« PreviousContinue »
the avarice of an individual? In this condemnation of the spirit of commerce, our author takes for granted the very main point of the question; he considers a commercial nation as if composed entirely of merchants, and all these merchants as having the same disposition to low and sordid habits, without the least taste for literature and arts. But this is to mistake the cause for the ef. fects; it is to suppose luxurious indolence inseparable from conmerce, and to consider a commercial nation as necessarily corJupit. Now in this nation, the same spirit of industry, which gives an impulse to commerce, extends itself also to literature, and fornis the best encouragement both of sciences and scientific
This we should conceive to bave been the case with all nations, both ancient and modern; and particularly with the Egyptians, the Athenians, the Venetians, and the Florentines *. Nay, we may go still further, and assert, that to a commercial ine tercourse with foreign nations, modern Europe owes the beginning of her freedom, and the abolition of the feudal system, the only advantage which the mania of the crusades ever conferred upon mankind. Had Carthage indeed triumphed over Rome, we might with much season believe that the condition of man, kind would have been improved much earlier, and the arts of peace wore generally cultivated, whatever our author may think to the contrary.
In speaking of the causes which produced the fall of learoing in ancient Rome, Mr. Berington follows the plan of Tiraboschi, and, like him, subdivides this first epoch from the death of Augustus to the fall of the western empire, into three periods. The first ends with the reign of Adrian; the second reaches Constantine; and the third the year 476.
During the first period, Mr. Berington considers the decline of learning as the effect of the destruction of liberty ; during the second as arising from want of imperial encouragement; and
* The learned biographer of Lor. de Medici has given us a description of the Florentines during the eleventh and twelfth century, which ' may serve to illustrate our doctrine.
“ The fatigues of public life,” says he in a note, “ and the cares of mercantile avocations, were alleviated at times by the study of litera. rature, or the speculations of philosophy. A rational and dignified employment engaged those moments of leisure not necessarily devoted to more important concerns, and the mind was relaxed without being debilitated, and amused without being depraved. The superiority which the Florentines thus acquired; was univer. sally acknowledged; and they became the historians, the poets, the orators, and the preceptors of Europe."
Roscoe's Life of Lorenzo de Medici, Vol. I. P. 10.
in the third, which though treated to a greater length, is by no means so clear, he appears to attribute this decline to the removal of the seat of the empire from Rome to Constantinople; and afterwards to the invasions of the different barbarians. Al though there may be much justice and truth in ascribing to these causes a part of the consequences, yet we cannot but think that in all three periods, some other points must be taken into consideration to account for the effects. In following Tiraboschi, we fear Mr. Berington has overlooked history, and has taken ipse dixit for a mathematical demonstration *, which often imposes upon the reader the obligation of adopting the opinions of an author, without examining their solidity. In a work, indeed, of this species, these faults are by no means easy to be discovered, so much do they resemble the most uncontrovertible truths. But first of all let us hear Mr. Berington himself.
“ A little more than a hundred years had elapsed, for Adrian died in 138; and if learning, during so short a period, as we shall soon see, had sensibly declined, want of liberty rather than want of imperial encouragement was the cause. The great men in the age Augustus had received the first impulse to their genius before the destruction of the republic; and the effects of the spirit of liberty, in some degree, remained after the ancient constitution had degea nerated into an absolute monarchy. When suspicion was universally excited, the character alone of being learned could hardly fail to awaken jealousy; and the annals of the times have recorded the names of many eminent scholars, who became the victims of a ty, rant's fears. A sensitive timidity, rather than a robust hardihood of character, is too often the result of solitary application; and to that timidity may be ascribed the adulatory baseness, by which the writings of many authors at that time were disgraced. Velleius Paterculus did not blush to praise Tiberius, and his band of courtiers ; nor Quintilian to extol even the genius of Domitian. Under such leaders, the political and judicial constitution of the empire became a prey to every assailant, whilst internal discord, vitiated manners, and an unbounded luxury, gave new strength to the wasting force of profligacy and corruption." P. 9.
“ But how, it may be asked, could that taste, which was formed on the best models of excellence, thus rapidly degenerate? Without endeavouring to scrutinize the various causes of this event, I will merely observe that, in addition to the injudicious choice of a new road to excellence, and the instability of all human attainments, Rome had not, at this time, the same incitements to the ambition of
* In differing with Mr. Berington, we differ from him with the respect due to a man of learning; and in recording his errors, we consider ourselves as paying him the compliment of considering him of that importance.
her statesmen and the zeal of her orators. Since the destruction of
But we do not conceive that the writer of Storia della Letteratura Italiana, considers want of liberty as the principal cause of the decline of eloquence during this first period. We are much inclined to doubt the assertion; and though, in our perusal of the history of the middle ages, we see too plainly the use which Mr. Berington has made of the labours of Tiraboschi, yet in some occasions he has nistaken the meaning of the Italian author, and has considered as the one great cause, what was in fact but one out of many, and has taken as a chief argument that which at the best was eni ployed but as an auxiliary one. However, before we proceed, we consider it but an act of justice to acquit Mr. Be. rington of any wilful misrepresentation. The style of Tiraboychi is so very diffuse, and the general tenor of his history is so minute, that without the strictest attention, and the rnost perfect acquaintance with the Italian language, it is too easy for a reader to lose sight of the main point of the question, and mistake the meaning of the author by the intricacy of the details, and the length of the digressions. Now to Mr. Berington.
