Transcribed from the 1889 Cassell & Company edition by David Price, email email@example.com
DIALOGUES OF THE DEAD.
BY LORD LYTTELTON.
CASSELL & COMPANY, LIMITED: LONDON, PARIS, NEW YORK & MELBOURNE. 1889.
George, Lord Lyttelton, was born in 1709, at Hagley, in Worcestershire. He was educated at Eton and at Christchurch, Oxford, entered Parliament, became a Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer. In 1757 he withdrew from politics, was raised to the peerage, and spent the last eighteen years of his life in lettered ease. In 1760 Lord Lyttelton first published these "Dialogues of the Dead," which were revised for a fourth edition in 1765, and in 1767 he published in four volumes a "History of the Life of King Henry the Second and of the Age in which he Lived," a work upon which he had been busy for thirty years. He began it not long after he had published, at the age of twenty-six, his "Letters from a Persian in England to his Friend at Ispahan." If we go farther back we find George Lyttelton, aged twenty-three, beginning his life in literature as a poet, with four eclogues on "The Progress of Love."
To the last Lord Lyttelton was poet enough to feel true fellowship with poets of his day. He loved good literature, and his own works show that he knew it. He counted Henry Fielding among his friends; he was a friend and helper to James Thomson, the author of "The Seasons;" and when acting as secretary to the king's son, Frederick, Prince of Wales (who held a little court of his own, in which there was much said about liberty), his friendship brought Thomson and Mallet together in work on a masque for the Prince and Princess, which included the song of "Rule Britannia."
Before Lord Lyttelton followed their example, "Dialogues of the Dead" had been written by Lucian, and by Fenelon, and by Fontenelle; and in our time they have been written by Walter Savage Landor. This half-dramatic plan of presenting a man's own thoughts upon the life of man and characters of men, and on the issues of men's characters in shaping life, is a way of essay writing pleasant alike to the writer and the reader. Lord Lyttelton was at his best in it. The form of writing obliged him to work with a lighter touch than he used when he sought to maintain the dignity of history by the style of his "History of Henry II." His calm liberality of mind enters into the discussion of many topics. His truths are old, but there are no real truths of human life and conduct, worth anything at all, that are of yesterday. Human love itself is called "the old, old story;" but do we therefore cease from loving, or from finding such ways as we can of saying that we love. Dr. Johnson was not at his wisest when he found fault with Lord Lyttelton because, in his "Dialogues of the Dead," "that man sat down to write a book, to tell the world what the world had all his life been telling him." This was exactly what he wished to do. In the Preface to his revised edition Lord Lyttelton said, "Sometimes a new dress may render an old truth more pleasing to those whom the mere love of novelty betrays into error, as it frequently does not only the wits, but the sages of these days. Indeed, one of the best services that could now be done to mankind by any good writer would be the bringing them back to common sense, from which the desire of shining by extraordinary notions has seduced great numbers, to the no small detriment of morality and of all real knowledge."
At any rate, we now find it worth while to know what the world had been telling all his life to an enlightened, highly-educated man, who was an active politician in the days of Walpole and of the elder Pitt, who was a friend of Pope's and of the best writers of the day, and who in his occasional verse added at least one line to the household words of English literature when in his warm-hearted Prologue to Thomson's play of Coriolanus, produced after its writer's death, he said of that poet what we may say of Lord Lyttelton himself, that he gave to the world
"Not one immoral, one corrupted thought, One line which, dying, he could wish to blot."
DIALOGUES OF THE DEAD.
LORD FALKLAND—MR. HAMPDEN.
Lord Falkland.—Are not you surprised to see me in Elysium, Mr. Hampden?
Mr. Hampden.—I was going to put the same question to your lordship, for doubtless you thought me a rebel.
Lord Falkland.—And certainly you thought me an apostate from the Commonwealth, and a supporter of tyranny.
Mr. Hampden.—I own I did, and I don't wonder at the severity of your thoughts about me. The heat of the times deprived us both of our natural candour. Yet I will confess to you here, that, before I died, I began to see in our party enough to justify your apprehensions that the civil war, which we had entered into from generous motives, from a laudable desire to preserve our free constitution, would end very unhappily, and perhaps, in the issue, destroy that constitution, even by the arms of those who pretended to be most zealous for it.
Lord Falkland.—And I will as frankly own to you that I saw, in the court and camp of the king, so much to alarm me for the liberty of my country, if our arms were successful, that I dreaded a victory little less than I did a defeat, and had nothing in my mouth but the word peace, which I constantly repeated with passionate fondness, in every council at which I was called to assist.
Mr. Hampden.—I wished for peace too, as ardently as your lordship, but I saw no hopes of it. The insincerity of the king and the influence of the queen made it impossible to trust to his promises and declarations. Nay, what reliance could we reasonably have upon laws designed to limit and restrain the power of the Crown, after he had violated the Bill of Rights, obtained with such difficulty, and containing so clear an assertion of the privileges which had been in dispute? If his conscience would allow him to break an Act of Parliament, made to determine the bounds of the royal prerogative, because he thought that the royal prerogative could have no bounds, what legal ties could bind a conscience so prejudiced? or what effectual security could his people obtain against the obstinate malignity of such an opinion, but entirely taking from him the power of the sword, and enabling themselves to defend the laws he had passed?
Lord Falkland.—There is evidently too much truth in what you have said. But by taking from the king the power of the sword, you in reality took all power. It was converting the government into a democracy; and if he had submitted to it, he would only have preserved the name of a king. The sceptre would have been held by those who had the sword; or we must have lived in a state of perpetual anarchy, without any force or balance in the government; a state which could not have lasted long, but would have ended in a republic or in absolute dominion.
Mr. Hampden.—Your reasoning seems unanswerable. But what could we do? Let Dr. Laud and those other court divines, who directed the king's conscience, and fixed in it such principles as made him unfit to govern a limited monarchy—though with many good qualities, and some great ones—let them, I say, answer for all the mischiefs they brought upon him and the nation.
Lord Falkland.—They were indeed much to blame; but those principles had gained ground before their times, and seemed the principles of our Church, in opposition to the Jesuits, who had certainly gone too far in the other extreme.
Mr. Hampden.—It is a disgrace to our Church to have taken up such opinions; and I will venture to prophesy that our clergy in future times must renounce them, or they will be turned against them by those who mean their destruction. Suppose a Popish king on the throne, will the clergy adhere to passive obedience and non-resistance? If they do, they deliver up their religion to Rome; if they do not, their practice will confute their own doctrines.
Lord Falkland.—Nature, sir, will in the end be sure to set right whatever opinion contradicts her great laws, let who will be the teacher. But, indeed, the more I reflect on those miserable times in which we both lived, the more I esteem it a favour of Providence to us that we were cut off so soon. The most grievous misfortune that can befall a virtuous man is to be in such a state that he can hardly so act as to approve his own conduct. In such a state we both were. We could not easily make a step, either forward or backward, without great hazard of guilt, or at least of dishonour. We were unhappily entangled in connections with men who did not mean so well as ourselves, or did not judge so rightly. If we endeavoured to stop them, they thought us false to the cause; if we went on with them, we ran directly upon rocks, which we saw, but could not avoid. Nor could we take shelter in a philosophical retreat from business. Inaction would in us have been cowardice and desertion. To complete the public calamities, a religious fury, on both sides, mingled itself with the rage of our civil dissensions, more frantic than that, more implacable, more averse to all healing measures. The most intemperate counsels were thought the most pious, and a regard to the laws, if they opposed the suggestions of these fiery zealots, was accounted irreligion. This added new difficulties to what was before but too difficult in itself, the settling of a nation which no longer could put any confidence in its sovereign, nor lay more restraints on the royal authority without destroying the balance of the whole constitution. In those circumstances, the balls that pierced our hearts were directed thither by the hands of our guardian angels, to deliver us from horrors we could not support, and perhaps from a guilt our souls abhorred.
Mr. Hampden.—Indeed, things were brought to so deplorable a state, that if either of us had seen his party triumphant, he must have lamented that triumph as the ruin of his country. Were I to return into life, the experience I have had would make me very cautious how I kindled the sparks of civil war in England; for I have seen that, when once that devouring fire is lighted, it is not in the power of the head of a party to say to the conflagration, "Thus far shalt thou go, and here shall thy violence stop."
Lord Falkland.—The conversation we have had, as well as the reflections of my own mind on past events, would, if I were condemned to my body again, teach me great moderation in my judgments of persons who might happen to differ from me in difficult scenes of public action; they would entirely cure me of the spirit of party, and make me think that as in the Church, so also in the State, no evil is more to be feared than a rancorous and enthusiastical zeal.
LOUIS LE GRAND—PETER THE GREAT.
Louis.—Who, sir, could have thought, when you were learning the trade of a shipwright in the dockyards of England and Holland, that you would ever acquire, as I had done, the surname of "Great."
Peter.—Which of us best deserved that title posterity will decide. But my greatness appeared sufficiently in that very act which seemed to you a debasement.
Louis.—The dignity of a king does not stoop to such mean employments. For my own part, I was careful never to appear to the eyes of my subjects or foreigners but in all the splendour and majesty of royal power.
