventful lives--in
which the eye seems to scrutinise us, and the mouth to command us--in
which the brow menaces, and the lip almost quivers with scorn--in which
every wrinkle is a comment on some important transaction. The account
which Thucydides has given of the retreat from Syracuse is, among
narratives, what Vandyk’s Lord Strafford is among paintings.

Diversity, it is said, implies error: truth is one, and admits of no
degrees. We answer, that this principle holds good only in abstract
reasonings. When we talk of the truth of imitation in the fine arts, we
mean an imperfect and a graduated truth. No picture is exactly like
the original; nor is a picture good in proportion as it is like the
original. When Sir Thomas Lawrence paints a handsome peeress, he does
not contemplate her through a powerful microscope, and transfer to the
canvas the pores of the skin, the blood-vessels of the eye, and all the
other beauties which Gulliver discovered in the Brobdignaggian maids
of honour. If he were to do this, the effect would not merely be
unpleasant, but, unless the scale of the picture were proportionably
enlarged, would be absolutely _false_. And, after all, a microscope
of greater power than that which he had employed would convict him of
innumerable {387}omissions. The same may be said of history. Perfectly
and absolutely true it cannot be: for, to be perfectly and absolutely
true, it ought to record _all_ the slightest particulars of the
slightest transactions--all the things done and all the words uttered
during the time of which it treats. The omission of any circumstance,
however insignificant, would be a defect. If history were written thus,
the Bodleian library would not contain the occurrences of a week. What
is told in the fullest and most accurate annals bears an infinitely
small proportion to what is suppressed. The difference between the
copious work of Clarendon and the account of the civil wars in the
abridgment of Goldsmith vanishes when compared with the immense mass of
facts respecting which both are equally silent.

No picture, then, and no history, can present us with the whole truth:
but those are the best pictures and the best histories which exhibit
such parts of the truth as most nearly produce the effect of the whole.
He who is deficient in the art of selection may, by showing nothing
but the truth, produce all the effect of the grossest falsehood. It
perpetually happens that one writer tells less truth than another,
merely because he tells more truths. In the imitative arts we constantly
see this. There are lines in the human face, and objects in landscape,
which stand in such relations to each other, that they ought either to
be all introduced into a painting together or all omitted together. A
sketch into which none of them enters may be excellent; but, if some
are given and others left out, though there are more points of likeness,
there is less likeness. An outline scrawled with a pen, which seizes the
marked features of a countenance, will give a much stronger idea of it
than a bad painting in oils. Yet {388}the worst painting in oils
that ever hung at Somerset House resembles the original in many more
particulars. A bust of white marble may give an excellent idea of a
blooming face. Colour the lips and cheeks of the bust, leaving the hair
and eyes unaltered, and the similarity, instead of being; more striking,
will be less so.

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

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

Thucydides borrowed from Herodotus the practice of putting speeches of
his own into the mouths of his characters. In Herodotus this usage is
scarcely censurable. It is of a piece with his whole manner. But it is
altogether incongruous in the work of his successor, and violates, not
only the accuracy of history, but the decencies of fiction. When once
we enter into the spirit of Herodotus, we find no inconsistency. The
conventional probability of his drama is preserved from the beginning
to the end. The deliberate orations, and the familiar dialogues are
in strict keeping with each other. But the speeches of Thucydides are
neither preceded nor followed by anything with which they harmonise.
They give to the whole book something {389}of the grotesque character of
those Chinese pleasure-grounds in which perpendicular rocks of granite
start up in the midst of a soft green plain. Invention is shocking where
truth is in such close juxtaposition with it.

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

In spite of this great fault, it must be allowed that Thucydides has
surpassed all his rivals in the art of historical narration, in the
art of producing an effect on the imagination, by skilful selection
and disposition, without indulging in the license of invention. But
narration, though an important part of the business of a historian, is
not the whole. To append a moral to a work of fiction is either useless
or superfluous. A fiction may give a more impressive effect to what
is already known; but it can teach nothing new. If it presents to us
characters and trains of events to which our experience furnishes
us with nothing similar, instead of deriving instruction from it, we
pronounce it unnatural. We do not form our opinions from it; but we
try it by our preconceived opinions. Fiction, therefore, is essentially
imitative. Its merit consists in its resemblance to a model with which
we are al ready {390}familiar, or to which at least we can instantly
refer. Hence it is that the anecdotes which interest us most strongly in
authentic narrative are offensive when introduced into novels; that what
is called the romantic part of history is in fact the least romantic. It
is delightful as history, because it contradicts our previous notions
of human nature, and of the connection of causes and effects. It is, on
that very account, shocking and incongruous in fiction. In fiction,
the principles are given, to find the facts: in history, the facts are
given, to find the principles; and the writer who does not explain the
phenomena as well as state them performs only one half of his office.
Facts are the mere dross of history. It is from the abstract truth which
interpenetrates them, and lies latent among them like gold in the ore,
that the mass derives its whole value: and the precious particles are
generally combined with the baser in such a manner that the separation
is a task of the utmost difficulty.

Here Thucydides is deficient: the deficiency, indeed, is not
discreditable to him. It was the inevitable effect of circumstances. It
was in the nature of things necessary that, in some part of its progress
through political science, the human mind should reach that point which
it attained in his time. Knowledge advances by steps, and not by leaps.
The axioms of an English debating club would have been startling and
mysterious paradoxes to the most enlightened statesmen of Athens. But
it would be as absurd to speak contemptuously of the Athenian on this
account as to ridicule Strabo for not having given us an account of
Chili, or to talk of Ptolemy as we talk of Sir Richard Phillips. Still,
when we wish for solid geographical information, we must prefer the
solemn coxcombry of {391}Pinkerton to the noble work of Strabo. If we
wanted instruction respecting the solar system, we should consult the
silliest girl from a boarding school, rather than Ptolemy.

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

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

This opinion will, we fear, be considered as heterodox. For, not to
speak of the illusion which the sight of a Greek type, or the sound of
a Greek dip-thong, often produces, there are some peculiarities in the
manner of Thucydides which in no small degree have tended to secure to
him the reputation of profundity. His book is evidently the book of a
man and a statesman; and in this respect presents a remarkable contrast
to the delightful childishness of Herodotus. Throughout it there is
an air of matured power, of grave and melancholy reflection, of
impartiality and {393}habitual self-command. His feelings are rarely
indulged, and speedily repressed. Vulgar prejudices of every kind,
and particularly vulgar superstitions, he treats with a cold and
sober disdain peculiar to himself. His style is weighty, condensed,
antithetical, and not unfrequently obscure. But, when we look at his
political philosophy, without regard to these circumstances, we find
him to have been, what indeed it would have been a miracle if he had not
been, simply an Athenian of the fifth century before Christ.

Xenophon is commonly placed, but we think without much reason, in the
same rank with Herodotus and Thucydides. He resembles them, indeed,
in the purity and sweetness of his style; but, in spirit, he rather
resembles that later school of historians, whose works seem to be fables
composed for a moral, and who, In their eagerness to give us warnings
and examples, forget to give us men and women. The Life of Cyrus,
whether we look upon it as a history or as a romance, seems to us a
very wretched performance. The expedition of the Ten Thousand, and the
History of Grecian Affairs, are certainly pleasant reading; but they
indicate no great power of mind. In truth, Xenophon, though his taste
was elegant, his disposition amiable, and his intercourse with the world
extensive, had, we suspect, rather a weak head. Such was evidently the
opinion of that extraordinary man to whom he early attached himself,
and for whose memory he entertained an idolatrous veneration. He came in
only for the milk with which Socrates nourished his babes in philosophy.
A few saws of morality, and a few of the simplest doctrines of natural
religion, were enough for the good young man. The strong meat, the bold
speculations on physical and metaphysical science, were {394}reserved
for auditors of a different description. Even the lawless habits of
a captain of mercenary troops could not change the tendency which the
character of Xenophon early acquired. To the last, he seems to have
retained a sort of heathen Puritanism. The sentiments of piety and
virtue which abound in his works are those of a well-meaning man,
somewhat timid and narrow-minded, devout from constitution rather than
from rational conviction. He was as superstitious as Herodotus, but in
a way far more offensive. The very peculiarities which charm us in
an infant, the toothless mumbling, the stammering, the tottering, the
helplessness, the causeless tears and laughter, are disgusting in
old age. In the same manner, the absurdity which precedes a period
of general intelligence is often pleasing; that which follows it is
contemptible. The nonsense of Herodotus is that of a baby. The nonsense
of Xenophon is that of a dotard. His stories about dreams, omens, and
prophecies, present a strange contrast to the passages in which the
shrewd and incredulous Thucydides mentions the popular superstitions.
It is not quite clear that Xenophon was honest in his credulity;’ his
fanaticism was in some degree politic. He would have made an excellent
member of the Apostolic Camarilla. An alarmist by nature, an aristocrat
by party, he carried to an unreasonable excess his horror of popular
turbulence. The quiet atrocity of Sparta did not shock him in the same
manner; for he hated tumult more than crimes. He was desirous to find
restraints which might curb the passions of the multitude; and he
absurdly fancied that he had found them in a religion without
evidences or sanction, precepts or example, in a frigid system of
rheophilanthropy, supported by nursery tales. {395}Polybius and Arrian
have given us authentic accounts of facts; and here their merit ends.
They were not men of comprehensive minds; they had not the art of
telling a story in an interesting manner. They have in consequence been
thrown into the shade by writers who, though less studious of truth than
themselves, understood far better the art of producing effect,--by Livy
and Quintus Curtius.

Yet Polybius and Arrian deserve high praise when compared with the
writers of that school of which Plutarch may be considered as the head.
For the historians of this class we must confess that we entertain a
peculiar aversion. They seem to have been pedants, who, though destitute
of those valuable qualities which are frequently found in conjunction
with pedantry, thought themselves great philosophers and great
politicians. They not only mislead their readers in every page, as to
particular facts, but they appear to have altogether misconceived the
whole character of the times of which they write. They were inhabitants
of an empire bounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Euphrates, by the
ice of Scythia and the sands of Mauritania; composed of nations whose
manners, whose languages, whose religion, whose countenances and
complexions, were widely different; governed by one mighty despotism,
which had risen on the ruins of a thousand commonwealths and kingdoms.
Of liberty, such as it is in small democracies, of patriotism, such as
it is in small independent communities of any kind, they had, and they
could have, no experimental knowledge. But they had read of men who
exerted themselves in the cause of their country with an energy unknown
in later times, who had violated the dearest of domestic charities, or
voluntarily devoted themselves to death, {396}for the public good;
and they wondered at the degeneracy of their contemporaries. It never
occurred to them that the feelings which they so greatly admired
sprung from local and occasional causes; that they will always grow up
spontaneously in small societies; and that, in large empires, though
they may be forced into existence for a short time by peculiar
circumstances, they cannot be general or permanent. It is impossible
that any man should feel for a fortress on a remote frontier as he
feels for his own house; that he should grieve for a defeat in which ten
thousand people whom he never saw have fallen as he grieves for a defeat
which has half unpeopled the street in which he lives; that he should
leave his home for a military expedition in order to preserve the
balance of power, as cheerfully as he would leave it to repel invaders
who had begun to burn all the corn fields in his neighbourhood.

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

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

These writers, men who knew not what it was to have a country, men
who had never enjoyed political {398}rights, brought into fashion an
offensive cant about patriotism and zeal for freedom. What the English
Puritans did for the language of Christianity, what Scuderi did for
the language of love, they did for the language of public spirit. By
habitual exaggeration they made it mean. By monotonous emphasis they
made it feeble. They abused it till it became scarcely possible to use
it with effect.

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

The writings of these men, and of their modern imitators, have produced
effects which deserve some notice. {399}The English have been so long
accustomed to political speculation, and have enjoyed so large a measure
of practical liberty, that such works have produced little effect on
their minds. We have classical associations and great names of our own
which we can confidently oppose to the most splendid of ancient times.
Senate has not to our ears a sound so venerable as Parliament. We
respect the Great Charter more than the laws of Solon. The Capitol and
the Forum impress us with less awe than our own Westminster Hall and
Westminster Abbey, the place where the great men of twenty generations
have contended, the place where they sleep together! The list of
warriors and statesmen by whom our constitution was founded or
preserved, from De Montfort down to Fox, may well stand a comparison
with the Fasti of Rome. The dying thanksgiving of Sydney is as noble as
the libation which Thrasea poured to Liberating Jove: and we think
with far less pleasure of Cato tearing out his entrails than of Russell
saying, as he turned away from his wife, that the bitterness of death
was past. Even those parts of our history over which, on some accounts,
we would gladly throw a veil may be proudly opposed to those on which
the moralists of antiquity loved most to dwell. The enemy of English
liberty was not murdered by men whom he had pardoned and loaded with
benefits. He was not stabbed in the back by those who smiled and cringed
before his face. He was vanquished on fields of stricken battle; he was
arraigned, sentenced, and executed in the face of heaven and earth. Our
liberty is neither Greek nor Roman; but essentially English. It has
a character of its own,--a character which has taken a tinge from the
sentiments of the chivalrous ages, and which accords with {400}the
peculiarities of our manners and of our insular situation. It has a
language, too, of its own, and a language singularly idiomatic, full of
meaning to ourselves, scarcely intelligible to strangers.

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

It was not strange that the blind, thus led by the blind, should
stumble. The transactions of the French Revolution, in some measure,
took their character from these works. Without the assistance of these
works, indeed, a revolution would have taken place,--a revolution
productive of much good and much evil, tremendous but shortlived, evil
dearly purchased, but durable good. But it would not have been exactly
such a revolution. The style, the accessories, would have been in many
respects different. There would have been less of bombast in language,
less of affectation in manner, less of solemn trifling and ostentatious
simplicity. The acts of legislative assemblies, and the correspondence
of diplomatists, would not have been disgraced by rants worthy only of a
college declamation. The government of a great and polished nation would
not have rendered itself ridiculous by attempting to revive the usages
of a world which had long passed away, or rather of a world which
had never existed except in the description of a fantastic school of
writers. These second-hand imitations resembled the originals about as
much as the classical feast with which the Doctor in Peregrine Pickle
turned the stomachs of all his guests resembled one of the suppers of
Lucullus in the Hall of Apollo. {402}These were mere follies. But the
spirit excited by these writers produced more serious effects. The
greater part of the crimes which disgraced the revolution sprung indeed
from the relaxation of law, from popular ignorance, from the remembrance
of past oppression, from the fear of foreign conquest, from rapacity,
from ambition, from party-spirit. But many atrocious proceedings must,
doubtless, be ascribed to heated imagination, to perverted principle,
to a distaste for what was vulgar in morals, and a passion for what was
startling and dubious. Mr. Burke has touched on this subject with great
felicity of expression: “The gradation of their republic,” says he, “is
laid in moral paradoxes. All those instances to be found in history,
whether real or fabulous, of a doubtful public spirit, at which morality
is perplexed, reason is staggered, and from which affrighted nature
recoils, are their chosen and almost sole examples for the instruction
of their youth.” This evil, we believe, is to be directly ascribed to
the influence of the historians whom we have mentioned, and their modern

Livy had some faults in common with these writers. But on the whole he
must be considered as forming a class by himself: no historian with whom
we are acquainted has shown so complete an indifference to truth. He
seems to have cared only about the picturesque effect of his book, and
the honour of his country. On the other hand, we do not know, in the
whole range of literature, an instance of a bad thing so well done. The
painting of the narrative is beyond description vivid and graceful. The
abundance of interesting sentiments and splendid imagery in the speeches
is almost miraculous. His mind is a soil which is never overturned, a
fountain which never seems to trickle. {403}It pours forth profusely;
yet it gives no sign of exhaustion. It was probably to this exuberance
of thought and language, always fresh, always sweet, always pure, no
sooner yielded than repaired, that the critics applied that expression
which has been so much discussed, _lactea ubertas_.

All the merits and all the defects of Livy take a colouring from the
character of his nation. He was a writer peculiarly Roman; the proud
citizen of a commonwealth which had indeed lost the reality of liberty,
but which still sacredly preserved its forms--in fact the subject of an
arbitrary prince, but in his own estimation one of the masters of the
world, with a hundred kings below him, and only the gods above him. He,
therefore, looked back on former times with feelings far different from
those which were naturally entertained by his Greek contemporaries, and
which at a later period became general among men of letters throughout
the Roman Empire. He contemplated the past with interest and delight,
not because it furnished a contrast to the present, but because it
had led to the present. He recurred to it, not to lose in proud
recollections the sense of national degradation, but to trace the
progress of national glory. It is true that his veneration for antiquity
produced on him some of the effects which it produced on those who
arrived at it by a very different road. He has something of their
exaggeration, something of their cant, something of their fondness for
anomalies and _lusus naturo_ in morality. Yet even here we perceive
a difference. They talk rapturously of patriotism and liberty in the
abstract. He does not seem to think any country but Rome deserving of
love: nor is it for liberty as liberty, but for liberty as a part of the
Roman institutions, that he is zealous. {404}Of the concise and elegant
accounts of the campaigns of Caesar little can be said. They are
incomparable models for military despatches. But histories they are not,
and do not pretend to be.

The ancient critics placed Sallust in the same rank with Livy; and
unquestionably the small portion of his works which has come down to us
is calculated to give a high opinion of his talents. But his style
is not very pleasant: and his most powerful work, the account of the
Conspiracy of Catiline, has rather the air of a clever party pamphlet
than that of a history. It abounds with strange inconsistencies, which,
unexplained as they are, necessarily excite doubts as to the fairness
of the narrative. It is true, that many circumstances now forgotten may
have been familiar to his contemporaries, and may have rendered passages
clear to them which to us appear dubious and perplexing. But a great
historian should remember that he writes for distant generations, for
men who will perceive the apparent contradictions, and will possess no
means of reconciling them. We can only vindicate the fidelity of Sallust
at the expense of his skill. But in fact all the information which we
have from contemporaries respecting this famous plot is liable to the
same objection, and is read by discerning men with the same incredulity.
It is all on one side. No answer has reached our times. Yet, on the
showing of the accusers, the accused seem entitled to acquittal.
Catiline, we are told, intrigued with a Vestal virgin, and murdered his
own son. His house was a den of gamblers and debauchees. No young man
could cross his threshold without danger to his fortune and reputation.
Yet this is the man with whom Cicero was willing to coalesce in a
contest for the first magistracy of the republic; {405}and whom he
described, long after the fatal termination of the conspiracy, as an
accomplished hypocrite, by whom he had himself been deceived, and who
had acted with consummate skill the character of a good citizen and a
good friend. We are told that the plot was the most wicked and desperate
ever known, and, almost in the same breath, that the great body of the
people, and many of the nobles, favoured it; that the richest citizens
of Rome were eager for the spoliation of all property, and its highest
functionaries for the destruction of all order; that Crassus, Cæsar,
the Praetor Lentulus, one of the consuls of the year, one of the consuls
elect, were proved or suspected to be engaged in a scheme for subverting
institutions to which they owed the highest honours, and introducing
universal anarchy. We are told that a government, which knew all this,
suffered the conspirator, whose rank, talents, and courage, rendered
him most dangerous, to quit Rome without molestation. We are told that
bondmen and gladiators were to be armed against the citizens. Yet we
find that Catiline rejected the slaves who crowded to enlist in his
army, lest, as Sallust himself expresses it, “he should seem to identify
their cause until that of the citizens.” Finally, we are told that the
magistrate, who was universally allowed to have saved all classes of
his countrymen from conflagration and massacre, rendered himself so
unpopular by his conduct that a marked insult was offered to him at
the expiration of his office, and a severe punishment inflicted on him
shortly after.

Sallust tells us, what, indeed, the letters and speeches of Cicero
sufficiently prove, that some persons considered the shocking and
atrocious part of the plot as mere inventions of the government,
designed to excuse {406}its unconstitutional measures. We must confess
ourselves to be of that opinion. There was, undoubtedly, a strong party
desirous to change the administration. While Pompey held the command of
an army, they could not effect their purpose without preparing means for
repelling force, if necessary, by force. In all this there is nothing
different from the ordinary practice of Roman factions. The other
charges brought against the conspirators are so inconsistent and
improbable, that we give no credit whatever to them. If our readers think
this scepticism unreasonable, let them turn to the contemporary accounts
of the Popish plot. Let them look over the votes of Parliament, and the
speeches of the king; the charges of Scroggs, and the harangues of
the managers employed against Strafford. A person who should form his
judgment from these pieces alone would believe that London was set on
fire by the Papists, and that Sir Edmondbury Godfrey was murdered for
his religion. Yet these stories are now altogether exploded. They have
been abandoned by statesmen to aldermen, by aldermen to clergymen, by
clergymen to old women, and by old women to Sir Harcourt Lees.

Of the Latin historians, Tacitus was certainly the greatest. His
style, indeed, is not only faulty in itself, but is, in some respects,
peculiarly unfit for historical composition. He carries his love of
effect far beyond the limits of moderation. He tells a fine story
finely: but he cannot tell a plain story plainly. He stimulates till
stimulants lose their power. Thucydides, as we have already observed,
relates ordinary transactions with the unpretending clearness and
succinctness of a gazette. His great powers of painting he reserves
for events of which the slightest details are interesting. {407}The
simplicity of the setting gives additional lustre to the brilliants.
There are passages in the narrative of Tacitus superior to the best
which can be quoted from Thucydides. But they are not enchased and
relieved with the same skill. They are far more striking when extracted
from the body of the work to which they belong than when they occur in
their place, and are read in connection with what precedes and follows.

In the delineation of character, Tacitus is unrivalled among historians,
and has very few superiors among dramatists and novelists. By the
delineation of character, we do not mean the practice of drawing up
epigrammatic catalogues of good and had qualities, and appending them
to the names of eminent men. No writer, indeed, has done this more
skilfully than Tacitus; but this is not his peculiar glory. All the
persons who occupy a large space in his works have an individuality of
character which seems to pervade all their words and actions. We know
them as if we had lived with them. Claudius, Nero, Otho, both the
Agrippinas, are master-pieces. But Tiberius is a still higher miracle of
art. The historian undertook to make us intimately acquainted with a man
singularly dark and inscrutable,--with a man whose real disposition long
remained swathed up in intricate folds of factitious virtues, and over
whose actions the hypocrisy of his youth, and the seclusion of his old
age, threw a singular my story. He was to exhibit the specious qualities
of the tyrant in a light which might render them transparent, and enable
us at once to perceive the covering and the vices which it concealed. He
was to trace the gradations by which the first magistrate of a republic,
a senator mingling freely in debate, a noble associating with his
brother nobles, was transformed into an {408}Asiatic sultan; he was
to exhibit a character, distinguished by courage, self-command, and
profound policy, yet defiled by all

                             “th’ extravagancy

                   And crazy ribaldry of fancy."

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

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

In this part of his art Tacitus certainly had neither equal nor second
among the ancient historians. Herodotus, though he wrote in a dramatic
form, had little of dramatic genius. The frequent dialogues which he
introduces give vivacity and movement to the narrative, but are not
strikingly characteristic. Xenophon is fond of telling his readers, at
considerable length, what he thought of the persons whose adventures
he relates. But he does not show them the men, and {409}enable them to
judge for themselves. The heroes of Livy are the most insipid of all
beings, real or imaginary, the heroes of Plutarch always excepted.
Indeed, the manner of Plutarch in this respect reminds us of the cookery
of those continental inns, the horror of English travellers, in which
a certain nondescript broth is kept constantly boiling, and copiously
poured, without distinction, over every dish as it comes up to table.
Thucydides, though at a wide interval, comes next to Tacitus.
His Pericles, his Nieias, his Cleon, his Brasidas, are happily
discriminated. The lines are few, the colouring faint; but the general
air and expression is caught.

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

They have certainly been, in one sense, far more strict in their
adherence to truth than most of the Greek and Roman writers. They do
not think themselves entitled to render their narrative interesting by
introducing descriptions, conversations, and harangues which have no
existence but in their own imagination. This improvement was gradually
introduced. History commenced among the modern nations of Europe, as it
had commenced among the Greeks, in romance. Froissart was our Herodotus.
Italy was to Europe what Athens was to Greece. In Italy, therefore,
a more accurate and manly mode of narration was early introduced.
Machiavelli and Guicciardini, in imitation {410}of Livy and Thucydides,
composed speeches for their historical personages. But, as the classical
enthusiasm which distinguished the age of Lorenzo and Leo gradually
subsided, this absurd practice was abandoned. In France, we fear, it
still, In some degree, keeps its ground. In our own country, a writer
who should venture on it would be laughed to scorn. Whether the
historians of the last two centuries tell more truth than those of
antiquity, may perhaps be doubted. But it is quite certain that they
tell fewer falsehoods.

