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Michelet's Graphic Power.
electors-do we realise these and a thousand other details of the great picture seen in that transparent atmosphere of Italy, which makes every outline so clear and sharp? No; historians neglect these details, and produce incomplete works. Professor Becker's Gallus,' though containing very many curious glimpses of the everyday aspect of Roman life, omits most of the above details, and others of equal importance. But did the work contain all that is known on the subject, our remark would still hold good, for we spoke of historians. Michelet is the only writer we are acquainted with, who has at all seen the necessity of bringing in such details, on appropriate occasions, to illustrate and enliven disquisition and narrative. In his little work, there is not only erudition and sagacity, but the far higher qualities of an artist. Rome, the city and its people, is in some measure made present to us. The individuals are known to us. We understand their moral, religious, national sentiments, and we understand their actions. Michelet does not paint character by epigrams, nor by epithets. He does not make a catalogue of good qualities, then another catalogue of bad qualities, and affixing to them a name, bid behold you a man. The man himself is before you. You are let into the secret of his soul by his deeds and words; you understand his deeds and words by understanding the secret of his soul. His beliefs, his superstitions, his loves, his hatreds, and his motives, are laid bare; you know him almost as familiarly as you know Hamlet or Jacques, Macbeth or Falstaff. Not only the great men of history are thus marshalled before you; the great people, whom few regard, is almost as vividly pictured. And all this is done with a few brief significant touches, thrown in as it were carelessly, but with most masterly effect; done en passant, but calculated to endure. There are some conjectures, in this work of Michelet's, ingenious but questionable, and there are some deficiencies; but, in respect of graphic power, there is no history of Rome to rival it. We shall have occasion to quote it hereafter.
The Lectures of Niebuhr are now for the first time published from the MS. notes taken by the students at the time of delivery; arranged, and their statements verified, by Dr. Schmitz, the friend and pupil of Niebuhr, and translator of the third volume of the Roman History.' Dr. Schmitz gives the following account of the materials upon which he had to work.
"In order to put the reader in a position fully to understand these preliminary remarks, it will be necessary for me to give some account of the materials I had to work upon, and of the principles I have endeavoured to follow. The notes upon which the present work is founded were made in the winter of 1828-29, and the summer of 1829, when Niebuhr
gave a course of lectures on the History of Rome in the University of Bonn. The last time that he ever lectured on that subject. His intention was to relate the History of Rome from the earliest times to the downfall of the Western Empire, during the winter course of 1828-29; but the timehe lectured five times every week, and each lecture lasted three quarters of an hour-was not sufficient, and he was not able to carry the history further than the reign of Augustus.-In order to fulfil his engagement, he continued his lectures in the summer of 1829, in which he related the history of the Roman emperors.-The time allowed for this continuation, one lecture every week, proved again insufficient; and, brief as his sketches of the history of the emperors, and the principal events of their reigns were, yet the summer course came to its close just as Niebuhr had finished his account of Constantine the Great.
"It must be observed that Niebuhr delivered his lectures before young men who were supposed to be acquainted with the leading events of Roman history, or at least to possess a sufficient acquaintance with the ancient languages to read the Greek and Latin works which form the sources of our knowledge. It was, therefore, not so much Niebuhr's object to fill their memory with all the details of history, as to enable them to understand its important events, and to form correct notions of the men and institutions which occur in the history of Rome-hence some events were passed over altogether, and others were only slightly alluded to, especially where he could refer his hearers to the ancients themselves for accurate and satisfactory information."—Preface,
Having collated his own notes, with those of a great many of his fellow-students, thus supplying omissions and correcting errors, Dr. Schmitz began the laborious task of verifying every one of Niebuhr's statements, and of giving the references to authorities, which a lecturer would not think of doing. In this task Dr. Schmitz has employed all that patience which is characteristic of German scholarship. He has corrected an immense number of inaccuracies, such as would naturally escape a lecturer in the heat of argument; and with becoming modesty he has corrected them in silence. Whenever he can find no authority for a statement made by Niebuhr, or when the authority given by Niebuhr seems insufficient, Dr. Schmitz carefully warns the reader of it in a note. The consequence of all this is, that we have Niebuhr's vast science, controlled by a scrupulous exactitude in the verification and citation of authorities. It is a book to become popular. For, unlike the 'Roman History,' it is almost entirely a narrative instead of a disquisition; and, indeed, we know of no work where in so small a compass the reader will gain so distinct an idea of the leading points of Niebuhr's critical principles, as in the introductory lectures. He here confines himself to results; indicating the leading arguments on which those results are grounded; and so furnishing a popular intro
duction to the disquisitions of his great work. Moreover, being addressed to students, it has a popular method of exposition; which, without arriving at any thing like artistic narrative, is infinitely more amusing than the weighty, but somewhat tedious, passages of the 'Roman History.' It will widen his reputation, but it will not deepen it. More admirers will be gained; but old admirers will not have their admiration increased. Niebuhr is at home amongst corrupt texts and questionable authorities; he there manages a prodigious erudition with amazing skill. No one ever, perhaps, manifested such a power of discerning what was authentic, what was historical, from what was fabulous in a passage; no one, perhaps, ever manifested greater skill in elaborating hints, in bringing passages, before unnoticed, to illustrate or confirm his bold conjectures. No one ever conjectured with greater boldness: few with so great felicity and science. He was the king of all treasure-finders. In spite of his dogmatism, in spite of his rashness, all Europe has acknowledged the truth of his leading views, all historical students are grateful to him for the impulse he has given to the science.
