« НазадПродовжити »
that no Athenian, through my means, ever went into mourning.” In the midst of all his power and greatness, which amply supplied the means of public plunder, his hands were clean. He did all things for Athens, and nothing for himself; his paternal fortune was diminished rather than increased, at his death.
The greatest of the Greeks is still to be mentioned. All others were but little men as compared with Socrates
-whom our own Thomson thus correctly and beautifully describes :
“O’er all shone out the great ATHENIAN SAGE,
And Father of PHILOSOPHY : the sun,
Of all the heathen, in point of moral greatness, Socrates was incontrovertibly the most eminent. He was their head and chief. No man ever arose either in Greece or in Rome, that could for a moment stand before him. Alone in his glory, like the sun in the firmament, he swept his circuit through the region of thought, enriching all and borrowing from none. He was in every respect a grand original. He had no prototype. All Cicero's conditions of greatness were fulfilled in him. He was equally great in moral thought, and in moral action. Streams of light occasionally shot across his mind, which bore marks of being light from heaven. He appears to me to have been a link which connected inspired with uninspired men. Every thing about him was sui generis, unless it may without impiety be said, that in several important points there is a very remarkable analogy between him and the Saviour of the world.
The mode, as well as the matter of his instructions, was wholly his own. He did not keep a local school of wisdom for the tuition of regular classes; he instructed small and great at all times, and in all places. He was always ready to speak when men were ready to hear. Along with the most profound respect for authority, he entertained particular regard for the common people, whom he laboured to elevate ; and to this the tyrants referred, when they said, “We forbid you more especially to harangue a knot of artizans, and weary their ears with your definitions.” Although comparatively poor, he did not, like other philosophers, receive emoluments, but taught all who would listen to him, without money and without price, declaring that the highest reward he could enjoy, was to see mankind benefiting by his labours; he left behind him no writings; his chief disciples became the historians of his life and labours; and, to crown all, he submitted to die rather than flee his country, or renounce his principles !
It is now time to enlarge the field of inquiry and of comparison. Let us, therefore, glance at the collective genius of Greece and Rome, and investigate the moral greatness of their men of letters. This will tend both to instruct and to edify; for it will strikingly illustrate the awful truth that “the world by wisdom knew not God.”
In attempting this task, it will be convenient to divide both Greeks and Romans into two classes; the prose
writers and the poets. Among the chief Greek prose writers, I suppose you would enumerate the following: Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Polybius, Diodorus Siculus, Dionysius Halicarnassus, Arrian, Appian, Herodian, Lucian, Plutarch, and Demosthenes; and amongst the principal Roman prose writers these : C. Nepos, Cæsar, Sallust, Velleius Paterculus, Quintus Curtius, Petronius, Cicero, Livy, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Justin. Let us look at this cluster of celebrated men, and try them by the standard of Cicero; there is not one among them who is not fully entitled to a high place on the scale of intellect; but considerable difficulty stands in the way of an accurate estimate of their several claims, on the ground of moral greatness. Little is known concerning some of them, beyond what may be gathered from their works, which, in several instances, have been largely mutilated. This mutilation, however, is of less consequence in relation to my present object, in the case of prose writers than of poets; for the moral image of the former is in general far less distinctly reflected by their pages, than that of the latter.
Of the Greeks just mentioned there is not one, excepting Plutarch, entitled to any very high consideration on the ground of moral greatness. Plutarch, all things included, was a great, a very great man; but even his greatness was speculative rather than practical, intellectual rather than moral, as his writings were. He was nevertheless profoundly skilled in the knowledge of human nature ; and understood, as well as exemplified, the principles of moral greatness. . Of this his letter to Trajan affords a beautiful illustration. He thus lays down the rule of imperial duty: “Let your government commence in your own breast; and lay the foundation
of it in the command of your passions." What a lesson to teach the ruler of the world! Herodotus, with all his credulity, was a man of many virtues, but we can hardly call him great. Xenophon was the Addison of Greece ; but Addison was not great. Thucydides and Polybius were both men of vast intellectual power; yet they were both wanting in the leading elements of moral greatness. The rest were still more deficient. No exception can be made in behalf of Demosthenes. He excelled in no one moral quality. He was, in fact, neither patriot, philanthropist, nor philosopher. He was merely a speaker; a marvellous, a matchless orator.
Of the Roman writers above enumerated, we cannot speak more favourably than of the Greeks. C. Nepos and Sallust were both at best but elegant triflers, who have procured immortality on easy terms. Indeed, the whole of these authors together did not comprise half so much real moral greatness as Numa. Would it not, then, be preposterous to compare them with any genuine Christian philanthropist, and still more with a Christian missionary, and that missionary, John Williams ! They were all wanting — and all greatly, although not all equally wanting—in the first principles of moral greatness. Even Cicero, whose genius placed him at the head of the splendid assemblage, was extremely defective in every thing required by his own definition. He was vanity itself, and weak as woman! His moral, were utterly disproportionate to his mental, powers. Never, perhaps, did one of the human race exhibit so much genius, so many talents, such an amount of intellectual culture, and such a mass of literary acquirements, in combination with so much imbecility!
When we inquire into the moral and intellectual greatness of the ancients, we labour under several disadvantages. Multitudes of magnanimous spirits, of whom there is no record, have appeared in our world. The reason is obvious. The highest form of magnanimity is active benevolence, which has but seldom been allied to literary tastes and habits. Persons thus distinguished, therefore, have not often recorded their own actions ; and men of letters, whose province it was to confer immortality, having, for the most part, but little sympathy with the pursuits of the benevolent, have but too generally disregarded them. It is the most remarkable fact in the history of ancient literature, that even Socrates, the father of gentile philosophy, the patriarch of pagan magnanimity, left no writings behind him. We owe all our knowledge of him to his illustrious disciples, who have embalmed the memory of his actions, lessons, wrongs, and death. Speaking generally, the most magnanimous portion of the Greeks and Romans were not literary; and the most literary portions of the Greeks and Romans were not magnanimous. The result is, that a multitude of characters, more or less magnanimous, have been buried in oblivion. Genuine magnanimity has rarely found a faithful historian of its deeds and glory. Upon a large scale, however, it has seldom courted the historian's attention. War, all-devouring war, has been the staple of history! Withdraw from both the prose and the poetry of ancient times all that appertains to war, and what remains ? That peculiar cast of intellect which delights in study, and is necessary to high achievements in literature, has not often been combined with such measures of moral feeling, of active principle, and of constitutional vigour, as are necessary to great efficiency in benevolent exertion.. Polybius is