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it is also true that it was at the expense of that love of truth, and that modesty of true science, without which the active intellect of this mercurial people would soon effervesce into mere frivolity and weakness.
Such was the state of things in Athens when Socrates was forming his character. The republic was haughty, powerful, and magnificent, yet cherishing elements of inevitable decay. Her fevered activity was in part a factitious energy, a hectic glow that was a symptom of disease rather than a token of health. Pericles, after breathing some of his own lofty spirit into the people, and leading them into the Peloponnesian war, lay down, amid the terrible scenes of the plague, with a heavy heart, to die, and left his darling city to feebler and meaner hands. No great intellects were left to seize the reins that dropped from his hands, and the state was left to the action of the elements of decay already planted in her bosom. In this heaving rush of social life Socrates daily mingled, and saw clearly its radical defects. He saw that the prevalent teachings of those who directed the public opinion of Athens were eating but its heart, and must end in inevitable decay and dissolution.
Had Socrates been an ordinary man, he would have yielded to the powerful tide that swept along the channels of Athenian life, and been ranked with the other names that appear in Grecian history. But his was no ordinary nature. With a body of incredible endurance and strength, he had a mind equally marked by strong, clear common sense, and power of logical analysis. These analytical powers were cultivated partly by the schools, and partly by solitary reflection, but mainly by those keen colloquial combats that formed so marked a peculiarity of Athenian life. By these agencies his power of tracing a thought through every doubling of sophistry was developed until it became like the eye of the hunter, who follows his trail with unerring accuracy where others would see nothing but pathless confusion. But his most remarkable traits were those of his moral nature. Other men had nobler impulses, and warmer affections, what is commonly called a better heart; but no man ever lived who had a larger development of natural conscience. This was, indeed, the master faculty of his soul. Clear perceptions of the right and the true, and proper feelings in regard to them, furnish the key to the character and history of Socrates. Here we find the secret of his revolt against the philosophy of the day and the teachings of the Sophists. The whole tendency of philosophical speculation at that time was sceptical and irreligious, and against this the fine moral nature of Socrates rose up in emphatic protest. He hated wrong, falsehood, and unreality, wherever he found them, but
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especially among the leaders of the public mind; and his conscience recoiled with disgust from the insincerity, indifference to truth, and sham pretension of the Sophists. Hence he was by nature a reformer, and, like every other true reformer, the deepest, broadest, richest subsoil of his nature was religious, and from this massive substructure of his character all the rest drew their vitality and strength. Here we find the element that lifts him above all other Greeks, and most other men. Aristides before him had a fine moral development, but lacked that fervent enthusiasm of the religious emotions that lay warm and deep in the heart of Socrates, giving vigour to all the outgrowths of his life. Aristotle after him had more subtlety, more searching power of logical analysis, but lacked this primary formation of every truly great nature; for as the tallest mountains always lay bare at their summits the deepest rocks that underlie the crust of the earth, so the loftiest natures of our race ever lift up toward heaven those deep granitic elements of the religious nature which lie nearest to the great, glowing heart of the world. Socrates had faith, and hence he had power. Indeed, the fact that has impressed us more than any other in his character, was his amazing spirituality, using the term to designate that predominance of the unseen and the eternal in their influence over the soul that is not necessarily confined to the form in which we find it among Christians. Never was there an uninspired man, perhaps, who acted more constantly in view of the right, the true, and the divine, and whose nature was less enthralled by the visible, the temporal, and the sensible. Such then were the natural elements of this extraordinary character-conscience, and common sense, to a wonderful degree; and such the influences acting upon them— form of social life that sharpened the intellectual element to an amazing acuteness, dexterity, and power, and a tone of thought and action that roused the moral element into indignant and powerful protest.
At what age Socrates began his labours 'as a public teacher is not entirely certain; but it was probably about the age of thirty, when mind and body had reached their most perfect development. The causes that led to this course of life are apparent from the preceding statements. Like the earnest monk of Erfürth, who found the problem of the Reformation in the struggles of his own great heart, this Luther of Athens found in questioning his own soul the secret of social reform, and seeing the corruption that false teachers were spreading, he set himself steadily to effect a reform. Like every other great reformer, he deemed himself summoned to this work by a divine call, and kindled his soul at the fire of the altar. The Delphic oracle was, to the devout Greek, a veritable expounder of the will of Heaven, and hence regarded with religious reverence. Whatever was its real character, it was the visible representation of the divine will, and hence concentrated on itself the religious emotions of the Greeks. Its “heaven-descended” know thyself fastened on the mind of Socrates, and led him to that searching self-scrutiny, and that exhaustive analysis of his opinions and grounds of belief, that made him the Bacon of Grecian philosophy. In these intense processes of solitary thought he acquired that wonderful power of abstraction that makes credible the story that in the Potidæan expedition he was once seen standing from sunrise to sunrise the following day, in the same posture, absorbed in profound meditation; and that enabled him, in all the confusion of a noisy crowd, to pursue a thought with an undeviating tenacity that was never baffled. Acquiring thus a clear sense of the defects of the prevalent forms of thought, a nature like his would be desirous of attempting to correct them. But we have reason to believe that he had more direct and specific impulses than these.
His friend Chærephon applied to the Delphic oracle to know who was the wisest of the Greeks, and received the response: “Sophocles is wise, Euripides is wiser, but the wisest of all men is Socrates.” This utterance of the oracle, which we have no reason to suppose was unfairly obtained, caused Socrates to suspect that he had a divine mission to fulfil to his people. He began to feel that he was called to be a prophet and a missionary, sent forth to recall the wayward and worldly Athenians to the true principles of virtue and piety.
