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Scipio." It is not that I would excuse Plutarch, as if he never related the same thing diversely; for it is evident, that, through want of advertency, he has been often guilty of that error, of which the reader will find too frequent examples in these Lives; but in this place he cannot be charged with want of memory or care, because what he says here is relating to what he had said formerly; so that he may mistake the story, as I believe he has done, (that other of Livy being much more probable,) but we must allow him to remember what he had before written.
From hence I might take occasion to note some other lapses of our author, which yet amount not to falsification of truth, much less to partiality, or envy, (both which are manifest in his countryman Dion Cassius, who writ not long after him,) but are only the frailties of human nature; mistakes not intentional, but accidental. He was not altogether so well versed either in the Roman language, or in their coins, or in the value of them; in some customs, rites, and ceremonies, he took passages on trust from others, relating both to them and the barbarians, which the reader may particularly find recited in the animadversions of the often-praised Rualdus on our author. I will name but one, to avoid tediousness, because I particularly observed it when I read Plutarch in the library of Trinity College, in Cambridge, to which foundation I gratefully acknowledge a great part of my education. It is, that Plutarch, in the life of Cicero, speaking of Verres, who was accused by him, and repeating a miserable jest of Tully's, says that Verres, in the Roman language, signifies a barrow-pig, that is, one which has been gelded. But we have a better account of the signification from Varro, whom we have more reason to believe; that the male of that kind, before he is cut, is called Verres: after cutting, Majalis, which is perhaps a diminutive of Mas, though generally the reason of the etymology is given from its being a sacrifice to the goddess Maja. Yet any man, who will candidly weigh this and the like errors, may excuse Plutarch, as he would a stranger mistaking the propriety of an English word; and besides the humanity of this excuse, it is impossible in nature, that a man of so various learning, and so covetous of engrossing all, should perfectly digest such an infinity of notions in many sciences; since to be excellent in one is so great a labour.
It may now be expected, that, having written the life of an historian, I should take occasion to write somewhat concerning history itself: but I think to commend it is unnecessary, for the profit and pleasure of that study are both so very
obvious, that a quick reader will be beforehand with me, and imagine faster than I can write. Besides that the post is taken up already; and few authors have travelled this way, but who have strewed it with rhetoric as they passed. For my own part, who must confess it to my shame, that I never read any thing but for pleasure, it has always been the most delightful entertainment of my life; but they who have employed the study of it as they ought, for their instruction, for the regulation of their private manners, and the management of public affairs, must agree with me, that it is the most pleasant school of wisdom. It is a familiarity with past ages, and an acquaintance with all the heroes of them; it is, if you will pardon the similitude, a prospective glass carrying your soul to a vast distance, and taking in the farthest objects of antiquity. It informs the understanding by the memory: it helps us to judge of what will happen, by showing us the like revolutions of former times. For mankind being the same in all ages, agitated by the same passions, and moved to action by the same interests, nothing can come to pass, but some precedent of the like nature has already been produced; so that having the cau ses before our eyes, we cannot easily be deceiv ed in the effects, if we have judgment enough but to draw the parallel.
God, it is true, with his divine providence overrules and guides all actions to the secret end he has ordained them; but in the way of human causes, a wise man may easily discern that there is a natural connexion betwixt them; and though he cannot foresee accidents, or all things that possibly can come, he may apply examples, and by them foretell, that from the like counsels will probably succeed the like events; and thereby, in all concernments, and all offices of life, be instructed in the two main points on which depend our happiness; that, is what to avoid, and what to choose.
The laws of history, in general, are truth of matter, method, and clearness of expression. The first propriety is necessary, to keep our understanding from the impositions of falsehood; for history is an argument framed from many particular examples or inductions; if these examples are not true, then those measures of life which we take from them will be false, and deceive us in their consequence. The second is grounded on the former; for if the method be confused, if the words or expressions of thought are any way obscure, then the ideas which we receive must be imperfect; and if such, we are not taught by them what to elect or what to shun. Truth, therefore, is required as the foundation of history, to inform us; disposition and
perspicuity, as the manner to inform us plainly; one is the being, the other the well-being of it. History is principally divided into these three species; Commentaries, or Annals; History, properly so called; and Biographia, or the Lives of particular men.
