Imagini ale paginilor

a sort of dread of a preface. Yet of these prefaces Johnson has truly said, “ None of his prefaces were ever thought tedious. They have not the formality of a settled style, in which the first half of the sentence betrays the other. The clauses are never balanced, nor the periods modelled; every word seems to drop by chance, though it falls into its proper place. Nothing is cold or languid ; the whole is airy, animated, and vigorous; what is little, is gay; what is great, is splendid.” Burke (according to Malone, who collected Dryden's prose works in four volumes) used to expatiate with admiration upon Dryden's language, upon which, as Malone thinks, he formed his own style. Dryden was born in 1631 or 1632; was educated at Westminster School, and at Trinity College, Cambridge ; wrote his verses on Cromwell in 1655, and his first play in 1663. He continued his literary labours, under the impulse of straitened circumstances, until the end of his career. He died, after a short illness, in 1700.]

Beneficent as he was, the greatest obligation which he could lay on human kind was the writing of this present history, wherein he has left a perpetual monument of his public love to all the world, in every succeeding age of it, by giving us such precepts as are most conducing to our common safety and our benefit. This philanthropy (which we have not a proper word in English to express) is every where manifest in our author; and from hence proceeded that divine rule which he gave to Scipio,--that, whensoever he went abroad, he should take care not to return to his own house before he had acquired a friend by some new obligement. To this excellency of nature we owe the treasure which is contained in this most useful work; this is the standard by which all good and prudent princes ought to regulate their actions None have more need of friends than monarchs; and though ingratitude is too frequent in the most of those who are obliged, yet encouragement will work on generous minds; and, if the experiment be lost on thousands, yet it never fails on all; and one virtuous man: in a whole nation is worth the buying, as one diamond is worth the search in a heap of rubbish. But a narrow-hearted prince, who thinks that mankind is made for him alone, puts his subjects in a way of deserting him on the first occasion ; and teaches them to be as sparing of their duty as he is of his bounty. He is sure of making enemies who will not be at the cost of rewarding his friends and servants; and, by letting his people see he loves them not, instructs them to live upon the square with him, and to make him sensible, in his turn, that prerogatives are given, but privileges are inherent. As for tricking, cunning, and that which in sovereigns they call king-craft, and reason of state in commonwealths, to them and their proceedings Polybius is an open enemy. He severely reproves all faithless practices, and that xaxom gayposúvn, or vicious policy, which is too frequent in the management of the public. He commends nothing but plainness, sincerity, and the common good, undisguised, and set in a true light before the people. Not but that there may be a necessity of saving a nation by going beyond the letter of the law, or even sometimes by superseding it; but then that necessity must not be artificial,-it must be visible, it must be strong enough to make the remedy not only pardoned, but desired, to the major part of the people; not for the interest only of some few men, but for the public safety; for, otherwise, one infringement of a law draws after it the practice of subverting all the liberties of a nation, which are only entrusted with any government, but can never be given up to it. The best way to distinguish betwixt a pretended necessity and a true, is to observe if the remedy be rarely applied, or frequently; in times of peace, or times of war and public distractions, which are the most usual causes of sudden necessities. From hence Casaubon infers, that this our author, who preaches virtue and probity and plain dealing, ought to be studied principally by kings and ministers of state; and that youth, which are bred up to succeed in the management of business, should read him carefully, and imbibe him thoroughly, detesting the maxims that are given by Machiavel and others, which are only the instruments of tyranny. Furthermore, (continues he,) the study of truth is perpetually joined with the love of virtue ; for there is no virtue which derives not its original from truth; as, on the contrary, there is no vice that has not its beginning from a lie. Truth is the foundation of all knowledge, and the cement of all societies; and this is one of the most shining qualities in our author.

I was so strongly persuaded of this myself, in the perusal of the present history, that I confess, amongst all the ancients, I never found any who had the air of it so much; and, amongst the moderns, none but Philip de Commines. They had this common to them, that they both changed their masters. But Polybius changed not his side, as Philip did; he was not bought off to another party, but pursued the true interest of his country even when he served the Romans. Yet since truth, as one of the philosophers has told me, lies in the bottom of a well, so it is difficult to draw it up; much pains, much diligence, much judgment is necessary to hand it us; even cost is oftentimes required; and Polybius was wanting in none of these.