This he asserts in the most solemn manner in his Apology, resting the defence of his conduct on this divine legation. (See Apology, c. 18.)
We here find a clew to the proper understanding of the vexed question about the demon of Socrates. This is, undoubtedly, the most difficult matter in his life, and has given rise to the most varied theories of explanation. The difficulty lies in reconciling the accounts we have of it, with what we know to be truth on the one hand, and what we know to be the character of Socrates on the other. It is represented as an internal voice, that warned him in regard to doubtful things, such as, not to take the road that most of the
took after the battle of Delium, and were overtaken by the enemy; not to take a certain street, which his friends taking met with an accident; that the Sicilian expedition would be unfortunate, although everything seemed to promise success, &c., &c.; so that it was said by Socrates himself, that no man ever neglected his advice without having reason to regret it. The most remarkable peculiarity of it was, that it never commanded, but only forbade, confining its intimations to simple prohibitions of what would be inexpedient.
What was the exact nature of this intimation? If natural, why did Socrates represent it as supernatural, and why did it warn in regard to things beyond the scope of ordinary foresight? If supernatural, how can we conceive of God giving him a messenger that should descend to such trifles as preventing him from coming in contact with a herd of swine, or Crito from being scratched by the branch of a tree, when we have no evidence that such a messenger was ever given to any other mortal? Without discussing the various explanations that have been proposed, in ancient and modern times, we shall give what we deem to be the true one, that whilst Socrates honestly believed it to be supernatural, it was merely natural, the intelligible action of those powers of mind with which he was so preëminently gifted.
To suppose that Socrates pretended to such an internal guidance, knowing that it was not supernatural, is simply absurd. There is no possible mark or test of sincerity which he did not repeatedly give. It is usually forgotten in discussing this point, that Socrates was a firm and reverent believer in the traditionary religion of his country. Without receiving the absurd fables of the poets, he held to certain great doctrines, such as the existence of a supreme God, and also of certain subordinate gods, who, although not supreme, were yet endued with a divine nature. (See a very remarkable passage in the Memorabilia, lib. iv, cap. iii, especially $ 13, where a supreme Creator and Preserver is distinctly asserted.) He further believed in an intermediate order of beings, demons, or angels, who had direct admission to the soul of man, and were capable of conveying to it impulses and impressions. Their aid he believed could be obtained by any man who would seek it in virtuous living. Acts and states of the mind that could be referred to no other cause, he referred to their agency, as one adequate and intelligible, and of whose existence he had not the slightest doubt.
There is a class of mental states, the exact origin of which is somewhat obscure. We believe that a certain thing is so, because we perceive it to be so by a kind of direct intuition; we feel an impression that we ought not to do a certain thing, although we cannot tell why; we have an instinctive attraction to, or recoil from a person, an impression at first sight, for which we can give no valid reason; or we have what is called a presentiment as to the future, not based on reason, and not subject to it, which often precedes some adverse event. There are some men, who always know how to say and do the right thing in the right time and place, not as the result of any logical process, but by a sort of direct intuition
These are men of strong common sense, or mother wit, or lucky men, as the case may be, and if they were to attempt an explanation of their states of mind, they would simply say, “I felt that I ought to do so, and did it.” Suppose these men to believe in the admission of superior intelligences to the soul, and there would be nothing strange in the belief that they caused these direct convictions by immediate impression. Here then was the precise position of Socrates. Along with his wonderful logical powers, he had, to an unequalled degree, the intuitive action of the faculties, and excelled most other men in clear, direct common sense, that inexplicable ability of perceiving the expedient and proper at a glance, without waiting for any process of reasoning. His mental habits gave an unusual distinctness to all his mental states, causing them to come forth to the cognizance of consciousness with the vivid clearness of a voice. Believing in the admission of superior intelligences to the soul, and accustoming himself to regard these mental states under that conviction, we can easily see how they would readily be referred to this supernatural source. The very logical structure of his mind would impel him to give such an explanation of these instinctive impressions; for he could rest only in an adequate cause for every effect, and such a cause for these phenomena he found only in spiritual agency. That these intimations were only prohibitory, arose, doubtless, from the fact that such is their natural tendency in the mind.
It is always easier to know what we ought not to do than what we ought; what is not the truth than what is; and this was preeminently the case with Socrates, who was always more ready to show the error of another man's opinions than give the truth as his own. This negative, protestant character of his mind, would naturally give a mainly prohibitory action to his intuitions, and when the habit was once formed, would grow in emphasis and distinctness. Making the necessary abatements for exaggeration, there is nothing in the accounts of this demon of Socrates that is not explicable on this supposition, and nothing at variance with right reason. There are incidents in the lives of Napoleon, Talleyrand, and every man of extraordinary sagacity, to the full as wonderful as anything recorded of Socrates, which, had they believed in his psychology, would have been referred to the genius, as Napoleon, perhaps, did often refer them to his star, and the hypothesis of the Greek was every whit as reasonable and as intelligible as that of the Corsican.
We have now reached the impulse that lay deepest in the heart of Socrates. The Delphic oracle, which to him was the voice of God, had pronounced him to be the wisest of mortals, and thus designated him as a teacher of his fellow-men. He, therefore, de