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HEAVENLY CHOIRS 1
BRANTWOOD, 18th September, 1877. 1. I REALLY thought Fors would have been true to its day, this month; but just as it was going to press, here is something sent me by my much-honoured friend Frederick Gale (who told me of the race-horse and kitten?), which compels me to stop press to speak of it.
It is the revise of a paper which will be, I believe, in Baily's Magazine by the time this Fors is printed ;-a sketch of English manners and customs in the days of Fielding: (whom Mr. Gale and I agree in holding to be a truly moral novelist, and worth any quantity of modern ones since Scott's death,—be they who they may).
But my friend, though an old Conservative, seems himself doubtful whether things may not have been a little worse managed, in some respects, then, than they are now: and whether some improvements may not really have taken place in the roads,-postage, and the like: and chiefly his faith in the olden time seems to have been troubled by some reminiscences he has gathered of the manner of inflicting capital punishment in the early Georgian epochs. Which manner, and the views held concerning such punishment, which dictate the manner, are indeed among the
["Of Books” and “The Nurse's Song" (see below, $ 18) were rejected titles for this Letter.]
2 [See Letter 79, § 13 (p. 162).]
3 [The reference is to an article entitled “Social Life in the Last Century," which appeared in Baily's Magazine for October 1877, vol. 31, pp. 78–89. Mr. Gale remarks with regard to Fielding, “I am very fond of the old novels of a century and a half ago; and although they have to be kept in a place by themselves, I firmly believe that there is more real morality in them than in half the books of the present day." On the morality of Fielding, compare Vol. XXVIII, pp. 287–288.)
surest tests of the nobility or vileness of men : therefore I will ask my friend, and my readers, to go with me a little farther back than the days of Fielding, if indeed they would judge of the progress, or development, of human thought on this question ;-and hear what, both in least and in utmost punishment, was ordained by literally “Rhadamanthine” law, and remained in force over that noblest nation who were the real Institutors of Judgment,* some eight hundred
from the twelfth to the fourth century before Christ.
2. I take from Müller's Dorians,' Book III., chap. xi., the following essential passages (italics always mine) :
"Property was, according to the Spartan notions, to be looked upon as a matter of indifference; in the decrees and institutions attributed to Lycurgus, no mention was made of this point, and the ephors were permitted to judge according to their own notions of equity. The ancient legislators had an evident repugnance to any strict regulations on this subject; thus Zaleucus—who however first made particular enactments concerning the right of property-expressly interdicted certificates of debt. ...
“The ephors decided all disputes concerning money and property, as well as in accusations against responsible officers, provided they were not of a criminal nature; the kings decided in cases of heiresses and adoptions. Public offences, particularly of the kings and other authorities, were decided by an extreme course of judicature. The popular assembly had probably no judicial” (meaning only elective) “functions : disputes concerning the succession to the throne were referred to it only after ineffectual attempts to settle them, and it then passed a decree. .
Among the various punishments which occur, fines levied on property would appear ridiculous in any other state than Sparta, on account of their extreme lowness. Perseus, in his treatise on the Lacedæmonian government, says that 'the judge immediately condemns the rich man to the loss of a dessert (éráüklov); the poor he orders to bring a reed, or a rush, or laurel leaves for a public banquet.' Nicocles the Lacedæmonian says upon the same subject, when the ephor has heard all the witnesses, he either acquits the defendant or condemns him; and the successful plaintiff slightly fines him in a cake, or some laurel leaves, which were used to give a relish to the cakes.
"Banishment was probably never a regular punishment in Sparta, for the law could hardly compel a person to do that which, if he had done
* The Mosaic law never having been observed by the Jews in literal
[Referred to also in Crown of Wild Olive, Vol. XVIII, p. 472. Seo vol. ii. pp. 232, 233, 235-236, 238, 241, 242, 239-240, of the English edition of 1830. Dots have been inserted to show where Ruskin omits passages.]
it voluntarily, would have been punished with death. .. On the other hand, banishment exempted a person from the most severe punishments, and, according to the principles of the Greeks, preserved him from every persecution; so that even a person who was declared an outlaw by the Amphictyons was thought secure when out of the country. There is no instance in the history of Sparta of any individual being banished for political reasons, so long as the ancient constitution continued.
“The laws respecting the penalty of death which prevailed in the Grecian, and especially in the Doric, states, were derived from Delphi. They were entirely founded upon the ancient rite of expiation, by which a limit was first set to the fury of revenge, and a fixed mode of procedure in such cases was established.
“The Delphian institutions were, however, doubtless connected with those of Crete, where Rhadamanthus was reported by ancient tradition to have first established courts of justice, and a system of law (the larger and more important part of which, in early times, is always the criminal law).* Now as Rhadamanthus is said to have made exact retaliation the fundamental principle of his code, it cannot be doubted, after what has been said in the second book on the connection of the worship of Apollo, and its expiatory rites, with Crete, that in this island the harshness of that principle was early softened by religious ceremonies, in which victims and libations took the place of the punishment which should have fallen on the head of the offender himself.
