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GREATNESS OF THE WORK.
arms the seeds of Greek civilisation over the eastern world. Aristotle must arise to gather up to one boundless mind the vast results of Greek philosophy, and found an empire vaster and more enduring than that of his great pupil in the subjugated intellect of man. But the history of Greece is finished. Athens and Sparta, the two great antagonistic types of Greek society, politics, and education, have attained their full development, passed their allotted hour of trial, and touched upon their doom. The shades of night are gathering on the bright day of Hellas. The momentous work of that wonderful people is accomplished; the interest of the great intellectual and moral contest has centred in one man ; the last scene of the Phædo has been enacted, and Socrates has died.
The history of Greece is written, and the character of the historian is decided. Mr. Grote has achieved a noble work—a work which, unless the glory of classical literature is a dream, will well repay, in usefulness and in renown, the devotion of a scholar's life. His book will be called great while Grecian story retains its interest. Even making allowance for the wonderful labours of the Germans, and the extraordinary addition which their learned toils have made to our knowledge of the subject, we should say that the work before us had almost disentombed many portions of Greek life. We cannot sufficiently extol the wonderful knowledge of all the feelings, habits, associations, and institutions of an extinct people, which every page exhibits, and the familiar mastery with which a mind steeped in Grecian lore analyses, combines, criticises, and unfolds the mass
of heterogeneous and often conjectural materials on which it has to work. Not only have we been enabled to read Greek history with new eyes and a new understanding, but light has been poured upon its literature; and, to apply to Mr. Grote the compliment which he pays to others, “the poets, historians, orators, and philosophers of Greece, have been all rendered both more intelligible and more instructive to the student, and the general picture of the Grecian world may now be conceived with a degree of fidelity which, considering our imperfect materials, it is curious to contemplate." Two volumes more at least must be yet to come, but Mr. Grote's pedestal is sure; and nothing can diminish the satisfaction which he must now feel at his decided and proclaimed success, but the consciousness that the moment is approaching when he must part with the companion of many a sweet, though toilsome hour, and experience the mingled feelings which Gibbon has so well portrayed, in writing “the last page of the last chapter” of the history of Greece.
It is pity that such high intrinsic merits should be marred, both as regards the pleasure and the instruction of the reader, by a fatal deficiency of style. It is pity, but it is true. Mr. Grote seems to have lived in the works of the Greek writers till he has almost forgotten the forms and cadence of his mother tongue. It is not only that he so frequently has resort to an uncouth Greek compound when he might easily express the same idea in two or three English words, if not in one; there is a perpetual clumsiness in his construction of common sentences and his use of common words. Clarendon himself is not harder
PECULIARITIES OF EXPRESSION.
or more tortuous. Even in purely narrative parts, which ought to flow most easily, the understanding of the reader can seldom keep pace with his eye. Cyclopean epithets are piled together almost at random, on any substantive which will have the complaisance to receive them. The choice of expression and metaphor is sometimes such as almost to rival the achievements of Castlereagh in his happiest hour. We have people existing, “not as individual names on paper, but simply as an imposturous nominal aggregate," -- Thucydides “reserving his flowers to strew on the grave of Nicias," - the Athenians “sailing out” to action, having “left their sails at Teichiassa," and their “sailing back to Teichiassa for their sails," -Athens, "the mistress and successor of the Ionian Confederacy,”—inestimable stepping-stones towards a goal, and oligarchical conspirators against popular liberty“ tying down the patient while the process of emasculation was being consummated.” We are sorry to say that these instances are taken from the last two volumes, so that Mr. Grote does not improve as he advances. In the first volume, when relating the legends of early Greece, we are glad that he does not imitate the forced simplicity with which Dr. Arnold tells the legends of early Rome; but it is too flat to describe Atalanta as “ beautiful and matchless for swiftness of foot, but living in the forest as a huntress, and unacceptable to Aphrodite.” The redeeming point, and a great redeeming point it is, is the total absence of anything like affectation. All the peculiarities are genuine, and everything that is genuine in composition, though it cannot be admired, may be borne.
But for this we should be compelled to class one of the best of English books among the very worst of English writings. Mr. Grote must remember that no man who writes for posterity can afford to neglect the art of composition. The trimmer bark, though less richly laden, will float further down the stream of time, and when so many authors of real ability and learning are competing for every niche in the temple of fame, the coveted place will assuredly be won by style.
It is this deficiency of art which can alone prevent Mr. Grote's history from completely superseding both the works already existing of the same magnitude. Neither the spirit of Mitford nor the solid sense of Thirlwall could long preserve them from eclipse. The light of the former indeed has long grown dim. He is always blundering, and his blunders are always on the Tory side. Arnold's good word has kept him a few years longer on our bookshelves. Dr. Thirlwall has higher qualities, but, not to mention that he has damaged himself by writing against Mitford instead of ignoring him, he is terribly dry, and Mr. Grote leaves him far behind in appreciation of all that belongs to Greece, in loving industry, in warmth of sympathy, and, well-read scholars as they both are, in deep knowledge of his subject. The cheaper and more compendious histories of course are not affected, The light and credulous Goldsmith is still left to contend with the more correct but duller Keightley for the patronage of ingenuous youth. Perhaps both yield to the meritorious little work published by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. But a place, and an honourable place, is still left for any
GROTE'S TREATMENT OF HIS SUBJECT.
one who can tell the story of Greece in a succinct and lively form, availing himself of the light which Mr. Grote has shed upon the subject, cultivating candour and right sympathies, cutting short the antehistorical period, bringing strongly out the great states and the great men, limiting himself to two moderate volumes, and addressing himself especially to the unlearned and the young.
In the very outset of his work Mr. Grote departs from the line marked out and almost consecrated by his predecessors. He reserves the geographical sketch for the beginning of the history in the proper sense of the term, and opens with the mythology. In his treatment of this portion of his subject Mr. Grote exhibits a double novelty.
I. He treats the cosmogony, theology, and mythology of the Greeks as so many fictitious periods of their history, portions, as he phrases it, of the divine foretime. This proceeding appears to us to involve a certain confusion of ideas. The gods of the Greek, are his canonised heroes, belong to his present, and in connexion with these we think that Mr. Grote might advantageously have given us some account of the religion of the Greeks in the proper sense, as it affected their lives, their feelings, and their morals. From these are clearly to be distinguished the shadowy beings whom his bards, the rude philosophers of his early day, invented to satisfy his want of a cosmogony, who formed no objects of his worship, and belonged not, practically speaking, either to his present or to his past. His past was occupied by the heroes; and the mode in which these were connected and commingled with the gods forms a peculiarity in