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lamentable condition. Some nations may have declined, but others have risen in their stead ; in some countries, at every period of history knowledge has been extending, liberty has been making a gradual though perhaps often imperceptible progress, virtuous principles have been more firmly established, comfort and happiness have been more and more generally diffused; so that, though other portions of the globe may at the same point of time present the mournful picture of tyranny and oppression, of ignorance and vice, of continually increasing misery and distress, we shall perhaps find upon the whole that the world in general is in a state of advancement; and that, whatever period we assume, if we examine matters with accurate and impartial eyes, allow the respective advantages and defects to be properly set against each other on all hands, and then strike the balance, fairly and candidly, we shall always find a positive result on the favourable side of the question. Thus, for example, Greece, Asia Minor, and Egypt are not in so flourishing a condition at the present day as they were two thousand years ago ; Italy, too, is perhaps a little decayed; but how vastly have many countries during the same period been improved; how greatly have the blessings been extended of knowledge, of national and individual prosperity, to a degree before unheard-of in the history of the world, of a portion of civil liberty, when compared with which, however imperfect it may be, the condition of the freest and most enlightened states of antiquity is but little to be envied. How extensively have these sources of happiness been spread, with what amazing rapidity are they at this moment diffusing themselves over regions then immersed in the profoundest ignorance and barbarism, over vast continents, of which, to the enlightened nations of ancient Greece and Italy, the very existence was utterly unknown.
The foregoing general observations may perhaps be sufficient to render it probable that the unfavourable comparative estimate of the present times, when contrasted with those which have preceded, is in a great measure to be ascribed to misconception or prejudice. A more detailed examination of those particular points of this comparison which are most commonly insisted on, would, I conceive, materially add to this probability; I shall confine myself however at present to a single case on which those who seek to disparage their contemporaries, by comparing them with the mighty dead, are accustomed to lay the greatest stress.
The period to which modern writers seem most inclined to turn their eyes when seeking for a state of society, when compared with which the present system of things may be viewed in an unfavourable light, is the portion of antiquity commonly styled the classical ages of Greece and Rome. It is hither, therefore, that our principal attention is most naturally directed, in order to discover whether this unfavourable comparison be really well founded. But before we proceed to this discussion, it may be proper to guard against a misconception, of which, though we may be aware of its want of foundation, we cannot altogether escape the influence. We are apt, when contemplating the history of ancient times, to view all the ages of antiquity as if they were one period, and to forget that the great men who flourished in these different ages were not contemporaries. That general but indefinite impres
sion of dazzling splendour which the history of these times leaves upon our minds, is often all concentrated in our imaginations into one point, and we forget that the individual rays by whose united effect this bright effulgence is produced, were in reality scattered over a very wide extent. : We must recollect, for instance, thạt Demosthenes lived several hundred years before Cicero; that Thucydides and Herodotus are removed to a still greater distance in point of time from Tacitus and Livy. This is a misconception which to many may seem so palpable and glaring as not to require notice; it appears evident, however, that it exists, and that it has had a considerable effect in heightening that admiration which has always been entertained, and to a certain extent with justice, for the illustrious character whose names adorn the annals of Greece and Rome.
Under this limitation we may proceed to the proposed comparison. The state of society, and of mankind in general, in any period or country, may
be considered in three different points of view, as we attend to the moral, the political, and the literary, or rather the intellectual character of the people. Our attention, then, may be directed in the conduct of this comparison to these three leading objects, which we propose to consider in the order above stated.
