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carry it on, for the most part, by means of that minute subdivision of labour which is the great secret of the mechanical arts, but can never be introduced into literature without depriving its higher branches of all force, dignity, or importance. One man spends his life in improving a method of dyeing cotton red; -another in adding a few insects to a catalogue which nobody reads;-a third in settling the metres of a few Greek Choruses;--a fourth in decyphering illegible romances, or old grants of farms;-a fifth in picking rotten bones out of the earth;-a sixth in describing all the old walls and hillocks in his parish; and five hundred others in occupations equally liberal and important: each of them being, for the most part, profoundly ignorant of every thing out of his own narrow department, and very generally and deservedly despised, by his competitors for the favour of that publicwhich despises and supports them all.
Such, however, it appears to us, is the state of mind that is naturally produced by the great accumulation and general diffusion of various sorts of knowledge. Men learn, instead of reasoning. Instead of meditating, they remember; and, in place of the glow of inventive genius, or the warmth of a generous admiration, nothing is to be met with, in society, but timidity on the one hand, and fastidiousness on the other-a paltry accuracy, and a more paltry derision-a sensibility to small faults, and an incapacity of great merits -a disposition to exaggerate the value of knowledge that is not to be used, and to underrate the importance of powers which have ceased to exist. If these, however, are the consequences of accumulated and diffused knowledge, it may well be questioned whether the human intellect will gain in point of dignity and energy by the only certain acquisitions to which we are entitled to look forward. For our own part, we will confess we have no such expectations. There will be improvements, we make no doubt, in all the mechanical and domestic arts;-better methods of working metal, and preparing cloth;-more commodious vehicles, and more efficient implements of war. Geography will be made more complete, and astronomy more precise; -natural history will be enlarged and digested; and perhaps some little improvement suggested in the forms of administering law. But as to any general enlargement of the understanding, or more prevailing vigour of judgment, we will own, that the tendency seems to be all the other way; and that we think strong sense, and extended views of human affairs, are more likely to be found, and to be listened to at this moment, than two or three hundred years hereafter. The average rate of supply. In India, where a dry truth is, we suspect, that the vast and endur-season used to produce a failure of the crop, ing products of the virgin soil can no longer once in every ten or twelve years, the popu be reared in that factitious mould to which lation was always up to the measure of the cultivation has since given existence; and that greatest abundance; and in manufacturing its forced and deciduous progeny will go on countries, the miscalculation is still more sandegenerating, till some new deluge shall re- guine and erroneous. Such countries, therestore the vigour of the glebe by a temporary fore, are always overpeopled; and it seems to destruction of all its generations. be the necessary effect of increasing talent and refinement, to convert all countries into this
Increasing refinement and ingenuity lead naturally to the establishment of manufactures; and not only enable society to spare a great proportion of its agricultural labourers for this purpose, but actually encourage the breeding of an additional population, to be maintained out of the profits of this new occupation. For a time, too, this answers; and the artisan shares in the conveniences to which his labours have contributed to give birth; but it is in the very nature of the manufac turing system, to be liable to great fluctuation, occasional check, and possible destruction; and at all events, it has a tendency to produce a greater population than it can permanently support in comfort or prosperity. The average rate of wages, for the last forty years, has been insufficient to maintain a labourer with a tolerably large family;-and yet such have been the occasional fluctuations, and such the sanguine calculations of persons incapable of taking a comprehensive view of the whole, that the manufacturing population has been prodigiously increased in the same period. It is the interest of the manufacturer to keep this population in excess, as the only sure means of keeping wages low; and wherever the means of subsistence are uncertain, and liable to variation, it seems to be the general law of our nature, that the population should be adapted to the highest, and not to the
Hitherto we have spoken only of the higher
and more instructed classes of society,-to whom it is reasonable to suppose that the perfection of wisdom and happiness will come first, in their progress through the whole race of men; and we have seen what reason there is to doubt of their near approach. The lower orders, however, we think, have still less good fortune to reckon on. In the whole history of the species, there has been nothing at all comparable to the improvement of England within the last century; never anywhere was there such an increase of wealth and luxury-so many admirable inventions in the arts-so many works of learning and ingenuity-such a progress in cultivation-such an enlargement of commerce:-and yet, in that century, the number of paupers in England has increased fourfold, and is now rated at one tenth of her whole population; and, notwithstanding the enormous sums that are levied and given privately for their relief, and the multitudes that are drained off by the waste of war, the peace of the country is perpetually threatened by the outrages of famishing multitudes. This fact of itself is decisive, we think, as to the effect of general refinement and intelligence on the condition of the lower orders; but it is not difficult to trace the steps of its operation.
