Obrazy na stronie

Byron says of Mr Mitford as a historian: ‘His great pleasure consists in praising tyrants, abusing Plutarch, spelling oddly, and writing quaintly; and what is strange, after all, his is the best modern history of Greece in any language, and he is perhaps the best of all modern historians whatsoever. Having named his sins, adds the noble poet, “it is but fair to state his virtues—learning, labour, research, wrath, and partiality. I call the latter virtues in a writer, because they make him write in earnest.” The earnestness of Mr Mitford is too often directed against what he terms ‘the inherent weakness and the indelible barbarism of democratical government. He was a warm admirer of the English constitution and of the monarchical form of government, and this bias led him to be unjust to the Athenian people, whom he on one occasion terms ‘the sovereign beggars of Athens.’ His fidelity as a reporter of facts has also been questioned. “He contracts the strongest individual partialities, and according as these lead, he is credulous or mistrustful—he exaggerates or he qualifies—he expands or he cuts down the documents on which he has to proceed. With regard to the bright side of almost every king whom he has to describe, Mr Mitford is more than credulous; for a credulous man believes all that he is told: Mr Mitford believes more than he is told. With regard to the dark side of the same individuals, his habits of estimating evidence are precisely in the opposite extreme. In treating of the democracies or of the democratical leaders, his statements are not less partial and exaggerated.” It is undeniable that Mr Mitford over-coloured the evils of popular government, but there is so much acuteness and spirit in his political disquisitions, and his narrative of events is so animated, full, and distinct, that he is always read with pleasure. His qualifications were great, and his very defects constitute a sort of individuality that is not without its attraction in so long a history. A more democratic view of Grecian history has since been taken by Mr Grote.

[Condemnation and Death of Socrates.]

We are not informed when Socrates first became distinguished as a sophist; for in that description of men he was in his own day reckoned. When the wit of Aristophanes was directed against him in the theatre, he was already among the most eminent, but his eminence seems to have been then recent. It was about the tenth or eleventh year of the Peloponnesian war, when he was six or seven and forty years of age, that, after the manner of the old comedy, he was offered to public derision upon the stage by his own name, as one of the persons of the drama, in the comedy of Aristophanes, called The Clouds, which is yet extant. Some antipathy, it appears, existed between the comic poets collectively and the sophists or philosophers. The licentiousness of the former could indeed scarcely escape the animadversion of the latter, who, on the contrary, favoured the tragic poets, competitors with the comedians for public favour. Euripides and Aristophanes were particularly enemies; and Socrates not only lived in intimacy with Euripides, but is said to have assisted him in some of his tragedies. We are informed of no other cause for the injurious representation which the comic poet has given of Socrates, whom he exhibits in The Clouds as a flagitious yet ridiculous pretender to the occult sciences, conversing with the clouds as divinities, and teaching the principal youths of Athens to despise the received gods and to cozen men. The audience, accustomed to look on defamation with

* Westminster Review for 1826.

