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atrocious cruelties, butcheries, massacres, violations of all the restraints of decency, and all the ties of nature, fields covered with dead bodies, and flooded with human gore, are all of them vulgar repetitions . of what had been acted countless times already. If Nero or Caligula thought to perpetrate that which should stand unparalleled, they fell into the grossest,
The conqueror, who should lay waste vast portions of the globe, and destroy mighty cities, so that “thorns should come up in the palaces, and nettles in the fortresses thereof, and they should be a habitation of serpents, and a court for owls, and the wild beasts of the desert should meet there,” would only do what Tamerlane, and Aurengzebe, and Zingis, and a hundred other conquerors, in every age and quarter of the world, had done before. The splendour of triumphs, and the magnificence of courts, are so essentially vulgar, that history almost disdains to record them. And
yet there is something that is new, and that by the reader of discernment is immediately felt to,
We read of Moses, that he was a child of ordinary birth, and, when he was born, was presently marked, as well as all the male children of his race, for destruction. He was unexpectedly preserved ; and his first act, when he grew up, was to slay an Egyptian, one of the race to whom all his countrymen were . slaves, and to fly into exile. This man, thus friend-1 less and alone, in due time returned, and by the
mere energy of his character prevailed upon his whole race to make common cause with him, and to migrate to a region, in which they should become sovereign and independent. He had no soldiers, but what were made so by the ascendancy of his spirit, no counsellors but such as he taught to be wise, no friends but those who were moved by the sentiment they caught from him. The Jews he commanded were sordid and low of disposition, perpetually murmuring against his rule, and at every unfavourable accident calling to remembrance “the land of Egypt, where they had sat by the Aeshpots, and were full.” Yet over this race he retained a constant mastery, and finally made of them a nation whose customs and habits and ways of thinking no time has availed to destroy. This was a man then, that possessed the true secret to make other men his creatures, and lead them with an irresistible power wherever he pleased. This history, taken entire, has probably no parallel in the annals of the world.
The invasion of Greece by the Persians, and its result, seem to constitute an event that stands alone among men. Xerxes led against this little territory an army of 5,280,000 men. They drank up rivers, and cut their way through giant-mountains. They were first stopped at Thermopylæ by Leonidas and his three hundred Spartans. They fought for a country too narrow to contain the army by which the question was to be tried. The contest was here to be decided between despotism and liberty, whe
ther there is a principle in man, by which a handful of individuals, pervaded with lofty sentiments, and a conviction of what is of most worth in our nature, can defy the brute force, and put to flight the attack, of bones, joints and sinews, though congregated in multitudes, numberless as the waves of the sea, or the sands on its shore. The flood finally rolled back: and in process of time Alexander, with these Greeks whom the ignorance of the East affected to despise, founded another universal monarchy on the ruins of Persia. This is certainly no vulgar history.
Christianity is another of those menyorable chapters in the annals of mankind, to which there is probably no second. The son of a carpenter in a little, rocky country, among a nation despised and enslaved, undertook to reform the manners of the people of whom he was a citizen. The reformation he preached was unpalatable to the leaders of the state; he was persecuted; and finally suffered the death reserved for the lowest malefactors, being nailed to a cross. He was cut off in the very beginning of his career, before he had time to form a sect. His immediate representatives and successors were tax-gatherers and fishermen. What could be more incredible, till proved by the event, than that a religion thus begun, should have embraced in a manner the whole civilised world, and that of its kingdom there should be no visible end? This is a novelty in the history of the world, equally if we consider it as brought about by the immediate in
terposition of the author of all things, or regard it, as some pretend to do, as happening in the course of mere human events.
Rome, “the eternal city,” is likewise a subject that stands out from the vulgar history of the human race. Three times, in three successive forms, has she been the mistress of the world. First, by the purity, the simplicity, the single-heartedness, the fervour and perseverance of her original character she qualified herself to subdue all the nations of mankind. Next, having conquered the earth by her virtue and by the spirit of liberty, she was able to maintain her ascendancy for centuries under the emperors, notwithstanding all her astonishing proAligacy and anarchy. And, lastly, after her secular ascendancy had been destroyed by the inroads of the northern barbarians, she rose like the phenix from her ashes, and, though powerless in material force, held mankind in subjection by the chains of the mind, and the consummateness of her policy. Never was any thing so admirably contrived as the Catholic religion, to subdue the souls of men by the power of its worship over the senses, and, by its contrivances in auricular confession, purgatory, masses for the dead, and its claim magisterially to determine controversies, to hold the subjects it had gained in everlasting submission.
The great principle of originality is in the soul of man. And here again we may recur to Greece, the parent of all that is excellent in art. Painting, sta
tuary, architecture, poetry, in their most exquisite and ravishing forms, originated in this little province. Is not the Iliad a thing new, and that will for ever remain new? Whether it was written by one man, as I believe, or, as the levellers of human glory would have us think, by many, there it stands : all the ages of the world present us nothing that can come in competition with it.
Shakespear is another example of unrivalled originality. His fame is like the giant-rivers of the world : the further it flows, the wider it spreads out its stream, and the more marvellous is the
power with which it sweeps along.
But, in reality, all poetry and all art, that have a genuine claim to originality, are new, the smallest, as well as the greatest.
It is the mistake of dull minds only, to suppose that every thing has been said, that human wit is exhausted, and that we, who have unfortunately fallen upon the dregs of time, have no alternative left, but either to be silent, or to say over and over again, what has been well said already.
There remain yet immense tracts of invention, the mines of which have been untouched. We perceive nothing of the strata of earth, and the hidden fountains of water, that we travel over, unconscious of the treasures that are immediately within our reach, till some person, endowed with the gift of a superior sagacity, comes into the country, who appears to see through the opake and solid mass, as