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this disposition would be to fall in the way of instructors who, as Plato describes them in the Phædon, " when they were dis
cussing any question, cared not how the subject they were treatsing really stood,--but only considered how the positions they • themselves laid down might be made appear true to the by• standers.' | And again, in the Theatetus— It is as easy to s talk with madmen as it is with them. Their writings have ( nothing steady in them : all are in a state of perpetual mo« tion. As for a pause in disputation and interrogation, or a « quiet question or answer, it is a chance infinitely less than no5 thing that you get such a thing from them. For their minds
are in a perpetual state of restlessness : and woe to him that • puts an interrogative! instantly comes a flight of enigmatical • little words, like arrows from a quiver; and if you ask a rea• son of this assault, the result is another discharge, with mere• ly a change of names.'ll
Accordingly Protagoras found his new trade more profita able than binding faggots. Incited by his success, a numerous train of adventurers still more flagitious flocked to Athens, and taught the same maxims in terms yet more open. - Knowledge is Power, --.says Lord Bacon : Knowledge is Gold,--said the Sophists,--and they brought their wits to a good market for substantiating the boast. Like the admirable Crichton, and other charlglans of the middle ages, who were accustomed to set up challenges, offering to dispute de omni scibili,--they professed themselves ready to answer every question, and to teach every branch of knowledge. The effect of such tuition upon the manners and the morals of Athenian
I unknown, and proposed arguments to them; and sometimes meet. <ing with Hibernian geniuses, who were very glad of the occasion, it ' was a good jest to see us dispute : by our extravagant gestures, • grimace, contortions, our eyes full of fary, and our mouths full of
foam, one would have taken us for bedlamites rather than philoso< phers. '-Vol. I. p. 3. I In Phædone, 40. Ed. Oxon.
In Theateto, p. 130. The process of ratiocination taught by Rainiond Lully, as it is described by his follower Cornelius Agrippa, strongly reminds us of the Grecian Sophists. By this art, says he, ? everye man might plentifullye dispute of what matter he wolde, ? and with a certain artificial and huge heap of nownes and verbes
invente and dispute with ostentation, full of trifling deceites upon
both sides.' (Corn. Agrip. of the Vanity of Sciences, Englished by Ja. San. Gent. Lond. 1575.) It is this mechanical process which Swift ridicules by his machine in the academy of Lagado.--Scott's Life of Swift, p. 334.
society we may easily conjecture. Plato and Aristophanes bear ample testimony to the perversion of manners in both the upper and the lower classes : and the impartial pen of Thucydides has left upon record a deterioration of morals not only in Athens, but throughout Greece, adequate, and yet not more than adequate, to the causes which were thus set at work to produce it. * A baneful and malignant vapour was spreading abroad beneath the surface; and drooping flowers and withered verdure upon every side gave tokens of its desolating course.
. To dispel by the powerful weapon of ridicule these mists of
error, -to give a finished picture of a plain unlettered man as "he was likely to come from the hands of the Sophists,-to resscue the young men of family from the hands of such flagitious ! preceptors, and restore them to that noble simplicity of man
ners, which had prevailed in Greece in the time of Homer, • and which had not entirely disappeared even in the days of • Herodotus, was unquestionably the object of the Clouds.' The object was laudable-was noble--and the manner in which it was attempted does as much credit to the heart and understanding, as it does to the inventive genius and poetic powers of Aristophanes. How the attempt was made the plot and plan of the memorable drama, on which the Poet bestowed the whole force of his consummate skill-must, from the writings of Cumberland, be well known to the generality of readers. It is not our purpose to linger upon this part of the subject: we have a proposition to make out, from which Mr Mitchell's courage has shrunk, though he has collected such ample matter for supporting it: and, despite that halo of glory, which virtues and intellect that " form an epoch in the history • of man' have thrown around the son of Sophroniscus, we can see enough to believe that Aristophanes was as happy in selecting the central figure for his piece, as he was in the other constituent parts of this his greatest production. We certainly should not be content to rest the defence of the comic bard upon either of the lame and impotent conclusions to which all Mr M.'s reasoning conducts him ; namely--either that the parties
were very little known to each other,' and that Aristophanes wrote rather in ignorance than with any intention of exposing those faults in Socrates, which his personal virtues and magnanimity made only the more dangerous,-or that he described Socrates only as he was at the time, or such as he conceived him to be,-a conjecture that Mr M. has the flagrant inconsisten
* See the Account of the Corcyræan Sedition: Thucyd. Book 3. c. 188.