carelessness, and to hold as lawful and proper whatever might amuse the multitude, applauded the wit, and even gave general approbation to the piece; but the high estimation of the character of Socrates sufficed to prevent that complete success which the poet had promised himself. The crown which rewarded him whose drama most earned the public favour, and which Aristophanes had so often won, was on this occasion refused him. Two or three and twenty years had elapsed since the first representation of The Clouds; the storms of conquest suffered from a foreign enemy, and of four revolutions in the civil government of the country, had passed; nearly three years had followed of that quiet which the revolution under Thrasybulus produced, and the act of amnesty should have confirmed, when a young man named Melitus went to the king-archon, and in the usual form delivered an information against Socrates, and bound himself to prosecute. The information ran thus: “Melitus, son of Melitus, of the borough of Pitthos, declares these upon oath against Socrates, son of Sophroniscus, of the borough of Alopece: Socrates is guilty of reviling the gods whom the city acknowledges, and of preaching other new gods: moreover, he is guilty of corrupting the youth. Penalty, death.’ Xenophon begins his memorials of his revered master, with declaring his wonder how the Athenians could have been persuaded to condemn to death a man of such uncommonly clear innocence and exalted worth. AElian, though for authority he can bear no comparison with Xenophon, has nevertheless, I think, given the solution. “Socrates, he says, “disliked the Athenian constitution; for he saw that democracy is tyrannical, and abounds with all the evils of absolute monarchy.' But though the political circumstances of the times made it necessary for contemporary writers to speak with caution, yet both Xenophon and Plato have declared enough to shew that the assertion of Elian was well founded; and further proof, were it wanted, may be derived from another early writer, nearly contemporary, and deeply versed in the politics of his age, the orator Eschines. Indeed, though not stated in the indictment, yet it was urged against Socrates by his prosecutors before the court, that he was disaffected to the democracy; and in proof, they affirmed it to be notorious that he had ridiculed what the Athenian constitution prescribed, the appointment to magistracy by lot. “Thus, they said, “he taught his numerous followers, youths of the principal families of the city, to despise the established government, and to be turbulent and seditious; and his success had been seen in the conduct of two of the most eminent, Alcibiades and Critias. Even the best things he converted to these ill purposes: from the most esteemed poets, and particularly from Homer, he selected passages to enforce his anti-democratical principles.’ Socrates, it appears, indeed, was not inclined to deny his disapprobation of the Athenian constitution. His defence itself, as it is reported by Plato, contains matter on which to found an accusation against him of disaffection to the sovereignty of the people, such as, under the jealous tyranny of the Athenian democracy, would sometimes subject a man to the penalties of high treason. “You well know, he says, “Athenians, that had I engaged in public business, I should long ago have perished without procuring any advantage either to you or to myself. Let not the truth offend you: it is no peculiarity of your democracy, or of your national character; but wherever the people is sovereign, no man who shall dare honestly to oppose injustice-frequent and extravagant injustice-can avoid destruction.’ Without this proof, indeed, we might reasonably believe, that though Socrates was a good and faithful subject of the Athenian government, and would promote no sedition, no political violence, yet '. £uld

not like the Athenian constitution. He wished for wholesome changes by gentle means; and it seems even to have been a principal object of the labours to which he dedicated himself, to infuse principles into the rising generation that might bring about the desirable change insensibly. His scholars were chiefly sons of the wealthiest citizens, whose easy circumstances afforded leisure to attend him; and some of these zealously adopting his tenets, others merely pleased with the ingenuity of his arguments and the liveliness of his manner, and desirous to emulate his triumphs over his opponents, were forward, after his example, to engage in disputation upon all the subjects on which he was accustomed to discourse. Thus employed, and thus followed, though himself avoiding office and public business, those who governed or desired to govern the commonwealth through their influence among the many, might perhaps not unreasonably consider him as one who was or might become a formidable adversary, nor might it be difficult to excite popular jealousy against him. Melitus, who stood forward as his principal accuser, was, as Plato informs us, noway a man of any great consideration. His legal description gives some probability to the conjecture, that his father was one of the commissioners sent to Lacedaemon from the moderate party, who opposed the ten successors of the thirty tyrants, while Thrasybulus held Piraeus, and Pausanias was encamped before Athens. He was a poet, and stood forward as in a common cause of the poets, who esteemed the doctrine of Socrates injurious to their interest. Unsupported, his accusation would have been little formidable; but he seems to have been a mere instrument in the business. He was soon joined by Lycon, one of the most powerful speakers of his time. Lycon was the avowed patron of the rhetoricians, who, as well as the poets, thought their interest injured by the moral philosopher's doctrine. I know not that on any other occasion in Grecian history we have any account of this kind of party-interest operating; but from circumstances nearly analogous in our own country —if we substitute for poets the clergy, and for rhetoricians the lawyers—we may gather what might be the party-spirit, and what the weight of influence of the rhetoricians and poets in Athens. With Lycon, Anytus, a man scarcely second to any in the commonwealth in rank and general estimation, who had held high command with reputation in the Peloponnesian war, and had been the principal associate of Thrasybulus in the war against the thirty and the restoration of the democracy, declared himself a supporter of the prosecution. Nothing in the accusation could, by any known law of Athens, affect the life of the accused. In England, no man would be put upon trial on so vague a charge—no grand jury would listen to it. But in Athens, if the party was strong enough, it signified little what was the law. When Lycon and Anytus came forward, Socrates saw that his condemnation was already decided. By the course of his life, however, and by the turn of his thoughts for many years, he had so prepared himself for all events, that, far from alarmed at the probability of his condemnation, he rather rejoiced at it, as at his age a fortunate occurrence. He was persuaded of the soul's immortality, and of the superintending providence of an all-good Deity, whose favour he had always been assiduously endeavouring to deserve. Men fear death, he said, as if unquestionably the greatest evil, and yet no man knows that it may not be the greatest good. If, indeed, great joys were in prospect, he might, and his friends for him, with somewhat more reason, regret the event; but at his years, and with his scanty fortune—though he was happy enough at seventy still to preserve both body and mind in vigour-yet even his present gratifications must necesail, #on decay. To avoid, therefore, the evils of age,

