« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
1. Demosthenes.— Creasy.
"Of all political characters," says the German historian, Fleeren, "Demos'thenes is the most sublime; he is the purest tragic character with which history is acquainted. When, still trembling with the ve'hement force of his language, we read his life in Plutarch," when we transfer ourselves into his times and his situation, we are carried away by a deeper interest than can be excited by any hero of the epic" muse or of tragedy." From his first appearance till the moment when he swallowed poison in the temple, we see him contending against destiny, which seems to mock him with malignant cruelty. It throws him to the ground, but never subdues him.
"What a crowd of emotions must have struggled through his manly breast amidst this interchange of reviving and expiring hopes! How natural was it that the lines of melancholy and of indignation, such as we yet behold in his bust, should have been imprinted on his severe countenance! It was his high calling to be the pillar of a sinking state. Thirty years he remained true to this cause, nor did he yield till he was buried beneath the ruins of his country."
It was about the middle of the fourth century" before our era when Demosthenes began to command attention in the Athenian assemblies. His first attempt, like those of Walpole and Sheridan in the British parliament,".was a failure; and the derision which he received from the multitude would have discouraged an inferior spirit forever. It only nerved Demosthenes to severer study, and to a more obstinate contest with his physical disadvantages. He assiduously practised his growing powers as an advocate before the legal tribunals before he again ventured to speak on state affairs. But at length he reappeared before the people, and the dominion of his genius was supreme.
2. Cicero And Demosthenes Compared. — Fenelon.
To me Demos'thenes seems superior to Cicero." I yield to no one in my admiration of the latter. He adorns whatever he touches. He lends honor to speech. He uses words as no one else can use them. His versatility is beyond description. He is even concise and ve'hement when disposed to be so, — as against Cat'iline, against Verres, against An'tony. But we detect the embellishments in his discourses. The art is marvellous, but it is not hidden. The orator does not, in his concern for the
, republic, forget himself, nor does he allow himself to be for< gotten.
Demosthenes, on the contrary, seems to lose all consciousness of himself, and to rec'ognize only his country. He does not seek the beautiful; he unconsciously creates it. He is superior to admiration. He uses language as a modest man uses his garment— for a covering. He thunders, he lightens; he is like a torrent hurrying all before it. We cannot criticize him, for we are in the sweep of his influence. We think on what he says, not on how he says it. We lose sight of the speaker; we are occupied only with his subject.
3. Alfred The Great.— Charles Dickens.
As great and good in peace as he was great and good in war, King*TUfred never rested from his labors to improve his people. He made just laws, that they might live more happily and freely; he turned away all partial judges, that no wrong might be done them; he was so careful of their property, and punished robbers so severely, that it was a common thing to say that under the great King Alfred garlands of golden chains and jewels might have hung across the streets, and no man would have touched one.
He founded schools; he patiently heard causes himself in his court of justice. Every day he divided into certain portions, and in each portion devoted himself to a certain pursuit. That he might divide his time exactly, he had wax torches or candles'3 made, which were all of the same size, were notched across at regular distances, and were always kept burning. Thus, as the candles burnt down, he divided the day into notches, almost as accurately as we now divide it into hours upon the clock. He had the candles put into cases formed of wood and white horn; and these were the first lantnorns ever made in England.
All this time he was afflicted with a terrible unknown disease, which caused him violent and frequent pain, that nothing could relieve. He bore it, as he had borne all the troubles of his life, like a brave good man, until he was fifty-three years old; and then, having reigned thirty years, he died. He died in the year nine hundred and one; but, long ago as that is, his fame, and the love and gratitude73 with which his subjects regarded him, are freshly remembered to the present hour.
4. Mary, Queen Of Scots. — Robertson.
To all the charms of beauty, and the utmost elegance of external form, Mary added those accomplishments which render their impression irresistible. Polite, affable, insinuating, sprightly, and capable of speaking and of writing with equal ease and dignity; sudden, however, and violent30 in all her attachments, because she had been accustomed from her infancy to be treated as a queen; no stranger, on some occasions, to dissimulation, which, in that perfidious court where she received her education," was reckoned among the necessary arts of government; not insensible of flattery, or unconscious of that pleasure with which almost every woman beholds the influence of her own beauty; formed with the qualities" that we love, not with the talents that we admire,— she was an agreeable woman, rather than an illustrious queen. No man, says Brantome, ever beheld her person without admiration or love, or will read her history without sorrow.
5. Last Moments Of Addison. — Macaulay.
The last moments of Addison were perfectly serene. His interview with his son-in-law is universally known. "See," he said, "how a Christian can die!" The piety of Addison was, in truth, of a singularly cheerful character. The feeling which predominates in all his devotional writings is gratitude. God was to him the all-wise and all-powerful Friend, who had watched over his cradle with more than maternal tenderness; who had listened to his cries before they could form themselves in prayer; who had preserved his youth from the snares of vice; who had made his cup run over with worldly blessings; and who had doubled the value of those blessings by bestowing a thankful heart to enjoy them, and dear friends to partake them; who had rebuked the waves of the Ligurian Gulf, had purified the autumnal air of the Campagna," and had restrained the avalanches of Mount Cenis.
