Mr. Finlay’s History Of Greece by Thomas De Quincey

Story type: Essay

In attempting to appraise Mr. Finlay’s work comprehensively, there is this difficulty. It comes before us in two characters; first, as a philosophic speculation upon history, to be valued against others speculating on other histories; secondly, as a guide, practical altogether and not speculative, to students who are navigating that great trackless ocean the Eastern Roman history. Now under either shape, this work traverses so much ground, that by mere multiplicity of details it denies to us the opportunity of reporting on its merits with that simplicity of judgment which would have been available in a case of severer unity. So many separate situations of history, so many critical continuations of political circumstances, sweep across the field of Mr. Finlay’s telescope whilst sweeping the heavens of four centuries, that it is naturally impossible to effect any comprehensive abstractions, as to principles, from cases individual by their nature and separated by their period not less than by their relations in respect to things and persons. The mere necessity of the plan in such a work ensures a certain amount of dissent on the part of every reader; he that most frequently goes along with the author in his commentary, will repeatedly find himself diverging from it in one point or demurring to its inferences in another. Such, in fact, is the eternal disadvantage for an author upon a subject which recalls the remark of Juvenal:

‘Vester porro labor fecundior, historiarum
Scriptores: petit hic plus temporis, atque olei plus:
Sic ingens rerum numerus jubet, atque operum lex.’

It is this ingens rerum numerus that constitutes at once the attraction of these volumes, and the difficulty of dealing with them in any adequate or satisfactory manner.

Indeed, the vistas opened up by Mr. Finlay are infinite; in that sense it is that he ascribes inexhaustibility to the trackless savannahs of history. These vast hunting-grounds for the imaginative understanding are in fact but charts and surveyors’ outlines meagre and arid for the timid or uninspired student. To a grander intellect these historical delineations are not maps but pictures: they compose a forest wilderness, veined and threaded by sylvan lawns, ‘dark with horrid shades,’ like Milton’s haunted desert in the ‘Paradise Regained,’ at many a point looking back to the towers of vanishing Jerusalem, and like Milton’s desert, crossed dimly at uncertain intervals by forms doubtful and (considering the character of such awful deserts) suspicious.

Perhaps the reader, being rather ‘dense,’ does not understand, but we understand ourselves, which is the root of the matter. Let us try again: these historical delineations are not lifeless facts, bearing no sense or moral value, but living realities organized into the unity of some great constructive idea.

Perhaps we are obscure; and possibly (though it is treason in a writer to hint such a thing, as tending to produce hatred or disaffection towards his liege lord who is and must be his reader), yet, perhaps, even the reader–that great character–may be ‘dense.’ ‘Dense’ is the word used by young ladies to indicate a slight shade–a soupcon–of stupidity; and by the way it stands in close relationship of sound to Duns, the schoolman, who (it is well known) shared with King Solomon the glory of furnishing a designation for men weak in the upper quarters. But, reader, whether the fault be in you or in ourselves, certain it is that the truth which we wish to communicate is not trivial; it is the noblest and most creative of truths, if only we are not a Duns Scholasticus for explanation, nor you (most excellent reader!) altogether a Solomon for apprehension. Therefore, again lend us your ears.

It is not, it has not been, perhaps it never will be, understood–how vast a thing is combination. We remember that Euler, and some other profound Prussians, such as Lambert, etc., tax this word combination with a fault: for, say they, it indicates that composition of things which proceeds two by two (viz., com-bina); whereas three by three, ten by ten, fifty by fifty, is combination. It is so. But, once for all, language is so difficult a structure, being like a mail-coach and four horses required to turn round Lackington’s counter[1]–required in one syllable to do what oftentimes would require a sentence–that it must use the artifices of a short-hand. The word bini-ae-a is here but an exponential or representative word: it stands for any number, for number in short generally as opposed to unity. And the secret truth which some years ago we suggested, but which doubtless perished as pearls to swine, is, that combination, or comternation, or comquaternation, or comdenation, possesses a mysterious virtue quite unobserved by men. All knowledge is probably within its keeping. What we mean is, that where A is not capable simply of revealing a truth (i.e., by way of direct inference), very possible it is that A viewed by the light of B (i.e., in some mode of combination with B) shall be capable; but again, if A + B cannot unlock the case, these in combination with C shall do so. And if not A + B + C, then, perhaps, shall A + B + C combined with D; and so on ad infinitum; or in other words that pairs, or binaries, ternaries, quaternaries, and in that mode of progression will furnish keys intricate enough to meet and to decipher the wards of any lock in nature.

Now, in studying history, the difficulty is about the delicacy of the lock, and the mode of applying the key. We doubt not that many readers will view all this as false refinement. But hardly, if they had much considered the real experimental cases in history. For instance, suppose the condition of a people known as respects (1) civilization, as respects (2) relation to the sovereign, (3) the prevailing mode of its industry, (4) its special circumstances as to taxation, (5) its physical conformation and temperament, (6) its local circumstances as to neighbours warlike or not warlike, (7) the quality and depth of its religion, (8) the framework of its jurisprudence, (9) the machinery by which these laws are made to act, (10) the proportion of its towns to its rural labour, and the particular action of its police; these and many other items, elements, or secondary features of a people being known, it yet remains unknown which of these leads, which is inert, and of those which are not inert in what order they arrange their action. The principium movendi, the central force which organizes and assigns its place in the system to all the other forces, these are quite undetermined by any mere arithmetical recitation of the agencies concerned. Often these primary principles can be deduced only tentatively, or by a regress to the steps, historically speaking, through which they have arisen. Sometimes, for instance, the population, as to its principle of expansion, and as to its rate, together with the particular influence socially of the female sex, exercises the most prodigious influence on the fortunes of a nation, and its movement backwards or forwards. Sometimes again as in Greece (from the oriental seclusion of women) these causes limit their own action, until they become little more than names.

