The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 11, No. 65, March, 1863 online

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stages of weakness and exhaustion.

A very minute parallel might be, drawn between the opposing
civilizations that are to-day in this country contending for the mastery
and those which were engaged in a similar conflict in the days of
Pericles. New England would be found to be the Attica of America; while,
on the other hand, the Southrons would most exactly correspond to the
ancient Lacedaemonians. As the Cavaliers who first settled Virginia
helped on the Puritan exodus, so did the Dorians that settled Sparta,
through the tumult of their overwhelming invasion, drive the Ionians
from their old homes to the barren wastes of Attica, - barren as compared
with the fertile valleys of the Eurotas, just as New England would be
considered sterile when contrasted with Virginia or the Valley of the
Mississippi. Like the Ionian Greeks, the "Yankees" stand before the
world as the recognized advocates and supporters of a pure democracy.
The descendants of the Cavaliers, on the contrary, join hands, as did
the ancient Dorians, in favor of an oligarchy, and of an oligarchy, too,
based on the institution of slavery. Upon this difference rested the
political dissensions of Greece, as do now those of our own country. The
negro plays no more important part in the difference between the North
and South than did the Helot in the contests between the Spartans and
the Athenians. It is not in either case the simple fact of human slavery
which necessitates the civil strife, but it is the radical opposition
between _a government that is founded upon slavery_ and one which is
not. The Athenians had slaves; and so, for that matter, might New
England have to-day: yet, for all that, the civil strife would have been
inevitable, because both in Greece and America this strife evidently
arises out of the conflict between the interests of an oligarchy based
upon slavery and a democracy in which slavery, if it exists at all,
exists as a mere accident that may be dispensed with without any radical
social revolution. Slavery, as opposed to divine law or to abstract
justice, never has brought, nor ever will bring, two countries into
conflict with each other; but slavery made indispensable as _a peculiar
institution_, as an organized fact, as a fundamental social necessity,
_must_ come into conflict with the totally opposite institutions of
democracy, and that not because it is merely or nominally slavery,
but because it is a political organ modifying the entire structure of
government. Slavery, as it existed in Athens, slavery, as it existed
formerly in the Northern States, was in everything, except its name and
accidents, consistent with democracy; and, in either case, to dispense
with the institution was to introduce no radical change, but only to do
away with the name and accidents.[A]

[Footnote A: Here, however, the reader must understand that the infernal
system of slave-stealing is left entirely out of the account.]

In Sparta, or in the South, the case was far otherwise. Here, slavery
existed in its strict severity; it came into being in connection with
material conditions, - that is, in connection with a soil especially
favorable to agriculture, - and it maintained its existence by reason of
its fitness, its indispensableness, to certain social conditions; it
could not, therefore, be changed or annulled without running counter
both to the inveterate tendencies of Nature and the still more
inveterate tendencies of habit. This difference between the two estates
of slavery is evident also from the fact, that, while, in the one case,
the law would admit of no emancipation, in the other, the emancipation
was effected legally, either in the lump, as in New England, or by
instalments, as in Athens; and in the latter State we must remember that
the process was rendered the more easy and natural by the fact that the
slaves were, in the first instance, generally prisoners taken in war,
and not unfrequently stood upon the same social level, before their
capture, with their captors, while in Sparta the slaves were taken as a
subject race, and held as inferiors.

Much glory has been given to Lacedaemon on the score of her martial
merits. To ourselves this glory seems rather her shame, since these
merits are inseparable from her grand political mistake. We might as
justly exalt Feudalism on the ground of its military establishment,
which, after all, we must admit to be an absolute necessity in the
system. To the Spartan oligarchy it was equally necessary that the whole
State should exist perpetually under martial law. In the first place, it
was necessary, if for nothing else, for the intimidation of the Helots,
who were continually watching their opportunity for insurrection, as is
shown in that memorable attempt made in connection with the Messenian
War. It was, moreover, necessary for a government not strong by sea
to extend its boundaries by military conquest; for by each successive
conquest a possible enemy is actually forced into subjection, and made
to contribute to the central power which subdues it.

