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- Mosaics of Grecian History - 1/101 -

Produced by Robert J, Hall




The leading object had in view in the preparation of the present volume has been to produce, within a moderate compass, a History of Greece that shall not only be trustworthy, but interesting to all classes of readers.

It must be acknowledged that our standard historical works, with all their worth, do not command a perusal by the people at large; and it is equally plain that our ordinary School Manuals--the abridgments and outlines of more voluminous works--do not meet with any greater favor. The mere outline system of historical study usually pursued in the schools is interesting to those only to whom it is suggestive of the details on which it is based; and we have long been satisfied that it is not the best for beginners and for popular use; that it inverts the natural order of acquisition; that for the young to master it is drudgery; that its statistical enumeration, if ever learned by them, is soon forgotten; that it tends to create a prejudice against the study of history; that it does not lay the proper foundation for future historical reading; and that, outside of the enforced study of the school-room, it is seldom made use of. The people in general--the masses--do not read such works, while they do read with avidity historical legends, historical romances, historical poems and dramas, and biographical sketches. And we do not hesitate to assert that from Shakspeare's historical plays the reading public have acquired (together with much other valuable information) a hundred-fold more knowledge of certain portions of English history than from all the ponderous tomes of formal history that have ever been written. It may be said that people ought to read Hume, and Lingard, and Mackintosh, and Hallam, and Froude, and Freeman, instead of Shakspeare's "King John," and "Richard II.," and "Henry IV.," and "Henry VIII.," etc. It is a sufficient reply to say they do not.

Historical works, therefore, to be read by the masses, must be adapted to the popular taste. It was an acknowledgment of this truth that led Macaulay, the most brilliant of historians, to remark, "We are not certain that the best histories are not those in which a little of the exaggeration of fictitious narrative is judiciously employed. Something is lost in accuracy, but much is gained in effect. The fainter lines are neglected, but the great characteristic features are imprinted on the mind forever." If the result to which Macaulay refers be once attained by an introductory work so interesting that it shall come into general use, it will, we believe, naturally lead to the reading of some of the best standard works in the same historical field. In our attempt to make this a work of such a preparatory character, we have borne in mind the demand that has arisen for poetic illustration in the reading and teaching of history, and have given this delightful aid to historical study a prominent place--ofttimes making it the sole means of imparting information. And yet we have introduced nothing that is not strictly consistent with our ideal of what history should be; for although some of the poetic selections are avowedly wholly legendary, and others, still, in a greater or less degree fictitious in their minor details--like the by-plays in Shakspeare's historic dramas--we believe they do no violence to historical verity, as they are faithful pictures of the times, scenes, incidents, principles, and beliefs which they are employed to illustrate. Aside, too, from their historic interest, they have a literary value. Many prose selections from the best historians are also introduced, giving to the narrative a pleasing variety of style that can be found in no one writer, even if he be a Grote, a Gibbon, or a Macaulay.

* * * * *


Believing that it may be of some advantage to the general reader, we give herewith a brief sketch of the principal histories of Greece now before the public. We may mention, among those of a comprehensive character, the works of Goldsmith, Gillies, Mitford, Thirlwall, Grote, and Curtius:

OLIVER GOLDSMITH, "the popular poet, the charming novelist, the successful dramatist, and the witty essayist," wrote a popular history of Greece, in two volumes, 8vo, 1774, embracing a period from the earliest date down to the death of Alexander the Great. It is an attractive work, elegantly written, but is superficial and inaccurate.

In 1786 was published a history of ancient Greece, in several volumes, by DR. JOHN GILLIES, who succeeded Dr. Robertson as historiographer of Scotland. This is a work of considerable merit but it is written in a spirit of decidedly monarchical tendencies, although the author evidently aimed at great fairness in his political views.

He says: "The history of Greece exposes the dangerous turbulence of democracy, and arraigns the despotism of tyrants. By describing the incurable evils inherent in every republican policy, it evinces the inestimable benefits resulting to liberty itself from the lawful dominion of hereditary kings, and the steady operation of well-regulated monarchy."

