Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine — Volume 53, No. 328, February, 1843 online

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education every where wanted, and no where to be found.

[1] "_Taille and the Gabelle_." Sully thus describes these
fertile sources of crime and misery: - "Taille, source
principale d'abus et de vexations de toute espèce, sans sa
repartition et sa perception. Il est bien à souhaiter, mais pas
à espérer, qu'on change un jour en entier le fond de cette
partie des revenus. Je mets la Gabelle de niveau avec la
Taille. Je n'ai jamais rien trouvé de si _bizarrement
tyrannique_ que de faire acheter à un particulier, plus de sel
qu'il n'en veut et n'en peut consommer, et de lui défendre
encore de revendre ce qu'il a de trop."

The laws that were passed resemble the edicts of a jealous, selfish, and
even vindictive oligarchy, rather than institutions adopted for the
common welfare, by the representatives of a free people. Turn to any of
the works which describe the manners of the age, from the works of
Richardson or Fielding, to the bitter satire of Churchill and the
melancholy remonstrances of Cowper, and you are struck with the
delineation of a state and manners, and a tone of feeling which, in the
present day, appears scarcely credible. "'Sdeath, madam, do you threaten
me with the law?" says Lovelace to the victim of his calculating and
sordid violence. Throughout the volumes of these great writers, the
features perpetually recur of insolence, corruption, violence, and
debauchery in the one class, and of servility and cunning in the other.
It is impossible for the worst quality of an aristocracy - nominally, to
be sure, subject to the restraint of the law, but practically, almost
wholly exempt from its operation - to be more clearly and more fearfully
represented. The South Sea scheme, the invasion of Scotland, the
disgraceful expeditions on the coast of France; the conduct of Lord
George Sackville at Minden, the miserable attempt on Carthagena, the
loss of Minorca, the convention of Closterseven, the insecurity of the
high-roads, nay, of the public streets in the metropolis itself, all
serve to show the deplorable condition into which the nation was fast
sinking, abroad and at home, when the "Great Commoner" once more aroused
its energies, concentrated its strength, and carried it to a higher
pinnacle of glory than it has ever been the lot even of Great Britain to
attain. Yet this effect was transient - the progress of corruption was
checked, but the disease still lurked in the heart, and tainted the
life-blood of the community. The orgies of Medmenham Abbey, the triumphs
of Wilkes, and the loss of America, bear fatal testimony to the want of
decency and disregard of merit in private as well as public life which
infected Great Britain, polluting the sources of her domestic virtues,
and bringing disgrace upon her arms and councils during the greater part
of the eighteenth century. It is with a masterly review of this period
of our history that Dr Arnold closes his analysis of the three last
centuries. His remaining lecture is dedicated to the examination of
historical evidence - a subject on which it is not our present intention
to offer any commentary.