In the philosophy of history, the moderns have very far surpassed the
ancients. It is not, indeed, strange that the Greeks and Romans should
not have carried the science of government, or any other experimental
science, so far as it has been carried in our time; for the experimental
sciences are generally in a state of progression. They were better
understood in the seventeenth century than in the sixteenth, and in
the eighteenth century than in the seventeenth. But this constant
improvement, this natural growth of knowledge, will not altogether
account for the immense superiority of the modern writers. The
difference is a difference not in degree but of kind. It is not merely
that new principles have been discovered, but that new faculties seem to
be exerted. It is not that at one time the human intellect should have
made but small progress, and at another time have advanced far; but
that at one time it should have been stationary, and at another time
constantly proceeding. In taste and imagination, in the graces of style,
in the arts of persuasion, in the magnificence of public works, the
ancients were at least our equals. They reasoned as justly as ourselves
on subjects which required pure demonstration. But in the moral sciences
they made scarcely {411}any advance. During the long period which
elapsed between the fifth century before the Christian era and the
fifth century after it little perceptible progress was made. All the
metaphysical discoveries of all the philosophers, from the time of
Socrates to the northern invasion, are not to be compared in importance
with those which have been made in England every fifty years since the
time of Elizabeth. There is not the least reason to believe that the
principles of government, legislation, and political economy, were
better understood in the time of Augustus Cæsar than in the time
of Pericles. In our own country, the sound doctrines of trade and
jurisprudence have been, within the lifetime of a single generation,
dimly hinted, boldly propounded, defended, systematised, adopted by
all reflecting men of all parties, quoted in legislative assemblies,
incorporated into laws and treaties.

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

The spirit of the two most famous nations of antiquity was remarkably
exclusive. In the time of Homer the Greeks had not begun to consider
themselves as a distinct race. They still looked with something of
childish wonder and awe on the riches and wisdom of Sidon and Egypt.
From what causes, and by what gradations, their feelings underwent a
change, it is not easy to determine. Their history, from the Trojan to
the Persian war, is covered with an obscurity broken {412}only by dim
and scattered gleams of truth. But it is certain that a great alteration
took place. They regarded themselves as a separate people. They had
common religious rites, and common principles of public law, in which
foreigners had no part. In all their political systems, monarchical,
aristocratical, and demo-cratical, there was a strong family likeness.
After the retreat of Xerxes and the fall of Mardonius, national pride
rendered the separation between the Greeks and the barbarians complete.
The conquerors considered themselves men of a superior breed, men who,
in them intercourse with neighbouring nations, were to teach, and not to
learn. They looked for nothing out of themselves. They borrowed nothing.
They translated nothing. We cannot call to mind a single expression of
any Greek writer earlier than the age of Augustus, indicating an opinion
that anything worth reading could be written in any language except his
own. The feelings which sprung from national glory were not altogether
extinguished by national degradation. They were fondly cherished through
ages of slavery and shame. The literature of Rome herself was regarded
with contempt by those who had fled before her arms, and who bowed
beneath her fasces. Voltaire says, in one of his six thousand pamphlets,
that lu was the first person who told the French that England had
produced eminent men besides the Duke of Marlborough. Down to a
very late period, the Greeks seem to have stood in need of similar
information with respect to their masters. With Paulus Æmilius,
Sylla, and Cæsar they were well acquainted. But the notions which they
entertained respecting Cicero and Virgil were, probably, not unlike
those which Boileau may have formed about Shakspeare. Dionysius lived
{413}in the most splendid age of Latin poetry and eloquence. He was a
critic, and, after the manner of his age, an able critic. He studied
the language of Rome, associated with its learned men, and compiled its
history. Yet he seems to have thought its literature valuable only for
the purpose of illustrating its antiquities. His reading appears to have
been confined to its public records, and to a few old annalists. Once,
and but once, if we remember rightly, he quotes Ennius, to solve a
question of etymology. He has written much on the art of oratory: yet he
has not mentioned the name of Cicero.

The Romans submitted to the pretensions of a race which they despised.
Their epic poet, while he claimed for them pre-eminence in the arts of
government and war, acknowledged their inferiority in taste, eloquence,
and science. Men of letters affected to understand the Greek language
better than their own. Pomponius preferred the honour of becoming an
Athenian, by intellectual naturalisation, to all the distinctions which
were to be acquired in the political contests of Rome. His great
friend composed Greek poems and memoirs. It is well known that Petrarch
considered that beautiful language in which his sonnets are written,
as a barbarous jargon, and intrusted his fame to those wretched Latin
hexameters which, during the last four centuries, have scarcely found
four readers. Many eminent Romans appear to have felt the same contempt
for their native tongue as compared with the Greek. The prejudice
continued to a very late period. Julian was as partial to the Greek
language as Frederic the Great to the French: and it seems that he could
not express himself with elegance in the dialect of the state which
he ruled. {414}Even those Latin writers who did not carry this
affectation so far looked on Greece as the only fount of knowledge. From
Greece they derived the measures of their poetry, and, indeed, all of
poetry that can be imported. From Greece they borrowed the principles
and the vocabulary of their philosophy. To the literature of other
nations they do not seem to have paid the slightest attention. The
sacred books of the Hebrews, for example, books which, considered merely
as human compositions, are invaluable to the critic, the antiquarian,
and the philosopher, seem to have been utterly unnoticed by them.
The peculiarities of Judaism, and the rapid growth of Christianity,
attracted their notice. They made war against the Jews. They made
laws against the Christians. But they never opened the books of Moses.
Juvenal quotes the Pentateuch with censure. The author of the treatise
on “the Sublime” quotes it with praise: but both of them quote it
erroneously. When we consider what sublime poetry, what curious history,
what striking and peculiar views of the Divine nature and of the
social duties of men, are to be found in the Jewish scriptures, when
we consider that two sects on which the attention of the government was
constantly fixed appealed to those scriptures as the rule of their faith
and practice, this indifference is astonishing. The fact seems to be,
that the Greeks admired only themselves, and that the Romans admired
only themselves and the Greeks. Literary men turned away with disgust
from modes of thought and expression so widely different from all
that they had been accustomed to admire. The effect was narrowness and
sameness of thought. Their minds, if we may so express ourselves,
bred in and in, and were accordingly cursed with barrenness {415}and
degeneracy. No extraneous beauty or vigour was engrafted on the decaying
stock. By an exclusive attention to one class of phenomena, by an
exclusive taste for one species of excellence, the human intellect
was stunted. Occasional coincidences were turned into general rules.
Prejudices were confounded with instincts. On man, as he was found in
a particular state of society--on government, as it had existed in a
particular corner of the world, many just observations were made; but
of man as man, or government as government, little was known. Philosophy
remained stationary. Slight changes, sometimes for the worse and
sometimes for the better, were made in the superstructure. But nobody
thought of examining the foundations.

The vast despotism of the Cæsars, gradually effacing all national
peculiarities, and assimilating the remotest provinces of the empire to
each other, augmented the evil. At the close of the third century after
Christ, the prospects of mankind were fearfully dreary. A system of
etiquette, as pompously frivolous as that of the Escurial, had been
established. A sovereign almost invisible; a crowd of dignitaries
minutely distinguished by badges and titles; rhetoricians who said
nothing but what had been said ten thousand times; schools in ‘which
nothing was taught but what had been known for ages: such was the
machinery provided for the government and instruction of the most
enlightened part of the human race. That great community was then in
danger of experiencing a calamity far more terrible than any of
the quick, inflammatory, destroying maladies, to which nations are
liable,--a tottering, drivelling, paralytic longevity, the immortality
of the Struldbrugs, a Chinese civilisation. It would be easy to indicate
many points of resemblance {416}between the subjects of Diocletian
and the people of that Celestial Empire, where, during many centuries,
nothing has been learned or unlearned: where government, where
education, where the whole system of life, is a ceremony; where
knowledge forgets to increase and multiply, and, like the talent buried
in the earth, or the pound wrapped up in the napkin, experiences neither
waste nor augmentation.

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

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

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

At length the terrible purification was accomplished; and the second
civilisation of mankind commenced, under circumstances which afforded a
strong security that it would never retrograde and never pause. Europe
was now a great federal community. Her numerous states were united by
the easy ties of international law {418}and a common religion.
Their institutions, their languages, their manners, their tastes in
literature, their modes of education, were widely different. Their
connection was close enough to allow of mutual observation and
improvement, yet not so close as to destroy the idioms of national
opinion and feeling.

The balance of moral and intellectual influence thus established
between the nations of Europe is far more important than the balance
of political power. Indeed, we are inclined to think that the latter
is valuable principally because it tends to maintain the former. The
civilised world has thus been preserved from an uniformity of character
fatal to all improvement. Every part of it has been illuminated with
light reflected from every other. Competition has produced activity
where monopoly would have produced sluggishness. The number of
experiments in moral science which the speculator has an opportunity of
witnessing has been increased beyond all calculation. Society and human
nature, instead of being seen in a single point of view, are presented
to him under ten thousand different aspects. By observing the manners of
surrounding nations, by studying their literature, by comparing it with
that of his own country and of the ancient republics, he is enabled to
correct those errors into which the most acute men must fall when they
reason from a single species to a genus. He learns to distinguish
what is local from what is universal; what is transitory from what is
eternal; to discriminate between exceptions and rules; to trace the
operation of disturbing causes; to separate those general principles
which are always true and everywhere applicable from the accidental
circumstances with which, in every community, they are blended, and with
which, in an isolated community, {419}they are confounded by the most
philosophical mind.

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

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

The best historians of later times have been seduced from truth, not
by their imagination, but by their reason. They far excel their
predecessors in the art of deducing general principles from facts. But
unhappily they have fallen into the error of distorting facts to suit
general principles. They arrive at a theory from looking at some of the
phenomena; and the remaining phenomena they strain or curtail to suit
the theory. For this purpose it is not necessary that they should assert
what is absolutely false; for all questions in morals and politics
are questions of comparison and degree. Any proposition which does not
involve a contradiction in terms may by possibility be true; and, if all
the circumstances which raise a probability in its favour be stated and
enforced, and those which lead to an opposite conclusion be omitted or
lightly passed over, it may appear to be demonstrated. In every
human character and transaction there is a mixture of good
and evil: a little exaggeration, a little suppression, a judicious use
of epithets, a watchful and searching {420}scepticism with respect to
the evidence on one side, a convenient credulity with respect to every
report or tradition on the other, may easily make a saint of Laud, or a
tyrant of Henry the Fourth.

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

We have mentioned Hume as the ablest and most popular writer of his
class; but the charge which we have brought against him is one to which
all our most distinguished historians are in some degree obnoxious.
Gibbon, in particular, deserves very severe censure. Of all the numerous
culprits, however, none is more deeply guilty than Mr. Mitford. We
willingly acknowledge {421}the obligations which are due to his talents
and industry. The modern historians of Greece had been in the habit of
writing as if the world had learned nothing new during the last sixteen
hundred years. Instead of illustrating the events which they narrated
by the philosophy of a more enlightened age, they judged of antiquity by
itself alone. They seemed to think that notions, long driven from every
other corner of literature, had a prescriptive right to occupy this
last fastness. They considered all the ancient historians as equally
authentic. They scarcely made any distinction between him who related
events at which he had himself been present and him who five hundred
years after composed a philosophic romance for a society which had in
the interval undergone a complete change. It was all Greek, and all
true! The centuries which separated Plutarch from Thucydides seemed
as nothing to men who lived in an age so remote. The distance of
time produced an error similar to that which is sometimes produced by
distance of place. There are many good ladies who think that all the
people in India live together, and who charge a friend setting out for
Calcutta with kind messages to Bombay. To Rollin and Barthelemi, in the
same manner, all the classics were contemporaries.

Mr. Mitford certainly introduced great improvements; he showed us that
men who wrote in Greek and Latin sometimes told lies; he showed us that
ancient history might be related in such a manner as to furnish not only
allusions to school boys, but important lessons to statesmen. From that
love of theatrical effect and high-flown sentiment which had poisoned
almost every other work on the same subject his book is perfectly free.
But his passion for a theory as false, and far {422}more ungenerous,
led him substantially to violate truth in every page. Statements
unfavourable to democracy are made with unhesitating confidence, and
with the utmost bitterness of language. Every charge brought against a
monarch or an aristocracy is sifted with the utmost care. If it cannot
be denied, some palliating supposition is suggested; or we are at least
reminded that some circumstances now unknown may have justified what
at present appears unjustifiable. Two events are reported by the same
author in the same sentence; their truth rests on the same testimony;
but the one supports the darling hypothesis, and the other seems
inconsistent with it. The one is taken and the other is left.

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

This is at present the state of history. The poet laureate appears for
the Church of England, Lingard for the Church of Rome. Brodie has moved
to set {423}aside the verdicts obtained by Hume; and the cause in which
Mitford succeeded is, we understand, about to be reheard. In the midst
of these disputes, however, history proper, if we may use the term, is
disappearing. The high, grave, impartial summing up of Thucydides is
nowhere to be found.

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

The writers of history seem to entertain an aristocratical contempt
for the writers of memoirs. They think it beneath the dignity of men
who describe the revolutions of nations to dwell on the details which
constitute the charm of biography. They have imposed on themselves a
code of conventional decencies as absurd as that which has been the
banc of the French drama. The most characteristic and interesting
circumstances are omitted or softened down, because, {424}as we are
told, they are too trivial for the majesty of history. The majesty of
history seems to resemble the majesty of the poor King of Spain, who
died a martyr to ceremony because the proper dignitaries were not at
hand to render him assistance.

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

Let us suppose that Lord Clarendon, instead of filling hundreds of folio
pages with copies of state papers, in which the same assertions
and contradictions are repeated till the reader is overpowered with
weariness, had condescended to be the Boswell of the Long Parliament.
Let us suppose that he had exhibited to us the wise and lofty
self-government of Hampden, leading while he seemed to follow, and
propounding unanswerable arguments in the strongest forms with the
modest air of an inquirer anxious for information; the delusions which
misled the noble spirit of Vane; the coarse fanaticism which concealed
the yet loftier genius of Cromwell, destined to control a mutinous
army and a factious people, to abase the flag of Holland, to arrest
the victorious arms of Sweden, and to hold the balance firm between the
rival monarchies of France and Spain. Let us suppose that he had made
his Cavaliers and Roundheads talk in their own {425}style; that he had
reported some of the ribaldry of Rupert’s pages, and some of the cant of
Harrison and Fleetwood. Would not his work in that ease have been more
interesting? Would it not have been more accurate?

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

Bishop Watson compares a geologist to a gnat mounted on an elephant,
and laying down theories as to the whole internal structure of the vast
animal, from the phenomena of the hide. The comparison is unjust to the
geologists; but it is very applicable to those historians who write as
if the body politic were homogeneous, {426}who look only on the surface
of affairs, and never think of the mighty and various organisation which
lies deep below.

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

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

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

If a man, such as we are supposing, should write the history of England,
he would assuredly not omit the battles, the sieges, the negotiations,
the seditions, the ministerial changes. But with these he would
intersperse the details which are the charm of historical romances. At
Lincoln Cathedral there is a beautiful painted window, which was made by
an apprentice out of the pieces of glass which had been rejected by
his master. It is so far superior to every other in the church, that,
according to the tradition, the vanquished artist killed himself from
mortification. Sir Walter Scott, in the same manner, has used those
fragments of truth which historians have scornfully thrown behind them
in a manner which may well excite their envy. He has constructed out
of their gleanings works which, {429}even considered as histories, are
scarcely less valuable than their’s. But a truly great historian would
reclaim those materials which the novelist has appropriated. The
history of the government, and the history of the people, would be
exhibited in that mode in which alone they can be exhibited justly, in
inseparable conjunction and intermixture. We should not then have to
look for the wars of the Puritans in Clarendon, and for their
phraseology in Old Mortality; for one half of King James in Hume, and
for the other half in the Fortunes of Nigel.

The early part of our imaginary history would be rich witli colouring
from romance, ballad, and chronicle. We should find ourselves in the
company of knights such as those of Froissart, and of pilgrims such as
those who rode witli Chaucer from the Tabard. Society would be shown
from the highest to the lowest,--from the royal cloth of state to the
den of the outlaw; from the throne of the legate, to the chimney-corner
where the begging friar regaled himself. Palmers, minstrels,
crusaders,--the stately monastery, with the good cheer in its refectory
and the high-mass in its chapel,--the manor-house, witli its hunting and
hawking,--the tournament, with the heralds and ladies, the trumpets
and the cloth of gold,--would give truth and life to the representation.
We should perceive, in a thousand slight touches, the importance of
the privileged burgher, and the fierce and haughty spirit which swelled
under the collar of the degraded villain. The revival of letters would
not merely be described in a few magnificent periods. We should discern,
in innumerable particulars, the fermentation of mind, the eager appetite
for knowledge, which distinguished the sixteenth from the fifteenth
century. In the Reformation {430}we should see, not merely a schism
which changed the ecclesiastical constitution of England and the mutual
relations of the European powers, but a moral war which raged in every
family, which set the father against the son, and the son against the
father, the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the
mother. Henry would be painted with the skill of Tacitus. We should have
the change of his character from his profuse and joyous youth to his
savage and imperious old age. We should perceive the gradual progress
of selfish and tyrannical passions in a mind not naturally insensible or
ungenerous; and to the last we should detect some remains of that open
and noble temper which endeared him to a people whom he oppressed,
struggling with the hardness of despotism and the irritability of
disease. We should see Elizabeth in all her weakness and in all her
strength, surrounded by the handsome favourites whom she never trusted,
and the wise old statesmen whom she never dismissed, uniting in herself
the most contradictory qualities of both her parents,--the coquetry, the
caprice, the petty malice of Anne,--the haughty and resolute spirit of
Henry. We have no hesitation in saying that a great artist might produce
a portrait of this remarkable woman at least as striking as that in the
novel of Kenilworth, without employing a single trait not authenticated
by ample testimony. In the meantime, we should see arts cultivated,
wealth accumulated, the conveniences of life improved. We should see the
keeps, where nobles, insecure themselves, spread insecurity around them,
gradually giving place to the halls of peaceful opulence, to the oriels
of Longleat, and the stately pinnacles of Burleigh. We should see towns
extended, deserts cultivated, the hamlets of fishermen {431}turned
into wealthy havens, the meal of the peasant improved, and his but more
commodiously furnished. We should see those opinions and feelings which
produced the great struggle against the house of Stuart slowly growing
up in the bosom of private families, before they manifested themselves
in parliamentary debates. Then would come the civil war. Those
skirmishes on which Clarendon dwells so minutely would be told, as
Thucydides would have told them, with perspicuous conciseness. They are
merely connecting links. But the great characteristics of the age, the
loyal enthusiasm of the brave English gentry, the fierce licentiousness
of the swearing, dicing, drunken reprobates, whose excesses disgrace the
royal cause,--the austerity of the Presbyterian Sabbaths in the city,
the extravagance of the independent preachers in the camp, the precise
garb, the severe countenance, the petty scruples, the affected accent,
the absurd names and phrases which marked the Puritans,--the valour,
the policy, the public spirit, which lurked beneath these ungraceful
disguises,--the dreams of the raving Fifth-monarchy-man, the dreams,
scarcely less wild, of the philosophic republican,--all these would
enter into the representation, and render it at once more exact and more

The instruction derived from history thus written would be of a vivid
and practical character. It would be received by the imagination as well
as by the reason. It would be not merely traced on the mind, but branded
into it. Many truths, too, would be learned, which can be learned in
no other manner. As the history of states is generally written, the
greatest and most momentous revolutions seem to come upon them like
supernatural inflictions, without warning {432}or cause. But the fact
is, that such revolutions are almost always the consequences of moral
changes, which have gradually passed on the mass of the community, and
which ordinarily proceed far before their progress is indicated by any
public measure. An intimate knowledge of the domestic history of nations
is therefore absolutely necessary to the prognosis of political events.
A narrative, defective in this respect, is as useless as a medical
treatise which should pass by all the symptoms attendant on the early
stage of a disease and mention only what occurs when the patient is
beyond the reach of remedies.

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


{433}(_Edinburgh Review_, September 1828.)

History, at least in its state of ideal perfection, is a compound of
poetry and philosophy. It impresses general truths on the mind by a
vivid representation of particular characters and incidents. But, in
fact, the two hostile elements of which it consists have never been
known to form a perfect amalgamation; and at length, in our own time,
they have been completely and professedly separated. Good histories, in
the proper sense of the word, we have not. But we have good historical
romances, and good historical essays. The imagination and the reason,
if we may use a legal metaphor, have made partition of a province of
literature of which they were formerly seised _per my et per tout_; and
now they hold their respective portions in severalty, instead of holding
the whole in common.

To make the past present, to bring the distant near, to place us in the
society of a great man or on the eminence which overlooks the field of
a mighty battle, to invest with the reality of human flesh and blood
beings whom we are too much inclined to consider as personified
qualities in an allegory, to call up our ancestors before us with all
their peculiarities of language,

     (1) The Constitutional History of England, from the
     Accession of Henry VII to the Death of George II. By Henry
     Hallam. In 2 vols. 1827.

{434}manners, and garb, to show us over their houses, to scat us at
their tables, to rummage their old-fashioned wardrobes, to explain
the uses of their ponderous furniture, these parts of the duty which
properly belongs to the historian have been appropriated by the
historical novelist. On the other hand, to extract the philosophy
of history, to direct our judgment of events and men, to trace the
connection of causes and effects, and to draw from the occurrences of
former times general lessons of moral and political wisdom, has become
the business of a distinct class of writers.

Of the two kinds of composition into which history has been thus
divided, the one may be compared to a map, the other to a painted
landscape. The picture, though it places the country before us, does not
enable us to ascertain with accuracy the dimensions, the distances, and
the angles. The map is not a work of imitative art. It presents no scene
to the imagination; but it gives us exact information as to the bearings
of the various points, and is a more useful companion to the traveller
or the general than the painted landscape could be, though it were the
grandest that ever Rosa peopled with outlaws, or the sweetest over which
Claude ever poured the mellow effulgence of a setting sun.

It is remarkable that the practice of separating the two ingredients of
which history is composed has become prevalent on the Continent as well
as in this country. Italy has already produced a historical novel, of
high merit and of still higher promise. In France, the practice has been
carried to a length somewhat whimsical. M. Sismondi publishes a grave
and stately history of the Merovingian Kings, very valuable, and a
little tedious. He then sends forth as a companion to {435}it a novel,
in which he attempts to give a lively representation of characters and
manners. This course, as it seems to us, has all the disadvantages of
a division of labour, and none of its advantages. We understand the
expediency of keeping the functions of cook and coachman distinct. The
dinner will be better dressed, and the horses better managed. But where
the two situations are united, as in the Maître Jacques of Molière, we
do not see that the matter is much mended by the solemn form with which
the pluralist passes from one of his employments to the other.

We manage these things better in England. Sir Walter Scott gives us
a novel; Mr. Hallam a critical and argumentative history. Both are
occupied with the same matter. But the former looks at it with the eye
of a sculptor. His intention is to give an express and lively image of
its external form. The latter is an anatomist. His task is to dissect
the subject to its inmost recesses, and to lay bare before us all the
springs of motion and all the causes of decay.

Mr. Hallam is, on the whole, far better qualified than any other
writer of our time for the office which he has undertaken. He has great
industry and great acuteness. His knowledge is extensive, various, and
profound. His mind is equally distinguished by the amplitude of its
grasp, and by the delicacy of its tact. His speculations have none of
that vagueness which is the common fault of political philosophy. On
the contrary, they are strikingly practical, and teach us not only the
general rule, but the mode of applying it to solve particular cases. In
this respect they often remind us of the Discourses of Machiavelli.

