Page images
PDF
EPUB

ing to outdo Homer in the management of his subject, he does not content himself with beginning the narrative in the middle of the action, and then relating quietly all that has gone before; the last part only is told to Dosicles, and the commencement hinted at obliquely. He has besides the practice of refining too much, and he has contrived to confuse his piece by attempting to introduce a story within a story."

Prodromus is the author of many other works on almost every subject, some published, and some still slumbering in manuscript. Requiescant in pace!

In the middle of the twelfth century CONSTANTINE MANASSES, the author of a Chronicle written in political verses, produced a tale in the same style of composition, called the " Loves of Aristander and Callithea." Some fragments of it are preserved in the "Garden of Roses," of Macarius Chrysocephalas, and it is trusted that no more may be found.

NICETAS EUGENIANUS has the distinguished honour of being the last and worst of the Greek romancers. His work, divided into nine books, and written in political verses, was at first set down to Prodromus; but the title being luckily found, that author, unhappy enough already, was absolved from the charge, although still left in the situation of an accomplice before the fact. The title of the Parisian manuscript runs thus: "A Poem by the Lord Nicolas Eugenianus, or an imitation of the late Philosopher Prodromus."

"It would be impossible," says M. Villemain," to extract from it a faithful picture, a true sentiment, or a single natural or lively expression. It is a piece of dead literature, the image of a society destroyed by ignorance and servility. There are sounds, phrases, forms of style, appearances, and, if the expresssion be permitted, the shadows of thoughts; but there is no soul, no life. It puts one in mind of the warrior in Ariosto, who, being killed in battle, continued to fight for some time from habit before noticing that he was dead. It presents no curiosities in manners, not one of those ingenious traits, which in the other works serve to balance and redeem their faults, and which even now excite interest. It deserves, in short, to be damned without hesitation or reserve."

We have thus completed the task we had assigned to ourselves, of placing before the reader in a popular form all that is known of the Greek romancers and their works; and now looking back upon the meagre skeleton sketches which have been the result of our inquiries, we are only surprised that that all is so little. The procession glides past like the pageantry of a dream, crowded and confused, yet formless, empty, and indefinite. Names instead of persons are before our eyes, and words instead of things meet our grasp; and like the later romances which are only "shadows of thoughts," the authors are only shadows of men.

The curious reader will be struck with the circumstance, that by far the greater number of those persons were of the Asiatic coast or adjacent islands; and his thoughts will be carried back to the fact which he has observed in the literary history of Greece, that the brightest and best of those names which have filled the world with their renown, were all derived from the same quarter. Except the two Athenians, Thucydides and Xenophon, there was scarcely a single Greek historian of eminence born on the European continent. The same thing may be said of the majority of the philosophers. Thales of Miletus, with his scholars, Anaximander, and Anaxamenes, of the same place--Pythagoras of SamosHeraclitus and Hermogoras, of Ephesus-Chrysippus of Solis -Zeno of Cyprus-Anaxagoras of Clazomene-Xenophanes of Colophon--Cleanthes, the stoic, of Assus-Metrodorus, the friend of Epicurus, of Lampsacus-Theophrastus-Xenocrates -Arcesilas-Protrarchas-with a host of other names of power, all crowd upon the memory. The greatest masters in medicine, the famous five in epic poetry, and indeed almost all the poets were from the same quarter. This soil, however, so wonderfully luxuriant in genius, was exhausted before the romancers appeared. The free-born muse cannot breathe in the atmosphere of slavery; or rather, where she is, tyrants cannot breathe. Greece was sunk not merely in political slavery, but in that worst slavery of the senses, which chokes and destroys every noble and lofty sentiment. The reveller was in her palaces, his head crowned with flowers, and the music of his songs rising wildly above the unheeded voice which everywhere proclaimed "Delenda est Carthago!"

It is curious, notwithstanding, to trace in their writings the yearning which they still felt for the classical glories of antiquity, although to this it is owing that the greater number of their romances are so worthless. Their scenes and incidents belong to the Greece of Homer, rather than the Christian era. Piracies, robberies, and abductions, are their staple events; roving banditti, enslaved damsels and stolen children, who turn out to be the sons of princes, their personages. But this ancient form of society. receives no impress of antiquity. Destitute of the taste and industry of the leading novelists of the present day, who have made the historical romances so interesting and so true, they fill up the antique mould with modern character. A strange commixture thus takes place of the old and the new; the romancer has no distinct and definite image before him; and the reader is constantly reminded that the book is only a fiction. In their characters they deal entirely in generalities; their heroes and heroines are nothing more than the forms of abstract ideas, personifications of adventure, misfortune, and vicissitude. We are oc

casionally, indeed, amused with the rapid succession of the events, but seldom interested in the actions; for the latter come before us, not in their individual character, but in the character of their class-seeming to say like the persons of a Chinese drama, “ I am a pirate-I am a robber-I am a hero." The only attempt to paint the moral history of passion is in the romance of Longus; but even this is of a nature to be more interesting to the physician than to the philosopher.

While withdrawing a melancholy gaze from the picture suggested by the foregoing pages, of the decline of Greek literature, and the utter extinction which followed, our thoughts unconsciously stray into speculations on the future.

"Who shall awake the Spartan fife?"

exclaimed a poet of the last century.

"Who shall awake the Spartan fife,

And call in solemn sounds to life
The youths, whose locks divinely spreading,
Like vernal hyacinths of sullen hue,

At once the breath of fear and virtue shedding
Applauding freedom lov'd of old to view?"