To trace effects to their causes, is the object of all science; and by
this object, as it is accomplished or incomplete, the progress of any
particular science must be determined. The order of the moral is in
reality as immutable as the laws of the physical world; and human
actions are linked to their consequences by a necessity as inexorable as
that which controls the growth of plants or the motion of the earth,
though the connexion between cause and effect is not equally
discernible. The depression of the nobles and the rise of the commons in
England, after the statutes of alienation, were the result of causes as
infallible in their operation as those which regulate the seasons and
the tides. Repeated experiments have proved beyond dispute, that gold is
heavier than iron. Is the superior value of gold to iron a fact more
questionable? Yet is value a quality purely moral, and absolutely
dependent on the will of man. The events of to-day are bound to those of
yesterday, and those of to-morrow will be bound to those of to-day, no
less certainly than the harvest of the present year springs from the
grain which is the produce of former harvests. When by a severe and
diligent analysis we have ascertained all the ingredients of any
phenomenon, and have separated it from all that is foreign and
adventitious, we know its true nature, and may deduce a general law from
our experiment; for a general law is nothing more than an expression of
the effect produced by the same cause operating under the same
circumstances. In the reign of Louis XV., a Montmorency was convicted of
an atrocious murder. He was punished by a short imprisonment in the
Bastile. His servant and accomplice was, for the same offence at the
same time, broken alive upon the wheel. Is the proposition, that the
angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles, more certain than
the ruin of a system under which such a state of things was tolerated?
How, then, does it come to pass, that the same people who cling to one
set of truths reject the other with obstinate incredulity? Cicero shall
account for it: - "Sensus nostros non parens, non nutrix, non poeta, non
scena depravat; animis omnes tendentur insidiæ." The discoveries of
physical science, in the present day at least, allow little scope to
prejudice and inclination. Whig and Tory, Radical and Conservative,
agree, that fire will burn and water suffocate; nay, no tractarian, so
far as we know, has ventured to call in question the truths established
by Cuvier and La Place. But every proposition in moral or political
science enlists a host of feelings in zealous support or implacable
hostility; and the same system, according to the creed and
prepossessions of the speaker, is put forward as self-evident, or
stigmatized as chimerical. One set of people throw corn into the river
and burn mills, in order to cheapen bread - another vote that sixteen
shillings are equal to twenty-one, in order to support public
credit - proceedings in no degree more reasonable than a denial that two
and two make four, or using gunpowder instead of water to stop a
conflagration. Again, in physical science, the chain which binds the
cause to its effect is short, simple, and passes through no region of
vapour and obscurity; in moral phenomena, it is long hidden and
intertwined with the links of ten thousand other chains, which ramify
and cross each other in a confusion which it requires no common patience
and sagacity to unravel. Therefore it is that the lessons of history,
dearly as they have been purchased, are forgotten and thrown
away - therefore it is that nations sow in folly and reap in
affliction - that thrones are shaken, and empires convulsed, and commerce
fettered by vexatious restrictions, by those who live in one century,
without enabling their descendants to become wiser or richer in the
next. The death of Charles I. did not prevent the exile of James II.,
and, in spite of the disasters of Charles XII., Napoleon tempted fortune
too often and too long. It is not, then, by the mere knowledge of
separate facts that history can contribute to our improvement or our
happiness; it would then exchange the character of philosophy treated by
examples, for that of sophistry misleading by empiricism. The more
systematic the view of human events which it enables us to gain, the
more nearly does it approach its real office, and entitle itself to the
splendid panegyric of the Roman statesman - "Historia, testis temporum,
lux veritatis, vita memoriæ, magistra vitæ, nuntia vetustatis."

But while we insist upon the certainty of those truths which a calm
examination of history confirms, and the sure operation of those general
laws by which Providence in its wisdom has ordained that the affairs of
this lower world shall be controlled - let it not be supposed that we for
a moment doubt the truth which Demosthenes took such pains to inculcate
upon his countrymen, that fortune in human affairs is for a time
omnipotent. That fortune, which "erring men call chance," is the name
which finite beings must apply to those secret and unknown causes which
no human sagacity can penetrate or comprehend. What depends upon a few
persons, observes Mr Hume, is to be ascribed to chance; what arises from
a great number, may often be accounted for by known and determinate
causes; and he illustrates this position by the instance of a loaded
die, the bias of which, however it may for a short time escape
detection, will certainly in a great number of instances become
predominant. The issue of a battle may be decided by a sunbeam or a
cloud of dust. Had an heir been born to Charles II. of Spain - had the
youthful son of Monsieur De Bouillé not fallen asleep when Louis XVI.
entered Varennes - had Napoleon, on his return from Egypt, been stopped
by an English cruizer - how different would have been the face of Europe.
The _poco di piu_ and _poco di meno_ has, in such contingencies, an
unbounded influence. The trade-winds are steady enough to furnish
grounds for the most accurate calculation; but will any man in our
climate venture to predict from what quarter, on any particular day, the
wind may chance to blow?

