« VorigeDoorgaan »
GROTE'S HISTORY OF GREECE.* The two first volumes of Mr. Grote's History, which were noticed in this work (Vol. II., N. S., pp. 449_461), possessed a character almost unique, being occupied chiefly with narratives to which the author emphatically denied historical truth. It was not wonderful that readers, whose idea of the duty of an historian is, that he should present them with something in which they can believe, should rise from their perusal with a feeling of disappointment and even discontent, not understanding that the necessary preliminary to the establishment of any positive truth in ancient history, is the annihilation of a great mass of fiction, which has succeeded in passing itself off for truth. In the present volumes we emerge from the twilight of mythic times into a world of real existences,-countries of definite locality and outline, men on whose actions and characters we may reason, and events whose chronology and circumstances we can discuss, without fear of wasting our criticism upon the baseless fabric of a poetic vision.
There is still, however, much in the nature of the materials of Grecian history, and the duties imposed on one who undertakes a general view of the Hellenic world, which renders it impossible for him to give that kind of pleasure to his reader which books of history are commonly expected to supply. The maxim, vāpe kal ubuvao' ánlotETV, though not so frequently needed as in the history of the mythic times, still must be repeated to those who have been accustomed to yield their belief to what gave fulness and an apparent plausibility to a story, without caring to scrutinize its evidence, or discriminate between contemporaneous and more recent authority. The historian's duty, therefore, will often be to remove the false colouring which others have spread, and reduce an ample and circumstantial narrative to the meagre indication of a few leading facts. Criticism has unfortunately no creative power; the authorities of ancient history have been long numbered; they may be shewn to be untrustworthy, but their place cannot be supplied by more credible evidence. The countries occupied by the Greeks, at home and in their colonies, were remarkable, when considered collectively, both for wide extent and independence of each other. The historian must follow them in their diffusion to the shores of Africa or Gaul, through the grouped or scattered islands of the Mediterranean and the Egean, and the recesses of the Euxine; but when he has de
* The History of Greece. By George Grote, Esq. Vol. III. pp. 558. Vol. IV. pp. 562.
scribed their locality, their institutions and the manner of their establishment, he has nothing to relate of the majority, by which their history can be brought into unity with that of Greece itself. A series of monographs thus takes the place of a proper history; it is fortunate that many of them are enlivened by description and anecdote from the treasure-house of Herodotus; but no art can make most of them interesting to the general reader. The history of Greece really does not begin before the Persian, hardly before the Peloponnesian war. The conclusion of Mr. Grote's fourth volume only brings us to the first act of the former—the battle of Marathon. He has, therefore, not yet reached the period by which his true power as a writer of history must be tried. Till he has fully extricated himself from the broken ground of detached description, and the thorny mazes of controversial criticism, with which so much of the present volumes is still occupied, we cannot judge what rank he will take among the great masters of historical narration. This interruption of the course of his story by critical disquisition is, in some measure, unavoidable in a period of which neither the facts nor the dates are well ascertained; yet we think Mr. Grote indulges in writing controversial notes with a length and frequency not absolutely required. Could they have been relegated to the end of the volume or of the chapter, the effect which they produce in diverting the reader's attention from the text would have been in some degree obviated. But, to say the truth, we do not see the necessity that wherever he differs from Mr. Fynes Clinton, or Dr. Thirlwall, or Professor Boeckh, the grounds of the difference should be so amply stated and argued. Scholars will form their judgments from the facts; where these have been enlarged and corrected since the days of Wesseling and Dodwell, it is right that the reader should be informed of it. These cases, however, are really few; and all beyond this is a mere balancing of probabilities, which, however long they are discussed, will always appear differently to different minds. We should be sorry to be understood as undervaluing these disquisitions: they are, in general, full of learning and acute reasoning; still they encumber and impede the course of the history, and may prevent the sound views which it exhibits from finding their way to general acceptance.
The relations of the Greeks with foreign countries, which in the former volumes appear in the doubtful light of mythical legends, become in this period historical facts; Asia Minor, Phænicia, Egypt-above all, Assyria, Babylonia, Media and Persia, the states whose consolidation under the successors of Cyrus formed the mass of empire with which Greece came into collision, claim a place, therefore, in Grecian history. Mr. Grote usually keeps close to the authority of Herodotus, whose character he justly appreciates, attributing to him entire trustworthiness, without exalting him into infallibility. It may be thought, indeed, that he rather leans too strongly to his side, and admits some statements on his testimony, which no testimony can render credible. Those who, from the tenor of his first two volumes, have been inclined to accuse Mr. Grote of a disposition to immoderate scepticism, may be surprised to find him charged with too easy a faith : yet what shall we say to his admitting, on the evidence of Herodotus, that the walls of Babylon were 337 feet high by 75 feet wide, the circumference of the city which these walls embraced being 60 miles? It is fair that he should state for himself the reasons which have induced him to give credence to so startling an account. After observing, very justly, that Herodotus had visited Babylonia himself, that he had bestowed great pains on Assyria and its phenomena, and is very precise in the measures of which he speaks, he proceeds,
“To these reasons for placing faith in Herodotus we may add another, not less deserving of attention. That which seems incredible in the constructions which he describes, arises simply from their enormous bulk, and the frightful quantity of human labour which must have been employed to execute them.To bring to pass all that he has described is a mere question of time, patience, number of labourers and cost of maintaining them; for the materials were both close at hand and inexhaustible.