The Spartan fife is already awakened; its shrill notes are echoing at this moment among the isles of Greece, and the barbarian quivers both with rage and terror as its portentous music pierces into his heart. The war-pipe is awakened, but the harp sleepsfor ever? Should Greece once more assume her place among the nations, what are the prospects of her literature? When she awakes from her death-like slumber, will she arise in all the charms of her prime

"severe in youthful beauty?"

Will the songs of the AOIAH once more soothe her ear, or the groves of Academe wave over her head? Some romantic misconception, some amiable and beautiful forgetfulness, prevails on this subject. To the eye of youthful enthusiasm, or the equally simple and single-hearted gaze of a genuine lover of learning, this "home of their soul" appears in the situation of the Sleeping Beauty of the orientals. Like her, she is seen in their glorious dreams, arising untouched by time and change, to look round on the same hills which echoed to her infant songs, to catch inspiration from the same heavens which shed their blessed influence on her youthful head-to bask in the light of eyes beaming with the same expression which once gladdened her heart; to see the same forms of character, manner, habit, life, by which her own had been nourished and established; and to recognize the same images, perpetually renewed, in the antique and enduring mould

of eastern society. Alas, that so beautiful a picture should be only a dream! Greece may indeed awake from her political subjection and moral barbarism; she may become refined and civilized, and as free as such societies can be; but the character of her refinement, and civilization, and freedom, must be essentially different from what it ever has been. The circumstances which formed the original Greek character, the rude beginnings of which are slightly touched on at the beginning of this article, can never more recur. The world is in a different position-a position from which it cannot be moved by the successive falls of single empires, or by anything short of a simultaneous fall of the whole, or a new deluge. Strange and struggling contradictions are seen in every form of society, which might appear to point to a series of remarkable, and not vastly distant, convulsions. Straight before the Greeks, as they look into Asia, uniting with the pure and sublime theism of the Turks, we behold the most monstrous intolerance, ignorance, and barbarity. To the left, among the Russians, together with the benign doctrines of Christianity, we find an almost brutal depravity. Behind, in Italy, we see the descendants of the masters of the world rioting in all the delicacies of refinement, eulogising the virtues of their fathers, but imitating only their crimes and excesses, and perverting a merciful religion to the purposes of ignorant atrocity. In fine, watching the awaking of the Sleeping Beauty, there are France and England, with a civilization as exquisite, and as depraved and corrupt as that which preceded and omened the downfal of the Roman empire. Educated in these schools, and tutored by such masters, is it probable that regenerated Greece will ever again become what she was in the ages of her glory?

ART. V.-Ideen über die Politik, den Verkehr, und den Handel der vornehmsten Völker der alten Welt. Von A. H. L. Heeren. Vierte u. sehr verbesserte Auflage. (Ideas upon the Polity, Commerce, and Traffic of the principal Nations of Antiquity. By A. H. L. Heeren. Fourth edition, enlarged.) Göttingen, 1824-29. 3 vols. in 7 parts. 8vo.

THIS excellent work, by Professor Heeren of Göttingen, is not, we believe, yet completed. The earlier editions comprehended a sketch of the Persian empire in its full extent; a geographical, historical and commercial view of the Scythian tribes; of the Indian nations (derived from Greek and Sanscrit sources); and the great trading city of Carthage: a volume on the polity, &c. of ancient Greece was also included. A view of the commercial

relations by which the world was bound together under the universal dominion of Rome, will form a useful and necessary appendix to what has been already accomplished. The fourth edition, which is now before us, contains numerous additions and improvements, the rapid sale of the earlier impressions having given the author frequent opportunities for re-examining his opinions, and perfecting his work. Neither translation nor abridgment of this book, nor of any part of it, has appeared, as far as we know, in Great Britain; but a translation of the fourth volume (of an earlier edition), containing the polity and commerce of Greece, has been published in the United States of America. The translator (Mr. Bancroft) has also introduced to the notice of the American student, Professor Heeren's useful little Manual of Ancient History, which the English booksellers have reprinted for the benefit of ourselves.

A complete translation of this great work of Heeren would hardly meet with success in England. It is true we are a classical people; we all learn Greek and Latin-at least, all do so who wish to be called gentlemen, and aspire to distinguished ecclesiastical and civil posts;-but we are still far from having the necessary preliminary knowledge for relishing long dissertations on the moral, political and commercial condition of those nations whose history and language we profess to make our study. Professor Heeren's work is also too long to be translated. The author, whose speculations are nearly always ingenious and amusing, does not seem to possess, or to value, the art of presenting his ideas in a condensed form. He spreads over the surface of many pages, facts and conclusions that might be confined to a few; and he often tortures a solitary passage of an ancient writer till he has wrung from the unwilling witness the knowledge which it is supposed to conceal. These partial defects do but slightly impair to a careful reader and inquirer the general merit of the work, which is one of the best commentaries on the Greek historical and geographical writers. It has already guided many a bewildered student to a more rational and useful perusal of ancient documents, by throwing a clear and steady light over darkness and obscurity; it has made the study of a Greek historian a delightful and instructive occupation, by illustrating remote facts from the stores of more recent experience; and it transports us across the wide intervening space to an intimate acquaintance with departed people, by directing our attention to the physical and unchangeable circumstances which determine the condition and the commerce of nations.

The last edition of Professor Heeren's Ideen comprehends the Persian empire, with all the principal nations included in it; the

« PreviousContinue »