Therefore, in forming our judgment of human affairs, we must apply a
"Lesbian rule," instead of one that is inflexible. Here it is that the
line is drawn between science, and the wisdom which has for its object
the administration of human affairs. The masters of science explore a
multitude of phenomena to ascertain a single cause; the statesman and
legislator, engaged in pursuits "hardliest reduced to axiom," examine a
multitude of causes to explain a solitary phenomenon. The
investigations, however, to which such questions lead, are singularly
difficult, as they require an accurate analysis of the most complicated
class of facts which can possibly engross our attention, and to the
complete examination of which the faculties of any one man must be
inadequate. The finest specimens of such enquiries which we possess are
the works of Adam Smith and Montesquieu. The latter, indeed, may be
called a great historian. He sought in every quarter for his account of
those fundamental principles which are common to all governments, as
well as of those peculiarities by which they are distinguished one from
another. The analogy which reaches from the first dim gleam of civility
to the last and consummate result of policy and intelligence, from the
law of the Salian Franks to the Code Napoleon, it was reserved for him
to discover and explain. He saw that, though the shape into which the
expression of human thought and will was moulded as the family became a
tribe, and the tribe a nation, might be fantastic and even
monstrous - that the staple from which it unrolled itself must be the
same. Treading in the steps of Vico, he more than realized his master's
project, and in his immortal work (which, with all its faults, is a
magnificent, and as yet unrivalled, trophy of his genius, and will serve
as a landmark to future enquirers when its puny critics are not known
enough to be despised) he has extracted from a chaos of casual
observations, detached hints - from the principles concealed in the
intricate system of Roman jurisprudence, or exposed in the rules which
barely held together the barbarous tribes of Gaul and Germany - from the
manners of the polished Athenian, and from the usages of the wandering
Tartar - from the rudeness of savage life, and the corruptions of refined
society - a digest of luminous and coherent evidence, by which the
condition of man, in the different stages of his social progress, is
exemplified and ascertained. The loss of the History of Louis XI. - a
work which he had projected, and of which he had traced the outline - is
a disappointment which the reader of modern history can never enough

The province of science lies in truths that are universal and immutable;
that of prudence in second causes that are transient and subordinate.
What is universally true is alone necessarily true - the knowledge that
rests in particulars must be accidental. The theorist disdains
experience - the empiric rejects principle. The one is the pedant who
read Hannibal a lecture on the art of war; the other is the carrier who
knows the road between London and York better than Humboldt, but a new
road is prescribed to him and his knowledge becomes useless. This is
the state of mind La Fontaine has described so perfectly in his story of
the "Cierge."

"Un d'eux, voyant la brique au feu endurcie
Vaincre l'effort des ans, il eut la même envie;
Et nouvel Empédocle, aux flammes condamné
Par sa pure et propre folie,
Il se lança dédans - ce fût mal raisonné,
Le Cierge ne savait grain de philosophie."

The mere chemist or mathematician will apply his truths improperly; the
man of detail, the mere empiric, will deal skilfully with particulars,
while to all general truths he is insensible. The wise man, the
philosopher in action, will use the one as a stepping-stone to the
other, and acquire a vantage-ground from whence he will command the
realms of practice and experience.

History teems with instances that - although the general course of the
human mind is marked out, and each succeeding phasis in which it
exhibits itself appears inevitable - the human race cannot be considered,
as Vico and Herder were, perhaps, inclined to look upon it, as a mass
without intelligence, traversing its orbit according to laws which it
has no power to modify or control. On such an hypothesis, Wisdom and
Folly, Justice and Injustice, would be the same, followed by the same
consequences and subject to the same destiny - no certain laws
establishing invariable grounds of hope and fear, would keep the actions
of men in a certain course, or direct them to a certain end; the
feelings, faculties, and instincts of man would be useless in a world
where the wise was always as the foolish, the just as the unjust, where
calculation was impossible, and experience of no avail.

Man is no doubt the instrument, but the unconscious instrument, of
Providence; and for the end they propose to themselves, though not for
the result which they attain, nations as well as individuals are
responsible. Otherwise, why should we read or speak of history? it would
be the feverish dream of a distempered imagination, full of incoherent
ravings, a disordered chaos of antagonist illusions -

- - "A tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing."

