Imágenes de páginas


Thucydides or Grote ?


of aim, and, in a word, with too much crotchetiness, to produce any very decided conviction. Previously to the appearance of Mr. Grote's sixth volume, the work was yet to do. Whatever reception his arguments may meet from those of his own persuasion who have already formed their judgment of this period of history under different lights, we venture to believe that their weight will certainly be acknowledged by subsequent stadents of the same school. Minds which might otherwise have been led by their better feelings, as well as by traditional sentiment, to regard the actual authority of a justly celebrated historian more than the possible claims of an undefended demagogue, will be reassured when they see that a writer, competent to speak, if ever a man were rendered so by profound and patient research, and avowing himself among the first and

warmest' of the admirers of Thucydides, asserts confidently that Cleon has been misrepresented. It is no light thing either for the most ordinary reader of history to know, that a personage who has hitherto been thought worthy of unmixed reprobation and contempt is capable of being viewed in another light, even though curiosity should be too sluggish to be stimulated by the information. Nor can it be of no moment that those who approach history as a science should be reminded that many of its problems depend for their solution on other than purely historical considerations, and, consequently, that they must not expect perfect satisfaction until the heterogeneous element is eliminated or absorbed.*

* Since writing the above, we have seen a pamphlet by Mr. Shilleto, of Cambridge celebrity, entitled “Thucydides or Grote ?' the first part of which is devoted to a discussion of the Cleon question. We do not, however, find that he says any thing which materially affects our previous conclusions. His exposure of the inconsistency of Marcellinus merely proves that biographer to have been an uncritical compiler, whose trustworthiness is, if anything, rather exalted by any imputation on his judgment, as he must obviously have had some external ground to go upon. We may admit the dramatić coherency of Thucydides' narrative, just as we do those literary excellences on which Mr. Shilleto dwells with so much philological fondness, yet refuse to accept it as any thing more than the individual impression of a prejudiced though honourable man. As against Mr. Grote, the pamphlet is successful in showing that Cleon can yet be attacked; but it does not show that he cannot be defended. Nor does the examination of Thucydides' conduct at Amphipolis add any thing more positive to the stock of more or less definite possibilities already existing. Of the latter part of the pamphlet, foreign as it is to our present purpose, we will only say that as the meaning of Thucydides in various passages happens to be the very question at issue, The same remarks will apply to the other great instance in which Mr. Grote has sought his clients among parties already condemned, — we mean the Sophists. There is some superficial difference between the cases, as in the latter he appears almost entirely unconscious of any bias, defending the prisoners on the ground of simple justice, not on the merits of their opinions; and, in fact, denying that they can be said, as a class, to have had any distinguishing opinions at all, so that their condemnation has been not so much an act of party tyranny as a pure mistake. We suspect, however, that the original presumption which gives plausibility to his defence here, as before, arises ont of the belief that the question is essentially one of party. We find the sophists uniformly decried on the same grounds which are taken against the holders of particular opinions in the present day; we find, also, that modern writers have perceived this analogy, and have used it freely as a weapon against their opponents; and we conclude, not that the application springs from a misconception, wilful or otherwise, but that there is a double-edged justice in it, and that as the sophists of the nineteenth century are not to be judged from hostile representations, some excuse may possibly be to be made for their prototypes. By proving the sophists to have been really professional teachers for practical life, Mr. Grote has not precluded all controversy as to the quality of their influence. Mr. Maurice, in the new edition of his • Essay on Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy, has already shown that they may be condemned just as easily on the new pleadings as on the old, turning the very fact of their practical professions into a charge against them, and inferring from their specific differences the wide-spread nature of the evil which he supposes them to have fostered. If they were the teachers of their age, and not its reformers, the opinions entertained respecting them must depend on the manner in which the age is estimated, as well in its tendencies as in its characteristics. The question which Mr. Disraeli puts in Tancred, Progress from . what and to what ?' will naturally occur in speaking of men admitted to have been the legists if not the legislators of a state of society which had its beginning and its end. Our plan does not lead us to discuss this question, but only to call

for provinuse, may not to bend that therwise appli

• Shilleto or Grote ?' would have been a more appropriate, though possibly less imposing, title. Colonel Mure also has been entering into controversy with Mr. Grote upon some minor matters : we wish, for the sake of good scholarship and good manners, that Mr. Shilleto had conducted his argument with the same grave respect for bimself and his opponent. It would not have been required of him to pay a single compliment or abjure a single prejudice.


Can the Sophists be defended ?


dised, rate it Partizanshlient autho a separade not,

attention to its existence. We should, however, not be doing justice to Mr. Grote, if we rested satisfied with remarking on the limits which it imposes upon him, without at the saine time endeavouring to ascertain how much he has been able to effect in spite of them. As we have said more than once, the only way to appreciate his merits is to follow him in detail, however much such a course may multiply the occasions on which we find ourselves at issue with him.

