Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

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

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

let

let loose from the channels of mere patriotism, took into their comprehensive bosom the welfare of the world. Life, which had commenced with him in a manner singularly active and romantically perilous, was very soon exchanged for that quiet solitude, which either finds men good or makes them so. In his delightful retirement at Scillus,* amid those enchanting rural scenes, where a bad man finds himself an anomaly in the beautiful and harmonious works of nature around him, XenoT phon had ample leisure to meditate on all that he Jiad seen or heard. The 'digito monstrarier,' that great stumbling-block of weak heads, and of those, who do not know how trifling the applause of the world is to him who appeals only to his own breast for the motives of his actions, could not here apply to Xenophon-—to him the present time was as no-, thing; he lived only to the past and for the future. In such a situation, the lessons of morality received from Socrates would rise up in his mind—how much aided by early intimacy with Cyrus, and by the knowledge thereby acquired of the sentiments of chivalry and honour, inherent in monarchical governments, and how much improved by subsequent connection with the most virtuous state of Greece, and with Agesilaus, the most distinguished man in that state—his own beautiful writings sufficiently testify. His own high talents, aided by such experience and such connections, would teach him what to omit, and what to press in a work which was not intended for the wits and servants of Athens, but which was meant to be one of those eternal possessions, those xTYipura. kg in, which great minds generate and perfect in solitude and retirement. It is the Ethics therefore of Socrates, that are chiefly unfolded in the admirable Memorabilia of Xenophon; and after admitting that many of the higher doctrines of antiquity are but negatives of the Christian precepts, he must be dead, we think, to the moral sense, who does not feel a burst of exultation within him, at seeing how much even unassisted nature is able to produce. But the intellect, (and we are apt to think from the extraordinary mimetic powers of the narrator,) the manners of the real Socrates were left to be displayed by a man, to whom, when we say that Xenophon can bear no comparison in point of genius, we only ascribe to him an inferiority, which he shares in common with all mankind; the

* It is difficult to imagine a njore rational or more delightful life, than a few words of Diogenes Laertius describe Xenophon as leading in that 'loop-hole of retreat:' ifllTii&ni frisTEtot iLwnyirw, xat rac 1piX»c lr*»v, neti rat; Iroftftf pvyyfatyw. lib. ii. seg. 52. Books,—study,—composition;—the healthy sports of the field, and the enjoyments of ^cial recreation,—nothing seems wanting to the picture, which our imaginations are ^customed to draw of an accomplished heathen philosopher.

Stageirite

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

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

and

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

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

IJeber's Palestine.

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

• In Prot p. 198. A. Vol. xxi. No. Xlii.. x progress orogress of thought in the mind of Socrates, and through what changes and circumstances he arrived at that system of opinions which, if they sometimes remind us of what unassisted nature must be, more often recall to us,' How glorious a piece of work man is! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in apprehension how like a god!' This, however, has not been done; 'and Socrates must now be taken as we find him: by thus leaving the task to others, he has perhaps gained something iu reputation on the score of intellect, but it can neither be concealed nor denied, that on the side of manners and morals, he has lost much both in purity and dignity.

We are aware that, in offering these remarks, we come across many prejudices and prepossessions; but in making them we have been conscious of no bias on our own minds, and we confidently • trust to the truth and the utility of them for our apology. 'Se la voce sark rholesta N«l primo jgusto, vital nutrimento v. .: '.."' Lascerk poi quatido sar& digesta.'

Art. II.— Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial

Regions of the New Continent, during the years 1799—1804.

By Alexander de Humboldt and Aime Bonpland; with Maps,

Plans, 8cc. vol. iv. London, 1819. HPHE fourth volume of Baron de Humboldt's ' Personal Nar•*- rative' has all the beauties and all the blemishes of the three preceding ones. Like them it exhibits an exuberance of style and a weight of diction in treating of the most common occurrences, which could scarcely be tolerated if it were not for the solidity of the judgment and the justness of the conceptions—but, on the various acquirements of this accomplished traveller, we have dwelt so largely on former occasions, that any thing we could now add would only appear superfluous; we shall, therefore, content ourselves with observing, that he is so deeply versed in the study of nature, and possessed of such facility in bringing to bear, on every object that arrests his attention, so vast a fund of knowledge, that we may say of him, in physics, what was said of Barrow in divinity, that he never quits a subject till he has exhausted it.

But this very facility, which perhaps may be thought the highest praise that could be bestowed, as applied to a series of philosophical «ssays, or distinct dissertations on physical subjects, becomes a fault in the personal narrative of voyages or travels; at least the bulk of readers will be very apt to lay down the book on finding the thread of the story perpetually interrupted by a learned disquisition of a dozen pages on the geognostical constitution of a chain

of

« AnteriorContinuar »