pain, sickness, decay of sight, decay of hearing, perhaps decay of understanding, by the easiest of deaths (for such the Athenian mode of execution—by a draught of hemlock—was reputed), cheered with the company of surrounding friends, could not be otherwise than a blessing. Xenophon says that, by condescending to a little supplication, Socrates might easily have obtained his acquittal. No admonition or entreaty of his friends, however, could persuade him to such an unworthiness. On the contrary, when put upon his defence, he told the people that he did not plead for his own sake, but for theirs, wishing them to avoid the guilt of an unjust condemnation. It was usual for accused persons to bewail their apprehended lot, with tears to supplicate favour, and, by exhibiting their children upon the bema, to endeavour to excite pity. He thought it, he said, more respectful to the court, as well as more becoming himself, to omit all this; however aware that their sentiments were likely so far to differ from his, that judgment would be given in anger for it. Condemnation pronounced wrought no change upon him. He again addressed the court, declared his innocence of the matters laid against him, and observed that, even if every charge had been completely proved, still, all together did not, according to any known law, amount to a capital crime. “But, in conclusion he said, “it is time to depart—I to die, you to live; but which for the greater good, God only knows.’ It was usual at Athens for execution very soon to follow condemnation—commonly on the morrow; but it happened that the condemnation of Socrates took place on the eve of the day appointed for the sacred ceremony of crowning the galley which carried the annual offerings to the gods worshipped at Delos, and immemorial tradition forbade all executions till the sacred vessel's return. Thus, the death of Socrates was respited thirty days, while his friends had free access to him in the prison. During all that time he admirably supported his constancy. Means were concerted for his escape; the jailer was bribed, a vessel prepared, and a secure retreat in Thessaly provided. No arguments, no prayers, could persuade him to use the opportunity. He had always taught the duty of obedience to the laws, and he would not furnish an example of the breach of it. To no purpose it was urged that he had been unjustly condemned—he had always held that wrong did not justify wrong. He waited with perfect composure the return of the sacred vessel, reasoned on the immortality of the soul, the advantage of virtue, the happiness derived from having made it through life his pursuit, and, with his friends about him, took the fatal cup and died. - Writers who, after Xenophon and Plato, have related the death of Socrates, seem to have held themselves bound to vie with those who preceded them in giving pathos to the story. The purpose here has been rather to render it intelligible—to shew its connection with the political history of Athens—to derive from it illustration of the political history. The magnanimity of Socrates, the principal efficient of the pathos, surely deserves admiration; yet it is not that in which he has most outshone other men. The circumstances of Lord Russell's fate were far more trying. Socrates, we may reasonably suppose, would have borne Lord Russell's trial; but with Bishop Burnet for his eulogist, instead of Plato and Xenophon, he would not have had his present splendid fame. The singular merit of Socrates lay in the purity and the usefulness of his manners and conversation; the clearness with which he saw, and the steadiness with which he practised, in a blind and corrupt age, all moral duties; the disinterestedness and the zeal with which he devoted himself to the benefit of others; and the enlarged and warm benevolence, whence his supreme and almost only pleasure seems to have consisted in doing good. The purity of Christian morality, little enough, indeed, seen in practice, nevertheless is become so familiar in theory, that it passes almost for obvious, and even congenial to the human mind. Those only will justly estimate the merit of that near approach to it which Socrates made, who will take the pains to gather—as they may from the writings of his contemporaries and predecessors—how little conception was entertained of it before his time; how dull to a just moral sense the human mind has really been: how slow the progress in the investigation of moral duties, even where not only great pains have been taken, but the greatest abilities zealously employed; and when discovered, how difficult it has been to establish them by proofs beyond controversy, or proofs even that should be generally admitted by the reason of men. It is through the light which Socrates diffused by his doctrine, enforced by his practice, with the advantage of having both the doctrine and the practice exhibited to highest advantage in the incomparable writings of disciples such as Xenophon and Plato, that his life forms an era in the history of Athens and of man.