The style is sometimes open to the charge of harshness. We have also
here and there remarked a little {436}of that unpleasant trick, which
Gibbon brought into fashion, the trick, we mean, of telling a story
by implication and allusion. Mr. Hallam, however, has an excuse which
Gibbon had not. His work is designed for readers who are already
acquainted with the ordinary books on English history, and who can
therefore unriddle these little enigmas without difficulty. The manner
of the book is, on the whole, not unworthy of the matter. The language,
even where most faulty, is weighty and massive, and indicates strong
sense in every line. It often rises to an eloquence, not florid or
impassioned, but high, grave, and sober; such as would become a state
paper, or a judgment delivered by a great magistrate, a Somers or a

In this respect the character of Mr. Hallam’s mind corresponds
strikingly with that of his style. His work is eminently judicial. Its
whole spirit is that of the bench, not that of the bar. He sums up with
a calm, steady impartiality, turning neither to the right nor to the
left, glossing over nothing, exaggerating nothing, while the advocates
on both sides are alternately biting their lips to hear their
conflicting misstatements and sophisms exposed. On a general survey,
we do not scruple to pronounce the Constitutional History the most
impartial book that we ever read. We think it the more incumbent on us
to bear this testimony strongly at first setting out, because, in the
course of our remarks, we shall think it right to dwell principally on
those parts of it from which we dissent.

There is one peculiarity about Mr. Hallam which, while it adds to the
value of his writings, will, we fear, take away something from their
popularity. He is less of a worshipper than any historian whom we
can {437}call to mind. Every political sect has its esoteric and its
exoteric school, its abstract doctrines for the initiated, its visible
symbols, its imposing forms, its mythological fables for the vulgar. It
assists the devotion of those who are unable to raise themselves to
the contemplation of pure truth by all the devices of Pagan or Papal
superstition. It has its altars and its deified heroes, its relics and
pilgrimages, its canonized martyrs and confessors, its festivals and its
legendary miracles. Our pious ancestors, we are told, deserted the High
* Altar of Canterbury, to lay all their obligations on the shrine of St.
Thomas. In the same manner the great and comfortable doctrines of the
Tory creed, those particularly which relate to restrictions on worship
and on trade, are adored by squires and rectors in Pitt Clubs, under the
name of a minister who was as bad a representative of the system which
has been christened after him as Bechet of the spirit of the Gospel. On
the other hand, the cause for which Hampden bled on the field and Sydney
on the scaffold is enthusiastically toasted by many an honest radical
who would be puzzled to explain the difference between Ship-money and
the Habeas Corpus Act. It may be added that, as in religion, so in
politics, few even of those who are enlightened enough to comprehend the
meaning latent under the emblems of their faith can resist the contagion
of the popular superstition. Often, when they flatter themselves that
they are merely feigning a compliance with the prejudices of the vulgar,
they are themselves under the influence of those very prejudices. It
probably was not altogether on grounds of expediency that Socrates
taught his followers to honour the gods whom the state honoured, and
bequeathed a cock to Esculapius with his dying breath. So there is often
{438}a portion of willing credulity and enthusiasm in the veneration
which the most discerning men pay to their political idols. From the
very nature of man it must be so. The faculty by which we inseparably
associate ideas which have often been presented to us in conjunction
is not under the absolute control of the will. It may be quickened into
morbid activity. It may be reasoned into shamelessness. But in a certain
decree it will always exist. The almost absolute mastery which Mr.
Hallam has obtained over feelings of this class is perfectly astonishing
to us, and will, we believe, be not only astonishing but offensive to
many of his readers. It must particularly disgust those people who, in
their speculations on politics, are not reasoners but fanciers; whose
opinions, even when sincere, are not produced, according to the
ordinary law of intellectual births, by induction or inference, but
are equivocally generated by the heat of fervid tempers out of the
overflowing of tumid imaginations. A man of this class is always
in extremes. He cannot be a friend to liberty without calling for
a community of goods, or a friend to order without taking under his
protection the foulest excesses of tyranny. His admiration oscillates
between the most worthless of rebels and the most worthless of
oppressors, between Marten, the disgrace of the High Court of Justice,
and Laud, the disgrace of the Star Chamber. He can forgive any thing but
temperance and impartiality. He has a certain sympathy with the violence
of his opponents, as well as with that of his associates. In every
furious partisan he sees either his present self or his former self,
the pensioner that is, or the Jacobin that has been. But he is unable to
comprehend a writer who, steadily attached to principles, is indifferent
about names and badges, and who judges {439}of characters with equable
severity, not altogether untinctured with cynicism, but free from the
slightest touch of passion, party spirit, or caprice.

We should probably like Mr. Hallam’s book more if, instead of pointing
out with strict fidelity the bright points and the dark spots of both
parties, he had exerted himself to whitewash the one and to blacken the
other. But we should certainly prize it far less. Eulogy and invective
may be had for the asking. But for cold rigid justice, the one weight
and the one measure, we know not where else we can look.

No portion of our annals has been more perplexed and misrepresented by
writers of different parties than the history of the Reformation. In
this labyrinth of falsehood and sophistry, the guidance of Mr. Hallam
is peculiarly valuable. It is impossible not to admire the even-handed
justice with which he deals out castigation to right and left on the
rival persecutors.

It is vehemently maintained by some writers of the present day that
Elizabeth persecuted neither Papists nor Puritans as such, and that the
severe measures which she occasionally adopted were dictated, not by
religious intolerance, but by political necessity. Even the excellent
account of those times which Mr. Hallam has given has not altogether
imposed silence on the authors of this fallacy. The title of the Queen,
they say, was annulled by the Pope; her throne was given to another; her
subjects were incited to rebellion; her life was menaced; every Catholic
was bound in conscience to be a traitor; it was therefore against
traitors, not against Catholics, that the penal laws were enacted.

In order that our readers may be fully competent to appreciate the
merits of this defence, we will state. {440}as concisely as possible,
the substance of some of these laws.

As soon as Elizabeth ascended the throne, and before the least hostility
to her government had been shown by the Catholic population, an act
passed prohibiting the celebration of the rites of the Romish Church, on
pain of forfeiture for the first offence, of a year’s imprisonment for
the second, and of perpetual imprisonment for the third.

A law was next made in 1562, enacting, that all who had ever graduated
at the Universities or received holy orders, all lawyers, and all
magistrates, should take the oath of supremacy when tendered to them, on
pain of forfeiture and imprisonment during the royal pleasure. After the
lapse of three months, the oath might again be tendered to them; and,
if it were again refused, the recusant was guilty of high treason. A
prospective law, however severe, framed to exclude Catholics from the
liberal professions, would have been mercy itself compared with this
odious act. It is a retrospective statute; it is a retrospective penal
statute; it is a retrospective penal statute against a large class. We
will not positively affirm that a law of this description must always,
and under all circumstances, be unjustifiable. But the presumption
against it is most violent; nor do we remember any crisis, either in our
own history, or in the history of any other country, which would
have rendered such a provision necessary. In the present case,
what circumstances called for extraordinary rigour? There might be
disaffection among the Catholics. The prohibition of their worship would
naturally produce it. But it is from their situation, not from their
conduct, from the wrongs which they had suffered, not from those which
they {441}had committed, that the existence of discontent among them
must be inferred. There were libels, no doubt, and prophecies, and
rumours, and suspicions, strange grounds for a law inflicting capital
penalties, _ex post facto_, on a large body of men.

Eight years later, the bull of Pius deposing Elizabeth produced a third
law. This law, to which alone, as we conceive, the defence now under our
consideration can apply, provides that, if any Catholic shall convert
a Protestant to the Romish Church, they shall both suffer death as for
high treason.

We believe that we might safely content ourselves with stating the
fact, and leaving it to the judgment of every plain Englishman. Recent
controversies have, however, given so much importance to this subject,
that we will offer a few remarks on it.

In the first place, the arguments which are urged in favour of Elizabeth
apply with much greater force to the case of her sister Mary. The
Catholics did not, at the time of Elizabeth’s accession, rise in arms
to seat a Pretender on her throne. But before Mary had given, or could
give, provocation, the most distinguished Protestants attempted to
set aside her rights in favour of the Lady Jane. That attempt, and the
subsequent insurrection of Wyatt, furnished at least as good a plea
for the burning of Protestants, as the conspiracies against Elizabeth
furnish for the hanging and embowelling of Papists.

The fact is that both pleas are worthless alike. If such arguments are
to pass current, it will be easy to prove that there was never such a
thing as religious persecution since the creation. For there never was
a religious persecution in which some odious crime was not, justly or
unjustly, said to be obviously deducible {442}from the doctrines of the
persecuted party. We might say that the Cæsars did not persecute the
Christians; that they only punished men who were charged, rightly or
wrongly, with burning Rome, and with committing the foulest abominations
in secret assemblies; and that the refusal to throw frankincense on the
altar of Jupiter was not the crime but only evidence of the crime.
We might say, that the massacre of St. Bartholomew was intended to
extirpate, not a religious sect, but a political party. For, beyond all
doubt, the proceedings of the Huguenots, from the conspiracy of Amboise
to the battle of Moncontour, had given much more trouble to the French
monarchy than the Catholics have ever given to the English monarchy
since the Reformation; and that too with much less excuse.

The true distinction is perfectly obvious. To punish a man because he
has committed a crime, or because he is believed, though unjustly, to
have committed a crime, is not persecution. To punish a man, because
we infer from the nature of some doctrine which he holds, or from the
conduct of other persons who hold the same doctrines with him, that he
will commit a crime, is persecution, and is, in every case, foolish and

When Elizabeth put Ballard and Babington to death, she was not
persecuting. Nor should we have accused her government of persecution
for passing any law, however severe, against overt acts of sedition. But
to argue that, because a man is a Catholic, he must think it right to
murder a heretical sovereign, and that because he thinks it right he
will attempt to do it, and then, to found on this conclusion a law for
punishing him as if he had done it, is plain persecution.

If, indeed, all men reasoned in the same manner on {443}the same data,
and always did what they thought it their duty to do, this mode of
dispensing punishment might be extremely judicious. But as people who
agree about premises often disagree about conclusions, and as no man in
the world acts up to his own standard of right, there are two enormous
gaps in the logic by which alone penalties for opinions can be defended.
The doctrine of reprobation, in the judgment of many very able men,
follows by syllogistic necessity from the doctrine of election. Others
conceive that the Antinomian heresy directly follows from the doctrine
of reprobation; and it is very generally thought that licentiousness and
cruelty of the worst description are likely to be the fruits, as they
often have been the fruits, of Antinomian opinions. This chain of
reasoning, we think, is as perfect in all its parts as that which makes
out a Papist to be necessarily a traitor. Yet it would be rather a
strong measure to hang all the Calvinists, on the ground that, if they
were spared, they would infallibly commit all the atrocities of Matthias
and Knipperdoling. For, reason the matter as we may, experience shows
us that a man may believe in election without believing in reprobation,
that he may believe in reprobation without being an Antinomian, and that
he may be an Antinomian without being a bad citizen. Man, in short,
is so inconsistent a creature that it is impossible to reason from his
belief to his conduct, or from one part of his belief to another.

We do not believe that every Englishman who was reconciled to the
Catholic Church would, as a necessary consequence, have thought himself
justified in deposing or assassinating Elizabeth. It is not sufficient
to say that the convert must have acknowledged the authority of the
Pope, and that the Pope had issued a {444}bull against the Queen. We
know through what strange loopholes the human mind contrives to escape,
when it wishes to avoid a disagreeable inference from an admitted
proposition. We know how long the Jansenists contrived to believe the
Pope infallible in matters of doctrine, and at the same time to believe
doctrines which he pronounced to be heretical. Let it pass, however,
that every Catholic in the kingdom thought that Elizabeth might be
lawfully murdered. Still the old maxim, that what is the business of
everybody is the business of nobody, is particularly likely to hold good
in a case in which a cruel death is the almost inevitable consequence of
making any attempt.

Of the ten thousand clergymen of the Church of England, there is
scarcely one who would not say that a man who should leave his country
and friends to preach the Gospel among savages, and who should, after
labouring indefatigably without any hope of reward, terminate his life
by martyrdom, would deserve the warmest admiration. Yet we doubt whether
ten of the ten thousand ever thought of going on such an expedition.
Why should we suppose that conscientious motives, feeble as they are
constantly found to be in a good cause, should be omnipotent for evil?
Doubtless there was many a jolly Popish priest in the old manor-houses
of the northern counties, who would have admitted, in theory, the
deposing power of the Pope, but who would not have been ambitious to be
stretched on the rack, even though it were to be used, according to the
benevolent proviso of Lord Burleigh, “as charitably as such a thing can
be,” or to be hanged, drawn, and quartered, even though, by that rare
indulgence which the Queen, of her special grace, certain knowledge, and
mere motion, sometimes extended to very mitigated cases, he {445}were
allowed a fair time to choke before the hangman began to grabble in his

But the laws passed against the Puritans had not even the wretched
excuse which we have been considering. In this case, the cruelty was
equal, the danger infinitely less. In fact, the danger was created
solely by the cruelty. But it is superfluous to press the argument.
By no artifice of ingenuity can the stigma of persecution, the
worst blemish of the English Church, be effaced or patched over. Her
doctrines, we well know, do not tend to intolerance. She admits the
possibility of salvation out of her own pale. But this circumstance, in
itself honourable to her, aggravates the sin and the shame of those
who persecuted in her name. Dominic and De Montfort did not, at least,
murder and torture for differences of opinion which they considered as
trifling. It was to stop an infection which, as they believed, hurried
to certain perdition every soul which it seized, that they employed
their fire and steel. The measures of the English government with
respect to the Papists and Puritans sprang from a widely different
principle. If those who deny that the founders of the Church were guilty
of religious persecution mean only that the founders of the Church were
not influenced by any religious motive, we perfectly agree with them.
Neither the penal code of Elizabeth, nor the more hateful system by
which Charles the Second attempted to force Episcopacy on the Scotch,
had an origin so noble. The cause is to be sought in some circumstances
which attended the Reformation in England, circumstances of which the
effects long continued to be felt, and may in some degree be traced even
at the present day.

In Germany, in France, in Switzerland, and in Scotland, {446}the contest
against the Papal power was essentially a religions contest. In all
those countries, indeed, the cause of the Reformation, like every
other great cause, attracted to itself many supporters influenced by no
conscientious principle, many who quitted the Established Church
only because they thought her in danger, many who were weary of her
restraints, and many who were greedy for her spoils. But it was not
by these adherents that the separation was there conducted. They were
welcome auxiliaries; their support was too often purchased by unworthy
compliances; but, however exalted in rank or power, they were not the
leaders in the enterprise. Men of a widely different description,
men who redeemed great infirmities and errors by sincerity,
disinterestedness, energy, and courage, men who, with many of the vices
of revolutionary chiefs and of polemic divines, united some of the
highest qualities of apostles, were the real directors. They might
be violent in innovation and scurrilous in controversy. They might
sometimes act with inexcusable severity towards opponents, and sometimes
connive disreputably at the vices of powerful allies. But fear was not
in them, nor hypocrisy, nor avarice, nor any petty selfishness. Their
one great object was the demolition of the idols and the purification of
the sanctuary. If they were too indulgent to the failings of eminent men
from whose patronage they expected advantage to the church, they
never flinched before persecuting tyrants and hostile armies. For that
theological system to which they sacrificed the lives of others without
scruple, they were ready to throw away their own lives without fear.
Such were the authors of the great schism on the Continent and in the
northern part of this island. The Elector of Saxony and the Landgrave
of Hesse, the {447}Prince of Condé and the King of Navarre, the Earl of
Moray and the Earl of Morton, might espouse the Protestant opinions, or
might pretend to espouse them; but it was from Luther, from Calvin, from
Knox, that the Reformation took its character.

England has no such names to show: not that she wanted men of sincere
piety, of deep learning, of steady and adventurous courage. But these
were thrown into the back ground. Elsewhere men of this character were
the principals. Here they acted a secondary part. Elsewhere worldliness
was the tool of zeal. Here zeal was the tool of worldliness. A King,
whose character may be best described by saying that he was despotism
itself personified, unprincipled ministers, a rapacious aristocracy,
a servile Parliament, such were the instruments by which England was
delivered from the yoke of Rome. The work which had been begun by Henry,
the murderer of his wives, was continued by Somerset, the murderer of
his brother, and completed by Elizabeth, the murderer of her guest.
Sprung from brutal passion, nurtured by selfish policy, the Reformation
in England displayed little of what had, in other countries,
distinguished it, unflinching and unsparing devotion, boldness of
speech, and singleness of eye. These were indeed to be found; but it was
in the lower ranks of the party which opposed the authority of Rome, in
such men as Hooper, Latimer, Rogers, and Taylor. Of those who had any
important share in bringing the Reformation about, Ridley was perhaps
the only person who did not consider it as a mere political job. Even
Ridley did not play a very prominent part. Among the statesmen and
prelates who principally gave the tone to the religious changes, there
is one, and one only, whose conduct partiality {448}itself can attribute
to any other than interested motives. It is not strange, therefore, that
his character should have been the subject of fierce controversy. We
need not say that we speak of Cranmer.

Mr. Hallam has been severely censured for saying, with his usual placid
severity, that, “if we weigh the character of this prelate in an equal
balance, he will appear far indeed removed from the turpitude imputed to
him by his enemies; yet not entitled to any extraordinary veneration.”
 We will venture to expand the sense of Mr. Hallam, and to comment on it
thus:--If we consider Cranmer merely as a statesman, he will not appear
a much worse man than Wolsey, Gardiner, Cromwell, or Somerset. But, when
an attempt is made to set him up as a saint, it is scarcely possible
for any man of sense who knows the history of the times to preserve his
gravity. If the memory of the archbishop had been left to find its own
place, he would have soon been lost among the crowd which is mingled

                        “A quel cattivo coro

                   Degli angeli, che non furon ribelli,

                   Nè fur fedcli a Dio, nia per se foro."

And the only notice which it would have been necessary to take of his
name would have been

               “Non ragioniam di lui; ma guarda, e passa."

But, since his admirers challenge for him a place in the noble army of
martyrs, his claims require fuller discussion.

The origin of his greatness, common enough in the scandalous chronicles
of courts, seems strangely out of place in a hagiology. Cranmer rose
into favour by serving Henry in the disgraceful affair of his first
divorce. He promoted the marriage of Anne {449}Boleyn with the King.
On a frivolous pretence he pronounced that marriage null and void. On a
pretence, if possible, still more frivolous, he dissolved the ties which
bound the shameless tyrant to Anne of Cleves. He attached himself to
Cromwell while the fortunes of Cromwell flourished. He voted for cutting
off Cromwell’s head without a trial, when the tide of royal favour
turned. He conformed backwards and forwards as the King changed his
mind. He assisted, while Henry lived, in condemning to the flames those
who denied the doctrine of transubstantiation. He found out, as soon as
Henry was dead, that the doctrine was false. He was, however, not at a
loss for people to burn. The authority of his station and of his grey
hairs was employed to overcome the disgust with which an intelligent and
virtuous child regarded persecution. Intolerance is always bad. But the
sanguinary intolerance of a man who thus wavered in his creed excites
a loathing, to which it is difficult to give vent without calling foul
names. Equally false to political and to religious obligations,
the primate was first the tool of Somerset, and then the tool of
Northumberland. When the Protector wished to put his own brother
to death, without even the semblance of a trial, he found a ready
instrument in Cranmer. In spite of the canon law, which forbade a
churchman to take any part in matters of blood, the archbishop signed
the warrant for the atrocious sentence. When Somerset had been in his
turn destroyed, his destroyer received the support of Cranmer in a
wicked attempt to change the course of the succession.

The apology made for him by his admirers only renders his conduct more
contemptible. He complied, it is said, against his better judgment,
because he could {450}not resist the entreaties of Edward. A holy
prelate of sixty, one would think, might be better employed by the
bedside of a dying child, than in committing crimes at the request of
the young disciple. If Cranmer had shown half as much firmness when
Edward requested him to commit treason as he had before shown when
Edward requested him not to commit murder, he might have saved the
country from one of the greatest misfortunes that it ever underwent. He
became, from whatever motive, the accomplice of the worthless Dudley.
The virtuous scruples of another young and amiable mind were to be
overcome. As Edward had been forced into persecution, Jane was to be
seduced into treason. No transaction in our annals is more unjustifiable
than this. If a hereditary title were to be respected, Mary possessed
it. If a parliamentary title were preferable, Mary possessed that also.
If the interest of the Protestant religion required a departure from the
ordinary rule of succession, that interest would have been best served
by raising Elizabeth to the throne. If the foreign relations of the
kingdom were considered, still stronger reasons might be found for
preferring Elizabeth to Jane. There was great doubt whether Jane or the
Queen of Scotland had the better claim; and that doubt would, in all
probability, have produced a war both with Scotland and with France, if
the project of Northumberland had not been blasted in its infancy.
That Elizabeth had a better claim than the Queen of Scotland was
indisputable. To the part which Cranmer, and unfortunately some better
men than Cranmer, took in this most reprehensible scheme, much of the
severity with which the Protestants were afterwards treated must in
fairness be ascribed. {451}The plot failed; Popery triumphed; and
Cranmer recanted. Most people look on his recantation as a single
blemish on an honourable life, the frailty of an unguarded moment. But,
in fact, his recantation was in strict accordance with the system on
which he had constantly acted. It was part of a regular habit. It was
not the first recantation that he had made; and, in all probability, if
it had answered its purpose, it would not have been the last. We do
not blame him for not choosing to be burned alive. It is no very severe
reproach to any person that he does not possess heroic fortitude. But
surely a man who liked the fire so little should have had some sympathy
for others. A persecutor who inflicts nothing which he is not ready to
endure deserves some respect. But when a man who loves his doctrines
more than the lives of his neighbours loves his own little finger better
than his doctrines, a very simple argument _a fortiori_ will enable us
to estimate the amount of his benevolence.

But his martyrdom, it is said, redeemed every thing. It is extraordinary
that so much ignorance should exist on this subject. The fact is that,
if a martyr be a man who chooses to die rather than to renounce his
opinions, Cranmer was no more a martyr than Dr. Dodd. He died, solely
because he could not help it. He never retracted his recantation till
he found he had made it in vain. The Queen was fully resolved that,
Catholic or Protestant, he should burn. Then he spoke out, as people
generally speak out when they are at the point of death and have nothing
to hope or to fear on earth. If Mary had suffered him to live, we
suspect that he would have heard mass and received absolution, like a
good Catholic, till the accession of Elizabeth, and that he would then
have purchased, by {452}another apostasy, the power of burning men
better and braver than himself.

We do not mean, however, to represent him as a monster of wickedness.
He was not wantonly cruel or treacherous. He was merely a supple, timid,
interested courtier, in times of frequent and violent change. That which
has always been represented as his distinguishing virtue, the facility
with which he forgave his enemies, belongs to the character. Slaves of
his class are never vindictive, and never grateful. A present interest
effaces past services and past injuries from their minds together. Their
only object is self-preservation; and for this they conciliate those who
wrong them, just as they abandon those who serve them. Before we extol
a man for his forgiving temper, we should inquire whether he is above
revenge, or below it.

Somerset had as little principle as his coadjutor. Of Henry, an orthodox
Catholic, except that he chose to be his own Pope, and of Elizabeth, who
certainly had no objection to the theology of Rome, we need say nothing.
These four persons were the great authors of the English Reformation.
Three of them had a direct interest in the extension of the royal
prerogative. The fourth was the ready tool of any who could frighten
him. It is not difficult to see from what motives, and on what plan,
such persons would be inclined to remodel the Church. The scheme
was merely to transfer the full cup of sorceries from the Babylonian
enchantress to other hands, spilling as little as possible by the way.
The Catholic doctrines and rites were to be retained in the Church of
England. But the King was to exercise the control which had formerly
belonged to the Roman Pontiff. In this {453}Henry for a time succeeded.
The extraordinary force of his character, the fortunate situation in
which he stood with respect to foreign powers, and the vast resources
which the suppression of the monasteries placed at his disposal, enabled
him to oppress both the religious factions equally. He punished with
impartial severity those who renounced the doctrines of Rome, and those
who acknowledged her jurisdiction. The basis, however, on which he
attempted to establish his power was too narrow to be durable. It would
have been impossible even for him long to persecute both persuasions.
Even under his reign there had been insurrections on the part of the
Catholics, and signs of a spirit which was likely soon to produce
insurrection on the part of the Protestants. It was plainly necessary,
therefore, that the Crown should form an alliance with one or with the
other side. To recognise the Papal supremacy, would have been to abandon
the whole design. Reluctantly and sullenly the government at last joined
the Protestants. In forming this junction, its object was to procure
as much aid as possible for its selfish undertaking, and to make the
smallest possible concessions to the spirit of religious innovation.