No one can read Mr. Grote's sixty-seventh chapter without feeling that the subject has gained much from being discussed by a man of his mental habits and prepossessions. In England, it has been the custom to regard it from a moral or politicotheological,-- in Germany, from a metaphysical,- point of view. Even Dr. Thirlwall has contented himself with a somewhat vague echo of the common language, apparently considering that there was no occasion to take a fresh survey of the facts. The opportunity of a really historical investigation had been left to Mr. Grote, and he has taken it. If, as we have surmised, his doctrinal sympathies gave an impulse to the inquiry, at any rate it cannot be said that he has conducted it in the mere spirit of partizanship. Strong in the positive tendency, he grapples with the ancient authorities, and endeavours to educe the desired conclusion from a separate examination of each. Such a process, whether successful or not, can hardly fail to produce a material change in the aspect of the case. It is something to find it established by undoubted evidence, that the name Sophist represented, primarily at least, a class of men, not a school ; embracing Socrates and Plato no less than Gorgias and Protagoras. We gain a different notion of the modes and conditions of their influence, whatever we may believe the worth of that influence to have been. We see that to the eye of Aristophanes the dialectician and the rhetorician appeared to be doing precisely the same work: and this primâ facie identity comes in to modify our estimate of the relation between the two. Besides, after all, the reader may urge that his concern is with the sophists proper, those attacked as such by Plato, whose charges are sufficiently definite to justify a common trial, if not a common condemnation. Accepting the issue tendered, the positive inquirer has much to say. He shows that the quarrel of the Platonic Socrates with the sophists was that of a reasoner with declaimers, of a gratuitous talker with paid teachers, of a theorist with practical men, of an irreconcilable foe to his age with men imbued with its spirit — considerations of undeniable importance in measuring the strength of his language, and determining the extent to which it can fairly be


adopted by a modern student of history. Still, this does not meet the difficulties of those who feel that the primary objects of Socrates and his disciple were moral, and who, consequently, look with more than suspicion on the system which they opposed. Accordingly the question is raised, what was the ethical character of the sophistic teaching? Here Mr. Grote exerts himself with considerable effect, to show that the opinion entertained of his clients in modern times is inconsistent with what we know of them, from themselves, and from their contemporaries. Prodicus's Choice of Hercules is, as he justly remarks, an unimpeachable witness in favour of its author, — reckoned in its day an excellent piece of morality even by Socrates himself, and consecrated in our own by its admission into the classic pages of Enfield's speaker, and associated, therefore, with some of the earliest virtuous impressions which our young Englishmen receive. It is, surely, a little un. generous, as well as unhistorical, in Mr. Maurice, to insinuate a doubt of the motives which dictated this highly laudable composition; as if Prodicus wished to persuade the Athenian youth to self-denial, in the hope of becoming powerful men, and thus, ultimately, moral pests to society. The Grecian lecturer may have dwelt on the importance of virtue to the State, and even recommended an honourable ambition without rendering himself fairly obnoxious to any such imputations. And if the reproach be transferred from him to his hearers, it is no more than lies at the door of numbers of educated people in our own day, who value knowledge merely as a means to worldly ends. Again Protagoras, even as represented by Plato, appears to have differed from Socrates rather in the method than in the results of his moral teaching, while in his conception of the relative character of virtue he may be considered superior to his questioner. Our judgment on his theological scepticism must depend on the amount of evidence which we conceive to have existed in those times for a reasonable mind,-a historical question which will be ruled in one way by men like Mr. Grote, and in another by those who claim Aristophanes and Plato as joint witnesses for Anglican orthodoxy. His doctrine of Man the measure of all things,' and the denial by Gorgias of ontology, are to be estimated, we need hardly say, by their value as philosophical positions; and this with especial reference to their place in the history of human speculation, not by their supposed agreement or disagreement with the Thirty-nine Articles. The Gorgias of Plato, taken as it stands, would go far to fix on those whom it attacks the charge of being the corruptors of youth; but it must be


Can the Sophists be defended ?


was not

mainossary to pocially in

recollected on the other side that Gorgias is known expressly to have disavowed the picture of himself; — that the effect of the exhibition of Polus is in a great measure neutralised, as Mr. Grote remarks, by the willingness of Socrates to give him the benefit of such respectable supporters as Nicias and Pericles ; and, lastly, that Callicles, the most flagrant of the supposed offenders, is not a sophist, but, on the contrary, a despiser of the whole order, which he regards much as Mandeville did the clergy. Between his doctrine, indeed, and that of Thrasymachus there appears to have been no substantial difference, - for the question is really not about any supposed rule of natural right, but about justice as ordinarily understood, which they concur in pronouncing a contemptible expedient, though taking different views of the political necessity from which it språng. And, the only inference which we need draw is, that the profession, like other learned professions, was not altogether free from unworthy brethren, especially in the rhetorical branch of it. It was not necessary to Mr. Grote's defence of his clients that he should maintain the innocence of each individual, in defiance of the probability, that oral teaching, especially when directed to practical life, will be found equally susceptible of abuse and of use. Voltaire, we suspect, had something more than a speculative interest in maintaining a proposition from which it could be deduced, that a teacher who escaped pelting could not be immoral; at any rate, his censors might fairly have asked him whether his own popularity was not a fact on the opposite side. On the other hand, we can scarcely be wrong in making much of Plato's admission, that the Athenians themselves, and not the sophists, were the true corruptors of youth. Though it may seem only to shift the blame, it, in effect, modifies our views of the real nature of the complaint. Where the evil is 80 wide-spreading and so deeply seated, we look with increased tolerance on the alleged deficiencies of physicians. And we may feel that we have the sanction of the great philosopher himself in his calmer moments, in believing him to have differed from his opponents not so much in his general purpose as a moral teacher, as with regard to the depth at which he thought it necessary to begin the work of national regeneration. None but a very bitter dissenter would charge the Establishment of his day with destroying more souls than it saves.

It is precisely in characterising an argument like this, that the commonplaces of criticism are most at fault. Mr. Grote's merit is not that he has set the question at rest, but that he has prevented it, so far as we see, from ever resting again. His learning and discernment have again enabled him to enlarge the

« AnteriorContinuar »