Commentaries, or Annals, are (as I may so call them) naked history, or the plain relation of matter of fact, according to the succession of time, divested of all other ornaments. The springs and motives of actions are not here sought, unless they offer themselves, and are open to every man's discernment. The method is the most natural that can be imagined, depending only on the observation of months and years, and drawing, in the order of them, whatsoever happened worthy of relation. The style is easy, simple, unforced, and unadorned with the pomp of figures; councils, guesses, politic observations, sentences, and orations, are avoided; in few words, a bare narration is its business. Of this kind the "Commentaries of Cæsar are certainly the most admirable, and after him the "Annals of Tacitus" may have place; nay, even the prince of Greek historians, Thucydides, may almost be adopted into the number. For, though he instructs everywhere by sentences, though he gives the causes of actions, the councils of both parties, and makes orations where they are necessary, yet it is certain that he first designed his work a Commentary; every year writing down, like an unconcerned spectator as he was, the particular occurrences of the time, in the order as they happened; and his eighth book is wholly written after the way of Annals; though, outliving the war, he inserted in his others those ornaments which render his work the most complete and most instructive now
History, properly so called, may be described by the addition of those parts which are not required to Annals; and therefore there is little farther to be said concerning it; only, that the dig nity and gravity of style is here necessary. That the guesses of secret causes inducing to the actions, be drawn at least from the most probable circumstances, not perverted by the malignity of the author to sinister interpretations, (of which Tacitus is accused,) but candidly laid down, and left to the judgment of the reader: That nothing of concernment be omitted; but things of trivial moment are still to be neglected, as debasing the majesty of the work: That neither partiality or prejudice appear, but that truth may every where be sacred: Ne quid falsi dicere audeat, ne quid veri non audeat historicus: That he neither incline to superstition, in giving too much credit to oracles, prophecies, divinations,
and prodigies, nor to irreligion, in disclaiming the Almighty Providence; but where general opinion has prevailed of any miraculous accident or portent, he ought to relate it as such, without imposing his opinion on our belief. Next to Thucydides, in this kind, may be accounted Polybius, amongst the Grecians; Livy, though not free from superstition, nor Tacitus from ill nature, amongst the Romans; amongst the modern Italians, Guicciardini, and Davila, if not partial; but above all men, in my opinion, the plain, sincere, unaffected, and most instructive Philip de Comines, amongst the French, though he only gives his History the humble name of Commentaries. I am sorry I cannot find in our own nation, though it has produced some commendable historians, any proper to be ranked with these. Buchanan, indeed, for the purity of his Latin, and for his learning, and for all other endowments belonging to an historian, might be placed amongst the greatest, if he had not too much leaned to prejudice, and too manifestly declared himself a party of a cause, rather than an historian of it. Excepting only that, (which I desire not to urge too far on so great a man, but only to give caution to his readers concerning it,) our isle may justly boast in him a writer comparable to any of the moderns, and excelled by few of the ancients.
Biographia, or the history of particular men's lives, comes next to be considered; which in dignity is inferior to the other two, as being more confined in action, and treating of wars, and councils, and all other public affairs of nations, only as they relate to him whose life is written, or as his fortunes have a particular dependence on them, or connexion to them. All things here are circumscribed, and driven to a point, so as to terminate in one; consequently, if the action or counsel were managed by colleagues, some part of it must be either lame or wanting, except it be supplied by the excursion of the writer. Herein, likewise, must be less of variety, for the same reason; because the fortunes and actions of one man are related, not those of many. Thus the actions and achievements of Sylla, Lucullus, and Pompey, are all of them but the successive parts of the Mithridatic war; of which we could have no perfect image, the same hand had not given us the whole, though at several views, in their particular lives.