In such a case it is essential that the leading outlines at least should be definite; that the coast line and the capes and bays should be well-marked and clear, whatever may become of the inland waters, and the separate heights in a continuous chain of mountains.

But we are not always sure that we understand Mr. Finlay, even in the particular use which he makes of the words ‘Greece’ and ‘Grecian.’ Sometimes he means beyond a doubt the people of Hellas and the AEgean islands, as opposed to the mixed population of Constantinople. Sometimes he means the Grecian element as opposed to the Roman element in the composition of this mixed Byzantine population. In this case the Greek does not mean (as in the former case) the non-Byzantine, but the Byzantine. Sometimes he means by preference that vast and most diffusive race which throughout Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, the Euxine and the Euphrates, represented the Graeco-Macedonian blood from the time of Alexander downwards. But why should we limit the case to an origin from this great Alexandrian aera? Then doubtless (330 B.C.) it received a prodigious expansion. But already, in the time of Herodotus (450 B.C.), this Grecian race had begun to sow itself broadcast over Asia and Africa. The region called Cyrenaica (viz., the first region which you would traverse in passing from the banks of the Nile and the Pyramids to Carthage and to Mount Atlas, i.e., Tunis, Algiers, Fez and Morocco, or what we now call the Barbary States) had been occupied by Grecians nearly seven hundred years before Christ. In the time of Croesus (say 560 B.C.) it is clear that Grecians were swarming over Lydia and the whole accessible part of Asia Minor. In the time of Cyrus the younger (say 404 B.C.) his Grecian allies found their fiercest opponents in Grecian soldiers of Artaxerxes. In the time of Alexander, just a septuagint of years from the epoch of this unfortunate Cyrus, the most considerable troops of Darius were Greeks. The truth is, that, though Greece was at no time very populous, the prosperity of so many little republics led to as ample a redundancy of Grecian population as was compatible with Grecian habits of life; for, deceive not yourself, the harem, what we are accustomed to think of as a Mahometan institution, existed more or less perfectly in Greece by seventeen centuries at least antecedently to Mahometanism. Already before Homer, before Troy, before the Argonauts, woman was an abject, dependent chattel in Greece, and living in nun-like seclusion. There is so much of intellectual resemblance between Greece and Rome, shown in the two literatures, the two religions, and the structure of the two languages, that we are apt to overlook radical repulsion between their moral systems. But such a repulsion did exist, and the results of its existence are ‘writ large’ in the records, if they are studied with philosophic closeness and insight, and could be illustrated in many ways had we only time and space for such an exercise. But we must hurry on to remark that Mr. Finlay’s indefiniteness in the use of the terms ‘Greece’ and ‘Grecian’ is almost equalled by his looseness in dealing with institutions and the principles which determined their character. He dwells meditatively upon that tenacity of life which he finds to characterize them–a tenacity very much dependent upon physical[2] circumstances, and in that respect so memorably inferior to the social economy of Jewish existence, that we have been led to dwell with some interest upon the following distinctions as applicable to the political existence of all nations who are in any degree civilized. It seems to us that three forces, amongst those which influence the movement of nations, are practically paramount; viz., first, the legislation of a people; secondly, the government of a people; thirdly, the administration of a people. By the quality of its legislation a people is moulded to this or that character; by the quality of its government a people is applied to this or that great purpose; by the quality of its administration a people is made disposable readily and instantly and completely for every purpose lying within the field of public objects. Legislation it is which shapes or qualifies a people, endowing them with such qualities as are more or less fitted for the ends likely to be pursued by a national policy, and for the ends suggested by local relations when combined with the new aspects of the times. Government it is which turns these qualifications to account, guiding them upon the new line of tendencies opening spontaneously ahead, or (as sometimes we see) upon new tendencies created deliberately and by forethought. But administration it is which organizes between the capacities of the people on the one hand, and the enlightened wishes of the government on the other–that intermediate nexus of social machinery without which both the amplest powers in a nation and the noblest policy in a government must equally and continually fall to the ground. A general system of instruments, or if we may use the word, system of instrumentation and concerted arrangements–behold the one sole conditio sine qua non for giving a voice to the national interests, for giving a ratification to the national will, for giving mobility to the national resources. Amongst these three categories which we have here assigned as summing up the relations of the public will in great nations to the total system of national results, this last category of administration is that which (beyond the rest) postulates and presupposes vast developments of civilization. Instincts of nature, under favourable circumstances, as where the national mind is bold, the temper noble, veracity adorning the speech, and simplicity the manners, may create and have created good elementary laws; whilst it is certain that, where any popular freedom exists, the government must resemble and reflect the people. Hence it cannot be denied that, even in semi-barbarous times, good legislation and good government may arise. But good administration is not conceivable without the aids of high civilization. How often have piracy by sea, systematic robbery by l
and, tainted as with a curse the blessings of life and property in great nations! Witness the state of the Mediterranean under the Cilicians during the very sunset of Marius; or, again, of the Caribbean seas, in spite of a vast Spanish empire, of Buccaneers and Filibusters. Witness Bagandae in Roman Spain, or the cloud of robbers gathering in France through twelve centuries after every period of war; witness the scourges of public peace in Italy, were it in papal Rome or amongst the Fra Diavolos of Naples.

