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ant with the office assigned to him by Plato of presiding over fortuitous events. Socrates was going one day to see a friend in company with some others, when he made a sudden halt, and told them that his demon had advised him not to go down that street, but to choose another. Some of them turned back, but others persisting in the path before them, “on purpose as 'twere, to confute Socrates his demon," encountered a herd of muddy swine, and came home with their clothes all over dirt. Charillus, a musician who had come to Athens to see the philosopher Cebes, got especially mudded, so that now and then, says Plutarch, “ he and his friends would think in merriment on Socrates his demon, wondering that it never forsook the man, and that Heaven took such particular care of him.”* It was particular enough in heaven, to be sure, to hinder a philosopher from having his drapery damaged ; but we suppose matters would have been worse, had he gone the way of the inferior flesh. He would have made it worth the pigs' while to be more tragical.
This demon is the only doubtful thing about the character of Socrates, for as to the common misconceptions of him, they are but the natural conclusions of vulgar minds; and Aristophanes, who became a traitor to the graces he had learned at his table, and condescended to encourage the misconceptions in order to please the instinctive jealousy of the men of wit and pleasure about town, was but a splendid buffoon. But when we reflect that the wisdom inculcated by Socrates was of a nature particularly straightforward and practical ; this supernatural twist in
* See the story as related by Plutarch, and translated by Creech, in the “Morals by several Hands.” Vol. II. p. 287. The street preferred by the philosopher was “Trunkmakers Street," and the fatal one “Gravers Row,” says Creech,“ near the Guildhall.”
his pretensions appears the more extraordinary To be sure it has been well argued, that no men are more likely to be put out of their reckoning by a sudden incursion of fancy or demand upon their belief, than those who are the most mechanical and matter-of-fact on all other points. They are not used to it; and have no grounds to go upon, the moment the hardest and dryest ones are taken from under them. Plato has rendered it difficult to believe this of Socrates ; but then we have the authority of Socrates for concluding that Plato put a great deal in his head that he never uttered ; and the Socrates of Xenophon, we think, the practical farmer and house-keeper, might not be supposed incapable of yielding to superstitious delusion out of a defect of imagination. Socrates sometimes reminds us of Dr. Johnson. He was a Johnson on a higher scale, healthier with more self-command ; and instead of being intemperate and repenting all his life, had conquered his passions, and turned them into graces becoming his reason. Johnson had a sturdy every-day good sense and wit and words to impress it; but it was only persuasion in him : in Socrates it was persuasion and practice. Now Johnson had a strong tendency to be moved by superstitious impressions and perplexities from within. A sudden action of the bile, not well understood, or taken as a moral instead of a physical intimation, would give rise to some painful thoughts; and this (which is a weakness that many temperaments given to reflection and not in perfect health, have found it necessary to guard against), would lead him into some superstitious practice, or avoidance. There is a circumstance related of him, very like this one of Socrates ; only the sedentary, diseased, dinner-loving Englishman made a gloomy business of it; while the sturdy gymnastic Athenian, mastering the weakness of his stomach, turned the superstition on his side into an elegance and an exaltation. The fact we allude to is, that Johnson would never go down Cranbourne Alley, or some street thereabout. He always turned and went round about. Had he been gay and confident, not overwhelmed with scrofula, and with the more gloomy parts of his creed, he might have sworn as Socrates did, that it was his guardian angel that told him not to go that way. Had it been Jeremy Taylor Jeremy the amiable and the handsome, the Sir Charles Grandison of Christianity, who, with equal comfort to his security, pronounced a panegyric upon a wedding ring, or a description of eternal torments (so much can superstition pervert a sweet nature) - he, if he had thought he had an intimation from within, would have infallibly laid it to the account of the prettiest angel of the skies. Was it something of a like vanity in Socrates (too superior to his fellows, not to fall into some disadvantage of that sort)? or was it an unhealthy movement within him happily turned ? or was it a joke which was to be taken for serious, by those who liked ? or did it arise from one of those perplexities of not knowing what to conclude, to which the greatest minds may be subject when they attain to the end of their experience, and stand between the known world and the unknown? or, lastly, was it owing (as we fear is most likely) partly to a superstition retained from his nurse, and partly to a determination to construe an occasional fancy, thus warranted, into a conscious certainty, and so turn his interest with heaven to the account of his effect among men ? Such, we fear, is the most reasonable conjecture, and such we take to be the general impression; though with a delicacy, equally singular and creditable to them, mankind (with rare exceptions) seem to have agreed to say as little about the matter as possible, choosing rather to give so great a man the benefit of their ignorance, than lose any part of their reverence for his wisdom. One thing must not be forgotten; that this pretension to an unusual sense of his attendant spirit assisted in getting him into trouble. He was accused of introducing false gods, — a singular charge, which shows how much the opinion of a guardian deity had gone out of use. On the other hand, he argued (with a true look of feeling, and which must afterwards have had great effect), that it was not his fault if he beheld in omens and intimations the immediate influence of his guardian angel, and not merely the omens themselves. That he did believe in the latter somehow or other, is generally admitted.
It is not a little curious, that this is the only story of a good demon that has come down to us in the records of antiquity. Some philosophers had theirs long afterwards; but these were evident imitations. Stories of bad demons, according to the vulgar notion, are more numerous. Two are to be found in the life of Apollonius of Tyana. Another is in Pausanus, and a third is the famous one of Brutus. These injurious persons were seldom however bad by nature. They become so from ill usage, being in fact, the souls of men who had been ill treated when alive.
ON THE GENII OF ANTIQUITY AND THE
HE bad demon was thought to be of formidable
shape, black, frowning, and brutal. A man, according to Pausanias, fought with one, and drove him into the sea. As we have told the
story before (in the “Indicator”),* and it is little to tell, we shall proceed to give the noblest passage ever written about demons, in the scene out of Shakespeare. The spirit that appeared to Brutus has been variously represented. Some made it of the common order of malignant appearances ; others have described it as resembling Cæsar. This was the light in which it was beheld by our great poet.
With what exquisite art; that is to say, with what exquisite nature, has he not introduced this scene, and made us love and admire the illustrious patriot, who having done what he could upon earth, and prepared for his last effort, is about to encounter the menaces of fate. How admirably, by the help of the little boy and the lute, has he painted him, who was only a dictator and a warrior because he was a great humanist, the Platonic philosopher in action, the ideal, yet not passionless, man, — such a one as Shakespeare loved, not because he loved only select human nature, but because he loved all that human nature contained !
We must confess, that in our opinion the address to the Ghost is not so good as in simple old Plutarch. There is too much astonishment and agitation in it; if not for na
* In the article on the “Household Gods of the Ancients.” – Ed.