Yet though we allow, for the reasons above alleged, that this kind of writing is in dignity inferior to History and Annals, in pleasure and instruction it equals, or even excels, both of them. It is not only commanded by ancient practice to celebrate the memory of great and
worthy men, as the best thanks which posterity can pay them, but also the examples of virtue are of more vigour, when they are thus contracted into individuals. As the sunbeams, united in a burning glass to a point, have greater force than when they are darted from a plain superficies, so the virtues and actions of one man, drawn together into a single story, ike upon our minds a stronger and more lively impression, than the scattered relations of many men, and many actions; and, by the same means that they give us pleasure, they afford us profit too. For when the understanding is intent and fixed on a single thing, it carries closer to the mark; every part of the object sinks into it; and the soul receives it unmixed and whole. For this reason Aristotle commends the unity of action in a poem; because the mind is not capable of digesting many things at once, nor of conceiving fully any more than one idea at a time. What soever distracts the pleasure, lessens it; and as the reader is more concerned at one man's fortune than those of many, so likewise the writer is more capable of making a perfect work if he confine himself to this narrow compass. The lineaments, features, and colourings of a single picture may be hit exactly; but in a historypiece of many figures, the general design, the ordonnance or disposition of it, the relation of one figure to another, the diversity of the posture, habits, shadowings, and all the other graces conspiring to an uniformity, are of so difficult performance, that neither is the resemblance of particular persons often perfect, nor the beauty of the piece complete; for any considerable error in the parts renders the whole disagreeable and lame. Thus then, the perfection of the work, and the benefit arising from it, are both more absolute in biography than in history. All history is only the precepts of moral philosophy reduced into examples. Moral philosophy is divided into two parts, ethics and politics; the first instructs us in our private offices of virtue, the second in those which relate to the management of the commonwealth. Both of these teach by argumentation and reasoning, which rush as it were into the mind, and possess it with violence; but history rather allures than forces us to virtue. There is nothing of the tyrant in example; but it gently glides into us, is easy and pleasant in its passage, and in one word reduces into practice our speculative notions; therefore the more powerful the examples are, they are the more useful also; and, by being more known, they are more powerful. Now unity, which is defined, is in its own nature more apt to be understood than multiplicity, which in some
measure participates of infinity. The reason is Aristotie's.
Biographia, or the histories of particular lives, though circumscribed in the subject, is yet more extensive in the style than the other two; for it not only comprehends them both, but has somewhat superadded, which neither of them have. The style of it is various, according to the occasion. There are proper places in it for the plainness and nakedness of narration, which is ascribed to annals; there is also room reserved for the loftiness and gravity of general history, when the actions related shall require that manner of expression. But there is withal a descent into minute circumstances, and trivial passages of life, which are natural to this way of writing, and which the dignity of the other two will not admit. There you are conducted only into the rooms of state, here you are led into the private lodgings of the hero; you see him in his undress, and are made familiar with his most private actions and conversations. You may behold a Scipio and a Lælius gathering cockleshells on the shore, Augustus playing at bounding-stones with boys, and Agesilaus riding on a hobby-horse among his children. The pageantry of life is taken away; you see the poor reasonable animal as naked as ever nature made him; are made acquainted with his passions and his follies, and find the demi-god a man. Plutarch himself has more than once defended this kind of relating little passages; for, in the Life of Alexander, he says thus: "In writing the lives of illustrious men, I am not tied to the laws of history; nor does it follow, that, because an action is great, it therefore manifests the greatness and virtue of him who did it; but, on the other side, sometimes a word, or a casual jest, betrays a man more to our knowledge of him, than a battle fought wherein ten thousand men were slain, or sacking of cities, or a course of victories." In another place he quotes Xenophon on the like occasion: "The sayings of great men in their familiar discourses, and amidst their wine, have somewhat in them which is worthy to be transmitted to posterity." Our author therefore needs no excuse, but rather deserves a commendation, when he relates, as pleasant, some sayings of his heroes, which appear (I must confess it) very cold and insipid mirth to us. For it is not his meaning to commend the jest, but to paint the man; besides, we may have lost somewhat of the idiom of that language in which it was spoken; and where the cenceit is couched in a single word, if all the significations of it are not critically understood, the grace and the pleasantry are lost.
