Many things pleased me in the order of our State, but there was nothing which I liked better than the regulation about poetry. The division of the soul throws a new light on our exclusion of imitation. I do not mind telling you in confidence that all poetry is an outrage on the understanding, unless the hearers have that balm of knowledge which heals error. I have loved Homer ever since I was a boy, and even now he appears to me to be the great master of tragic poetry. But much as I love the man, I love truth more, and therefore I must speak out: and first of all, will you explain what is imitation, for really I do not understand? 'How likely then that I should understand!' That might very well be, for the duller often sees better than the keener eye. 'True, but in your presence I can hardly venture to say what I think.' Then suppose that we begin in our old fashion, with the doctrine of universals. Let us assume the existence of beds and tables. There is one idea of a bed, or of a table, which the maker of each had in his mind when making them; he did not make the ideas of beds and tables, but he made beds and tables according to the ideas. And is there not a maker of the works of all workmen, who makes not only vessels but plants and animals, himself, the earth and heaven, and things in heaven and under the earth? He makes the Gods also. 'He must be a wizard indeed!' But do you not see that there is a sense in which you could do the same? You have only to take a mirror, and catch the reflection of the sun, and the earth, or anything else--there now you have made them. 'Yes, but only in appearance.' Exactly so; and the painter is such a creator as you are with the mirror, and he is even more unreal than the carpenter; although neither the carpenter nor any other artist can be supposed to make the absolute bed. 'Not if philosophers may be believed.' Nor need we wonder that his bed has but an imperfect relation to the truth. Reflect:--Here are three beds; one in nature, which is made by God; another, which is made by the carpenter; and the third, by the painter. God only made one, nor could he have made more than one; for if there had been two, there would always have been a third--more absolute and abstract than either, under which they would have been included. We may therefore conceive God to be the natural maker of the bed, and in a lower sense the carpenter is also the maker; but the painter is rather the imitator of what the other two make; he has to do with a creation which is thrice removed from reality. And the tragic poet is an imitator, and, like every other imitator, is thrice removed from the king and from the truth. The painter imitates not the original bed, but the bed made by the carpenter. And this, without being really different, appears to be different, and has many points of view, of which only one is caught by the painter, who represents everything because he represents a piece of everything, and that piece an image. And he can paint any other artist, although he knows nothing of their arts; and this with sufficient skill to deceive children or simple people. Suppose now that somebody came to us and told us, how he had met a man who knew all that everybody knows, and better than anybody:--should we not infer him to be a simpleton who, having no discernment of truth and falsehood, had met with a wizard or enchanter, whom he fancied to be all- wise? And when we hear persons saying that Homer and the tragedians know all the arts and all the virtues, must we not infer that they are under a similar delusion? they do not see that the poets are imitators, and that their creations are only imitations. 'Very true.' But if a person could create as well as imitate, he would rather leave some permanent work and not an imitation only; he would rather be the receiver than the giver of praise? 'Yes, for then he would have more honour and advantage.'
Let us now interrogate Homer and the poets. Friend Homer, say I to him, I am not going to ask you about medicine, or any art to which your poems incidentally refer, but about their main subjects--war, military tactics, politics. If you are only twice and not thrice removed from the truth--not an imitator or an image-maker, please to inform us what good you have ever done to mankind? Is there any city which professes to have received laws from you, as Sicily and Italy have from Charondas, Sparta from Lycurgus, Athens from Solon? Or was any war ever carried on by your counsels? or is any invention attributed to you, as there is to Thales and Anacharsis? Or is there any Homeric way of life, such as the Pythagorean was, in which you instructed men, and which is called after you? 'No, indeed; and Creophylus (Flesh-child) was even more unfortunate in his breeding than he was in his name, if, as tradition says, Homer in his lifetime was allowed by him and his other friends to starve.' Yes, but could this ever have happened if Homer had really been the educator of Hellas? Would he not have had many devoted followers? If Protagoras and Prodicus can persuade their contemporaries that no one can manage house or State without them, is it likely that Homer and Hesiod would have been allowed to go about as beggars--I mean if they had really been able to do the world any good?-- would not men have compelled them to stay where they were, or have followed them about in order to get education? But they did not; and therefore we may infer that Homer and all the poets are only imitators, who do but imitate the appearances of things. For as a painter by a knowledge of figure and colour can paint a cobbler without any practice in cobbling, so the poet can delineate any art in the colours of language, and give harmony and rhythm to the cobbler and also to the general; and you know how mere narration, when deprived of the ornaments of metre, is like a face which has lost the beauty of youth and never had any other. Once more, the imitator has no knowledge of reality, but only of appearance. The painter paints, and the artificer makes a bridle and reins, but neither understands the use of them--the knowledge of this is confined to the horseman; and so of other things. Thus we have three arts: one of use, another of invention, a third of imitation; and the user furnishes the rule to the two others. The flute-player will know the good and bad flute, and the maker will put faith in him; but the imitator will neither know nor have faith-- neither science nor true opinion can be ascribed to him. Imitation, then, is devoid of knowledge, being only a kind of play or sport, and the tragic and epic poets are imitators in the highest degree.