Peter.—Had I remained on the throne of Russia, as my ancestors did, environed with all the pomp of barbarous greatness, I should have been idolised by my people—as much, at least, as you ever were by the French. My despotism was more absolute, their servitude was more humble. But then I could not have reformed their evil customs; have taught them arts, civility, navigation, and war; have exalted them from brutes in human shapes into men. In this was seen the extraordinary force of my genius beyond any comparison with all other kings, that I thought it no degradation or diminution of my greatness to descend from my throne, and go and work in the dockyards of a foreign republic; to serve as a private sailor in my own fleets, and as a common soldier in my own army, till I had raised myself by my merit in all the several steps and degrees of promotion up to the highest command, and had thus induced my nobility to submit to a regular subordination in the sea and land service by a lesson hard to their pride, and which they would not have learnt from any other master or by any other method of instruction.
Louis.—I am forced to acknowledge that it was a great act. When I thought it a mean one, my judgment was perverted by the prejudices arising from my own education and the ridicule thrown upon it by some of my courtiers, whose minds were too narrow to be able to comprehend the greatness of yours in that situation.
Peter.—It was an act of more heroism than any ever done by Alexander or Caesar. Nor would I consent to exchange my glory with theirs. They both did great things; but they were at the head of great nations, far superior in valour and military skill to those with whom they contended. I was the king of an ignorant, undisciplined, barbarous people. My enemies were at first so superior to my subjects that ten thousand of them could beat a hundred thousand Russians. They had formidable navies; I had not a ship. The King of Sweden was a prince of the most intrepid courage, assisted by generals of consummate knowledge in war, and served by soldiers so disciplined that they were become the admiration and terror of Europe. Yet I vanquished these soldiers; I drove that prince to take refuge in Turkey; I won battles at sea as well as land; I new- created my people; I gave them arts, science, policy; I enabled them to keep all the powers of the North in awe and dependence, to give kings to Poland, to check and intimidate the Ottoman emperors, to mix with great weight in the affairs of all Europe. What other man has ever done such wonders as these? Read all the records of ancient and modern times, and find, if you can, one fit to be put in comparison with me!
Louis.—Your glory would indeed have been supreme and unequalled if, in civilising your subjects, you had reformed the brutality of your own manners and the barbarous vices of your nature. But, alas! the legislator and reformer of the Muscovites was drunken and cruel.
Peter.—My drunkenness I confess; nor will I plead, to excuse it, the example of Alexander. It inflamed the tempers of both, which were by nature too fiery, into furious passions of anger, and produced actions of which our reason, when sober, was ashamed. But the cruelty you upbraid me with may in some degree be excused, as necessary to the work I had to perform. Fear of punishment was in the hearts of my barbarous subjects the only principle of obedience. To make them respect the royal authority I was obliged to arm it with all the terrors of rage. You had a more pliant people to govern—a people whose minds could be ruled, like a fine-managed horse, with an easy and gentle rein. The fear of shame did more with them than the fear of the knout could do with the Russians. The humanity of your character and the ferocity of mine were equally suitable to the nations over which we reigned. But what excuse can you find for the cruel violence you employed against your Protestant subjects? They desired nothing but to live under the protection of laws you yourself had confirmed; and they repaid that protection by the most hearty zeal for your service. Yet these did you force, by the most inhuman severities, either to quit the religion in which they were bred, and which their consciences still retained, or to leave their native land, and endure all the woes of a perpetual exile. If the rules of policy could not hinder you from thus depopulating your kingdom, and transferring to foreign countries its manufactures and commerce, I am surprised that your heart itself did not stop you. It makes one shudder to think that such orders should be sent from the most polished court in Europe, as the most savage Tartars could hardly have executed without remorse and compassion.
Louis.—It was not my heart, but my religion, that dictated these severities. My confessor told me they alone would atone for all my sins.
Peter.—Had I believed in my patriarch as you believed in your priest, I should not have been the great monarch that I was. But I mean not to detract from the merit of a prince whose memory is dear to his subjects. They are proud of having obeyed you, which is certainly the highest praise to a king. My people also date their glory from the era of my reign. But there is this capital distinction between us. The pomp and pageantry of state were necessary to your greatness; I was great in myself, great in the energy and powers of my mind, great in the superiority and sovereignty of my soul over all other men.
Plato.—Welcome to Elysium, O thou, the most pure, the most gentle, the most refined disciple of philosophy that the world in modern times has produced! Sage Fenelon, welcome!—I need not name myself to you. Our souls by sympathy must know one another.
Fenelon.—I know you to be Plato, the most amiable of all the disciples of Socrates, and the philosopher of all antiquity whom I most desired to resemble.
Plato.—Homer and Orpheus are impatient to see you in that region of these happy fields which their shades inhabit. They both acknowledge you to be a great poet, though you have written no verses. And they are now busy in composing for you unfading wreaths of all the finest and sweetest Elysian flowers. But I will lead you from them to the sacred grove of philosophy, on the highest hill of Elysium, where the air is most pure and most serene. I will conduct you to the fountain of wisdom, in which you will see, as in your own writings, the fair image of virtue perpetually reflected. It will raise in you more love than was felt by Narcissus, when he contemplated the beauty of his own face in the unruffled spring. But you shall not pine, as he did, for a shadow. The goddess herself will affectionately meet your embraces and mingle with your soul.
Fenelon.—I find you retain the allegorical and poetical style, of which you were so fond in many of your writings. Mine also run sometimes into poetry, particularly in my "Telemachus," which I meant to make a kind of epic composition. But I dare not rank myself among the great poets, nor pretend to any equality in oratory with you, the most eloquent of philosophers, on whose lips the Attic bees distilled all their honey.
Plato.—The French language is not so harmonious as the Greek, yet you have given a sweetness to it which equally charms the ear and heart. When one reads your compositions, one thinks that one hears Apollo's lyre, strung by the hands of the Graces, and tuned by the Muses. The idea of a perfect king, which you have exhibited in your "Telemachus," far excels, in my own judgment, my imaginary "Republic." Your "Dialogues" breathe the pure spirit of virtue, of unaffected good sense, of just criticism, of fine taste. They are in general as superior to your countryman Fontenelle's as reason is to false wit, or truth to affectation. The greatest fault of them, I think, is, that some are too short.
Fenelon.—It has been objected to them—and I am sensible of it myself—that most of them are too full of commonplace morals. But I wrote them for the instruction of a young prince, and one cannot too forcibly imprint on the minds of those who are born to empire the most simple truths; because, as they grow up, the flattery of a court will try to disguise and conceal from them those truths, and to eradicate from their hearts the love of their duty, if it has not taken there a very deep root.
Plato.—It is, indeed, the peculiar misfortune of princes, that they are often instructed with great care in the refinements of policy, and not taught the first principles of moral obligations, or taught so superficially that the virtuous man is soon lost in the corrupt politician. But the lessons of virtue you gave your royal pupil are so graced by the charms of your eloquence that the oldest and wisest men may attend to them with pleasure. All your writings are embellished with a sublime and agreeable imagination, which gives elegance to simplicity, and dignity to the most vulgar and obvious truths. I have heard, indeed, that your countrymen are less sensible of the beauty of your genius and style than any of their neighbours. What has so much depraved their taste?
Fenelon.—That which depraved the taste of the Romans after the ago of Augustus—an immoderate love of wit, of paradox, of refinement. The works of their writers, like the faces of their women, must be painted and adorned with artificial embellishments to attract their regards. And thus the natural beauty of both is lost. But it is no wonder if few of them esteem my "Telemachus," as the maxims I have principally inculcated there are thought by many inconsistent with the grandeur of their monarchy, and with the splendour of a refined and opulent nation. They seem generally to be falling into opinions that the chief end of society is to procure the pleasures of luxury; that a nice and elegant taste of voluptuous enjoyments is the perfection of merit; and that a king, who is gallant, magnificent, liberal, who builds a fine palace, who furnishes it well with good statues and pictures, who encourages the fine arts, and makes them subservient to every modish vice, who has a restless ambition, a perfidious policy, and a spirit of conquest, is better for them than a Numa or a Marcus Aurelius. Whereas to check the excesses of luxury—those excesses, I mean, which enfeeble the spirit of a nation—to ease the people, as much as is possible, of the burden of taxes; to give them the blessings of peace and tranquillity, when they can he obtained without injury or dishonour; to make them frugal, and hardy, and masculine in the temper of their bodies and minds, that they may be the fitter for war whenever it does come upon them; but, above all, to watch diligently over their morals, and discourage whatever may defile or corrupt them—is the great business of government, and ought to be in all circumstances the principal object of a wise legislature. Unquestionably that is the happiest country which has most virtue in it; and to the eye of sober reason the poorest Swiss canton is a much nobler state than the kingdom of France, if it has more liberty, better morals, a more settled tranquillity, more moderation in prosperity, and more firmness in danger.