But in all parts of biography, whether familiar or stately, whether sublime or low, whether serious or merry, Plutarch equally excelled. If we compare him to others, Dion Cassius is not so sincere; Herodian, a lover of truth, is oftentimes deceived himself with what he had falsely heard reported: then the time of his emperors exceeds not in all above sixty years; so that his whole history will scarce amount to three Lives of Plutarch. Suetonius and Tacitus may be called alike either authors of histories, or writers of lives; but the first of them runs too willingly into obscene descriptions, which he teaches, while he relates; the other, besides what has already been noted by him, often falls into obscurity; and both of them have made so unlucky a choice of times, that they are forced to describe rather monsters than men ; and their emperors are either extravagant fools or tyrants, and most usually both. Our author, on the contrary, as he was more inclined to commend than to dispraise, has generally chosen such great men as were famous for their several virtues; at least such whose frailties or vices were overpoised by their excellencies; such from whose examples we may have more to follow than to shun. Yet, as he was impartial, he disguised not the faults of any man: an example of which is in the life of Lucullus; where, after he has told us that the double benefit which his countrymen, the Chaeroneans, received from him, was the chiefest motive which he had to write his life, he afterwards rips up his luxury, and shows how he lost, through his mismanagement, his authority and his soldiers' love. Then he was more happy in his digressions than any we have named. I have always been pleased to see him, and his imitator, Montaigne, when they strike a little out of the common road; for we are sure to be the better for their wandering. The best quarry lies not always in the open field; and who would not be content to follow a good huntsman over hedges and ditches, when he knows the game will reward his pains? But if we mark him more narrowly, we may observe, that the great reason of his frequent starts is the variety of his learning; he knew so much of nature, was so vastly furnished with all the treasures of the mind, that he was uneasy to himself, and was forced, as I may say, to lay down some at every passage, and to scatter his riches as he went: like another Alexander or Adrian, he built a city, or planted a colony, in every part of his progress, and left behind him some memorial of his greatness. Sparta, and Thebes, and Athens, and Rome, the mistress of the world, he has discovered in their foundations, their institutions,
their growth, their height; the decay of the three first, and the alteration of the last. You see those several people, in their different laws, and policies, and forms of government, in their warriors, and senators, and demagogues. Nor are the ornaments of poetry, and the illustrations of similitudes, forgotten by him; in both which he instructs, as well as pleases; or rather pleases, that he may instruct.
This last reflection leads me naturally to say somewhat in general of his style; though, after having justly praised him for copiousness of learning, integrity, perspicuity, and more than all this, for a certain air of goodness which appears through all his writings, it were unreason. able to be critical on his elocution. As on a tree which bears excellent fruit, we consider not the beauty of the blossoms,-for if they are not pleasant to the eye, or delightful to the scent, we know at the same time that they are not the prime intention of nature, but are thrust out in order to their product; so in Plutarch, whose business was not to please the ear, but to charm and to instruct the mind, we may easily forgive the cadences of words, and the roughness of expression. Yet, for manliness of eloquence, if it abounded not in our author, it was not wanting in him. He neither studied the sublime style, nor affected the flowery. The choice of words, the numbers of periods, the turns of sentences, and those other ornaments of speech, he neither sought nor shunned; but the depth of sense, the accuracy of judgment, the disposition of the parts, and contexture of the whole, in so admirable and vast a field of matter, and, lastly, the copiousness and variety of words, appear shining in our author. It is, indeed, observed of him, that he keeps not always to the style of prose, but if a poetical word, which carries in it more of emphasis or signification, offer itself at any time, he refuses it not because Homer or Euripides have used it; but if this be a fault, I know not how Xenophon will stand excused. Yet neither do I compare our author with him, or with Herodotus, in the sweetness and graces of his style, nor with Thucydides in the solidity and closeness of expression; for Herodotus is acknow. ledged the prince of the Ionic, the other two of the Attic eloquence. As for Plutarch, his style is so particular, that there is none of the ancients to whom we can properly resemble him. And the reason of this is obvious; for, being conversant in so great a variety of authors, and collecting from all of them what he thought most excellent, out of the confusion, or rather mixture, of all their styles, he formed his own, which, partaking of each, was yet none of them, but a
compound of them all ; like the Corinthian metal, which had in it gold, and brass, and silver, and yet was a species by itself. Add to this, that in Plutarch's time, and long before it, the purity of the Greek tongue was corrupted, and the native splendour of it had taken the tarnish of barbarism, and contracted the filth and spots of degenerating ages: for the fall of empires always draws after it the language and eloquence of the people; they, who labour under misfortunes or servitude, have little leisure to cultivate their mother tongue. To conclude; when Athens had lost her sovereignty to the Peloponnesians, and her liberty to Philip, neither a Thucydides nor a Demosthenes were afterwards produced by her.
