Зображення сторінки

to despise all laws, inasmuch as “he himself was a law to the Persians, given them by the Deity to be the judge of right and wrong.” If the laws of the Persians were thus considered to emanate from their king, to whose will there was neither any authority nor any justice to oppose, then, indeed, it were better to close their history at once, in despair of any liberty where such a rule was borne. But if we judge ancient as we would modern times, we may be sure that there is always some influence to temper human despotism. The story of Dejoces is proof of greater evils which could be avoided only by submission to what was certainly an evil, but a less one, namely, unshared authority. A hierocracy, as we have already seen, has its origin in the fear of gods whom an ignorant, particularly if it be also a fanciful, people may be taught or forced to worship with trembling desperation. Its authority is absolute, and its character nearly unalterable, after it has once been founded. But a despotism, warlike or royal, originates in the fear which the mass, if uneducated and unhopeful, will always feel for the few who are stronger, braver, wiser, or in any way more powerful than themselves. It exacts implicit obedience; but neither necessarily militates against the improvement of its subjects, nor condemns them to forced and terrifying services of religion. The despotism of kings is still a monstrous evil; but it was never nearly so hideous in ancient times as the despotism of priests, who claimed a divine character for themselves or for their system, and then turned it to more brutal uses than we can now conceive. Even the divine right, urged as the royal title and possession, can never be confounded with the actual divinity to which a hierocracy pretended. The power confessing its humanity, whatever may be its right, is obliged to consult the interests and the sentiments of other classes than that to which it more exclusively belongs; it is conciliatory in some things, though it be ever so arbitrary; it is progressive in some ways, though it be ever, so firmly rooted or ever so unwilling to move onwards. Above all, it never necessarily corrupts the hearts of its subjects, however much it is obliged to depend upon their want of knowledge or of energy. These are general positions to mark the progress we may rightly hope to find in Persia, six centuries and less before the Christian era. We are yet groping after freedom; but the worst bondage” is broken for mankind. Mere force, like that of the Persian kings, is not nearly so fatal to liberty as force combined with superstition, such as we have witnessed in Egypt and in India. It may seem urging a point too far, but there was certainly this advantage in the government even of a single man, that, although it opened but a narrow passage to general freedom, the king himself had the liberty to rule with some honor and gentleness.” The ancients, at least, gave credit to the Persians for believing “the greatest good to be obedience” to their sovereign;” and in the later poetry” of Iran, the bright side again is turned to view:—“The happy Feridoun was not an angel; he was not formed of musk or amber: it was by his justice and generosity that he gained good and great ends. Be thou just and generous,” adds the poet, “ and thou shalt be a Feridoun.” Feridoun was one of the heroes whose virtues may have been confined to legend and song; but his character, though it were wholly fabulous, is sufficient evidence that the Persians knew what was due them from their king. So they who succeeded to Feridoun might have blotted out all poetry from the royal character; yet when once the truth had been revealed, that a king was made of flesh and blood, as well as his subjects, and was concerned with them in one and the same destiny, it would not be forgotten, though he were to pollute himself and them by tyranny. The son of Cyrus, Cambyses, the same who conquered Egypt, was reputed to be the very worst of all his line. He proved the reality and the fatality of despotism as fiercely as though that had been the only purpose of his creation. His nearest subjects, the Persians,” were put to death to satisfy his whims; his brother Smerdis was slain at his command;” and his sister, lamenting her brother's fate, perished by his own hand.” Nor were the shameful passions, in which he indulged, betrayed in the murder of his people or his family alone; he sought carnage and conquest amongst strangers; he everywhere broke through the bounds of decency and reverence; and fulfilled the answer of his judges to the letter, in using and abusing his power as he pleased.* These things are fit to read only in order to mark how soon the absolute authority of Cyrus became a frenzied despotism in his successors' hands: yet the narration which follows” is proof of the limits that could be set upon despotism among the people he cruelly ruled. While he was yet in Egypt, the Magi in Persia set up one of their own number as king under the name of Smerdis, the murdered brother; and as Cambyses, dying shortly after, left no heir, the pretended prince was carelessly or wilfully rec. ognized by the greater part of the nation, although Cambyses had openly proclaimed him an impostor.” The nobles might be confident in their own power under a king who was insecure upon his throne, and the people would look for favor from the monarch whom their priests revered, and who to them might really seem to be the son of Cyrus, their hero and their benefactor. The new king showed that he counted upon the good will of his subjects by freeing them from military service and tribute for three years' time; but though the lower classes might have been satisfied by this release from their burdensome duties, their allegiance was insufficient to support the impostor. Not even the Magi, to whom the people were generally submissive, were able to protect the king whom they had chosen from amongst themselves; they had no superstition to support him, and the force of the empire was in other hands. The only hope they could have had was that the king would be protected by the strength of the monarchy he had usurped, not so much to his own advantage as to theirs. But when Smerdis, after his first decrees, withdrew within the royal palace, amongst the priests of his government and the women of his household, the Persian nobles were suspicious that the crown of Cyrus had been given up too easily to a pretender. They had not loved Cambyses; but he, at least, trusted himself to them, not to the Magi, as his successor was doing. Some, more earnest than the rest, resolved to learn the truth; and discovered, at last, that for eight months they had obeyed a priest whose ears had been cut off by order of their former

19 Plut, Artax., 23.

20 So Wordsworth, true to all Pent in, a tyrant's solitary Thrall: - - r - - - that is holiest in man : T is his who walks about in the open air,

**There is a bo f to bear One of a Nation who, henceforth, must wear re is a ge worse, Iar worse, Their fetters in their souls,” Than his who breathes, by roof, and floor, and


WOL. I. 10

* Xerxes might have remem- * Méytorov dyadèv metóapxesv bered this, when he offered a reward pauvérat. Xen., Cyrop., VIII. 1.3. to those who could invent him a new See Plut., Them., 27. pleasure, and so had the pleasure 23 Saadi, quoted in Malcolm's of governing his people righteously. History, Vol. I. ch. 1.

24 Seovroomoousoras, “his own citizens,” as Herodotus delicately terms them, III. 36.

25 Herod., III. 30. In Ctesias (De Reb. Pers., 10) the name is different.

26 Herod., III. 32.

*7 He was remembered as the Aeomárms, the tyrant above all others who had ruled in Persia. Herod.,

III. 89. Cyrus was called the Father, IIarsip.

28 In which the authority of Herodotus (III. 67–88) has been followed rather than that of Ctesias, who relates the same story with some variations. De Reb. Pers., 10–15.

29 Herod., III. 65.

« НазадПродовжити »