In the year 1784 appeared the first volume of WILLIAM MITFORD'S "History of Greece", subsequently extended to eight and ten volumes, 8vo. It is the first history of Greece that combines extensive research and profound philosophical reflection; but it is "a monarchical" history, by a writer of very strong anti-republican principles. "It was composed," says Alison, the distinguished historian of modern Europe, "during, or shortly after, the French Revolution; and it was mainly intended to counteract the visionary ideas in regard to the blessings of Grecian democracy, which had spread so far in the world, from the magic of Athenian genius." Says Chancellor Kent: "Mitford does not scruple to tell the truth, and the whole truth, and to paint the stormy democracies of Greece in all their grandeur and in all their wretchedness." Lord Byron said of the author: "His great pleasure consists in praising tyrants, abusing Plutarch, spelling oddly, and writing quaintly; and--what is strange, after all--his is the best modern history of Greece in any language." But this was penned before Thirlwall's and Grote's histories were published. Lord Macaulay says of Mitford: "Whenever this historian mentions Demosthenes he violates all the laws of candor and even of decency: he weighs no authorities, he makes no allowances, he forgets the best authenticated facts in the history of the times, and the most generally recognized principles of human nature." The North British Review, after calling Mitford "a bad scholar, a bad historian, and a bad writer of English," says, farther, that "he was the first writer of any note who found out that Grecian history was a living thing with a practical bearing."

The next truly important and comprehensive Grecian history, published from 1835 to 1840, in eight volumes, 8vo, was written by CONNOP THIRLWALL, D. D., Bishop of St. David's. It is a scholarly, elaborate, and philosophical work evincing a thorough knowledge of Greek literature and of the German commentators. The historian Grote said that, if it had appeared a few years earlier, he should probably never have undertaken his own history of Greece. "I should certainly," he says, "not have been prompted to the task by any deficiencies such as those I felt and regretted in Mitford."

In comparing Thirlwall's history with Grote's, the North British Review has the following judicious remarks: "Many persons, probably, who have no special devotion to Grecian history wish to study its main outlines in something higher than a mere school-book. To such readers we should certainly recommend Thirlwall rather than Grote. The comparative brevity, the greater clearness and terseness of the narrative, the freedom from diversions and digressions, all render it far better suited for such a purpose. But for the political thinker, who regards Grecian history chiefly in its practical bearing, Mr. Grote's work is far better adapted. The one is the work of a scholar, an enlarged and practical scholar indeed, but still one in whom the character of the scholar is the primary one. The other is the work of a politician and man of business, a London banker, a Radical M. P., whose devotion to ancient history and literature forms the most illustrious confutation of the charges brought against such studies as being useless and impractical."

"The style of Thirlwall," says Dr. Samuel Warren of England, in his Introduction to Law Studies, "is dry, terse, and exact--not fitted, perhaps, for the historical tyro, but most acceptable to the advanced student who is in quest of things."

GEORGE GROTE, Member of Parliament, and a London banker, who wrote a history of Greece in twelve volumes, published from 1846 to 1855, has been styled, by way of eminence, the historian of Greece, because his work is universally admitted by critics to be the best for the advanced student that has yet been written. The London Athenĉum styles his history "a great literary undertaking, equally notable whether we regard it as an accession of standard value in our language, or as an honorable monument of what English scholarship can do." The London Quarterly Review says: "Errors the most inveterate, that have been handed down without misgiving from generation to generation, have been for the first time corrected by Mr. Grote; facts the most familiar have been presented in new aspects and relations; things dimly seen, and only partially apprehended previously, have now assumed their true proportions and real significance; while numerous traits of Grecian character; and new veins of Grecian thought and feeling, have been revealed to the eyes of scholars by Mr. Grote's searching criticism, like new forms of animated nature by the microscope."

The general character of the work has been farther well summed up by Sir Archibald Alison. He says: "A decided liberal, perhaps even a republican, in politics, Mr. Grote has labored to counteract the influence of Mitford in Grecian history, and construct a history of Greece from authentic materials, which should illustrate the animating influence of democratic freedom upon the exertions

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