Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

lent poetry which it contains, though it is rather unequal, but for sound criticism, and much well-directed reading, particularly in the notes.

“ The dome expands ! Behold th' historic sire!
“ Ionic roses mark his soft attire ;
“ Bold in his air, but graceful in his mien
“ As the fair figure of his favour'd queen, *
“When her proud galley sham'd the Persian van,
And grateful Xerxes own'd her more than man.
“ Soft as the stream, whose dimpling waters play,
“ And wind in lucid lapse their pleasing way,
“ His rich Homeric elocution flows,
“ For all the muses modulate his prose.”

The title of “father of history' was assigned him by no less an authority than Cicero, not, we may reasonaBly suppose, as the first person who ever engaged in that line of writing, for several had preceded him; but as an expression of excellence, such as he assumed himself in the title of “ Pater Patriæ,” for having extinguished the conspiracy of Catiline.

The history of Herodotus is in truth a wonderful production. It may properly be classed among general histories, for it coinprehends a vast extent of time, and includes the history of all the nations of the civilized world at that period. He was evidently a great traveller, and had visited most of the countries whose history he details. He was not less a geographer than an historian ; but his great excellence lies in detailing the manners and customs of the different nations. As to the nonsense which has been written by those who have followed contemporary authors who were envious of his fame, respecting his credulity, I pay but little attention to it. It was necessary that a history such as that of Herodotus, should include some fables, but no writer can be more guarded than he is. To give an idea of the genius and character of the particular people whom

• Artemisia of Halicarnassus. See Herod. lib. viii.

war, and

he delineates, it was necessary to mention many facts which he suspected, and some that he knew to be false. He declares, that “though he considers it as his duty to deliver what he has heard as to any point treated of in his history, yet he is far from giving as true and accurate all that he relates." In most cases, where any thing of a doubtful nature occurs, he generally adds,

this is as I have heard the fact related,” or he produces his authority. Mr. Hume, whose classical erudition I have on a former occasion presumed to question, asserts that the “ first page of Thucidydes is the commencement of real history;" but if we were without the nine books of Herodotus, we should find ourselves much at a loss respecting the events of the Persian

many of the early transactions of the Greeks; and I cannot persuade myself to believe that he would have acquired the vast reputation he obtained among his contemporaries, many of whom must have been witnesses of all the later facts which he details, had he not deserved the character of a faithful and correct historian. All agree that he is a most entertaining and interesting writer; and I think his style a model of sweetness and simplicity. There is a translation in our language by Mr. Beloe, which possesses all the simplicity of the original.

Thucydides is among those who have confined their history to a particular period and event. It comprehends the space, as I remember of about twenty-seven years, and treats of the Peloponesian war, which happened in his own time, and of many of the facts he was a spectator. His task was of course much easier than that of Herodotus, and he has executed it in a masterly man

He traces facts and their causes with the keen eye of a consummate politician, and embellishes them with the pen of an expert rhetorician. There are many masterly touches of oratory in the fictitious speeches which he puts in the mouths of his principal characters; the funeral oration of Pericles in the second book I have always particularly admired : perhaps Thucidydes is not unfairly characterized by Mr. Hayley....

ner.

's His the rich prize that caught his early gaze,*
“ Th’ eternal pleasure of increasing praise,
“ Pure from the stain of favour or of hate,
“ His nervous line unfolds the deep debate,

Explores the seeds of war; with matchless force
“ Draws discord springing from ambition's source,
• With all her demagogues who murder peace,
“ In the fierce struggles of contentious Greece.”

General Andreossi, in a memoir lately published containing observations on the principal historians, chiefly with a view to the accuracy of their military descriptions, says of Thucidydes, that “ his work is a masterpiece of military talent, unfolding the internal policy of the Greeks, and the operations of a long and stubborn contest."