While the first volume of Mitford's history was before the public, and experiencing that degree of favour which induced the author to continue his work, DR JoHN GILLIEs, historiographer to his majesty for Scotland, published The History of Ancient Greece, its Colonies and Conquests, two volumes, quarto, 1786. The monarchical spirit of the new historian was scarcely less decided than that of Mr Mitford, though expressed with less zeal and idiomatic plainness. “The history of Greece,’ says Dr Gillies, ‘exposes the dangerous turbulence of democracy, and arraigns the despotism of tyrants. By describing the incurable evils inherent in every republican policy, it evinces the inestimable benefits resulting to liberty itself from the lawful dominion of hereditary kings, and the steady operation of wellregulated monarchy. The history of Dr Gillies was executed with considerable ability and care; a sixth edition of the work (London, 1820, four volumes, 8vo) has been called for, and it may still be consulted with advantage. Dr Gillies also wrote a View of the Reign of Frederick II. of Prussia, a History of the World from the Reign of Alexander to Augustus (1807–10), a translation of Aristotle's Rhetoric (1823), &c. He died in 1836, aged eighty-nine. In 1799 MR SHARoN TURNER, a London solicitor, commenced the publication of a series of works on English history, by which he obtained a highly respectable reputation. The first was a History of the Anglo-Saxons, the second a History of England during the Middle Ages: in subsequent publications he continued the series to the end of the reign of Elizabeth; the whole being comprised in twelve volumes, and containing much new and interesting information on the government, laws, literature, and manners, as well as on the civil and ecclesiastical history of the country. From an ambitious attempt to rival Gibbon in loftiness of style and diction, Mr Turner has disfigured his history by a pomp of expression and involved intricacy of style, that often border on the ludicrous, and mar the effect of his narrative. This defect is more conspicuous in his latter volumes. The early part of his history, devoted to the Anglo-Saxons, and the labour, as he informs us, of sixteen years, is by far the most valuable. Mr Turner also published a Sacred History of the World, in two volumes. So late as 1845 Mr Turner published a historical poem, Richard III. 85