We find but few historians, of all ages, who have been diligent enough in their search for truth ; it is their common method to take on trust what they distribute to the public; by which means a falsehood once received from a famed writer becomes traditional to posterity. But Polybius weighed the authors from whom he was forced to borrow the history of the times immediately preceding his, and oftentimes corrected them, either by comparing them each with other, or by the lights which he had received from ancient men of known integrity amongst the Romans, who had been conversant in those affairs which were then managed, and were yet living to instruct him. He also learned the Roman tongue, and attained to that knowledge of their laws, their rights, their customs, and antiquities, that few of

own citizens understood them better; having gained permis from the senate to search the Capitol, he made himself familiar with their records, and afterwards translated them into his mother tongue. So that he taught the noblemen of Rome their own municipal laws, and was accounted more skilful in them than Fabius Pictor, a man of the senatorian order, who wrote the transactions of the Punic wars. He who neglected none of the laws of history was so careful of truth (which is the principal), that he made it his whole business to deliver nothing to posterity which might deceive them; and by that diligence and exactness may easily be known to be studious of truth, and a lover of it. What, therefore, Brutus himself thought worthy to transcribe with his own hand out of him, I need not be ashamed to copy after him. “I Lelieve ” (says Polybius) “ that nature herself has constituted truth as the supreme deity which is to be adored by mankind, and that she has given it greater force than any of the rest : for being opposed as she is on all sides, and appearances of truth so often passing for the thing itself in behalf of plausible falsehoods, yet by her wonderful operation she insinuates herself into the minds of men; sometimes exerting her strength immediately, and sometimes lying hid in darkness for a length of time ; but at last she struggles through it, and appears triumphant over falsehood.” This sincerity Polybius preferred to all his friends, and even to his father. “ In all other offices

of life” (says he), “I praise a lover of his friends, and of his native country; but, in writing history, I am obliged to divest myself of all other obligations, and sacrifice them all to truth.”

Aratus, the Sicyonian, in the childhood of our author, was the chief of the Achaian commonwealth ; a man in principal esteem, both in his own country, and all the provinces of Greece; admired universally for his probity, his wisdom, his just administration, and his conduct; in remembrance of all which his grateful countrymen, after his decease, ordained him those honours which are only due to heroes. Him our Polybius had in veneration, and formed himself by imitation of his virtues, and is never wanting in his commendations through the course of his history. Yet even this man, when the cause of truth required it, is many times reproved by him for his slowness in counsel, his tardiness in the beginning of his enterprizes, his tedious and more than Spanish deliberations; and his heavy and cowardly proceedings are as freely blamed by our Polybius, as they were afterwards by Plutarch, who questionless drew his character from this history. In plain terms, that wise general scarce ever performed any great action but by night; the glittering of a sword before his face was offensive to his

eyes; our author, therefore, boldly accuses him of his faint-heartedness; attributes the defeat at Caphiæ wholly to him; and is not sparing to affirm that all Peloponnesus was filled with trophies which were set up as the monuments of his losses. He sometimes praises, and at other times condemns, the proceedings of Philip, king of Macedon, the son of Demetrius, according to the occasions which he gave him by the variety and inequality of his conduct; and this most exquisite on either side. He more than once arraigns him for the inconstancy of his judgment, and chapters even his own Aratus on the same head; showing by many examples, produced from their actions, how many miseries they had both occasioned to the Grecians; and attributing it to the weakness of human nature, which can make nothing perfect. But some men are brave in battle who are weak in counsel, which daily experience sets before our eyes; others deliberate wisely, but are weak in the performing part; and even no man is the same to-day which he was yesterday, or may be to-morrow. On this account, says our author, good man is sometimes liable to blame, and a bad man, though not often, may possibly deserve to be commended." And for this very reason he severely taxes Timæus, a malicious historian, who will allow



no kind of virtue to Agathocles, the tyrant of Sicily, but detracts from all his actions, even the most glorious, because, in general, he was a vicious man. “ Is it to be thought” (says Casaubon) “ that Polybius loved the memory of Agathocles, the tyrant, or hated that of the virtuous Aratus ?” But it is one thing to commend a tyrant, and another thing to overpass in silence those laudable actions which are performed by him; because it argues an author of the same falsehood, to pretermit what has actually been done, as to feign those actions which have never been.


HORACE WALPOLE. [ALTHOUGH Horace Walpole wrote the Castle of Otranto,' which Byron has called the first romance in our language, and published incessantly various antiquarian and critical works, we doubt if he would take rank amongst “the best authors” but for his Letters, which have been given to the world from time to time during the last fifty years. These now form six considerable octavo volumes. These letters were as much authorship as if they had been written for the press. They have not the greatest of all charms in letter-writing, a free outpouring of the thoughts in friendly confidence. They are the carefully wrought observations of a clever, sarcastic, vain, and fastidious man of rank, upon the artificial tastes and habits of the society amongst which he lived. There is no heart in them, and therefore we care nothing for the writer. Upon the whole, they induce a feeling of dislike towards him. We see how much of insincerity there must have been in this clever embalmer of perishable scandals. His object was to amuse his correspondents for the price of their admiration. He now amuses a larger circle, who have very little esteem to give him in return. Horace Walpole was the youngest son of the famous minister, Sir Robert Walpole, and was born in 1717. Throughout his life he took a small part in public affairs, although his interest in the movements of party was always considerable. He succeeded to the title of Earl of Orford in 1791, and died in 1797.]

Portents and prodigies are grown so frequent,

That they have lost their name.” My text is not literally true ; but, as far as earthquakes go towards lowering the price of wonderful commodities, to be sure we are over

« ÎnapoiContinuați »