From this compromise the Church of England sprang. In many respects,
indeed, it has been well for her that, in an age of exuberant zeal, her
principal founders were mere politicians. To this circumstance she owes
her moderate articles, her decent ceremonies, her noble and pathetic
liturgy. Her worship is not disfigured by mummery. Yet she has
preserved, in a far greater degree than any of her Protestant sisters,
that art of striking the senses and filling the imagination in which the
Catholic Church so eminently excels. But, on the {454}other hand, she
continued, to be, for more than a hundred and fifty years, the servile
handmaid of monarchy, the steady enemy of public liberty. The divine
right of kings, and the duty of passively obeying all their commands,
were her favourite tenets. She held those tenets firmly through times
of oppression, persecution, and licentiousness; while law was trampled
down; while judgment was perverted; while the people were eaten as
though they were bread. Once, and but once, for a moment, and but for
a moment, when her own dignity and property were touched, she forgot to
practise the submission which she had taught.

Elizabeth clearly discerned the advantages which were to be derived from
a close connection between the monarchy and the priesthood. At the
time of her accession, indeed, she evidently meditated a partial
reconciliation with Rome; and, throughout her whole life, she leaned
strongly to some of the most obnoxious parts of the Catholic system.
But her imperious temper, her keen sagacity, and her peculiar situation,
soon led her to attach herself completely to a church which was all
her own. On the same principle on which she joined it, she attempted to
drive all her people within its pale by persecution. She supported it by
severe penal laws, not because she thought conformity to its discipline
necessary to salvation; but because it was the fastness which arbitrary
power was making strong for itself; because she expected a more
profound obedience from those who saw in her both their civil and their
ecclesiastical chief, than from those who, like the Papists, ascribe
spiritual authority to the Pope, or from those who, like some of the
Puritans, ascribed it only to Heaven. To dissent from her establishment
was to dissent from an institution founded with {455}an express view to
the maintenance and extension of the royal prerogative.

This great Queen and her successors, by considering conformity and
loyalty as identical, at length made them so. With respect to the
Catholics, indeed, the rigour of persecution abated after her death.
James soon found that they were unable to injure him, and that the
animosity which the Puritan party felt towards them drove them of
necessity to take refuge under his throne. During the subsequent
conflict, their fault was anything but disloyalty. On the other hand,
James hated the Puritans with more than the hatred of Elizabeth. Her
aversion to them was political; his was personal. The sect had plagued
him in Scotland, where he was weak; and he was determined to be even
with them in England, where he was powerful. Persecution gradually
changed a sect into a faction. That there was anything in the religious
opinions of the Puritans which rendered them hostile to monarchy has
never been proved to our satisfaction. After our civil contests, it
became the fashion to say that Presbyterianism was connected with
Republicanism; just as it has been the fashion to say, since the time of
the French Revolution, that Infidelity is connected with Republicanism.
It is perfectly true that a church, constituted on the Calvinistic
model, will not strengthen the hands of the sovereign so much as a
hierarchy which consists of several ranks, differing in dignity and
emolument, and of which all the members are constantly looking to
the government for promotion. But experience has clearly shown that a
Calvinistic church, like every other church, is disaffected when it is
persecuted, quiet when it is tolerated, and actively loyal when it
is favoured and cherished. Scotland has had a Presbyterian
{456}establishment during a century and a half. Yet her General
Assembly has not, during that period, given half so much trouble to the
government as the Convocation of the Church of England gave during
the thirty years which followed the Revolution. That James and Charles
should have been mistaken in this point is not surprising. But we are
astonished, we must confess, that men of our own time, men who have
before them the proof of what toleration can effect, men who may see
with their own eyes that the Presbyterians are no such monsters
when government is wise enough to let them alone, should defend the
persecutions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as indispensable
to the safety of the church and the throne.

How persecution protects churches and thrones was soon made manifest.
A systematic political opposition, vehement, daring, and inflexible,
sprang from a schism about trifles, altogether unconnected with the real
interests of religion or of the state. Before the close of the reign
of Elizabeth this opposition began to show itself It broke forth on the
question of the monopolies. Even the imperial Lioness was compelled
to abandon her prey, and slowly and fiercely to recede before the
assailants. The spirit of liberty grew with the growing wealth and
intelligence of the people. The feeble struggles and insults of James
irritated instead of suppressing it; and the events which immediately
followed the accession of his son portended a contest of no common
severity, between a king resolved to be absolute, and a people resolved
to be free.

The famous proceedings of the third Parliament of Charles, and the
tyrannical measures which followed its dissolution, are extremely well
described by Mr. Hal-lam. No writer, we think, has shown, in so clear
and {457}satisfactory a manner, that the Government then entertained
a fixed purpose of destroying the old parliamentary constitution
of England, or at least of reducing it to a mere shadow. We hasten,
however, to a part of his work which, though it abounds in valuable
information and in remarks well deserving to be attentively considered,
and though it is, like the rest, evidently written in a spirit of
perfect impartiality, appears to us, in many points, objectionable.

We pass to the year 1640. The fate of the short Parliament held in
that year clearly indicated the views of the King. That a parliament so
moderate in feeling should have met after so many years of oppression
is truly wonderful. Hyde extols its loyal and conciliatory spirit. Its
conduct, we are told, made the excellent Falkland in love with the very
name of Parliament. We think, indeed, with Oliver St. John, that its
moderation was carried too far, and that the times required sharper
and more decided councils. It was fortunate, however, that the King
had another opportunity of showing that hatred of the liberties of his
subjects which was the ruling principle of all his conduct. The sole
crime of the Commons was that, meeting after a long intermission of
parliaments, and after a long series of cruelties and illegal imposts,
they seemed inclined to examine grievances before they would vote
supplies. For this insolence they were dissolved almost as soon as they

Defeat, universal agitation, financial embarrassments, disorganization
in every part of the government, compelled Charles again to convene the
Houses before the close of the same year. Their meeting was one of the
great eras in the history of the civilised world. Whatever of political
freedom exists either in Europe or in {458}America, has sprung, directly
or indirectly, from those institutions which they secured and reformed.
We never turn to the annals of those times without feeling increased
admiration of the patriotism, the energy, the decision, the consummate
wisdom, which marked the measures of that great Parliament, from the day
on which it met to the commencement of civil hostilities.

The impeachment of Strafford was the first, and perhaps the greatest
blow. The whole conduct of that celebrated man proved that he had formed
a deliberate scheme to subvert the fundamental laws of England. Those
parts of his correspondence which have been brought to light since his
death place the matter beyond a doubt. One of his admirers has, indeed,
offered to show “that the passages which Mr. Hallam has invidiously
extracted from the correspondence between Laud and Strafford, as proving
their design to introduce a thorough tyranny, refer not to any such
design, but to a thorough reform in the affairs of state, and the
thorough maintenance of just authority.” We will recommend two or three
of these passages to the especial notice of our readers.

All who know anything of those times, know that the conduct of Hampden
in the affair of the ship-money met with the warm approbation of every
respectable Royalist in England. It drew forth the ardent eulogies
of the champions of the prerogative and even of the Crown lawyers
themselves. Clarendon allows Hampden’s demeanour through the whole
proceeding to have been such, that even those who watched for an
occasion against the defender of the people, were compelled to
acknowledge themselves unable to find any fault in him. That he was
right in the point of law is now universally admitted. Even {459}had it
been otherwise, he had a fair case. Five of the Judges, servile as our
Courts then were, pronounced in his favour. The majority against him was
the smallest possible. In no country retaining the slightest vestige
of constitutional liberty can a modest and decent appeal to the laws be
treated as a crime. Stratford, however, recommends that, for taking
the sense of a legal tribunal on a legal question, Hampden should be
punished, and punished severely, “whipt,” says the insolent apostate,
“whipt into his senses. If the rod,” he adds, “be so used that it smarts
not, I am the more sorry.” This is the maintenance of just authority.

In civilised nations, the most arbitrary governments have generally
suffered justice to have a free course in private suits. Strafford
wished to make every cause in every court subject to the royal
prerogative. He complained that in Ireland he was not permitted to
meddle in cases between party and party. “I know very well,” says he,
“that the common lawyers will be passionately against it, who are wont
to put such a prejudice upon all other professions, as if none were to
be trusted, or capable to administer justice, but themselves; yet how
well this suits with monarchy, when they monopolise all to be governed
by their yearbooks, you in England have a costly example.” We are really
curious to know by what arguments it is to be proved, that the power of
interfering in the lawsuits of individuals is part of the just authority
of the executive government.

It is not strange that a man so careless of the common civil rights,
which even despots have generally respected, should treat with scorn the
limitations which the constitution imposes on the royal prerogative.
We might quote pages: but we will content ourselves with {460}a single
specimen:--“The debts of the Crown being taken off, you may govern as
you please: and most resolute I am that may be done without borrowing
any help forth of the King’s lodgings.”

Such was the theory of that thorough reform in the state which Strafford
meditated. His whole practice, from the day on which he sold himself to
the court, was in strict conformity to his theory. For his accomplices
various excuses may be urged, ignorance, imbecility, religious bigotry.
But Wentworth had no such plea. His intellect was capacious. His early
prepossessions were on the side of popular rights. He knew the whole
beauty and value of the system which he attempted to deface. He was the
first of the Rats, the first of those statesmen whose patriotism has
been only the coquetry of political prostitution, and whose profligacy
has taught governments to adopt the old maxim of the slave-market,
that it is cheaper to buy than to breed, to import defenders from an
Opposition than to rear them in a Ministry. He was the first Englishman
to whom a peerage was a sacrament of infamy, a baptism into the
communion of corruption. As he was the earliest of the hateful list,
so was he also by far the greatest; eloquent, sagacious, adventurous,
intrepid, ready of invention, immutable of purpose, in every talent
which exalts or destroys nations preeminent, the lost Archangel,
the Satan of the apostasy. The title for which, at the time of his
desertion, he exchanged a name honourably distinguished in the cause of
the people, reminds us of the appellation which, from the moment of the
first treason, fixed itself on the fallen Son of the Morning,

                   Satan;--so call him now.--His former name

                   Is heard no more in heaven."  {461}The defection of Strafford from
the popular party contributed mainly to draw on him the hatred of his
contemporaries. It has since made him an object of peculiar interest to
those whose lives have been spent, like his, in proving that there is
no malice like the malice of a renegade. Nothing can be more natural or
becoming than that one turncoat should eulogize another.

Many enemies of public liberty have been distinguished by their private
virtues. But Strafford was the same throughout. As was the statesman,
such was the kinsman, and such the lover. His conduct towards Lord
Mountmorris is recorded by Clarendon. For a word which can scarcely be
called rash, which could not have been made the subject of an ordinary
civil action, the Lord Lieutenant dragged a man of high rank, married to
a relative of that saint about whom he whimpered to the Peers, before a
tribunal of slaves. Sentence of death was passed. Every thing but death
was inflicted. Yet the treatment which Lord Ely experienced was still
more scandalous. That nobleman was thrown into prison, in order
to compel him to settle his estate in a manner agreeable to his
daughter-in-law, whom, as there is every reason to believe, Strafford
had debauched. These stories do not rest on vague report. The historians
most partial to the minister admit their truth, and censure them in
terms which, though too lenient for the occasion, are still severe.
These facts are alone sufficient to justify the appellation with which
Pym branded him, “the wicked Earl.”

In spite of all Strafford’s vices, in spite of all his dangerous
projects, he was certainly entitled to the benefit of the law; but
of the law in all its rigour; of {462}the law according to the utmost
strictness of the letter, which killeth. He was not to be torn in pieces
by a mob, or stabbed in the back by an assassin. He was not to have
punishment meted out to him from his own iniquitous measure. But if
justice, in the whole range of its wide armoury, contained one weapon
which could pierce him, that weapon his pursuers were bound, before God
and man, to employ.

                        ----“If he may

                   Find mercy in the law, ’tis his: if none,

                   Let him not seek’t of us."

Such was the language which the Commons might o o o justly use.

Did then the articles against Strafford strictly amount to high treason?
Many people, who know neither what the articles were, nor what high
treason is, will answer in the negative, simply because the accused
person, speaking for his life, took that ground of defence. The Journals
of the Lords show that the Judges were consulted. They answered, with
one accord, that the articles on which the Earl was convicted, amounted
to high treason. This judicial opinion, even if we suppose it to
have been erroneous, goes far to justify the Parliament. The judgment
pronounced in the Exchequer Chamber has always been urged by the
apologists of Charles in defence of his conduct respecting ship-money.
Yet on that occasion there was but a bare majority in favour of the
party at whose pleasure all the magistrates composing the tribunal were
removable. The decision in the case of Strafford was unanimous; as far
as we can judge, it was unbiassed; and, though there may be room for
hesitation, we think on the whole that it was reasonable. “It may be
remarked,” says Mr. Hallam, “that the fifteenth article {463}of the
impeachment, charging Strafford with raising money by his own authority,
and quartering troops on the people of Ireland, in order to compel their
obedience to his unlawful requisitions, upon which, and upon one other
article, not upon the whole matter, the Peers voted him guilty, does,
at least, approach very nearly, if we may not say more, to a substantive
treason within the statute of Edward the Third, as a levying of war
against the king.” This most sound and just exposition has provoked
a very ridiculous reply. “It should seem to be an Irish construction
this,” says an assailant of Mr. Hallam, “which makes the raising money
for the King’s service, with his knowledge, and by his approbation, to
come under the head of levying war on the King, and therefore to be high
treason.” Now, people who undertake to write on points of constitutional
law should know, what every attorney’s clerk and every forward schoolboy
on an upper form knows, that, by a fundamental maxim of our polity, the
King can do no wrong; that every court is bound to suppose his conduct
and his sentiments to be, on every occasion, such as they ought to be;
and that no evidence can be received for the purpose of setting aside
this loyal and salutary presumption. The Lords, therefore, were bound to
take it for granted that the King considered arms which were unlawfully
directed against his people as directed against his own throne.

The remarks of Mr. Hallam on the bill of attainder, though, as
usual, weighty and acute, do not perfectly satisfy us. He defends the
principle, but objects to the severity of the punishment. That, on great
emergencies, the State may justifiably pass a retrospective act against
an offender, we have no doubt whatever. We are acquainted with only one
argument on the other side, {464}which lias in it enough of reason to
hear an answer. Warning, it is said, is the end of punishment. But
a punishment inflicted, not by a general rule, but by an arbitrary
discretion, cannot serve the purpose of a warning. It is therefore
useless; and useless pain ought not to be inflicted. This sophism
has found its way into several books on penal legislation. It admits,
however, of a very simple refutation. In the first place, punishments
_ex post facto_ are not altogether useless even as warnings. They are
warnings to a particular class which stand in great need of warnings, to
favourites and ministers. They remind persons of this description that
there may be a day of reckoning for those who ruin and enslave their
country in all the forms of law. But this is not all. Warning is, in
ordinary cases, the principal end of punishment; but it is not the only
end. To remove the offender, to preserve society from those dangers
which are to be apprehended from his incorrigible depravity is often one
of the ends. In the case of such a knave as Wild, or such a ruffian
as Thurtell, it is a very important end. In the case of a powerful and
wicked statesman, it is infinitely more important; so important, as
alone to justify the utmost severity, even though it were certain that
his fate would not deter others from imitating his example. At present,
indeed, we should think it extremely pernicious to take such a course,
even with a worse minister than Strafford, if a worse could exist; for,
at present, Parliament has only to withhold its support from a Cabinet
to produce an immediate change of hands. The case was widely different
in the reign of Charles the First. That Prince had governed during
eleven years without any Parliament; and, even when Parliament
was sitting, had supported Buckingham against its most violent
remonstrances. {465}Mr. Hallam is of opinion that a bill of pains and
penalties ought to have been passed; but he draws a distinction less
just, we think, than his distinctions usually are. His opinion, so far
as we can collect it, is this, that there are almost insurmountable
objections to retrospective laws for capital punishment, but that, where
the punishment stops short of death, the objections are comparatively
trifling. Now the practice of taking the severity of the penalty into
consideration, when the question is about the mode of procedure and the
rules of evidence, is no doubt sufficiently common. We often see a
man convicted of a simple larceny on evidence on which he would not be
convicted of a burglary. It sometimes happens that a jury, when there
is strong suspicion, but not absolute demonstration, that an act,
unquestionably amounting to murder, was committed by the prisoner before
them, will find him guilty of manslaughter. But this is surely very
irrational. The rules of evidence no more depend on the magnitude of the
interests at stake than the rules of arithmetic. We might as well say
that we have a greater chance of throwing a size when we are playing for
a penny than when we are playing for a thousand pounds, as that a form
of trial which is sufficient for the purposes of justice, in a matter
affecting liberty and property, is insufficient in a matter affecting
life. Nay, if a mode of proceeding be too lax for capital cases, it
is, _à fortiori_, too lax for all others; for, in capital cases, the
principles of human nature will always afford considerable security.
No judge is so cruel as he who indemnifies himself for scrupulosity
in cases of blood, by license in affairs of smaller importance. The
difference in tale on the one side far more than makes up for the
difference in weight on the other. {466}If there be any universal
objection to retrospective punishment, there is no more to be said.
But such is not the opinion of Mr. Hallam. He approves of the mode of
proceeding. He thinks that a punishment, not previously affixed by law
to the offences of Strafford, should have been inflicted; that Strafford
should have been, by act of Parliament, degraded from his rank, and
condemned to perpetual banishment. Our difficulty would have been at
the first step, and there only. Indeed we can scarcely conceive that any
case which does not call for capital punishment can call for punishment
by a retrospective act. We can scarcely conceive a man so wicked and
so dangerous that the whole course of law must be disturbed in order to
reach him, yet not so wicked as to deserve the severest sentence, nor so
dangerous as to require the last and surest custody, that of the grave.
If we had thought that Strafford might be safely suffered to live in
France, we should have thought it better that he should continue to
live in England, than that he should be exiled by a special act. As to
degradation, it was not the Earl, but the general and the statesman,
whom the people had to fear. Essex said, on that occasion, with more
truth than elegance, “Stone dead hath no fellow.” And often during the
civil wars the Parliament had reason to rejoice that an irreversible law
and an impassable barrier protected them from the valour and capacity of

It is remarkable that neither Hyde nor Falkland voted against the bill
of attainder. There is, indeed, reason to believe that Falkland spoke in
favour of it. In one respect, as Mr. Hallam has observed, the proceeding
was honourably distinguished from others of the same kind. An act was
passed to relieve the children {467}of Strafford from the forfeiture and
corruption of blood which were the legal consequences of the sentence.
The Crown had never shown equal generosity in a case of treason. The
liberal conduct of the Commons has been fully and most appropriately
repaid. The House of Wentworth has since that time been as much
distinguished by public spirit as by power and splendour, and may at
the present moment boast of members with whom Say and Hampden would have
been proud to act.

It is somewhat curious that the admirers of Strafford should also be,
without a single exception, the admirers of Charles; for, whatever
we may think of the conduct of the Parliament towards the unhappy
favourite, there can be no doubt that the treatment which he received
from his master was disgraceful. Faithless alike to his people and to
his tools, the King did not scruple to play the part of the cowardly
approver, who hangs his accomplice. It is good that there should be such
men as Charles in every league of villany. It is for such men that the
offer of pardon and reward which appears after a murder is intended.
They are indemnified, remunerated, and despised. The very magistrate who
avails himself of their assistance looks on them as more contemptible
than the criminal whom they betray. Was Strafford innocent? Was he a
meritorious servant of the Crown? If so, what shall we think of the
Prince, who having solemnly promised him that not a hair of his head
should be hurt, and possessing an unquestioned constitutional right to
save him, gave him up to the vengeance of his enemies? There were some
points which we know that Charles would not concede, and for which he
was willing to risk the chances of civil war. Ought o {468}not a King,
who will make a stand for any thing, to make a stand for the innocent
blood? Was Strafford guilty? Even on this supposition, it is difficult
not to feel disdain for the partner of his guilt, the tempter turned
punisher. If, indeed, from that time forth, the conduct of Charles
had been blameless, it might have been said that his eyes were at last
opened to the errors of his former conduct, and that, in sacrificing to
the wishes of his Parliament a minister whose crime had been a devotion
too zealous to the interests of his prerogative, he gave a painful and
deeply humiliating proof of the sincerity of his repentance. We may
describe the King’s behaviour on this occasion in terms resembling those
which Hume has employed when speaking of the conduct of Churchill at the
Revolution. It required ever after the most rigid justice and sincerity
in the dealings of Charles with his people to vindicate his conduct
towards his friend. His subsequent dealings with his people, however,
clearly showed, that it was not from any respect for the Constitution,
or from any sense of the deep criminality of the plans in which
Strafford and himself had been engaged, that he gave up his minister to
the axe. It became evident that he had abandoned a servant who, deeply
guilty as to all others, was guiltless to him alone, solely in order to
gain time for maturing other schemes of tyranny, and purchasing the aid
of other Wentworths. He, who would not avail himself of the power which
the laws gave him to save an adherent to whom his honour was pledged,
soon showed that he did not scruple to break every law and forfeit every
pledge, in order to work the ruin of his opponents.

“Put not your trust in princes!” was the expression of the fallen
minister, when he heard that Charles {469}had consented to his death.
The whole history of the times is a sermon on that bitter text. The
defence of the Long Parliament is comprised in the dying words of its

The early measures of that Parliament Mr. Hallam in general approves.
But he considers the proceedings which took place after the recess in
the summer of 1641 as mischievous and violent. He thinks that, from
that time, the demands of the Houses were not warranted by any imminent
danger to the Constitution, and that in the war which ensued they were
clearly the aggressors. As this is one of the most interesting questions
in our history, we will venture to state, at some length, the reasons
which have led us to form an opinion on it contrary to that of a writer
whose judgment we so highly respect.

We will premise that we think worse of King Charles the First than even
Mr. Hallam appears to do. The fixed hatred of liberty which was the
principle of the King’s public conduct, the unscrupulousness with which
he adopted any means which might enable him to attain his ends, the
readiness with which he gave promises, the impudence with which he broke
them, the cruel indifference with which he threw away his useless or
damaged tools, made him, at least till his character was fully exposed
and his power shaken to its foundations, a more dangerous enemy to the
Constitution than a man of far greater talents and resolution might
have been. Such princes may still be seen, the scandals of the southern
thrones of Europe, princes false alike to the accomplices who have
served them and to the opponents who have spared them, princes who, in
the hour of danger, concede every thing, swear every thing, hold
out their cheeks to every smiter, give {470}up to punishment
every instrument of their tyranny, and await with meek and smiling
implacability the blessed day of perjury and revenge.

We will pass by the instances of oppression and falsehood which
disgraced the early part of the reign of Charles. We will leave out of
the question the whole history of his third Parliament, the price which
he exacted for assenting to the Petition of Right, the perfidy with
which he violated his engagements, the death of Eliot, the barbarous
punishments inflicted by the Star-Chamber, the ship-money, and all the
measures now universally condemned, which disgraced his administration
from 1630 to 1640. We will admit that it might be the duty of the
Parliament, after punishing the most guilty of his creatures, after
abolishing the inquisitorial tribunals which had been the instruments
of his tyranny, after reversing the unjust sentences of his victims, to
pause in its course. The concessions which had been made were great, the
evils of civil war obvious, the advantages even of victory doubtful. The
former errors of the King might be imputed to youth, to the pressure of
circumstances, to the influence of evil counsel, to the undefined state
of the law. We firmly believe that if, even at this eleventh hour,
Charles had acted fairly towards his people, if he had even acted fairly
towards his own partisans, the House of Commons would have given him a
fair chance of retrieving the public confidence. Such was the opinion of
Clarendon. He distinctly states that the fury of opposition had abated,
that a reaction had begun to take place, that the majority of those
who had taken part against the King were desirous of an honourable
and complete reconciliation, and that the more violent, or, as it soon
appeared, the more judicious members of {471}the popular party were
fast declining in credit. The Remonstrance had been carried with
great difficulty. The uncompromising antagonists of the court, such
as Cromwell, had begun to talk of selling their estates and leaving
England. The event soon showed, that they were the only men who
really understood how much inhumanity and fraud lay hid under the
constitutional language and gracious demeanour of the King.

The attempt to seize the five members was undoubtedly the real cause of
the war. From that moment, the loyal confidence with which most of the
popular party were beginning to regard the King was turned into hatred
and incurable suspicion. From that moment, the Parliament was compelled
to surround itself with defensive arms. From that moment, the city
assumed the appearance of a garrison. From that moment, in the phrase
of Clarendon, the carriage of Hampden became fiercer, that he drew the
sword and threw away the scabbard. For, from that moment, it must
have been evident to every impartial observer that, in the midst of
professions, oaths, and smiles, the tyrant was constantly looking
forward to an absolute sway and to a bloody revenge.

