Page images

each moment which a condescending benevolence to the necessities of the world exacts of them. Now, says Plato, only philosophers are capable of all this; and, therefore, it will never go well with the world till philosophers govern it!


It is to be feared that the laughing world will say that it would as soon have the geometrical tailors of Laputa to make its clothes; and it must be confessed that, though statesmen ought to be philosophic in spirit, yet philosophers, if devoted to their pursuits with the genuine love of them, would generally make but indifferent statesmen. Public business would be apt to get strangely blundered. Not by my philosophers,' Plato would say; for they are to be so trained that, while looking ' down with contempt on all sublunary vanities of ambition, and sighing to be released from them, they would have self-denial and magnanimity enough to perform their duties.' But it is to be feared that Plato's system, the noble infirmity of which, as Professor Butler well observes, is its excessive tendency to nurse the contemplative character, would find its disciples apt to indulge in lazy contemplation when letters were to be answered or despatches written; transfixed in ecstatic gaze on the immutable and real, when their business lay imperatively with the mutable' and 'phenomenal.' The infirmities, half sublime half ludicrous, of the philosophical character, by which, like Thales, it gazes on the stars, and falls into the ditch-looks at distant objects, and forgets what is at its feet-were by no means unknown or unacknowledged by Plato, who, in the seventh book of the Republic, as well as in the Theatetus, has given exquisite sketches of the mingled strength and weakness of this union of the child and the sage; but it is less apparent how the evil is to be corrected, or by what instrument of education (Plato's, or otherwise) that exquisite equilibrium is to be maintained in the philosophic mind, by which, despising the world, it serves it; by which, loftily looking down on its pomps and vanities, its ambition and its strife, it takes an active part in it-reluctantly, indeed, yet cordially; cheerfully dwelling in it, and longing to break away from it.

[ocr errors]

And yet, even in this extravagant portion of the Platonic Republic, may we not discern, in shadow, a state of things, at least somewhat resembling that of which Plato but dreamed? May we not prophesy a time, when, under the influence of a far diviner, more consistent, and more practical system of ethics than even Plato framed, men, many men, shall be formed, not, indeed, to despise the honours of the world, and the rewards of ambition, or to think them less or other than they are, for, as an old divine observes, Christians are pilgrims, and it does

'not become pilgrims to be insolent where they sojourn'-a point which marks at once the distinction between a Christian and a stoical philosophy, but, to recognise the truth, that the great object of life is no more in these than in any other of life's pursuits, or, if the philosopher will, illusions; and that there are, even of this world, delights which compete with them, and of the other world, hopes which eclipse them? When Christianity, with its more exact appreciation of the claims of the practical and contemplative, with far better means of conciliating them, and preserving the equilibrium between them, shall have taught men, many men, as she has already taught a few, while frankly acknowledging whatever of value attaches to honourable ambition and popular applause, to make political power less an idol than it has been, and without pretending to take it up with a sigh, to relinquish it without one? When, under the influence of a deeper sense of the fair, and the true, and the good, invigorating the soul without disturbing its balance, imparting to it from the spiritual and unseen, motives which only reinforce the sense of duty, without disturbing its capacities for performance, this world shall indeed be better governed than it has been, and men cease to be the milch kine' and the well-pastured sheep' which they too often have been? When man, having already outgrown that boyish idolatry of mere brute power, which is the first stage of his education, and proper to barbarism, and that second idolatry of mere intellect, or of intellect and power combined, which is the characteristic of mere civilisation, shall recognise in that moral excellence which Plato said would enchant all eyes if seen, what is greater and better than either power or intellect? The day may be remote, but it will come, and happy will be the world when it dawns. Then the sublime musings of Plato, though needing corrections and adjustments, will seem less Utopian than at present.

[ocr errors]

For these reasons and others like them the philosophy of Plato will ever be well worthy of earnest study. Even though many of its doctrines be impenetrable, or being penetrated, are denied, it still is full of approximations to truth of the most comprehensive character; and forms a rich supplement to any philosophy. To this is to be added, that collateral to his main doctrines, are every where interspersed profound maxims and reflections, and subtle analyses of human thought and feeling, and all expressed, in what philosophy so often lacks, — the winning graces of the most varied eloquence.

These collateral beauties, indeed, will be thought by many, perhaps by most, far more valuable than the more characteristic

features of his system. This is certainly the case with the greatest of his works, the Republic.' Considered as a possible political structure in this actual world of ours (and from its obvious impracticability many of his commentators have doubted whether Plato so regarded it), it certainly deserves to be considered the most Utopian that ever entered the mind of man. Yet it is full of insulated thoughts of profound significance and value, and lustrous with bright gleams and glimpses of truths that will never grow old. It is an ideal structure, but made out of solid materials; an edifice of poetry, but built out of the substance of philosophy. Many of the speculations, indeed, which enter into it cannot be so considered; as for example, the strange paradoxes respecting the community of women, and their equality of duties (even in war itself) with men. As for the manner in which Plato would have the individual absorbed in the community, which most of all shocks our western notions, it is no peculiarity of this philosopher, but belongs to the idea of a State as conceived by the ancients, and appears as strongly in the Politics' of Aristotle as in the Republic' of Plato.