denomination. China, the oldest manufacturing nation in the world, and by far the greatest that ever existed with the use of little machinery, has always suffered from a redundant popula tion, and has always kept the largest part of its inhabitants in a state of the greatest poverty. The effect then which is produced on the lower orders of society, by that increase of industry and refinement, and that multiplication of conveniences which are commonly looked upon as the surest tests of increasing prosperity, is to convert the peasants into manufacturers, and the manufacturers into paupers; while the chance of their ever emerging from this condition becomes constantly less, the more complete and mature the system is which had originally produced it. When manufactures are long established, and thoroughly understood, it will always be found, that persons possessed of a large capital, can carry them on upon lower profits than persons of any other description; and the natural tendency of this system, therefore, is to throw the whole business into the hands of great capitalists; and thus not only to render it next to impossible for a common workman to advance himself into the condition of a master, but to drive from the competition the greater part of those moderate dealers, by whose prosperity alone the general happiness of the nation can be promoted. The state of the operative manufacturers, therefore, seems every day more hopelessly stationary; and that great body of the people, it appears to us, is likely to grow into a fixed and degraded caste, out of which no person can hope to escape, who has once been enrolled among its members. They cannot look up to the rank of master manufacturers; because, without considerable capital, it will every day be more impossible to engage in that occupation-and back they cannot go to the labours of agriculture, because there is no demand for their services. The improved system of farming, furnishes an increased produce with many fewer hands than were formerly employed in procuring a much smaller return; and besides all this, the lower population has actually increased to a far greater amount than ever was at any time employed in the cultivation of the ground.
always be considered as :ne of the least fortunate which Providence has assigned to any of the human race.
There is no end, however, we find, to these speculations; and we must here close our remarks on perfectibility, without touching upon the Political changes which are likely to be produced by a long course of progressive refinements and scientific improvement-though we are afraid that an enlightened anticipation would not be much more cheering in this view, than in any of those we have hitherto considered. Luxury and refinement have a tendency, we fear, to make men sensual and selfish; and, in that state, increased talent and intelligence is apt only to render them more mercenary and servile. Among the prejudices which this kind of philosophy roots out, that of patriotism, we fear, is generally among the first to be surmounted-and then, a dangerous opposition to power, and a sacrifice of interest to affection, speedily come to be considered as romantic. Arts are discovered to palliate the encroachments of arbitrary power; and a luxurious, patronizing, and vicious monarchy is firmly established amidst the adulations of a corrupt nation. But we must proceed at last to Madame de Staël's History of Literature.
Not knowing any thing of the Egyptians and Phoenicians, she takes the Greeks for the first inventors of literature-and explains many of their peculiarities by that supposition. The first development of talent, she says, is in Poetry; and the first poetry consists in the rapturous description of striking objects in nature, or of the actions and exploits that are then thought of the greatest importance. There is little reflection-no nice development of feeling or character-and no sustained strain of tenderness or moral emotion in this primitive poetry; which charms almost entirely by the freshness and brilliancy of its colouring-the spirit and naturalness of its representations and the air of freedom and facility with which every thing is executed. This, was the age of Homer. After that, though at a long interval, came the age of Pericles:-When human nature was a little more studied and regarded, and poetry received accordingly a certain cast of thoughtTo remedy all these evils, which are likely, fulness, and an air of labour-eloquence began as we conceive, to be aggravated, rather than to be artful, and the rights and duties of men relieved, by the general progress of refinement to be subjects of meditation and inquiry. and intelligence, we have little to look to but This, therefore, was the era of the tragedians, the beneficial effects of this increasing intelli- the orators, and the first ethical philosophers. gence upon the lower orders themselves;-Last came the age of Alexander, when science and we are far from undervaluing this influ- had superseded fancy, and all the talent of ence. By the universal adoption of a good the country was turned to the pursuits of system of education, habits of foresight and philosophy. This, Madame de Staël thinks, self-control, and rigid economy, may in time is the natural progress of literature in all no doubt be pretty generally introduced, in- countries; and that of the Greeks is only disstead of the improvidence and profligacy tinguished by their having been the first that which too commonly characterize the larger pursued it, and by the peculiarities of their assemblages of our manufacturing population; mythology, and their political relations. It is and if these lead, as they are likely to do, to not quite clear indeed that they were the first; the general institution of Friendly Societies but Madame de Staël is very eloquent upon and banks for savings among the workmen, a that supposition. great palliative will have been provided for the disadvantages of a situation, which must
The state of society, however, in those early times, was certainly such as to impress very