“Now, what would be the limit imposed upon the power and will of the old kings of Babylonia on these points ? 'We can hardly assign that limit with so much confidence, as to venture to pronounce a statement of Herodotus incredible, when he tells us something which he has seen or verified from eyewitnesses. The pyramids and other works in Egypt are quite sufficient to make us mistrustful of our means of appreciation; and the great wall of China (extending for 1200 English miles along what was once the whole northern frontier of the Chinese empire,—from 20 to 25 feet high,-wide enough for six horses to run abreast, and furnished with a suitable number of gates and bastions) contains more material than all the buildings of the British empire put together, according to Barrow's estimate.”—III. 396.
We shall certainly not condemn the statement of Herodotus merely on account of the vast expenditure of time and labour which it implies. It is not the disproportion between the effect supposed and the resources of the Babylonian kings which causes our scepticism; for we have no measure of these resources which we can apply as a test. It is the entire want of proportion between the end to be attained and the means employed for attaining it, which makes the account of a city wall 337 feet high to us incredible. That end is defence. It is admitted that the capital of Babylonia, standing in the midst of a vast plain, without any elevation of which the founder could avail himself as a natural source of strength, needed artificial protection of an extraordi. nary kind. We know from Xenophon, an eye-witness, that the walls of Larissa and Mespila, on the Tigris, were of a height surpassing any thing to be seen elsewhere. But when this end was abundantly secured, what motive was there for a perfectly superfluous expenditure of labour? The fortification of a city is not a work of ostentation or devotion, but of utility; and utility prescribes a limit, though vanity and superstition know none. We raise no doubts respecting the measures of the Temple of Belus; had not one stone remained upon
another of the Great Pyramid, we would have taken its dimensions on the authority of Herodotus, because we cannot presume to say what the desire to please the Deity, or honour himself by the magnificence of his sepulchre, may have led a monarch to undertake. But we never heard of a sovereign, whatever his command of money and labour might be, who placed his glory in digging a canal or constructing a road so out of all proportion to its uses, as the walls of Babylon must
• The walls of Larissa were 100 feet high ; those of Mespila, 150. Xen. Exp. Cyr. iü. 4. We cannot suppose that Xenophon had time to measure heights, but may trust his general estimate.
have been, according to the measures of Herodotus. Let Mr. Grote, when he next passes under the Monument, picture to himself a mass of brick-work rising one hundred and thirty-five feet above it, and reflect that it was not from the inhabitants of Brobdignag that Babylon needed to be defended, but from men of the stature of London citizens, and we think he will feel the reasonableness of our doubts. His example of the wall of China tells rather against him than for him: vast as it is, it is neither a mile longer nor a foot higher than was absolutely necessary for the attainment of its purpose of keeping out Tartars from the Celestial Empire. We do not say that Herodotus was credulous in regard to measures and numbers, but he was certainly not apt in applying to them that ready and excellent criterion which the multiplication-table and the rule of three supply to men whose genius is more arithmetical than his; he must otherwise have rejected the tale which was told him, that the Lake of Mæris was an excavation, and that the earth dug out from it had been carried off and thrown into the Nile.*
If Herodotus really saw at Babylon a wall of brick 337 feet in height, we must beg leave to suppose that it was some tower or gateway, on which, for show or strength, a special elevation had been bestowed, and that it was not continued on the same scale for the whole sixty miles of the circuit of the city. But is it certain that Herodotus saw the wall which Nebuchadnezzar built? He himself says that Darius after the rebellion razed the walls (rò teixos nepieīlɛ, III. 159); and this expression has been generally understood to imply such an extent of demolition, that one who visited Babylon, as Herodotus did, sixty or seventy years afterwards, could only learn by hearsay what their height had previously been. Mr. Grote (III. 396) thinks Darius did no more than make breaches here and there in the walls, leaving them in the main untouched. We think tepleīle more naturally expressive of a continuous lowering than of breaches made at intervals. His chief argument is, that Herodotus describes the town and its phenomena in the present tense. It so happens, however, that in the passage which declares the height (τείχος πεντήκοντα μεν πηχέων βασιληΐων εόν το εύρος, ύψος δε διηκοσίων πηχέων), the participle is ambiguous, answering equally to ô ny or o cott; and the emphatic declaration which precedes the description of the Temple of Belus, και ές εμέ τούτο έτι čov, is most naturally explained, if what went before had not existed to his own time. We have always felt embarrassed by another circumstance,-the almost entire disappearance of such an enormous mass of brick-work. The Temple of Belus and the Royal Palace still remain, but there is scarcely a trace of the sixty miles of walls, 75 feet thick and 337 feet high. Could such piles have so completely vanished ?
In connection with the reign of Darius, Mr. Grote discusses (IV. 305) an interesting question respecting the publication of the History of Herodotus. Those who have inquired minutely into the traces of time in his work, have been startled by the passage (I. 130) in which he says
“ that the Medes submitted themselves to the Persians, from dissatisfaction with the severity of Astyages, but subsequently (votépu Xpovo) repented of what they had done, and revolted from Darius;
* II. 149.