Memorial Chronology by Thomas De Quincey

Story type: Essay

I. The Main Subject Opened. What is Chronology, and how am I to teach it? The what is poorly appreciated, and chiefly through the defects of the how. Because it is so ill-taught, therefore in part it is that Chronology is so unattractive and degraded. Chronology is represented to be the handmaid of history. But unless the machinery for exhibiting this is judicious, the functions, by being obscured, absolutely lose all their value, flexibility, and attraction. Chronology is not meant only to enable us to refer each event to its own particular era–that may be but trivial knowledge, of little value and of slight significance in its application; but chronology has higher functions. It teaches not only when A happened, but also with what other events, B, C, or D, it was associated. It may be little to know that B happened 500 years before Christ, but it may be a most important fact that A and B happened concurrently with D, that both B and D were prepared by X, and that through their concurrent operation arose the ultimate possibility of Z. The mere coincidences or consecutions, mere accidents of simultaneity or succession, of precession or succession, maybe less than nothing. But the co-operation towards a common result, or the relation backwards to a common cause, may be so important as to make the entire difference between a story book, on the one hand, and a philosophic history, on the other, of man as a creature.

History is not an anarchy; man is not an accident. The very motions of the heavenly bodies for many a century were thought blind and without law. Now we have advanced so far into the light as to perceive the elaborate principles of their order, the original reason of their appearing, the stupendous equipoise of their attraction and repulsion, the divine artifice of their compensations, the original ground of their apparent disorder, the enormous system of their reactions, the almost infinite intricacy of their movements. In these very anomalies lies the principle of their order. A curve is long in showing its elements of fluxion; we must watch long in order to compute them; we must wait in order to know the law of their relations and the music of the deep mathematical principles which they obey. A piece of music, again, from the great hand of Mozart or Beethoven, which seems a mere anarchy to the dull, material mind, to the ear which is instructed by a deep sensibility reveals a law of controlling power, determining its movements, its actions and reactions, such as cannot be altogether hidden, even when as yet it is but dimly perceived.

So it is in history, though the area of its interest is yet wider, and the depths to which it reaches more profound; all its contradictory phenomena move under one embracing law, and all its contraries shall finally be solved in the clear perception of this law.

* * * * *

Reading and study ill-conducted run to waste, and all reading and study are ill-conducted which do not plant the result as well as the fact or date in the memory. With no form of knowledge is this more frequently the case than with history. Such is the ill-arranged way of telling all stories, and so perfectly without organization is the record of history, that of what is of little significance there is much, and of what is of deep and permanent signification there is little or nothing.

The first step in breaking ground upon this almost impracticable subject, is–to show the student a true map of the field in which his labours are to lie. Most people have a vague preconception, peopling the fancy with innumerable shadows, of some vast wilderness or Bilidulgerid of trackless time, over which are strewed the wrecks of events without order, and persons without limit. Omne ignotum, says Tacitus, pro magnifico; that is, everything which lies amongst the shades and darkness of the indefinite, and everything which is in the last degree confused, seems infinite. But the gloom of uncertainty seems far greater than it really is.

One short distribution and circumscription of historical ages will soon place matters in a more hopeful aspect. Fabulous history ceases, and authentic history commences, just three-quarters of a millennium before Jesus Christ; that is, just 750 years. Let us call this space of time, viz., the whole interval from the year 750 B.C. up to the Incarnation of Christ, the first chamber of history. I do not mean that precisely 750 years before our Saviour’s birth, fabulous and mythological history started like some guilty thing at the sound of a cock-crowing, and vanished as with the sound of harpies’ wings. It vanished as the natural darkness of night vanishes. A stealthy twilight first began to divide and give shape to the formless shadows: what previously had been one blank mass of darkness began to break into separate forms: outlines became perceptible, groups of figures started forward into relief; chaos began to shape and organize its gloomy masses. Next, and by degrees, came on the earliest dawn. This ripened imperceptibly into a rosy aurora that gave notice of some mightier power approaching. And at length, but not until the age of Cyrus, five centuries and a half before Christ, precisely one century later, the golden daylight of authentic history sprang above the horizon and was finally established. Since that time, whatever want of light we may have to lament is due to the loss of records, not to their original absence; due to the victorious destructions of time, not[1] to the error of the human mind confounding the provinces of Fable and of History.

Let the first chamber of history therefore be that which stretches from the year 750 B.C. to the era of His Incarnation. I say 750 for the present, because it would be quite idle, in dealing with intervals of time so vast, to take notice of any little excess or defect by which the actual period differed from the ideal; strictly speaking, the period of authentic history commences sixteen or seventeen years earlier. But for the present let us say in round numbers that this period commenced 750 years B.C. And let the first chamber of history be of that duration.

B. Next let us take an equal space after Christ. This will be the second chamber of history. Starting from the birth of our Saviour, it will terminate in the middle of the eighth century, or in the early years of Charlemagne. These surely are most remarkable eras.

C. Then passing for the present without explanation to the year 1100 for the first Crusade, let us there fix one foot of our ‘golden compasses,’ and with the other mark off an equal period of 750 years. This carries us up nearly to the reign of George III, of England. And this will be the third great chamber of history.

D. Fourthly, there will now remain a period just equal to one-half of such a chamber, viz.: 350 years between Charlemagne’s cradle and the first Crusade, the terminal era of the second chamber and the inaugural era of the third. This we will call the ante-chamber of No. 3.

Now, upon reviewing these chambers and antechambers, the first important remark for the student is, that the second chamber is nearly empty of all incidents. Take away the migrations and invasions of the several Northern nations who overran the Western Empire, broke it up, and laid the foundations of the great nations of Christendom–England, France, Spain–and take away the rise of Mahommedanism, and there would remain scarcely anything memorable.

From all this we draw the following inference: that memory is, in certain cases, connected with great effort, in others, with no effort at all. Of one class we may say, that the facts absolutely deposit themselves in the memory; they settle in our memories as a sediment or deposition from a liquor settles in a glass; of another we may say that the facts cannot maintain their place in the memory without continued exertion, and with something like violence to natural tendencies. Now, beyond all other facts, the facts of dates are the most severely of this latter class. Oftentimes the very actions or sufferings of a man, empire, army, are hard to be remembered because they are non-significant, non-characteristic: they belong by no more natural or intellectual right to that man, empire, army, than to any other man, empire, army. We remember, for instance, the simple diplomacy of Greece, when she summoned all States to the grand duty of exterminating the barbarian from her limits, and throwing back the tides of barbarism within its natural limits; for this appealed to what was noblest in human nature. We forget the elaborate intrigues which preceded the Peloponnesian war, for these appealed only to vulgar and ordinary motives of self-aggrandisement. We remember the trumpet voice which summoned Christendom to deliver Christ’s sepulchre from Pagan insults, for that was the great romance of religious sentiment. But we forget the treaties by which this or that Crusading king delivered his army from Mahometan victors, because these proceeded on the common principles of fear and self-interest; principles having no peculiar relation to those from which the Crusades had arisen.

Now, if even actions themselves are easily dropped from the memory, because they stand in no logical relation to the central interest concerned, how much more and how universally must dates be liable to oblivion–dates which really have no more discoverable connection with any name of man or place or event, than the letters or syllables of that name have with the great cause or principles with which it may happen to have been associated. Why should Themistocles or Aristides have flourished 500 B.C., rather than 250, 120, or any other number of years? No conceivable relation–hardly so much as any fanciful relation–can be established between the man and his era. And in this one (to all appearance insuperable) difficulty, in this absolute defect of all connection between the two objects that are to be linked together in the memory, lies the startling task of Chronology. Chronology is required to chain together–and so that one shall inevitably recall the other–a name and an era which with regard to each other are like two clouds, aerial, insulated, mutually repulsive, and throwing out no points for grappling or locking on, neither offering any natural indications of interconnection, nor apparently by art, contrivance,[2] or fiction, susceptible of any.

II. Jewish as compared with other records.–Let us open our review with the annals of Judea; and for two reasons: first, because in the order of time it was the inaugural chapter, so that the order of our rehearsal does but conform to the order of the facts; secondly, because on another principle of arrangement, viz., its relation to the capital interests of human nature, it stands first in another sense by a degree which cannot be measured.

These are two advantages, in comparison with all other history whatever, which have crowned the Jewish History with mysterious glory, and of these the pupil should be warned in her introductory lesson. The first is: that the Jewish annals open by one whole millennium before all other human records. Full a thousand years had the chronicles of the Hebrew nation been in motion and unfolding that sublime story, fitter for the lyre and the tumultuous organ, than for unimpassioned recitation, before the earliest whispers of the historic muse began to stir in any other land. Amongst Pagan nations, Greece was the very foremost to attempt that almost impracticable object under an imperfect civilization–the art of fixing in forms not perishable, and of transmitting to distant generations, her social revolutions.[3] She wanted paper through her earlier periods, she wanted typographic art, she wanted, above all, other resources for such a purpose–the art of reading as a national accomplishment. How could people record freely and fervently, with Hebrew rapture, those events which must be painfully chiselled out in marble, or expensively ploughed and furrowed into brazen tablets? What freedom to the motions of human passion, where an extra word or two of description must be purchased by a day’s labour? But, above all, what motive could exist for the accumulation or the adequate diffusion of records, howsoever inscribed, on slabs of marble or of bronze, on leather, or plates of wood, whilst as yet no general machinery of education had popularized the art of reading? Until the age of Pericles each separate Grecian city could hardly have furnished three citizens on an average able to read. Amongst a people so illiterate, how could manuscripts or manusculpts excite the interest which is necessary to their conservation? Of what value would a shipload of harps prove to a people unacquainted with the science or the practical art of music? Too much or too little interest alike defeat this primary purpose of the record. Records must be self-conservative before they can be applied to the conservation of events. Amongst ourselves the black-letter records of English heroes by Grafton and Hollinshed, of English voyagers by Hakluyt, of English martyrs by Fox, perished in a very unusual proportion by excessive use through successive generations of readers: but amongst the Greeks they would have perished by neglect. The too much of the English usage and the too little of the Grecian would have tended to the same result. Books and the art of reading must ever be powerful re-agents–each upon the other: until books were multiplied, there could be no general accomplishment of reading. Until the accomplishment was taken up into the system of education, books insculptured by painful elaboration upon costly substances must be too much regarded as jewellery to obtain a domestic value for the mass.

