Imatges de pÓgina



For JANUARY, 1771.

ART. I. Plutarch's Lives. Tranflated from the original Greek ; with Notes critical and hiftorical, and a new Life of Plutarch. By John Langhorne, D. D. and William_Langhorne, M. A. 8vo. 6 Vols. 11. II s. 6d. in Boards.

Dilly. 1770.


HERE is no ftudy which is more interefting than that of biography; and, in this walk of literature, there is no Author more eminent than Plutarch. While he excites in us an admiration of the fuperior qualities, and of the fhining actions of thofe great men, whofe hiftory he has recorded, he describes minutely their private behaviour and manners; and his details exhibit very ample materials by which to judge of the principles and motives of human conduct. There is no work of confequence which furnishes, to the fpeculative reader, a more extenfive fource of agreeable or profound reflection; and none that can be oftner read without difguft and fatigue.

The learned, accordingly, were very early difpofed to pay an attention to his labours; and in 1558, a French translation of his lives was published. From this verfion, which was faulty and imperfect in many refpects, they were rendered into English in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The next attempt of our countrymen to naturalize this illuftrious Ancient, was made by Dryden, in conjunction with feveral other Tranflators; but he appears to have prostituted his name, to give reputation to a work, full of errors, unequal, and often inconfiftent. the feveral editions which this tranflation has undergone, the defects of it have been partly increafed, and partly remedied. I must be acknowledged, however, that in 1758 the revifal of it having been committed to a gentleman of crudition and capacity, a multitude of its imperfections were removed, and 'it received a more decent form. But it was not possible, by any VOL. XLIV. amend




amendments, to alter its general tenor, and to give it unity. At length our biographer has had the good fortune to have justice done to him; and we have now before us a tranflation of his Lives, in which the moft. faftidious critic will find little to cenfure.

In the preface to the prefent work, the merits of the former verfions are canvaffed with great candour and modefty; the neceffity of a new tranflation is pointed out; the liberties which our Tranflators have taken with their Author are explained and juftified; and they have enumerated the methods which they have followed, in order to render their performance acceptable to the public.

After their introduction or preface, our Tranflators prefent their Readers with an original life of Plutarch, which appears to include all the information that can be collected on this fubject; and in which we must do them the justice to remark, there is a liberality of fentiment that could proceed only from men whose understandings have been amply cultivated.

From this part of their work we fshall lay before our Readers the account which they have given of the philofophical principles of their Author.

If Plutarch, fay they, might properly be faid to belong to any fect of philofophers, his education, the rationality of his principles, and the modefty of his doctrines, would incline us to place him with the latter academy. At least, when he left his master Ammonius, and came into fociety, it is more than probable that he ranked particularly with that fect.

His writings, however, furnith us with many reasons for thinking that he afterwards became a citizen of the philofophical world. He appears to have examined every fect with a calm and unprejudiced attention; to have felected what he found of ufe for the purposes of virtue and happiness; and to have left the rest for the portion of those, whofe narrowness of mind could think either fcience or felicity confined to any denomination of men.

From the academicians he took their modefty of opinion, and left them their original fcepticifm: he borrowed their rational theology, and gave up to them, in a great meafure, their metaphyfical refinements, together with their vain, though feductive enthufiafm.

With the peripatetics he walked in fearch of natural science, and of logic; but, fatisfied with whatever practical knowledge might be acquired, he left them to dream over the hypothetical part of the former, and to chase the fhadows of reason through the mazes of the latter.

To the floics he was indebted for the belief of a particular providence; but he could not enter into their idea of future


rewards and punishments. He knew not how to reconcile the prefent agency of the Supreme Being with his judicial character hereafter; though Theodoret tells us, that he had heard of the Chriftian religion, and inferted feveral of its myfteries in his works. From the ftoics too he borrowed the doctrine of Fortitude; but he rejected the unnatural foundation on which they erected that virtue. He went back to Sócrates for principles whereon to reft it.

With the epicureans he does not feem to have had much intercourfe, though the accommodating philofophy of Aristippus entered frequently into his politics, and fometimes into the general economy of his life. In the little ftates of Greece that philofophy had not much to do; but had it been adopted in the more violent measures of the Roman adminiftration, our celebrated biographer would not have had fuch fcenes of blood and ruin to describe; for emulation, prejudice, and oppofition, upon whatever principles they may plead their apology, first ftruck out the fire that laid the commonwealth in afhes. If Plutarch borrowed any thing more from Epicurus, it was his rational idea of enjoyment. That fuch was his idea, it is more than probable; for it is impoffible to believe the tales that the Heathen bigots have told of him, or to fuppofe that the cultivated mind of a philofopher should purfue its happiness out of the temperate order of nature. His irreligious opinions he left to him, as he had left to the other fects their vanities and abfurdities.

But when we bring him to the fchool of Pythagoras, what idea fhall we entertain of him? Shall we confider him any longer as an academician, or as a citizen of the philofophical world? Naturally benevolent and humane, he finds a fyftem of divinity and philofophy perfectly adapted to his natural fentiments. The whole animal creation he had originally looked upon with an inftinctive tenderness; but when the amiable Pythagoras, the priest of Nature, in defence of the common privileges of her creatures, had called religion into their caufe; when he fought to foften the cruelty that man had exercised against them, by the honeft art of infinuating the doctrine of tranfmigration, how could the humane and benevolent Plutarch refufe to ferve under this priest of Nature? It was impoffible. He adopted the doctrine of the metempfychofis. He entered into the merciful scheme of Pythagoras, and, like him, diverted the cruelty of the human fpecies, by appealing to the selfish qualities of their nature, by fubduing their pride, and exciting their fympathy, while he fhewed them that their future exiftence might be the condition of a reptile.