But on the contrary, it is in history that the lessons of morality are
delivered with most effect. The priest may provoke our suspicion - the
moralist may fail to work in us any practical conviction; but the
lessons of history are not such as vanish in the fumes of unprofitable
speculation, or which it is possible for us to mistrust, or to deride.
Obscure as the dispensations of Providence often are, it sometimes, to
use Lord Bacon's language - "pleases God, for the confutation of such as
are without God in the world, to write them in such text and capital
letters that he who runneth by may read it - that is, mere sensual
persons which hasten by God's judgments, and never tend or fix their
cogitations upon them, are nevertheless in their passage and race urged
to discern it." In all historical writers, philosophical or trivial,
sacred or profane, from the meagre accounts of the monkish chronicler,
no less than from the pages stamped with all the indignant energy of
Tacitus, gleams forth the light which, amid surrounding gloom and
injustice, amid the apparent triumph of evil, discovers the influence of
that power which the heathens personified as Nemesis. Her tread, indeed,
is often noiseless - her form may be long invisible - but the moment at
length arrives when the measure of forbearance is complete; the echoes
of her step vibrate upon the ear, her form bursts upon the eye, and her
victim - be it a savage tyrant, or a selfish oligarchy, or a hypocritical
church, or a corrupt nation - perishes.

"Come quei che va di notte,
Che porta il lume dietro, _e a se non giova,
Ma dopo se fa le persone dotte_."

And as in daily life we rejoice to trace means directed to an end, and
proofs of sagacity and instinct even among the lower tribes of animated
nature, with how much greater delight do we seize the proofs vouchsafed
to us in history of that eternal law, by which the affairs of the
universe are governed? How much more do we rejoice to find that the
order to which physical nature owes its existence and perpetuity, does
not stop at the threshold of national life - that the moral world is not
_fatherless_, and that man, formed to look before and after, is not
abandoned to confusion and insecurity?

Fertile and comprehensive indeed is the domain of history, comprising
the whole region of probabilities within its jurisdiction - all the
various shapes into which man has been cast - all the different scenes in
which he has been called upon to act or suffer; his power and his
weakness, his folly and his wisdom, his virtues in their meridian
height, his vices in the lowest abyss of their degradation, are
displayed before us, in their struggles, vicissitudes, and infinitely
diversified combinations: an inheritance beyond all price - a vast
repository of fruitful and immortal truths. There is nothing so mean or
so dignified; nothing so obscure or so glorious; no question so
abstruse, no problem so subtile, no difficulty so arduous, no situation
so critical, of which we may not demand from history an account and
elucidation. Here we find all that the toil, and virtues, and
sufferings, and genius, and experience, of our species have laboured for
successive generations to accumulate and preserve. The fruit of their
blood, of their labour, of their doubts, and their struggles, is before
us - a treasure that no malignity can corrupt, or violence take away. And
above all, it is here that, when tormented by doubt, or startled by
anomalies, stung by disappointment, or exasperated by injustice, we may
look for consolation and encouragement. As we see the same events, that
to those who witnessed them must have appeared isolated and capricious,
tending to one great end, and accomplishing one specific purpose, we may
learn to infer that those which appear to us most extraordinary, are
alike subservient to a wise and benevolent dispensation. Poetry, the
greatest of all critics has told us, has this advantage over history,
that the lessons which it furnishes are not mixed and confined to
particular cases, but pure and universal. Studied, however, in this
spirit, history, while it improves the reason, may satisfy the heart,
enabling us to await with patience the lesson of the great instructor,
Time, and to employ the mighty elements it places within our reach, to
the only legitimate purpose of all knowledge - "The advancement of God's
glory, and the relief of man's estate."

* * * * *


No. V.


[This noble lyric is perhaps the happiest of all those poems in which
Schiller has blended the classical spirit with the more deep and tender
philosophy which belongs to modern romance. The individuality of the
heroes introduced is carefully preserved. The reader is every where
reminded of Homer; and yet, as a German critic has observed, _there is
an under current of sentiment_ which betrays the thoughtful _Northern_
minstrel. This detracts from the art of the Poem viewed as an imitation,
but constitutes its very charm as an original composition. Its
inspiration rises from a source purely Hellenic, but the streamlets it
receives at once adulterate and enrich, or (to change the metaphor) it
has the costume and the gusto of the Greek, but the toning down of the
colours betrays the German.]