The problem, therefore, was a hard one for Greece–to devise any art, power or machinery for fixing and propagating the great memorials of things and persons. Each generation as it succeeded would more and more furnish subjects for the recording pen of History, yet each in turn was compelled to see them slipping away like pearls from a fractured necklace. It seems easy, but in practice it must be nearly impossible, to take aim, as it were, at a remote generation–to send a sealed letter down to a posterity two centuries removed–or by any human resources, under the Grecian conditions of the case, to have a chance of clearing that vast bridgeless gulf which separates the present from the far-off ages of perfect civilization. Maddening it must have been to know by their own experience, derived from the far-off past, that no monuments had much chance of duration, except precisely those small ones of medals and sculptured gems, which, if durable by metallic substance and interesting by intrinsic value, were in the same degree more liable to loss by shipwreck, fire, or other accidents applying to portable things, but above all furnished no field for more than an intense abstractiveness. The Iliad arose, as we shall say, a thousand years before Christ, consequently it bisected precisely the Hebrew history which arose two thousand years before the same era. Now the Iliad was the very first historic record of the Greeks, and it was followed at intervals by many other such sections of history, in the shape of Nostoi, poems on the homeward adventures of the Greek heroes returning from Troy, or of Cyclical Poems taking a more comprehensive range of action from the same times, filling up the interspace of 555 years between this memorable record of the one great Pagan Crusade[4] at the one limit, and the first Greek prose history–that of Herodotus–at the lower limit. Even through a space of 555 years subsequent to the Iliad, which has the triple honour of being the earliest Greek book, the earliest Greek poem, the earliest Greek history, we see the Grecian annals but imperfectly sustained; legends treated with a legendary variety; romances embroidered with romantic embellishments; poems, which, if Greek narrative poetry allowed of but little fiction and sternly rejected all pure invention, yet originally rested upon semi-fabulous and mythological marvels, and were thus far poetic in the basis, that when they durst not invent they could still garble by poetical selection where they chose; and thus far lying–that if they were compelled to conform themselves to the popular traditions which must naturally rest upon a pedestal of fact, it was fact as seen through an atmosphere of superstition, and imperceptibly modified by priestly arts.

The sum, therefore, of our review is, that one thousand [1,000] years B.C. did the earliest Grecian record appear, being also the earliest Greek poem, and this poem being the earliest Greek book; secondly, that for the five-hundred-and-fifty-five [555] years subsequent to the earliest record, did the same legendary form of historic composition continue to subsist. On the other hand, as a striking antithesis to this Grecian condition of history, we find amongst the Hebrews a circumstantial deduction of their annals from the very nativity of their nation–that is, from the birth of the Patriarch Isaac, or, more strictly, of his son the Patriarch Jacob–down to the captivity of the two tribes, their restoration by Cyrus, and the dedication of the Second Temple. This Second Temple brings us abreast of Herodotus, the first Greek historian. Fable with the Greeks is not yet distinguished from fact, but a sense of the distinction is becoming clearer.

The privileged use of the word Crusade, which we have ventured to make with reference to the first great outburst of Greek enthusiasm, suggests a grand distinction, which may not unreasonably claim some illustration, so deep does it reach in exhibiting the contrast between the character of the early annals of the Hebrews and those of every other early nation.

Galilee and Joppa, and Nazareth, Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives–what a host of phantoms, what a resurrection from the graves of twelve and thirteen centuries for the least reflecting of the army, had his mission connected him no further with these objects than as a traveller passing amongst them. But when the nature of his service was considered, the purposes with which he allied himself, and the vindicating which he supported, many times as a volunteer–the dullest natures must have been penetrated, the lowest exalted.[5]

To this grand passion of religious enthusiasm stands opposed, according to the general persuasion, the passion, equally exalted, or equally open to exaltation, of love. ‘So the whole ear of Denmark is abused.’ Love, chivalrous love, love in its noblest forms, was a passion unknown to the Greeks; as we may well suppose in a country where woman was not honoured, not esteemed, not treated with the confidence which is the basis of all female dignity. However, this subject I shall leave untouched: simply reminding the reader that even conceding for a moment so monstrous an impossibility as that pure chivalrous love, as it exists under Christian institutions, could have had an existence in the Greece of 1000 B.C.; the more elevated, the more tender it was, the less fitted it could be for the coarse air of a camp. The holy sepulchre would command reverence, and the expression of reverence, from the lowest sutler of the camp; but we may easily imagine what coarse jests would eternally surround the name of Helen amongst the Greek soldiery, and everything connected with the cause which drew them into the field.

Yet even this coarse travesty of a noble passion was a higher motive than the Greeks really obeyed in the war with Troy. England, it has been sometimes said, went to war with Spain, during George II.’s reign, on account of Capt. Jenkins’s ears, which a brutal Spanish officer, in the cowardly abuse of his power, had nailed to the mast. And if she did, the cause was a noble one, however unsuitably expounded by its outward heraldry. There the cause was noble, though the outward sign was below its dignity. But in the Iliad, if we may give that name to the total expedition against Troy and the Troad, the relations were precisely inverted. Its outward sign, its ostensible purpose, was noble: for it was woman. But the real and sincere motive which collected fifty thousand Grecians under one common banner, was (I am well assured upon meditation) money–money, and money’s worth. No less motive in that age was adequate to the effect. Helen was, assuredly, no such prize considering her damaged reputation and other circumstances. Revenge might intermingle in a very small proportion with the general principle of the war; as to the oath and its obligation, which is supposed to have bound over the princes of Greece: that I suppose to be mere cant; for how many princes were present in the field that never could have been suitors to Helen, nor parties to the oath? Do we suppose old Nestor to have been one? A young gentleman ‘rising’ 99, as the horse-jockeys say; or by some reckonings, 113! No, plunder was the object.

The truth was this–the plain historic truth for any man not wilfully blind–Greece was miserably poor; that we know by what we find five centuries after, when she must, like other people who find little else to do, have somewhat bettered her condition. Troy and the Troad were redundantly rich; it was their great crime to be so. Already the western coast of Asia Minor was probably studded with Greek colonies, standing in close connection with the great capitals on the Euphrates or the Tigris, and sharing in the luxurious wealth of the great capitals on the Euphrates or the Tigris. Mitford most justly explained the secret history of Caesar’s expedition to England out of his wish to find a new slave country.[6] And after all the romantic views of the Grecian expedition to the Troad, I am satisfied we should look for its true solution in the Greek poverty and the wealth–both locally concentrated and portable–of the Trojans. Land or cities were things too much diffused: and even the son of Peleus or of Telamon could not put them into his pocket. But golden tripods, purple hangings or robes, fine horses, and beautiful female slaves could be found over the Hellespont. Helen, the materia litis, the subject of quarrel on its earliest pretence, could not be much improved by a ten years’ blockade. But thousands of more youthful Helens were doubtless carried back to Greece. And in this prospect of booty most assuredly lay the unromantic motive of the sole romantic expedition amongst the Greeks.

III. Oriental History.–We here set aside the earlier tangle of legend and fact which is called Oriental History, and for these reasons: (1) instead of promoting the solution of chronological problems, Oriental history is itself the most perplexing of those problems; (2) the perpetual straining after a high fabulous antiquity amongst the nations of the east, vitiates all the records; (3) the vast empires into which the plains of Asia moulded the eastern nations, allowed of no such rivalship as could serve to check their legends by collateral statements; and (4) were all this otherwise, still the great permanent schism of religion and manners has so effectually barred all coalition between Europe and Asia, from the oldest times, that of necessity their histories have flowed apart with little more reciprocal reference or relationship, than exists between the Rhine and the Danube–rivers, which almost meeting in their sources, ever after are continually widening their distance until they fall into different seas two thousand miles apart. Asia never, at any time, much acted upon Europe; and when later ages had forced them into artificial connections, it was always Europe that acted upon Asia; never Asia, upon any commensurate scale, that acted upon Europe.[7]

Not, therefore, in Asia can the first footsteps of chronology be sought; not in Africa, because, first, the records of Egypt, so far as any have survived, are intensely Asiatic; liable to the same charge of hieroglyphic ambiguity combined with the exaggerations of outrageous nationality; because, secondly, the separate records of the adjacent State of Cyrene have perished; because, thirdly, the separate records of the next State, Carthage, have perished; because, fourthly, the learned labours of Mauritania[8] have also perished.