I have formerly acknowledged many lapses of our author, occasioned through his inadvertency; but he is likewise taxed with faults which reflect on his judgment in matters of fact, and his candour in the comparisons of his Greeks and Romans; both which are so well vindicated by Montaigne, that I need but barely to translate him:-" First, then, he is accused of want of judgment, in reporting things incredible; for proof of which is alleged the story he tells of the Spartan boy, who suffered his bowels to be torn out by a young fox which he had stolen, choosing rather to hide him under his garment till he died, than to confess his robbery. In the first place, this example is ill chosen, because it is difficult to set a bound to the force of our internal faculties; it is not defined how far our resolution may carry us to suffer. The force of bodies may more easily be determined than that of souls. Then of all people, the Lacedemonians, by reason of their rigid institutions, were most hardened to undergo labours, and to suffer pains. Cicero, before our author's time, though then the Spartan virtue was degenerated, yet avows to have seen himself some Lacede monian boys, who, to make trial of their patience, were placed before the altar of Diana, where they endured scourging till they were all over bloody, and that not only without crying, but even without a sigh or a groan; nay, and some of them so ambitious of this reputation, that they willingly resigned their lives under the hands of their tormentors.-The same may be said of another story, which Plutarch vouches with a hundred witnesses: that in the time of sacrifice, a burning coal by chance falling into the sleeve of a Spartan boy, who held the censer, he suffered his arm to be scorched so long without moving it, that the scent of it reeked up to the noses of the assistants.
"For my own part, who have taken in so vast an idea of the Lacedemonian magnanimity,
Plutarch's story is so far from seeming incredible to me, that I think it neither wonderful nor uncommon; for we ought not to measure possibilities or impossibilities by our own standard, that is, by what we ourselves could do or suffer, These, and some other slight examples, are made use of, to lessen the opinion of Plutarch's judgment.—But the common exception against his candour is, that in his parallels of Greeks and Romans, he has done too much honour to his countrymen, in matching them with heroes with whom they were not worthy to be compared. For instances of this, there are produced the comparisons of Demosthenes and Cicero, Aristides and Cato, Lysander and Sylla, Pelopidas and Marcellus, Agesilaus and Pompey. Now the ground of this accusation is most probably the lustre of those Roman names, which strikes on our imagination; for what proportion of glory is there betwixt a Roman consul or proconsul of so great a commonwealth, and a simple citi
of Athens? But he who considers the truth more nearly, and weighs not honours with honours, but men with men, which was Plutarch's main design, will find in the balance of their manners, their virtues, their endowments and abilities, that Cicero and the elder Cato were far from having the overweight against Demosthenes and Aristides. I might as well complain against him in behalf of his own countrymen ; for neither was Camillus so famous as Themistocles, nor were Tiberius and Caius Gracchus comparable to Agis and Cleomenes, in regard of dignity; much less was the wisdom of Numa to be put in balance against that of Lycurgus, or the modesty and temperance of Scipio against the solid philosophy and perfect virtue of Epaminondas. Yet the disparity of victories, the reputation, the blaze of glory, in the two last, were evidently on the Roman side.-But, as I said before, to compare them this way was the least of Plutarch's aim; he openly declares against it; for, speaking of the course of Pompey's fortune, his exploits of war, the greatness of the armies which he commanded, the splendour and number of his triumphs, in his comparison betwixt him and Agesilaus,-I believe, says he, that if Xenophon were now alive, and would indulge himself the liberty to write all he could to the advantage of his hero, Agesilaus, he would be ashamed to put their acts in competition. In his comparison of Sylla and Lysander, there is, says he, no manner of equality either in the number of their victories, or in the danger of their battles; for Lysander only gained two naval fights, &c. Now this is far from partiality to the Grecians. He who must convict him of this vice, must show us in what