Imatges de pÓgina

manent gifts bequeathed by Greece to the world, and constituting the foundation of all subsequent intellectual achievements -these he has not yet, or has only partially characterised. But he has produced a finished picture of the political and collective life of Greece, and the distinctive characters of the form of social existence, during and by means of which she accomplished things so far transcending what has ever elsewhere been achieved in so marvellously short a space of time. From the legislation of Solon to the field of Marathon, a hundred years of preparation; from Marathon to Charoneia, barely a hundred and fifty years of maturity:—that century and a half is all that separates the earliest recorded prose writing from Demosthenes and Aristotle, all that lies between the first indication to the outer world of what Greece was destined to be, and her absorption by a foreign conqueror. A momentous interval, which decided for an indefinite period the question, whether the human race was to be stationary or progressive. That the former condition is far more congenial to ordinary human nature than the latter, experience unfortunately places beyond doubt; and history points out no other people in the ancient world who had any spring of unborrowed progress within themselves. We have no knowledge of any other source from which freedom and intellectual cultivation could have come, any other means by which the light never since extinguished might have been kindled, if the world had been left, without any elements of Grecian origin, to be fought for between the unlettered Romans and the priest-led and despot-governed Asiatics. The people and the period on which this depended, must be important to posterity as long as any portion of the past continues to be remembered and by the aid of Mr. Grote we are now enabled to see them with a clearness and accuracy, and judge them with a largeness of comprehension, never before approached.

To disparage what mankind owe to Greece, because she has not left for their imitation a perfect type of human character, nor a highly improved pattern of social institutions, would be to demand from the early youth of the human race what is far from being yet realised in its more advanced age. It would better become us to consider whether we have, in these particulars, advanced as much beyond the best Grecian model, as might with reason have been expected after more than twenty centuries; whether, having done no more than we have done with all that we have inherited from the Greeks, and all that has been since superadded to their teachings, we ought not to look up with reverent admiration to a people, who, without any of our adventitious helps, and without the stimulus of preceding

example, moved forward by their native strength at so gigantic a pace, though in an earlier portion of the path. It is true, that in institutions, in manners, and even in the ideal standard of human character, as existing in the best minds, there is an improvement. All the great thinkers and heroic lives, from Christ downward, would have done little for humanity, if after two thousand years no single point could be added to the type of excellence conceived by Socrates or Plato. But it is not the moral conceptions of heroes or philosophers which measure the difference between one age and another, so much as the accepted popular standard of virtuous conduct. Taking that as the criterion, and comparing the best Grecian with the best modern community, is the superiority wholly on the side of the moderns? Has there not been deterioration as well as improvement, and the former, perhaps, almost as marked as the latter? There is more humanity, more mildness of manners, though this only from a comparatively recent date; the sense of moral obligation is more cosmopolitan, and depends less for its acknowledgment on the existence of some special tie. But we greatly doubt if most of the positive virtues were not better conceived, and more highly prized, by the public opinion of Greece than by that of Great Britain; while negative and passive qualities have now engrossed the chief part of the honour paid to virtue; and it may be questioned if even private duties are, on the whole, better understood, while duties to the public, unless in cases of special trust, have almost dropped out of the catalogue: that idea, so powerful in the free States of Greece, has faded into a mere rhetorical ornament.

In political and social organisation, the moderns, or some of them at least, have a more unqualified superiority over the Greeks. They have succeeded in making free institutions possible in large territories; and they have learnt to live and be prosperous without slaves. The importance of these discoveries for discoveries they were hardly admits of being overrated. For want of the first, Greece lost her freedom, her virtue, and her very existence as a people; and slavery was the greatest blot in her institutions while she existed. It is sufficient merely to mention another great blot, the domestic and social condition of women (on which point, however, Sparta, in a degree surprising for the age, formed an honourable exception); since, in this respect, the superiority of modern nations is not so much greater as might be supposed. Even on the subject of slavery there are many, and not inconsiderable palliations. Slavery in the ancient, as in the Oriental world, was a very different thing from American or West Indian slavery.

The slaves were not a separate race, marked out to the contempt of their masters by indelible physical differences. When manumitted, they mixed on equal terms with the general community; and though, in Greece, seldom admitted, any more than other aliens, to the complete political franchise of their patron's city, they could generally become full citizens of some new colony, or be placed on the roll of some old commonwealth recruiting its numbers after a disaster. The facility with which, in these small territories, slaves could escape across the frontier, must, at the worst, have been a considerable check to ill usage. The literature of the Athenians proves that they not only cultivated, but counted on finding, moral virtues in their slaves, which is not consistent with the worst form of slavery. Neither, in Greece, did slavery produce that one of its effects by which, above all, it is an obstacle to improvement-that of making bodily labour dishonourable. Nowhere in Greece, except at Sparta, was industry, however mechanical, regarded as unworthy of a freeman, or even of a citizen; least of all at Athens, in whose proudest times a majority of the Demos consisted of free artisans. Doubtless, however, in Greece as elsewhere, slavery was an odious institution; and its inherent evils are in no way lessened by the admission, that as a temporary fact, in an early and rude state of the arts of life, it may have been, nevertheless, a great accelerator of progress. If we read history with intelligence, we are led to think concerning slavery as concerning many other bad institutions, that the error was not so great of first introducing it, as of continuing it too long.