strongly on the mind those objects and occurrences which formed the first materials of poetry. The intercourse with distant countries being difficult and dangerous, the legends of the traveller were naturally invested with more than the modern allowance of the marvellous. The smallness of the civilized states connected every individual in them with its leaders, and made him personally a debtor for the protection which their prowess afforded from the robbers and wild beasts which then infested the unsubdued earth. Gratitude and terror, therefore, combined to excite the spirit of enthusiasm; and the same ignorance which imputed to the direct agency of the gods, the more rare and dreadful phenomena of nature, gave a character of supernatural greatness to the reported exploits of their heroes. Philosophy, which has led to the exact investigation of causes, has robbed the world of much of its sublimity; and by preventing us from before, but to avoid representing her exactly as lieving much, and from wondering at any she had been represented by their predecesthing, has taken away half our enthusiasm, sors; and when they could not accomplish and more than half our admiration. both these objects, they contrived, at least, to make sure of the last. The early Greeks had but one task to perform: they were in no danger of comparisons, or imputations of plagiarism; and wrote down whatever struck them as just and impressive, without fear of finding that they had been stealing from a predecessor. The wide world, in short, was before them, unappropriated and unmarked by any preceding footstep; and they took their way, without hesitation, by the most airy heights and sunny valleys; while those who came after, found it so seamed and crossed with tracks in which they were forbidden to tread, that they were frequently driven to make the most fantastic circuits and abrupt descents to avoid them.
The characteristic defects of the early Greek poetry are all to be traced to the same general causes,-the peculiar state of society, and that newness to which they were indebted for its principal beauties. They describe every thing, because nothing had been previously described; and incumber their whole diction with epithets that convey no information. There is no reach of thought, or fineness of sensibility, because reflection had not yet awakened the deeper sympathies of their nature; and we are perpetually shocked with the imperfections of their morality, and the indelicacy of their affections, because society had not subsisted long enough in peace and security to develop those finer sources of emotion. These defects are most conspicuous in every thing that relates to women. They had absolutely no idea of that mixture of friendship, veneration, and desire, which is indicated by the word Love, in the modem languages of Europe. The love of the Greek tragedians, is a species of insanity or frenzy,a blind and ungovernable impulse inflicted by the Gods in their vengeance, and leading its humiliated victim to the commission of all sorts of enormities. Racine, in his Phadre, has ventured to exhibit a love of this description on a modern stage; but the softenings of delicate feeling-the tenderness and profound
The purity of taste which characterizes the very earliest poetry of the Greeks, seems to us more difficult to be accounted for. Madame de Staël ascribes it chiefly to the influence of their copious mythology; and the eternal presence of those Gods—which, though always about men, were always above them, and gave a tone of dignity or elegance to the whole scheme of their existence. Their tragedies were acted in temples-in the supposed presence of the Gods, the fate of whose descendants they commemorated, and as a part of the religious solemnities instituted in their honour. Their legends, in like manner, related to the progeny of the immortals: and their feasts—their dwellings-their farmingtheir battles-and every incident and occupation of their daily life being under the immediate sanction of some presiding deity, it was scarcely possible to speak of them in a vulgar or inelegant manner; and the nobleness of their style therefore appeared to result naturally from the elegance of their mythology.
Now, even if we could pass over the obvious objection, that this mythology was itself a creature of the same poetical imagination which it is here supposed to have modified, it is impossible not to observe, that though the circumstances now alluded to may account for the raised and lofty tone of the Grecian poetry, and for the exclusion of low or familiar life from their dramatic representations, it will not explain the far more substantial indications of pure taste afforded by the absence of all that gross exaggeration, violent incongruity, and tedious and childish extravagance which are found to deform the primitive poetry of most other nations. The Hindoos, for example, have a mythology at least as copious, and still more closely interwoven with every action of their lives: But their legends are the very models of bad taste; and unite all the detestable attributes of obscurity, puerility, insufferable tediousness, and the most revolting and abominable absurdity. The poetry of the northern bards is not much
more commendable: But the Greeks are wonderfully rational and moderate in all their works of imagination; and speak, for the most part, with a degree of justness and brevity, which is only the more marvellous, when it is considered how much religion had to do in the business. A better explanation, perhaps, of their superiority, may be derived from recollecting that the sins of affectation, and injudicious effort, really cannot be committed where there are no models to be at once copied and avoided. The first writers naturally took possession of what was most striking, and most capable of producing effect, in nature and in incident. Their successors consequently found these occupied; and were obliged, for the credit of their originality, to produce something which should be different, at least, if not better, than their originals. They had not only to adhere to nature, there
affliction which he has been forced to add to the fatal impulse of the original character, show, more strongly than any thing else, the radical difference between the ancient and the modern conception of the passion.