Thus the pupil is satisfied that of mere necessity the chronologer must resort to Europe for his earliest monuments and his earliest authentications–for the facts to be attested, and for the evidences which are to attest them. But if to Europe, next, to what part of Europe? Two great nations–great in a different sense, the one by dazzling brilliancy of intellect, the other by weight and dignity of moral grandeur–divide between them the honours of history through the centuries immediately preceding the birth of Christ. To which of these, the pupil asks, am I to address myself? On the one hand, the greater refinement and earlier civilization of Greece would naturally converge all eyes upon her; but then, on the other hand, we cannot forget the ‘levitas levissimae gentis‘–the want of stability, the want of all that we call moral dignity, and by direct consequence, the puerile credulity of that clever, sparkling, but very foolish people, the Greeks. That quality which, beyond all others, the Romans imputed to the Grecian character; that quality which, in the very blaze of admiration, challenged by the Grecian intellect, still overhung with deep shadows their rational pretensions and degraded them to a Roman eye, was the essential levitas–the defect of any principle that could have given steadiness and gravity–which constituted the original sin of the Greek character. By levitas was meant the passive obedience to casual, random, or contradictory impulses, the absence of all determining principle. Now this levitas was the precise anti-pole of the Roman character; which was as massy, self-supported, and filled with resistance to chance impulses, as the Greek character was windy, vain, and servile to such impulses. Both nations, it is true, were superstitious, because all nations, in those ages were intensely superstitious; and each, after a fashion of its own, intensely credulous. But the Roman superstition was coloured by something of a noble pride; the Grecian by vanity. The Greek superstition was fickle and self-contradicting, and liable to sudden changes; the Roman, together with the gloom, had the unity and the perseverance of bigotry. No Christian, even, purified and enlightened by his sublime faith, could more utterly despise the base crawling adorations of Egypt, than did the Roman polytheist, out of mere dignity of mind, while to the frivolous Athenian they were simply objects of curiosity. In the Greek it was a vulgar sentiment of clannish vanity.[9] Even the national self-consequence of a Roman and a Greek were sentiments of different origin, and almost opposite quality; in the Roman it was a sublime and imaginative idea of Rome, of her self-desired grandeur, and, above all, of her divine destiny, over which last idea brooded a cloud of indefinite expectation, not so entirely unlike the exalting expectations of the Jews, looking for ever to some unknown ‘Elias’ that should come.

Thus perplexed by the very different claims upon his respect in these two exclusive authorities of the ancient world–carried to the Roman by his moral feelings, to the Grecian by his intellectual–the student is suddenly delivered from his doubts by the discovery that these two principal streams of history flow absolutely apart through the elder centuries of historical light.

IV. 777 and its Three Great Landmarks.–In this perplexity, we say, the youthful pupil is suddenly delighted to hear that there is no call upon her to choose between Grecian and Roman guides. Fortunately, and as if expressly to save her from any of those fierce disputes which have risen up between the true Scriptural chronology and the chronology of the mendacious Septuagint, it is laid down that the Greek and Roman history, soon after both had formally commenced, flowed apart for centuries; nor did they so much as hear of each other (unless as we moderns heard of Prester John in Abyssinia, or of the Great Mogul in India), until the Greek colonies in Calabria, etc., began to have a personal meaning for a Roman ear, or until Sicily (as the common field for Greek, Roman, and Carthaginian) began to have a dangerous meaning for all three. As to the Romans, the very grandeur of their self-reliance and the sublime faith which they had in the destinies[10] of Rome, inclined them to carelessness about all but their nearest neighbours, and sustained for ages their illiterate propensities. Illiterate they were, because incurious; and incurious because too haughtily self-confident. The Greeks, on the other hand, amongst the other infirmities attached to their national levity, had curiosity in abundance. But it flowed in other channels. There was nothing to direct their curiosity upon the Romans. Generally speaking, there is good reason for thinking that as, at this day, the privilege of a man to present himself at any court of Christendom is recognised upon his producing a ticket signed by a Lord Chamberlain of some other court, to the effect that ‘the Bearer is known at St. James’s,’ or ‘known at the Tuileries,’ etc.; so, after the final establishment of the Olympic games, the Greeks looked upon a man’s appearance at that great national congress as the criterion and ratification of his being a known or knowable person. Unknown, unannounced personally or by proxy at the great periodic Congress of Greece, even a prince was a homo ignorabilis; one whose existence nobody was bound to take notice of. A Persian, indeed, was allowably absent; because, as a permanent public enemy, he could not safely be present. But as to all others, and therefore as to Romans, the rule of law held–that ‘to those not coming forward and those not in existence, the same line of argument applies.’ [De non apparentibus et de non existentibus eadem est ratio.]

Had this been otherwise–had the two nations met freely before the light of history had strengthened into broad daylight–it is certain that the controversies upon chronology would have been far more and more intricate than they are. This profound[11] separation, therefore, has been beneficial to the student in one direction. But in another it has increased his duties; or, if not increased, at all events it serves to remind him of a separate chapter in his chronological researches. Had Rome stood in as close a relation to Greece as Persia did, one single chronology would have sufficed for both. Hardly one event in Persian history has survived for our memory, which is not taken up by the looms of Greece and interwoven with the general arras and texture of Grecian history. And from the era of the Consul Paulus Emilius, something of the same sort takes place between Greece and Rome; and in a partial sense the same result is renewed as often as the successive assaults occur of the Roman-destroying power applied to the several members of the Graeco-Macedonian Empire. But these did not commence until Rome had existed for half-a-thousand years. And through all that long period, two-thirds of the entire Roman history up to the Christian era, the two Chronologies flow absolutely apart.

Consequently, because all chronology is thrown back upon Europe, and because the pre-Christian Europe is split into two collateral bodies, and because each of these separate bodies must have a separate head–it follows that chronology, as a pre-Christian chronology, will, like the Imperial eagle, be two-headed. Now this accident of chronology, on a first glance, seems but too likely to confuse and perplex the young student.

How fortunate, then, it must be thought, and what a duty it imposes upon the teacher, not to defeat this bounty of accident by false and pedantic rigour of calculation, that these two heads of the eagle–that head which looks westward for Roman Chronology, that which looks eastward for Grecian Chronology–do absolutely coincide as to their nativity. The birthday of Grecian authentic history everybody agrees to look upon as fixed to the establishment [the final establishment] of the Olympic games. And when was that? Generally, chronologers have placed this event just 776 years before Christ. Now will any teacher be so ‘peevish’ [as hostess Quickly calls it]–so perversely unaccommodating–as not to lend herself to the very trivial alteration of one year, just putting the clock back to 7 instead of 6, even if the absolute certainty of the 6 were made out? But if she will break with her chronologer, ‘her guide, philosopher and friend,’ upon so slight a consideration as one year in three-quarters of a millennium, it then becomes my duty to tell her that there is no such certainty in the contested number as she chooses to suppose. Even the era of our Saviour’s birth oscillates through an entire Olympiad, or period of four years; to that extent it is unsettled: and in fifty other ways I could easily make out a title to a much more considerable change. In reality, when the object is–not to secure an attorney-like[12] accuracy–but to promote the liberal pursuit of chronology, a teacher of good sense would at once direct her pupil to record the date in round terms as just reaching the three-quarters of a thousand years; she would freely sacrifice the entire twenty-six years’ difference between 776 and 750, were it not that the same purpose, viz., the purpose of consulting the powers or convenience and capacity of the memory, in neglect and defiance of useless and superstitious arithmetic punctilios, may be much better attained by a more trifling sacrifice. Three-quarters of a millennium, that is three parts in four of a thousand years, is a period easily remembered; but a triple repetition of the number 7, simply saying ‘Seven seven seven‘ is remembered even more easily.[13]

Suppose this point then settled, for anything would be remarkable and highly rememberable which comes near to a common familiar fraction of so vast a period in human affairs as a millennium [a term consecrated to our Christian ears, (1) by its use in the Apocalypse; (2) by its symbolic use in representing the long Sabbath of rest from sin and misery, and finally (3) even to the profane ear by the fact of its being the largest period which we employ in our historical estimates]. But a triple iteration of the number 7, simply saying ‘Seven seven seven,’ would be even more rememberable. And, lastly, were it still necessary to add anything by way of reconciling the teacher to the supposed inaccuracy (though, if a real[14] and demonstrated inaccuracy, yet, be it remembered, the very least which can occur, viz., an error of a single unit), I will–and once for all, as applying to many similar cases, as often as they present themselves–put this stringent question to every woman of good sense: is it not better, is it not more agreeable to your views for the service of your pupils, that they should find offered to their acceptance some close approximation to the truth which they can very easily remember, than an absolute conformity to the very letter of the truth which no human memory, though it were the memory of Mithridates, could retain? Good sense is shown, above all things, in seeking the practicable which is within our power, by preference to a more exquisite ideal which is unattainable. Not, I grant, in moral or religious things. Then I willingly allow, we are forbidden to sit down contented with imperfect attempts, or to make deliberate compromises with the slightest known evil in principle. To this doctrine I heartily subscribe. But surely in matters not moral, in questions of erudition or of antiquarian speculation, or of historical research, we are under a different rule. Here, and in similar cases, it is our business, I conceive with Solon legislating for the Athenians, to contemplate, not what is best in an abstract sense, but what is best under the circumstances of the case. Now the most important circumstances of this case are–that the memory of young ladies must be assumed as a faculty of average power, both as to its apprehensiveness and as to its tenacity; its power of mastering for the moment, and its power of retaining faithfully; that this faculty will not endure the oppression of mere blank facts having no organization or life of logical relation running through them; that by ‘not enduring’ I mean that it cannot support this harassing and persecution with impunity[15]; that the fine edge of the higher intellectual powers will be taken off by this laborious straining, which is not only dull, but the cause of dulness; that finally, the memory, supposing it in a given and rare case powerful enough to contend successfully with such tasks, must even as regards this time required, hold itself disposable for many other applications; and therefore, as the inference from the whole, that not any slight or hasty, but a most intense and determinate effort should be made to substitute some technical artifices for blank pulls against a dead weight of facts, to substitute fictions, or artificial imitations of logical arrangement, wherever that is possible, for blind arrangements of chance; and finally, in a process which requires every assistance from compromise and accommodation constantly to surrender the rigour of superstitious accuracy, (which, after all its magnificent pretensions, must fail in the performance), to humbler probability of a reasonable success.