The advocates of Charles have very dexterously contrived to conceal from
their readers the real nature of this transaction. By making concessions
apparently candid and ample, they elude the great accusation. They allow
that the measure was weak and even frantic, an absurd caprice of Lord
Digby, absurdly adopted by the King. And thus they save their client
from the full penalty of his transgression, by entering a plea of guilty
to the minor offence. To us his conduct appears at this day as at the
time it appeared to the Parliament and the city. We think it by no means
so foolish {472}as it pleases his friends to represent it, and far more

In the first place, the transaction was illegal from beginning to end.
The impeachment was illegal. The process was illegal. The service was
illegal. If Charles wished to prosecute the five members for treason, a
hill against them should have been sent to a grand jury. That a commoner
cannot be tried for high treason by the Lords, at the suit of the Crown,
is part of the very alphabet of our law. That no man can be arrested by
the King in person is equally clear. This was an established maxim of
our jurisprudence even in the time of Edward the Fourth. “A subject,”
 said Chief Justice Markham to that Prince, “may arrest for treason:
the King cannot; for, if the arrest be illegal, the party has no remedy
against the King.”

The time at which Charles took this step also deserves consideration. We
have already said that the ardour which the Parliament had displayed at
the time of its first meeting had considerably abated, that the leading
opponents of the court were desponding, and that their followers were
in general inclined to milder and more temper» measures than those which
had hitherto been pursued. In every country, and in none more than
in England, there is a disposition to take the part of those who are
unmercifully run down and who seem destitute of all means of defence.
Every man who has observed the ebb and flow of public feeling in our own
time will easily recall examples to illustrate this remark. An English
statesman ought to pay assiduous worship to Nemesis, to be most
apprehensive of ruin when he is at the height of power and popularity,
and to dread his enemy most when most completely prostrated. The fate of
the Coalition Ministry in 1784 {473}is perhaps the strongest instance in
our history of the operation of this principle. A few weeks turned
the ablest and most extended Ministry that ever existed into a feeble
Opposition, and raised a King who was talking of retiring to Hanover to
a height of power which none of his predecessors had enjoyed since the
Revolution. A crisis of this description was evidently approaching in
1642. At such a crisis, a Prince of a really honest and generous nature,
who had erred, who had seen his error, who had regretted the lost
affections of his people, who rejoiced in the dawning hope of regaining
them, would be peculiarly careful to take no step which could give
occasion of offence, even to the unreasonable. On the other hand, a
tyrant, whose whole life was a lie, who hated the Constitution the more
because he had been compelled to feign respect for it, and to whom his
own honour and the love of his people were as nothing, would select
such a crisis for some appalling violation of law, for some stroke which
might remove the chiefs of an Opposition, and intimidate the herd. This
Charles attempted. He missed his blow; but so narrowly, that it would
have been mere madness in those at whom it was aimed to trust him again.

It deserves to be remarked that the King had, a short time before,
promised the most respectable Royalists in the House of Commons,
Falkland, Colepepper, and Hyde, that he would take no measure in which
that House was concerned, without consulting them. On this occasion he
did not consult them. His conduct astonished them more than any other
members of the assembly. Clarendon says that they were deeply hurt by
this want of confidence, and the more hurt, because, if they had been
consulted, they would have {474}done their utmost to dissuade Charles
from so improper a proceeding. Did it never occur to Clarendon, will it
not at least occur to men less partial, that there was good reason for
this? When the danger to the throne seemed imminent, the King was ready
to put himself for a time into the hands of those who, though they
disapproved of his past conduct, thought that the remedies had now
become worse than the distempers. But we believe that In his heart he
regarded both the parties in the Parliament with feelings of aversion
which differed only in the degree of their intensity, and that the
awful warning which he proposed to give, by immolating the principal
supporters of the Remonstrance, was partly intended for the instruction
of those who had concurred in censuring the ship-money and in abolishing
the Star-Chamber.

The Commons informed the King that their members should be forthcoming
to answer any charge legally brought against them. The Lords refused
to assume the unconstitutional office with which he attempted to invest
them. And what was then his conduct? He went, attended by hundreds of
armed men, to seize the objects of his hatred in the House itself. The
party opposed to him more than insinuated that his purpose was of the
most atrocious kind. We will not condemn him merely on their suspicions.
We will not hold him answerable for the sanguinary expressions of the
loose brawlers who composed his train. We will judge of his act by
itself alone. And we say, without hesitation, that it is impossible
to acquit him of having meditated violence, and violence which might
probably end in blood. He knew that the legality of his proceedings was
denied. He must have known that some of the accused members were men not
likely to submit {475}peaceably to an illegal arrest. There was every
îeason to expect that he would find them in their places, that they
would refuse to obey his summons, and that the House would support them
in their refusal. What course would then have been left to him? Unless
we suppose that he went on this expedition for the sole purpose of
making himself ridiculous, we must believe that he would have had
recourse to force. There would have been a scuffle; and it might not,
under such circumstances, have been in his power, even if it had been
in his inclination, to prevent a scuffle from ending in a massacre.
Fortunately for his fame, unfortunately perhaps for what he prized far
more, the interests of his hatred and his ambition, the affair ended
differently. The birds, as he said, were flown, and his plan was
disconcerted. Posterity is not extreme to mark abortive crimes; and thus
the King’s advocates have found it easy to represent a step which, but
for a trivial accident, might have filled England with mourning and
dismay, as a mere error of judgment, wild and foolish, but perfectly
innocent. Such was not, however, at the time, the opinion of any party.
The most zealous Royalists were so much disgusted and ashamed that they
suspended their opposition to the popular party, and, silently at least,
concurred in measures of precaution so strong as almost to amount to

From that day, whatever of confidence and loyal attachment had survived
the misrule of seventeen years was, in the great body of the people,
extinguished, and extinguished for ever. As soon as the outrage
had failed, the hypocrisy recommenced. Down to the very eve of this
flagitious attempt, Charles had been talking of his respect for the
privileges of Parliament {476}and the liberties of his people. He began
again in the same style on the morrow; but it was too late. To trust him
now would have been, not moderation, but insanity. What common security
would suffice against a Prince who was evidently watching his season
with that cold and patient hatred which, in the long run, tires out
every other passion?

It is certainly from no admiration of Charles that Mr. Hallam
disapproves of the conduct of the Houses in resorting to arms. But
he thinks that any attempt on the part of that Prince to establish a
despotism would have been as strongly opposed by his adherents as by his
enemies, and that therefore the Constitution might be considered as out
of danger, or, at least, that it had more to apprehend from the war than
from the King. On this subject Mr. Hallam dilates at length, and with
conspicuous ability. We will offer a few considerations which lead us to
incline to a different opinion.

The Constitution of England was only one of a large family. In all the
monarchies of Western Europe, during the middle ages, there existed
restraints on the royal authority, fundamental laws, and representative
assemblies. In the fifteenth century, the government of Castile seems to
have been as free as that of our own country. That of Arragon was beyond
all question more so. In France, the sovereign was more absolute. Yet,
even in France, the States-General alone could constitutionally impose
taxes; and, at the very time when the authority of those assemblies
was beginning to languish, the Parliament of Paris received such an
accession of strength as enabled it, in some measure, to perform
the functions of a legislative assembly. Sweden and Denmark had
constitutions of a similar description. {477}Let us overleap two or
three hundred years, and contemplate Europe at the commencement of the
eighteenth century. Every free constitution, save one, had gone down.
That of England had weathered the danger, and was riding in full
security. In Denmark and Sweden, the kings had availed themselves of the
disputes which raged between the nobles and the commons, to unite all
the powers of government in their own hands. In France the institution
of the States was only mentioned by lawyers as a part of the ancient
theory of their government. It slept a deep sleep, destined to be broken
by a tremendous waking. No person remembered the sittings of the three
orders, or expected ever to see them renewed. Louis the Fourteenth
had imposed on his parliament a patient silence of sixty years. His
grandson, after the War of the Spanish Succession, assimilated the
constitution of Arragon to that of Castile, and extinguished the last
feeble remains of liberty in the Peninsula. In England, on the other
hand, the Parliament was infinitely more powerful than it had ever been.
Not only was its legislative authority fully established; but its
right to interfere, by advice almost equivalent to command, in every
department of the executive government, was recognised. The appointment
of ministers, the relations with foreign powers, the conduct of a war or
a negotiation, depended less on the pleasure of the Prince than on that
of the two Houses.

What then made us to differ? Why was it that, in that epidemic malady of
constitutions, ours escaped the destroying influence; or rather that, at
the very crisis of the disease, a favourable turn took place in England,
and in England alone? It was not surely without a cause that so many
kindred systems of government, {478}having flourished together so long,
languished and expired at almost the same time.

It is the fashion to say, that the progress of civilisation is
favourable to liberty. The maxim, though in some sense true, must be
limited by many qualifications and exceptions. Wherever a poor and rude
nation, in which the form of government is a limited monarchy, receives
a great accession of wealth and knowledge, it is in imminent danger of
falling under arbitrary power.

In such a state of society as that which existed all over Europe during
the middle ages, very slight checks sufficed to keep the sovereign in
order. His means of corruption and intimidation were very scanty. He had
little money, little patronage, no military establishment. His armies
resembled juries. They were drawn out of the mass of the people:
they soon returned to it again: and the character which was habitual,
prevailed over that which was occasional. A campaign of forty days was
too short, the discipline of a national militia too lax, to efface from
their minds the feelings of civil life. As they carried to the camp the
sentiments and interests of the farm and the shop, so they carried back
to the farm and the shop the military accomplishments which they had
acquired in the camp. At home the soldier learned how to value his
rights, abroad how to defend them.

Such a military force as this was a far stronger restraint on the regal
power than any legislative assembly. The army, now the most formidable
instrument of the executive power, was then the most formidable check on
that power. Resistance to an established government, in modern times
so difficult and perilous an enterprise, was, in the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries, {479}the simplest and easiest matter in the world.
Indeed, it was far too simple and easy. An insurrection was got up then
almost as easily as a petition is got up now. In a popular cause, or
even in an unpopular cause favoured by a few great nobles, a force of
ten thousand armed men was raised in a week. If the King were, like our
Edward the Second and Richard the Second, generally odious, he could not
procure a bow or halbert. He fell at once and without an effort.
In such times a sovereign like Louis the Fifteenth or the Emperor Paul,
would have been pulled down before his misgovernment had lasted for a
month. We find that all the fame and influence of our Edward the Third
could not save his Madame de Pompadour from the effects of the public

Hume and many other writers have hastily concluded that, in the
fifteenth century, the English Parliament was altogether servile,
because it recognised, without opposition, every successful usurper.
That it was not servile its conduct on many occasions of inferior
importance is sufficient to prove. But surely it was not strange that
the majority of the nobles, and of the deputies chosen by the commons,
should approve of revolutions which the nobles and commons had effected.
The Parliament did not blindly follow the event of war, but participated
in those changes of public sentiment on which the event of war depended.
The legal check was secondary and auxiliary to that which the nation
held in its own hands. There have always been monarchies in Asia, in
which the royal authority has been tempered by fundamental laws, though
no legislative body exists to watch over them. The guarantee is the
opinion of a community of which every individual is a soldier. Thus, the
king of Cabul, {480}as Mr. Elplunstone informs us, cannot augment
the land revenue, or interfere with the jurisdiction of the ordinary

In the European kingdoms of this description there were representative
assemblies. But it was not necessary, that those assemblies should meet
very frequently, that they should interfere with all the operations
of the executive government, that they should watch with jealousy, and
resent with prompt indignation, every violation of the laws which the
sovereign might commit. They were so strong that they might safely be
careless. He was so feeble that he might safely be suffered to encroach.
If he ventured too far, chastisement and ruin were at hand. In fact,
the people generally suffered more from his weakness than from his
authority. The tyranny of wealthy and powerful subjects was the
characteristic evil of the times. The royal prerogatives were not even
sufficient for the defence of property and the maintenance of police.

The progress of civilisation introduced a great change. War became a
science, and, as a necessary consequence, a trade. The great body of the
people grew every day more reluctant to undergo the inconveniences of
military service, and better able to pay others for undergoing them.
A new class of men, therefore, dependent on the Crown alone, natural
enemies of those popular rights which are to them as the dew to the
fleece of Gideon, slaves among freemen, freemen among slaves, grew into
importance. That physical force which, in the dark ages, had belonged
to the nobles and the commons, and had, far more than any charter or any
assembly, been the safeguard of their privileges, was transferred
entire to the King. {481}Monarchy gained in two ways. The sovereign was
strengthened, the subjects weakened. The great mass of the population,
destitute of all military discipline and organization, ceased to
exercise any influence by force on political transactions. There have,
indeed, during the last hundred and fifty years, been many popular
insurrections in Europe: but all have failed, except those in which the
regular army has been induced to join the disaffected.

Those legal checks which, while the sovereign remained dependent on his
subjects, had been adequate to the purpose for which they were designed,
were now found wanting. The dikes which had been sufficient while the
waters were low were not high enough to keep out the spring-tide. The
deluge passed over them; and, according to the exquisite illustration of
Butler, the formal boundaries which had excluded it, now held it in.
The old constitutions fared like the old shields and coats of mail. They
were the defences of a rude age: and they did well enough against the
weapons of a rude age. But new and more formidable means of destruction
were invented. The ancient panoply became useless; and it was thrown
aside to rust in lumber-rooms, or exhibited only as part of an idle

Thus absolute monarchy was established on the Continent. England
escaped; but she escaped very narrowly. Happily our insular situation,
and the pacific policy of James, rendered standing armies unnecessary
here, till they had been for some time kept up in the neighbouring
kingdoms. Our public men had therefore an opportunity of watching the
effects produced by this momentous change on governments which bore a
close analogy to that established in England. Every where {482}they saw
the power of the monarch increasing, the resistance of assemblies which
were no longer supported by a national force gradually becoming more
and more feeble, and at length altogether ceasing. The friends and the
enemies of liberty perceived with equal clearness the causes of this
general decay. It is the favourite theme of Strafford. He advises the
King to procure from the Judges a recognition of his right to raise an
army at his pleasure. “This place well fortified,” says he, “for ever
vindicates the monarchy at home from under the conditions and restraints
of subjects.” We firmly believe that he was in the right. Nay; we
believe that, even if no deliberate scheme of arbitrary government had
been formed by the sovereign and his ministers, there was great reason
to apprehend a natural extinction of the Constitution. If, for example,
Charles had played the part of Gustavus Adolphus, if he had carried on
a popular war for the defence of the Protestant cause in Germany, if
he had gratified the national pride by a series of victories, if he had
formed an army of forty or fifty thousand devoted soldiers, we do not
see what chance the nation would have had of escaping from despotism.
The Judges would have given as strong a decision in favour of camp-money
as they gave in favour of ship-money. If they had been scrupulous, it
would have made little difference. An individual who resisted would have
been treated as Charles treated Eliot, and as Strafford wished to treat
Hampden. The Parliament might have been summoned once in twenty years,
to congratulate a King on his accession, or to give solemnity to some
great measure of state. Such had been the fate of legislative assemblies
as powerful, as much respected, as high-spirited, as the English Lords
and Commons. {483}The two Houses, surrounded by the ruins of so many
free constitutions overthrown or sapped by the new military system, were
required to intrust the command of an army and the conduct of the Irish
war to a King who had proposed to himself the destruction of liberty as
the great end of his policy. We are decidedly of opinion that it would
have been fatal to comply. Many of those who took the side of the King
on this question would have cursed their own loyalty, if they had seen
him return from war at the head of twenty thousand troops, accustomed to
carnage and free quarters in Ireland.

We think, with Mr. Hallam, that many of the Royalist nobility and gentry
were true friends to the Constitution, and that, but for the solemn
protestations by which the King bound himself to govern according to
the law for the future, they never would have joined his standard. But
surely they underrated the public danger. Falkland is commonly selected
as the most respectable specimen of this class. He was indeed a man of
great talents and of great virtues, but, we apprehend, infinitely too
fastidious for public life. He did not perceive that, in such times as
those on which his lot had fallen, the duty of a statesman is to choose
the better cause and to stand by it, in spite of those excesses by which
every cause, however good in itself, will be disgraced. The present
evil always seemed to him the worst. He was always going backward and
forward; but it should be remembered to his honour that it was always
from the stronger to the weaker side that he deserted. While Charles was
oppressing the people, Falkland was a resolute champion of liberty. He
attacked Strafford. He even concurred in strong measures against
Episcopacy. But the violence of his party {484}annoyed him, and drove
him to the other party, to be equally annoyed there. Dreading the
success of the cause which he had espoused, disgusted by the courtiers
of Oxford, as he had been disgusted by the patriots of Westminster, yet
bound by honour not to abandon the cause for which he was in arms, he
pined away, neglected his person, went about moaning for peace, and at
last rushed desperately on death, as the best refuge in such miserable
times. If he had lived through the scenes that followed, we have little
doubt that he would have condemned himself to share the exile and
beggary of the royal family; that he would then have returned to oppose
all their measures; that he would have been sent to the Tower by the
Commons as a stiller of the Popish Plot, and by the King as an
accomplice in the Rye-House Plot; and that, if he had escaped being
hanged, first by Scroggs, and then by Jefferies, he would, after
manfully opposing James the Second through years of tyranny, have been
seized with a fit of compassion at the very moment of the Revolution,
have voted for a regency, and died a nonjuror.

We do not dispute that the royal party contained many excellent men and
excellent citizens. But this we say, that they did not discern those
times. The peculiar glory of the Houses of Parliament is that, in the
great plague and mortality of constitutions, they took their stand
between the living and the dead. At the very crisis of our destiny, at
the very moment when the fate which had passed on every other nation was
about to pass on England, they arrested the danger.

Those who conceive that the parliamentary leaders were desirous merely
to maintain the old constitution, and those who represent them
as conspiring to subvert {485}it, are equally in error. The old
constitution, as we have attempted to show, could not be maintained. The
progress of time, the increase of wealth, the diffusion of knowledge,
the great change in the European system of war, rendered it impossible
that any of the monarchies of the middle ages should continue to
exist on the old footing. The prerogative of the crown was constantly
advancing. If the privileges of the people were to remain absolutely
stationary, they would relatively retrograde. The monarchical and
democratical parts of the government were placed in a situation not
unlike that of the two brothers in the Fairy Queen, one of whom saw the
soil of his inheritance daily washed away by the tide and joined to
that of his rival. The portions had at first been fairly meted out. By a
natural and constant transfer, the one had been extended; the other had
dwindled to nothing. A new partition, or a compensation, was necessary
to restore the original equality.

It was now, therefore, absolutely necessary to violate the formal part
of the constitution, in order to preserve its spirit. This might have
been done, as it was done at the Revolution, by expelling the reigning
family, and calling to the throne princes who, relying solely on an
elective title, would find it necessary to respect the privileges and
follow the advice of the assemblies to which they owed every thing, to
pass every bill which the Legislature strongly pressed upon them, and
to fill the offices of state with men in whom the Legislature confided.
But, as the two Houses did not choose to change the dynasty, it was
necessary that they should do directly what at the Revolution was done
indirectly. Nothing is more usual than to hear it said that, if the
Houses had contented themselves {486}with making such a reform in the
government under Charles as was afterwards made under William, they
would have had the highest claim to national gratitude: and that in
their violence they overshot the mark. But how was it possible to make
such a settlement under Charles? Charles was not, like William and the
princes of the Hanoverian line, bound by community of interests and
dangers to the Parliament. It was therefore necessary that he should be
bound by treaty and statute.

Mr. Hallam reprobates, in language which has a little surprised us, the
nineteen propositions into which the Parliament digested its scheme.
Is it possible to doubt that, if James the Second had remained in the
island, and had been suffered, as he probably would in that case have
been suffered, to keep his crown, conditions to the full as hard would
have been imposed on him? On the other hand, we fully admit that, if the
Long Parliament had pronounced the departure of Charles from London an
abdication, and had called Essex or Northumberland to the throne,
the new prince might have safely been suffered to reign without such
restrictions. His situation would have been a sufficient guarantee.

In the nineteen propositions we see very little to blame except the
articles against the Catholics. These, however, were in the spirit of
that age; and to some sturdy churchmen in our own, they may seem
to palliate even the good which the Long Parliament effected. The
regulation with respect to new creations of Peers is the only other
article about which we entertain any doubt. One of the propositions is
that the judges shall hold their offices during good behaviour. To
this surely no exception will be taken. The right of directing the
{487}education and marriage of the princes was most properly claimed by
the Parliament, on the same ground on which, after the Revolution, it
was enacted, that no king, on pain of forfeiting his throne, should
espouse a Papist. Unless we condemn the statesmen of the Revolution,
who conceived that England could not safely be governed by a sovereign
married to a Catholic queen, we can scarcely condemn the Long Parliament
because, having a sovereign so situated, they thought it necessary to
place him under strict restraints. The influence of Henrietta Maria had
already been deeply felt in political affairs. In the regulation of her
family, in the education and marriage of her children, it was still more
likely to be felt. There might be another Catholic queen; possibly, a
Catholic king. Little as we are disposed to join in the vulgar clamour
on this subject, we think that such an event ought to be, if possible,
averted; and this could only be done, if Charles was to be left on
the throne, by placing his domestic arrangements under the control of

A veto on the appointment of ministers was demanded. But this veto
Parliament has virtually possessed ever since the Revolution. It is
no doubt very far better that this power of the Legislature should be
exercised as it is now exercised, when any great occasion calls for
interference, than that at every change the Commons should have to
signify their approbation or disapprobation in form. But, unless a new
family had been placed on the throne, we do not see how this power could
have been exercised as it is now exercised. We again repeat, that no
restraints which could be imposed on the princes who reigned after the
Revolution could have added to the security which their title afforded.
They were compelled to court their parliaments. But {488}from Charles
nothing was to be expected whicli was not set down in the bond.

It was not stipulated that the King should give up his negative on acts
of Parliament. But the Commons had certainly shown a strong disposition
to exact this security also. “Such a doctrine,” says Mr. Hallam, “was
in this country as repugnant to the whole history of our laws, as it was
incompatible with the subsistence of the monarchy in any thing more than
a nominal preeminence.” Now this article has been as completely carried
into effect by the Revolution as if it had been formally inserted in the
Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement. We are surprised, we confess,
that Mr. Hallam should attach so much importance to a prerogative which
has not been exercised for a hundred and thirty years, which probably
will never be exercised again, and which can scarcely, in any
conceivable case, be exercised for a salutary purpose.

But the great security, the security without which every other would
have been insufficient, was the power of the sword. This both parties
thoroughly understood. The Parliament insisted on having the command
of the militia and the direction of the Irish war. “By God, not for an
hour!” exclaimed the King. “Keep the militia,” said the Queen, after the
defeat of the royal party: “Keep the militia; that will bring back every
thing.” That, by the old constitution, no military authority was lodged
in the Parliament, Mr. Hallam has clearly shown. That it is a species of
authority which ought not to be permanently lodged in large and divided
assemblies, must, we think, in fairness be conceded. Opposition,
publicity, long discussion, frequent compromise; these are the
characteristics of the proceedings of such assemblies. Unity.
{489}secrecy, decision, are the qualities which military arrangements
require. There were, therefore, serious objections to the proposition
of the Houses on this subject. But, on the other hand, to trust such
a king, at such a crisis, with the very weapon which, in hands less
dangerous, had destroyed so many free constitutions, would have been the
extreme of rashness. The jealousy with which the oligarchy of Venice and
the States of Holland regarded their generals and armies induced them
perpetually to interfere in matters of which they were incompetent to
judge. This policy secured them against military usurpation, but placed
them under great disadvantages in war. The uncontrolled power which
the King of France exercised over his troops enabled him to conquer
his enemies, but enabled him also to oppress his people. Was there any
intermediate course? None, we confess, altogether free from objection.
But on the whole, we conceive that the best measure would have been that
which the Parliament over and over proposed, namely, that for a limited
time the power of the sword should be left to the two Houses, and that
it should revert to the Crown when the constitution should be firmly
established, and when the new securities of freedom should be so far
strengthened by prescription that it would be difficult to employ even a
standing army for the purpose of subverting them.

