Images de page
PDF
ePub

priving him of the weight and dignity which are indispensable to the vigorous and effectual discharge of his important office. It is certain, too, that, if no fit depositary of this executive power is provided by the constitution, some one will establish itself in spite of the constitution; and this will be the turbulent leader of a legislative body, who, under pretence of promoting the interests of his fellow citizens, will contrive to become their master. By electing the President out of the Senate, especially if, as Mr Hillhouse imagines, this body, in consequence of serving for a shorter time, would consist, in general, of the same members, his constitutional independence would be still further impaired, and his interests identified with those of the Senate. In a word, it seems evident, that if the people of the United States were desirous of making such alterations on their constitution, as should be likely to convert it into an oligarchy, and at no distant period into a despotism, they could not adopt a better plan than that proposed by Mr Hillhouse.

For our own part we will confefs, that, in fpeculating on the future fortunes of the American republic, it is not to the diffenfions excited by the election of the Prefident, but to the difproportionate ftrength and efficacy of its feparate ftate governments, that we fhould be difpofed to look with the greatest apprehenfion. The conftitution of America is a fort of compromise between a confederation of independent nations, and a fimple republican go vernment; and, like all other compromifes, involves both abfurdities and inconveniences. It was merely the accidental circumftance of having been formerly governed as feparate colonies, that fuggefted to this people the idea of a federal union; for nothing furely could be more prepofterous, than for three millions of men to divide themfelves into thirteen nations. When we fpeak of America, therefore, as one country, and reason about its greatness or ftability, we think only of its general government, and drop all confideration of its feparate ftate legislatures. Now, the greatest hazard by far to which this national government-and with it the national greatnefs and profperity-is expofed, arifes, in our apprehenfion, from the exiftence and the powers of thofe fubordinate conftitutions. They not only exhibit the old abfurdity of a wheel within a wheel; but evidently hold out facilities to the difmemberment and diffolution' of the general government. When a measure, indispensable to the general welfare, happens to be disadvantageous to the inhabitants of a particular district, they will be difcontented and querulous, in all cafes, we may depend on it, in fpite of patriotism and public fpirit. But if they are merely individual citizens of one great con munity, their discontent will not go beyond murmurs and cla

mours

mours, and will not affect the stability of the government. When every district, however, is organized like a feparate nation, and exercifes legiflative and fovereign authority over its own popula tion, it is easy to fee how formidable its local difcontents may become, and how readily a partial intereft may lead it to throw off its allegiance to the general government. They are each ready to fet up for themselves; and they know very well, that the general government has no power to compel them to adhere to it longer than they conceive it to be for their advantage. Inftead of making new regulations as to the office and election of the Prefident, therefore, we do think it would be better worth while for the American reformers to think of gradually dissolving their state governments, and really incorporating themselves into one people and one name. Inftead of electing fo many members to Congrefs for each ftate, let them elect fo many for every hundred thousand male adults; and, instead of having half their laws made in one place, and half in another, let them trust the whole manufacture to the mafter-workmen of the country.

While they remain at peace, however, and continue to prosper, their present government will answer well enough. The truth is, that in such a situation, they scarcely require any government at all; and their political arrangements are rather matters of speculation to the ambitious, than the concernment of the truly patriotic. But war would give a tremendous shock to all these arrangements; nor do we see indeed how they could maintain any considerable army without the adoption of a different system of government. The very high wages of labour would make the expense of their establishment far greater than in any other country in the world; and their antipathy to all sorts of taxes, would make it far more difficult to defray that expense. The government would become unpopular on occasion of the slightest disaster. Party spirit and local interests would easilygraduate into rebellion; and the whole frame of the constitution, it appears to us, would be in danger of falling to pieces.

With the spirit and intelligence, and the long habit and prac tice of liberty which exists in America, we do not exactly appre hend that they will ever fall into a state of political servitude. But we do think, that they are still destined to undergo something of the nature of a revolution; and are very far from considering their present constitution as that pattern of perfection which they are sometimes disposed to represent it. It arose, like other imperfect systems of government, out of great and pressing emergencies; and was dictated, in a great degree, by circumstances which may be considered as accidental. The publication before us shows what opinion is entertained of it among its own states

men

men and legislators; and we are inclined to think, that those who attentively consider the subject, will be convinced that Mr Hill house has succeeded better in exposing the evil, than in devising the remedy; and that there are evils of a greater magnitude than those which he has specified.

ART. XIV. The History of Greece. By William Mitford, Esq. Vol. IV, 4to. Cadell & Davies, London. 1808.