“The punishment of death was inflicted either by strangulation, in a room of the public prison, or by throwing the criminal into the Cæadas, a ceremony which was always performed by night. It was also in ancient times the law of Athens that no execution should take place in the daytime. So also the Senate of the Æolic Cume (whose antiquated institutions have been already mentioned) decided criminal cases during the night, and voted with covered balls, nearly in the same manner as the kings of the people of Atlantis, in the Critias of Plato. These must not be considered as oligarchical contrivances for the undisturbed execution of severe sentences, but they must be attributed to the dread of pronouncing and putting into execution the sentence of death, and to an unwillingness to bring the terrors of that penalty before the eye of day. A similar repugnance is expressed in the practice of Spartan Gerusia, which never passed sentence of death without several days' deliberation, nor without the most conclusive testimony."
* I have enclosed this sentence in brackets, because it is the German writer's parenthesis, from his own general knowledge; and it shows how curiously unconscious he had remained of the real meaning of the “retaliation" of Rhadamanthus, which was of good for good, not of evil for evil. See the following note.
† I did not know myself what the Cæadas was; so wrote to my dear old friend, Osborne Gordon, who tells me it was probably a chasm in the limestone rock ; but his letter is so interesting that I keep it for Deucalion,2
1 (See Letter 23, § 16 (Vol. XXVII. p. 409). ]
: (Where, however, it was not used. For this chasm, see Strabo, viii. 367, and Thucydides, i. 134.]
3. These being pre-Christian views of the duty and awfulness of capital punishment_(we all know the noblest instance of that waiting till the sun was behind the mountains)—here is the English eighteenth-century view of it, as a picturesque and entertaining ceremony :
“ As another instance of the matter-of-course way of doing business in the olden time, an old Wiltshire shepherd pointed out to a brother of mine a place on the Downs where a highwayman was hung, on the borders of Wilts and Hants. “It was quite a pretty sight,' said the old man; for the sheriffs and javelin-men came a-horseback, and they all stopped at the Everleigh Arms for refreshment, as they had travelled a long way. Did the man who was going to be hanged have anything ?' · Lord, yes, as much strong beer as he liked ; and we drank to his health, and then they hung he, and buried him under the gallows.”” 2
4. Now I think the juxtaposition of these passages may enough show my readers how vain it is to attempt to reason from any single test, however weighty in itself, to general conclusions respecting national progress. It would be as absurd to conclude, from the passages quoted, that the English people in the days of George the Third were in all respects brutalized, and in all respects inferior to the Dorians in the days of Rhadamanthus, as it is in the modern philanthropist of the Newgatory * school to conclude that we are now entering on the true Millennium, because we can't bear the idea of hanging a rascal for his crimes,
* As a literary study, this exquisite pun of Hood's (quoted by my correspondent in last Fors), and intensely characteristic of the man, deserves the most careful memory, as showing what a noble and instructive lesson even a pun may become, when it is deep in its purpose, and founded on a truth which is perfectly illustrated by the seeming equivocation.
1 [The death of Socrates : see Plato's Phædo, 116, 117.)
[See Letter 81, $ 17 (p. 214). Another pun which Ruskin loved was Hood's dying jest to his wife : “My dear, I fear you'll lose your lively Hood.” Ruskin used to refer to this with admiration for the calm and peace of mind which the dying man's playfulness implied. “ Hood,” wrote Ruskin of his puns, “is so awful under his fun that one never can laugh”: see (in a later volume of this edition) the letter to C. E. Norton of November 29, 1858.]
though we are quite ready to drown any quantity of honest men for the sake of turning a penny on our insurance;and though (as I am securely informed) from ten to twelve public executions of entirely innocent persons take place in Sheffield, annually, by crushing the persons condemned under large pieces of sandstone thrown at them by steamengines; in order that the moral improvement of the public may be secured, by furnishing them with carving-knives sixpence a dozen cheaper than, without these executions, would be possible.
5. All evidences of progress or decline have therefore to be collected in mass,—then analyzed with extreme care, —then weighed in the balance of the Ages, before we can judge of the meaning of any one :—and I am glad to have been forced by Fors to the notice of my friend's paper, that I may farther answer a complaint of my Manchester correspondent, of which I have hitherto taken no notice, that I under-estimate the elements of progress in Manchester. My answer is, in very few words, that I am quite aware there are many amiable persons in Manchester-and much general intelligence. But, taken as a whole, I perceive that Manchester can produce no good art, and no good literature; it is falling off even in the quality of its cotton; it has reversed, and vilified in loud lies, every essential principle of political economy; it is cowardly in war, predatory in peace; and as a corporate body, plotting at last to steal, and sell, for a profit,* the waters of Thirlmere and clouds of Helvellyn.”
* The reader must note—though I cannot interrupt the text to explain, that the Manchester (or typically commercial,-compare Fors, Letter 70, 8 4 ) heresy in political economy is twofold,—first, what may specifically be called
1 [See Letter 56, § 18 (Vol. XXVIII. p. 394).] : (Mr. Horsfall : see above, pp. 149, 204, 213.)
* (For a note on this subject, see Vol. XIII. p. 517 n. Opposition to the Manchester scheme was at this time being promoted by Mr. R. Somervell, a Companion of St. George's Guild, and his pamphlets were circulated with fors (see Vol. XXVII. p. cviii.).),
. [Vol. XXVIII. p. 715.]