The Political institutions of Greece had also a remarkable effect on their literature; and nothing can show this so strongly as the striking contrast between Athens and Spartaplaced under the same sky-with the same language and religion-and yet so opposite in their government and in their literary pursuits. The ruling passion of the Athenians was that of amusement; for, though the emulation of glory was more lively among them than among any other people, it was still subordinate to their rapturous admiration of successful talent. Their law of ostracism is a proof, how much they were afraid of their own propensity to idolize. They could not trust themselves in the presence of one who had become too popular. This propensity also has had a sensible effect upon their poetry; and it should never be forgotten, that it was not composed to be read and studied and criticized in the solitude of the closet, like the works that have been produced since the invention of printing; but to be recited to music, before multitudes assembled at feasts and high solemnities, where every thing favoured the kindling and diffusion of that enthusiasm, of which the history now seems to us so incredible.
There is a separate chapter on the Greek drama-which is full of brilliant and original observations;-though we have already anticipated the substance of many of them. The great basis of its peculiarity, was the constant interposition of the Gods. Almost all the violent passions are represented as the irresistible inspirations of a superior power;almost all their extraordinary actions as the fulfilment of an oracle-the accomplishment of an unrelenting destiny. This probably added to the awfulness and terror of the representation, in an audience which believed implicitly in the reality of those dispensations. But it has impaired their dramatic excellence, by dispensing them too much from the necessity of preparing their catastrophes by a gradation of natural events, the exact delineation of character,-and the touching representation of those preparatory struggles which precede a resolution of horror. Orestes kills his mother, and Electra encourages him to the deed,-without the least indication, in either, of that poignant remorse which afterwards avenges the parricide. No modern dramatist could possibly have omitted so important and natural a part of the exhibition;but the explanation of it is found at once in the ruling superstition of the age. Apollo had commanded the murder-and Orestes could not hesitate to obey. When it is committed, the Furies are commissioned to pursue him; and the audience shudders with reverential awe at the torments they inflict on their victim. Human sentiments, and human motives, have but little to do in bringing about these catastrophes. They are sometimes suggested by
the Chorus;-but the heroes themselves act always by the order of the Gods. Accordingly, the authors of the most atrocious actions are seldom represented in the Greek tragedies as properly guilty, but only as piacular;-and their general moral is rather, that the Gods are omnipotent, than that crimes should give rise to punishment and detestation.
A great part of the effect of these representations must have depended on the exclusive nationality of their subjects, and the extreme nationality of their auditors; though it is a striking remark of Madame de Staël, that the Greeks, after all, were more national than republican,-and were never actuated with that profound hatred and scorn of tyranny which afterwards exalted the Roman character. Almost all their tragic subjects, accordingly, are taken from the misfortunes of kings;-of kings descended from the Gods, and upon whose genealogy the nation still continued to pride itself. The fate of the Tarquins could never have been regarded at Rome as a worthy occasion either of pity or horror. Republican sentiments are occasionally introduced into the Greek Choruses;-though we cannot agree with Madame de Staël in considering these musical bodies as intended to represent the people.
It is in their comedy, that the defects of the Greek literature are most conspicuous. The world was then too young to supply its materials. Society had not existed long enough, either to develop the finer shades of character in real life, or to generate the talent of observing, generalizing, and representing them. The national genius, and the form of government, led them to delight in detraction and popular abuse; for though they admired and applauded their great men, they had not in their hearts any great respect for them; and the degradation or seclusion in which they kept their women, took away almost all interest or elegance from the intercourse of private life, and reduced its scenes of gaiety to those of coarse debauch, or broad and humourous derision. The extreme coarseness and vulgarity of Aristophanes, is apt to excite our wonder, when we first consider him as the contemporary of Euripides, and Socrates, and Plato;but the truth is, that the Athenians, after all, were but an ordinary populace as to moral delicacy and social refinement. Enthusiasm, and especially the enthusiasm of superstition and nationality, is as much a passion of the vulgar, as a delight in ribaldry and low buffoonery. The one was gratified by their tragedy;-and the comedy of Aristophanes was exactly calculated to give delight to the other. In the end, however, their love of buffoonery and detraction unfortunately proved too strong for their nationality. When Philip was at their gates, all the eloquence of Demosthenes could not rouse them from their theatrical dissipations. The great danger which they always apprehended to their liberties, was from the excessive power and popularity of one of their own great men; and, by a singular fatality, they perished, from a profligate indifference and insensibility to the charms of patriotism and greatness.