And now let us enquire, what is the faculty in man which answers to imitation. Allow me to explain my meaning: Objects are differently seen when in the water and when out of the water, when near and when at a distance; and the painter or juggler makes use of this variation to impose upon us. And the art of measuring and weighing and calculating comes in to save our bewildered minds from the power of appearance; for, as we were saying, two contrary opinions of the same about the same and at the same time, cannot both of them be true. But which of them is true is determined by the art of calculation; and this is allied to the better faculty in the soul, as the arts of imitation are to the worse. And the same holds of the ear as well as of the eye, of poetry as well as painting. The imitation is of actions voluntary or involuntary, in which there is an expectation of a good or bad result, and present experience of pleasure and pain. But is a man in harmony with himself when he is the subject of these conflicting influences? Is there not rather a contradiction in him? Let me further ask, whether he is more likely to control sorrow when he is alone or when he is in company. 'In the latter case.' Feeling would lead him to indulge his sorrow, but reason and law control him and enjoin patience; since he cannot know whether his affliction is good or evil, and no human thing is of any great consequence, while sorrow is certainly a hindrance to good counsel. For when we stumble, we should not, like children, make an uproar; we should take the measures which reason prescribes, not raising a lament, but finding a cure. And the better part of us is ready to follow reason, while the irrational principle is full of sorrow and distraction at the recollection of our troubles. Unfortunately, however, this latter furnishes the chief materials of the imitative arts. Whereas reason is ever in repose and cannot easily be displayed, especially to a mixed multitude who have no experience of her. Thus the poet is like the painter in two ways: first he paints an inferior degree of truth, and secondly, he is concerned with an inferior part of the soul. He indulges the feelings, while he enfeebles the reason; and we refuse to allow him to have authority over the mind of man; for he has no measure of greater and less, and is a maker of images and very far gone from truth.
But we have not yet mentioned the heaviest count in the indictment--the power which poetry has of injuriously exciting the feelings. When we hear some passage in which a hero laments his sufferings at tedious length, you know that we sympathize with him and praise the poet; and yet in our own sorrows such an exhibition of feeling is regarded as effeminate and unmanly (Ion). Now, ought a man to feel pleasure in seeing another do what he hates and abominates in himself? Is he not giving way to a sentiment which in his own case he would control?--he is off his guard because the sorrow is another's; and he thinks that he may indulge his feelings without disgrace, and will be the gainer by the pleasure. But the inevitable consequence is that he who begins by weeping at the sorrows of others, will end by weeping at his own. The same is true of comedy,--you may often laugh at buffoonery which you would be ashamed to utter, and the love of coarse merriment on the stage will at last turn you into a buffoon at home. Poetry feeds and waters the passions and desires; she lets them rule instead of ruling them. And therefore, when we hear the encomiasts of Homer affirming that he is the educator of Hellas, and that all life should be regulated by his precepts, we may allow the excellence of their intentions, and agree with them in thinking Homer a great poet and tragedian. But we shall continue to prohibit all poetry which goes beyond hymns to the Gods and praises of famous men. Not pleasure and pain, but law and reason shall rule in our State.
