Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

We all blush, of course, at so flattering a testimonial, to which Mr. Pecker accedes. Averse to conspicuity, he will go. You shall hear the result. Meanwhile, it is something new to find ourselves among circles where innate efforts are crowned with appreciation.--Adieu ! Our dinner, ordered at the Belgravian hour of nine, awaits us. Mrs. Pecker.protests—but I remind her that thus the Ancients partook of their attic repasts. No, Mr. Niblett: but P. will not wear the willow for any Papist, concealed or open : less so, now, than ever, when inspiriting opportunities of compassion are likely to be afforded to her. Your unfeigned and affectionate,

D. RILL. P.S.-I open my letter to announce a singular casualty. Even here, “ clouds of mistake arise and with fair semblance, blot out the bloom of energy,” (as Archbishop Tennison finely says in his “Mirandola.”) How are we to understand the strange misapprehensiveness which has penned a billet like this just received ?

“To avoid the possibility of misunderstanding or disappointment, as the message left with her butler may not have been correctly delivered, Lady Highborough acquaints D. and P. Rill, that · neither of them appeared suited to fill the situation in her nursery applied for."

Square, April - 1846."

JUNE.
Summer, and stillness ; ev'ry joyous bird

Pours a half-wearied song ; the leafy glade,

Panting with flowery fragrance, to its shade
Invites the wayside wanderer: there is heard
No sound amid the forest-depths, save when

The rushing streamlet by the breeze is stirred ;

Or the bee murmurs in the meadows, furred
With moss and starry flowers; or, from some glen
The tirèd cuckoo lifts a pleasant voice;

Or the lone woodlark sings his hidden strain.
Oh! bid the poor, the lowly one rejoice,-

Upraise him from his penury and pain ;-
That from the choking courts and alleys dim
He may come forth, and join the universal hymn!

E. M. COLLINS,

“ A HISTORY OF GREECE."*

· Upon the theory of Historical composition prevalent in the present age, it must necessarily be difficult to form a correct judgment. The same influences which operate on the minds of the historians to elevate and enlarge, or to depress and circumscribe their views, must likewise produce an analogous effect upon critics, and, as a general rule, almost constrain them to think favourably of works thoroughly impregnated by the spirit of the times. It may, in some instances, however, be advantageous for those who undertake in matters of this kind to think and decide for others, to emancipate themselves from the sway of current notions, and to rise, if they possess the power, to the level of those principles which ought to regulate the creations of literature in all ages and countries,

History in its primary and proper signification, really means, narrative as contradistinguished from dissertation and theorising. When a man undertakes to relate the story of a nation, we consequently expect that he will abstain as much as possible from standing stilt; that he will take up the people with whom he designs to make us acquainted from their cradle, or any other point on which he thinks proper to fix, and thenceforward hurry us along with them, offering occasionally short explanations of events intricate or obscure ; and occasionally, perhaps, pausing for a moment to expatiate on any new aspect presented by circumstances, if it be merely to afford himself an opportunity of calling forth admiration or administering delight. Above all things, therefore, it would appear that movement is characteristic of historical composis tion-as nature abhors a vacuum, so history abhors stagnation. As it is the counterpart of life, the picture of a stream in everlasting flow, so it is necessarily vivacious and progressive. It admits of nothing like disquisition. The indulgence of scepticism and the ostentation of research are equally fatal to it. There must be animation, there must be continuity, there must be a perpetual exhibition of human character, and above all things, there must be unquestioning faith,

Let the historian investigate as he pleases before he commences his task. Inquiry is his duty, and we rigidly insist upon the performance of it. He must do this however in secret, alone, and not invite us to be present at his examination of witnesses, at the propounding of his doubts, at his questioning and cross-questioning of the old writers. What we

* “ A History of Greece. I. Legendary Greece ; II. Grecian History to the Reign of Peisistratus at Athens. 2 vols. By GEORGE GROTE, EsqLondon : Murray, 1846."

want is the result of all this. Let him spin his narrative how he pleases : that is his business. He undertakes to lay before us the tissue complete, and has no right to require our presence in his workshop, while he cards the wool and spins the thread, and goes through all the other preliminary processes which must, we are well aware, take place before the final completion of his task.

Among our contemporaries a very different creed appears to obtain belief. : Instead of suffering us quietly to contemplate the grand and ever-shifting scenes which the circumstances of other times unfold before us, the historian thinks it incumbent on him to he perpetually at our elbow, informing us what we are to admire or despise, or believe or disbelieve. In the midst of the most stirring occurrences, when great men are struggling doubtfully for their lives, when the fate of empires is trembling in the balance, when civilisation itself stands in jeopardy, and when by the cast, so to speak, of a die, the happiness of mankind may be secured or marred for centuries, he puts a spoke in the wheel of the moral universe, and arrests the movement of the whole, that he may discuss with some sceptic the probability or improbability of what he is engaged in relating. He is not content with permitting the impression to be insensibly made upon our minds that nature and study have invested him with superior sagacity, that he is quick to discern motives, that he has an intuition of human character, that he draws moral pictures forcibly and with suitable colours; that, in one word, his mind is sufficiently large for the whole pageant of human events to be reflected from its surface. His ambition will not permit him to leave us for a moment doubtful on the point. Proud of the temper and polish of his genius, he keeps the flash and dazzle of it perpetually in our eyes. Our business consequently is soon felt to be to admire the historian, not to take an interest in and be instructed by what he relates, and as admiration soon palls upon the appetite of those who attempt to feed on it, so your fashionable historian soon degenerates into a bore, whom you admit to be very clever, but would rather not associate with nevertheless.

