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II. ADVANTAGES OF HISTORY.
THE advantages found in history seem to be of three kinds : as it amuses the fancy, as it improves the understanding, and as it strengthens virtue.
In reality, what more agreeable entertainment to the mind than to be transported into the remotest ages of the world, and to observe human society, in its infancy, making the first faint essays towards the arts and sciences? to see the policy of government and the civility of conversation refining by degrees, and every thing that is ornamental to human life advancing towards its perfection? to mark the rise, progress, declension, and final extinction of the most flourishing empires; the virtues which contributed to their greatness, and the vices which drew on their ruin? In short, to see the human race, from the beginning of time, pass as it were in review before us, appearing in their true colours, without any of those disguises, which, during their lifetime, so much perplexed the judgments of the beholders? What spectacle can be imagined so magnificent, so various, so interesting? What amusement, either of the senses or imagination, can be compared with it? Shall those trifling pastimes, which engross so much of our time, be preferred as more satisfactory, and more fit to engage our attention? How perverse must that taste be which is capable of so wrong a choice of pleasure!
But history is a most improving part of knowledge, as well as an agreeable amusement; and indeed a great part of what we commonly called erudition, and value so highly, is nothing but an acquaintance with historical facts. An extensive knowledge of this kind belongs to men of letters; but I must think it an unpardonable ignorance in persons, of whatever sex or condition, not to be acquainted with the history of their own country along with the histories of ancient Greece and Rome.
I must add, that history is not only a valuable part of
knowledge, but opens the door to many other parts of knowledge, and affords materials to most of the sciences. And indeed, if we consider the shortness of human life and our limited knowledge, even of what passes in our own time, we must be sensible that we should be for ever children in understanding, were it not for this invention which extends our experience to all past ages; and to the most distant nations; making them contribute as much to our improvement in wisdom, as if they had actually lain under our own observation. A man acquainted with history may, in some respect, be said to have lived from the beginning of the world, and to have been making continual additions to his stock of knowledge in every century.
There is also an advantage in that knowledge which is acquired by history, above what is learned by the practice of the world, that it brings us acquainted with human affairs, without diminishing in the least from the most delicate sentiments of virtue. And, to tell the truth, I scarce know any study or occupation so unexceptionable as history in this particular. Poets can paint virtue in the most charming colours; but, as they address themselves entirely to the passions, they often become advocates for vice. Even philosophers bewilder themselves in the subtilty of their speculations; and we have seen some go so far as to deny the reality of all moral distinctions. But I think it a remark worthy the attention of the speculative reader, that the historians have been, almost without exception, the true friends of virtue, and have always represented it in its proper colours, however they may have erred in their judgments of particular persons. Nor is this combination of historians in favour of virtue at all difficult to be accounted for. When a man of business enters into life and action, he is more apt to consider the characters of men as they have relation to his interest than as they stand in themselves, and has his judgment warped on every occasion by the violence of his passion. When a philosopher con
templates characters and manners in his closet, the general abstract view of the objects leaves the mind so cold and unmoved, that the sentiments of nature have no room to play, and he scarce feels the difference betwixt vice and virtue. History keeps in a just medium betwixt these extremes, and places the objects in their true point of view. The writers of history, as well as the readers, are sufficiently interested in the characters and events, to have a lively sentiment of blame or praise; and at the same time, have no particular interest or concern to pervert their judgment.
Ir is one great advantage of classical studies to those who are fortunate enough to enjoy them, that in acquiring the languages of Greece and Rome, we insensibly contract an acquaintance with some of the most illustrious characters of antiquity, and are partially admitted into their venerable society. We learn to accompany a Solon and a Lycurgus in their legislative labours; we hear a Plato and a Socrates philosophize, a Homer and a Virgil sing. From a Tully we are early warmed, by the glow of eloquence, with the love of our country; from a Pliny we imbibe sentiments that heighten the social and domestic affections, and endear man to man. At the contemplation of such monsters as the classic page sometimes portrays, the ingenuous mind revolts: a Tiberius, a Nero, or a Sejanus rouses the indignant feelings of the soul; and we learn to appreciate and execrate the sanguinary tyrant and the worthless minion, amidst the splendour of usurped power, and the flattery of grovelling sycophants.
To a certain degree the virtues of the ancients ought to inspire emulation, and are worthy of being precedents to all posterity; but that soft charm which a pure religion and more liberal notions diffuse over Christian manners, that animating prospect which is now held out to encourage
laudable endeavours, and those terrors which are denounced against nefarious actions, could not operate on classical ages, because they were unknown.
Biography is not only valuable as an example to imitate, but as a beacon to warn. The impartial distribution of posthumous fame or censure must have some effect on the most callous and unprincipled. The thought of being handed down to posterity in colours of infamy, must frequently repress the vicious machination, and forbid the atrocious deed. The love of reputation was implanted in our natures for the wisest and noblest ends. Few possess that unenviable magnanimity which can render them indifferent to public opinion; or are so sunk in the apathy of vice, as to feel no melody in the sound of deserved applause.
To praise desert can scarcely fail to be a stimulus to virtuous actions. Those who have benefited or enlightened mankind, should receive commendation with no niggardly hand. The flowers strewed on the grave of merit are the most grateful incense to living worth. How often has the sight of the monuments in Westminster Abbey inspired the martial enthusiasm, the flame of patriotism, or the emulation of genius in the youthful breast! There are generous passions in the soul of man, which frequently lie dormant till some exciting cause serves to wake their susceptibilities, and give impulse to their native direction. Even a wellwritten amiable life has tempted many to live well.
IV. CHARACTER OF JULIUS CÆSAR.
CESAR was endowed with every great and noble quality that could exalt human nature, and give a man the ascendant in society: formed to excel in peace as well as in war; provident in counsel; fearless in action; and executing what he had resolved with an amazing celerity; generous beyond measure to his friends; placable to his enemies; and for parts, learning, eloquence, scarce inferior to any man. His
orations were admired for two qualities, which are seldom found together, strength and elegance: Cicero ranks him among the greatest orators that Rome ever bred; and Quintilian says, that he spoke with the same force with which he fought; and if he had devoted himself to the bar, would have been the only man capable of rivalling Cicero. Nor was he a master only of the politer arts, but conversant also with the most abstruse and critical parts of learning; and, among other works which he published, addressed two books to Cicero on the analogy of language, or the art of speaking and writing correctly. He was a most liberal patron of wit and learning, wheresoever they were found; and out of his love of those talents, would readily pardon those who had employed them against himself; rightly judging, that by making such men his friends, he should draw praises from the same fountain from which he had been aspersed. His capital passions were ambition and love of pleasure; which he indulged in their turns to the greatest excess; yet the first was always predominant; to which he could easily sacrifice all the charms of the second, and draw pleasure even from toils and dangers, when they ministered to his glory. For he thought Tyranny, as Cicero says, the greatest of goddesses; and had frequently in his mouth a verse of Euripides, which expressed the image of his soul, that, "If right and justice were ever to be violated, they were to be violated for the sake of reigning." This was the chief end and purpose of his life; the scheme that he had formed from his early youth; so that, as Cato truly declared of him, he came with sobriety and meditation to the subversion of the republic. He used to say, that there were two things necessary to acquire and to support power-soldiers and money; which yet depended mutually upon each other; with money therefore he provided soldiers, and with soldiers extorted money; and was, of all men, the most rapacious in plundering both friends and foes; sparing neither prince, nor state nor temple, nor even private persons, who were