He latterly enjoyed a pension of £200 per annum, and died at his residence in London, February 13, 1847, aged seventy-nine. History has been largely indebted to the persevering labours of the REv. WILLIAM CoxE, Archdeacon of Wilts (1747–1828). In the capacity of tutor to young noblemen, Mr Coxe travelled over various countries, and published Travels in Switzerland (1778-1801), and Travels in Poland, Russia, Sweden, and Denmark (1778–84). Settling at home, and obtaining church preferment, he entered on those historical works, derived from family papers and other authentic sources, which form his most valuable publications. In 1798 appeared his Memoirs of the Life and Administration of Sir Robert Walpole; in 1802, Memoirs of Lord Walpole; in 1807, History of the House of Austria; in 1813, Memoirs of the Kings of Spain of the House of Bourbon; in 1816–19, Memoirs of the Duke of Marlborough; in 1821, Correspondence of the Duke of Shrewsbury; and in 1829, Memoirs of the Pelham Administration. The last was a posthumous publication. The Memoirs of Walpole and Marlborough are valuable works, containing letters, private, official, and diplomatic, with other details drawn from manuscript collections. As a biographer, Coxe was apt to fall into the common error of magnifying the merits and sinking the defects of his hero; but the service he rendered to history by the collection of such a mass of materials can hardly be overestimated. Resembling Turner and Coxe in the vastness of his undertakings, but inferior as a writer, was GEORGE CHALMERs (1742–1825), a native of Fochabers, county of Elgin, and originally a barrister in one of the American colonies before their disjunction from Britain. His first composition, A History of the United Colonies, from their Settlement till the Peace of 1763, appeared in 1780, and from time to time he gave to the world many works connected with history, politics, and literature. Among these was a Life of Sir David Lyndsay, with an edition of his works; a Life of Mary Queen of Scots from the State Papers, &c. In 1807, he commenced the publication of his Caledonia, of which three large volumes had appeared, when his death precluded the hope of its being completed. It contains a laborious antiquarian detail of the earlier periods of Scottish history, with minute topographical and historical accounts of the various provinces of the country. CHARLEs JAMEs Fox (1749–1806) the celebrated statesman and orator, during his intervals of relaxation from public life, among other literary studies and occupations, commenced a history of the reign of King James II., intending to continue it to the settlement at the Revolution of 1688. An introductory chapter, giving a rapid view of our constitutional history from the time of Henry VII, he completed. He wrote also some chapters of his history, but at the time of his death he had made but little progress in his work. Public affairs, and a strong partiality and attachment to the study of the classics, and to works of imagination and poetry, were constantly drawing him off from historical researches; added to which, he was fastidiously scrupulous as to all the niceties of language, and wished to form his plan exclusively on the model of ancient writers, without note, digression, or dissertation. “He once assured me,’ says his nephew, Lord Holland, ‘that he would admit no word into his book for which he had not the authority of Dryden. We need not therefore wonder that Mr Fox died before completing his history. Such minute attention to style, joined to equal regard for facts and circumstances, must have *:hed

down any writer even of active habits and uninterrupted application. In 1808, the unfinished composition was given to the world by Lord Holland, under the title of A History of the Early Part of the Reign of James II., with an Introductory Chapter. An appendix of original papers was also added. The history is plainly written, without the slightest approach to pedantry or pretence; but the style of the great statesman, with all the care bestowed upon it, is far from being perfect. It wants force and vivacity, as if, in the process of elaboration, the graphic clearness of narrative and distinct perception of events and characters necessary to the historian had evaporated. The sentiments and principles of the author are, however, worthy of his liberal and capacious mind.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

metaphysicians, and one of the most brilliant conversers of his times—qualifications apparently very dissimilar. His candour, benevolence, and liberality, gave a grace and dignity to his literary speculations and to his daily life. Mackintosh was a native of Inverness-shire, and was born at Aldouriehouse, on the banks of Loch Ness, October 24, 1765. His father was a brave Highland officer, who possessed a small estate, called Kylachy, in his native county, which James afterwards sold for £9000. From his earliest days James Mackintosh had a passion for books; and though all his relatives were Jacobites, he was a stanch Whig. After studying at Aberdeen—where he had as a college-companion and friend the pious and eloquent Robert Hall– Mackintosh went to Edinburgh, and studied medicine. In 1788, he repaired to London, wrote for the press, and afterwards applied himself to the study of law. In 1791, he published his Vindicia Gallicae, a defence of the French Revolution, in reply to Burke, which, for cogency of argument, historical knowledge, and logical precision, is a remarkable work: be written by a careless and irregular young

man of twenty-six. Though his bearing to his great antagonist was chivalrous and polite, Mackintosh attacked his opinions with the ardour and impetuosity of youth, and his work was received with great applause. Four years afterwards he acknowledged to Burke that he had been the dupe of his own enthusiasm, and that a “melancholy experience” had undeceived him. The excesses of the French Revolution had no doubt contributed to this change, which, though it afterwards was made the cause of obloquy and derision to Mackintosh, seems to have been adopted with perfect sincerity and singleness of purpose. He afterwards delivered and published a series of lectures on the law of nature and nations, which greatly extended his reputation. In 1795, he was called to the bar, and in his capacity of barrister, in 1803, he made a brilliant defence of M. Peltier, an emigrant royalist

of France, who had been indicted for a libel on

Napoleon, then first consul. The forensic display of Mackintosh is too much like an elaborate essay or dissertation, but it marked him out for legal pro

motion, and he received the appointment—to which

his poverty, not his will, consented—of Recorder of Bombay. He was knighted, sailed from England

in the beginning of 1804, and after discharging

faithfully his high official duties, returned at the

end of seven years, the earliest period that entitled

him to his retiring pension of £1200 per annum.