Whether or not Mr. Grote stands in this category we are reluctant to determine. He has evidently applied himself with great diligence and perseverance to the study of Grecian affairs; and, whatever may be the fate of his work, has endeavoured to deserve well of the public. It seems to us, however, that he placed himself from the outset under the direction of false guides; in other words, that he has habitually deferred too much to German scholars, who, contemplating Greece and her concerns from the antiquarian point of view, have by degrees brought themselves to regard her literature, her politics, and her philosophy, as a huge museum of perplexing topics, on which it is lawful to speculate for ever without arriving at any conclusion. We lament this, for Mr. Grote is unquestionably an able man, possessing much acuteness and habits of application. He has not, however, sufficient force of mind to render him independent of his instruments. Availing himself of the learning of Germany, he has suffered it, from being his handmaid, to become his mistress. This is painfully evident throughout the whole of the two volumes before us. Do the Germans doubt? So does Mr. Grote. Do they convert traditions into mythes, and exclude whole ages from the domains of history ? So does our learned countryman. His foot advances timidly at the heels of their scepticism, and he appears delighted to persuade himself that the firm ground on which he treads is a shifting and dangerous quicksand.

It is no doubt quite necessary to separate the domains of history from those of mythology, and to avoid giving us a personified vice or virtue for a man. It may likewise be desirable not to confound physical phenomena with historical events, and to present us with an earthquake instead of the executive of a Grecian state. Against errors such as these it is prudent, we say, to guard ; bat scholars have unfortunately convinced us that learning is liable to intemperance, and that, enfeebled by the luxury of scepticism, the judgment may in the end be made to abdicate its functions, and cease altogether to distinguish be. tween the characteristics of truth and falsehood. It would not accordingly surprise as to find a speculative antiquarian converting Julius Cæsar into a mythe, and assuring us that the Roman Commons wealth was but a fragment of Fairy Land. Formerly the passion of investigators led them to carry back the banners of truth and plant them exultingly on fabulous eminences, into whose incompact substances they soon sank and disappeared. In our own day the practice is strikingly reversed. The object now is to roll forward the clouds of mythe not only over the debateable frontier of tradition but far into the firm and well-defined territory of history, and in this way to ob scure events and characters, which to our forefathers stood quite within the range of vision.

Among those who have employed themselves in this way is Mr. Grote. Niebuhr and Arnold conducted their readers towards the gigantic fabric of the Roman republic, through the avenues of legend and poetry ; but the approaches in their beauty and simplicity were every way worthy to open upon the Roman story; they looked like the obscure portals, which, in some eastern countries, lead the traveller to palaces and fortresses which themselves are steeped in the brightest sunshine. Mr. Grote has aimed at constructing before the History of Greece similar entrances, using the mythology as his materials, and invoking the epic Muse to adorn her more sober sister. It would have afforded us much pleasure to say that he had succeeded; but in laying down the plan of his work he has altogether mistaken the proportions, and appropriated to what is strictly introductory, space which he will hereafter stand in need of, should his incredulity leave him, as he proceeds, any events which he will regard as real. Mr.Grote's work already equals in length one fourth of Gibbon's History, without containing a

single page strictly historical. We have fable, we have disquisitions, we have criticism ; but we have no narrative, no unfolding of circumstances, no delineation of character.

To the whole of what is denominated Legendary Greece we object. Touched by a skilful and delicate hand the fables of the mythology might have been made to constitute a very agreeable introduction to the Hellenic annals. Gods and heroes might have been made our guides to the labyrinth of regal states and commonwealths which covered the face of Greece. But Mr. Grote's familiarity with Grecian literature has not imparted to him any great proficiency in Grecian art. He moulds the most exquisite materials with so uncouth a hand, that where we might reasonably have looked for beauty we sometimes meet with awkwardness, if not deformity. Assuredly, therefore, his will not prove the History of Greece for which we have during many ages been looking. Several of the fables are developed through the instrumentality of a vocabulary, so objectionable, that some parts of the book could not be read aloud in a decent family. Not that Mr. Grote is a voluptuous writer ; far from it. He is only deficient in taste, and liable sometimes to overlook the ethical value of the phrases he employs. He is not, in fact, endowed with that rare sensibility which enables some writers to enter instinctively into the feelings of all classes, and to avoid shocking any.

Certainly it is painful to contemplate the throwing away of so much labour'as has been bestowed on these two volumes, but thrown away it will be, if Mr. Grote persist in regarding them as any part of the History of Greece. By themselves, and as a series of preparatory dissertations, they are by no means destitute of interest, and may not be without value. The mythes are well arranged, though often related in unsuitable language; and some light is thrown on the primitive institutions, character, and manners of the Hellenes. But can ariything be conceived more out of place than an infinitely prolix disquisition on Wolf's crotchets about the Iliad and Odyssey, in which the names of Nitsch and Demodocus, of Mr. Price and the Homeridæ, of Herman and Homer, of Payne Knight and Peisistratus, are mixed up together in the most admired confusion ? Again, the prudence may well be questioned of adopting a plan which compels the author to touch, however succinctly, five or six times on the same subjects, and to descend again and again from the period of the Trojan War to Alexander of Macedon. It is quite true that Mr. Grote often displays great ability in the course of these rambling dissertations. For example, his view of the merits of Pindar, and the three great Attic tragedians, displays much critical acumen and power over the resources of rhetoric. He discriminates with judgment between the qualifications of the several poets, though he occasionally mistakes the relation in which they stood to their audience, from a natural or acquired incapacity to enter heartily into the religious feelings of the Greeks.

From symptoms which appear in various parts of these volumes we perceive, moreover, that we at least shall not be able to enter very

« AnteriorContinuar »