We believe that, so far from possessing any stronger principle of vitality than the Roman institutions, those of Greece Proper (meaning those originally and authentically Greek) had any separate advantage only when applied locally. They were essentially enchorial institutions, and even physically local (i.e., requiring the same place as well as the same people); just as the ordinances of Mahomet betray his unconscious frailty and ignorance by presuming and postulating a Southern climate as well as an Oriental temperament. The Greek usages and traditionary monuments of civilization had adapted themselves from the first to the singular physical conformation of Hellas–as a ‘nook-shotten'[3] land, nautically accessible and laid down in seas that were studded with islands systematically adjusted to the continental circumstances, whilst internally her mountainous structure had split up almost the whole of her territory into separate chambers or wards, predetermining from the first that galaxy of little republics into which her splintered community threw itself by means of the strong mutual repulsion derived originally from battlements of hills, and, secondarily, from the existing state of the military art. Having these advantages to begin with, reposing upon these foundations, the Greek civil organization sustained itself undoubtedly through an astonishing tract of time; before the ship Argo it had commenced; under the Ottoman Turks it still survived: for even in the Trojan aera, and in the pre-Trojan or Argonautic aera, already (and perhaps for many centuries before) the nominal kingdoms were virtually republics, the princes being evidently limited in their authority by the ‘sensus communis’ of the body politic almost as much as the Kings of Sparta were from the time of Lycurgus to the extinction of the Peloponnesian independence.

Accidents, therefore, although accidents of a permanent order (being founded in external nature), gave to Greece a very peculiar advantage. On her own dunghill her own usages had a tenacity of life such as is seen in certain weeds (couch-grass, for instance). This natural advantage, by means of intense local adaptation, did certainly prove available for Greece, under the circumstances of a hostile invasion. Even had the Persian invasion succeeded, it is possible that Grecian civilization would still have survived the conquest, and would have predominated, as actually it did in Ionia, etc.

So far our views seem to flow in the channel of Mr. Finlay’s. But these three considerations occur:

1st. That oftentimes Greece escaped the ravages of barbarians, not so much by any quality of her civil institutions, whether better or worse, as by her geographical position. It is ‘a far cry to Loch Awe’; and had Timon of Athens together with Apemantus clubbed their misanthropies, joint and several, there would hardly have arisen an impetus strong enough to carry an enemy all the way from the Danube to the Ilyssus; yet so far, at least, every European enemy of Thebes and Athens had to march. Nay, unless Monsieur le Sauvage happened to possess the mouths of the Danube, so as to float down ‘by the turn of tide’ through the Euxine, Bosphorus, Propontis, Hellespont, etc., he would think twice before he would set off a-gallivanting to the regions of the South, where certainly much sunshine was to be had of undeniable quality, but not much of anything else. The Greeks were never absolute paupers, because, however slender their means, their social usages never led to any Irish expansion of population; but under no circumstances of government were they or could they have been rich. Plunder therefore, that could be worth packing and cording, there was little or none in Greece. People do not march seven hundred miles to steal old curious bedsteads, swarming, besides, with fleas. Sculptured plate was the thing. And, from the times of Sylla, that had a strange gravitation towards Rome. It is, besides, worth noticing–as a general rule in the science of robbery–that it makes all the difference in the world which end of a cone is presented to the robber. Beginning at the apex of a sugar-loaf, and required to move rapidly onwards to the broad basis where first he is to halt and seek his booty, the robber locust advances with hope and cheerfulness. Invert this order, and from the vast base of the Danube send him on to the promontory of Sunium–a tract perpetually dwindling in its breadth through 500 miles–and his reversion of booty grows less valuable at every step. Yet even this feature was not the most comfortless in the case. That the zone of pillage should narrow with every step taken towards its proper ground, this surely was a bad look-out. But it was a worse, that even this poor vintage lay hid and sheltered under the AEgis of the empire. The whole breadth of the empire on that side of the Mediterranean was to be traversed before one cluster of grapes could be plucked from Greece; whereas, upon all the horns of the Western Empire, plunder commenced from the moment of crossing the frontier. Here, therefore, lies one objection to the supposed excellence of Grecian institutions: they are valued, upon Mr. Finlay’s scale, by their quality of elastic rebound from violence and wrong; but, in order that this quality might be truly tested, they ought to have been equally and fairly tried: now, by comparison with the Western provinces, that was a condition not capable of being realized for Greece, having the position which she had.

2ndly. The reader will remark that the argument just used is but negative: it does not positively combat the superiority claimed for the Greek organization; that superiority may be all that it is described to be; but it is submitted that perhaps the manifestation of this advantage was not made on a sufficient breadth of experiment.