Mackintosh now obtained a seat in parliament, and

stuck faithfully by his old friends the Whigs, with

out one glimpse of favour, till in 1827 his friend

Mr Canning, on the formation of his administration,

made him a privy-councillor. On the accession

of the Whig ministry in 1830, he was appointed a

commissioner for the affairs of India. On questions

of criminal law and national policy Mackintosh

spoke forcibly, but he cannot be said to have been

a successful parliamentary orator. Amid the bustle

of public business he did not neglect literature,

though he wanted resolution for continuous and

severe study. The charms of society, the inter

ruptions of public business, and the debilitating effects of his residence in India, also co-operated

with his constitutional indolence in preventing the realisation of the ambitious dreams of his youth. He contributed, however, various articles to the Edinburgh Review, and wrote a masterly Dissertation on the Progress of Ethical Philosophy for the Ency

clopaedia Britannica. He wrote three volumes of a compendious and popular History of England for Lardner's Cabinet Cyclopaedia, which, though deficient in the graces of narrative and style, contains some admirable views of constitutional history and antiquarian research. His learning was abundant; he wanted only method and elegance. He also contributed a short but valuable life of Sir Thomas More—which sprung out of his researches into the reign of Henry VIII., and was otherwise a subject congenial to his taste—to the same miscellany; and he was engaged on a History of the Revolution of 1688, when his life was somewhat suddenly terminated on the 30th of May 1832. The portion of his history of the Revolution which he had written and corrected—amounting to about 350 pages— was published in 1834, with a continuation by some writer who was opposed to Sir James in many essential points. In the works of Mackintosh we have only the fragments of a capacious mind; but in all of them his learning, his candour, his strong love of truth, his justness of thinking and clearness in perceiving, and his genuine philanthropy, are conspicuous. It is to be regretted that he had no Boswell to record his conversation.


[Chivalry and Modern Manners.] [From the Windicia Gallica..]

The collision of armed multitudes [in Paris] terminated in unforeseen excesses and execrable crimes. In the eye of Mr Burke, however, these crimes and excesses assume an aspect far more important than can be communicated to them by their own insulated guilt. They form, in his opinion, the crisis of a revolution far more important than any change of government—a revolution in which the sentiments and opinions that have formed the manners of the European nations are to perish. “The age of chivalry is gone, and the glory of Europe extinguished for ever.’ He follows this exclamation by an eloquent eulogium on chivalry, and by gloomy predictions of the future state of Europe, when the nation that has been so long accustomed to give her the tone in arts and manners is thus debased and corrupted. A caviller might remark, that ages much more near the meridian fervour of chivalry than ours have witnessed a treatment of queens as little gallant and generous as that of the Parisian mob. He might remind Mr Burke that, in the age and country of Sir Philip Sidney, a queen of France, whom no blindness to accomplishment, no malignity of detraction, could reduce to the level of Maria Antoinette, was, by “a nation of men of honour and cavaliers, permitted to languish in captivity, and expire on a scaffold; and he might add, that the manners of a country are more surely indicated by the systematic cruelty of a sovereign, than by the licentious frenzy of a mob. He might remark, that the mild system of modern manners which survived the massacres with which fanaticism had for a century desolated and almost barbarised Europe, might perhaps resist the shock of one day's excesses committed by a delirious