Plato.—Your notions are just, and if your country rejects them she will not long hold the rank of the first nation in Europe. Her declension is begun, her ruin approaches; for, omitting all other arguments, can a state be well served when the raising of an opulent fortune in its service, and making a splendid use of that fortune, is a distinction more envied than any which arises from integrity in office or public spirit in government? Can that spirit, which is the parent of national greatness, continue vigorous and diffusive where the desire of wealth, for the sake of a luxury which wealth alone can support, and an ambition aspiring, not to glory, but to profit, are the predominant passions? If it exists in a king or a minister of state, how will either of them find among a people so disposed the necessary instruments to execute his great designs; or, rather, what obstruction will he not find from the continual opposition of private interest to public? But if, on the contrary, a court inclines to tyranny, what a facility will be given by these dispositions to that evil purpose? How will men with minds relaxed by the enervating ease and softness of luxury have vigour to oppose it? Will not most of them lean to servitude, as their natural state, as that in which the extravagant and insatiable cravings of their artificial wants may best be gratified at the charge of a bountiful master or by the spoils of an enslaved and ruined people? When all sense of public virtue is thus destroyed, will not fraud, corruption, and avarice, or the opposite workings of court factions to bring disgrace on each other, ruin armies and fleets without the help of an enemy, and give up the independence of the nation to foreigners, after having betrayed its liberties to a king? All these mischiefs you saw attendant on that luxury, which some modern philosophers account (as I am informed) the highest good to a state! Time will show that their doctrines are pernicious to society, pernicious to government; and that yours, tempered and moderated so as to render them more practicable in the present circumstances of your country, are wise, salutary, and deserving of the general thanks of mankind. But lest you should think, from the praise I have given you, that flattery can find a place in Elysium, allow me to lament, with the tender sorrow of a friend, that a man so superior to all other follies could give into the reveries of a Madame Guyon, a distracted enthusiast. How strange was it to see the two great lights of France, you and the Bishop of Meaux, engaged in a controversy whether a madwoman was a heretic or a saint!
Fenelon.—I confess my own weakness, and the ridiculousness of the dispute; but did not your warm imagination carry you also into some reveries about divine love, in which you talked unintelligibly, even to yourself?
Plato.—I felt something more than I was able to express.
Fenelon.—I had my feelings too, as fine and as lively as yours; but we should both have done better to have avoided those subjects in which sentiment took the place of reason.
MR. ADDISON—DR. SWIFT.
Dr. Swift.—Surely, Addison, Fortune was exceedingly inclined to play the fool (a humour her ladyship, as well as most other ladies of very great quality, is frequently in) when she made you a minister of state and me a divine!
Addison.—I must confess we were both of us out of our elements; but you don't mean to insinuate that all would have been right if our destinies had been reversed?
Swift.—Yes, I do. You would have made an excellent bishop, and I should have governed Great Britain, as I did Ireland, with an absolute sway, while I talked of nothing but liberty, property, and so forth.
Addison.—You governed the mob of Ireland; but I never understood that you governed the kingdom. A nation and a mob are very different things.
Swift.—Ay, so you fellows that have no genius for politics may suppose; but there are times when, by seasonably putting himself at the head of the mob, an able man may get to the head of the nation. Nay, there are times when the nation itself is a mob, and ought to be treated as such by a skilful observer.
Addison.—I don't deny the truth of your proposition; but is there no danger that, from the natural vicissitudes of human affairs, the favourite of the mob should be mobbed in his turn?
Swift.—Sometimes there may, but I risked it, and it answered my purpose. Ask the lord-lieutenants, who were forced to pay court to me instead of my courting them, whether they did not feel my superiority. And if I could make myself so considerable when I was only a dirty Dean of St. Patrick's, without a seat in either House of Parliament, what should I have done if Fortune had placed me in England, unencumbered with a gown, and in a situation that would have enabled me to make myself heard in the House of Lords or of Commons?
Addison.—You would undoubtedly have done very marvellous acts! Perhaps you might then have been as zealous a Whig as my Lord Wharton himself; or, if the Whigs had unhappily offended the statesman as they did the doctor, who knows whether you might not have brought in the Pretender? Pray let me ask you one question between you and me: If your great talents had raised you to the office of first minister under that prince, would you have tolerated the Protestant religion or not?
Swift.—Ha! Mr. Secretary, are you witty upon me? Do you think, because Sunderland took a fancy to make you a great man in the state, that he, or his master, could make you as great in wit as Nature made me? No, no; wit is like grace, it must be given from above. You can no more get that from the king than my lords the bishops can the other. And, though I will own you had some, yet believe me, my good friend, it was no match for mine. I think you have not vanity enough in your nature to pretend to a competition in that point with me.
Addison.—I have been told by my friends that I was rather too modest, so I will not determine this dispute for myself, but refer it to Mercury, the god of wit, who fortunately happens to be coming this way with a soul he has brought to the Shades.
Hail, divine Hermes! A question of precedence in the class of wit and humour, over which you preside, having arisen between me and my countryman, Dr. Swift, we beg leave—
Mercury.—Dr. Swift, I rejoice to see you. How does my old lad? How does honest Lemuel Gulliver? Have you been in Lilliput lately, or in the Flying Island, or with your good nurse Glumdalclitch? Pray when did you eat a crust with Lord Peter? Is Jack as mad still as ever? I hear that since you published the history of his case the poor fellow, by more gentle usage, is almost got well. If he had but more food he would be as much in his senses as Brother Martin himself; but Martin, they tell me, has lately spawned a strange brood of Methodists, Moravians, Hutchinsonians, who are madder than ever Jack was in his worst days. It is a great pity you are not alive again to make a new edition of your "Tale of the Tub" for the use of these fellows. Mr. Addison, I beg your pardon; I should have spoken to you sooner, but I was so struck with the sight of my old friend the doctor, that I forgot for a time the respects due to you.
Swift.—Addison, I think our dispute is decided before the judge has heard the cause.
Addison.—I own it is in your favour, but—
Mercury.—Don't be discouraged, friend Addison. Apollo perhaps would have given a different judgment. I am a wit, and a rogue, and a foe to all dignity. Swift and I naturally like one another. He worships me more than Jupiter, and I honour him more than Homer; but yet, I assure you, I have a great value for you. Sir Roger de Coverley, Will Honeycomb, Will Wimble, the Country Gentleman in the Freeholder, and twenty more characters, drawn with the finest strokes of unaffected wit and humour in your admirable writings, have obtained for you a high place in the class of my authors, though not quite so high a one as the Dean of St. Patrick's. Perhaps you might have got before him if the decency of your nature and the cautiousness of your judgment would have given you leave. But, allowing that in the force and spirit of his wit he has really the advantage, how much does he yield to you in all the elegant graces, in the fine touches of delicate sentiment, in developing the secret springs of the soul, in showing the mild lights and shades of a character, in distinctly marking each line, and every soft gradation of tints, which would escape the common eye? Who ever painted like you the beautiful parts of human nature, and brought them out from under the shade even of the greatest simplicity, or the most ridiculous weaknesses; so that we are forced to admire and feel that we venerate, even while we are laughing? Swift was able to do nothing that approaches to this. He could draw an ill face, or caricature a good one, with a masterly hand; but there was all his power, and, if I am to speak as a god, a worthless power it is. Yours is divine. It tends to exalt human nature.
Swift.—Pray, good Mercury (if I may have liberty to say a word for myself) do you think that my talent was not highly beneficial to correct human nature? Is whipping of no use to mend naughty boys?
Mercury.—Men are generally not so patient of whipping as boys, and a rough satirist is seldom known to mend them. Satire, like antimony, if it be used as a medicine, must be rendered less corrosive. Yours is often rank poison. But I will allow that you have done some good in your way, though not half so much as Addison did in his.
Addison.—Mercury, I am satisfied. It matters little what rank you assign me as a wit, if you give me the precedence as a friend and benefactor to mankind.
Mercury.—I pass sentence on the writers, not the men, and my decree is this:—When any hero is brought hither who wants to be humbled, let the talk of lowering his arrogance be assigned to Swift. The same good office may be done to a philosopher vain of his wisdom and virtue, or to a bigot puffed up with spiritual pride. The doctor's discipline will soon convince the first, that with all his boasted morality, he is but a Yahoo; and the latter, that to be holy he must necessarily be humble. I would also have him apply his anticosmetic wash to the painted face of female vanity, and his rod, which draws blood at every stroke, to the hard back of insolent folly or petulant wit. But Addison should be employed to comfort those whose delicate minds are dejected with too painful a sense of some infirmities in their nature. To them he should hold his fair and charitable mirror, which would bring to their sight their hidden excellences, and put them in a temper fit for Elysium.—Adieu. Continue to esteem and love each other, as you did in the other world, though you were of opposite parties, and, what is still more wonderful, rival wits. This alone is sufficient to entitle you both to Elysium.
ULYSSES—CIRCE.—IN CIRCE'S ISLAND.
Circe.—You will go then, Ulysses, but tell me, without reserve, what carries you from me?
Ulysses.—Pardon, goddess, the weakness of human nature. My heart will sigh for my country. It is an attachment which all my admiration of you cannot entirely overcome.
Circe.—This is not all. I perceive you are afraid to declare your whole mind. But what, Ulysses, do you fear? My terrors are gone. The proudest goddess on earth, when she has favoured a mortal as I have favoured you, has laid her divinity and power at his feet.