It is not easy to determine in which class to place the elegant and accomplished Xenophon. If we regard his continuation of Thucidydes, he will class with general historians ; since his object was evidently to make it a general history, of Greece at least, for a considerable period. 6 The Anabasis, or retreat of the ten thousand,” would by many be placed among the commentaries, memoirs, chronicles and annals; and his Cyropædia must, I think, be regarded as a fictitious narrative. The Anabasis is confessedly his most finished work. It may be considered as a history limited to a short period ; but in whatever light it is regarded, nothing can be more interesting, pleasant, and entertaining. It afforded, undoubtedly, the model for Cæsar's Commentaries, but is a more interesting and finer composition. Xenophon never rises to the sublime, but is always chaste, correct, elegant, and engaging. He enchains the mind of his reader, and renders him impatient to hear what event is next to occur. Simplicity is a remarkable characteristic of this work; even the order of the words is little inverted, and this, with the pure At

* When a boy he wept for emulation at hearing one of the books of Herodotus recited with applause at the Olympic games.

tic dictions, renders it an easy book for those who have , made little progress in the Greek language.' On looking into Mr. Hayley I am surprised to find how much my opinion has been anticipated by this judicious writer....

“O rich in all the blended gifts that grace
“ Minerva's darling sons of Attic race!
“ Thy simple diction, free from glaring art,
“ With sweet allurement steals upon the heart ;
“ Pure as the rill that nature's hand refines,
A cloudless mirror of thy soul it shines.

Two passions there by soft contention please,
“ The love of martial fame, and learned ease,
“ Those friendly colours exquisitely join'd
“ To form th' enchanting picture of thy mind ;
“ Thine was the praise bright models to afford
“ To Cæsar's rival pen and rival sword,” &c.

Xenophon was much studied by the Roman warriors, as affording the best instructions in the military art, and particularly by Lucullus. General Andreossi says, * Every military man should study Xenophon, particularly in his famous retreat of the ten thousand, when he will find it difficult to decide whether the glory of the retreat, or the merit of the narrator are most deserving of unqualified admiration."

I am uncertain whether Polybius ought to be accounted a Greek or a Roman historian. His language is the former, but his subject is Roman; and his long residence at Rome, and his intimacy with Scipio and Lælius, almost naturalized himn to that part of the world. Had his intention been completed, he would have ranked among general historians, for he styles his history

Catholic, or Universal.” Of forty books which he wrote, however, only the first five have been transmitted to posterity, with an abridgement of the twelve following, said to have been made by the younger Brutus. General Andreossi appears more partial to this writer than to any of the other ancient historians ; he regards him as master of all the tactics of his time, and gives him not less credit for his correct description of all military operations. His style is, however, allowed by all to be harsh and unpolished, and is thus characterized by Mr. Hayley....

“O highly perfect in each nobler part,
“ The sage's wisdom and the soldier's art,
“ This richer half of Grecian praise is thine:
“ But o'er thy style the slightest graces pine,
“ And tir'd attention toils thro' many a maze,
“ To reach the purport of thy doubtful phrase."

We cannot sufficiently deplore the loss of Sallust's Roman History from the death of Sylla to the conspiracy of Catiline, for we should doubtless have found in it the same depth of judgment, the same penetrating sagacity, keenness of remark, and profound knowledge of the human heart, that are conspicuous in his other works; and altogether they would have formed a fine code of Roman history during one of the most interesting periods of the Republic, which indeed it is probable the author intended. The style of Sallust is concise, nervous, and sententious. He was accused by his contemporaries of the affectation of using obsolete words and phrases, but I confess I am not critic enough to be a judge of this circumstance, and I find in himn nothing but matter for admiration. He particularly excelled in the delineation of character, and in this at least affords a model for all future historians. General Andreossi seems to approve much of his military descriptions, particularly in his history of the Jugurthine war; but the General makes an observation, which, if I understand it properly, surprises me...." The consummate ability with which Metellus extricates his army and pursues his march, when surrounded by Jugurtha, is the last proof left us of Roman skill and ingenuity in the field of action.” What does the General make of the campaigns of Cæsar, and even of inferior generals who succeeded him? Mr. Haley's short character of Sallust contains sound criticism.....

« PoprzedniaDalej »