Зображення сторінки

like the same account of a person; and especially when the favouring party has had previously a warning voice to caution him as to the line he might take in his delineation, a strong presumption arises, that the joint opinion of two such persons comes nearer to the truth, than that of a single individual, however respectable in character, or gifted with talent. Now we venture to say, that the single fact of Socrates receiving pay for his instructions excepted, (the great charge of making the worse appear the better cause has been already disposed of,) the mysticism, the garrulity, the hair-splitting niceties of language, the contempt for exterior appearance, the melancholy temperament, the strong addiction to physical pursuits, the belief in a supernatural agency, to an extent not precisely recognized by the religion of his country, every single trait of the Aristophanic Socrates may be traced in the Platonic, and in some cases with aggravating circumstances, which, if the poet had been ill disposed towards the philosopher, or had even had any more personal knowledge of him, than what necessarily happened in a town, not of very considerable population, and whose customs and manners brought all persons more into contact, than the habits of modern society do, would certainly not have been suppressed in a picture, supposed to be drawn from wilful perversion and malevolent misrepresentation. What are we to conclude from all this? Our own inference is, that the Clouds was not written for the purpose of exposing Socrates, but that Socrates was selected (and for reasons previously mentioned) for the purpose of giving more effect to the Clouds, as an ingenious satire directed against the sophists and the pernicious system of public education at Athens : so far from its being a wilful misrepresentation, dictated by envy or jealousy, we believe that the parties were very little known to each other; that the character of Socrates made much that sort of impression on the poet, which we designed our own portrait of him should make upon our readers; and we affirm, that it is a much more difficult problem to solve, why Aristophanes should be singularly right in his representation of others, and singularly wrong in his representation of Socrates ; than it is to take the plain case, that the poet drew the philosopher, such as he knew him at the time to be, (which we think not improbable,) or such, as he judged him, from a very imperfect knowledge, to be, which we think more than probable. We go one step farther ; we are so far from blaming the poet for the course he pursued in consequence of this real or mistaken knowledge, that we think him entitled to the gratitude of posterity for the assumption and the execution of the task. We are all fond of the expression that Socrates brought down

philosophy philosophy from the clouds (and certainly till his time the clouds had been her principal residence) to live among men. If the poet found him on his journey for that purpose, he was not to know the nature of the philosopher's errand; and the wholesome reproof, that was dealt him on the occasion, (for our virtues and our vices, our merits and our demerits are often the children of circumstances,) had perhaps the power of directing his mind to better pursuits.

We feel that our remarks ought here to close, and that any further observations may perhaps have the effect of weakening our preceding arguments. But he, who has been lingering over the delightful pages of Xenophon and Plato, willingly deceives himself by supposing, that a few remarks on the personal history of the two great biographers of Socrates, the friend of Agesilaus and Cyrus, and the master of the Academy, may yet be allowed him, and that in perusing them, the relations between their great master and the comic poet-may be still further elucidated. Early in life, Xenophon had been thrown into those situations, which make a man think and act for himself; which teach him practically how much more important it is, that there should be fixed principles of right and wrong in the minds of men in general, than that there should be a kuowledge of letters or a feeling of their elegance in the minds of a few. The writer, who has thrown equal interest into the account of a retreating army, and the description of a scene of coursing; who has described with the same fidelity a common groom, and a perfect pattern of conjugal fidelity, such a man had seen life under aspects, which taught him to know that there were things of infinitely more importance than the turn of a phrase, the music of a cadence, and the other niceties, which are wanted by a luxurious and opulent metropolis.—He did not write, like his fellow-disciple, for the suppers and the symposiac meetings of Athens—he had no eye, like Plato, to the jokers by profession (YERWTOT0101), whose business it was to despatch books and authors between the courses, and to fill up those intervals, when guests look round to see who is guilty of the last pause in conversation-his Socrates was not to be exhibited, as we believe the real Socrates often exhibited himself, a sort of 'bon enfant,' a boon companion for the petits-maîtres of the Ilissus; who sought to win, by dropping even the decent gravity of a preceptor, and who endeavoured to reclaim by affecting a show of what in his heart he must have loathed and detested. Estranged from his own country at first by choice, and very soon afterwards by necessity, Xenophon became, almost before the age of manhood, a citizen of the world; and the virtuous feelings, which were necessary in a mind constituted as His was,


his delightfulch either finds ofy soon exchange arly active

beautiful an, where a bad at Scillus od or makes for thatq

let loose from the channels of mere patriotism, took into their comprehensive bosom the welfare of the world. Life, which had commenced with him in a manner singularly active and romantically perilous, was very soon exchanged for that quiet solitude, which either finds men good or makes them so. In his delightful retirement at Scillus,* amid those enchanting rural scenes, where a bad man finds himself an anomaly in the beautiful and harmonious works of nature around him, Xenophon had ample leisure to meditate on all that he had seen or heard. The - digito monstrarier,' that great stumbling-block of weak heads, and of those, who do not know how trifling the applause of the world is to him who appeals only to his own breast for the motives of his actions, could not here apply to Xenophon—to him the present time was as nothing; he lived only to the past and for the future. In such a situation, the lessons of morality received from Socrates would rise up in his mind-how much aided by early intimacy with Cyrus, and by the knowledge thereby acquired of the sentiments of chivalry and honour, inherent in monarchical governments, and how much improved by subsequent connection with the most virtuous state of Greece, and with Agesilaus, the most distinguished man in that state-his own beautiful writings sufficiently testify. His own high talents, aided by such experience and such connections, would teach him what to omit, and what to press in a work which was not intended for the wits and sçavants of Athens, but which was meant to be one of those eternal possessions, those xtuata és del, which great minds generate and perfect in solitude and retirement. It is the Ethics therefore of Socrates, that are chiefly unfolded in the admirable Memorabilia of Xenophon; and after admitting that many of the higher doctrines of antiquity are but negatives of the Christian precepts, he must be dead, we think, to the moral sense, who does not feel a burst of exultation within him, at seeing, how much even unassisted nature is able to produce. But the intellect, (and we are apt to think from the extraordinary mimetic powers of the narrator,) the manners of the real Socrates were left to be displayed by a man, to whom, when we say that Xenophon can bear no comparison in point of genius, we only ascribe to him an inferiority, which he shares in common with all mankind; the