Ulysses.—It may be so while there still remains in her heart the tenderness of love, or in her mind the fear of shame. But you, Circe, are above those vulgar sensations.
Circe.—I understand your caution; it belongs to your character, and therefore, to remove all diffidence from you, I swear by Styx I will do no manner of harm, either to you or your friends, for anything which you say, however offensive it may be to my love or my pride, but will send you away from my island with all marks of my friendship. Tell me now, truly, what pleasures you hope to enjoy in the barren rock of Ithaca, which can compensate for those you leave in this paradise, exempt from all cares and overflowing with all delights?
Ulysses.—The pleasures of virtue; the supreme happiness of doing good. Here I do nothing. My mind is in a palsy; all its faculties are benumbed. I long to return into action, that I may worthily employ those talents which I have cultivated from the earliest days of my youth. Toils and cares fright not me; they are the exercise of my soul; they keep it in health and in vigour. Give me again the fields of Troy, rather than these vacant groves. There I could reap the bright harvest of glory; here I am hid like a coward from the eyes of mankind, and begin to appear comtemptible in my own. The image of my former self haunts and seems to upbraid me wheresoever I go. I meet it under the gloom of every shade; it even intrudes itself into your presence and chides me from your arms. O goddess, unless you have power to lay that spirit, unless you can make me forget myself, I cannot be happy here, I shall every day be more wretched.
Circe.—May not a wise and good man, who has spent all his youth in active life and honourable danger, when he begins to decline, be permitted to retire and enjoy the rest of his days in quiet and pleasure?
Ulysses.—No retreat can be honourable to a wise and good man but in company with the muses. Here I am deprived of that sacred society. The muses will not inhabit the abodes of voluptuousness and sensual pleasure. How can I study or think while such a number of beasts—and the worst beasts are men turned into beasts—are howling or roaring or grunting all about me?
Circe.—There may be something in this, but this I know is not all. You suppress the strongest reason that draws you to Ithaca. There is another image besides that of your former self, which appears to you in this island, which follows you in your walks, which more particularly interposes itself between you and me, and chides you from my arms. It is Penelope, Ulysses, I know it is. Don't pretend to deny it. You sigh for Penelope in my bosom itself. And yet she is not an immortal. She is not, as I am, endowed by Nature with the gift of unfading youth. Several years have passed since hers has been faded. I might say, without vanity, that in her best days she was never so handsome as I. But what is she now?
Ulysses.—You have told me yourself, in a former conversation, when I inquired of you about her, that she is faithful to my bed, and as fond of me now, after twenty years' absence, as at the time when I left her to go to Troy. I left her in the bloom of youth and beauty. How much must her constancy have been tried since that time! How meritorious is her fidelity! Shall I reward her with falsehood? Shall I forget my Penelope, who can't forget me, who has no pleasure so dear to her as my remembrance?
Circe.—Her love is preserved by the continual hope of your speedy return. Take that hope from her. Let your companions return, and let her know that you have fixed your abode with me, that you have fixed it for ever. Let her know that she is free to dispose as she pleases of her heart and her hand. Send my picture to her, bid her compare it with her own face. If all this does not cure her of the remains of her passion, if you don't hear of her marrying Eurymachus in a twelvemonth, I understand nothing of womankind.
Ulysses.—O cruel goddess! why will you force me to tell you truths I desire to conceal? If by such unmerited, such barbarous usage I could lose her heart it would break mine. How should I be able to endure the torment of thinking that I had wronged such a wife? What could make me amends for her being no longer mine, for her being another's? Don't frown, Circe, I must own—since you will have me speak—I must own you could not. With all your pride of immortal beauty, with all your magical charms to assist those of Nature, you are not so powerful a charmer as she. You feel desire, and you give it, but you have never felt love, nor can you inspire it. How can I love one who would have degraded me into a beast? Penelope raised me into a hero. Her love ennobled, invigorated, exalted my mind. She bid me go to the siege of Troy, though the parting with me was worse than death to herself. She bid me expose myself there to all the perils of war among the foremost heroes of Greece, though her poor heart sunk and trembled at every thought of those perils, and would have given all its own blood to save a drop of mine. Then there was such a conformity in all our inclinations! When Minerva was teaching me the lessons of wisdom she delighted to be present. She heard, she retained, she gave them back to me softened and sweetened with the peculiar graces of her own mind. When we unbent our thoughts with the charms of poetry, when we read together the poems of Orpheus, Musaeus, and Linus, with what taste did she discern every excellence in them! My feelings were dull compared to hers. She seemed herself to be the muse who had inspired those verses, and had tuned their lyres to infuse into the hearts of mankind the love of wisdom and virtue and the fear of the gods. How beneficent was she, how tender to my people! What care did she take to instruct them in all the finer arts, to relieve the necessities of the sick and aged, to superintend the education of children, to do my subjects every good office of kind intercession, to lay before me their wants, to mediate for those who were objects of mercy, to sue for those who deserved the favours of the Crown. And shall I banish myself for ever from such a consort? Shall I give up her society for the brutal joys of a sensual life, keeping indeed the exterior form of a man, but having lost the human soul, or at least all its noble and godlike powers? Oh, Circe, it is impossible, I can't bear the thought.
Circe.—Begone; don't imagine that I ask you to stay a moment longer. The daughter of the sun is not so mean-spirited as to solicit a mortal to share her happiness with her. It is a happiness which I find you cannot enjoy. I pity and despise you. All you have said seems to me a jargon of sentiments fitter for a silly woman than a great man. Go read, and spin too, if you please, with your wife. I forbid you to remain another day in my island. You shall have a fair wind to carry you from it. After that may every storm that Neptune can raise pursue and overwhelm you. Begone, I say, quit my sight.
Ulysses.—Great goddess, I obey, but remember your oath.
MERCURY—AN ENGLISH DUELLIST—A NORTH AMERICAN SAVAGE.
The Duellist.—Mercury, Charon's boat is on the other side of the water. Allow me, before it returns, to have some conversation with the North American savage whom you brought hither with me. I never before saw one of that species. He looks very grim. Pray, sir, what is your name? I understand you speak English.
Savage.—Yes, I learnt it in my childhood, having been bred for some years among the English of New York. But before I was a man I returned to my valiant countrymen, the Mohawks; and having been villainously cheated by one of yours in the sale of some rum, I never cared to have anything to do with them afterwards. Yet I took up the hatchet for them with the rest of my tribe in the late war against France, and was killed while I was out upon a scalping party. But I died very well satisfied, for my brethren were victorious, and before I was shot I had gloriously scalped seven men and five women and children. In a former war I had performed still greater exploits. My name is the Bloody Bear; it was given me to express my fierceness and valour.
Duellist.—Bloody Bear, I respect you, and am much your humble servant. My name is Tom Pushwell, very well known at Arthur's. I am a gentleman by my birth, and by profession a gamester and man of honour. I have killed men in fair fighting, in honourable single combat, but don't understand cutting the throats of women and children.
Savage.—Sir, that is our way of making war. Every nation has its customs. But, by the grimness of your countenance, and that hole in your breast, I presume you were killed, as I was, in some scalping party. How happened it that your enemy did not take off your scalp?
Duellist.—Sir, I was killed in a duel. A friend of mine had lent me a sum of money. After two or three years, being in great want himself, he asked me to pay him. I thought his demand, which was somewhat peremptory, an affront to my honour, and sent him a challenge. We met in Hyde Park. The fellow could not fence: I was absolutely the adroitest swordsman in England, so I gave him three or four wounds; but at last he ran upon me with such impetuosity, that he put me out of my play, and I could not prevent him from whipping me through the lungs. I died the next day, as a man of honour should, without any snivelling signs of contrition or repentance; and he will follow me soon, for his surgeon has declared his wounds to be mortal. It is said that his wife is dead of grief, and that his family of seven children will be undone by his death. So I am well revenged, and that is a comfort. For my part, I had no wife. I always hated marriage.
Savage.—Mercury, I won't go in a boat with that fellow. He has murdered his countryman—he has murdered his friend: I say, positively, I won't go in a boat with that fellow. I will swim over the River, I can swim like a duck.
Mercury.—Swim over the Styx! it must not be done; it is against the laws of Pluto's Empire. You must go in the boat, and be quiet.
Savage.—Don't tell me of laws, I am a savage. I value no laws. Talk of laws to the Englishman. There are laws in his country, and yet you see he did not regard them, for they could never allow him to kill his fellow-subject, in time of peace, because he asked him to pay a debt. I know indeed, that the English are a barbarous nation, but they can't possibly be so brutal as to make such things lawful.
Mercury.—You reason well against him. But how comes it that you are so offended with murder; you, who have frequently massacred women in their sleep, and children in the cradle?
Savage.—I killed none but my enemies. I never killed my own countrymen. I never killed my friend. Here, take my blanket, and let it come over in the boat, but see that the murderer does not sit upon it, or touch it. If he does, I will burn it instantly in the fire I see yonder. Farewell! I am determined to swim over the water.
Mercury.—By this touch of my wand I deprive thee of all thy strength. Swim now if thou canst.