Now let us consider this. Upon the analogy of any possible precedent, under which Rome could be said to have taken seven centuries in unfolding her power, our Britain has taken almost fourteen. So long is the space between the first germination of Anglo-Saxon institutions and the present expansion of British power over the vast regions of Hindostan. Most true it is that a very small section of this time and a very small section of British energies has been applied separately to the Indian Empire. But precisely the same distinction holds good in the Roman case. The total expansion of Rome travelled, perhaps, through eight centuries; but five of these spent themselves upon the mere domestic growth of Rome; during five she did not so much as attempt any foreign appropriation. And in the latter three, during which she did, we must figure to ourselves the separate ramifications of her influence as each involving a very short cycle indeed of effort or attention, though collectively involving a long space, separately as involving a very brief one. If the eye is applied to each conquest itself, nothing can exhibit less of a slow or gradual expansion than the Roman system of conquest. It was a shadow which moved so rapidly on the dial as to be visible and alarming. Had newspapers existed in those days, or had such a sympathy bound nations together[4] as could have supported newspapers, a vast league would have been roused by the advance of Rome. Such a league was formed where something of this sympathy existed. The kingdoms formed out of the inheritance of Alexander being in a sense Grecian kingdoms–Grecian in their language, Grecian by their princes, Grecian by their armies (in their privileged sections)–did become alarming to the Greeks. And what followed? The Achaean league, which, in fact, produced the last heroes of Greece–Aratus, Philopoemen, Cleomenes. But as to Rome, she was too obscure, too little advertised as a danger, to be separately observed. But, partly, this arose from her rapidity. Macedonia was taken separately from Greece. Sicily, which was the advanced port of Greece to the West, had early fallen as a sort of appanage to the Punic struggle. And all the rest followed by insensible degrees. In Syria, and again in Pontus, and in Macedonia, three great kingdoms which to Greece seemed related rather as enemies than as friends, and which therefore roused no spirit of resistance in Greece, through Rome had already withdrawn all the contingent proper from Greece. Had these powers concerted with Egypt and with Greece a powerful league, Rome would have been thrown back upon her Western chambers.

The reason why the Piratic power arose, we suppose to have been this, and also the reason why such a power was not viewed as extra-national. The nautical profession as such flowed in a channel altogether distinct from the martial profession. It was altogether and exclusively commercial in its general process. Only, upon peculiar occasions arose a necessity for a nautical power as amongst the resources of empire. Carthage reared upon the basis of her navy, as had done Athens, Rhodes, Tyre, some part of her power: and Rome put forth so much of this power as sufficed to meet Carthage. But that done, we find no separate ambition growing up in Rome and directing itself to naval war. Accidentally, when the war arose between Caesar and Pompey, it became evident that for rapidly transferring armies and for feeding these armies, a navy would be necessary. And Cicero, but for this crisis, and not as a general remark, said–that ‘necesse est qui mare tenuit rerum potiri.’

Hence it happened–that as no permanent establishment could arise where no permanent antagonist could be supposed to exist–oftentimes, and indeed always, unless when some new crisis arose, the Roman navy went down. In one of these intervals arose the Cilician piracy. Mr. Finlay suggests that in part it arose out of the fragments from Alexander’s kingdoms, recombining: partly out of the Isaurian land pirates already established, and furnished with such astonishing natural fortresses as existed nowhere else if we except those aerial caves–a sort of mountain nests on the side of declivities, which Josephus describes as harbouring Idumean enemies of Herod the Great, against whom he was obliged to fight by taking down warriors in complete panoply ensconced in baskets suspended by chains; and partly arising on the temptation of rich booties in the commerce of the Levant, or of rich temples on shore amidst unwarlike populations. These elements of a warlike form were required as the means of piracy, these fortresses and Isaurian caves as the resources of piracy, these notorious cargoes or temples stored with wealth as temptations to piracy, before a public nuisance could arise demanding a public chastisement. And yet, because this piracy had a local settlement and nursery, it seemed hardly consonant to the spirit of public (or international) law, that all civil rights should be denied them.

Not without reason, not without a profound purpose, did Providence ordain that our two great precedents upon earth should be Greece and Rome. In all planets, if you could look into them, doubt not (oh, reader of ours!) that something exists answering to Greece and Rome. Odd it would be–curioes! as the Germans say–if in Jupiter–or Venus–those precedents should exist under the same names of Greece and Rome. Yet, why not? Jovial–and Venereal–people may be better in some things than our people (which, however, we doubt), but certainly a better language than the Greek man cannot have invented in either planet. Falling back from cases so low and so lofty (Venus an inferior, Jupiter a far superior planet) to our own case, the case of poor mediocre Tellurians, perhaps the reader thinks that other nations might have served the purpose of Providentia. Other nations might have furnished those Providential models which the great drama of earth required. No. Haughtily and despotically we say it–No. Take France. There is a noble nation. We honour it exceedingly for that heroic courage which on a morning of battle does not measure the strength of the opposition; which, when an enemy issues from the darkness of a wood, does not stop to count noses, but like that noblest of animals, the British bull-dog, flies at his throat, careless whether a leopard, a buffalo, or a tiger of Bengal. This we vehemently admire. This we feel to be an echo, an iteration, of our own leonine courage, concerning which–take you note of this, oh, chicken-hearted man! (if any such is amongst our readers)–that God sees it with pleasure, blesses it, and calls it ‘very good!’ Next, when we come to think at odd times of that other courage, the courage of fidelity, which stands for hours under the storm of a cannonade–British courage, Russian courage–in mere sincerity we cannot ascribe this to the Gaul. All this is true: we feel that the French is an imperfect nation. But suppose it not imperfect, would the French therefore have fulfilled for us the mission of the Greek and the Roman? Undoubtedly they would not. Far enough are we from admiring either Greek or Roman in that degree to which the ignorance, but oftener the hypocrisy, of man has ascended.