I have dwelt upon this point longer than would else have been right, because in effect here lies the sole practical obstacle to the realization of a very beautiful framework of chronology, and because I consider myself as now speaking once for all. Let us now move forward. I now go on to the other head of the eagle–the head which looks westward.

Here it will be objected that the Foundation of Rome is usually laid down in the year 753 B.C.; and therefore that it differs from the foundation of the Olympiads by as much as 23 or 24 years; and can I have the conscience to ask my fair friends that they should put the clock back so far as that? Why, really there is no knowing; perhaps if I were hard pressed by some chronological enemy, I might ask as great a favour even as that. But at present it is not requisite; neither do I mean to play any jugglers’ tricks, as perhaps lawfully I might, with the different computations of Varro, of the Capitoline Marbles, etc. All that need be said in this place is simply–that Rome is not Romulus. And let Rome have been founded when she pleases, and let her secret name have been what it might–though really, in default of a better, Rome itself is as decent and ‘sponsible a name as a man would wish–still I presume that Romulus must have been a little older than Rome, the builder a little anterior to what he built. Varro and the Capitoline Tables and Mr. Hook will all agree to that postulate. And whatever some of them may say as to the youth of Romulus, when he first began to wield the trowel, at least, I suppose, he was come to years of discretion; and, if we say twenty-three or twenty-four, which I am as much entitled to say as they to deny it, then we are all right. ‘All right behind,’ as the mail guards say, ‘drive on.’ And so I feel entitled to lay my hand upon my heart and assure my fair pupils that Romulus himself and the Olympiads did absolutely start together; and for anything known to the contrary, perhaps in the same identical moment or bisection of a moment. Possibly his first little wolfish howl (for it would be monstrous to think that he or even Remus condescended to a vagitus or cry such as a young tailor or rat-catcher might emit) may have symphonized with the ear-shattering trumpet that proclaimed the inauguration of the first Olympic contest, or which blew to the four winds the appellation of the first Olympic victor.

That point, therefore, is settled, and so far, at least, ‘all’s right behind.’ And it is a great relief to my mind that so much is accomplished. Two great arrow-headed nails at least are driven ‘home’ to the great dome of Chronology from which my whole golden chain of historical dependencies is to swing. And even that will suffice. Careful navigators, indeed, like to ride by three anchors; but I am content with what I have achieved, even if my next attempt should be less satisfactory.

It is certainly a very striking fact to the imagination that great revolutions seldom come as solitary cases. It never rains but it pours. At times there is some dark sympathy, which runs underground, connecting remote events like a ground-swell in the ocean, or like the long careering[16] of an earthquake before it makes its explosion. Abyssus abyssum invocat–‘One deep calleth to another.’ And in some incomprehensible way, powers not having the slightest apparent interconnexion, no links through which any casual influence could rationally be transmitted, do, nevertheless, in fact, betray either a blind nexus–an undiscoverable web of dependency upon each other, or else a dependency upon some common cause equally undiscoverable. What possible, what remote connexion could the dissolution of the Assyrian empire have with the Olympiads or with the building of Rome? Certainly none at all that we can see; and yet these great events so nearly synchronize that even the latest of them seems but a more distant undulation of the same vast swell in the ocean, running along from west to east, from the Tiber to the Tigris. Some great ferment of revolution was then abroad. The overthrew of Nineveh as the capital of the Assyrian empire, the ruin of the dynasty ending in Sardanapalus, and the subsequent dismemberment of the Assyrian empire, took place, according to most chronologers, 747 years B.C., just 30 years, therefore, after the two great events which I have assigned to 777. These two events are in the strictest and most capital sense the inaugural events of history, the very pillars of Hercules which indicate a ne plus ultra in that direction; namely, that all beyond is no longer history but romance. I am exceedingly anxious to bring this Assyrian revolution also to the same great frontier line of columns. In a gross general way it might certainly be argued that in such a great period, thirty years, or one generation, can be viewed as nothing more than a trifling quantity. But it must also be considered that the exact time, and even the exact personality,[17] of Sardanapalus in all his relations are not known. All are vast phantoms in the Assyrian empire; I do not say fictions, but undefined, unmeasured, immeasurable realities; far gone down into the mighty gulf of shadows, and for us irrecoverable. All that is known about the Assyrian empire is its termination under Sardanapalus. It was then coming within Grecian twilight; and it will be best to say that, generally speaking, Sardanapalus coincided with Romulus and the Greek Olympiad. To affect any nearer accuracy than this would be the grossest reliance on the mere jingle of syllables. History would be made to rest on something less than a pun; for such as Palus and Pul, which is all that learned archbishops can plead as their vouchers in the matter of Assyria, there is not so much as the argument of a child or the wit of a punster.

Upon the whole, the teacher will make the following remarks to her pupils, after having read what precedes; remarks partly upon the new mode of delivering chronology, and partly upon the things delivered:

I. She will notice it–as some improvement–that the three great leading events, which compose the opening of history not fabulous, are here, for the first time, placed under the eye in their true relations of time, viz., as about contemporary. For without again touching on the question–do they, or do they not, vary from each other in point of time by twenty-three and by thirty years–it will be admitted by everybody that, at any rate, the three events stand equally upon the frontier line of authentic history. A frontier or debateable land is always of some breadth. They form its inauguration. And they would do so even if divided by a much wider interval. Now, it is very possible to know of A, B, and C, separately, that each happened in such a year, say 1800; and yet never to have noticed them consciously as contemporary. We read of many a man (L, M, N, suppose), that he was born in 1564, or that he died in 1616. And we may happen separately to know that these were the years in which Shakespeare was born and died. Yet, for all that, we may never happen consciously to notice with respect to any one of the men, L, M, N, that he was a contemporary of Shakespeare’s. Now, this was the case with regard to the three great events, Greek, Roman, and Assyrian. No chronologer failed to observe of each in its separate place that it occurred somewhere about 750 years B.C. But every chronologer had failed to notice this coincident time of each as coincident. And, accordingly, all failed to converge these three events into one focus as the solemn and formal opening of history. It is good to have a beginning, a starting post, from which to date all possible historical events that are worthy to be regarded as such. But it is better still to find that by the rarest of accidents, by a good luck that could never have been looked for, the three separate starting posts–which historical truth obliges us to assume for the three great fields of history, Roman, Grecian, and Asiatic[18]–all closely coincide in point of time; or, to use the Greek technical term, all closely synchronize.

II. With respect to Greece and the Olympiad in particular, she will inform her pupil that the Olympic games, celebrated near the town of Olympia, recurred every fifth year; that is to say, there was a clear interval of four years between each revolution of the games. Each Olympiad, therefore, containing four years, it is usual in citing the particular Olympiad in which an event happened, to cite also the year, should that be known, or, being known, should that be of importance. Thus Olymp. CX. 3 would mean that such a thing, say X, occurred in the third year of the 110th Olympiad; that is, four times 110 will be 440; and this, deducted from 777 (the era of the Olympiads), leaves 337 years B.C. as the era when X occurred. Only that, upon reviewing the case, we find that the 110th Olympiad was not absolutely completed, not by one year; which, subtracted from the 337, leaves 336 B.C. as the true date. If her pupil should say, ‘But were there no great events in Greece before the Olympiads?’ the teacher will answer, ‘Yes, a few, but not many of a rank sufficient to be called Grecian.’ They are merely local events; events of Thessaly, suppose; events of Argos; but much too obscure, both as to the facts, as to the meaning of the facts, and as to the dates, to be worth any student’s serious attention. There were, however, three events worthy to be called Grecian; partly because they interested more States than one of Greece; and partly because they have since occupied the Athenian stage, and received a sort of consecration from the great masters of Grecian tragedy. These three events were the fatal story of the house of Oedipus; a story stretching through three generations; and in which the war against the Seven Gates of Thebes was but an episode. Secondly, the Argonautic expedition (voyage of the ship Argo, and of the sailors in that ship, i.e., the Argonauts), which is consecrated as the first voyage of any extent undertaken by Greeks. Both these events are as full of heroic marvels, and of supernatural marvels, as the legends of King Arthur, Merlin, and the Fairy Morgana. Later than these absolute romances comes the semi-romance of the Iliad, or expedition against Troy. This, the most famous of all Pagan romances, we know by two separate criteria to be later in date than either of the two others; first, because the actors in the Iliad are the descendants of those who figured as actors in the others; secondly, from the subdued tone of the romantic[19] which prevails throughout the Iliad. Now, with respect to these three events in Grecian history, anterior to the Olympiads, which are all that a young student ought to notice, it is sufficient if generally she is made aware of the order in which they stand to each other, or, at least, that the Iliad comes last in the series, and if as to this last and greatest of the series, she fixes its era precisely to one thousand years before Christ. Chronologers, indeed, sometimes bring it down to something lower. But one millennium, the clear unembarrassed cyphers of 1,000, whether in counting guineas or years, is a far simpler and a far more rememberable era than any qualifications of this round number; which qualifications, let it not for a moment be forgotten, are not at all better warranted than the simpler expression. One only amongst all chronologers has anything to stand upon that is not as unsubstantial as a cloud; and this is Sir Isaac Newton. And the way in which he proceeded it may be well to explain, in order that the young pupil may see what sort of evidences we have prior to the Olympiads for any chronological fact. Sir Isaac endeavoured by calculating backwards to ascertain the exact time of some celestial phenomenon–as, suppose, an eclipse of the sun, or such and such positions of the heavenly bodies with regard to each other. This phenomenon, whatever it were, call X. Then if (upon looking into the Argonautic Expedition or any other romance of those elder times) he finds X actually noticed as co-existing with any part of the adventures, in that case he has fixed by absolute observation, as it were, what we may call the latitude and longitude of that one historical event; and then using this, as we use our modern meridian of Greenwich, as a point of starting, he can deduce the distances of all subsequent events by tracing them through the sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons of the several actors concerned. The great question which will then remain to be settled is, how many years to allow for a generation; and, secondly, in monarchies, how much to allow for a reign, since often two successive reigns will not be two successive generations, because whilst the two reigns are distinct quantities, the two lives are coincident through a great part of their duration. Now, of course, Sir Isaac is very often open to serious criticism, or to overpowering doubts. That is inevitable. But on the whole he treads upon something like a firm footing. Others, as regards that era, tread upon mere clouds, and their authority goes for nothing at all.