Mr. Hallam thinks that the dispute might easily have been compromised,
by enacting that the King should have no power to keep a standing army
on foot without the consent of Parliament. He reasons as if the question
had been merely theoretical, and as if at that time no army had been
wanted. “The kingdom,” he says, “might have well dispensed, in that
{490}age, with any military organization.” Now, we think that Mr. Hallam
overlooks the most important circumstance in the whole case. Ireland
was actually in rebellion; and a great expedition would obviously he
necessary to reduce that kingdom to obedience. The Houses had therefore
to consider, not an abstract question of law, but an urgent practical
question, directly involving the safety of the state. They had to
consider the expediency of immediately giving a great army to a King
who was at least as desirous to put down the Parliament of England as to
conquer the insurgents of Ireland.

Of course we do not mean to defend all the measures of the Houses. Far
from it. There never was a perfect man. It would, therefore, be the
height of absurdity to expect a perfect party or a perfect assembly. For
large bodies are far more likely to err than individuals. The passions
are inflamed by sympathy; the fear of punishment and the sense of shame
are diminished by partition. Every day we see men do for their faction
what they would die rather than do for themselves.

Scarcely any private quarrel ever happens, in which the right and wrong
are so exquisitely divided that all the right lies on one side, and all
the wrong on the other. But here was a schism which separated a great
nation into two parties. Of these parties, each was composed of many
smaller parties. Each contained many members, who differed far less from
their moderate opponents than from their violent allies. Each reckoned
among its supporters many who were determined in their choice by some
accident of birth, of connection, or of local situation. Each of them
attracted to itself in multitudes those fierce and turbid {491}spirits,
to whom the clouds and whirlwinds of the political hurricane are
the atmosphere of life. A party, like a camp, has its sutlers and
camp-followers, as well as its soldiers. In its progress it collects
round it a vast retinue, composed of people who thrive by its custom
or are amused by its display, who may be sometimes reckoned, in an
ostentatious enumeration, as forming a part of it, but who give no aid
to its operations, and take but a languid interest in its success, who
relax its discipline and dishonour its flag by their irregularities, and
who, after a disaster, are perfectly ready to cut the throats and rifle
the baggage of their companions.

Thus it is in every great division; and thus it was in our civil war. On
both sides there was, undoubtedly, enough of crime and enough of error
to disgust any man who did not reflect that the whole history of the
species is made up of little except crimes and errors. Misanthropy is
not the temper which qualifies a man to act in great affairs, or to
judge of them.

“Of the Parliament,” says Mr. Hallam, “it may be said, I think, with
not greater severity than truth, that scarce two or three public acts
of justice, humanity, or generosity, and very few of political wisdom
or courage, are recorded of them, from their quarrel with the King, to
their expulsion by Cromwell.” Those who may agree with us in the opinion
which we have expressed as to the original demands of the Parliament
will scarcely concur in this strong censure. The propositions which the
Houses made at Oxford, at Uxbridge, and at Newcastle, were in strict
accordance with these demands. In the darkest period of the war, they
showed no disposition to concede any vital principle. In the fulness of
their success, they showed {492}no disposition to encroach beyond these
limits. In this respect we cannot but think that they showed justice and
generosity, as well as political wisdom and courage.

The Parliament was certainly far from faultless. We fully agree with
Mr. Hallam in reprobating their treatment of Laud. For the individual,
indeed, we entertain a more unmitigated contempt than for any other
character in our history. The fondness with which a portion of the
church regards his memory, can be compared only to that perversity of
affection which sometimes leads a mother to select the monster or the
idiot of the family as the object of her especial favour. Mr. Hallam
has incidentally observed, that, in the correspondence of Laud with
Strafford, there are no indications of a sense of duty towards God or
man. The admirers of the Archbishop have, in consequence, inflicted upon
the public a crowd of extracts designed to prove the contrary. Now, in
all those passages, we see nothing which a prelate as wicked as Pope
Alexander or Cardinal Dubois might not have written. Those passages
indicate no sense of duty to God or man, but simply a strong interest in
the prosperity and dignity of the order to which the writer belonged;
an interest which, when kept within certain limits, does not deserve
censure, but which can never be considered as a virtue. Laud is anxious
to accommodate satisfactorily the disputes in the University of Dublin.
He regrets to hear that a church is used as a stable, and that the
benefices of Ireland are very poor. He is desirous that, however small a
congregation may be, service should be regularly performed. He expresses
a wish that the judges of the court before which questions of tithe are
generally brought should be selected {493}with a view to the interest of
the clergy. All this may be very proper; and it may be very proper that
an alderman should stand up for the tolls of his borough; and an East
India director for the charter of his Company. But it is ridiculous to
say that these things indicate piety and benevolence. No primate, though
he were the most abandoned of mankind, could wish to see the body, with
the influence of which his own influence was identical, degraded in the
public estimation by internal dissensions, by the ruinous state of its
edifices, and by the slovenly performance of its rites. We willingly
acknowledge that the particular letters in question have very little
harm in them; a compliment which cannot often be paid either to the
writings or to the actions of Laud.

Bad as the Archbishop was, however, he was not a traitor within the
statute. Nor was he by any means so formidable as to be a proper subject
for a retrospective ordinance of the legislature. His mind had not
expansion enough to comprehend a great scheme, good or bad. His
oppressive acts were not, like those of the Earl of Strafford, parts
of an extensive system. They were the luxuries in which a mean and
irritable disposition indulges itself from day to day, the excesses
natural to a little mind in a great place. The severest punishment which
the two Houses could have inflicted on him would have been to set him at
liberty and send him to Oxford. There he might have staid, tortured by
his own diabolical temper, hungering for Puritans to pillory and mangle,
plaguing the Cavaliers, for want of somebody else to plague, with
his peevishness and absurdity, performing grimaces and antics in the
cathedral, continuing that incomparable diary, which we never sec
without forgetting the vices of his heart {494}in the imbecility of his
intellect, minuting down his dreams, counting the drops of blood which
fell from his nose, watching the direction of the salt, and listening
for the note of the screech-owls. Contemptuous mercy was the only
vengeance which it became the Parliament to take on such a ridiculous
old bigot.

The Houses, it must be acknowledged, committed great errors In the
conduct of the war, or rather one great error, which brought their
affairs into a condition requiring the most perilous expedients. The
parliamentary leaders of what may be called the first generation, Essex,
Manchester, Northumberland, Hollis, even Pym, all the most eminent men,
in short, Hampden excepted, were inclined to half measures. They dreaded
a decisive victory almost as much as a decisive overthrow. They wished
to bring the King into a situation which might render it necessary
for him to grant their just and wise demands, but not to subvert the
constitution or to change the dynasty. They were afraid of serving the
purposes of those fierce and determined enemies of monarchy, who now
began to show themselves in the lower ranks of the party. The war was,
therefore, conducted in a languid and inefficient manner. A resolute
leader might have brought it to a close in a month. At the end of three
campaigns, however, the event was still dubious; and that it had not
been decidedly unfavourable to the cause of liberty was principally
Owing to the skill and energy which the more violent Roundheads had
displayed in subordinate situations. The conduct of Fairfax and Cromwell
at Mars-ton had exhibited a remarkable contrast to that of Essex at
Edgehill, and to that of Waller at Lansdowne.

If there be any truth established by the universal experience of
nations, it is this, that to carry the spirit of {495}peace into war
is a weak and cruel policy. The time of negotiation is the time for
deliberation and delay. But when an extreme case calls for that remedy
which is in its own nature most violent, and which, in such cases, is a
remedy only because it is violent, it is idle to think of mitigating
and diluting. Languid war can do nothing which negotiation or submission
will not do better: and to act on any other principle is, not to save
blood and money, but to squander them.

This the parliamentary leaders found. The third year of hostilities was
drawing to a close; and they had not conquered the King. They had not
obtained even those advantages which they had expected from a policy
obviously erroneous in a military point of view. They had wished to
husband their resources. They now found that in enterprises like
theirs, parsimony is the worst profusion. They had hoped to effect a
reconciliation. The event taught them that the best way to conciliate
is to bring the work of destruction to a speedy termination. By their
moderation many lives and much property had been wasted. The angry
passions which, if the contest had been short, would have died away
almost as soon as they appeared, had fixed themselves in the form of
deep and lasting hatred. A military caste had grown up. Those who had
been induced to take up arms by the patriotic feelings of citizens had
begun to entertain the professional feelings of soldiers. Above all, the
leaders of the party had forfeited its confidence. If they had, by their
valour and abilities, gained a complete victory, their influence might
have been sufficient to prevent their associates from abusing it. It
was now necessary to choose more resolute and uncompromising commanders.
Unhappily the illustrious man who alone united in himself all the
{496}talents and virtues which the crisis required, who alone could have
saved his country from the present dangers without plunging her into
others, who alone could have united all the friends of liberty in
obedience to his commanding genius and his venerable name, was no more.
Something might still be done. The Houses might still avert that worst
of all evils, the triumphant return of an imperious and unprincipled
master. They might still preserve London from all the horrors of rapine,
massacre, and lust. But their hopes of a victory as spotless as their
cause, of a reconciliation which might knit together the hearts of
all honest Englishmen for the defence of the public good, of durable
tranquillity, of temperate freedom, were buried in the grave of Hampden.

The self-denying ordinance was passed, and the army was remodelled.
These measures were undoubtedly full of danger. But all that was left to
the Parliament was to take the less of two dangers. And we think that,
even if they could have accurately foreseen all that followed, their
decision ought to have been the same. Under any circumstances, we should
have preferred Cromwell to Charles. But there could be no comparison
between Cromwell and Charles victorious, Charles restored, Charles
enabled to feed fat all the hungry grudges of his smiling rancour
and his cringing pride. The next visit of his Majesty to his faithful
Commons would have been more serious than that with which he last
honoured them; more serious than that which their own General paid them
some years after. The King would scarce have been content with praying
that the Lord would deliver him from Vane, or with pulling Marten by
the cloak. If, by fatal mismanagement, nothing was left to England but a
choice of {497}tyrants, the last tyrant whom she should have chosen was

From the apprehension of this worst evil the Houses were soon delivered
by their new leaders. The armies of Charles were every where routed, his
fastnesses stormed, his party humbled and subjugated. The King himself
fell into the hands of the Parliament; and both the King and the
Parliament soon fell into the hands of the army. The fate of both the
captives was the same. Both were treated alternately with respect and
with insult. At length the natural life of one, and the political life
of the other, were terminated by violence; and the power for which both
had struggled was united in a single hand. Men naturally sympathize with
the calamities of individuals; but they are inclined to look on a fallen
party with contempt rather than with pity. Thus misfortune turned the
greatest of Parliaments into the despised Rump, and the worst of Kings
into the Blessed Martyr.

Mr. Hallam decidedly condemns the execution of Charles; and in all that
he says on that subject we heartily agree. We fully concur with him in
thinking that a great social schism, such as the civil war, is not to be
confounded with an ordinary treason, and that the vanquished ought to be
treated according to the rules, not of municipal, but of international
law. In this case the distinction is of the less importance, because
both international and municipal law were in favour of Charles. He was a
prisoner of war by the former, a King by the latter. By neither was he a
traitor. If he had been successful, and had put his leading opponents to
death, he would have deserved severe censure; and this without reference
to the justice or injustice of his cause. Yet the opponents of
{498}Charles, it must be admitted, were technically guilty of
treason. He might have sent them to the scaffold without violating any
established principle of jurisprudence. He would not have been compelled
to overturn the whole constitution in order to reach them. Here his
own case differed widely from theirs. Not only was his condemnation in
itself a measure which only the strongest necessity could vindicate; but
it could not be procured without taking several previous steps, every
one of which would have required the strongest necessity to vindicate
it. It could not be procured without dissolving the government by
military force, without establishing precedents of the most dangerous
description, without creating difficulties which the next ten years
were spent in removing, without pulling down institutions which it soon
became necessary to reconstruct, and setting up others which almost
every man was soon impatient to destroy. It was necessary to strike the
House of Lords out of the constitution, to exclude members of the House
of Commons by force, to make a new crime, a new tribunal, a new mode of
procedure: The whole legislative and judicial systems were trampled down
for the purpose of taking a single head. Not only those parts of the
constitution which the republicans were desirous to destroy, but those
which they wished to retain and exalt, were deeply injured by these
transactions. High Courts of Justice began to usurp the functions of
juries. The remaining delegates of the people were soon driven from
their seats by the same military violence which had enabled them to
exclude their colleagues.

If Charles had been the last of his line, there would have been an
intelligible reason for putting him to death. But the blow which
terminated his life at once {499}transferred the allegiance of every
Royalist to an heir, and an heir who was at liberty. To kill the
individual was, under such circumstances, not to destroy, but to release
the King.

We detest the character of Charles; but a man ought not to be removed by
a law _ex post facto_, even constitutionally procured, merely because he
is detestable. He must also be very dangerous. We can scarcely conceive
that any danger which a state can apprehend from any individual could
justify the violent measures which were necessary to procure a sentence
against Charles. But in fact the danger amounted to nothing. There was
indeed danger from the attachment of a large party to his office. But
this danger his execution only increased. His personal influence was
little indeed. He had lost the confidence of every party. Churchmen,
Catholics, Presbyterians, Independents, his enemies, his friends, his
tools, English, Scotch, Irish, all divisions and subdivisions of his
people had been deceived by him. His most attached councillors turned
away with shame and anguish from his false and hollow policy, plot
intertwined with plot, mine sprung beneath mine, agents disowned,
promises evaded, one pledge given in private, another in public.
“Oh, Mr. Secretary,” says Clarendon, in a letter to Nicholas, “those
stratagems have given me more sad hours than all the misfortunes in war
which have befallen the King, and look like the effects of God’s anger
towards us.”

The abilities of Charles were not formidable. His taste in the fine arts
was indeed exquisite; and few modern sovereigns have written or spoken
better. But he was not fit for active life. In negotiation he was always
trying to dupe others, and duping only himself. {500}As a soldier, he
was feeble, dilatory, and miserably wanting, not in personal courage,
but in the presence of mind which his station required. His delay at
Gloucester saved the parliamentary party from destruction. At Naseby,
in the very crisis of his fortune, his want of self-possession spread
a fatal panic through his army. The story which Clarendon tells of that
affair reminds us of the excuses by which Bessus and Bobadil explain
their cudgellings. A Scotch nobleman, it seems, begged the King not to
run upon his death, took hold of his bridle, and turned his horse round.
No man who had much value for his life would have tried to perform the
same friendly office on that day for Oliver Cromwell.

One thing, and one alone, could make Charles dangerous, a violent death.
His tyranny could not break the high spirit of the English people.
His arms could not conquer, his arts could not deceive them; but his
humiliation and his execution melted them into a generous compassion.
Men who die on a scaffold for political offences almost always die well.
The eyes of thousands are fixed upon them. Enemies and admirers are
watching their demeanour. Every tone of voice, every change of colour,
is to go down to posterity. Escape is impossible. Supplication is vain.
In such a situation, pride and despair have often been known to nerve
the weakest minds with fortitude adequate to the occasion. Charles died
patiently and bravely; not more patiently or bravely, indeed, than many
other victims of political rage; not more patiently or bravely than his
own Judges, who were not only killed, but tortured; or than Vane, who
had always been considered as a timid man. However, the King’s conduct
during his trial and at his execution made a prodigious {501}impression.
His subjects began to love his memory as heartily as they had hated his
person; and posterity has estimated his character from his death rather
than from his life.

To represent Charles as a martyr in the cause of Episcopacy is absurd.
Those who put him to death cared as little for the Assembly of Divines
as for the Convocation, and would, in all probability, only have hated
him the more if he had agreed to set up the Presbyterian discipline.
Indeed, in spite of the opinion of Mr. Hallam, we are inclined to think
that the attachment of Charles to the Church of England was altogether
political. Human nature is, we admit, so capricious that there may be
a single sensitive point in a conscience which every where else is
callous. A man without truth or humanity may have some strange scruples
about a trifle. There was one devout warrior in the royal camp whose
piety bore a great resemblance to that which is ascribed to the King.
We mean Colonel Turner. That gallant Cavalier was hanged, after the
Restoration, for a flagitious burglary. At the gallows he told the crowd
that his mind received great consolation from one reflection: he had
always taken off his hat when he went into a church. The character of
Charles would scarcely rise in our estimation, if we believed that he
was pricked in conscience after the manner of this worthy loyalist, and
that while violating all the first rules of Christian morality, he was
sincerely scrupulous about church-government. But we acquit him of such
weakness. In 1641, he deliberately confirmed the Scotch Declaration
which stated that the government of the church by archbishops and
bishops was contrary to the word of God. In 1645, he appears to
have offered to set up Popery in Ireland. That a {502}King who had
established the Presbyterian religion in one kingdom, and who was
willing to establish the Catholic religion in another, should have
insurmountable scruples about the ecclesiastical constitution of the
third, is altogether incredible. He himself says in his letters that he
looks on Episcopacy as a stronger support of monarchical power than even
the army. From causes which we have already considered, the Established
Church had been, since the Reformation, the great bulwark of the
prerogative. Charles wished, therefore, to preserve it. He thought
himself necessary both to the Parliament and to the army. He did not
foresee, till too late, that, by paltering with the Presbyterians, he
should put both them and himself into the power of a fiercer and more
daring party. If he had foreseen it, we suspect that the royal blood
which still cries to Heaven, every thirtieth of January, for judgments
only to be averted by salt-fish and egg-sauce, would never have been
shed. One who had swallowed the Scotch Declaration would scarcely strain
at the Covenant.

The death of Charles and the strong measures which led to it raised
Cromwell to a height of power fatal to the infant Commonwealth. No
men occupy so splendid a place in history as those who have founded
monarchies on the ruins of republican institutions. Their glory, if not
of the purest, is assuredly of the most seductive and dazzling kind. In
nations broken to the curb, in nations long accustomed to be transferred
from one tyrant to another, a man without eminent qualities may easily
gain supreme power. The defection of a troop of guards, a conspiracy of
eunuchs, a popular tumult, might place an indolent senator or a brutal
soldier on the throne of the Roman world. Similar {503}revolutions have
often occurred in the despotic states of Asia. But a community which
has heard the voice of truth and experienced the pleasures of liberty,
in which the merits of statesmen and of systems are freely canvassed,
in which obedience is paid, not to persons but to laws, in which
magistrates are regarded, not as the lords, but as the servants of the
public, in which the excitement of party is a necessary of life, in
which political warfare is reduced to a system of tactics; such a
community is not easily reduced to servitude. Beasts of burden may
easily be managed by a new master. But will the wild ass submit to the
bonds? Will the unicorn serve and abide by the crib? Will leviathan hold
out his nostrils to the hook? The mythological conqueror of the East,
whose enchantments reduced wild beasts to the tameness of domestic
cattle, and who harnessed lions and tigers to his chariot, is but an
imperfect type of those extraordinary minds which have thrown a spell
on the fierce spirits of nations unaccustomed to control, and have
compelled raging factions to obey their reins and swell their triumph.
The enterprise, be it good or bad, is one which requires a truly great
man. It demands courage, activity, energy, wisdom, firmness, conspicuous
virtues, or vices so splendid and alluring as to resemble virtues.

Those who have succeeded in this arduous undertaking form a very small
and a very remarkable class. Parents of tyranny, heirs of freedom,
kings among citizens, citizens among kings, they unite in themselves the
characteristics of the system which springs from them, and those of the
system from which they have sprung. Their reigns shine with a double
light, the last and dearest rays of departing freedom mingled with
the first and brightest glories of empire in its {504}dawn. The high
qualities of such a prince lend to despotism itself a charm drawn from
the liberty under which they were formed, and which they have destroyed.
He resembles an European who settles within the Tropics, and carries
thither the strength and the energetic habits acquired in regions more
propitious to the constitution. He differs as widely from princes nursed
in the purple of imperial cradles, as the companions of Gama from their
dwarfish and imbecile progeny which, born in a climate unfavourable to
its growth and beauty, degenerates more and more, at every descent, from
the qualities of the original conquerors.

In this class three men stand preeminent, Cæsar, Cromwell, and
Bonaparte. The highest place in this remarkable triumvirate belongs
undoubtedly to Cæsar. He united the talents of Bonaparte to those of
Cromwell; and he possessed also, what neither Cromwell nor Bonaparte
possessed, learning, taste, wit, eloquence, the sentiments and the
manners of an accomplished gentleman.

Between Cromwell and Napoleon Mr. Hallam has instituted a parallel,
scarcely less ingenious than that which Burke has drawn between Richard
Cour de Lion and Charles the Twelfth of Sweden. In this parallel,
however, and indeed throughout his work, we think that he hardly gives
Cromwell fair measure.

“Cromwell,” says he, “far unlike his antitype, never showed any signs of
a legislative mind, or any desire to place his renown on that noblest
basis, the amelioration of social institutions.” The difference in this
respect, we conceive, was not in the character of the men, but in the
characters of the revolutions by means of which they rose to power. The
civil war in England {505}had been undertaken to defend and restore;
the republicans of France set themselves to destroy. In England, the
principles of the common law had never been disturbed, and most even of
its forms had been held sacred. In France, the law and its ministers had
been swept away together. In France, therefore, legislation necessarily
became the first business of the first settled government which rose
on the ruins of the old system. The admirers of Inigo Jones have always
maintained that his works are inferior to those of Sir Christopher Wren,
only because the great fire of London gave Wren such a field for the
display of his powers as no architect in the history of the world ever
possessed. Similar allowance must be made for Cromwell. If he
erected little that was new, it was because there had been no general
devastation to clear a space for him. As it was, he reformed the
representative system in a most judicious manner. He rendered the
administration of justice uniform throughout the island. We will quote
a passage from his speech to the Parliament in September, 1656,
which contains, we think, simple and rude as the diction is, stronger
indications of a legislative mind, than are to be found in the whole
range of orations delivered on such occasions before or since.

“There is one general grievance in the nation. It is the law. I think,
I may say it, I have as eminent judges in this land as have been had,
or that the nation has had for these many years. Truly, I could be
particular as to the executive part, to the administration; but
that would trouble you. But the truth of it is, there are wicked and
abominable laws that will be in your power to alter. To hang a man for
sixpence, threepence, I know not what,--to hang for a {506}trifle, and
pardon murder, is in the ministration of the law through the ill framing
of it. I have known in my experience abominable murders quitted; and
to see men lose their lives for petty matters! This is a thing that God
will reckon for; and I wish it may not lie upon this nation a day
longer than you have an opportunity to give a remedy; and I hope I shall
cheerfully join with you in it.”

Mr. Hallam truly says that, though it is impossible to rank Cromwell
with Napoleon as a general, yet “his exploits were as much above
the level of his contemporaries, and more the effects of an original
uneducated capacity.” Bonaparte was trained in the best military
schools; the army which he led to Italy was one of the finest that ever
existed. Cromwell passed his youth and the prime of his manhood in a
civil situation. He never looked on war till he was more than forty
years old. He had first to form himself, and then to form his troops.
Out of raw levies he created an army, the bravest and the best
disciplined, the most orderly in peace, and the most terrible in war,
that Europe had seen. He called this body into existence. He led it to
conquest. He never fought a battle without gaining it. He never
gained a battle without annihilating the force opposed to him. Yet his
victories were not the highest glory of his military system. The respect
which his troops paid to property, their attachment to the laws and
religion of their country, their submission to the civil power, their
temperance, their intelligence, their industry, are without parallel. It
was after the Restoration that the spirit which their great leader had
infused into them was most signally displayed. At the command of the
established government, an established government which {507}had no
means of enforcing obedience, fifty thousand soldiers, whose backs no
enemy had ever seen, either in domestic or in continental war, laid down
their arms, and retired into the mass of the people, thenceforward to
be distinguished only by superior diligence, sobriety, and regularity
in the pursuits of peace, from the other members of the community which
they had saved.