Indeed, it is true that every feature of the State polity which that
old rascal Lycurgus gave to Sparta must be considered and judged in
connection with this grand martial establishment, upon which the
Lacedaemonian oligarchy was based, and through which the nefarious
attempt to establish oligarchies in all the rest of the world was
supported. The establishment itself was barbarous, and could not
possibly have thrived under the art-loving, home-protecting eye of the
Athenian Pallas. All domestic sanctities were rudely invaded, and even
the infant's privilege to live depended upon its martial promise; the
aspirations of religion were levelled down into sympathy with the most
brutal enthusiasm, as afterwards happened in the case of Rome; the very
idea of Beauty was demolished, and with it all that was sacred in human
nature, and all hope of progress. The whole State was sacred to the idea
of Military Despotism.

Thus it happened that Sparta, from her first introduction in history to
her exit, was at a stand-still in whatever involved anything higher than
brute force. In this respect she differed from Athens as much as the
South at this day differs from the North, and from precisely the same
causes, the principal of which, in each case, was barbarism, - barbarism
deliberately organized, and maintained in conscious preference to
intellectual refinement.

And yet it is remarkable that both Lacedaemon and the South, as compared
with their respective rivals, started in life at an immense advantage,
and seemingly with a far more auspicious prospect before them. The early
Virginian turned up his nose at Plymouth as a very despicable affair,
and wondered that the Puritans did not set sail _en masse_ for the
Bahamas. Gorgeous were the descriptions of Virginia sent home by some of
the first settlers, in which lions and tigers, and a whole menagerie
of tropical animals, came in for no small share of wonder; and, as an
offset to this summer luxuriance of life, most disparaging pictures were
drawn of the bleak sterility of New England, - and even that which was
the only compensation for this barrenness of the earth, namely, the
abundance of fish in the sea, was, as respects the revenue derived from
it, made an especial subject of derision. Thus, doubtless, did the
ancient Peloponnesian look upon Attica in the small beginnings of
her infinite growth; he had exactly the same topics for his
ridicule, - sterility, fishery, and all; and just as in the case of the
South, was the laugh in the end turned against himself. But to the very
last there was one stinging jest on the lips of the Spartan, - the very
same which the modern slaveholder flings with so great gusto against the
unfortunate Yankee, - and that was Athenian cupidity. The ancient and the
modern jester are alike condemned on their own indictment, since upon
cupidity the most petulant, upon cupidity the most voracious in its
greedy demands, rested the whole Spartan polity, as does the system of
slaveholding in the South. The Spartan, like the Southern planter, might
protest that money was of no consequence whatever, that to him it was
only so much iron, - but why? Only because that, by the satisfaction of
a cupidity more profound, he was able to dispense with the ordinary
necessities of an honest democrat.

In peace, Sparta was a nonentity; in the resources which enrich and
glorify the time of peace she was a bankrupt. Fine arts or education she
had none: these centred in Athens. These were elements of progress, and
could no more be tolerated in Peloponnesus than in our Gulf States.
Taking our Southern civilization or that of Lacedaemon, we must say of
each that it is thoroughly brutalized; we may challenge either to show
us a single master-piece of intellect, whether in the way of analysis or
of construction, - but none can they show.

Even in a military sense, the forces which Democracy could marshal,
either in ancient Greece or in modern America, were more than a match
for the corresponding oligarchical factions. Athens, like New England,
was a commercial centre, and therefore a prominent naval power; and this
naval prominence, in each instance, was so great as to give a decisive
superiority over a non-commercial rival. Sparta used her influence and
power to establish oligarchic institutions in the various provinces
of Greece, which generally corresponded to our Territories, - in which
latter the South has, with an equally unworthy zeal, been for several
years seeking to establish her peculiar institutions. Epidamnus proved
a Grecian Kansas. As in our own country, the hostile factions refrained
from war as long as human nature would allow; but, once engaged in
it, it became a vital struggle, that could be terminated only by the
exhaustion of one of the parties.