Such being the state of the case, let the pupil never trouble her memory for one moment with so idle an effort as that of minutely fixing or retaining dates that, after all, are more doubtful, and for us irrecoverable, than the path of some obscure trading ship in some past generation through the Atlantic Ocean. Generally, it will be quite near enough to the truth if she places upon the meridian of 1000 years B.C. the three Romances–Argonautic, Theban, Trojan; and she will then have the satisfaction of finding that, as at the opening of authentic history, she found the Roman, the Greek, and the Asiatic inaugural events coinciding in the same exact focus, so in these semi-fabulous or ante-Olympian events, she finds that one and the same effort of memory serves to register them, and also the most splendid of the Jewish eras–that of David and Solomon. The round sum of 1000 years B.C., so easily remembered, without distinction, without modification, ‘sans phrase‘ (to quote a brutal regicide), serves alike for the Seven-gated Thebes,[20] for Troy, and for Jerusalem in its most palmy days.

V. A Perplexity Cleared Up.–Before passing onward here, it is highly important to notice a sort of episode in history, which fills up the interval between 777 and 555, but which is constantly confounded and perplexed with what took place before 777.

The word Assyria is that by which the perplexity is maintained. The Assyrian empire, as the pupil is told, was destroyed in the person of Sardanapalus. Yet, in her Bible, she reads of Sennacherib, King of Assyria. ‘Was Sennacherib, then, before Sardanapalus?’ she will ask; and her teacher will inform her that he was not.

Such things puzzle her. They seem palpable contradictions. But now let her understand that out of the Assyrian empire split off three separate kingdoms, of which one was called the Assyrian, not empire, but kingdom; there lurks the secret of the error. And to this kingdom of Assyria it was that Sennacherib belonged. Or, in order to represent by a sensible image this derivation of kingdoms from the stock of the old superannuated Assyrian empire (to which belonged Nimrod, Ninus, and Semiramis–those mighty phantoms, with their incredible armies); let her figure to herself some vast river, like the Nile or the Ganges, with the form assumed by its mouths. Often it will happen, where such a river is not hemmed in between rocks, or confined to the bed of a particular valley, that, perhaps, a hundred or two of miles before reaching the sea, upon coming into a soft, alluvial soil, it will force several different channels for itself. As these must make angles to each other, in order to form different roads, the land towards the disemboguing of the river will take the arrangement of a triangle. And as that happens to be the form of a Greek capital D (in the Greek alphabet called Delta), it has been usual to call such an arrangement of a great river’s mouth a Delta.

Now, then, let her think of the Assyrian empire under the notion of the Nile, descending from far distant regions, and from fountains that were concealed for ages, if even now discovered. Then, when it approaches the sea, and splits up its streams, so as to form a Delta, let her regard that Delta as the final state of the Assyrian power, the kingdom state lasting for about two centuries until swallowed up altogether, and remoulded into unity by the Persian empire.

The Delta, therefore, or the Nile dividing into three streams, will represent the three kingdoms formed out of the ruins of the Assyrian empire, when falling to pieces by the death of Sardanapalus. One of these three kingdoms is often called the Median; one the Chaldaean; and the third is called the Assyrian kingdom. But the most rememberable shape in which they can be recalled is, perhaps, by the names of their capitals. The capital cities were as follows: of the first, Ecbatana, which is the modern Hamadan; of the second, Babylon, on the Euphrates, of which the ruins have been fully ascertained in our own times; at present, nothing remains but ruins, and these ruins are dangerous to visit, both from human marauders prowling in that neighbourhood, and from wild beasts of the most formidable class, which are so little disturbed in their awful lairs, that they bask at noon-day amongst the huge hills of half-vitrified bricks. Finally, of the third kingdom, which still retained the name of Assyria, the metropolis was Nineveh, on the Tigris, revealed by Layard.

These three kingdoms had some internal wars and revolutions during the two centuries which elapsed from the great period 777 (the period of Sardanapalus), until the days of Cyrus, the Persian. By that time the three had become two, the kingdom of Nineveh had been swallowed up, and Cyrus, who was destined to form the Persian empire upon their ruins, found one change less to be effected than might have been looked for. Of the two which remained, he conquered one, and the other came to him by maternal descent. Thus he gained all three, and moulded them into one, called Persia.

VI. Five and Five and Five.–The crowning action in which Cyrus figures is, therefore, that of conqueror of Babylon, and all the details of his career point forward, like markings on the dial, towards that great event, as full of interest for the imagination as any of the events of pre-Christian history. I would fain for once by the aid of metre, fix more firmly in the mind of the reader the grandeur and imposing significance of this event:

Thus in Five and Five and Five did Cyrus the Great of Elam,[21]

On a festal night break in with roar of the fierce alalagmos.[22]

Over Babylonian walls, over tower and turret of entrance,

Over helmed heads, and over the carnage of armies.

Idle the spearsman’s spear, Assyrian scymitar idle;

Broken the bow-string lay of the Mesopotamian archer;

‘Ride to the halls of Belshazzar, ride through the murderous uproar;

Ride to the halls of Belshazzar!’ commanded Cyrus of Elam.

They rode to the halls of Belshazzar. Oh, merciful, merciful angels!

That prompt sweet tears to men, hang veils, hang drapery darkest,–

If any may hide or may pall this night’s tempestuous horror.

Like a deluge the army poured in on their snorting Bactrian horses,

Rattled the Parthian quivers, rang the Parthian harness of iron,

High upon spears rode the torches, and from them in showery blazes

Rained splendour lurid and fierce on the dreamlike ruinous uproar,

Such as delusions often from fever’s fierce vertical ardour

Show through the long-chambered halls and corridors endless,

Blazing with cruel light–show to the brain of the stricken man;

Such as the angel of dreams sometimes sends to the guilty.

Such light lay in open front, but palpable ebony blackness,

Sealed every far-off street in deep and awful abysses,

Out of which rose like phantoms, rose and sank as a sea-bird

Rises and sinks on the waves of a dim, tumultuous ocean,

Faces dabbled in blood, phantasmagory direful and scenic.

* * * * *

But where is Belshazzar the Lord? Has he fled? Has he found an asylum?
Or still does he pace in his palace, blind-seeming or moonstruck?
Still does he tread proudly the palace, fancy-deluded,
Prophets of falsehood trusting, or false Babylonian idols,
Defying the odious truth from the summit of empire!
Lo! at his palace gates the fierce Apollyon’s great army,
With maces uplifted, stand to make way for great Cyrus of Elam.
Watching for signal from him whose truncheon this way or that bids:
‘Strike!’ said Cyrus the King. ‘Strike!’ said the princes of Elam;
And the brazen gates at the word, like flax that is broken asunder
By fire from earth or from heaven, snapped as a bulrush,
Snapped as a reed, as a wand, as the tiny toy of an infant.
Marvellous the sight that followed! Oh, most august revelation!
Mile-long were the halls that appeared, and open spaces enormous;
Areas fit to hold armies on the day of muster for battle;
Hosts upon either side, for amplest castrametation.
Depth behind depth, and dim labyrinthine apartments.
Golden galleries above running high into darkening vistas,
Staircases soaring and climbing, till sight grew dizzy with effort
Of chasing the corridors up to their whispering gloomy recesses.
Nations were ranged in the halls, nations ranged at a banquet,
Even then lightly proceeding with timbrel, dulcimer, hautboy,
Gong and loud kettledrum and fierce-blown tempestuous organ.
Banners floated in air, colossal embroidery tissues
Of Tyrian looms, scarlet, black, violet and amber,
Or the perfectest cunning of trained Babylonian artist,
Or massy embossed, from the volant shuttle of Phrygian.
Banners suspended in shade, or in the full glare of the lamplight,
Mid cressets and chandeliers by jewelly chains swinging pendant.