It is true that Tiraboschi considers Asinius Pollio as the very first man who vitiated eloquence, but it is not to the destruction of liberty, that the Italian author refers the cause of its decay. Had Mr. Berington turned over to page 216 of the first volume; he would have found a long note, in which Tiraboschi positively denies that this has ever been his sentiment. In this note, Mr. Berington would have seen that Count Galeaui had fallen into the same mistake with him, which offered an opportunity to Tiraboschi to explain his meaning. Consequently in that note, after having made a full statement of the objections which the noble Count bad .proposed to some of bis assertions, he closes the whole with the following remarkable expressions. Conosco che non ho spiegato abbastanza il meo sentimento, et mi compia,
accio di aver con ciò data occasione a questo dotto Scrittore (Count Galeani) di mettere in tanto miglior luce, l'accennato questione. For this reason we fear that Mr. Berington has made use of the edition of Parma, which is not the best; the edition We have consulted is that of Rome, of the year 1782; and we are not aware whether the note in question may be found in the edim, tion of Parma. The silence of Mr. Berington justifies our supposition.
Tiraboschi draws a very wide distinction between arts and sciencey; and we beg our reader to bear this difference well in mind, since Mr. Berington seems hardly to have noticed it. meaning. The Italian historian admits that in science, however great may be the discoveries of any nation or of any age, still greater are those that remain to be made by future ages and fwture nations. He indeed compares scientific knowledge to an indefinite curve, the vertex of which will for everbe inaccessible to man; but in literature as well as in arts, he acknowledges the existence of a certain standard, beyond which it is impossible to go. Being an imitation of nature, they cannot improve on their model; and as soon as they have reached perfection, they must become stationary. Any attempt to bring them further, must necessarily deprive them of a part of their beauty; since moving in a definite curve, we cannot go beyond the summit without fall ing downwards to the opposite side. The same, he adds, must be said of the art of speaking. As soon as eloquence has reach ed perfection, any new improvement will end either a languid prolixity or a mysterious jargon. Cicero had brought it to + degree, which in Rome at least had never been before witnessedo Ifhis followers, in avoiding his faults, had preserved his beauties, they would have been most perfect orators; but in their desire to improve upon his style, they introduced the most false and dew structive taste. They reproached Cicero with being diffuse, and they in their turn became abrupt and affected, and in at tempting to rise liigher, they fell infinitely lower. Such is Tiraboschi's
opinion, and own we must that in many respects it is a tery just one.
Our author opens his second period from Adrian to Constant tine, with the following spirited reflexions.
* If any thing could have rescued from merited reproach thie name of Adrian, it would have been the adoption of Antoninus Pius. Endowed by nature with superior talents, which had been carefully improved by cultivation, and possessing an easy flow of eloquence, Antoninus, amidst the cares of empire, could find time for literary pursuits; but it is related of him as principally praises worthy, that, on the professors of the arts, whom he established in
Rome and in the provinces, he bestowed stipends, honours, and a variety of privileges. Marcus Aurelius, a name dear to virtue and to science, pursued the same path, and sought glory by the same honourable toils. He had been tutored, from early youth, in all the branches of elegant literature; but his mind, says the historian, was addicted to serious reflection; and he often neglected the captivating society of the Muses, to court the fellowship of the severe disciples of Zéno. In the schools of the Stoics he experienced his greatest delight; and he modelled his conduct by their precepts. Notwithstanding this preference, the masters in every science were objects of his favour ; and it is amusing to read of the honours which he conferred. To one he raised a statue in the senate; a second was made a proconsul; and he twice promoted a third to the consular dignity. Their images were suffered to repose with those of his tutelar deities; and he offered victims, and strewed flowers, on their tombs.
“Of the persons who were thus honoured by imperial patronage, few could make pretensions to classical elegance; and many, of whom the greater number were Greeks, clothed in the philosophic garb, devoted their lives to the severer studies ; or, in order to see cure the countenance of their sovereign, affected the austerity of his school. If Marcus Aurelius returned thanks to the gods for having weaned him from the allurements of poetry and eloquence, his subjects would be less disposed to cultivate those arts which he had renounced.
". At the name of Commodus, the son of Aurelius, and of the cruel Septimius Severus, of Caracalla, and of the dissolute Elagabalus, science hangs her head; nor, in the succeeding reigns, does she find much ground for comfort, though Alexander Severus, and a few others, were well inclined to espouse her cause.
But it was observed, that an immature death too often abridged the lives of those, from whose virtues, or from whose talents, some good might have been expected. From Diocletian, or his colleagues in the empire, whom no education had refined, and who were little more than soldiers of fortune, what good could be expected to proceed? The school of arms is not the school of letters; and whatever had been their disposition, they were too much involved in civil broils, and absorbed in the interests of ambition, to attend to those of literature and science." P. 10.
By this short account of a period somewhat more than 170 years, Mr. Berington has endeavoured to prove his second assertion, that want of imperial encouragement was the cause of the. decay of literature, which is partly true, but we must allow also for the operation of other causes. The history of the progress of the human mind, evidently proves that at all times, and amongst all nations, few have been the princes who have really patronized learning and amongst these few, fewer still have done it with any effect. From Charlemague to the present day, during a pe