Co ONSIDERED with respect, not only to the whole series of antient events which it comprises, but also to any very prominent portion of that series, Mr Mitford's history is the best that has appeared since the days of Xenophon. By calling it the best, we mean that it is the strongest in that quality, which is the cardinal virtue, or rather the four cardinal virtues in one, of historic composition,-trustworthiness. Such praise, it will instantly occur to the reader, is seldom bestowed where it is best due, without a credit-account of censure being opened at the same time; and, in fact, it is our purpose to conform to this general practice. The work before us, indeed, is one which will bear to be commended with discrimination; and its excellences, if faithfully displayed, may sustain such a contrast of shadow, as would perfectly extinguish the farthing brightness of those novels founded on fact, commonly called histories,

The volume that has just been published, continues the history of Greece, in which is included that of Sicily, to the battle of Chæronea; and might not unfairly be termed, The Acts of Dionysius of Syracuse, and of Philip of Macedon. The originality of its contents the reader will appretiate, when he is told, that the two characters just mentioned,-proverbial as they have been in all ages, the one for atrocious oppression, the other for unprincipled ambition,-are here classed among the most exalted and unexceptionable of those whose commanding virtues have exposed thein to the martyrdom of misrepresentation. The indisputable qualifications of Mr Mitford for patient, and, at the same time, bold research, entitle his representations on these subjects to be fairly examined; while the strangeness and novelty of those representations must expose them to somewhat more than suspicion, till they shall have been established by proof.

In characterizing our author's historical powers, it is quite im possible to separate that part of his work, which now first appears, from those which have so long been in possession of the public favour. All that we can attempt is, to shape our gene

ral

ral reflections on Grecian story in such a manner, as to bear on the events which accompanied the establishment of the Macedonian ascendancy over the commonwealth of the Hellenic States, 4 The opportunity, however, of bestowing on this interesting period a full attention, must be purchased, we regret to say, by some sacrifice of that portion of Mr Mitford's volume which relates to the Sicilian empire of Dionysius. Indeed, Dionysius and Philip together, are too much for one article; and unquestionably, of the two, the actions of the former mingle themselves far less with the main current of the political and warlike annals of Greece, while, at the same time, they are, in every view, infinitely less important.

In the judgment of reason, the matter of a book is perhaps be.fore its manner; but this judgment has been reversed by the consent of all ages, neither gods, nor men, nor columns,' allow ing that what is not well written has any title to be well read, or indeed to be read at all. Of the history before us, no critic will deny, that its general cast bespeaks the ability of the writer; that he correctly holds the medium between the heavy philosopher and the mere gazetteer,-between looking back and going on; that his arrangement is always properly, sometimes delicately, exact; that his episodes have all the character of being appendages, and yet not excrescences-visitors, and yet not foreigners; that though always copious, he never loses himself in his own copiousness; that, in short, the impression conveyed by the narrative is a strong sense of its clearness, fulness, comprehensiveness, and variety. Yet the world is never satisfied with any gifts or endowments that are accompanied by affectation; and of this quality, Mr Mitford is charged with having two sorts. He writes in an affected style; and he is eaten up with the affectation of spelling better than any of his neighbours.

These faults, however, belong exclusively to the exterior of this work; and, with so much of solid content before us, it would be wrong to detain the reader on a mere measurement of its superficial extent, or an examination of its colour. In proceeding, before we address ourselves to grapple with any part of Mr Mitford's matter, we shall offer one word on the sort of authority to which he has resorted for it.

In this particular, we ascribe to our author uncommon merit. We do not allude merely to his management of those ma terials of intelligence which he has collected,-to his skill in winding out a train of events through obscurity and uncertainty,-Or to his dexterity in systematizing loose hints caught from a variety of quarters. All this he has, in a considerable degree; but we VOL. XII. NO. 24.

Hh

mean

mean rather to commend the judgment which he has discovered in his steady pursuit, and, on all occasions, resolute preference, of contemporary authorities. This is one great distinction between this author and most of his predecessors; and it is one on which he is justly entitled to value himself.

There is this general distinction between contemporary history and all other history,--that the former is a witness, the latter a judge. The opinions of a contemporary author on the events which he records, are only then authority, when the impression made on a bystander happens to be a material part of the case; nor is this any exception to the maxim, that his business is to testify, not to lecture. On facts, however, he is paramount evidence; and that, not only in the age immediately succeeding him, but also, which is generally forgotten, to the latest times. The modern historian, who consults original authorities through the medium of some later predecessor, descends from the character of a judge to that of a faithful reporter of decisions.

Yet it must be owned, that the distinction which has been mentioned between the writers of past, and those of contemporary history, is not always perfect. No man sees all that is done, or hears all that is said, even during his own life. Time, the philosophers have found, resembles space; and, certainly, a story is often as much injured by a voyage out of one hemisphere into another, as it would have been in journeying through the whole wilderness of the middle ages. In many cases, therefore, our witness is compelled to act the part of a judge. There are others, in which the judge must become a witness. The earlier annalist, for example, remains as the only voucher to a modern historian of events from which he was himself divided by centu ries. The old authorities are extinct, or so greatly impaired by tine, as to be no longer responsible.

Still, perhaps, the happiest fault with which a historian can be reproached, is that of a blind attachment to original documents.. We may rely upon it, that a story can hardly ever suffer so much from any defect in the original teller, as it must suffer from running the gauntlet of successive transmissions. The light of history is like other light; it dissipates far faster than in proportion to its distance from the point of radiation; and a less portion near the centre, is better than more afterwards.

These considerations are evidently much strengthened, in the event of three contingencies; first, that we have an abundance of original information; next, that our secondary authorities were, in time or place, far removed from the scene of action; and thirdly, that they laboured under some incapacitating pre

judice.

« PrécédentContinuer »