* * * * *

Draw a veil o’er the rout when advances great Cyrus of Elam,
Dusky-browed archers behind him, and spearmen before,
When he cries ‘Strike!’ and the gorgeously inlaid pavements
Run ruddy with blood of the festive Assyrians there.

VII.–Greece and Rome.–My female readers, whom only I contemplate in every line of this little work, and who would have a right to consider it disrespectful if I were to leave a single word of Latin or Greek unexplained, must understand that the Greeks, according to that universal habit of viewing remote objects in a relation of ascent or descent with respect to the observer, whence the ‘going up to Jerusalem,’ and our own ‘going up to London,’ always figured a journey eastwards, that is, directed towards the Euphrates or Tigris, or to any part of Asia from Greece as tending upwards. In this mode of conceiving their relations to the East, they were governed semi-consciously by the sense of a vast presence beyond the Tigris–glorified by grandeur and by distance–the golden city of Susa, and the throne of the great king. Accordingly, the expedition therefore of Cyrus the younger against his brother Artaxerxes was called by Xenophon, when recording it, the Anabasis, or going up of Cyrus; and, from the accident of its celebrity, this title has adhered to that expedition; and to that book–as if either could claim it by some exclusive title; whereas, on the contrary, the Katabasis, or going down, furnishes by much the larger and the more interesting part of the work. And, in any case, the title is open to all Asiatic expeditions whatsoever; to the Trojan that just crossed the water, to the Macedonian that went beyond the Indus. The word Anabasis must have its accent on the syllable ab, not on the penultimate syllable as.

In coming to the history of Imperial Rome, one is fortunately made sensible at once of a vast advantage, which is this–that one is not throwing away one’s labour. Sad it is, after ploughing a stiff and difficult clay, to find all at once that the whole is a task of so little promise that perhaps, on the whole, one might as well have left it untouched.

X. Yes, I remember that my cousin, Cecilia Dinbury, took the pains to master–or perhaps one ought to say to mistress–the history.

L. No, to miss it, is what one ought to say.

X. Fie, my dear second cousin–Fie, fie, if you please. To miss it, indeed! Ah, how we wished that we had missed it. But we had no such luck. There were we broiling through a hot, hot August, broiling away at this intolerable stew of Iskis and Fuskis, and all to no end or use. Granted that too often it is, or it may be so. But here we are safe. Who can fancy or feel so much as the shadow of a demur, when peregrinating Rome, that we might be losing our toil?

Now, then, in the highest spirits, let us open our studies. And first let us map out a chart of the personnel for pretty nearly a century. Twelve Caesars–the twelve first–should clearly of themselves make more than a century. For I am sure all of you, except our two new friends, know so much of arithmetic as that multiplication and division are a great menace upon addition and subtraction. It is, therefore, a thing most desirable to set up compound modes–short devices for abridging these. Now 10 is the earliest number written with two digits: and the higher the multiplier, so much harder, apparently, the process. Yet here at least a great simplification offers. To multiply by 10, all you have to do is to put a cipher after the multiplicand. Twenty-seven soldiers are to have 10 guineas each, how much is required to pay all twenty-seven? Why, 27 into 10 is 27 with a cipher at the end–27:0, i.e., 270. Ergo, twelve Caesars, supposing each to reign ten years, would make, no, should make, with anything like great lives–12:0, i.e., 120 years. And when you consider that one of the twelve, viz., Augustus, singly, for his share, contributed fifty and odd years, if the other eleven had given ten each that would be 11:0; this would make a total of about 170.

VIII.–Beginning of Modern Era.–From the period of Justinian commences a new era–an era of unusual transition. This is the broad principle of change. Old things are decaying, new things are forming and gathering. The lines of decay and of resurrection are moving visibly and palpably to every eye in counteracting agency for one result–life and a new truth for humanity. All the great armies of generous barbarians, showing, by contrast with Rome and Greece, the opulence of teeming nature as against the powers of form in utter superannuation, were now, therefore, no longer moving, roaming, seeking–they had taken up their ground; they were in a general process of castrametation, marking out their alignments and deploying into open order upon ground now permanently taken up for their settlement. The early trumpets, the morning reveille of the great Christian nations–England, France, Spain, Lombardy–were sounding to quarters. Franks had knit into one the rudiments of a great kingdom upon the soil of France; the Saxons and Angles, with some Vandals, had, through a whole century, been defiling by vast trains into the great island which they were called by Providence to occupy and to ennoble; the Vandals had seated themselves, though in this case only with no definite hopes, along the extreme region of the Barbary States. Vandals might and did survive for a considerable period in ineffective fragments, but not as a power. The Visigoths had quartered themselves on Spain, there soon to begin a conflict for the Cross, and to maintain it for eight hundred years, and finally to prevail. And lastly, the Lombards had thrown a network of colonization over Italy, which, as much by the cohesions which it shook loose and broke asunder as by the new one which it bred, exhibited a power like that of the coral insects, and gave promise of a new empire built out of floating dust and fragments.

The movements which formerly had resembled those gigantic pillars of sand that mould themselves continually under the action of sun and wind in the great deserts–suddenly showing themselves upon the remote horizon, rear themselves silently and swiftly, then stalking forward towards the affected caravan like a phantom phantasmagoria, approach, manoeuvre, overshadow, and then as suddenly recede, collapse, fluctuate, again to remould into other combinations and to alarm other travellers–have passed. This vast structure of Central Europe had been abandoned by all the greater tribes; they had crossed the vast barriers of Western Europe–the Alps, the Vosges, the Pyrenees, the ocean–these were now the wards within which they had committed their hopes and the graves of their fathers. Social developments tended to the same, and no longer either wishing or finding it possible to roam, they were all now, through an entire century, taking up their ground and making good their tumultuous irruptions; with the power of moving had been conjoined a propensity to move. Rustic life, which must essentially have been maintained on the great area of German vagrancy, was more and more confirmed.

With this physical impossibility of roaming, and with the reciprocal compression of each exercised on the other, coincided the new instincts of civilization. They were no longer barbarous by a brutal and animal barbarism. The deep soil of their powerful natures had long been budding into nobler capacities, and had expanded into nobler perceptions. Reverence for female dignity, a sentiment never found before in any nation, gave a vernal promise of some higher humanity, on a wider scale than had yet been exhibited. Strong sympathies, magnetic affinities, prepared this great encampment of nations for Christianity. Their nobility needed such a field for its expansion; Christianity needed such a human nature for its evolution. The strong and deep nature of the Teutonic tribes could not have been evolved, completed, without Christianity. Christianity in a soil so shallow and unracy as the Graeco-Latin, could not have struck those roots which are immovable. The ultimate conditions of the soil and the capacities of the culture must have corresponded. The motions of Barbaria had hitherto indicated only change; change without hope; confusion without tendencies; strife without principle of advance; new births in each successive age without principle of regeneration; momentary gain balanced by momentary loss; the tumult of a tossing ocean which tends to none but momentary rest. But now the currents are united, enclosed, and run in one direction, and that is definite and combined.

Now truly began that modern era, of which we happily reap the harvest: then were laid the first foundations of social order and the first effective hint of that sense of mutual aid and dependence which has, century by century, been creating such a balance and harmony of adjusted operations–of agencies working night and day, which no man sees, for services which no man creates: the agencies are like Ezekiel’s wheels–self-sustained; the services in which they labour have grown up imperceptibly as the growth of a yew, and from a period as far removed from cognizance. One man dies every hour out of myriads, his place is silently supplied, and the mysterious economy thus propagates itself in silence, like the motion of the planets, from age to age. Hands innumerable are every moment writing summonses, returns, reports, figures–records that would stretch out to the crack of doom, as yet every year accumulated, written by professional men, corrected by correctors, checked by controllers, and afterwards read by corresponding men, re-read by corresponding controllers, passed and ratified by corresponding ratifiers; and through this almighty pomp of wheels, whose very whirling would be heard into other planets, did not the very velocity of their motion seem to sleep on their soft axle, is the business of this great nation, judicial, fixed, penal, deliberative, statistical, commercial, all carried on without confusion, never distracting one man by its might, nor molesting one man by its noise.

Now, in the semi-fabulous times of Egypt and Assyria, things were not so managed. Ours are the ages of intellectual powers, of working by equivalents and substitutions; but theirs were done by efforts of brute power, possible only in the lowest condition of animal man, when all wills converged absolutely in one, and when human life, cheap as dog’s, had left man in no higher a state of requirement, and had given up human power to be applied at will–without art or skill.