We, reader, are misanthropical–intensely so. No luxury known amongst men–neither the paws of bears nor the tails of sheep–to us is so sweet and dear as that of hating (yet much oftener of despising) our excellent fellow-creatures. Oftentimes we exclaim in our dreams, where excuse us for expressing our multitude by unity, ‘Homo sum; humani nihil mihi tolerandum puto.’ We kick backwards at the human race, we spit upon them; we void our rheum upon their ugly gaberdines. Consequently we do not love either Greek or Roman; we regard them in some measure as humbugs. But although it is no cue of ours to admire them (viz., in any English sense of that word known to Entick’s Dictionary), yet in a Grecian or Roman sense we may say that [Greek: thaumazomen], admiramur, both of these nations: we marvel, we wonder at them exceedingly. Greece we shall omit, because to talk of the arts, and Phidias, and Pericles, and ‘all that,’ is the surest way yet discovered by man for tempting a vindictive succession of kicks. Exposed to the world, no author of such twaddle could long evade assassination. But Rome is entitled to some separate notice, even after all that has been written about her. And the more so in this case, because Mr. Finlay has scarcely done her justice. He says: ‘The Romans were a tribe of warriors. All their institutions, even those relating to property, were formed with reference to war.’ And he then goes on to this invidious theory of their history–that, as warriors, they overthrew the local institutions of all Western nations, these nations being found by the Romans in a state of civilization much inferior to their own. But eastwards, when conquering Greece, her institutions they did not overthrow. And what follows from that memorable difference? Why, that in after days, when hives of barbarians issued from central Europe, all the Western provinces (as not cemented by any native and home-bred institutions, but fighting under the harness of an exotic organization) sank before them; whereas Greece, falling back on the natural resources of a system self-evolved and local, or epichorial in its origin, not only defied these German barbarians for the moment, but actually after having her throat cut in a manner rose up magnificently (as did the Lancashire woman after being murdered by the M’Keans of Dumfries)[5], staggered along for a considerable distance, and then (as the Lancashire woman did not) mounted upon skates, and skated away into an azure infinite of distance (quite forgetting her throat), so as to–do what? It is really frightful to mention: so as to come safe and sound into the nineteenth century, leaping into the centre of us all like the ghost of a patriarch, setting her arms a-kimbo, and crying out: ‘Here I come from a thousand years before Homer.’ All this is really true and undeniable. It is past contradiction, what Mr. Finlay says, that Greece, having weathered the following peoples, to wit, the Romans; secondly, the vagabonds who persecuted the Romans for five centuries; thirdly, the Saracens; fourthly and fifthly, the Ottoman Turks and Venetians; sixthly, the Latin princes of Constantinople–not to speak seventhly and eighthly of Albanian or Egyptian Ali Pashas, or ninthly, of Joseph Humes and Greek loans, is now, viz., in March, 1844, alive and kicking. Think of a man, reader, at a soiree in the heavenly spring of ’44 (for heavenly it will be), wearing white kid gloves, and descended from Deucalion or Ogyges!

Amongst the great changes wrought in every direction by Constantine, it is not to be supposed that Mr. Finlay could overlook those which applied a new organization to the army. Rome would not be Rome; even a product of Rome would not be legitimate; even an offshoot from Rome would be of suspicious derivation, which could find that great master-wheel of the state machinery a secondary force in its system. It is wonderful to mark the martial destiny of all which inherited, or upon any line descended from Rome in every age of that mighty evolution. War not barbaric, war exquisitely systematic, war according to the vigour of all science as yet published to man, was the talisman by which Rome and the children of Rome prospered: the S.P.Q.R. on the legionary banners was the sign set in the rubric of the heavens by which the almighty nation, looking upwards, read her commission from above: and if ever that sign shall grow pale, then look for the coming of the end, whispered the prophetic heart of Rome to herself even from the beginning. But are not all great kingdoms dependent on their armies? No. Some have always been protected by their remoteness, many by their adjacencies. Germany, in the first century from Augustus, retreated into her mighty forests when closely pressed, and in military phrase ‘refused herself’ to the pursuer. Persia sheltered herself under the same tactics for ages;[6] scarcely needed to fight, unless she pleased, and, when she did so, fought in alliance with famine–with thirst–and with the confusion of pathless deserts. Other empires, again, are protected by their infinity; America was found to have no local existence by ourselves: she was nowhere because she was everywhere. Russia had the same illimitable ubiquity for Napoleon. And Spain again is so singularly placed with regard to France, a chamber within a chamber, that she cannot be approached by any power not maritime except on French permission. Manifold are the defensive resources of nations beyond those of military systems. But for the Roman empire, a ring fence around the Mediterranean lake, and hemmed in upon every quarter of that vast circuit by an indago of martial hunters, nature and providence had made it the one sole available policy to stand for ever under arms, eternally ‘in procinctu,’ and watching from the specular altitude of her centre upon which radius she should slip her wolves to the endless circumference.

