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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 iu adding a few insects to a cata?ogue \vhich nobody reads;—a third in settling the metres of a few Greek Choruses;—a fourth in deciphering 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 live hundred others in occupations equally liberal and important: each of them being, for the most part, profoundly ignorant of everything out of his own narrow department, and very generally and deservedly despised, by his competitors for the favour of that public— which 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 gknv 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 gum in point of digni'y 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 truth is, we suspect, that the vast and enduring products of the virgin soil can no longer be reared in that factitious mould to which cultivation has since given existence : and that its forced and deciduous progeny will go on degenerating, till some new deluge shall restore the vigour of the glebe by a temporary Jestruction of all its generations.
Hitherto we have spoken only of the higher
! and more instructed classes of society,—to ¡ « horn it is reasonable to suppose that the perfaction of wisdom and happiness will come first, in their progress through the whole race of men; and we have seen what reason there I 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, theie has been nothing at all comparable to the improvement of Ei:g, land within the last century; never anywhere i was there such an increase of л\ ealth 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 ofl 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.
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 ansv. ers; 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 manufacturing 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 comforter prosperity. The average I rate of waires, for the last forty years, has , been insufficient to maintain a labourer with a tolerably larce family ;—and yet such have been the occasional fluctuations, and such the sanguine calculations of persons incapable of taking a comprehensive view oí 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 w ages low; ai:d wherever the means of subsistence are uncertain, and liable to variation, it seems to be the geneial law of our nature, that the population should j be adapted to the highest, and not to the average rate of supply. In India, where a dry season used to produce a failure of the crop, once in every ten or twelve years, the popu lation was always up to the measure of the greatest abundance; and in manufacturing countries, the miscalculation is still more sanguine and erroneous. Such countries, therefore, are always overpeopled ; and it seems to be the necessary effect of increasing talent and refinement, to convert all countries into thig denomination. China, the oldest manufacturing nation in the world, and by far the greatest that ever existed with the use of little machinery, ha? always suffered from a redundant population, 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 ordere 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 rmerging 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 ¡if tí 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 iterative manufacturers, therefore, seems eTfrv day more hopelessly stationary: and that great body of the people, it appears to 'Jv is likely to Íttow into a fixed and degraded caste, ont of which no person can hope to escapp, who has once been enrolled among its irvnihfTs. They cannot look up to the rank of master manufacturers: because, without considerable capital, it will every day be more ini[>o«s-ble to engage in that occupation—and luck they cannot go to the labours of agriculiur<\ because there is no demand for their services. The improved system of farming, fumiihes an increased produce with many fi-wer hands than were formerly employed in procuring a much smaller return: and besides ill this, the lower population has actually incr>>asi>d to a far çreater amount than ever was at any time employed in the cultivation of the ground.
To remedy all these evils, which are likely, as \\e conceive, to be aggravated, rather than relipTed. by the general progress of refinement and intelligence, we have little to look to but th° beneficial effects of this increasing intelliCence upon the lower orders themselves ;— and we are far from undervaluing this influence. By the universal adoption of a good «\-v>m of education, habits of foresight and fit-control, and rigid economy, may in time no doubt be pretty generally introduced, in^'•ad of the improvidence and profligacy "h rhino commonly characterize the larger мч-'тЫагея of our manufacturing population; aw! if these lead, as they are likely to do, to the general institution of Friendly Societies and bank?, for savings among the workmen, a great palliative will have been provided for the disadvantages of a situation, which must
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 arid 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. \ve 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 Stacl's History of Literature.
Not knowing any thing of the Egyptians and Phoenicians, she takes the Greeks lor 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 ot Pericles:—When human nature was a little more studied and regarded, and poetry received accordingly a certain cast of thoughtfulness, and an air of labour—eloquence began to be artful, and the rights and duties of men to be subjects of meditation and inquiry. This, therefore, was the era of the tragedians, the orators, and the first ethical philosophers. Last came the age of Alexander, when science had superseded fancy, and all the talent of the country was turned to the pursuits of philosophy. This, Madame de Staèl thinks, m the natural progress of literature in all countries; and that of the Greeks is only distinguished by their having been the first that pursued it. and by the peculiarities of their mythology, and their political relations. It is not quite clear indeed that they were the first; but Madame de Staël is very eloquent upon that supposition.
The state of society, however, in those early times, was certainly such as to impress verjr E
wrongly 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 modem 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 pods, 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 believing much, and from wondering at any thing, has taken away half our enthusiasm, and more than half our admiration.