Though Grecian history is crowded with objects of interest, all others are eclipsed by Athens. Whatever in Greece most merits the gratitude of posterity, Athens possessed in fullest measure. If the Hellenic nation is in history the main source and most conspicuous representative of progress, Athens may claim the same honourable position in regard to Greece itself, for all the Greek elements of progress in their highest culmination were united in that illustrious city. This was not the effect of an original superiority of natural endowments in the Athenian mind. In the first exuberant outpourings of Grecian genius, Athens bore no more than her share, if even so much. The many famous poets and musicians who preceded the era of Marathon, the early speculators in science and philosophy, and even the first historians, were scattered through all the divisions of the Greek name; with a preponderance on the side of the Ionians of Asia Minor, the Sicilian and Italian Greeks, and the islanders, all of whom attained prosperity much earlier, as well as lost it sooner, than the inhabitants of Continental Greece.

Even Boeotia produced two poets of the first rank, Pindar and Corinna, at a time when Attica had only yet produced one.* By degrees, however, the whole intellect of Greece, except the purely practical, gravitated to Athens; until, in the maturity of Grecian culture, all the great writers, speakers, and thinkers were educated, and nearly all of them were born and passed their lives, in that centre of enlightenment. Of the other Greek states, such as were oligarchically governed contributed little or nothing, except in a military point of view, to make Greece illustrious. Even those among them which, like Sparta, were to a certain degree successful in providing for stability, did nothing for progress, further than supplying materials of study and experience to the great Athenian thinkers and their disciples. Of the other democracies, not one enjoyed the Eunomia, the unimpeded authority of law, and freedom from factious violence, which were quite as characteristic of Athens as either her liberty or her genius; and which, making life and property more secure than in any other part of the Grecian world, afforded the mental tranquillity which is also one of the conditions of high intellectual or imaginative achievement.

While Grecian history, considered philosophically, is thus almost concentrated in Athens, so also, considered æsthetically, it is an epic, of which Athens, as a collective personality, may be called the hero. The fate of Athens speaks to the imagination and sympathies like that of the Achilles or Odysseus of an heroic poem; absorbing into itself even the interest excited by the long series of eminent Athenians, who seem rather like successive phases under which Athens appears to us, than individuals independent and apart from it. Nowhere does history present to us a collective body so abounding in human nature as the Athenian Demos. In them all the capacities, all the impulses and susceptibilities, the strength and the infirmities of human character stand out in large and bold proportions. There is nothing that they do not seem capable of understanding, of feeling, and of executing; nothing generous or heroic to which they might not be roused, and scarcely any act of folly, injustice, or ferocity into which they could not be hurried, when no honest and able

* By some oversight, Mr. Grote has passed over one whole generation of Grecian poets. He has given as full an account as the materials permit of the earlier poets, down to the age of Alcæus and Sappho, and has spoken at some length of the dramatists, but has said nothing (except incidentally) of Pindar, Simonides, Anacreon, Bacchylides, or the two Boeotian poetesses, Myrtis and Corinna, the last of whom was five times crowned at Thebes in competition with Pindar.

adviser was at hand to recall them to their better nature. Ever variable, according to the character of the leading minister of the time; alike prudent and enterprising under the guidance of a Pericles; carelessly inert or rashly ambitious when their most influential politicians were a Nicias and an Alcibiades; yet never abdicating their own guidance, always judging for themselves, and, though often wrong, seldom choosing the worse side when there was any one present capable of advocating the better. Light-hearted too, full of animal spirits and joyousness; revelling in the fun of hearing rival orators inveigh against each other; bursting with laughter at the mingled floods of coarse buffoonery and fine wit poured forth by the licensed libellers of their comic stage against their orators and statesmen, their poets, their gods, and even themselves-that angry, 'waspish, intractable little old man, Demos of Pnyx'*, the well-known laughingstock of one of the most successful comedies of Aristophanes. They are accused of fickleness; but Mr. Grote has shown on how false an estimate of historical facts that imputation rests†, and that they were much rather remarkable for the constancy of their attachments. They were not fickle, but (a very different quality, vulgarly confounded with it,) mobile; keenly susceptible individually, and of necessity still more collectively, to the feeling and impression of the moment. The Demos may be alternately likened to the commonly received idea of a man, a woman, or a child, but never a clown or a boor. Right or wrong, wise or foolish, Athenians are never aπaldevTo; theirs are never the errors of untaught or unexercised minds. They are always the same Athenians who have thrilled with the grandeur and pathos of Eschylus and Sophocles, who were able to ransom themselves from captivity by reciting the verses of Euripides, who have had Pericles or Demosthenes for their daily instructor and adviser, and have heard every species of judicial case, public and private, civil and criminal, propounded for their decision, in the most finished compositions ever spoken to a public assembly. They are the same Athenians, too, who live and move among the visible memorials of ancestors, the greatest of whose glories was that they had dared and suffered all things rather than desert the liberty of Greece. Their just pride in such progenitors, and

* Mr. Grote's paraphrase of

*Αγροικος ὀργὴν, κυαμοτρώξ, ἀκράχολος,

Δήμος Πνυκίτης, δύσκολον γερόντιον. Arist. Εq. 41.) See this point admirably handled in the remarks in the last chapter but one of the fourth volume, on the condemnation of Miltiades.

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