But with all Niebuhr's great qualities, and they were many, he has also very serious deficiencies. With the knowledge of a man of the world, he has not the ability of a man of the world in imparting what he knows. This is principally because he knows institutions better than men; he, therefore, dwells on institutions in preference to dwelling on men. His opinions on finance, and on the executive administration, must command universal respect. His opinions on men, on the characters of great men, or the morals and creeds of a people, do not rise above mediocrity: sometimes, indeed, sinking below it. Hence disquisition, not history, was his forte; and, for the same reason, the 'Lectures' are not of the same value as his History. His portraits of some of the great men that figure in the Lectures are really trivial: wanting not only in the vividness and consistency necessary to give a life-like air, but singularly superficial in the representation of motives. We should cite his Hannibal, Scipio, Sylla, Catiline, Mithridates, and Cæsar, as specimens of historic portraiture, fully on a par with the portraits by Royal Academicians, which adorn, with their gilded frames, the walls of our annual exhibitions they are inadequate representations not only of the men they pretend to represent, but of human beings in any state. Niebuhr is prodigal of epithets, as the R.A.s are prodigal of accessories: the epithets are very proper epithets, distinctly expressing some moral or intellectual quality; the 'accessories' are very good accessories: unexceptionable as imi
tations of gold chains, rings, wine-glasses, and shirt-collars; but the character, the physiognomy, of the soul, they leave as obscure
Niebuhr's remarks on Sylla are in the highest degree feeble and unsatisfactory; not only does he fail to paint a portrait, but he also fails to judge the man. Sylla's character was indeed a mystery; yet experience of the world, above all experience of the rulers of the world, should have taught Niebuhr to read certain unmistakable lineaments. Take the sensuality of Barère, the fanaticism of St. Just, the cruel pedantry of Robespierre, and something of the warlike disposition and genius of Napoleon, and you have the leading elements of Sylla's character, developing themselves in a state of society to which the history of the world furnishes only one parallel—the French Revolution. Niebuhr sees nothing of the fanaticism and pedantry; he sees only the cruelty, which unexplained and unexcused by the fanatic pedantry, is perhaps more diabolical than the Septembrizer's butchery. The regular systematic slaughter of all those who had joined or even sympathised with the Italians, a slaughter conducted not with the blind fury and vindictiveness of Marius, but with the unflinching resolution of St. Just and Robespierre, Niebuhr regards as mere cruelty, and makes the following schoolboy-like reflection on Sylla's death: He retired to Puteoli, where he is said to have been attacked by a most disgusting disease; his body was covered with ulcers and vermin. I believe the fact of his having had this disease cannot be denied, and he deserved it. It occurs chiefly in the case of tyrants, such as Philip II., and also in the history of the Jews. It is also said to have befallen a rich landowner, who had been guilty of brutal conduct towards his tenants.'—Vol. i., p. 417.
Now, with all our respect for Niebuhr's vast acquirements, we cannot allow such a passage to pass unnoticed, because the spirit which dictated it, dictated also several others equally absurd. Conceive a man of Niebuhr's eminence- -an historian and a man of the world-endeavouring to connect physical with moral disease! and, independently of the great absurdity, conceive also its great immorality! If this disease were the punishment of God for detestable crimes, what are we to say to its visitation of the innocent? A contemporary has already pointed out the want of any philosophy of history shown by Niebuhr's referring even ordinary events to Providence; and the Lectures' have numerous passages, which betray that whenever he was at a loss to solve moral and historical problems, he contented himself with attributing them to Providence. Bossuet was perfectly justified in tracing the finger of God in all historical events; to trace this was
False Notions of Providence.
his distinct object. But Niebuhr is a historian who undertakes to explain historical events, and ought to explain them by moral and historical laws or not at all. As a specimen of historical reflection take the following:
"As the contemplation of nature shows an inherent intelligence, which may also be conceived as coherent with nature, so does history on a hundred occasions show an intelligence distinct from nature, which conducts and determines those things which seem to us accidental; and it is not true that the study of history weakens the belief in a divine providence history is of all other kinds of knowledge the one which most decidedly leads to that belief.-Circumstances, which are called accidental, combine in such a wonderful way with others to produce certain results, that men evidently cannot do what they please. For example, the Gauls alone would have been sufficient to crush the Romans; and had they invaded Italy during the first Punic war, the Romans would have been utterly unable to make their efforts against Sicily. Again, had Alexander, the son of Pyrrhus, tried to avenge the misfortunes of his father in Italy-had he formed connexions in Italy at the time when Regulus was defeated, the Romans would not have been able to offer any resistance.-But Alexander's eyes were directed towards petty conquests; the Gauls were quiet, and the Carthaginians had no good generals, except at the close of the war: in short, it was providential that all things combined to make the Romans victorious." 'Lectures,' vol. i., p. 146.
Nor is this a careless passage, accidently thrown out in the course of lecturing; it commences the lecture, and it is borne out by a number of similar ones. Thus, at page 177, he • If says, Providence has once decided upon the destruction of an army, all the most unfortunate circumstances will conspire for that purpose.' And at page 183, Hannibal ascended the hills from behind in columns, took his station upon them, and placed his lightarmed troops where the space between the hills and lakes was narrowest, and formed a very long defile. Here again we see the finger of Providence: for the day was very foggy. Again, page 188, Providence here again evidently interfered in his behalf; the earthquakes, which announced awful events to the world, had paved his way, and been his battering rams, for the walls of several fortified towns had been thrown down.' One would fancy oneself amongst the Homeric gods, who snatch their favourites from peril by means of mists. Conceive a man gravely teaching his pupils, that Providence sent a foggy day for the especial use of Hannibal! Nothing can be more unlike the philosophy even of Bossuet than this, for Bossuet is at least consistent; whereas Niebuhr first sees the finger of Providence directing Rome, next directing Carthage. Rome became mistress of the world-Rome was unconquerable, because Providence had sided with her. But 2 H
VOL. XXXIV. NO. LXVIII.