Mr. Finlay, in our judgment, not only allows a most disproportionate weight to vicious taxation, which is but one wheel amongst a vast system of wheels in the machinery of administration, and which, like many similar agencies, tends oftentimes to react by many corrections upon its own derangements; but subsequently he views as through a magnifying glass even these original exaggerations when measured upon the scale of moral obligations. Not only does false taxation ruin nations and defeat the possibility of self-defence–which is much–but it cancels the duties of allegiance. He tells us (p. 408) that ‘amidst the ravages of the Goths, Huns, and Avars, the imperial tax-gatherers had never failed to enforce payment of the tribute as long as anything remained undestroyed; though according to the rules of justice, the Roman government had really forfeited its right to levy the taxes, as soon as it failed to perform its duty in defending the population.’ We do not believe that the government succeeded in levying tribute vigorously under the circumstances supposed; the science and machinery of administration were far from having realized that degree of exquisite skill. But, if the government had succeeded, we cannot admit that this relation of the parties dissolved their connection. To have failed at any time in defending a province or an outwork against an overwhelming enemy, that for a prince or for a minister is a great misfortune. Shocking indeed it were if this misfortune could be lawfully interpreted as his crime, and made the parent of a second misfortune, ratifying the first by authorizing revolt of the people; and the more so, as that first calamity would encourage traitors everywhere to prepare the way for the second as a means of impunity for their own treason. In the prospect of escaping at once from the burdens of war, and from the penalties of broken vows to their sovereign, multitudes would from the first enter into compromise and collusion with an invader; and in this way they would create the calamity which they charged upon their rulers as a desertion; they would create the embarrassments for their government by which they hoped to profit, and they would do this with an eye to the reversionary benefit anticipated under the maxim here set up. True, they would often find their heavy disappointment in the more grievous yoke of that invader whom they had aided. But the temptation of a momentary gain would always exist for the improvident many, if such a maxim were received into the law of nations; and, if it would not always triumph, we should owe it in that case to the blessing that God has made nations proud. Even in the case where men had received a license from public law for deserting their sovereign, thanks be to the celestial pride which is in man, few and anomalous would be the instances in which they really would do so. In reality it must be evident that, under such a rule of Publicists, subjects must stand in perpetual doubt whether the case had emerged or not which law contemplated as the dissolution of their fealty. No man would say that a province was licensed to desert, because the central government had lost a battle. But a whole campaign, or ten campaigns, would stand in the same predicament as a solitary battle, so long as the struggle was not formally renounced by the sovereign. How many years of absolute abandonment might justify a provincial people in considering themselves surrendered to their own discretion, is a question standing on the separate circumstances of each separate case. But generally it may be said, that a ruler will be presumed justly not to have renounced the cause of resistance so long as he makes no treaty or compromise with the enemy, and so long as he desists from open resistance only through momentary exhaustion, or with a view to more elaborate preparation. Would ten battles, would a campaign, would ten campaigns lost, furnish the justifying motive? Certainly it would be a false casuistry that would say so.

Why did the Romans conquer the Greeks? By why we mean, Upon what principle did the children of Romulus overthrow the children of Ion, Dorus, AEolus? Why did not these overthrow those? We, speak Latino more–Vellem ostenderes quare hi non profligaverint illos? The answer is brief: the Romans were one, the Greeks were many. Whilst no weighty pressure from without had assaulted Greece, it was of particular service to that little rascally system that they were split into sections more than ever we have counted or mean to count. They throve by mutual repulsion, according to the ballad:

When Captain X. kick’d Miss Roe, Miss Roe kick’d Captain X. again.’

Internally, for pleasant little domestic quarrels, the principle of division was excellent; because, as often as the balance tended to degravitation (a word we learned, as Juliet tells her nurse, ‘from one we danc’d withal’), instanter it was redressed and trimmed by some renegade going over to the suffering side. People talk of Athens being beaten by the Spartans in the person of Lysander; and the vulgar notion is, that the Peloponnesian war closed by an eclipse total and central for our poor friend Athens. Nonsense! she had life left in her to kick twenty such donkeys to death; and, if you look a very little ahead, gazettes tell you, that before the peace of Antalcidas, those villains, the Spartans (whom may heaven confound!) had been licked almost too cruelly by the Athenians. And there it is that we insist upon closing that one great intestine [7] war of the Greeks. So of other cases: absolute defeat, final overthrow, we hold to be impossible for a Grecian state, as against a Grecian state, under the conditions which existed from the year 500 B.C. But when a foreign enemy came on, the possibilities might alter. The foreigner, being one, and for the moment at least united, would surely have a great advantage over the crowd of little pestilent villains–right and left–that would be disputing the policy of the case. There lay the original advantage of the Romans; one they were, and one they were to the end of Roman time. Did you ever hear of a Roman, unless it were Sertorius, that fought against Romans? Whereas, scoundrel Greeks were always fighting against their countrymen. Xenophon, in Persia, Alexander, seventy years later, met with their chief enemies in Greeks. We may therefore pronounce with firmness, that unity was one cause of the Roman superiority. What was the other? Better military institutions. These, if we should go upon the plan of rehearsing them, are infinite. But let us confine our view to the separate mode in each people of combining their troops. In Greece, the phalanx was the ideal tactical arrangement; for Rome, the legion. Everybody knows that Polybius, a Greek, who fled from the Peloponnesus to Rome a little before the great Carthaginian war, terminated by Scipio Africanus, has left a most interesting comparison between the two forms of tactical arrangement: and, waiving the details, the upshot is this–that the phalanx was a holiday arrangement, a tournament arrangement, with respect to which you must suppose an excess of luck if it could be made available, unless by mutual consent, under a known possibility of transferring the field of battle to some smooth bowling-green in the neighbourhood. But, on the other hand, the legion was available everywhere. The phalanx was like the organ, an instrument almighty indeed where it can be carried; but it cost eight hundred years to transfer it from Asia Minor to the court of Charlemagne (i.e., Western Europe), so that it travelled at the rate of two miles per annum; but the legion was like the violin, less terrifically tumultuous, but more infinite than the organ, whilst it is in a perfect sense portable. Pitch your camp in darkness, on the next morning everywhere you will find ground for the legion, but for the fastidious phalanx you need as much choice of ground as for the arena of an opera stage.

And the same influence that had tended to keep the Greeks in division, without a proper unity, operated also to infect the national character at last with some lack of what may be called self-sufficiency. They were in their later phases subtle, but compliant, more ready to adapt themselves to changes than to assert a position and risk all in the effort to hold it. Hence it came that even the most honourable and upright amongst a nation far nobler in a moral sense (nobler, for instance, on the scale of capacity for doing and suffering) never rose to a sentiment of respect for the ordinary Grecian. The Romans viewed him as essentially framed for ministerial offices. Am I sick? Come, Greek, and cure me. Am I weary? Amuse me. Am I diffident of power to succeed? Cheer me with flattery. Am I issuing from a bath? Shampoo me.