In the general spirit and character of his administration, we think
Cromwell far superior to Napoleon. “In civil government,” says Mr.
Hallam, “there can be no adequate parallel between one who had sucked
only the dregs of a besotted fanaticism, and one to whom the stores of
reason and philosophy were open.” These expressions, it seems to
us, convey the highest eulogium on our great countryman. Reason
and philosophy did not teach the conqueror of Europe to command his
passions, or to pursue, as a first object, the happiness of his people.
They did not prevent him from risking his fame and his power in a
frantic contest against the principles of human nature and the laws of
the physical world, against the rage of the winter and the liberty
of the sea. They did not exempt him from the influence of that most
pernicious of superstitions, a presumptuous fatalism. They did not
preserve him from the inebriation of prosperity, or restrain him from
indecent querulousness in adversity. On the other hand, the fanaticism
of Cromwell never urged him on impracticable undertakings, or confused
his perception of the public good. Our countryman, inferior to Bonaparte
in invention, was far superior to him in wisdom. The French Emperor is
among conquerors what Voltaire is among writers, a miraculous child.
His splendid genius was frequently clouded by fits of humour as absurdly
perverse as those of the pet {508}of the nursery, who quarrels with his
food, and dashes his playthings to pieces. Cromwell was emphatically a
man. He possessed, in an eminent degree, that masculine and full-grown
robustness of mind, that equally diffused intellectual health, which,
if our national partiality does not mislead us, has peculiarly
characterised the great men of England. Never was any ruler so
conspicuously born for sovereignty. The cup which has intoxicated almost
all others sobered him. His spirit, restless from its own buoyancy in
a lower sphere, reposed in majestic placidity as soon as it had reached
the level congenial to it. He had nothing in common with that large
class of men who distinguish themselves in subordinate posts, and whose
incapacity becomes obvious as soon as the public voice summons them
to take the lead. Rapidly as his fortunes grew, his mind expanded
more rapidly still. Insignificant as a private citizen, he was a great
general; he was a still greater prince. Napoleon had a theatrical
manner, in which the coarseness of a revolutionary guard-room was
blended with the ceremony of the old Court of Versailles. Cromwell,
by the confession even of his enemies, exhibited in his demeanour the
simple and natural nobleness of a man neither ashamed of his origin
nor vain of his elevation, of a man who had found his proper place in
society, and who felt secure that he was competent to fill it. Easy,
even to familiarity, where his own dignity was concerned, he was
punctilious only for his country. His own character he left to take care
of itself; he left it to be defended by his victories in war, and his
reforms in peace. But he was a jealous and implacable guardian of the
public honour. He suffered a crazy Quaker to insult him in the gallery
of Whitehall, and {509}revenged himself only by liberating him and
giving him a dinner. But he was prepared to risk the chancel of war to
avenge the blood of a private Englishman.

No sovereign ever carried to the throne so large a portion of the best
qualities of the middling orders, so strong a sympathy with the feelings
and interests of his people. He was sometimes driven to arbitrary
measures; but he had a high, stout, honest, English heart. Hence it was
that he loved to surround his throne with such men as Hale and Blake.
Hence it was that he allowed so large a share of political liberty to
his subjects, and that, even when an opposition dangerous to his power
and to his person almost compelled him to govern by the sword, he was
still anxious to leave a germ from which, at a more favourable season,
free institutions might spring. We firmly believe that, if his first
Parliament had not commenced its debates by disputing his title, his
government would have been as mild at home as it was energetic and able
abroad. He was a soldier; he had risen by war. Had his ambition been of
an impure or selfish kind, it would have been easy for him to plunge his
country into continental hostilities on a large scale, and to dazzle
the restless factions which he ruled, by the splendour of his victories.
Some of his enemies have sneeringly remarked, that in the successes
obtained under his administration he had no personal share; as if a man
who had raised himself from obscurity to empire solely by his military
talents could have any unworthy reason for shrinking from military
enterprise. This reproach is his highest glory. In the success of the
English navy he could have no selfish interest. Its triumphs added
nothing to his fame; its increase added nothing to his means of
overawing his enemies; its {510}great leader was not his friend. Yet he
took a peculiar pleasure in encouraging that noble service which, of all
the instruments employed by an English government, is the most impotent
for mischief, and the most powerful for good. His administration was
glorious, but with no vulgar glory. It was not one of those periods of
overstrained and convulsive exertion which necessarily produce debility
and langour. Its energy was natural, healthful, temperate. He placed
England at the head of the Protestant interest, and in the first rank of
Christian powers. He taught every nation to value her friendship and
to dread her enmity. But he did not squander her resources in a vain
attempt to invest her with that supremacy which no power, in the modern
system of Europe, can safely affect, or can long retain.

This noble and sober wisdom had its reward. If he did not carry the
banners of the Commonwealth in triumph to distant capitals, if he did
not adorn Whitehall with the spoils of the Stadthouse and the Louvre, if
he did not portion out Flanders and Germany into principalities for his
kinsmen and his generals, he did not, on the other hand, see his country
overrun by the armies of nations which his ambition had provoked. He did
not drag out the last years of his life an exile and a prisoner, in
an unhealthy climate and under an ungenerous gaoler, raging with the
impotent desire of vengeance, and brooding over visions of departed
glory. He went down to his grave in the fulness of power and fame; and
he left to his son an authority which any man of ordinary firmness and
prudence would have retained.

But for the weakness of that foolish Ishbosheth, the opinions which
we have been expressing would, we {511}believe, now have formed the
orthodox creed of good Englishmen. We might now be writing under the
government of his Highness Oliver the Fifth or Richard the Fourth,
Protector, by the grace of God, of the Commonwealth of England,
Scotland, and Ireland, and the dominions thereto belonging. The form
of the great founder of the dynasty, on horseback, as when he led the
charge at Naseby, or on foot, as when he took the mace from the table
of the Commons, would adorn our squares and overlook our public offices
from Charing-Cross; and sermons in his praise would be duly preached on
his lucky day, the third of September, by court-chaplains, guiltless of
the abomination of the surplice.

But, though his memory has not been taken under the patronage of any
party, though every device has been used to blacken it, though to praise
him would long have been a punishable crime, truth and merit at last
prevail. Cowards who had trembled at the very sound of his name, tools
of office who, like Downing, had been proud of the honour of lacqueying
his coach, might insult him in loyal speeches and addresses. Venal poets
might transfer to the King the same eulogies, little the worse for wear,
which they had bestowed on the Protector. A fickle multitude might crowd
to shout and scoff round the gibbeted remains of the greatest Prince
and Soldier of the age. But when the Dutch cannon startled an effeminate
tyrant in his own palace, when the conquests which had been won by the
armies of Cromwell were sold to pamper the harlots of Charles, when
Englishmen were sent to fight under foreign banners, against the
independence of Europe and the Protestant religion, many honest hearts
swelled in secret at the thought of one who had never {512}suffered
his country to be ill used by any but himself. It must indeed have been
difficult for any Englishman to see the salaried Viceroy of France, at
the most important crisis of his fate, sauntering through his harem,
yawning and talking nonsense over a dispatch, or beslobbering his
brother and his courtiers in a fit of maudlin affection, without
a respectful and tender remembrance of him before whose genius the
young-pride of Lewis and the veteran craft of Mazarin had stood rebuked,
who had humbled Spain on the land and Holland on the sea, and whose
imperial voice had arrested the sails of the Lybian pirates and the
persecuting fires of Rome. Even to the present day his character, though
constantly attacked, and scarcely ever defended, is popular with the
great body of our countrymen.

The most blameable act of his life was the execution of Charles. We have
already strongly condemned that proceeding; but we by no means consider
it as one which attaches any peculiar stigma of infamy to the names of
those who participated in it. It was an unjust and injudicious display
of violent party spirit; but it was not a cruel or perfidious measure.
It had all those features which distinguish the errors of magnanimous
and intrepid spirits from base and malignant crimes.

From the moment that Cromwell is dead and buried, we go on in almost
perfect harmony with Mr. Hallam to the end of his book. The times which
followed the Restoration peculiarly require that unsparing impartiality
which is his most distinguishing virtue. No part of our history,
during the last three centuries, presents a spectacle of such general
dreariness. The whole breed of our statesmen seems to have degenerated;
{513}and their moral and intellectual littleness strikes us with the
more disgust, because we sec it placed in immediate contrast with the
high and majestic qualities of the race which they succeeded. In the
great civil war, even the bad cause had been rendered respectable and
amiable by the purity and elevation of mind which many of its friends
displayed. Under Charles the Second, the best and noblest of ends
was disgraced by means the most cruel and sordid. The rage of faction
succeeded to the love of liberty. Loyalty died away into servility. We
look in vain among the leading politicians of either side for steadiness
of principle, or even for that vulgar fidelity to party which, in our
time, it is esteemed infamous to violate. The inconsistency, perfidy,
and baseness, which the leaders constantly practised, which their
followers defended, and which the great body of the people regarded, as
it seems, with little disapprobation, appear in the present age almost
incredible. In the age of Charles the First, they would, we believe,
have excited as much astonishment.

Man, however, is always the same. And when so marked a difference
appears between two generations, it is certain that the solution may be
found in their respective circumstances. The principal statesmen of the
reign of Charles the Second were trained during the civil war and the
revolutions which followed it. Such a period is eminently favourable to
the growth of quick and active talents. It forms a class of men, shrewd,
vigilant, inventive; of men whose dexterity triumphs over the most
perplexing combinations of circumstances, whose presaging instinct no
sign of the times can elude. But it is an unpropitious season for the
firm and masculine virtues. The statesman who enters on his career
at such a time, can form no permanent {514}connections, can make no
accurate observations on the higher parts of political science. Before
he can attach himself to a party, it is scattered. Before he can study
the nature of a government, it is overturned. The oath of abjuration
comes close on the oath of allegiance. The association which was
subscribed yesterday is burned by the hangman to-day. In the midst of
the constant eddy and change, self-preservation becomes the first object
of the adventurer. It is a task too hard for the strongest head to keep
itself from becoming giddy in the eternal whirl. Public spirit is out of
the question. A laxity of principle, without which no public man can be
eminent or even safe, becomes too common to be scandalous; and the whole
nation looks coolly on Instances of apostacy which would startle the
foulest turncoat of more settled times.

The history of France since the Revolution affords some striking
illustrations of these remarks. The same man was a servant of the
Republic, of Bonaparte, of Lewis the Eighteenth, of Bonaparte again
after his return from Elba, of Lewis again after his return from Ghent.
Yet all these manifold treasons by no means seemed to destroy his
influence, or even to fix any peculiar stain of infamy on his character.
We, to be sure, did not know what to make of him; but his countrymen
did not seem to be shocked; and in truth they had little right to be
shocked: for there was scarcely one Frenchman distinguished in the state
or in the army, who had not, according to the best of his talents and
opportunities, emulated the example. It was natural, too, that this
should be the case. The rapidity and violence with which change followed
change in the affairs of France towards the close of the last century
had taken away the reproach of inconsistency, unfixed {515}the
principles of public men, and produced in many minds a general
scepticism and indifference about principles of government.

No Englishman who has studied attentively the reign of Charles the
Second will think himself entitled to indulge in any feelings of
national superiority over the _Dictionnaire des Girouettes_. Shaftesbury
was surely a far less respectable man than Talleyrand; and it would
be injustice even to Fouché to compare him with Lauderdale. Nothing,
indeed, can more clearly show how low the standard of political
morality had fallen in this country than the fortunes of the two British
statesmen whom we have named. The government wanted a ruffian to carry
on the most atrocious system of mis-government with which any nation
was ever cursed, to extirpate Presbyterianism by fire and sword, by the
drowning of women, by the frightful torture of the boot. And they
found him among the chiefs of the rebellion and the subscribers of the
Covenant. The opposition looked for a chief to head them in the most
desperate attacks ever made, under the forms of the Constitution, on
any English administration: and they selected the minister who had the
deepest share in the worst acts of the Court, the soul of the Cabal, the
counsellor who had shut up the Exchequer and urged on the Dutch war. The
whole political drama was of the same cast. No unity of plan, no decent
propriety of character and costume, could be found in that wild
and monstrous harlequinade. The whole was made up of extravagant
transformations and burlesque contrasts; Atheists turned Puritans;
Puritans turned Atheists; republicans defending the divine right of
Kings; prostitute courtiers clamouring for the liberties of the people;
judges inflaming the rage of mobs; patriots pocketing {516}bribes from
foreign powers; a Popish prince torturing Presbyterians into Episcopacy
in one part of the island; Presbyterians cutting off the heads of Popish
noblemen and gentlemen in the other. Public opinion has its natural
flux and reflux. After a violent burst, there is commonly a reaction. But
vicissitudes so extraordinary as those which marked the reign of Charles
the Second can only be explained by supposing an utter want of principle
in the political world. On neither side was there fidelity enough to
face a reverse. Those honourable retreats from power which, in later
days, parties have often made, with loss, but still in good order, in
firm union, with unbroken spirit and formidable means of annoyance, were
utterly unknown. As soon as a check took place a total rout followed:
arms and colours were thrown away. The vanquished troops, like the
Italian mercenaries of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, enlisted
on the very field of battle, in the service of the conquerors. In a
nation proud of its sturdy justice and plain good sense, no party could
be found to take a firm middle stand between the worst of oppositions
and the worst of courts. When, on charges as wild as Mother Goose’s
tales, on the testimony of wretches who proclaimed themselves to be
spies and traitors, and whom everybody now believes to have been also
liars and murderers, the offal of gaols and brothels, the leavings of
the hangman’s whip and shears, Catholics guilty of nothing but their
religion were led like sheep to the Protestant shambles, where were the
loyal Tory gentry and the passively obedient clergy? And where, when the
time of retribution came, when laws were strained and juries packed
to destroy the leaders of the Whigs, when charters were invaded, when
Jefferies and Kirke were making {517}Somersetshire what Lauderdale and
Graham had made Scotland, where were the ten thousand brisk boys of
Shaftesbury, the members of ignoramus juries, the wearers of the Polish
medal? All-powerful to destroy others, unable to save themselves, the
members of the two parties oppressed and were oppressed, murdered and
were murdered, in their turn. No lucid interval occurred between the
frantic paroxysms of two contradictory illusions.

To the frequent changes of the government during the twenty years which
had preceded the Restoration, this unsteadiness is in a great measure to
be attributed. Other causes had also been at work. Even if the country
had been governed by the house of Cromwell or by the remains of the Long
Parliament, the extreme austerity of the Puritans would necessarily have
produced a revulsion. Towards the close of the Protectorate many signs
indicated that a time of license was at hand. But the restoration of
Charles the Second rendered the change wonderfully rapid and violent.
Profligacy became a test of orthodoxy and loyalty, a qualification for
rank and office. A deep and general taint infected the morals of the
most influential classes, and spread itself through every province
of letters. Poetry inflamed the passions; philosophy undermined the
principles; divinity itself, inculcating an abject reverence for the
Court, gave additional effect to the licentious example of the Court.
We look in vain for those qualities which lend a charm to the errors
of high and ardent natures, for the generosity, the tenderness, the
chivalrous delicacy, which ennoble appetites into passions, and impart
to vice itself a portion of the majesty of virtue. The excesses of that
age remind us of the humours of a gang of footpads, revelling with their
{518}favourite beauties at a flash-house. In the fashionable libertinism
there is a hard, cold ferocity, an impudence, a lowness, a dirtiness,
which can be paralleled only among the heroes and heroines of that
filthy and heartless literature which encouraged it. One nobleman of
great abilities wanders about as a Merry-Andrew. Another harangues the
mob stark naked from a window. A third lays an ambush to cudgel a man
who has offended him. A knot of gentlemen of high rank and influence
combine to push their fortunes at court by circulating stories intended
to ruin an innocent girl, stories which had no foundation, and which, if
they had been true, would never have passed the lips of a man of honour.
A dead child is found in the palace, the offspring of some maid of
honour by some courtier, or perhaps by Charles himself. The whole flight
of pandars and buffoons pounce upon it, and carry it in triumph to the
royal laboratory, where his Majesty, after a brutal jest, dissects it
for the amusement of the assembly, and probably of its father among
the rest. The favourite Duchess stamps about Whitehall, cursing and
swearing. The ministers employ their time at the council-board in
making mouths at each other and taking off each other’s gestures for the
amusement of the King. The Peers at a conference begin to pommel each
other and to tear collars and periwigs. A speaker in the House of
Commons gives offence to the Court. He is waylaid by a gang of bullies,
and his nose is cut to the bone. This ignominous dissoluteness, or
rather, if we may venture to designate it by the only proper word,
blackguardism of feeling and manners, could not but spread from private
to public life. The cynical sneers, the epicurean sophistry, which
had driven honour and virtue from one part of the character, extended
{519}their influence over every other. The second generation of the
statesmen of this reign were worthy pupils of the schools in which they
had been trained, of the gaming-table of Grammont, and the tiring-room
of Nell. In no other age could such a trifler as Buckingham have
exercised any political influence. In no other age could the path
to power and glory have been thrown open to the manifold infamies of

The history of Churchill shows, more clearly per haps than that of any
other individual, the malignity and extent of the corruption which had
eaten into the heart of the public morality. An English gentleman of
good family attaches himself to a Prince who has seduced his sister, and
accepts rank and wealth as the price of her shame and his own. He then
repays by ingratitude the benefits which he has purchased by ignominy,
betrays his patron in a manner which the best cause cannot excuse, and
commits an act, not only of private treachery, but of distinct military
desertion. To his conduct at the crisis of the fate of James, no service
in modern times has, as far as we remember, furnished any parallel. The
conduct of Ney, scandalous enough no doubt, is the very fastidiousness
of honour in comparison of it. The perfidy of Arnold approaches it
most nearly. In our age and country no talents, no services, no party
attachments, could bear any man up under such mountains of infamy. Yet,
even before Churchill had performed those great actions which in some
degree redeem his character with posterity, the load lay very lightly on
him. He had others in abundance to keep him in countenance. Godolphin,
Orford, Dauby, the trimmer Halifax, the renegade Sunderland, were all
men of the same class.

Where such was the political morality of the noble {520}and the wealthy,
it may easily be conceived that those professions which, even in the
best times, are peculiarly liable to corruption, were in a frightful
state. Such a bench and such a bar England has never seen. Jones,
Scroggs, Jefferies, North, Wright, Sawyer, Williams, are to this day the
spots and blemishes of our legal chronicles. Differing in constitution
and in situation, whether blustering or cringing, whether persecuting
Protestants or Catholics, they were equally unprincipled and inhuman.
The part which the Church played was not equally atrocious; but it must
have been exquisitely diverting to a scoffer. Never were principles so
loudly professed, and so shamelessly abandoned. The Royal prerogative
had been magnified to the skies in theological works. The doctrine
of passive obedience had been preached from innumerable pulpits. The
University of Oxford had sentenced the works of the most moderate
constitutionalists to the flames. The accession of a Catholic King, the
frightful cruelties committed in the west of England, never shook the
steady loyalty of the clergy. But did they serve the Kino; for nought?
He laid his hand on them, and they cursed him to his face. He touched
the revenue of a college and the liberty of some prelates; and the whole
profession set up a yell worthy of Hugh Peters himself. Oxford sent her
plate to an invader with more alacrity than she had shown when Charles
the First requested it. Nothing was said about the wickedness of
resistance till resistance had done its work, till the anointed
vicegerent of Heaven had been driven away, and till it had become plain
that he would never be restored, or would be restored at least under
strict limitations. The clergy went back, it must be owned, to their old
theory, as soon as they found that it would do them no harm. {521}It
is principally to the general baseness and profligacy of the times that
Clarendon is indebted for his high reputation. He was, in every respect,
a man unfit for his age, at once too good for it and too bad for it. He
seemed to be one of the ministers of Elizabeth, transplanted at once to
a state of society widely different from that in which the abilities of
such ministers had been serviceable. In the sixteenth century, the Royal
prerogative had scarcely been called in question. A Minister who held
it high was in no danger, so long as he used it well. That attachment
to the Crown, that extreme jealousy of popular encroachments, that love,
half religious half political, for the Church, which, from the
beginning of the second session of the Long Parliament, showed itself in
Clarendon, and which his sufferings, his long residence in France,
and his high station in the government, served to strengthen, would, a
hundred years earlier, have secured to him the favour of his sovereign
without rendering him odious to the people. His probity, his correctness
in private life, his decency of deportment, and his general ability,
would not have misbecome a colleague of Walsingham and Burleigh. But,
in the times on which he was cast, his errors and his virtues were alike
out of place. He imprisoned men without trial. He was accused of raising
unlawful contributions on the people for the support of the army. The
abolition of the act which ensured the frequent holding of Parliaments
was one of his favourite objects. He seems to have meditated the revival
of the Star Chamber and the High Commission Court. His zeal for the
prerogative made him unpopular; but it could not secure to him the
favour of a master far more desirous of ease and pleasure than of
power. {522}Charles would rather have lived in exile and privacy, with
abundance of money, a crowd of mimics to amuse him, and a score of
mistresses, than have purchased the absolute dominion of the world by
the privations and exertions to which Clarendon was constantly urging
him. A councillor who was always bringing him papers and giving him
advice, and who stoutly refused to compliment Lady Castlemaine and to
carry messages to Mistress Stewart, soon became more hateful to him than
ever Cromwell had been. Thus, considered by the people as an oppressor,
by the Court as a censor, the Minister fell from his high office with a
ruin more violent and destructive than could ever have been his fate, if
he had either respected the principles of the Constitution or flattered
the vices of the King.

Mr. Hallam has formed, we think, a most correct estimate of the
character and administration of Clarendon. But he scarcely makes
a sufficient allowance for the wear and tear which honesty almost
necessarily sustains in the friction of political life, and which, in
times so rough as those through which Clarendon passed, must be very
considerable. When these are fairly estimated, we think that his
integrity may be allowed to pass muster. A high-minded man he certainly
was not, either in public or in private affairs. His own account of his
conduct in the affair of his daughter is the most extraordinary passage
in autobiography. We except nothing even in the Confessions of Rousseau.
Several writers have taken a perverted and absurd pride in representing
themselves as detestable; but no other ever laboured hard to make
himself despicable and ridiculous. In one important particular Clarendon
showed as little regard to the {523}honour of his country as he had
shown to that of his family. He accepted a subsidy from France for the
relief of Portugal. But this method of obtaining money was afterwards
practised to a much greater extent, and for objects much less
respectable, both by the Court and by the Opposition.

These pecuniary transactions are commonly considered as the most
disgraceful part of the history of those times; and they were no doubt
highly reprehensible. Yet, in justice to the Whigs and to Charles
himself, we must admit that they were not so shameful or atrocious as at
the present day they appear. The effect of violent animosities between
parties has always been an indifference to the general welfare
and honour of the State. A politician, where factions run high, is
interested not for the whole people, but for his own section of it.
The rest are, in his view, strangers, enemies, or rather pirates. The
strongest aversion which he can feel to any foreign power is the ardour
of friendship, when compared with the loathing which he entertains
towards those domestic foes with whom he is cooped up in a narrow space,
with whom he lives in a constant interchange of petty injuries and
insults, and from whom, in the day of their success, he has to expect
severities far beyond any that a conqueror from a distant country would
inflict. Thus, in Greece, it was a point of honour for a man to cleave
to his party against his country. No aristocratical citizen of Samos
or Corcyra would have hesitated to call in the aid of Lacedæmon. The
multitude, on the contrary, looked every where to Athens. In the Italian
states of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, from the same cause,
no man was so much a Pisan or a Florentine as a Ghibeline or a Guelf. It
may be doubted whether {524}there was a single individual who would have
scrupled to raise his party from a state of depression, by opening
the gates of his native city to a French or an Arragonese force. The
Reformation, dividing; almost every European country into’ two
parts, produced similar effects. The Catholic was too strong for the
Englishman, the Huguenot for the Frenchman. The Protestant statesmen of
Scotland and France called in the aid of Elizabeth; and the Papists of
the League brought a Spanish army into the very heart of France. ‘The
commotions to which the French Revolution gave rise were followed by the
same consequences. The Republicans in every part of Europe were eager to
see the armies of the National Convention and the Directory appear among
them, and exulted in defeats which distressed and humbled those whom
they considered as their worst enemies, their own rulers. The princes
and nobles of France, on the other hand, did their utmost to bring
foreign invaders to Paris. A very short time has elapsed since the
Apostolical party in Spain invoked, too successfully, the support of

The great contest which raged in England during the seventeenth century
extinguished, not indeed in the body of the people, but in those classes
which were most actively engaged in politics, almost all national
feelings. Charles the Second and many of his courtiers had passed a
large part of their lives in banishment, living on the bounty of foreign
treasuries, soliciting foreign aid to reestablish monarchy in their
native country. The King’s own brother had fought in Flanders, under the
banners of Spain, against the English armies. The oppressed Cavaliers
in England constantly looked to the Louvre and the Escurial for
{525}deliverance and revenge. Clarendon censures the continental
governments with great bitterness for not interfering in our internal
dissensions. It is not strange, therefore, that, amidst the furious
contests which followed the Restoration, the violence of party feeling
should produce effects which would probably have attended it even in
an age less distinguished by laxity of principle and indelicacy of
sentiment. It was not till a natural death had terminated the paralytic
old age of the Jacobite party that the evil was completely at an end.
The Whigs long looked to Holland, the High Tories to France. The
former concluded the Barrier Treaty; the latter entreated the Court
of Versailles to send an expedition to England. Many men who, however
erroneous their political notions might be, were unquestionably
honourable in private life, accepted money without scruple from the
foreign powers favourable to the Pretender.