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: ana their feasts—their dwellings—their farming— their 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 ihe 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 i with every action of their lives: But their legends are the very models of bail taste; and i unite all the detestable attributes of obscurity,! puerility, insufferable tediousness. and tue 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 difleriTit, at least, if not better, than their originals. They had not only to adhere to nature, therefore, but to avoid representing her exactly as she had been represented by their predecessors; and when they could not accomplish 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 earlyGreek poetry are all to be traced to the parné 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 tineness of sensibility, because reflection had not yet awakened thé 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 liner sources of emotion. These delects are most conspicuous in every thina; that relates to women. They had absolutely no idea of that mixturo of friendship, veneration, and desire, which is indicated by the word Love, in the modem languages of Europe. The love of the Grn k tragedians, is a species of insanity or frenzy.— a blind and ungovernable impulse inflicted by the Gods in their vengeance, and It ading its humiliated victim to the commission of all sorts of enormities. Hacine, in his Phadrc. has ventured to exhibit a love of this description on a modern stage ; but the softenings of delicate feeling—the tenderness and profound »ffliction which he has been forced to add to the fatal impulse of the original character, rfunv, 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 Athene and Sparta— placed under the same sky—with the same anjuage and religion—and yet so opposite in their government and in their literary purяш. The ruling passion of the Athenians was that of amusement; for, though the emulation of glory was more lively among them than amone 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 tru?t 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 anticipa teil the substance of many of them. The ¡Treat 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 trradation 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 cataei.-ophes. 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 G ode 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 insensibu.ty to toe charms of patriotism and greatness.
In philosophy, Madame de Staël does not rank the Greeks very high. The greater part of them, indeed, were orators and poets, rattier 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 iu all the morality of the ancients; and though Socrates set the example of fixing the principles oi 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 forset the state,—by which they are forgotten; but it is base and fatal, when they are iruided 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 governments, and the perpetual play of war ami negotiation, had made them more expert. Their historians narrate with spirit ana simplicity; and this is their merit. They make scarcely any reflections; and are marvellously nidifièrent as to vice or virtue. They record the most atrocious and most heroic actions—the most disgusting crimes and most exemplary-renerosity—\vith the same tranquil accuracy with which they would describe the succession of storms and sunshine. Thucydides is somewhat of a higher pitch; but the immense difference between him and Tacitus proves, better perhaps than any general reasoning, the progress which had been made in the interim in the powers of reflection and observation; and how near the Greeks, with all their boasted attainments, should be placed to the intellectual infancy of the species. In all their productions, indeed, the fewness of their ideas is remarkable; and their most impresiive writings may be compared to the music of certain rude nations, which produces the most astonishing effects by the combination of not more than four or five simple notes.
Madame de Staël now proceeds to the Romans—who will not detain us by any means Bo long. Their literature was confessedly borrowed from that of Greece; for little is ever invented, where borrowins will serve the purpose: But it was marked with several distinctions, to which alone it is now necessary to attend. In the first place—and this is very remarkable—the Romans, contrary to the custom of all other nations, began their career
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 sreat 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. Studit s which had no reference to political objects, therefore, could find no favour in their e\< s; anil 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 ¡s to be found in all the volumes of the Greeks—though it may te doubted, whether his political information and acuteness can be compared with that of Aristotle. It was the philosophy of the Stoics, however, that gained the hearts of the Romans; for it was that which fell in with theii national habits and dispositions.
The same character and the same national institutions that led them to adopt the Greek philosophy instead of their poetry, restrained them from the imitation of their theatrical excesses. As their free government \vas strictly aristocrática!, it could never permit ¡Is legitimate chiefs to be held up to mockery on the stn^e. as the democrática! licence of the Athenians held up the pretenders to their favour. But, independently of this, the severer dignity of the Roman character, and the deep r respect and prouder affection they entertained for all that exalted the glory of their country, would at all events have interdicted such indecorous and humiliating exhibitions. The comedy of Aristophanes never could have been tolerated at Rome; and though Plautns and Terence were allowed to imitate, or rather to translate, the more inoffensive dramas of a later age, it is remarkable, that they seldom ventured to subject even to that mitiga t< d and more general ridicule any one invested with the dignity of a Roman citi/en. The manners represented are almost entirely Greek manners; and the ridiculous parts are almost without any exception assigned to foreigners, and to persons of a servile condition. Women were, from the beginning, of more account in the estimation of the Romans than of the Greeks—though their province was still strict