Athens was the stronger: why, then, did she not conquer her rival? With
equal pertinence we might ask, Why have not we, who are the stronger,
subjugated the South? The answer to both questions is the same.
Political prejudice overmasters patriotism. Neither ourselves nor the
ancient Athenians appear to have the remotest idea of the importance of
the cause for which we are contending. To us, as to them, the avenue
to future glory lies through the blood-red path of war, of desperate,
unrelenting war. Nothing else, no compromise, no negotiations of any
sort, would suffice. This the Athenians never realized; this _we_ do not
seem to understand. Among ourselves, as among them, the peace-party - a
party in direct sympathy with the aims and purposes of the
enemy - blusters and intrigues. President Lincoln meets with the same
embarrassments in connection with this party that Pericles met in his
campaigns against Sparta: it was his coming into power that precipitated
the violence of war; his determined action against all sympathizers
with the enemy draws down upon him the intensified wrath of these
sympathizers; the generals whom he sends into the field, if, like
Alcibiades, they are characterized by any spirit in their undertakings,
are trammelled with political entanglements and rendered useless, while
some slow, half-brained Nicias, with no heart in the cause, is placed at
the head of expeditions that result only in defeat.

There is the same diffusiveness connected with our military plans which
characterized the operations of the Athenians against Sparta. We do not
make the special advantage which we have over the South through our
naval superiority available against her special vulnerability. We
intimidate her, as Pericles did the Peloponnesians, by circumnavigating
her territories with a great display of our naval power; we effect a
few landings upon her coasts; but all these invasions lead to no grand
results, they do not subdue our armed enemy. What with these errors
in the general conduct of the war, and the lack of energy which
characterizes every part, our prospects of ultimate success are fast
being ruined. Unless some change be quickly effected, unless political
sentiment can be made to give place to the original enthusiasm with
which we commenced the war, and this enthusiasm be embodied in military
enterprise, our case is a hopeless one. One the other hand, if things go
on as they have been going on, the political opposition to the war will
rise to such a height as to overturn the Administration, and in its
place install those who are desirous of a reconstruction of the Union on
a Southern basis. The same errors on the part of Athens led to just
this result in Greece; an oligarchy came at last to rule even over the
democratic city itself. The consequence was the downfall of Greece, and
in her ruin was demonstrated the failure of ancient civilization. In
a like event, nothing could save us, nothing could save modern
civilization, from the same disastrous ruin.

The barbarism which at successive intervals in history has swept
southward over Asia was, at the least, something fresher and better than
that which it displaced. The Gothic barbarians were, in very truth,
the scourges of God to the inferior and more despicable barbarians of
Southern Europe. The former exemplified a barbarism unconscious of
itself, and carrying in its very rudeness the hope of the world; and the
more complete and overwhelming its revolutions, the more glorious the
promise involved in them. But, from the establishment over a continent
of a system so deliberately barbarous that it dares to array its brutal
features against the sunlight of this nineteenth century, that it dares
even to oppose itself, with a distinct confession of its base purposes,
against the only free, beneficent, and hope-giving government in the
world, - from the triumph of such a system and over such a government
there is not the shadow of a hope, but rather the widest possible field
for dismal apprehension. From this barbarism we have everything to fear;
and the only way to successfully oppose it is through the movements
of war. Only through a triumph gained in the battle-field, and held
decisive for all future time, can we, as a nation, make our way out
of the fatal entanglements of this present time into the bright and
glorious heritage of the future.

* * * * *


_My Diary, North and South_. By W.H. RUSSELL. Boston: T.O.H.P. Burnham,
pp. xxii., 602.