The first branch of our enquiry need not, I think, detain us long. Seriously to place the moral character of any age or nation of antiquity in competition with that of the present times, in my opinion would be not only to affront the honour but to insult the understanding and good sense of the enlightened pe. riod in which we live. That we have much better opportunity of obtaining moral instruction, advantages in the cultivation of genuine virtue and rational piety, of which they were utterly destitute, will not surely be denied ; and if human nature itself be in all ages the same, it is impossible to suppose that these superior advantages can have failed to produce a real and impor. tant amelioration in the human character. That the ancient philosophers have produced many excellent and admirable treatises on morals, in which the path of duty is in many cases correctly laid down, and the merely worldly motives to its observance forcibly and eloquently stated, must certainly be admitted ; but the best of them fall.:short by many degrees of the excellence of the Christian morality, even if we confine our attention to the rule itself; and if we further consider the superior efficacy and importance of those sanctions by which the Christian rule is converted into a law, the very idea of comparison becomes absurd. The heathen systems of morality, such as they were, were in a great measure confined to the schools ; they were in general pure theory; they were in few instances carried into practice, in many cases incapable of being so, and in many very important points, even according to the philosophy of the most rigid seets, admitted of a laxity utterly inconsistent with the genuine spirit of morality as laid down in the Gospel." Their influ:ence was necessarily very confined, and could not possibly extend to those whom it was of the greatest importance to instruct, namely, the unlettered multitude. In short, they had no connection whatever with the practice or general character of mankind, and could be considered in no other light than as philosophical treatises, in which a great deal of ability, ingenuity, and eloquence is often displayed. In this point of view they may be considered in
a subsequent part of this essay, when we proceed to form an estimate of the intellectual character of ancient times. Accordingly I think it must be aoknowledged by all, that in the private life and manners of the generality even of the philosophical world, so far as history has enabled us judge, these theoretical systems appear to have had very little practical effect. And if this was the case anong men of science and information, what must we expect to meet with among the uninformed, uneducated mob? Religion of course is out of the question, as far at least as any direct moral instruction is concerned. Their superstitions, indeed, do not seem to have had any direct 'connection with morals, but their indirect influence seems almost universally to have been of the most pernicious nature. The manners and habits of the lower orders of the people are of course very seldom introduced into the historic page, but from such slight notices as we are enabled to obtain by means of casual allusions and incidental remarks, I suspect we shall see little reason to form any very favourable opinion of them even in the most celebrated communities, in their brightest periods, much less in the whole ancient world at any period. There appears to have been no provision whatever in any state of antiquity for the moral instruction or improvement of the inferior classes ; their youth seem in this respect to have been left almost entirely to chance; so that we should hardly be led a priori to suppose that their conduct in private life would be particularly exemplary. This neglect is the more remarkable, when we consider that in almost all the ancient states of which we have any account, the governments seem to have interested theinselves in many other branches of the education of their youth to an uncommon degree:: whatever tended to fit them for the field, to enable them ei er to defend their country against hostile attacks, or to carry the terfor ot her name into foreign lands, was diligently attended to. We shall look in vain through the whole compass of antiquity for a Howard or a Clarkson, for one institution established either by public authority, or by the roluntary efforts of individuals to assuage the evils of poverty or disease.
To enter into any minute comparison of the political institutions of ancieat and modern times would lead us into a detail too extensive for an essay like the present." It may; however, be useful to call to our recollection one or two vircumstances which may perhaps contribute in some degree to mode- rate our ideas of the political liberty supposed to have been enjoyed in some of the free repubiies (as they are called) of uity
An every nation or community in the ancient world, whether Greek or barbarian, inonarchical or republican, at least one half, often a much larger proportion, of the inhabitants were slaves, possessing no property, no liberty, no rights ; exposed without the means of resistance to the lawless denomination of a master generally capriciousy often tyrannical and cruel. In the freest states of Greece, the labourer who cultivated the soil, the mechanic and manufacturer, inext to the agriculturist the most useful classes of society, possessed no voice in the public assemblies, no influence in the counsels of the state, no check (uniess it were the dread of a rebellion) upon its government .. They possessed no property, they were themselves property ; They were not the subjects but the objects of rights; in the technical, but ex. pitsire language of the Roman law, they were not persons but things. To &
nation in which this is the order of things you may give any form of government you please ; you may call it a monarchy; an aristocracy, or a democracy,
will never entitle it to the name of a free state. A planter in Jamaica might as well boast of the liberty and equality established in his island ; we should probably smile at the absurdity, but we should be indignant at the effrontery of his assertion. The effrontery, however, would not be much greater than that of an Athenian or Roman demagogue one hour haranguing a factious mob, which calls itself an assembly of the people, the next brandishing his whip over a herd of affrighted slaves, and the third boasting that he is a citizen of a free state. If the majority of the people be oppressed and enslaved, what does it signify whether their tyrant be a monarch, a senate, or an assembly? Where is the difference between an omnipotent despot and an omnipotent mob? Are the rights, the liberties, and the property of the peaceable inhabitant more secure in the one case than in the other ? If the grand problem of political science were to purchase unbridled licentiousness for one class of the community by an entire sacrifice of the remainder, we might expect to find it solved in the ancient republics ; and yet, according to our modern notions of liberty, even the citizens for whom this expensive purchase was made, do not seem to have enjoyed a very enviable portion of it. That nation I should consider as possessing the greatest share of real praetieal freedom, whatever might be the form of its constitution, in which the main ends of personal security being equally well provided for, the largest scope was left to each individual for the uncontrolled exertion of his faeulties. We ought never to forget that all government is in itself an evil, which is only tolerated as the necessary means for preserving us from greater evils. Hence we must conclude it to be the perfection of political wisdom, when its object is attained with the minimum of direct interference. Now, I think, we shall in vain seek among the most despotic governments recorded in history, for one in which so large a portion of the conduct of each individual was subject to the control of direct and positive law as in the republic of Sparta.