This fpirit and difpofition break ftrongly from him in his obfervations on the elder Cato. And as no hing can exhibit a B 2


[ocr errors]

more lively picture of him than thefe paintings of his own, we
hall not fcruple to introduce them here: For my part, I
cannot but charge his ufing his fervants like fo many beafts of
burthen, and turning them off, or felling them when they
grew old, to the account of a mean and ungenerous fpirit,
which thinks that the fole tie between man and man is interest
or neceffity. But goodness moves in a larger fphere than juftice.
The obligations of law and equity reach only to mankind, but
kindness and beneficence fhould be extended to creatures, of
every fpecies; and thefe ftill flow from the breaft of a well-
natured man, as ftreams that iffue from the living fountain.
A good man will take care of his horfes and dogs, not only
while they are young, but when old and paft fervice. Thus
the people of Athens, when they had finished the temple called
Hecatompedon, fet at liberty the beafts of burthen that had
been chiefly employed in that work, fuffering them to pasture
at large, free from any other fervice. It is faid, that one of
thefe afterwards came of its own accord to work, and putting
i:felf at the head of the labouring cattle, marched before them
to the citadel. This pleafed the people, and they made a de-
cree, that it fhould be kept at the public charge fo long as it
lived. The graves of Cimon's mares, with which he thrice
conquered at the olympic games, are ftill to be feen near his
own tomb. Many have fhewn particular marks of regard, in
burying the dogs which they had cherished, and been fond of;
and, amongst the reft, Xantippus of old, whose dog swam by
the fide of his galley to Salamis, when the Athenians were
forced to abandon their city, and was afterwards buried by him
upon a promontory, which to this day is called the Dog's
Grave. We certainly ought not to treat living creatures like
fhoes or household goods, which, when worn out with use, we
throw away; and were it only to learn benevolence to human.
kind, we should be merciful to other creatures. For my own
part, I would not fell even an old ox that had laboured for me;
much lefs would I remove, for the fake of a little money, a
man grown old in my fervice, from his ufual lodgings and diet:
for to him, poor man! it would be as bad as banishment,
fince he could be of no more ufe to the buyer than he was to
the feller. But Cato, as if he took a pride in these things,
tells us, that when conful, he left his war-horfe in Spain, to
fave the public the charge of his conveyance. Whether fuch
things as thefe are inftances of greatnefs or littleness of foul,
let the Reader judge for himself.” ·

What an amiable idea of our benevolent philofopher! How
worthy the inftructions of the prieft of Nature! How honour-
able to that great maker of truth and univerfal fcience, whofe

[ocr errors]

fentiments were decifive in every doubtful matter, and whofe maxims were received with filent conviction!


• Wherefore should we wonder to find Plutarch more particularly attached to the opinions of this great man? Whether we confider the immenfity of his erudition, or the benevolence of his fyftem, the motives for that attachment were equally powerful. Pythagoras had collected all the ftores of human learning, and had reduced them into one rational and useful body of science. Like our glorious Bacon, he led philofophy forth from the jargon of fchools, and the fopperies of fects. He made her what the was originally defigned to be, the handmaid of Nature; friendly to her creatures, and faithful to her laws. Whatever knowledge could be gained by human industry, by the moft extenfive enquiry and obfervation, he had? every means and opportunity to obtain. The priests of Egypt unfolded to him their myfteries and their learning: they led him through the records of the remotest antiquity, and opened all those stores of fcience that had been amaffing through a multitude of ages. The magi of Perfia co-operated with the priests of Egypt in the inftruction of this wonderful philofopher. They taught him thofe higher parts of science, by which they were themselves fo much diftinguished, aftronomy, and the fyftem of the univerfe. The laws of moral life, and the inftitutions of civil focieties, with their feveral excellencies and defects, he learned from the various ftates and establishments of Greece. Thus accomplished, when he came to difpute in the olympic contests, he was confidered as a prodigy of wisdom and learning; but when the choice of his title was left to him, he modeftly declined the appellation of a wife man, and was contented only to be called a lover of wisdom.


Shall not Plutarch then meet with all imaginable indulgence, if, in his veneration for this great man, he not only adopted the nobler parts of his philofophy, but (what he had avoided with regard to the other fects) followed him too in his errors? Such, in particular, was his doctrine of dreams; to which our biographer, we must confefs, has paid too much attention. Yet abfolutely to condemn him for this, would, perhaps, be hazarding as much as totally to defend him. muft acknowledge, with the elder Pliny, fi exemplis agatur, profectò paria fiant; or, in the language of honeft Sir Roger de Coverley," much may be faid on both fides." However, if Pliny, whofe complaifance for the credit of the marvellous in particular was very great, could be doubtful about this matter, we of little faith may be allowed to be more fo. Yet Plutarch, in his treatife on oracles, has maintained his doctrine by fuch powerful teftimonies, that if any regard is to be paid to his veracity, "fome attention fhould be given to his opinion. We

« AnteriorContinua »