cy to urge in the face of his own argument that every single • trait of the Aristophanic Socrates may be traced in the Platoinic'-a picture drawn from the most intimate knowledge more than twenty years after the Clouds had been acted, and limned in such favourable colours as the very safety of the artist made it necessary should be employed. |
We know from the various authorities upon the Life and Conversation of Socrates, that have come down to us, that he was the immediate disciple of Archelaus, one of the lonian school, and thus derived his philosophical descent regufarly from Thales, of whose disciples it is with truth affirmed
V. Their facts were few, but their disputes were long; if < they could not convince, they could at least reason: one - absurdity led them to another; but every absurdity furo nished a disputation of words,--and words, even without + ideas, were as the breath of life to the loquacious Athe< nians.' We have himself, or Plato for him, laying down as a fundamental principle, that the wicked man sins only 6 through ignorance, and that the end of his actions, like « that of all other men, is good, but that he mistakes the na• ture of it, and uses wrong means to attain it, '--and in the same way, defining a virtue like bravery to be nothing but knowledge.t We have him described as one who, if not a So
phist himself, was always in the company of Sophists,'6 who like them had given himself up deeply and unremittedly
to physical researches, '-and who in vanity and self-conceit 6 surpassed them all.' We find him spending his time not only with such ambitious and unprincipled young men as Alcibiades and Critias, who left him as soon as they had gained their objects--a power of speaking and an aptitude for action, I upon principles which, it is very plain, notwithstanding the example of Socrates himself, might lead to any thing but patriotism and moral excellence, but with an Eucleid, an Antisthenes, an Aristippus, men who, as Mr Mitchell expresses it, went from him to form schools, whose names have since been synonymous
with sophistry, the coarsest effrontery, and the most undis- guised voluptuousness.' The noble stand he made for the laws of his country, in the famous case of the ten generals, *
19 Preliminary Discourse, p. cxxxii.
+ Vid. Aristot. Ethic. Lib. III. c. viii. et Platonem in Lachete et Protagora.
I yevsodao dv ireva TatW deyen tí xao trgattayXen. Memor. Lib. I. of ii. s 15.
* Xen. Hist. Græc. Lib. I. c. 7,
a stand so perfectly in unison with the personal virtue and magnanimity of mind conspicuous in his character, and which may safely be allowed and admired without at all touching the question of the danger that lurked in his philosophical principles, must save him from the reproach that neither practice nor re• flexion had made him acquainted with the duties of his office • as a senator:'I but we have his own words to assure us that
to ask questions || or to answer them to convict or to be « convicted'-were in his opinion the great purposes for which • men should meet together;' and a person,' says Mr M. « who had decreed that his life should be a complete logoma( chy, could not have come to the contest better prepared;
nor, where words were to be the weapons of warfare, could • any man draw them from a better provided armory. Let us add to this the terrible catalogue of false,' absurd, o unfeeling, and guilty' opinions put into the mouth of Socrates by Plato, in the fifth book of the Republic, and visited with such just and spirited reprobation by Mr Mitchell, and—for lighter mattersthe actual conversations of Socrates in the Lysis, the Cratylus, the Philebus, or the Parmenides of Plato, which give so fair occasion for the scenes in the Clouds, representing the boltingtub-the cock and hen pullet-&c.,—the constant appeals to the Dæmon who was the Zequiel of this Torralba-the slovenly appearance and want of cleanliness objected to him by Diogenes
-and we shall not only admit with Mr Mitchell that the myosticism, the garrulity, the hair-splitting niceties of language, o the contempt for exterior appearance, the melancholy tem• perament, the strong addiction to physical pursuits, the belief
in a supernatural agency, to an extent not precisely recognisred by the religion of his country, every single trait of the • Aristophanic Socrates may be traced in the Platonic,' but we shall feel compelled to go at least so much beyond him as to be. lieve that Aristophanes wrote from a most intimate acquaintance with the object of his attack, and selected him as one whose principles he conscientiously believed would prove preeminently dangerous. Nor, when we find Mr Mitchell asserting that in this Platonic Socrates, a picture, as we must remind our readers, drawn more than twenty years after the date of the Clouds, there are even worse and aggravating * circumstances, suppressed by the comic bard, than those he has introduced, can we conceive by what confusion of judgment he supposes
|| In Pret.
Prelim. Discourse, p. xcvii. Ś See the whole of the dialogue called Cratylus. * Prelim. Discourse, p. cxxxvii.
that an alteration took place in the interval,--that the Socra. tes of Aristophanes was not the Socrates of later days, or that the reproof of the poet had changed the pursuits or affected the principles of the philosopher. Ø Such a notion, notwithstanding the extravagant compliment to ourselves with which it is linked, ll we must pronounce most palpably absurd. The soul of Socrates, of that Socrates
—who scorn'd to fear or fly, Who liv'd and died, as none can live or die was not moulded of such a malleable temper: nor is it to be imagined that any castigation from the hand of a Comedian, a class of writers held in utter contempt by all the philosophers, could have worked so powerful an effect.
We are convinced that whoever will take the pains to compare these two slight sketches of the Sophists and of Socrates which we have abstracted, chiefly from the pregnant pages of Mr Mitchell, will be struck with points of similarity that, properly urged home, might have staggered even Plato, or Xenophon himself, and that might be exhibited in a still stronger light, had we time or space for a more minute detail. Even from the golden' Memorabilia, in which Mr M. will allow but a few blots to be discoverable, and from that immortal' Trilogy (which has been embalmed by the tears of all ages, '-we should not despair, however invidious the task, of extracting quite enough to support our view of the subject. In the very first book of the former we find the charge of receiving pay for philosophical instructions, to which Mr M. excepts as a false feature in the portrait of the Clouds, * not indeed directly fastened upon Socrates himself, but strongly countenanced by the mode of remuneration to which he would recommend the philosopher to trust. + It is no impolitic disinterestedness that leaves recompence to gratitude: and even Protagoras would sometimes rather appeal for his reward to the feelings of his scholars, than to previous stipulation. I A far darker imputation upon the Socratic code of morals,—for we shut our ears as we must our hearts against any impeachment of the sage's individual purity, --is only too well warranted by the disgusting coolness with which, in the same book, he is made to argue on the subject of a crime, that all ages and all religions have concurred in branding as the most horrible of treasons a