But the subject itself is, to an enlarged thinker, fertile in reflections of a different nature. That system of manners which arose among the Gothic nations of Europe, of which chivalry was more properly the effusion than the source, is, without doubt, one of the most peculiar and interesting appearances in human affairs. The moral causes which formed its character have not perhaps been hitherto investigated with the happiest success. But to confine ourselves to the subject before us, chivalry was certainly one of the most prominent features and remarkable effects of this system of manners. Candour must confess that this singular institution is not alone admirable as a corrector of the ferocious ages in which it flourished. It contributed to polish and soften Europe. It paved the way for that diffusion of knowledge and extension of commerce which afterwards in some measure supplanted it, and gave a new character to manners. Society is inevitably progressive. In government, commerce has overthrown that ‘feudal and chivalrous’ system under whose shade it first grew. In religion, learning has subverted that superstition whose opulent endowments had first fostered it. Peculiar circumstances softened the barbarism of the middle ages to a degree which favoured the admission of commerce and the growth of knowledge. These circumstances were connected with the manners of chivalry; but the sentiments peculiar to that institution could only be preserved by the situation which gave them birth. They were themselves enfeebled in the progress from ferocity and turbulence, and almost obliterated by tranquillity and refinement. But the auxiliaries which the manners of chivalry had in rude ages reared, gathered strength from its weakness, and flourished in its decay. Commerce and diffused knowledge have, in fact, so completely assumed the ascendant in polished nations, that it will be difficult to discover any relics of Gothic manners but in a fantastic exterior, which has survived the generous illusions that

made these manners splendid and seductive. Their direct influence has long ceased in Europe; but their indirect influence, through the medium of those causes, which would not perhaps have existed but for the mildness which chivalry created in the midst of a barbarous age, still operates with increasing vigour. The manners of the middle age were, in the most singular sense, compulsory. Enterprising benevolence was produced by general fierceness, gallant courtesy by ferocious rudeness, and artificial gentleness resisted the torrent of natural barbarism. But a less incongruous system has succeeded, in which commerce, which unites men's interests, and knowledge, which excludes those prejudices that tend to embroil them, present a broader basis for the stability of civilised and beneficent manners.

Mr Burke, indeed, forebodes the most fatal consequences to literature, from events which he supposes to have given a mortal blow to the spirit of chivalry. I have ever been protected from such apprehensions by my belief in a very simple truth—that diffused knowledge immortalises itself. A literature which is confined to a few, may be destroyed by the massacre of scholars and the conflagration of libraries, but the diffused knowledge of the present day could only be annihilated by the extirpation of the civilised part of mankind.

[Extract from Speech in Defence of Mr Pellier, for a Libel on Napoleon Bonaparte, February 1803.]

Gentlemen-There is one point of view in which this case seems to merit your most serious attention. The real prosecutor is the master of the greatest empire the civilised world ever saw—the defendant is a defenceless proscribed exile. I consider this case, therefore, as the first of a long series of conflicts between the greatest power in the world, and the oNLY FREE PREss remaining in Europe. Gentlemen, this distinction of the English press is new—it is a proud and a melancholy distinction. Before the great earthquake of the French Revolution had swallowed up all the asylums of free discussion on the continent, we enjoyed that privilege, indeed, more fully than others, but we did not enjoy it exclusively. In Holland, in Switzerland, in the imperial towns of Germany, the press was either legally or practically free. Holland and Switzerland are no more; and since the commencement of this prosecution, fifty imperial towns have been erased from the list of independent states by one dash of the pen. Three or four still preserve a precarious and trembling existence. I will not say by what compliances they must purchase its continuance. I will not insult the feebleness of states whose unmerited fall I do most bitterly deplore. These governments were, in many respects, one of the most interesting parts of the ancient system of Europe. The perfect security of such inconsiderable and feeble states, their undisturbed tranquillity amidst the wars and conquests that surrounded them, attested, beyond any other part of the European system, the moderation, the justice, the civilisation, to which Christian Europe had reached in modern times. Their weakness was protected only by the habitual reverence for justice which, during a long series of ages, had grown up in Christendom. This was the only forti. fication which defended them against those mighty monarchs to whom they offered so easy a prey. And, till the French Revolution, this was sufficient. Consider, for instance, the republic of Geneva; think of her defenceless position in the very jaws of France; but think also of her undisturbed security, of her profound quiet, of the brilliant success with which she applied to industry and literature while Louis XIV. was pouring his myriads into Italy before her gates; call to mind, if ages crowded into years have not effaced them from

your memory, that happy period when we :*

« PoprzedniaDalej »