Then the armies of a Semiramis even were in this canine state. It was her curse to have subjects that had no elevation, swarming by myriads like flies; mere animal life, the mere animal armies which she needed; what she wanted was exactly what they would yield. To such cattle all cares beyond that of mere provender were thrown away. Surgical care and the ambulance, such as the elevation of man’s condition, and the solemnity of his rights, seen by the awful eye of Christianity, will always require, were simply ridiculous. As well raise hospitals for decayed butterflies. Provender was all: not panem et circenses–bread and theatrical shows–but simply bread, and that wretched of its kind. Drink was an ideal luxury. Was there not the Euphrates, was there not the Tigris, the Aranes? The Roman armies carried posca by way of such luxury, a drink composed of vinegar and water. But as to Semiramis–what need of the vinegar? And why carry the water? Could it not be found in the Euphrates, etc.? Let the dogs lap at the Euphrates, and stay for their next draught till they come to the Tigris or the Aranes. Or, if they drank a river or so dry, and a million or two should die, what of that? Let them go on to the Tigris, and thence to the Aranes, the Oxus, or Indus. Clothes were dispensable from the climate, food only of the lowest quality, and finally the whole were summoned only for one campaign, and usually this was merely a sort of partisan camisade upon a colossal scale, in which the superfluous population of one vast nation threw themselves upon another. Mere momentum turned the scale; one nuisance of superfluous humanity was discharged upon such another nuisance, the one exterminating the other, or, if both by accident should be exterminated, what mattered it? The major part of the two nuisances, like algebraical quantities of plus and minus, extinguished each other. And, in any case, the result, whatever it might be, of that one campaign, which was rather a journey terminating in a bad battle of mobs, than anything artificial enough to deserve the title of camp, terminated the whole war. Here, at least, we see the determining impulse of political economy intervening, coming round upon them, if it had not been perceived before. If the two nations began their warfare, and planned it in defiance of all common laws and exchequers, at any rate the time it lasted was governed by that only. The same thing recurred in the policy of the feudal ages; the bumpkins, the vassals, were compelled to follow the standard, but their service was limited to a certain number of weeks. Afterwards, by law, as well as by custom, they dissolved for the autumnal labour of the harvest. And thus it was, until the princes would allow of mercenary armies, no system of connecting politics grew up in Europe, or could grow up; having no means of fighting each other, they were like leopards in Africa gnawing at a leopard in Asia; they fumed apart like planets that could not cross; a vast revolution, which Robertson ascribes to the reign of Francis I., but which I, upon far better grounds and on speculations much more exclusively pursued, date from the age of Louis XI. Differing in everything, and by infinite degrees for the worse from these early centuries, the age of Semiramis agreed in this–that if the non-culture of the human race allowed them to break out into war with little or no preparation but what each man personally could make, and if thus far political economy did not greatly control the policy of nations, yet in the reaction these same violated laws vindicated their force by sad retributions. Famines, at all events dire exhaustion, invariably put an end to such tumultuary wars, if they did not much control their beginnings,[23] and periodically expressed their long retributory convulsions.

Not, therefore, because political economy was of little avail, but because the details are lost in the wilderness of years, must we disregard the political economy in the early Assyrian combinations of the human race. The details are lost for political economy as a cause, and the details are equally lost of the wars and the revolutions which were its effects. But in coming more within the light of authentic history, I contend that political economy is better known, and that in that proportion it explains much of what ought to be known. For example, I contend that the condition of Athens, for herself and for the rest of the Greek confederacy, nay, the entire course of the Athenian wars, of all that Athens did or forbore to do, her actions alike, and her omissions, are to be accounted for, and lie involved in the statistics of her fiscal condition.

IX.–Geography.–Look next at geography. The consideration of this alone throws a new light on history. Every country that is now or will be, has had some of its primary determinations impressed upon its policy and institutions; nay, upon its feeling and character, which is the well of its policy, by its geographical position: that is, by its position as respects climate in the first place, secondly, as respects neighbours (i.e., enemies), whether divided by mountains, rivers, deserts, or the great desert of the sea–or divided only by great belts of land–a passable solitude. Thirdly, as respects its own facilities and conveniences for raising food, clothing, luxuries. Indeed, not only is it so moulded and determined as to its character and aspects, but oftentimes even as to its very existence.

Many have noticed wisely and truly in the physical aspect of Asia and the South of Caucasus, that very destiny of slavery and of partition into great empires, which has always hung over them. The great plains of Asia fit it for the action of cavalry and vast armies–by which the fate of generations is decided in a day; and at the same time fit it for the support of those infinite myriads without object, which make human life cheap and degraded. That this was so is evident from what Xenophon tells.

On the other hand, many have seen in the conformation of Greece revolving round a nucleus able to protect in case of invasion, yet cut up into so many little chambers, of which each was sacred from the intrusion of the rest during the infancy of growth, the solution of all the marvels which Grecian history unfolds.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] This distinction is of some consequence. Else the student would be puzzled at finding [which is really the truth] that, after the Twelve Caesars and the five patriotic emperors who succeeded them, we know less of the Roman princes through centuries after the Christian era, than of the Roman Consuls through a space of three centuries preceding the Christian era. In fact, except for a few gossiping and merely personal anecdotes communicated by the Augustan History and a few other authorities, we really know little of the most illustrious amongst the Roman emperors of the West, beyond the fact (all but invariable) that they perished by assassination. But still this darkness is not of the same nature, nor owing to the same causes, as the Grecian darkness prior to the Olympiads.

[2] Except, indeed, by the barbarous contrivance of cutting away some letters from a name, and then filling up their place with other letters which, by previous agreement, have been rendered significant of arithmetic numbers. This is the idea on which the Memoria Technica of Dr. Grey proceeds. More appropriately it might have been named Memoria Barbarica, for the dreadful violence done to the most beautiful, rhythmical, and melodious names would, at any rate, have remained as a repulsive expression of barbarism to all musical ears, had the practical benefits of this machinery been all that they profess to be. Meantime these benefits are really none at all. They offer us a mere mockery, defeating with one hand what they accomplish with the other.

[3] It is all but an impossible problem for a nation in the situation of Greece to send down a record to a posterity distant by five centuries, to overlap the gulf of years between the point of starting–the absolute now of commencement and the remote generation at which you take aim. Trust to tradition, not to the counsel of one man. But tradition is buoyant.

[4] Crusade.–There seems a contradiction in the very terms of Pagan–that is, non-Christian, and Crusade–that is, warfare symbolically Christian. But, by a license not greater than is often practised in corresponding circumstances, the word Crusade may be used to express any martial expedition amongst a large body of confederate nations having or representing an imaginative (not imaginary) interest or purpose with no direct profession of separate or mercenary object for each nation apart.

[5] The truths of Scripture are of too vast a compass, too much like the Author of those truths–illimitable and incapable of verbal circumscription, and, besides, are too much diffused through many collateral truths, too deeply echoed and reverberated by trains of correspondences and affinities laid deep in nature, and above all, too affectingly transcribed in the human heart, ever to come within the compass or material influence of a few words this way or that; any more than all eternity can be really and locally confined within a little golden ring which is assumed for its symbol. The same thing, I repeat, may be said of chronology and its accidents. The chronologies of Scripture, its prophetic weeks of Daniel, and its mysterious aeons of the Apocalypse, are too awful in their realities, too vast in their sweep and range of application, to be controlled or affected by the very utmost errors that could arise from lapse of time or transcription unrevised. And the more so, because errors that by the supposition are errors of accident, cannot all point in one direction: one would be likely in many cases to compensate another. But, finally, I would make this frank acknowledgment to a young pupil without fear that it could affect her reverence for Scripture. It is of the very grandeur of Scripture that she can afford to be negligent of her chronology. Suppose this case: suppose the Scriptures protected by no special care or providence; suppose no security, no barrier to further errors, to have arisen from the discovery of printing–suppose the Scriptures to be in consequence transcribed for thousands of years–even in that case the final result would be this: it would be (and in part perhaps it really is) true or not true as to its minor or petty chronology–not true, as having been altered insensibly like any human composition where the internal sense was not of a nature to maintain its integrity. True, even as to trifles, in that sense which the majestic simplicity and self-conformity of truth in a tale originally true would guarantee, it might yet be, because of the grandeur of the main aim, and the sense of deeper relations and the perception of verisimilitude.

[6] ‘A New Slave Country‘–and this for more reasons than one. Slaves were growing dearer in Rome; secondly, a practice had been for some time increasing amongst the richest of the noble families in Rome, of growing household bodies of gladiators, by whose aid they fought the civic battles of ambition; and thirdly, as to Caesar in particular, he had raised and equipped a whole legion out of his own private funds, and, of course, for his own private service; so that he probably looked to Britain as a new quarry from which he might obtain the human materials of his future armies, and also as an arena or pocket theatre, in which he could organize and discipline these armies secure from jealous observation.

[7] Here the pupil will naturally object–was not Judaea an Asiatic land? And did not Judaea act upon Europe? Doubtless; and in the sublimest way by which it is possible for man to act upon man; not only through the highest and noblest part of man’s nature, but (as most truly it may be affirmed) literally creating, in a practical sense, that nature. For, to say nothing of the sublime idea of Redemption as mystically involved in the types and prophecies of Jewish prophets, and in the very ceremonies of the Jewish religion, what was the very highest ideal of God which man–philosophic man even–had attained, compared with that of the very meanest Jew? It is false to say that amongst the philosophers of Greece or Rome the Polytheistic creed was rejected. No Pagan philosopher ever adopted, ever even conceived, the sublime of the Jewish God–as a being not merely of essential unity, but as deriving from that unity the moral relations of a governor and a retributive judge towards human creatures. So that Judaea bore an office for the human race of a most awful and mysterious sanctity. But (and partly for that reason) the civil and social relations of Judaea to the human race were less than nothing. And thence arose the intolerant scorn of such writers as Tacitus for the Christians, whom, of course, they viewed as Jews, and nothing but Jews. Thus far they were right–that, as a nation, valued upon the only scale known to politicians, the Jews brought nothing at all to the common fund of knowledge or civilization. One element of knowledge, however, the Jews did bring, though at that time unknown, and long after, for want of historic criticism in the history of chronologic researches, viz., a chronology far superior to that of the Septuagint, as will be shown farther on, and far superior to the main guides of Paganism. But the reason why this superiority of chronology will, after all, but little avail the general student is, that it relates merely to the Assyrian or Persian princes in their intercourse with the courts of Jerusalem or of Samaria.