Plutarch, as a patriotic Boeotian, felt called on to write a tract
concerning the malice of Herodotus in having told some unpleasant truths
about the Thebans; and many of our countrymen have shown themselves as
Boeotian, at least, if not as patriotic, in their diatribes against Mr.
Russell, who is certainly very far from being an Herodotus, least of all
in that winning simplicity of style which made him so dangerous in
the eyes of Plutarch. It was foolish to take Mr. Russell at his own
valuation, to elevate a clever Irish reporter of the London "Times" into
a representative of England; but it was still more foolish, in attacking
him, to mistake violence for force, and sensible people will be apt to
think that there must have been some truth in criticisms which were
resented with such unreasoning clamor. It is only too easy to force the
growth of those national antipathies which ripen the seeds of danger
and calamity to mankind; for there are few minds that are not capacious
enough for a prejudice, and it has sometimes seemed as if, in our hasty
resentment of the littlenesses of Englishmen, we were in danger of
forgetting the greatness of England. A nation risks nothing in being
underrated; the real peril is in underrating and misunderstanding a
rival who may at any moment become an antagonist, - who will almost
certainly become such, if we do our best to help him in it. Especially
in judging the qualities of a people, we should be careful to take our
measure by the highest, and not the lowest, types it has shown itself
capable of producing. In moments of alarm, danger, or suffering, a
nation is apt to relapse into that intellectual and moral condition of
Mob from which it has slowly struggled upward; and this is especially
true in an age of newspapers, where Cleon finds his way to every
breakfast-table. It is her mob side that England has been showing us
lately; but this should not blind us to the fact that in the long run
the character of a nation tends more and more to assimilate itself to
that ideal typified in its wisest thinkers and best citizens. In the
qualities which historians and poets love to attribute to their country,
national tendencies and aspirations are more or loss consciously
represented; these qualities the nation will by-and-by learn to
attribute to itself, until, becoming gradually traditional, they will at
length realize themselves as active principles. The selfish clamor of
Liverpool merchants, who see a rival in New York, and of London bankers
who have dipped into Confederate stock, should not lead us to conclude,
with M. Albert Blanc, that the foreign policy of England is nothing
more or less than _une haine de commerçants et d'industriels, haine
implacable et inflexible comme les chiffres_.[A]

[Footnote A: _Mémoires et Correspondence de_ J. DE MAISTRE, p. 92.]

Mr. Russell's book purports to be, and probably is in substance, the
diary from which he made up his letters to the London "Times"; and it
is rather amusing, as well as instructive, to see the somewhat muddy
sources which, swelled by affluents of verbiage and invention, gather
head enough to contribute their share to the sonorous shallowness of
"the leading journal of Europe." When we learn, as we do from this
"Diary," what a contributor to that eminent journal is, when left to his
own devices, - that he does not know the difference between _would_ and
_should_, (which, to be sure, is excusable in an Irishman,) that he
believes _in petto_ to mean _in miniature_, uses _protagonist_ with as
vague a notion of its sense as Mrs. Malaprop had of her derangement of
epitaphs, and then recall to mind the comparative correctness of Mr.
Russell's correspondence in point of style, we conceive a hearty respect
for the proof-reader in Printing-House Square. We should hardly have
noticed these trifles, except that Mr. Russell has a weakness for
displaying the cheap jewelry of what we may call _lingo_, and that he is
rather fond of criticizing the dialect and accent of persons who were
indiscreet enough to trust him with their confidences. There is one
respect, however, in which the matter has more importance, - in its
bearing on our estimate of Mr. Russell as a trustworthy reporter of what
he saw and heard. Conscientious exactness is something predicable of the
whole moral and intellectual nature, and not of any special faculty; so
that, when we find a man using words without any sense of their meaning,
and assuming to be familiar with things of which he is wholly ignorant,
we are justified in suspecting him of an habitual inaccuracy of mind,
which to a greater or less degree disqualifies him both as observer
and reporter. We say this with no intention of imputing any wilful
misstatements to Mr. Russell, but as something to be borne in mind while
reading his record of private conversations. A scrupulous fidelity is
absolutely essential, where the whole meaning may depend on a tone of
voice or the use of one word instead of another. Any one accustomed to
the study of dialects will understand what we mean, if he compare
Mr. Olmsted's extracts from his diary with Mr. Russell's. The latter
represents himself as constantly hearing the word _Britisher_
used seriously and in good faith, and remarks expressly on an odd
pronunciation of _Europe_ with the accent on the last syllable, which be
noticed in Mr. Seward among others. Mr. Russell's memory is at fault.
What he heard was _Európean_; and _Britisher_ is not, and never was, an