Savage.—This is a potent enchanter. Restore me my strength, and I promise to obey thee.
Mercury.—I restore it: but be orderly, and do as I bid you; otherwise worse will befall you.
Duellist.—Mercury, leave him to me. I'll tutor him for you. Sirrah, savage, dost thou pretend to be ashamed of my company? Dost thou know I have kept the best company in England?
Savage.—I know thou art a scoundrel! Not pay thy debts! kill thy friend who lent thee money for asking thee for it! Get out of my sight! I will drive thee into Styx!
Mercury.—Stop! I command thee. No violence! Talk to him calmly.
Savage.—I must obey thee. Well, sir, let me know what merit you had to introduce you into good company? What could you do?
Duellist.—Sir, I gamed, as I told you. Besides, I kept a good table. I eat as well as any man either in England or France.
Savage.—Eat! Did you ever eat the liver of a Frenchman, or his leg, or his shoulder! There is fine eating! I have eat twenty. My table was always well served. My wife was esteemed the best cook for the dressing of man's flesh in all North America. You will not pretend to compare your eating with mine?
Duellist.—I danced very finely.
Savage.—I'll dance with thee for thy ears: I can dance all day long. I can dance the war-dance with more spirit than any man of my nation. Let us see thee begin it. How thou standest like a post! Has Mercury struck thee with his enfeebling rod? or art thou ashamed to let us see how awkward thou art? If he would permit me, I would teach thee to dance in a way that thou hast never yet learnt. But what else canst thou do, thou bragging rascal?
Duellist.—O heavens! must I bear this? What can I do with this fellow? I have neither sword nor pistol. And his shade seems to be twice as strong as mine.
Mercury.—You must answer his questions. It was your own desire to have a conversation with him. He is not well bred; but he will tell you some truths which you must necessarily hear, when you come before Rhadamanthus. He asked you what you could do besides eating and dancing.
Duellist.—I sang very agreeably.
Savage.—Let me hear you sing your "Death Song" or the "War Whoop." I challenge you to sing. Come, begin. The fellow is mute. Mercury, this is a liar; he has told us nothing but lies. Let me pull out his tongue.
Duellist.—The lie given me! and, alas, I dare not resent it. What an indelible disgrace to the family of the Pushwells! This indeed is damnation.
Mercury.—Here, Charon, take these two savages to your care. How far the barbarism of the Mohawk will excuse his horrid acts I leave Minos to judge. But what can be said for the other, for the Englishman? The custom of duelling? A bad excuse at the best! but here it cannot avail. The spirit that urged him to draw his sword against his friend is not that of honour; it is the spirit of the furies, and to them he must go.
Savage.—If he is to be punished for his wickedness, turn him over to me; I perfectly understand the art of tormenting. Sirrah, I begin my work with this kick on your breech.
Duellist.—Oh my honour, my honour, to what infamy art thou fallen!
PLINY THE ELDER—PLINY THE YOUNGER.
Pliny the Elder.—The account that you give me, nephew, of your behaviour amidst the tenors and perils that accompanied the first eruption of Vesuvius does not please me much. There was more of vanity in it than of true magnanimity. Nothing is great that is unnatural and affected. When the earth was shaking beneath you, when the whole heaven was darkened with sulphurous clouds, when all Nature seemed falling into its final destruction, to be reading Livy and making extracts was an absurd affectation. To meet danger with courage is manly, but to be insensible of it is brutal stupidity; and to pretend insensibility where it cannot be supposed is ridiculous falseness. When you afterwards refused to leave your aged mother and save yourself without her, you indeed acted nobly. It was also becoming a Roman to keep up her spirits amidst all the horrors of that tremendous scene by showing yourself undismayed; but the real merit and glory of this part of your behaviour is sunk by the other, which gives an air of ostentation and vanity to the whole.
Pliny the Younger.—That vulgar minds should consider my attention to my studies in such a conjuncture as unnatural and affected, I should not much wonder; but that you would blame it as such I did not apprehend—you, whom no business could separate from the muses; you, who approached nearer to the fiery storm, and died by the suffocating heat of the vapour.
Pliny the Elder.—I died in doing my duty. Let me recall to your remembrance all the particulars, and then you shall judge yourself on the difference of your behaviour and mine. I was the Prefect of the Roman fleet, which then lay at Misenum. On the first account I received of the very unusual cloud that appeared in the air I ordered a vessel to carry me out to some distance from the shore that I might the better observe the phenomenon, and endeavour to discover its nature and cause. This I did as a philosopher, and it was a curiosity proper and natural to an inquisitive mind. I offered to take you with me, and surely you should have gone; for Livy might have been read at any other time, and such spectacles are not frequent. When I came out from my house, I found all the inhabitants of Misenum flying to the sea. That I might assist them, and all others who dwelt on the coast, I immediately commanded the whole fleet to put out, and sailed with it all round the Bay of Naples, steering particularly to those parts of the shore where the danger was greatest, and from whence the affrighted people were endeavouring to escape with the most trepidation. Thus I happily preserved some thousands of lives, noting at the same time, with an unshaken composure and freedom of mind, the several phenomena of the eruption. Towards night, as we approached to the foot of Mount Vesuvius, our galleys were covered with ashes, the showers of which grew continually hotter and hotter; then pumice stones and burnt and broken pyrites began to fall on our heads, and we were stopped by the obstacles which the ruins of the volcano had suddenly formed, by falling into the sea and almost filling it up, on that part of the coast. I then commanded my pilot to steer to the villa of my friend Pomponianus, which, you know, was situated in the inmost recess of the bay. The wind was very favourable to carry me thither, but would not allow him to put off from the shore, as he was desirous to have done. We were, therefore, constrained to pass the night in his house. The family watched, and I slept till the heaps of pumice stones, which incessantly fell from the clouds that had by this time been impelled to that side of the bay, rose so high in the area of the apartment I lay in, that if I had stayed any longer I could not have got out; and the earthquakes were so violent as to threaten every moment the fall of the house. We, therefore, thought it more safe to go into the open air, guarding our heads as well as we were able with pillows tied upon them. The wind continuing contrary, and the sea very rough, we all remained on the shore, till the descent of a sulphurous and fiery vapour suddenly oppressed my weak lungs and put an end to my life. In all this I hope that I acted as the duty of my station required, and with true magnanimity. But on this occasion, and in many other parts of your conduct, I must say, my dear nephew, there was a mixture of vanity blended with your virtue which impaired and disgraced it. Without that you would have been one of the worthiest men whom Rome has over produced, for none excelled you in sincere integrity of heart and greatness of sentiments. Why would you lose the substance of glory by seeking the shadow? Your eloquence had, I think, the same fault as your manners; it was generally too affected. You professed to make Cicero your guide and pattern; but when one reads his Panegyric upon Julius Caesar, in his Oration for Marcellus, and yours upon Trajan, the first seems the genuine language of truth and Nature, raised and dignified with all the majesty of the most sublime oratory; the latter appears the harangue of a florid rhetorician, more desirous to shine and to set off his own wit than to extol the great man whose virtues he was praising.
Pliny the Younger.—I will not question your judgment either of my life or my writings; they might both have been better if I had not been too solicitous to render them perfect. It is, perhaps, some excuse for the affectation of my style that it was the fashion of the age in which I wrote. Even the eloquence of Tacitus, however nervous and sublime, was not unaffected. Mine, indeed, was more diffuse, and the ornaments of it were more tawdry; but his laboured conciseness, the constant glow of his diction, and pointed brilliancy of his sentences, were no less unnatural. One principal cause of this I suppose to have been that, as we despaired of excelling the two great masters of oratory, Cicero and Livy, in their own manner, we took up another, which to many appeared more shining, and gave our compositions a more original air; but it is mortifying to me to say much on this subject. Permit me, therefore, to resume the contemplation of that on which our conversation turned before. What a direful calamity was the eruption of Vesuvius, which you have been describing? Don't you remember the beauty of that fine coast, and of the mountain itself, before it was torn with the violence of those internal fires, that forced their way through its surface. The foot of it was covered with cornfields and rich meadows, interspersed with splendid villas and magnificent towns; the sides of it were clothed with the best vines in Italy. How quick, how unexpected, how terrible was the change! All was at once overwhelmed with ashes, cinders, broken rocks, and fiery torrents, presenting to the eye the most dismal scene of horror and desolation!
Pliny the Elder.—You paint it very truly. But has it never occurred to your philosophical mind that this change is a striking emblem of that which must happen, by the natural course of things, to every rich, luxurious state? While the inhabitants of it are sunk in voluptuousness—while all is smiling around them, and they imagine that no evil, no danger is nigh—the latent seeds of destruction are fermenting within; till, breaking out on a sudden, they lay waste all their opulence, all their boasted delights, and leave them a sad monument of the fatal effects of internal tempests and convulsions.
FERNANDO CORTEZ—WILLIAM PENN.
Cortez.—Is it possible, William Penn, that you should seriously compare your glory with mine? The planter of a small colony in North America presume to vie with the conqueror of the great Mexican Empire?
Penn.—Friend, I pretend to no glory—the Lord preserve me from it. All glory is His; but this I say, that I was His instrument in a more glorious work than that performed by thee—incomparably more glorious.