But setting aside this circumstance, if we consider any of the forms of government established in the ancient republics, we shall not find them worthy either of our admiration or our envy. In all of them the power of making laws was the personal right of every citizen. All the people were ga. thered into one vast and tumultuous assembly to pass, by a single vote, generally without any previous consideration, often without even knowing why they were come together, laws which might alter the whole frame of the constitution, and affect the dearest and most important interests of themselves and their posterity. At Athens, it seems, five thousand constituted a quorum, if one may use the expression, of this sovereign mob.
Accordingly, if any one wishes to contemplate the most remarkable instances on record of the fickleness and folly which always regulate the transactions of a mob, whether assembled to legislate or to riot, to make laws or to break them, of that unsuspecting blindness which is led by a few intriguing orators to consent to measures the most palpably pernicious, and that shame. ·less confession of their folly and incapacity which the next day abrogates alt
they had done before, and adopts new plans destined to a similar fate, let himi study the history of Athens. He will there learn that this sage people, this nation of philosophers, were so distrustful of their own constancy and persea verance in the prosecution of measures of whose propriety they were firmly convinced, that they frequently annexed to their enactments a clause condemning to capital punishment the man who should be so hardy' as to propose their abolition. In short, the whole history of this famous constitution, this boast of democracy, this master-piece of the political wisdom of antiquity, furnishes a striking illustration of the assertion of an able and deservedly eminent wri: ter, that laws would be much more just and reasonable if determined by the drawing of lots, or the casting of the dice; than by the decisions of a multitude. So much for the political wisdom of the ancients.
We may now proceed to consider the third general division of our subject, in which it was proposed to take a comparative view of the literary or intellectual character of ancient and modern times. This is a pointon which the admirers of antiquity have always and with good reason insisted, as on the chief strength of their cause, and have triumphed in the acknowledged excellence of the ancient specimens of literary talent and scientific research as unrivalled and inimitable. No one certainly can deny, that the writers of ancient Greece and Rome had arrived in many kinds of composition at a high degree of excellence; that in some they have never been surpassed, in others never equals led; but this is not sufficient to establish the general superiority in the republio of letters of that “ motley assemblage" commonly called the Classics. They are writers very unequal in talents, and still more so in value; and the mea rits, however transcendent and unequalled, of one writer; in one age, on one subject, cannot be allowed to establish the reputation of all writers in all ages on all subjects. And I think it cannot but be admitted by the most pertinacious advocate for antiquity, that these merits have been greatly exaggerated, and have met with an admiration altogether unreasonable. Without entering into a particular examination of each individual author who ranks under this denomination, it may be sufficient to state some of the circumstances which have given rise to this disproportionate admiration, and to trace as far as possible the train of causes which has occasioned, in the history of letters, a phenomenon so singular and apparently contradictory to the usual feelings and prejudices of the human mind.
Of these causes a leading one may be found in the peculiar circumstances which attended the revival and progress of letters in modern Europe. At the period when this progress commenced, mankind had been involved for twelve centuries in a state of deplorable ignorance, which gradually thickened into a more than Egyptian darkness, in which literature was entirely forgotten, the sciences disappeared, the fine arts were neglected, and superštition, only rendered more hideous by assuming the semblance of the true re: ligion, was making rapid strides towards universal dominion. In all that time scarcely a single writer had flourished in any one department either of literature or science, whose works were worth preserving; the powers of the human mind seemed for a time benumbed and degraded.
At the commencement accordingly of a more auspicious period, at the dawn of that bright morning which we are now enjoying, and which seems