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kindly sort of produce, that turns to but little account. This morning it was my design to touch upon the politics of a neighbouring country, had I'not been detained at home by a kind of contrary wind in the channel of my thoughts.
The subject of biography, to which last Saturday's speculation was devoted, has still a claim upon me, as the limits of my paper excluded several observations it was my wish to subjoin : I must yield therefore to this arbitrary humour of the moment, and pursue with the best grace I can, the subject to which it impels me.
In my paper of Saturday, no notice was taken of the advantage to be derived from a comparative view of the great particulars in the lives of illustrious men; from which extension of plan, many new sources of pleasure and instruction are opened in this species of writing.
Every object of curiosity or study rises in value and importance, in proportion as it branches out into new connections and analogies. It is as true an observation in respect to a portion of knowledge, as a portion of matter, that the more points it touches, the more closely it settles, and the more indissoluble it becomes. Thus, nothing is more clear, both in science and morality, than that, in proportion as the mind is supplied with the means of comparing, its judgement is improved and strengthened, and its fund of knowledge enriched, not with loose and miscellaneous articles, but with compacted truths and solid axioms. A mind stored with this sort of intelligence, may be compared to the owner of a rich and united territory, where there is no intervening slip of dubious land than can produce cause of anxiety to the owner, or of litigation to his neighbours.
It is the same with persons as it is with things : our judgements are never good, but when they are furnished from a great stock of materials, and a copious range of observations. Thus, to estimate and to feel the value of a great character, we must place it by the side of other great characters; and to know what we ought reasonably to expect from a virtuous man, in such or such a contingency, we must have a rule in our minds, drawn from the observation of many virtuous men, acting under similar circumstances. It is on this principle that comparative biography may afford us great assistance in making up our judgements as to the separate characters held up to our view: Augustus Cæsar looks less by the side of the czar Peter, and the czar Peter himself turns a little pale at the approach of Alfred the Great; sir Walter Raleigh must strike his colours to sir Thomas More, and sir Thomas More is a head shorter when sir Philip Sidney makes his appearance.
It is by bringing in this manner those who have figured in each other's absence, face to face, and by placing them at the same time before us in the corresponding scenes of their lives, that we are enabled fairly to discriminate between them, and to proportion our esteem and admiration; whereas, in the successive and changing prospects which history presents, the hero that comes last into the field is almost sure of gaining the completest victory over us: still, however, the impressions which he leaves, grow weaker and weaker, as the object becomes more remote; and the fickle lover is scarcely more inconstant amidst the various influence of contending beauty. There is no better remedy for this evil, than the mode of comparing together characters illustrious in history; and these comparisons in
general will interest and surprise, in proportion to the distance, in the order of time, between the heroes they approximate: they are a sort of artificial medium, by the help of which we bring antiquity nearer to our own times, and gain a distincter view of those august forms of magnanimity and heroism which history has preserved.
We may make too some flattering discoveries by this proximity of comparison, and convince ourselves that in many instances fancy alone, aided by a superstitious reverence for past ages, has magnified ancient prowess and ancient worth so much above modern excellence: thus, in these solemn kinds of trials, the admirable personages in modern history will often come forth with fairer fame and greener laurels, and recover what they have lost by overbearing partiality and pedantic preference.
To these particular advantages we may add others of a more general nature; by the strong resemblance and vivacity of such pictures, the imagination is heightened and invigorated; by what it opens to us of the analagous constitution of our minds, our views of human nature are enlarged; by the sudden effects of coincidence and contrast, our thoughts are pleasingly suspended and relieved ; and by discovering the relationship and sympathy of great souls, our feelings are raised to rapture, and our hearts are expanded with delight.
I do not know any writer who has been more successful in the execution of this idea, or who has hit
upon a juster parallel between two characters famous in history, than a living author, who has brought under one view the lives of Philip of Macedon and Frederick of Prussia. These conquerors are perhaps as much entitled to our attention as any whom history records, both on account of their
own peculiar complexions, and the nature of the events which surrounded them. In the life of Phi. lip are involved the causes and beginnings of an entire change in the condition of the ancient world; to the other is owing a more salutary revolution in the political state of modern Europe, than the struggles of a whole age without his assistance would have been able to produce.
Something also appropriate in these characters distinguishes them from the genius of the times in which they lived, and excites in a particular manner the attention of those who love to contemplate dispositions and qualities, which are the genuine progeny of human feelings, heightened by native nobility of soul, and directed by a great and independent understanding. This pre-eminence particularly belongs to Frederick the Second, who appears in a remarkable degree to have followed the councils of his own heart, in every concern, religious, moral, and political. All the leading measures and princi. ples of his administration originated in himself; and the discipline of his army was not more exclusively, the effort of his own genius, than those peaceful establishments which cast such lustre on his reign, and showed themselves, amidst the calamities of long and unequal wars, like the tops of mountains displaying themselves above the storm. From his attachment to antiquity, there was bred in his mind something of the hardihood of earlier times; and the stoical magnanimity of his end corresponded with the exits of ancient philosophers and heroes.
Philip was equally distinguished by qualities peculiar and complexional, and relieved, if the expression will be allowed me, from the genius of the age in which he lived. If Frederick, borrowed something from the heroical examples of antiquity, Philip seems to have anticipated the arts and stratagems of modern policy; and thus these two remarkable men met half-way in their career of glory; and, with their native and superinduced characters, exhibit an astonishing resemblance. Both were lovers of pleasure and lovers of money, but were governed by neither; both were inventors in the art of war; both possessed the qualities of a general in the highest perfection; and both were alike eminent in arts and arms. The turn of their minds was remarkably social; and both delighted to lay aside the incumbrance of majesty, and unbend in familiar conversation with their subjects; and as they partook in the liveliest manner of the pleasures of equal society, and the uncontrouled commerce of sentiments and opinions, they alike considered it as their interest to overthrow the delusions of superstition, and to treat the grave impostures of philosophers and priests with contempt and derision. It is remarkable too, that the private feelings of both were embittered, the one by Voltaire, and the other by Theopompus the Chian. They agreed as well in their attachment to shows, amusements, and pleasures, as in the encouragement they held out to useful industry; and both equally signalized themselves by their activity in promoting objects of public utility, by their unexampled success in improving their dominions, and their extraordinary attention to the education of their subjects. In their situation with regard to foreign powers, the coincidence is no less remarkable: yet there are points of difference on this side of the comparison, which are very much to the advantage of the Prussian monarch, who was undoubtedly a prince of great honour and probity. In the gross, however, an attentive reader of the histories of these princes may push this parallel to a surprising length,