of letters with philosophy; and the cause of this peculiarity is very characteristic of the nation. They had subsisted longer, and effected more, without literature, than any other people on record. They had become a great state, wisely constituted and skilfully administered, long before any one of their citizens had ever appeared as an author. The love of their country was the passion of each individual-the greatness of the Roman name the object of their pride and enthusiasm. Studies which had no reference to political objects, therefore, could find no favour in their eyes; and it was from their subserviency to popular and senatorial oratory, and the aid which they promised to afford in the management of factions and national concerns, that they were first led to listen to the lessons of the Greek philosophers. Nothing else could have induced Cato to enter upon such a study at such an advanced period of life. Though the Romans borrowed their philosophy from the Greeks, however, they made much more use of it than their masters. They carried into their practice much of what the others contented themselves with setting down in their books; and thus came to attain much more precise notions of practical duty, than could ever be invented by mere discoursers. The philosophical writings of Cicero, though incumbered with the subtleties of his Athenian preceptors, contain a much more complete code of morality than is to be found in all the volumes of the Greeks-though it may be
In philosophy, Madame de Staël does not rank the Greeks very high. The greater part of them, indeed, were orators and poets, rather than profound thinkers, or exact inquirers. They discoursed rhetorically upon vague and abstract ideas; and, up to the time of Aristotle, proceeded upon the radical error of substituting hypothesis for observation. That eminent person first showed the use and the necessity of analysis; and did infinitely more for posterity than all the mystics that went before him. As their states were small, and their domestic life inelegant, men seem to have been considered almost exclusively in their relations to the public. There is, accordingly, a noble air of patriotism and devotedness to the common weal in all the morality of the ancients; and though Socrates set the example of fixing the principles of virtue for private life, the ethics of Plato, and Xenophon, and Zeno, and most of the other philosophers, are little else than treatises of political duties. In modern times, from the prevalence of monarchical government, and the great extent of societies, men are very generally loosened from their relations with the public, and are but too much engrossed with their private interests and affections. This may be venial, when they merely forget the state,-by which they are forgotten; but it is base and fatal, when they are guided by those interests in the few public functions they have still to perform. After all, the morality of the Greeks was very clumsy and imperfect. In political science, the variety of their govern- doubted, whether his political information and ments, and the perpetual play of war and nego-acuteness can be compared with that of Aristiation, had made them more expert. Their totle. It was the philosophy of the Stoics, historians narrate with spirit and simplicity; however, that gained the hearts of the Ro and this is their merit. They make scarcely mans; for it was that which fell in with their any reflections; and are marvellously indiffer-national habits and dispositions. ent as to vice or virtue. They record the most The same character and the same national atrocious and most heroic actions-the most institutions that led them to adopt the Greek disgusting crimes and most exemplary gener-philosophy instead of their poetry, restrained osity-with the same tranquil accuracy with them from the imitation of their theatrical which they would describe the succession of excesses. As their free government was storms and sunshine. Thucydides is some- strictly aristocratical, it could never permit what of a higher pitch; but the immense dif- its legitimate chiefs to be held up to mockery ference between him and Tacitus proves, on the stage, as the democratical licence of better perhaps than any general reasoning, the the Athenians held up the pretenders to their progress which had been made in the interim favour. But, independently of this, the severer in the powers of reflection and observation; dignity of the Roman character, and the deeper and how near the Greeks, with all their respect and prouder affection they entertained boasted attainments, should be placed to the for all that exalted the glory of their country, intellectual infancy of the species. In all would at all events have interdicted such intheir productions, indeed, the fewness of their decorous and humiliating exhibitions. The ideas is remarkable; and their most impres- comedy of Aristophanes never could have sive writings may be compared to the music been tolerated at Rome; and though Plautus of certain rude nations, which produces the and Terence were allowed to imitate, or rather most astonishing effects by the combination to translate, the more inoffensive dramas of a of not more than four or five simple notes. later age, it is remarkable, that they seldom Madame de Staël now proceeds to the Ro- ventured to subject even to that mitigated mans-who will not detain us by any means and more general ridicule any one invested so long. Their literature was confessedly with the dignity of a Roman citizen. The manborrowed from that of Greece; for little is ners represented are almost entirely Greek ever invented, where borrowing will serve the manners; and the ridiculous parts are almost purpose: But it was marked with several dis- without any exception assigned to foreigners, tinctions, to which alone it is now necessary and to persons of a servile condition. Women to attend. In the first place—and this is very were, from the beginning, of more account in remarkable the Romans, contrary to the the estimation of the Rornans than of the custom of all other nations, began their career Greeks-though their province was still strict