Cortez.—Dost thou not know, William Penn, that with less than six hundred Spanish foot, eighteen horse, and a few small pieces of cannon, I fought and defeated innumerable armies of very brave men; dethroned an emperor who had been raised to the throne by his valour, and excelled all his countrymen in the science of war, as much as they excelled all the rest of the West Indian nations? That I made him my prisoner in his own capital; and, after he had been deposed and slain by his subjects, vanquished and took Guatimozin, his successor, and accomplished my conquest of the whole empire of Mexico, which I loyally annexed to the Spanish Crown? Dost thou not know that, in doing these wonderful acts, I showed as much courage as Alexander the Great, as much prudence as Caesar? That by my policy I ranged under my banners the powerful commonwealth of Tlascala, and brought them to assist me in subduing the Mexicans, though with the loss of their own beloved independence? and that, to consummate my glory, when the Governor of Cuba, Velasquez, would have taken my command from me and sacrificed me to his envy and jealousy, I drew from him all his forces and joined them to my own, showing myself as superior to all other Spaniards as I was to the Indians?
Penn.—I know very well that thou wast as fierce as a lion and as subtle as a serpent. The devil perhaps may place thee as high in his black list of heroes as Alexander or Caesar. It is not my business to interfere with him in settling thy rank. But hark thee, friend Cortez. What right hadst thou, or had the King of Spain himself, to the Mexican Empire? Answer me that, if thou canst.
Cortez.—The Pope gave it to my master.
Penn.—The devil offered to give our Lord all the kingdoms of the earth, and I suppose the Pope, as his vicar, gave thy master this; in return for which he fell down and worshipped him, like an idolater as he was. But suppose the high priest of Mexico had taken it into his head to give Spain to Montezuma, would his grant have been good?
Cortez.—These are questions of casuistry which it is not the business of a soldier to decide. We leave that to gownsmen. But pray, Mr. Penn, what right had you to the province you settled?
Penn.—An honest right of fair purchase. We gave the native savages some things they wanted, and they in return gave us lands they did not want. All was amicably agreed on, not a drop of blood shed to stain our acquisition.
Cortez.—I am afraid there was a little fraud in the purchase. Thy followers, William Penn, are said to think cheating in a quiet and sober way no mortal sin.
Penn.—The saints are always calumniated by the ungodly. But it was a sight which an angel might contemplate with delight to behold the colony I settled! To see us living with the Indians like innocent lambs, and taming the ferocity of their barbarous manners by the gentleness of ours! To see the whole country, which before was an uncultivated wilderness, rendered as fertile and fair as the garden of God! O Fernando Cortez, Fernando Cortez! didst thou leave the great empire of Mexico in that state? No, thou hadst turned those delightful and populous regions into a desert—a desert flooded with blood. Dost thou not remember that most infernal scene when the noble Emperor Guatimozin was stretched out by thy soldiers upon hot burning coals to make him discover into what part of the lake of Mexico he had thrown the royal treasures? Are not his groans ever sounding in the ears of thy conscience? Do not they rend thy hard heart, and strike thee with more horror than the yells of the furies?
Cortez.—Alas! I was not present when that dire act was done. Had I been there I would have forbidden it. My nature was mild.
Penn.—Thou wast the captain of that band of robbers who did this horrid deed. The advantage they had drawn from thy counsels and conduct enabled them to commit it; and thy skill saved them afterwards from the vengeance that was due to so enormous a crime. The enraged Mexicans would have properly punished them for it, if they had not had thee for their general, thou lieutenant of Satan.
Cortez.—The saints I find can rail, William Penn. But how do you hope to preserve this admirable colony which you have settled? Your people, you tell me, live like innocent lambs. Are there no wolves in North America to devour those lambs? But if the Americans should continue in perpetual peace with all your successors there, the French will not. Are the inhabitants of Pennsylvania to make war against them with prayers and preaching? If so, that garden of God which you say you have planted will undoubtedly be their prey, and they will take from you your property, your laws, and your religion.
Penn.—The Lord's will be done. The Lord will defend us against the rage of our enemies if it be His good pleasure.
Cortez.—Is this the wisdom of a great legislator? I have heard some of your countrymen compare you to Solon. Did Solon, think you, give laws to a people, and leave those laws and that people at the mercy of every invader? The first business of legislature is to provide a military strength that may defend the whole system. If a house is built in a land of robbers, without a gate to shut or a bolt or bar to secure it, what avails it how well-proportioned or how commodious the architecture of it may be? Is it richly furnished within? the more it will tempt the hands of violence and of rapine to seize its wealth. The world, William Penn, is all a land of robbers. Any state or commonwealth erected therein must be well fenced and secured by good military institutions; or, the happier it is in all other respects, the greater will be its danger, the more speedy its destruction. Perhaps the neighbouring English colonies may for a while protect yours; but that precarious security cannot always preserve you. Your plan of government must be changed, or your colony will be lost. What I have said is also applicable to Great Britain itself. If an increase of its wealth be not accompanied with an increase of its force that wealth will become the prey of some of the neighbouring nations, in which the martial spirit is more prevalent than the commercial. And whatever praise may be due to its civil institutions, if they are not guarded by a wise system of military policy, they will be found of no value, being unable to prevent their own dissolution.
Penn.—These are suggestions of human wisdom. The doctrines I held were inspired; they came from above.
Cortez.—It is blasphemy to say that any folly could come from the Fountain of Wisdom. Whatever is inconsistent with the great laws of Nature and with the necessary state of human society cannot possibly have been inspired by God. Self-defence is as necessary to nations as to men. And shall particulars have a right which nations have not? True religion, William Penn, is the perfection of reason; fanaticism is the disgrace, the destruction of reason.
Penn.—Though what thou sayest should be true, it does not come well from thy mouth. A Papist talk of reason! Go to the Inquisition and tell them of reason and the great laws of Nature. They will broil thee, as thy soldiers broiled the unhappy Guatimozin. Why dost thou turn pale? Is it the name of the Inquisition, or the name of Guatimozin, that troubles and affrights thee? O wretched man! who madest thyself a voluntary instrument to carry into a new-discovered world that hellish tribunal? Tremble and shake when thou thinkest that every murder the Inquisitors have committed, every torture they have inflicted on the innocent Indians, is originally owing to thee. Thou must answer to God for all their inhumanity, for all their injustice. What wouldst thou give to part with the renown of thy conquests, and to have a conscience as pure and undisturbed as mine?
Cortez.—I feel the force of thy words; they pierce me like daggers. I can never, never be happy, while I retain any memory of the ills I have caused. Yet I thought I did right. I thought I laboured to advance the glory of God and propagate, in the remotest parts of the earth, His holy religion. He will be merciful to well designing and pious error. Thou also wilt have need of that gracious indulgence, though not, I own, so much as I.
Penn.—Ask thy heart whether ambition was not thy real motive and zeal the pretence?
Cortez.—Ask thine whether thy zeal had no worldly views and whether thou didst believe all the nonsense of the sect, at the head of which thou wast pleased to become a legislator.—Adieu. Self-examination requires retirement.
MARCUS PORTIUS CATO—MESSALLA CORVINUS.
Cato.—Oh, Messalla! is it then possible that what some of our countrymen tell me should be true? Is it possible that you could live the courtier of Octavius; that you could accept of employments and honours from him, from the tyrant of your country; you, the brave, the noble-minded, the virtuous Messalla; you, whom I remember, my son-in-law Brutus has frequently extolled as the most promising youth in Rome, tutored by philosophy, trained up in arms, scorning all those soft, effeminate pleasures that reconcile men to an easy and indolent servitude, fit for all the roughest tasks of honour and virtue, fit to live or to die a free man?
Messalla.—Marcus Cato, I revere both your life and your death; but the last, permit me to tell you, did no good to your country, and the former would have done more if you could have mitigated a little the sternness of your virtue, I will not say of your pride. For my own part, I adhered with constant integrity and unwearied zeal to the Republic, while the Republic existed. I fought for her at Philippi under the only commander, who, if he had conquered, would have conquered for her, not for himself. When he was dead I saw that nothing remained to my country but the choice of a master. I chose the best.
Cato.—The best! What! a man who had broken all laws, who had violated all trusts, who had led the armies of the Commonwealth against Antony, and then joined with him and that sottish traitor Lepidus, to set up a triumvirate more execrable by far than either of the former; who shed the best blood in Rome by an inhuman proscription, murdered even his own guardian, murdered Cicero, to whose confidence, too improvidently given, he owed all his power? Was this the master you chose? Could you bring your tongue to give him the name of Augustus? Could you stoop to beg consulships and triumphs from him? Oh, shame to virtue! Oh, degeneracy of Rome! To what infamy are her sons, her noblest sons, fallen. The thought of it pains me more than the wound that I died of; it stabs my soul.