We do not, however, mean to doubt the general truthfulness of Mr.
Russell's reports. We find nothing in his book which leads us to modify
the opinion we expressed of him more than a year ago.[B] We still think
him "a shrewd, practised, and, for a foreigner, singularly accurate
observer." We still believe that his "strictures, if rightly taken, may
do us infinite service." But we must enter our earnest protest against
a violation of hospitality and confidence, which, if it became common,
would render all society impossible. Any lively man might write a
readable and salable book by _exploiting_ his acquaintances; but such a
proceeding would be looked upon by all right-minded people as an offence
similar in kind, if not in degree, to the publication of private
letters. A shrewd French writer has remarked, that a clever man in
a foreign country should always know two things, - _what_ he is, and
_where_ he is. Mr. Russell seems habitually to have forgotten both. Even
Montaigne, the most garrulous of writers, becomes discreet in speaking
of other people. If we learn from him that the Duke of Florence mixed a
great deal of water with his wine and the Duchess hardly any at all.
we learn it, without any connivance of his, from his diary, and that a
hundred and fifty years after his death.

[Footnote B: _Atlantic Monthly_, Vol. VIII., p. 765.]

One of the first reflections which occur to the reader, as he closes Mr.
Russell's book, with a half-guilty feeling of being an accomplice after
the fact in his indiscretions, to use the mildest term, is a general one
on the characteristic difference between the traveller as he is and as
he was hardly a century ago. A man goes abroad now not so much to see
countries and learn something from them, as to write a book that shall
pay his travelling-charges. The object which men formerly proposed to
themselves, in visiting foreign lands, seems to have been to find out
something which might be of advantage to their own country, in the way
either of trade, agriculture, or manufactures, - and they treated of
manners, when they touched upon them at all, with the coolness and
impartiality of naturalists: They did not conclude things to be
necessarily worse because they were different. A modern Tom Coryat,
instead of introducing the use of the fork among his countrymen, would
find some excuse for thinking the Italians a _nasty_ people because they
used it. In our day it would appear that the chief aim of a traveller
was to discover (or where that failed, to invent) all that he possibly
can to the disadvantage of the country he visits; and he is so
scrupulous a censor of individual manners that he has no eyes left for
national characteristics. Another striking difference between the older
traveller and his modern successor is that the observer and the object
to be observed seem to have reversed their relations to each other, so
that the man, with his sensations, prejudices, and annoyances, fills up
the greater part of the book, while the foreign country becomes merely
incidental, a sort of canvas, on which his own portrait is to be painted
for the instruction of his readers. Pliny used to say that something was
to be learned from the worst book; and accordingly let us be thankful to
the voyagers of the last thirty years that they have taught us where
we can get the toughest steak and the coldest coffee which this world
offers to the diligent seeker after wisdom, and have made us intimately
acquainted with the peculiarities of the fleas, if with those of none
of the other dwellers in every corner of the globe. Such interesting
particulars, to be sure, may claim a kind of classic authority in
Horace's journey to Brundusium; but perhaps a gnat or a frog that kept
Horace awake may fairly assume a greater historical importance than
would be granted to similar tormentors of Brown, Jones, and Robinson.
Were it not for Mr. Olmsted, we should conclude the Arthur-Young type of
traveller to be extinct, and that people go abroad merely for an excuse
to write about themselves, - it is so much easier to write a clever book
than a solid one. The plan of Montaigne, who wrote his travels round
himself without stirring beyond his library, was as much wiser and
cheaper as the result was more entertaining.

But, apart from the self-consciousness and impertinence which detract so
much from the value of most recent books of travel, it may be doubted
whether, since the French Revolution gave birth to the Caliban of
Democracy, there has been a tourist without political bias toward one
side or the other; and now that the "Special Correspondent" has been
invented, whose business it is to be one-sided, if possible, and at all
events entertaining, the last hope of rational information from anywhere

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Online LibraryVariousThe Atlantic Monthly, Volume 11, No. 65, March, 1863 → online text (page 18 of 20)