Of the Psalms, his favorite was that which represents the Ruler of all things under the endearing image of a shepherd whose crook guides the flock safe through gloomy and desolate glens, to meadows well watered and rich with herbage.54 On that goodness to which he ascribed all the happiness of his life he relied in the hour of death, with the love that casteth out fear. He died on the seventeenth of June, 1719. He had just entered on his forty-eighth year.
6. Lord Chatham In Parliament. — Hazlill.
He controlled the purposes of others, because he was strong in his own ob'durate self-will. He convinced his followers, by never doubting himself. He did not argue, but assert; he took what ne chose for granted, instead of making a question of it. He was not a dealer in moot-points.," He seized on some stronghold in the argument, and held it fast with a convulsive grasp, or wrested the weapons out of his adversaries' hands by main force. He entered the lists like a gladiator. He made political controversy a combat of personal skill and courage. He was not for wasting time in long-winded discussions with his oppo'nents, but tried to disarm them by a word, or by a glance of his eye, so that they should not dare to contradict or confront him again. He did not wheedle, or palliate," or circumvent, or make a studied appeal to the reason or the passions. He dictated his opinions to the House of Commons. "He spoke as one having authority, and not as the Scribes."
But if ho did not produce such an effect either by reason or imagination, how did he produce it? The principle by which he exerted his influence over others (and it is a principle of which some speakers that I might mention seem not to have an idea, even in possibility) was sympathy. He himself evidently had a strong possession of his subject, a thorough conviction, an intense interest; and this communicated itself from his manner, from the tones of his voice, from his commanding attitudes, and eager gestures, instinctively and unavoidably to his hearers. His will was surcharged with electrical matter like a Volta'ic" battery; and all who stood within its reach felt the full force of the shock. Zeal" will do more than knowledge. To say the truth, there is, in his speeches, little knowledge, — no ingenuity, no parade of individual details, not much attempt at general argument, neither wit nor fancy,—but there are a few plain truths told home; whatever he says, he does.
7. Lord Chatham As Secretary Of State. — Grattan.
The Secretary stood alone. Modern degeneracy had not reached him. Original and unaccommodating, the features of his character had the hardihood of antiquity. His august mind overawed majesty; and one of his sovereigns thought royalty so impaired in his presence, that he conspired to remove him in order to be relieved from his superiority. No state chica'nery," no narrow systems of vicious politics, no idle contest for ministerial victories, sank him to the vulgar level of the great; but, overbearing, persuasive, and impracticable, his object was England, his ambition was fame. Without dividing, he destroyed party; without corrupting, he made a venal age unanimous France sank beneath him; with one hand he smote the house of Bourbon, and wielded in the other the democracy of England.
8. Edmund Burre.
He habitually recurred to principles; he was a scientific Statesman. While other statesmen saw nothing but the object of the hour, he loved to let his imagination play on the future glories of America. His visions have all been, even in the period of less than a century, almost literally fulfilled. He delighted in contem'plating those brave descendants of Englishmen, who had sought in the American wilderness a place of refuge where they might worship God in the way that their hearts and minds most approved. He exulted in their flourishing condition, in the increase of their wealth, their commerce, and their numbers. He pictured them reaping their golden harvests, throwing the harpoon on the coast of Africa, and penetrating amid icebergs into "Hudson's Bay" and "Davis's Straits."
He was a writer of the first class, and excelled in almost every kind of composition. In his mind political principles were not objects of barren speculation. Wisdom in him was always practical. Whatever his understanding adopted as truth made its way to his heart, and sank deep into it; and his ardent and generous feelings seized with promptitude every occasion of applying it to mankind. "His knowledge of history,'" says Grat- tan, "amounted to a power of foretelling; and when he perceived the wild work that was doing in France, that great political physician, intelligent of symptoms, distinguished between the ac'cess of fever and the force of health; and what other men conceived to be the vigor of her constitution he knew to be no more than the paroxysm of her madness; and then, prophet-like, he pronounced the destinies of France, and in his prophetic fury admonished nations."
CXV. — MARY STUART AND HER MOURNER.*
The world is full of life and love; the world methinks might spare,
* Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, perished on the scaffold, Feb. S, 1587, in the forty-fifth year of her age. Her mortal remains were taken from her weeping servants and left unwatched and unattended, except by a poor little lap-dog, which could not be induced to quit the body of its mistress. The faithful animal was found dead two days afterwards. In apostrophizing Queen Elizabeth as the " SemiramisE' of England," the poet alludes to her remorse for signing the death-warrant of Mary Stuart, and to the fact that ner own death was wanting in the consolations of a conscience void of offence.