The point of view under which we contemplate the Romans is one which cannot be dispensed with in that higher or transcendental study of history now prompted by the vast ferment of the meditative mind. Oh, feeble appreciators of the public mind, who can imagine even in dreams that this generation–self-questioned, agitated, haunted beyond any other by the elementary problems of our human condition, by the awful whence and the more awful whither, by what the Germans call the ‘riddle of the universe,’ and oppressed into a rebellious impatience by

‘The burthen of the mystery
Of all this unintelligible world,’

–that this, above all generations, is shallow, superficial, unfruitful? That was a crotchet of the late S. T. Coleridge’s; that was a crotchet of the present W. Wordsworth’s, but which we will venture to guess that he has now somewhat modified since this generation has become just to himself. No; as to the multitude, in no age can it be other than superficial. But we do contend, with intolerance and scorn of such opposition as usually we meet, that the tendencies of this generation are to the profound; that by all its natural leanings, and even by its infirmities, it travels upwards on the line of aspiration and downwards in the direction of the unfathomable. These tendencies had been awakened and quickened by the vast convulsions that marked the close of the last century. But war is a condition too restless for sustained meditation. Even the years after war, if that war had gathered too abundantly the vintages of tears and tragedy and change, still rock and undulate with the unsubsiding sympathies which wars such as we have known cannot but have evoked. Besides that war is by too many issues connected with the practical; the service of war, by the arts which it requires, and the burthen of war, by the discussions which it prompts, almost equally tend to alienate the public mind from the speculation which looks beyond the interests of social life. But when a new generation has grown up, when the forest trees of the elder generation amongst us begin to thicken with the intergrowth of a younger shrubbery that had been mere ground-plants in the aera of war, then it is, viz., under the heavenly lull and the silence of a long peace, which in its very uniformity and the solemnity of its silence has something analogous to the sublime tranquillity of a Zaarrah, that minds formed for the great inquests of meditation–feeling dimly the great strife which they did not witness, and feeling it the more deeply because for them an idealized retrospect, and a retrospect besides being potently contrasted so deeply with the existing atmosphere, peaceful as if it had never known a storm–are stimulated preternaturally to those obstinate questionings which belong of necessity to a complex state of society, turning up vast phases of human suffering under all varieties, phases which, having issued from a chaos of agitation, carry with them too certain a promise of sooner or later revolving into a chaos of equal sadness, universal strife. It is the relation of the immediate isthmus on which we stand ourselves to a past and (prophetically speaking) to a coming world of calamity, the relation of the smiling and halcyon calm which we have inherited to that darkness and anarchy out of which it arose, and towards which too gloomily we augur its return–this relation it is which enforces the other impulses, whether many or few, connecting our own transitional stage of society with objects always of the same interest for man, but not felt to be of the same interest. The sun, the moon, and still more the starry heavens alien to our own peculiar system–what a different importance in different ages have they had for man! To man armed with science and glasses, labyrinths of anxiety and study; to man ignorant or barbarous less interesting than glittering points of dew. At present those ‘other impulses,’ which the permanent condition of modern society, so multitudinous and feverish, adds to the meditative impulses of our particular and casual condition as respects a terrific revolutionary war, are not few, but many, and are all in one direction, all favouring, none thwarting, the solemn fascinations by which with spells and witchcraft the shadowy nature of man binds him down to look for ever into this dim abyss. The earth, whom with sublimity so awful the poet apostrophized after Waterloo, as ‘perturbed’ and restless exceedingly, whom with a harp so melodious and beseeching he adjured to rest–and again to rest from instincts of war so deep, haunting the very rivers with blood, and slumbering not through three-and-twenty years of woe–is again unsealed from slumber by the mere reaction of the mighty past working together with the too probable future and with the co-agencies from the unintelligible present. The fervour and the strife of human thought is but the more subtle for being less derived from immediate action, and more so from hieroglyphic mysteries or doubts concealed in the very shows of life. The centres of civilization seethe, as it were, and are ebullient with the agitation of the self-questioning heart.

The fervour is universal; the tumult of intellectual man, self-tormented with unfathomable questions, is contagious everywhere. And both from what we know, it might be perceived a priori, and from what we see, it may be known experimentally, that never was the mind of man roused into activity so intense and almost morbid as in this particular stage of our progress. And it has added enormously to this result–that it is redoubled by our own consciousness of our own state so powerfully enforced by modern inventions, whilst the consciousness again is reverberated from a secondary mode of consciousness. All studies prosper; all, with rare exceptions, are advancing only too impetuously. Talent of every order is almost become a weed amongst us.

But this would be a most unreasonable ground for charging it upon our time and country that they are unprogressive and commonplace. Nay, rather, it is a ground for regarding the soil as more prepared for the seed that is sown broadcast. And before our England lies an ample possibility–to outstrip even Rome itself in the extent and the grandeur of an empire, based on principles of progress and cohesion such as Rome never knew.

FURTHER NOTES FOR ARTICLE ON MR. FINLAY’S HISTORY.

Civilization.–Now about prisoners, strange as this may seem, it really is not settled whether and how far it is the duty in point of honour and reasonable forbearance to make prisoners. At Quatre Bras very few were made by the French, and the bitterness, the frenzy of hatred which this marked, led of necessity to a reaction.