* It is difficult to imagine a more rational or more delightful life, than a few words of Diogenes Laertius describe Xenophon as leading in that loop-hole of retreat:' TØYTEU SEV SIETENEI XUVNYETWY, Xa. T8F DIABF isWY, xat tas isoglas ouyypapar, lib. ii. seg. 52. Books,-study,-composition ;-lhe healthy sports of the field, and the enjoyments of social recreation,-nothing seems wanting to the picture, which our imaginations are accustomed to draw of an accomplished heathen philosopher.


Stageirite alone excepted, whose Entelecheia may perhaps be put on a par with the Eros, or inspiration of the great master of the academy. We leave him who has not yielded to the arguments brought forward by us for the justification of Aristophanes, to have his indignation neutralised by the Dialogues of Plato. Let him peruse these, and he will dismiss the Clouds of Aristophanes as the best-natured of men dismissed the Ay which had buzzed about him and annoyed him.

A grasp and a capacity of mind the most astonishing—a spirit inquisitive and scrutinising—a subtlety painfully acute-a comprehensiveness which could embrace with equal ease the smallest and most lofty knowledge-a suppleness which with almost incredible facility could descend from the deepest abstraction to the commonest topics of the world—a temper which in the heat of disputation could preserve the most perfect self-possession, and throw into disquisitions, which must have been the result of long study, solitude and profound meditation, all the graces of society and the qualifying embellishments of the most perfect good-breeding ;these are qualities which seem to have been inherent in the mind of Plato, and with these he has accordingly endowed the person whom he in general selected for the organ of conveying their joint sentiments to the world. In this union of opposite qualities, Plato may be said to resemble the Homeric chain of gold: if one end rested on earth, the other had its termination in heaven. A residence in courts (and the court of Dionysius seems to have been no ordinary one) adds to his attractions some of those charms which are so rarely found in republican writers: that tone of good society, which sifts without exhausting, and plays upon the surface as if to take breath from having sounded the bottom;—that correctness of observation which, acting rather as the annalist than the spy in society, gives to raillery itself the character of wit, and to scandal a half tone of biography;—that tact, rapid as light and unerring as instinct, which, charitable as it may be to unassuming and natural manners, seizes instantly upon pretension, and lays it bare with pitiless severity;—that delicate intuition, which in manners, in conversation, and in authorship watches with jealousy that nice point, where self-commendation beginning, the commendation of others is sure to cease : all this may be seen in Plato, and if less perfectly than in some modern writers, it was only because that sex, in whose society it is best learnt, had not yet been able to throw off the shackles of democratical tyranny, or to attain the accomplishments of a liberal education, without forfeiting what ought to be dearer to them than any accomplishments. At once a geometrician and a poet, the understanding


and the fancy find in Plato a purveyor equally bountiful: for the one he supplies solid food, and he captivates the other by the most beautiful fables and tales. To his treasures the east and the south equally contributed: he pours forth the one in all the pomp of oriental richness and profusion, with the lavish hand of youthful extravagance; and his intercourse with Egypt enables him to cast over his writings the iinposing reserve of that mysterious eld, who has surrounded the impotence of her old age with a solemn reverence, by affecting the possession of treasures, of which she mysteriously withholds the key. To Plato the present and the future seem alike; he has amassed in himself all the knowledge of the first; he paints the present to the life, and by some wonderful instinct, he has given dark hints, as if the most important events which were to happen after his time, had not been wholly hidden from his sight. Legs scientific in the arrangement of his materials than his great scholar the Stageirite, he has infinitely more variety, more spirit, more beauty; evincing at every step, that it was in his own choice to become the most profound of philosophers, the most pointed of satirists, the greatest of orators, or the most sublime of poets; or, by a skilful combination of all, to form such a character as the world had never yet seen, nor was ever after to witness. Nor is the language in which his thoughts are conveyed less remarkable than the thoughts themselves. In his more elevated passages, he rises, like his own * Prometheus, to heaven, and brings down from thence the noblest of all thefts-Wisdom with Fire: but in general, calm, pure, and unaffected, his style flows like a stream which gurgles its own music as it rụns; and his works rise like the great fabric of Grecian literature, of which they are the best model, in calm and noiseless majesty, like the palace of Aladdin rearing itself from an ethereal base, or like that temple, equally gorgeous and more real, in which

• No workman's steel, no pond'rous axes rung;
Like some tall palm the noiseless fabric sprung.'

Hcber's Palestine. •. That Socrates could have so commanded the spirits of two men so gifted as Xenophon and Plato, that they may be said to have devoted their lives to the delineation of his character and sentiments, is a proof of ascendancy which gives us the most astonishing opinion of his powers. It cannot however be sufficiently regretted that he did not take the task upon himself: the most interesting book, perhaps, that ever could have been written, would have been that which traced gradually and minutely the

* In Prot. p. 198. A.



« НазадПродовжити »