The stately walls of Troy had sunken,
Her towers and temples strew'd the soil;
The sons of Hellas, victory-drunken,
Richly laden with the spoil,
Are on their lofty barks reclin'd
Along the Hellespontine strand;
A gleesome freight the favouring wind
Shall bear to Greece's glorious land;
And gleesome sounds the chaunted strain,
As towards the household altars, now,
Each bark inclines the painted prow -
For Home shall smile again!

And there the Trojan women, weeping,
Sit ranged in many a length'ning row;
Their heedless locks, dishevell'd, sweeping
Adown the wan cheeks worn with woe.
No festive sounds that peal along,
_Their_ mournful dirge can overwhelm;
Through hymns of joy one sorrowing song
Commingled, wails the ruin'd realm.
"Farewell, beloved shores!" it said,
"From home afar behold us torn,
By foreign lords as captives borne -
Ah, happy are the Dead!"

And Calchas, while the altars blaze,
Invokes the high gods to their feast!
On Pallas, mighty or to raise
Or shatter cities, call'd the Priest -
And Him, who wreathes around the land
The girdle of his watery world,
And Zeus, from whose almighty hand
The terror and the bolt are hurl'd.
Success at last awards the crown -
The long and weary war is past;
Time's destined circle ends at last -
And fall'n the Mighty Town!

The Son of Atreus, king of men,
The muster of the hosts survey'd,
How dwindled from the thousands, when
Along Scamander first array'd!
With sorrow and the cloudy thought,
The Great King's stately look grew dim -
Of all the hosts to Ilion brought,
How few to Greece return with him!
Still let the song to gladness call,
For those who yet their home shall greet! -
For them the blooming life is sweet:
Return is not for all!

Nor all who reach their native land
May long the joy of welcome feel -
Beside the household gods may stand
Grim Murther with awaiting steel;
And they who 'scape the foe, may die
Beneath the foul familiar glaive.
Thus He[2] to whose prophetic eye
Her light the wise Minerva gave: -
"Ah! blest whose hearth, to memory true,
The goddess keeps unstain'd and pure -
For woman's guile is deep and sure,
And Falsehood loves the New!"

The Spartan eyes his Helen's charms,
By the best blood of Greece recaptured;
Round that fair form his glowing arms -
(A second bridal) - wreathe enraptured.
"Woe waits the work of evil birth -
Revenge to deeds unblest is given!
For watchful o'er the things of earth,
The eternal Council-Halls of Heaven.
Yes, ill shall ever ill repay -
Jove to the impious hands that stain
The Altar of Man's Hearth, again
The doomer's doom shall weigh!"

"Well they, reserved for joy to day,"
Cried out Oïleus' valiant son,
"May laud the favouring gods who sway
Our earth, their easy thrones upon;
Without a choice they mete our doom,
Our woe or welfare Hazard gives -
Patroclus slumbers in the tomb,
And all unharm'd Thersites lives.
While luck and life to every one
Blind Fate dispenses, well may they
Enjoy the life and luck to day
By whom the prize is won!

"Yes, war will still devour the best! -
Brother, remember'd in this hour!
His shade should be in feasts a guest,
Whose form was in the strife a tower!
What time our ships the Trojan fired,
Thine arm to Greece the safety gave -
The prize to which thy soul aspired,
The crafty wrested from the brave.[3]
Peace to thine ever-holy rest -
Not thine to fall before the foe!
Ajax alone laid Ajax low:
Ah - wrath destroys the best!"

To his dead sire - (the Dorian king) -
The bright-hair'd Pyrrhus[4] pours the wine: -
"Of every lot that life can bring,
My soul, great Father, prizes thine.
Whate'er the goods of earth, of all,
The highest and the holiest - FAME!
For when the Form in dust shall fall,
O'er dust triumphant lives the Name!
Brave Man, thy light of glory never
Shall fade, while song to man shall last;
The Living, soon from earth are pass'd,

"While silent in their grief and shame,
The conquer'd hear the conqueror's praise,"

Online LibraryVariousBlackwood's Edinburgh Magazine — Volume 53, No. 328, February, 1843 → online text (page 5 of 25)