[ocr errors]

These peculiarities, by the by,-to say nothing of other Utopian characteristics of his social ethics, nothing of his incomprehensible lenience towards national vices of the most odious character, nothing of the mystical character of the metaphysics in which he enshrined his ethical speculations, nothing of the undue preponderance which his whole system tended to give to the contemplative over the practical, sufficiently show the extravagance of comparing the philosophy of Plato with the system of Christianity, which in truth is hardly more contrasted in form than in substance.

[ocr errors]

In his occasional sublime representations of the Supreme Being, and the astonishing decision and beauty of his ethical notions, as well as in his strong tendency to believe the immortality of man, he certainly comes far nearer to the Gospel than any other heathen writer; but the moment we institute a full comparison, whether as regards substance or form, doctrine or style, we see how limited the resemblance and how various the contrasts. Even in that point in which the resemblance is chiefly paraded, nothing can be stronger than the contrast between the manner of Plato and that of the Gospel. Plato intermingles his ethical reasoning with the most subtle metaphysical refinements; the Gospel expresses ethical truth yet more just, uniform, and comprehensive, without any refinements of metaphysical subtlety at all. Plato expresses his in a style which only the highly cultivated can at all appreciate, and

the Gospel in a form which instantly makes its way into the dialect and heart of universal man.

But so limited are the resemblances, and so numerous the contrasts, that probably the world would have heard little of the matter had it not been for two opposite tendencies among the early adherents and opponents of Christianity. The converts from the Academy loved Plato so well that they would fain make him, if possible, a Christian divine; and the infidel hated Christ so much that he would fain set up Plato as a rival! Not the least interesting part of Professor Butler's lectures turns upon this point. We have no room to quote, but confidently refer the reader to his pages for a very instructive treatment of it. We must also omit some striking passages we had intended to cite on the principal defects in the philosophy of Plato considered as a system. On the whole, we are confident, that every intelligent reader of these lectures will join in the high encomium which the learned editor has pronounced upon them.

Of the last series of lectures, on the very difficult, but deeply interesting treatise of Aristotle Tepi yuxs, we have left ourselves no space to speak; nor is it necessary. Though marked by much acuteness, they are too brief, too much in the style of a mere abstract, to be very interesting to the general reader; though, as we conceive, of much value to any student who is resolved to read the original in conjunction with them.

ART. X.-Memoirs by the Right Honourable Sir Robert Peel, Bart., M. P. Published by the Trustees of his Papers, Lord Mahon (now Earl Stanhope) and the Right Honourable Edward Cardwell, M. P. Part I. The Roman Catholic Question, 1828-29. London: 1856.

THOUGH this Memoir is certainly not without value, we must acknowledge that it has disappointed our expectations. When upon the death of Sir Robert Peel it was found that he had bequeathed all his unpublished letters and papers, including the whole of his confidential correspondence, to two very competent editors, with discretionary authority to publish the whole or any part of these documents at such time as they should think fit, we looked for political disclosures of more than ordinary importance; and when, after a lapse of six years, the first of a promised series of what may be called autobiographical fragments was announced, we certainly expected to have our curiosity gratified by historical revelations of a very interesting

description, and (as the author himself anticipated) calculated to throw light upon the conduct and character of public men, and upon the political events of his time. The Memoir before us is avowedly an apology, and, receiving it in that light, we are surprised that the illustrious author should have thought it worth while to take so much pains to defend that part of his conduct on which it has long since been acknowledged that no apology or defence were required by any except the scanty remnant of the ancient bigots of No-Popery and Protestant Ascendancy, to whom it is obviously hopeless to address any vindication of his conduct in 1829. The editors naturally felt bound to give effect to the wishes and intentions of the testator, but we cannot understand why they have delayed to publish this Memoir for so many years, when there is not a line in it which might not have appeared the day after Sir Robert's death, without any honourable confidence being betrayed, any pri'vate feelings unnecessarily wounded, or any public interests injuriously affected by the publication:' and they might have considered that if there was a chance of its producing any effect at all, the sooner it made its appearance the better.

When Sir Robert resolved to bequeath to the world a posthumous vindication of his conduct on the Catholic question, he would have done well to commence his narrative at an earlier period, and to explain his views and his motives at different stages of his career, where his conduct appears so irreconcileable with that which he subsequently, and (as we of course think) very wisely, pursued. The first Baronet was a Tory, and a strenuous opponent of Catholic Emancipation, who naturally brought up his son in political opinions similar to his own. It is no wonder, therefore, that young Peel began his public and Parliamentary life as an Anti-Catholic, and that he continued for a long time to be a sincere believer in that creed. The death of Mr. Perceval left the Protestant party without a head. Lord Liverpool, on the formation of his Government, made Mr. Peel Irish Secretary, and he almost immediately became the recognised leader of the Anti-Catholics, by the mere fact of his being by far the ablest adherent of their cause. In his first speech, which was delivered about three months before the assassination of Mr. Perceval, he had announced his opposition to the claims of the Catholics, but at that time he declined to bind himself on the general question of further concessions. He said, 'On giving his vote on the present occasion he would by no means pledge himself with regard to the Catholic question, but merely give his negative to a motion which in the present

« PreviousContinue »