But the strangest thing of all is this, that in a matter of such a nature it should be open to doubt and mystery whether it is or is not contradictory, absurd, and cancellatory or obligatory to make prisoners. Look here, the Tartars in the Christian war, not from cruelty–at least, no such thing is proved–but from mere coercion of what they regarded as good sense the Tartars thought it all a blank contradiction to take and not kill enemies. It seemed equal to taking a tiger laboriously and at much risk in a net, then next day letting him go. Strange it is to say, but it really requires an express experience to show the true practical working of the case, and this demonstrates (inconceivable as that would have been to the Tartars) that the capture is quite equal (quoad damage to the enemy) to the killing.

(1.) As to durability, was it so? The Arabs were not strong except against those who were peculiarly weak; and even in Turkey the Christian Rajah predominates.

(2.) As to bigotry and principles of toleration Mr. Finlay says–and we do not deny that he is right in saying–they arose in the latter stages. This, however, was only from policy, because it was not safe to be so; and repressed only from caution.

(3) About the impetuosity of the Arab assaults. Not what people think.

(4.) About the permanence or continuance of this Mahometan system–we confound the religious system with the political. The religious movement engrafted itself on other nations, translated and inoculated itself upon other political systems, and thus, viz., as a principle travelling through or along new machineries, propagated itself. But here is a deep delusion. What should we Europeans think of an Oriental historian who should talk of the Christians amongst the Germans, English, French, Spaniards, as a separate and independent nation? My friend, we should say, you mistake that matter. The Christians are not a local tribe having an insulated local situation amongst Germans, French, etc. The Christians are the English, Germans, etc., or the English, Germans, French, are the Christians. So do many readers confer upon the Moslems or Mahometans of history a separate and independent unity.

(a) Greek administration had a vicarious support.

(b) Incapacity of Eastern nations to establish primogeniture.

(c) Incapacity of Eastern nations to be progressive.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] ‘Lackington’s counter‘: Lackington, an extensive seller of old books and a Methodist (see his Confessions) in London, viz., at the corner of Finsbury Square, about the time of the French Revolution, feeling painfully that this event drew more attention than himself, resolved to turn the scale in his own favour by a ruse somewhat unfair. The French Revolution had no counter; he had, it was circular, and corresponded to a lighted dome above. Round the counter on a summer evening, like Phaeton round the world, the Edinburgh, the Glasgow, the Holyhead, the Bristol, the Exeter, and the Salisbury Royal Mails, all their passengers on board, and canvas spread, swept in, swept round, and swept out at full gallop; the proximate object being to publish the grandeur of his premises, the ultimate object to publish himself.

[2] ‘Dependent upon physical circumstances,’ and, amongst those physical circumstances, intensely upon climate. The Jewish ordinances, multiplied and burthensome as they must have been found under any mitigations, have proved the awfulness (if we may so phrase it) of the original projectile force which launched them by continuing to revolve, and to propagate their controlling functions through forty centuries under all latitudes to which any mode of civilization has reached. But the Greek machineries of social life were absolutely and essentially limited by nature to a Grecian latitude. Already from the earliest stages of their infancy the Greek cities or rural settlements in the Tauric Chersonese, and along the shores (Northern and Eastern) of the Black Sea, had been obliged to unrobe themselves of their native Grecian costumes in a degree which materially disturbed the power of the Grecian literature as an influence for the popular mind. This effect of a new climate to modify the influence of a religion or the character of a literature is noticed by Mr. Finlay. Temples open to the heavens, theatres for noonday light and large enough for receiving 30,000 citizens–these could no longer be transplanted from sunny regions of Hymettus to the churlish atmospheres which overcast with gloom so perpetual poor Ovid’s sketches of his exile. Cherson, it is true, in the Tauric Chersonese, survived down to the middle of the tenth century; so much is certain from the evidence of a Byzantine emperor; and Mr. Finlay is disposed to think that this famous little colonial state retained her Greek ‘municipal organization.’ If this could be proved, it would be a very interesting fact; it is, at any rate, interesting to see this saucy little outpost of Greek civilization mounting guard, as it were, at so great a distance from the bulwark of Christianity (the city of Constantine), under whose mighty shadow she had so long been sheltered, and maintaining by whatever means her own independence. But, if her municipal institutions were truly and permanently Greek, then it would be a fair inference that to a Grecian mechanism of society she had been indebted for her Grecian tenacity of life. And this is Mr. Finlay’s inference. Otherwise, and for our own parts, we should be inclined to charge her long tenure of independence upon her strong situation, rendered for her a thousand times stronger by the two facts of her commerce in the first place, and secondly, of her commerce being maritime. Shipping and trade seem to us the two anchors by which she rode.

[3] ‘Nook-shotten,’ an epithet applied by Shakspeare to England.

[4] Christianity is a force of unity. But was Paganism such? No. To be idolatrous is no bond of union.

[5] See Murder as one of the Fine Arts. (Postscript in 1854.)

[6] ‘Under the same tactics‘–the tactics of ‘refusing’ her columns to the enemy. On this subject we want an elaborate memoir historico-geographical revising every stage of the Roman warfare in Pers-Armenia, from Crassus and Ventidius down to Heraclius–a range of six and a half centuries; and specifically explaining why it was that almost always the Romans found it mere destruction to attempt a passage much beyond the Tigris or into central Persia, whilst so soon after Heraclius the immediate successors of Mahomet overflowed Persia like a deluge.

[7] ‘Intestine war.’ Many writers call the Peloponnesian war (by the way, a very false designation) the great civil war of Greece. ‘Civil’!–it might have been such, had the Grecian states had a central organ which claimed a common obedience.

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