Never was there less of national feeling among the higher orders than
during the reign of Charles the Second. That Prince, on the one side,
thought it better to be the deputy of an absolute king than the King
of a free people. Algernon Sydney, on the other hand, would gladly have
aided France in all her ambitious schemes, and have seen England reduced
to the condition of a province, in the wild hope that a foreign despot
would assist him to establish his darling republic. The King took the
money of France to assist him in the enterprise which he meditated
against the liberty of his subjects, with as little scruple as Frederic
of Prussia or Alexander of Russia accepted our subsidies in time of war.
The leaders of the Opposition no more thought themselves disgraced by
the presents of Lewis, than a gentleman of our own time {526}thinks
himself disgraced by the liberality of powerful and wealthy members of
his party who pay his election bill. The money which the King received
from France had been largely employed to corrupt members of Parliament.
The enemies of the court might think it fair, or even absolutely
necessary, to encounter bribery with bribery. Thus they took the French
gratuities, the needy among them for their own use, the rich probably
for the general purposes of the party, without any scruple. If we
compare their conduct not with that of English statesmen in our own
time, but with that of persons in those foreign countries which are
now situated as England then was, we shall probably see reason to abate
something of the severity of censure with which it has been the fashion
to visit those proceedings. Yet, when every allowance is made, the
transaction is sufficiently offensive. It is satisfactory to find that
Lord Russell stands free from any imputation of personal participation
in the spoil. An age so miserably poor in all the moral qualities which
render public characters respectable can ill spare the credit which it
derives from a man, not indeed conspicuous for talents or knowledge,
but honest even in his errors, respectable in every relation of life,
rationally pious, steadily and placidly brave.

The great improvement which took place in our breed of public men is
principally to be ascribed to the Revolution. Yet that memorable event,
in a great measure, took its character from the very vices which it
was the means of reforming. It was assuredly a happy revolution, and
a useful revolution; but it was not, what it has often been called, a
glorious revolution. William, and William alone, derived glory from
it. {527}The transaction was, in almost every part, discreditable to
England. That a tyrant who had violated the fundamental laws of the
country, who had attacked the rights of its greatest corporations, who
had begun to persecute the established religion of the state, who had
never respected the law either in his superstition or in his revenge,
could not be pulled down without the aid of a foreign army, is a
circumstance not very grateful to our national pride. Yet this is the
least degrading part of the story. The shameless insincerity of the
great and noble, the warm assurances of general support which James
received, down to the moment of general desertion, indicate a meanness
of spirit and a looseness of morality most disgraceful to the age. That
the enterprise succeeded, at least that it succeeded without bloodshed
or commotion, was principally owing to an act of ungrateful perfidy,
such as no soldier had ever before committed, and to those monstrous
fictions respecting the birth of the Prince of Wales which persons of
the highest rank were not ashamed to circulate. In all the proceedings
of the Convention, in the conference particularly, we see that
littleness of mind which is the chief characteristic of the times. The
resolutions on which the two Houses at last agreed were as bad as
any resolutions for so excellent a purpose could be. Their feeble and
contradictory language was evidently intended to save the credit of
the Tories, who were ashamed to name what they were not ashamed to do.
Through the whole transaction no commanding talents were displayed by
any Englishman; no extraordinary risks were run; no sacrifices were made
for the deliverance of the nation, except the sacrifice which Churchill
made of honour, and Anne of natural affection. {528}It was in some sense
fortunate, as we have already said, for the Church of England, that the
Reformation in this country was effected by men who cared little about
religion. And, in the same manner, it was fortunate for our civil
government that the Revolution was in a great measure effected by men
who cared little about their political principles. At such a crisis,
splendid talents and strong passions might have done more harm than
good. There was far greater reason to fear that too much would be
attempted, and that violent movements would produce an equally violent
reaction, than that too little would be done in the way of change. But
narrowness of intellect and flexibility of principle, though they may be
serviceable, can never be respectable.

If in the Revolution itself there was little that can properly be called
glorious, there was still less in the events which followed. In a church
which had as one man declared the doctrine of resistance unchristian,
only four hundred persons refused to take the oath of allegiance to a
government founded on resistance. In the preceding generation, both the
Episcopal and the Presbyterian clergy, rather than concede points of
conscience not more important, had resigned their livings by thousands.

The churchmen, at the time of the Revolution, justified their conduct by
all those profligate sophisms which are called Jesuitical, and which are
commonly reckoned among the peculiar sins of Popery, but which in
fact are every where the anodynes employed by minds rather subtle than
strong, to quiet those internal twinges which they cannot but feel and
which they will not obey. As the oath taken by the clergy was in the
teeth of their principles, so was their conduct {529}in the teeth of
their oath. Their constant machinations against the Government to
which they had sworn fidelity brought a reproach on their order and on
Christianity itself. A distinguished prelate has not scrupled to say
that the rapid increase of infidelity at that time was principally
produced by the disgust which the faithless conduct of his brethren
excited in men not sufficiently candid or judicious to discern the
beauties of the system amidst the vices of its ministers.

But the reproach was not confined to the Church. In every political
party, in the Cabinet itself, duplicity and perfidy abounded. The
very men whom William loaded with benefits and in whom he reposed
most confidence, with his seals of office in their hands, kept up a
correspondence with the exiled family. Orford, Leeds, and Shrewsbury
were guilty of this odious treachery. Even Devonshire is not altogether
free from suspicion. It may well be conceived that, at such a time,
such a nature as that of Marlborough would riot in the very luxury of
baseness. His former treason, thoroughly furnished with all that makes
infamy exquisite, placed him under the disadvantage which attends every
artist from the time that he produces a masterpiece. Yet his second
great stroke may excite wonder, even in those who appreciate all the
merit of the first. Lest his admirers should be able to say that at
the time of the Revolution he had betrayed his King from any other
than selfish motives, he proceeded to betray his country. He sent
intelligence to the French court of a secret expedition intended to
attack Brest. The consequence was that the expedition failed, and that
eight hundred British soldiers lost their lives from the abandoned
villany of a British general. Yet this man has been canonized by so
many eminent writers that {530}to speak of him as he deserves may seem
scarcely decent.

The reign of William the Third, as Mr. Hallam happily says, was the
Nadir of the national prosperity. It was also the Nadir of the national
character. It was the time when the rank harvest of vices sown during
thirty years of licentiousness and confusion was gathered in; but it was
also the seed-time of great virtues.

The press was emancipated from the censorship soon after the Revolution;
and the Government immediately fell under the censorship of the press.
Statesmen had a scrutiny to endure which was every day becoming more and
more severe. The extreme violence of opinions abated. The Whigs learned
moderation in office; the Tories learned the principles of liberty
in opposition. The parties almost constantly approximated, often met,
sometimes crossed each other. There were occasional bursts of violence;
but, from the time of the Revolution, those bursts were constantly
becoming less and less terrible. The severity with which the Tories, at
the close of the reign of Anne, treated some of those who had directed
public affairs during the war of the Grand Alliance, and the retaliatory
measures of the Whigs, after the accession of the House of Hanover,
cannot be justified; but they were by no means in the style of the
infuriated parties, whose alternate murders had disgraced our history
towards the close of the reign of Charles the Second. At the fall of
Walpole far greater moderation was displayed. And from that time it has
been the practice, a practice not strictly according to the theory
of our Constitution, but still most salutary, to consider the loss of
office, and the public disapprobation, as punishments sufficient for
errors in the administration not imputable to personal {531}corruption.
Nothing, we believe, has contributed more than this lenity to raise
the character of public men. Ambition is of itself a game sufficiently
hazardous and sufficiently deep to inflame the passions without adding
property, life, and liberty to the stake. Where the play runs so
desperately high as in the seventeenth century, honour is at an end.
Statesmen, instead of being as they should be, at once mild and steady,
are at once ferocious and inconsistent. The axe is for ever before their
eyes. A popular outcry sometimes unnerves them, and sometimes makes them
desperate; it drives them to unworthy compliances, or to measures of
vengeance as cruel as those which they have reason to expect. A Minister
in our times need not fear either to be firm or to be merciful. Our old
policy in this respect was as absurd as that of the king in the Eastern
tale who proclaimed that any physician who pleased might come to court
and prescribe for his diseases, but that if the remedies failed the
adventurer should lose his head. It is easy to conceive how many able
men would refuse to undertake the cure on such conditions; how much the
sense of extreme danger would confuse the perceptions, and cloud the
intellect, of the practitioner, at the very crisis which most called
for self-possession, and how strong his temptation would be, if he found
that he had committed a blunder, to escape the consequences of it by
poisoning his patient.

But in fact it would have been impossible, since the Revolution, to
punish any Minister for the general course of his policy, with the
slightest semblance of justice; for since that time no Minister has been
able to pursue any general course of policy without the approbation of
the Parliament. The most important effects of that great change were, as
Mr. Hallam has {532}most truly said and most ably shown, those which
it indirectly produced. Thenceforward it became the interest of the
executive government to protect those very doctrines which an executive
government is in general inclined to persecute. The sovereign, the
ministers, the courtiers, at last even the universities and the clergy,
were changed into advocates of the right of resistance. In the theory of
the Whigs, in the situation of the Tories, in the common interest of all
public men, the Parliamentary constitution of the country found perfect
security. The power of the House of Commons, in particular, has been
steadily on the increase. Since supplies have been granted for short
terms and appropriated to particular services, the approbation of that
House has been as necessary in practice to the executive administration
as it has al-ways been in theory to taxes and to laws.

Mr. Hallam appears to have begun with the reign of Henry the Seventh, as
the period at which what is called modern history, in contradistinction
to the history of the middle ages, is generally supposed to commence. He
has stopped at the accession of George the Third, “from unwillingness,”
 as he says, “to excite the prejudices of modern politics, especially
those connected with personal character.” These two eras, we think,
deserved the distinction on other grounds. Our remote posterity, when
looking back on our history in that comprehensive manner in which remote
posterity alone can, without much danger of error, look back on it, will
probably observe those points with peculiar interest. They are, if we
mistake not, the beginning and the end of an entire and separate chapter
in our annals. The period which lies between them is a perfect cycle, a
great year of the public mind. {533}In the reign of Henry the Seventh,
all the political differences which had agitated England since the
Norman conquest seemed to be set at rest. The long and fierce struggle
between the Crown and the Barons had terminated. The grievances which
had produced the rebellions of Tyler and Cade had disappeared.
Vilanage was scarcely known. The two royal houses, whose conflicting
claims had long convulsed the kingdom, were at length united. The
claimants whose pretensions, just or unjust, had disturbed the new
settlement, were overthrown. In religion there was no open dissent, and
probably very little secret heresy. The old subjects of contention, in
short, had vanished; those which were to succeed had not yet appeared.

Soon, however, new principles were announced; principles which were
destined to keep England during two centuries and a half in a state of
commotion. The Reformation divided the people into two great parties.
The Protestants were victorious. They again subdivided themselves.
Political factions were engrafted on theological sects. The mutual
animosities of the two parties gradually emerged into the light of
public life. First came conflicts in Parliament; then civil war; then
revolutions upon revolutions, each attended by its appurtenance of
proscriptions, and persecutions, and tests; each followed by severe
measures on the part of the conquerors; each exciting a deadly and
festering hatred in the conquered. During the reign of George the
Second, things were evidently tending to repose. At the close of that
reign, the nation had completed the great revolution which commenced in
the early part of the sixteenth century, and was again at rest. The fury
of sects had died away. The Catholics themselves practically enjoyed
toleration; and more {534}than toleration they did not yet venture even
to desire. Jacobitism was a mere name. Nobody was left to fight for
that wretched cause, and very few to drink for it. The Constitution,
purchased so dearly, was on every side extolled and worshipped. Even
those distinctions of party which must almost always be found in a free
state could scarcely be traced. The two great bodies which, from the
time of the Revolution, had been gradually tending to approximation,
were now united in emulous support of that splendid Administration which
smote to the dust both the branches of the House of Bourbon. The great
battle for our ecclesiastical and civil polity had been fought and
won. The wounds had been healed. The victors and the vanquished were
rejoicing together. Every person acquainted with the political writers
of the last generation will recollect the terms in which they generally
speak of that time. It was a glimpse of a golden age of union and
glory, a short interval of rest, which had been preceded by centuries of
agitation, and which centuries of agitation were destined to follow.

How soon faction again began to ferment is well known. In the Letters of
Junius, in Burke’s Thoughts on the Cause of the Discontents, and in many
other writings of less merit, the violent dissensions which speedily
convulsed the country are imputed to the system of favouritism which
George the Third introduced, to the influence of Bute, or to the
profligacy of those who called themselves the King’s friends. With
all deference to the eminent writers to whom we have referred, we may
venture to say that they lived too near the events of which they treated
to judge correctly. The schism which was then appearing in the nation,
and which has been from that time almost constantly {535}widening, had
little in common with those schisms which had divided it during the
reigns of the Tudors and the Stuarts. The symptoms of popular feeling,
indeed, will always be in a great measure the same; but the principle
which excited that feeling was here new. The support which was given to
Wilkes, the clamour for reform during the American war, the disaffected
conduct of large classes of people at the time of the French Revolution,
no more resembled the opposition which had been offered to the government
of Charles the Second, than that opposition resembled the contest
between the Roses.

In the political as in the natural body, a sensation is often referred
to a part widely different from that in which it really resides. A man
whose leg is cut off fancies that he feels a pain in his toe. And in the
same manner the people, in the earlier part of the late reign, sincerely
attributed their discontent to grievances which had been effectually
lopped off. They imagined that the prerogative was too strong for the
Constitution, that the principles of the Revolution were abandoned, that
the system of the Stuarts was restored. Every impartial man must now
acknowledge that these charges were groundless. The conduct of the
Government with respect to the Middlesex election would have been
contemplated with delight by the first generation of Whigs. They would
have thought it a splendid triumph of the cause of liberty that the
King and the Lords should resign to the lower House a portion of the
legislative power, and allow it to incapacitate without their consent.
This, indeed, Mr. Burke clearly perceived. “When the House of Commons,”
 says he, “in an endeavour to obtain new advantages at the expense of the
other orders of the {536}state, for the benefit of the commons at large,
have pursued strong measures, if it were not just, it was at least
natural, that the constituents should connive at all their proceedings;
because we ourselves were ultimately to profit. But when this submission
is urged to us in a contest between the representatives and ourselves,
and where nothing can be put into their scale which is not taken from
ours, they fancy us to be children when they tell us that they are our
representatives, our own flesh and blood, and that all the stripes they
give us are for our good.” These sentences contain, in fact, the whole
explanation of the mystery. The conflict of the seventeenth century
was maintained by the Parliament against the Crown. The conflict which
commenced in the middle of the eighteenth century, which still remains
undecided, and in which our children and grandchildren will probably be
called to act or to suffer, is between a large portion of the people on
the one side, and the Crown and the Parliament united on the other.

The privileges of the House of Commons, those privileges which, in
1642, all London rose in arms to defend, which the people considered
as synonymous with their own liberties, and in comparison of which they
took no account of the most precious and sacred principles of English
jurisprudence, have now become nearly as odious as the rigours of
martial law. That power of committing which the people anciently loved
to see the House of Commons exercise, is now, at least when employed
against libellers, the most unpopular power in the Constitution. If the
Commons were to suffer the Lords to amend money-bills, we do not believe
that the people would care one straw about the matter. If they were to
suffer the Lords even to originate {537}money-bills, we doubt whether
such a surrender of their constitutional rights would excite half
so much dissatisfaction as the exclusion of strangers from a single
important discussion. The gallery in which the reporters sit has become
a fourth estate of the realm. The publication of the debates, a practice
which seemed to the most liberal statesman of the old school full of
danger to the great safeguards of public liberty, is now regarded by
many persons as a safeguard tantamount, and more than tantamount, to all
the rest together.

Burke, in a speech on parliamentary reform which is the more remarkable
because it was delivered long before the French Revolution, has
described, in striking language, the change in public feeling of which
we speak. “It suggests melancholy reflections,” says he, “in consequence
of the strange course we have long held, that we are now no longer
quarreling about the character, or about the conduct of men, or the
tenour of measures; but we are grown out of humour with the English
Constitution itself; this is become the object of the animosity of
Englishmen. This constitution in former days used to be the envy of the
world; it was the pattern for politicians; the theme of the eloquent;
the meditation of the philosopher in every part of the world. As to
Englishmen, it was their pride, their consolation. By it they lived, and
for it they were ready to die. Its defects, if it had any, were partly
covered by partiality, and partly borne by prudence. Now all its
excellencies are forgot, its faults are forcibly dragged into day,
exaggerated by every artifice of misrepresentation. It is despised and
rejected of men; and every device and invention of ingenuity or idleness
is set up in opposition, or in preference to it.” We neither adopt nor
condemn the {538}language of reprobation which the great orator here
employs. We call him only as a witness to the fact. That the
revolution of public feeling which he described was then in progress is
indisputable; and it is equally indisputable, we think, that it is in
progress still.

To investigate and classify the causes of so great a change would
require far more thought, and far more space, than we at present have
to bestow. But some of them are obvious. During the contest which the
Parliament carried on against the Stuarts, it had only to check and
complain. It has since had to govern. As an attacking body, it could
select its points of attack, and it naturally chose those on which it
was likely to receive public support. As a ruling body, it has neither
the same liberty of choice, nor the same motives to gratify the people.
With the power of an executive government, it has drawn to itself some
of the vices, and all the unpopularity of an executive government. On
the House of Commons above all, possessed as it is of the public purse,
and consequently of the public sword, the nation throws all the blame
of an ill conducted war, of a blundering negotiation, of a disgraceful
treaty, of an embarrassing commercial crisis. The delays of the Court of
Chancery, the misconduct of a judge at Van Diemen’s Land, any thing,
in short, which in any part of the administration any person feels as a
grievance, is attributed to the tyranny! or at least to the negligence,
of that all-powerful body. Private individuals pester it with their
wrongs and claims. A merchant appeals to it from the Courts of Rio
Janeiro or St. Petersburgh. A historical painter complains to it that
his department of art finds no encouragement. Anciently the Parliament
resembled a {539}member of opposition, from whom no places are expected,
who is not expected to confer favours and propose measures, but merely
to watch and censure, and who may, therefore, unless he is grossly
injudicious, be popular with the great body of the community. The
Parliament now resembles the same person put into office, surrounded by
petitioners whom twenty times his patronage would not satisfy, stunned
with complaints, buried in memorials, compelled by the duties of his
station to bring forward measures similar to those which he was formerly
accustomed to observe and to check, and perpetually encountered by
objections similar to those which it was formerly his business to raise.

Perhaps it may be laid down as a general rule that a legislative
assembly, not constituted on democratical principles, cannot be popular
long after it ceases to be weak. Its zeal for what the people, rightly
or wrongly, conceive to be their interests, its sympathy with their
mutable and violent passions, are merely the effects of the particular
circumstances in which it is placed. As long as it depends for existence
on the public favour, it will employ all the means in its power
to conciliate that favour. While this is the case, defects in its
constitution are of little consequence. But, as the close union of such
a body with the nation is the effect of an identity of interests not
essential but accidental, it is in some measure dissolved from the time
at which the danger which produced it ceases to exist.

Hence, before the Revolution, the question of Parliamentary reform was
of very little importance. The friends of liberty had no very ardent
wish for reform. The strongest Tories saw no objections to it. It is
remarkable that Clarendon loudly applauds the changes which Cromwell
introduced, changes far stronger than {540}the Whigs of the present day
would in general approve. There is no reason to think, however, that the
reform effected by Cromwell made any great difference in the conduct of
the Parliament. Indeed, if the House of Commons had, during the reign
of Charles the Second, been elected by universal suffrage, or if all the
seats had been put up to sale, as in the French Parliaments, it would,
we suspect, have acted very much as it did. We know how strongly the
Parliament of Paris exerted itself in favour of the people on many
important occasions; and the reason is evident. Though it did not
emanate from the people, its whole consequence depended on the support
of the people.

From the time of the Revolution the House of Commons has been gradually
becoming what it now is, a great council of state, containing many
members chosen freely by the people, and many others anxious to acquire
the favour of the people; but, on the whole, aristocratical in its
temper and interest. It is very far from being an illiberal and stupid
oligarchy; but it is equally far from being an express image of the
general feeling. It is influenced by the opinion of the people,
and influenced powerfully, but slowly and circuitously. Instead of
outrunning the public mind; as before the Revolution it frequently did,
it now follows with slow steps and at a wide distance. It is therefore
necessarily unpopular; and the more so because the good which it
produces is much less evident to common perception than the evil which
it inflicts. It bears the blame of all the mischief which is done, or
supposed to be done, by its authority or by its connivance. It does not
get the credit, on the other hand, of having prevented those innumerable
abuses which do not exist solely because the House of Commons exists.
{541}A large part of the nation is certainly desirous of a reform in the
representative system. How large that part may be, and how strong its
desires on the subject may be, it is difficult to say. It is only at
intervals that the clamour on the subject is loud and vehement. But it
seems to us that, during the remissions, the feeling gathers strength,
and that every successive burst is more violent than that which preceded
it. The public attention may be for a time diverted to the Catholic
claims or the Mercantile code; but it is probable that at no very
distant period, perhaps in the lifetime of the present generation,
all other questions will merge in that which is, in a certain degree,
connected with them all.

Already we seem to ourselves to perceive the signs of unquiet times,
the vague presentiment of something great and strange which pervades the
community, the restless and turbid hopes of those who have every thing
to gain, the dimly hinted forebodings of those who have every thing
to lose. Many indications might be mentioned, in themselves indeed as
insignificant as straws; but even the direction of a straw, to borrow
the illustration of Bacon, will show from what quarter the storm is
setting in.

A great statesman might, by judicious and timely reformations, by
reconciling the two great branches of the natural aristocracy, the
capitalists and the landowners, and by so widening the base of the
government as to interest in its defence the whole of the middle class,
that brave, honest, and sound-hearted class, which is as anxious for the
maintenance of order and the security of property, as it is hostile to
corruption and oppression, succeed in averting a struggle to which no
rational friend of liberty or of law can look forward without {542}great
apprehensions. There are those who will be contented with nothing but
demolition; and there are those who shrink from all repair. There are
innovators who long for a President and a National Convention; and there
are bigots who, while cities larger and richer than the capitals of many
great kingdoms are calling out for representatives to watch over their
interests, select some hackneyed jobber in boroughs, some peer of the
narrowest and smallest mind, as the fittest depositary of a forfeited
franchise. Between these extremes there lies a more excellent way. Time
is bringing round another crisis analogous to that which occurred in the
seventeenth century. We stand in a situation similar to that in which
our ancestors stood under the reign of James the First. It will
soon again be necessary to reform that we may preserve, to save the
fundamental principles of the Constitution by alterations in the
subordinate parts. It will then be possible, as it was possible two
hundred years ago, to protect vested rights, to secure every useful
institution, every institution endeared by antiquity and noble
associations, and, at the same time, to introduce into the system
improvements harmonizing with the original plan. It remains to be seen
whether two hundred years have made us wiser.

We know of no great revolution which might not have been prevented by
compromise early and graciously made. Firmness is a great virtue
in public affairs; but it has its proper sphere. Conspiracies and
insurrections in which small minorities are engaged, the outbreakings of
popular violence unconnected with any extensive project or any durable
principle, are best repressed by vigour and decision. To shrink from
them is to make them formidable. But no wise ruler will {543}confound
the pervading taint with the slight local irritation. No wise ruler will
treat the deeply seated discontents of a great party, as he treats the
fury of a mob which destroys mills and power-looms. The neglect of this
distinction has been fatal even to governments strong in the power of
the sword. The present time is indeed a time of peace and order. But
it is at such a time that fools are most thoughtless and wise men most
thoughtful. That the discontents which have agitated the country during
the late and the present reign, and which, though not always noisy, are
never wholly dormant, will again break forth with aggravated symptoms,
is almost as certain as that the tides and seasons will follow their
appointed course. But in all movements of the human mind which tend to
great revolutions there is a crisis at which moderate concession may
amend, conciliate, and preserve. Happy will it be for England if, at
that crisis, her interests be confided to men for whom history has not
recorded the long series of human crimes and follies in vain.


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