Messalla.—Moderate, Cato, the vehemence of your indignation. There has always been too much passion mixed with your virtue. The enthusiasm you are possessed with is a noble one, but it disturbs your judgment. Hear me with patience, and with the tranquillity that becomes a philosopher. It is true that Octavius had done all you have said; but it is no less true that, in our circumstances, he was the best master Rome could choose. His mind was fitted by nature for empire. His understanding was clear and strong. His passions were cool, and under the absolute command of his reason. His name gave him an authority over the troops and the people which no other Roman could possess in an equal degree. He used that authority to restrain the excesses of both, which it was no longer in the power of the Senate to repress, nor of any other general or magistrate in the state. He restored discipline in our armies, the first means of salvation, without which no legal government could have been formed or supported. He avoided all odious and invidious names. He maintained and respected those which time and long habits had endeared to the Roman people. He permitted a generous liberty of speech. He treated the nobles of Pompey's party as well as those of his father's, if they did not themselves, for factious purposes, keep up the distinction. He formed a plan of government, moderate, decent, respectable, which left the senate its majesty, and some of its power. He restored vigour and spirit to the laws; he made new and good ones for the reformation of manners; he enforced their execution; he governed the empire with lenity, justice, and glory; he humbled the pride of the Parthians; he broke the fierceness of the barbarous nations; he gave to his country, exhausted and languishing with the great loss of blood which she had sustained in the course of so many civil wars, the blessing of peace—a blessing which was become so necessary for her, that without it she could enjoy no other. In doing these things I acknowledge he had my assistance. I am prouder of it, and I think I can justify myself more effectually to my country, than if I had died by my own hand at Philippi. Believe me, Cato, it is better to do some good than to project a great deal. A little practical virtue is of more use to society than the most sublime theory, or the best principles of government ill applied.
Cato.—Yet I must think it was beneath the character of Messalla to join in supporting a government which, though coloured and mitigated, was still a tyranny. Had you not better have gone into a voluntary exile, where you would not have seen the face of the tyrant, and where you might have quietly practised those private virtues which are all that the gods require from good men in certain situations?
Messalla.—No; I did much more good by continuing at Rome. Had Augustus required of me anything base, anything servile, I would have gone into exile, I would have died, rather than do it. But he respected my virtue, he respected my dignity; he treated me as well as Agrippa, or as Maecenas, with this distinction alone, that he never employed my sword but against foreign nations, or the old enemies of the republic.
Cato.—It must, I own, have been a pleasure to be employed against Antony, that monster of vice, who plotted the ruin of liberty, and the raising of himself to sovereign power, amidst the riot of bacchanals, and in the embraces of harlots, who, when he had attained to that power, delivered it up to a lascivious queen, and would have made an Egyptian strumpet the mistress of Rome, if the Battle of Actium had not saved us from that last of misfortunes.
Messalla.—In that battle I had a considerable share. So I had in encouraging the liberal arts and sciences, which Augustus protected. Under his judicious patronage the muses made Rome their capital seat. It would have pleased you to have known Virgil, Horace, Tibullus, Ovid, Livy, and many more, whose names will be illustrious to all generations.
Cato.—I understand you, Messalla. Your Augustus and you, after the ruin of our liberty, made Rome a Greek city, an academy of fine wits, another Athens under the government of Demetrius Phalareus. I had much rather have seen her under Fabricius and Curius, and her other honest old consuls, who could not read.
Messalla.—Yet to these writers she will owe as much of her glory as she did to those heroes. I could say more, a great deal more, on the happiness of the mild dominion of Augustus. I might even add, that the vast extent of the empire, the factions of the nobility, and the corruption of the people, which no laws under the ordinary magistrates of the state were able to restrain, seemed necessarily to require some change in the government; that Cato himself, had he remained upon earth, could have done us no good, unless he would have yielded to become our prince. But I see you consider me as a deserter from the republic, and an apologist for a tyrant. I, therefore, leave you to the company of those ancient Romans, for whose society you were always much fitter than for that of your contemporaries. Cato should have lived with Fabricius and Curius, not with Pompey and Caesar.
CHRISTINA, Queen Of Sweden—Chancellor OXENSTIERN.
Christina.—You seem to avoid me, Oxenstiern; and, now we are met, you don't pay me the reverence that is due to your queen! Have you forgotten that I was your sovereign?
Oxenstiern.—I am not your subject here, madam; but you have forgotten that you yourself broke that bond, and freed me from my allegiance, many years before you died, by abdicating the crown, against my advice and the inclination of your people. Reverence here is paid only to virtue.
Christina.—I see you would mortify me if it were in your power for acting against your advice. But my fame does not depend upon your judgment. All Europe admired the greatness of my mind in resigning a crown to dedicate myself entirely to the love of the sciences and the fine arts; things of which you had no taste in barbarous Sweden, the realm of Goths and Vandals.
Oxenstiern.—There is hardly any mind too great for a crown, but there are many too little. Are you sure, madam, it was magnanimity that caused you to fly from the government of a kingdom which your ancestors, and particularly your heroic father Gustavus, had ruled with so much glory?
Christina.—Am I sure of it? Yes; and to confirm my own judgment, I have that of many learned men and beaux esprits of all countries, who have celebrated my action as the perfection of heroism.
Oxenstiern.—Those beaux esprits judged according to their predominant passion. I have heard young ladies express their admiration of Mark Antony for heroically leaving his fleet at the Battle of Actium to follow his mistress. Your passion for literature had the same effect upon you. But why did not you indulge it in a manner more becoming your birth and rank? Why did not you bring the muses to Sweden, instead of deserting that kingdom to seek them in Rome? For a prince to encourage and protect arts and sciences, and more especially to instruct an illiterate people and inspire them with knowledge, politeness, and fine taste is indeed an act of true greatness.
Christina.—The Swedes were too gross to be refined by any culture which I could have given to their dull, their half-frozen souls. Wit and genius require the influence of a more southern climate.
Oxenstiern.—The Swedes too gross! No, madam, not even the Russians are too gross to be refined if they had a prince to instruct them.
Christina.—It was too tedious a work for the vivacity of my temper to polish bears into men. I should have died of the spleen before I had made any proficiency in it. My desire was to shine among those who were qualified to judge of my talents. At Paris, at Rome I had the glory of showing the French and Italian wits that the North could produce one not inferior to them. They beheld me with wonder. The homage I had received in my palace at Stockholm was paid to my dignity. That which I drew from the French and Roman academies was paid to my talents. How much more glorious, how much more delightful to an elegant and rational mind was the latter than the former! Could you once have felt the joy, the transport of my heart, when I saw the greatest authors and all the celebrated artists in the most learned and civilised countries of Europe bringing their works to me and submitting the merit of them to my decisions; when I saw the philosophers, the rhetoricians, the poets making my judgment the standard of their reputation, you would not wonder that I preferred the empire of wit to any other empire.
Oxenstiern.—O great Gustavus! my ever-honoured, my adored master! O greatest of kings, greatest in valour, in virtue, in wisdom, with what indignation must thy soul, enthroned in heaven, have looked down on thy unworthy, thy degenerate daughter! With what shame must thou have seen her rambling about from court to court deprived of her royal dignity, debased into a pedant, a witling, a smatterer in sculpture and painting, reduced to beg or buy flattery from each needy rhetorician or hireling poet! I weep to think on this stain, this dishonourable stain, to thy illustrious blood! And yet, would to God! would to God! this was all the pollution it has suffered!
Christina.—Darest thou, Oxenstiern, impute any blemish to my honour?
Oxenstiern.—Madam, the world will scarce respect the frailties of queens when they are on their thrones, much less when they have voluntarily degraded themselves to the level of the vulgar. And if scandalous tongues have unjustly aspersed their fame, the way to clear it is not by an assassination.
Christina.—Oh! that I were alive again, and restored to my throne, that I might punish the insolence of this hoary traitor! But, see! he leaves me, he turns his back upon me with cool contempt! Alas! do I not deserve this scorn? In spite of myself I must confess that I do. O vanity, how short-lived are the pleasures thou bestowest! I was thy votary. Thou wast the god for whom I changed my religion. For thee I forsook my country and my throne. What compensation have I gained for all these sacrifices so lavishly, so imprudently made? Some puffs of incense from authors who thought their flattery due to the rank I had held, or hoped to advance themselves by my recommendation, or, at best, over-rated my passion for literature, and praised me to raise the value of those talents with which they were endowed. But in the esteem of wise men I stand very low, and their esteem alone is the true measure of glory. Nothing, I perceive, can give the mind a lasting joy but the consciousness of having performed our duty in that station which it has pleased the Divine Providence to assign to us. The glory of virtue is solid and eternal. All other will fade away like a thin vapoury cloud, on which the casual glance of some faint beams of light has superficially imprinted their weak and transient colours.
TITUS VESPASIANUS—PUBLIUS CORNELIUS SCIPIO AFRICANUS.
Titus.—No, Scipio, I can't give place to you in this. In other respects I acknowledge myself your inferior, though I was Emperor of Rome and you only her consul. I think your triumph over Carthage more glorious than mine over Judaea. But in that I gained over love I must esteem myself superior to you, though your generosity with regard to the fair Celtiberian, your captive, has been celebrated so highly.
Scipio.—Fame has been, then, unjust to your merit, for little is said of the continence of Titus, but mine has been the favourite topic of eloquence in every age and country.