[8] Juba, King of Mauritania, during the struggle of Caesar and Pompey.

[9] Which clannish feeling, be it observed, always depends for its life and intensity upon the comparison with others; as they are despised, in that ratio rises the clannish self-estimation. Whereas the nobler pride of a Roman patriotism is [Greek: autarkes] and independent of external relations. Nothing is more essentially opposed, though often confounded under the common name of patriotism, than the love of country in a Roman or English sense, and the spirit of clannish jealousy.

[10] This it was (a circumstance overlooked by many who have written on the Roman literature), this destiny announced and protected by early auguries, which made the idea of Rome a great and imaginative idea. The patriotism of the Grecian was, as indicated in an earlier note, a mean, clannish feeling, always courting support to itself, and needing support from imaginary ‘barbarism’ in its enemies, and raising itself into greatness by means of their littleness. But with the nobler Roman patriotism was a very different thing. The august destiny of his own eternal city [observe–‘eternal,’ not in virtue of history, but of prophecy, not upon the retrospect and the analogies of any possible experience, but by the necessity of an aboriginal doom], a city that was to be the centre of an empire whose circumference is everywhere, did not depend for any part of its majesty upon the meanness of its enemies; on the contrary, in the very grandeur of those enemies lay, by a rebound of the feelings inevitable to a Roman mind, the paramount grandeur of that awful Republic which had swallowed them all up.

[11] I do not mean to deny the casual intercourse between Rome and particular cities of Greece, which sometimes flash upon us for a moment in the earliest parts of the Roman annals: what I am insisting upon, is the absence of all national or effectual intercourse.

[12] Even an attorney, however [according to an old story, which I much fear is a Joe Miller, but which ought to be fact], is not so rigorous as to allow of no latitude, for, having occasion to send a challenge with the stipulation of fighting at twelve paces, upon ‘engrossing’ this challenge the attorney directed his clerk to add–‘Twelve paces, be the same more or less.’ And so I say of the Olympiad–‘777 years, be the same more or less.’

[13] And finally, were it necessary to add one word by way of reconciling the student to the substitution of 777 for 776, it might be sufficient to remind him that, even in the rigour of the minutest calculus, when the 776 years are fully accomplished–to prove which accomplishment we must suppose some little time over and above the 776 to have elapsed–then this surplus, were it but a single hour, throws us at once into the 777th year. This was, in fact, the oversight which misled a class of disputants, whom I hope the reader is too young to remember, but whom I, alas! remember too well in the year 1800. They imagined and argued that the eighteenth century closed upon the first day of the year 1800. New Year’s Day of the year 1799, they understood as the birthday of the Christian Church, proclaiming it to be then 1799 years old, not as commencing its 1799th year. And so on. Pye, the Poet Laureate of that day, in an elaborate preface to a secular ode, argued the point very keenly. It is certain (though not evident at first sight) that in the year 1839 the Christian period of time is not, as children say, ‘going of‘ 1840, but going of 1839: whereas the other party contend that it is in its 1840th year, tending in short to become that which it will actually be on its birthday, i.e., on the calends of January, or le Jour de l’an, or New Year’s Day of 1840.

[14] See note immediately preceding on previous page.

[15] ‘With impunity.‘–There is no one point in which I have found a more absolute coincidence of opinion amongst all profound thinkers, English, German, and French, when discussing the philosophy of education, than this great maxim–that the memory ought never to be exercised in a state of insulation, that is, in those blank efforts of its strength which are accompanied by no law or logical reason for the thing to be remembered; by no such reason or principle of dependency as could serve to recall it in after years, when the burthen may have dropped out of the memory. The reader will perhaps think that I, the writer of this little work, have a pretty strong and faithful memory, when I tell him that every word of it, with all its details, has been written in a situation which sternly denied me the use of books bearing on my subject. A few volumes of rhetorical criticism and of polemic divinity, that have not, nor, to my knowledge, could have furnished me with a solitary fact or date, are all the companions of my solitude. Other voice than the voice of the wind I have rarely heard. Even my quotations are usually from memory, though not always, as one out of three, perhaps, I had fortunately written down in a pocket-book; but no one date or fact has been drawn from any source but that of my unassisted memory. Now, this useful sanity of the memory I ascribe entirely to the accident of my having escaped in childhood all such mechanic exercises of the memory as I have condemned in the text–to this accident, combined with the constant and severe practice I have given to my memory, in working and sustaining immense loads of facts that had been previously brought under logical laws.

[16] ‘The long careering of an earthquake.‘–It is remarkable, and was much noticed at the time by some German philosophers, that the earthquake which laid Lisbon in ruins about ninety-five years ago, could be as regularly traced through all its stages for some days previous to its grand finale, as any thief by a Bow Street officer. It passed through Ireland and parts of England; in particular it was dogged through a great part of Leicestershire; and its rate of travelling was not so great but that, by a series of telegraphs, timely notice might have been sent southwards that it was coming. [The Lisbon earthquake occurred in 1755; so that this paper must have been written about 1849 or 1850.–ED.]

[17] ‘The exact personality.‘–The historical personality, or complete identification of an individual, lies in the whole body of circumstances that would be sufficient to determine him as a responsible agent in a court of justice. Archbishop Usher and others fancy that Sardanapalus was the son of Pul; guided merely by the sound of a syllable. Tiglath-Pileser, some fancy to be the same person as Sardanapalus; others to be the very rebel who overthrew Sardanapalus. In short, all is confused and murky to the very last degree. And the reader who fancies that some accurate chronological characters are left, by which the era of Sardanapalus can be more nearly determined than it is determined above, viz., as generally coinciding with the era of Romulus and of the Greek Olympiad, is grossly imposed upon.

[18] ‘And Asiatic.‘–Asiatic, let the pupil observe, and not merely Assyrian; for the Assyria of this era represents all that was afterwards Media, Persia, Chaldaea, Babylonia, and Syria. No matter for the exact limits of the Assyrian empire, which are as indistinct in space as in time. Enough that no Asiatic State is known as distinct from this empire.

[19] And this is so exceedingly striking, that I am much surprised at the learned disputants upon the era of Homer having failed to notice this argument; especially when we see how pitiably poor they are in probabilities or presumptions of any kind. The miserable shred of an argument with those who wish to carry up Homer as high as any colourable pretext will warrant, is this, that he must have lived pretty near to the war which he celebrates, inasmuch as he never once alludes to a great revolutionary event in the Peloponnesus. Consequently, it is argued, Homer did not live to witness that revolution. Yet he must have witnessed it, if he had lived at the distance of eighty years from the capture of Troy; for such was the era of that event, viz., the return of the Heraclidae. Now, in answer to this, it is obvious to say that negations prove little. Homer has failed to notice, has omitted to notice, or found no occasion for noticing, scores of great facts contemporary with Troy, or contemporary with himself, which yet must have existed for all that. In particular, he has left us quite in the dark about the great empires, and the great capitals on the Euphrates and the Tigris, and the Nile; and yet it was of some importance to have noticed the relation in which the kingdom of Priam stood to the great potentates on those rivers. The argument, therefore, drawn from the non-notice of the Heraclidae, is but trivial. On the other hand, an argument of some strength for a lower era as the true era of Homer, may be drawn from the much slighter colouring of the marvellous, which in Homer’s treatment of the story attaches to the Iliad, than to the Seven against Thebes. In the Iliad we have the mythologic marvellous sometimes; the marvellous of necessity surrounding the gods and their intercourse with men; but we have no Amphiaraus swallowed up by the earth, no Oedipus descending into a mysterious gulf at the summons of an unseen power. And beyond all doubt the shield of Achilles, supposing it no interpolation of a later age, argues a much more advanced state of the arts of design, etc., than the shields, (described by AEschylus, as we may suppose, from ancient traditions preserved in the several families), of the seven chiefs who invaded Thebes.

[20] ‘Seven-gated,’ both as an expression which recalls the subject of the Romance (the Seven Anti-Theban Chieftains), and as one which distinguishes this Grecian Thebes from the Egyptian Thebes; that being called Hekatompylos, or Hundred-gated. Of course some little correction will always be silently applied to the general expression, so as to meet the difference between the two generations that served at Troy and in the Argonautic expedition, and again between David and his son. If the elder generation be fixed to the year 1000, then 1000 minus 30 will express the era of the younger; if the younger be fixed to the year 1000, then 1000 plus 30 will express the era of the elder. Or, better still, 1000 may be taken as the half-way era in which both generations met; that era in which the father was yet living and active, whilst the son was already entering upon manhood; that era, for instance, at which David was still reigning, though his son Solomon had been crowned. On this plan, no correction at all will be required; 15 years on each side of the 1000 will mark the two terms within which the events and persons range; and the 1000 will be the central point of the period.

[21] Elam is the Scriptural name for Persia.

[22] ‘Alala! Alala!’ the war cry of Eastern armies.

[23] And for the very reason that political economy had but a small share in determining the war of the year A, it became not so much a great force as the sole force for putting an end to the war of the year D.

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