Titus.—It has; and in particular your great historian Livy has poured forth all the ornaments of his admirable rhetoric to embellish and dignify that part of your story. I had a great historian too—Cornelius Tacitus; but either from the brevity which he affected in writing, or from the severity of his nature, which never having felt the passion of love, thought the subduing of it too easy a victory to deserve great encomiums, he has bestowed but three lines upon my parting with Berenice, which cost me more pain and greater efforts of mind than the conquest of Jerusalem.
Scipio.—I wish to hear from yourself the history of that parting, and what could make it so hard and painful to you.
Titus.—While I served in Palestine under the auspices of my father, Vespasian, I became acquainted with Berenice, sister to King Agrippa, and who was herself a queen in one of those Eastern countries. She was the most beautiful woman in Asia, but she had graces more irresistible still than her beauty. She had all the insinuation and wit of Cleopatra, without her coquetry. I loved her, and was beloved; she loved my person, not my greatness. Her tenderness, her fidelity so inflamed my passion for her that I gave her a promise of marriage.
Scipio.—What do I hear? A Roman senator promise to marry a queen!
Titus.—I expected, Scipio, that your ears would be offended with the sound of such a match. But consider that Rome was very different in my time from Rome in yours. The ferocious pride of our ancient republican senators had bent itself to the obsequious complaisance of a court. Berenice made no doubt, and I flattered myself that it would not be inflexible in this point alone. But we thought it necessary to defer the completion of our wishes till the death of my father. On that event the Roman Empire and (what I knew she valued more) my hand became due to her, according to my engagements.
Scipio.—The Roman Empire due to a Syrian queen! Oh, Rome, how art thou fallen! Accursed be the memory of Octavius Caesar, who by oppressing its liberty so lowered the majesty of the republic, that a brave and virtuous Roman, in whom was vested all the power of that mighty state, could entertain such a thought! But did you find the senate and people so servile, so lost to all sense of their honour and dignity, as to affront the great genius of imperial Rome and the eyes of her tutelary gods, the eyes of Jupiter Capitolinus, with the sight of a queen—an Asiatic queen—on the throne of the Caesars?
Titus.—I did not. They judged of it as you, Scipio, judge; they detested, they disdained it. In vain did I urge to some particular friends, who represented to me the sense of the Senate and people, that a Messalina, a Poppaea, were a much greater dishonour to the throne of the Caesars than a virtuous foreign princess. Their prejudices were unconquerable; I saw it would be impossible for me to remove them. But I might have used my authority to silence their murmurs. A liberal donative to the soldiers, by whom I was fondly beloved, would have secured their fidelity, and consequently would have forced the Senate and people to yield to my inclination. Berenice knew this, and with tears implored me not to sacrifice her happiness and my own to an unjust prepossession. Shall I own it to you, Publius? My heart not only pitied her, but acknowledged the truth and solidity of her reasons. Yet so much did I abhor the idea of tyranny, so much respect did I pay to the sentiments of my subjects, that I determined to separate myself from her for ever, rather than force either the laws or the prejudices of Rome to submit to my will.
Scipio.—Give me thy hand, noble Titus. Thou wast worthy of the empire, and Scipio Africanus honours thy virtue.
Titus.—My virtue can have no greater reward from the approbation of man. But, O Scipio, think what anguish my heart must have felt when I took that resolution, and when I communicated it to my dear, my unhappy Berenice. You saw the struggle of Masinissa, when you forced him to give up his beloved Sophonisba. Mine was a harder conflict. She had abandoned him to marry the King of Numidia. He knew that her ruling passion was ambition, not love. He could not rationally esteem her when she quitted a husband whom she had ruined, who had lost his crown and his liberty in the cause of her country and for her sake, to give her person to him, the capital foe of that unfortunate husband. He must, in spite of his passion, have thought her a perfidious, a detestable woman. But I esteemed Berenice; she deserved my esteem. I was certain she would not have accepted the empire from any other hand; and had I been a private man she would have raised me to her throne. Yet I had the fortitude—I ought, perhaps, to say the hardness of heart—to bid her depart from my sight; depart for ever! What, O Publius, was your conquest over yourself, in giving back to her betrothed lover the Celtiberian captive compared to this? Indeed, that was no conquest. I will not so dishonour the virtue of Scipio as to think he could feel any struggle with himself on that account. A woman engaged to another—engaged by affection as well as vows, let her have been ever so beautiful—could raise in your heart no sentiments but compassion and friendship. To have violated her would have been an act of brutality, which none but another Tarquin could have committed. To have detained her from her husband would have been cruel. But where love is mutual, where the object beloved suffers more in the separation than you do yourself, to part with her is indeed a struggle. It is the hardest sacrifice a good heart can make to its duty.
Scipio.—I acknowledge that it is, and yield you the palm. But I will own to you, Titus, I never knew much of the tenderness you describe. Hannibal, Carthage, Rome, the saving of my country, the subduing of its rival, these filled my thoughts, and left no room there for those effeminate passions. I do not blame your sensibility; but when I went to the capitol to talk with Jove, I never consulted him about love affairs.
Titus.—If my soul had been possessed by ambition alone, I might possibly have been a greater man than I was; but I should not have been more virtuous, nor have gained the title I preferred to that of conqueror of Judaea and Emperor of Rome, in being called the delight of humankind.
HENRY DUKE OF GUISE—MACHIAVEL.
Guise.—Avaunt! thou fiend. I abhor thy sight. I look upon thee as the original cause of my death, and of all the calamities brought upon the French nation, in my father's time and my own.
Machiavel.—I the cause of your death! You surprise me!
Guise.—Yes. Your pernicious maxims of policy, imported from Florence with Catherine of Medicis, your wicked disciple, produced in France such a government, such dissimulation, such perfidy, such violent, ruthless counsels, as threw that whole kingdom into the utmost confusion, and ended my life, even in the palace of my sovereign, by the swords of assassins.
Machiavel.—Whoever may have a right to complain of my policy, you, sir, have not. You owed your greatness to it, and your deviating from it was the real cause of your death. If it had not been for the assassination of Admiral Coligni and the massacre of the Huguenots, the strength and power which the conduct of so able a chief would have given to that party, after the death of your father, its most dangerous enemy, would have been fatal to your house; nor could you, even with all the advantage you drew from that great stroke of royal policy, have acquired the authority you afterwards rose to in the kingdom of France; but by pursuing my maxims, by availing yourself of the specious name of religion to serve the secret purposes of your ambition, and by suffering no restraint of fear or conscience, not even the guilt of exciting a civil war, to check the necessary progress of your well-concerted designs. But on the day of the barricades you most imprudently let the king escape out of Paris, when you might have slain or deposed him. This was directly against the great rule of my politics, not to stop short in rebellion or treason till the work is fully completed. And you were justly censured for it by Pope Sixtus Quintus, a more consummate politician, who said, "You ought to have known that when a subject draws his sword against his king he should throw away the scabbard." You likewise deviated from my counsels, by putting yourself in the power of a sovereign you had so much offended. Why would you, against all the cautions I had given, expose your life in a loyal castle to the mercy of that prince? You trusted to his fear, but fear, insulted and desperate, is often cruel. Impute therefore your death not to any fault in my maxims, but to your own folly in not having sufficiently observed them.
Guise.—If neither I nor that prince had ever practised your maxims in any part of our conduct, he would have reigned many years with honour and peace, and I should have risen by my courage and talents to as high a pitch of greatness as it consisted with the duty of a subject to desire. But your instructions led us on into those crooked paths, out of which there was no retreat without great danger, nor a possibility of advancing without being detested by all mankind, and whoever is so has everything to fear from that detestation. I will give you a proof of this in the fate of a prince, who ought to have been your hero instead of Caesar Borgia, because he was incomparably a greater man, and, of all who ever lived, seems to have acted most steadily according to the rules laid down by you; I mean Richard III., King of England. He stopped at no crime that could be profitable to him; he was a dissembler, a hypocrite, a murderer in cool blood. After the death of his brother he gained the crown by cutting off, without pity, all who stood in his way. He trusted no man any further than helped his own purposes and consisted with his own safety. He liberally rewarded all services done him, but would not let the remembrance of them atone for offences or save any man from destruction who obstructed his views. Nevertheless, though his nature shrunk from no wickedness which could serve his ambition, he possessed and exercised all those virtues which you recommend to the practice of your prince. He was bold and prudent in war, just and strict in the general administration of his government, and particularly careful, by a vigorous execution of the laws, to protect the people against injuries or oppressions from the great. In all his actions and words there constantly appeared the highest concern for the honour of the nation. He was neither greedy of wealth that belonged to other men nor profuse of his own, but knew how to give and where to save. He professed a most edifying sense of religion, pretended great zeal for the reformation of manners, and was really an example of sobriety, chastity, and temperance in the whole course of his life. Nor did he shed any blood, but of those who were such obstacles in his way to dominion as could not possibly be removed by any other means. This was a prince after your heart, yet mark his end. The horror his crimes had excited in the minds of his subjects, and the detestation it produced, were so pernicious to him, that they enabled an exile, who had no right to the crown, and whose abilities were much inferior to his, to invade his realm and destroy him.