These are our grounds for expelling poetry; but lest she should charge us with discourtesy, let us also make an apology to her. We will remind her that there is an ancient quarrel between poetry and philosophy, of which there are many traces in the writings of the poets, such as the saying of 'the she-dog, yelping at her mistress,' and 'the philosophers who are ready to circumvent Zeus,' and 'the philosophers who are paupers.' Nevertheless we bear her no ill-will, and will gladly allow her to return upon condition that she makes a defence of herself in verse; and her supporters who are not poets may speak in prose. We confess her charms; but if she cannot show that she is useful as well as delightful, like rational lovers, we must renounce our love, though endeared to us by early associations. Having come to years of discretion, we know that poetry is not truth, and that a man should be careful how he introduces her to that state or constitution which he himself is; for there is a mighty issue at stake--no less than the good or evil of a human soul. And it is not worth while to forsake justice and virtue for the attractions of poetry, any more than for the sake of honour or wealth. 'I agree with you.'
And yet the rewards of virtue are greater far than I have described. 'And can we conceive things greater still?' Not, perhaps, in this brief span of life: but should an immortal being care about anything short of eternity? 'I do not understand what you mean?' Do you not know that the soul is immortal? 'Surely you are not prepared to prove that?' Indeed I am. 'Then let me hear this argument, of which you make so light.'
You would admit that everything has an element of good and of evil. In all things there is an inherent corruption; and if this cannot destroy them, nothing else will. The soul too has her own corrupting principles, which are injustice, intemperance, cowardice, and the like. But none of these destroy the soul in the same sense that disease destroys the body. The soul may be full of all iniquities, but is not, by reason of them, brought any nearer to death. Nothing which was not destroyed from within ever perished by external affection of evil. The body, which is one thing, cannot be destroyed by food, which is another, unless the badness of the food is communicated to the body. Neither can the soul, which is one thing, be corrupted by the body, which is another, unless she herself is infected. And as no bodily evil can infect the soul, neither can any bodily evil, whether disease or violence, or any other destroy the soul, unless it can be shown to render her unholy and unjust. But no one will ever prove that the souls of men become more unjust when they die. If a person has the audacity to say the contrary, the answer is--Then why do criminals require the hand of the executioner, and not die of themselves? 'Truly,' he said, 'injustice would not be very terrible if it brought a cessation of evil; but I rather believe that the injustice which murders others may tend to quicken and stimulate the life of the unjust.' You are quite right. If sin which is her own natural and inherent evil cannot destroy the soul, hardly will anything else destroy her. But the soul which cannot be destroyed either by internal or external evil must be immortal and everlasting. And if this be true, souls will always exist in the same number. They cannot diminish, because they cannot be destroyed; nor yet increase, for the increase of the immortal must come from something mortal, and so all would end in immortality. Neither is the soul variable and diverse; for that which is immortal must be of the fairest and simplest composition. If we would conceive her truly, and so behold justice and injustice in their own nature, she must be viewed by the light of reason pure as at birth, or as she is reflected in philosophy when holding converse with the divine and immortal and eternal. In her present condition we see her only like the sea-god Glaucus, bruised and maimed in the sea which is the world, and covered with shells and stones which are incrusted upon her from the entertainments of earth.
Thus far, as the argument required, we have said nothing of the rewards and honours which the poets attribute to justice; we have contented ourselves with showing that justice in herself is best for the soul in herself, even if a man should put on a Gyges' ring and have the helmet of Hades too. And now you shall repay me what you borrowed; and I will enumerate the rewards of justice in life and after death. I granted, for the sake of argument, as you will remember, that evil might perhaps escape the knowledge of Gods and men, although this was really impossible. And since I have shown that justice has reality, you must grant me also that she has the palm of appearance. In the first place, the just man is known to the Gods, and he is therefore the friend of the Gods, and he will receive at their hands every good, always excepting such evil as is the necessary consequence of former sins. All things end in good to him, either in life or after death, even what appears to be evil; for the Gods have a care of him who desires to be in their likeness. And what shall we say of men? Is not honesty the best policy? The clever rogue makes a great start at first, but breaks down before he reaches the goal, and slinks away in dishonour; whereas the true runner perseveres to the end, and receives the prize. And you must allow me to repeat all the blessings which you attributed to the fortunate unjust--they bear rule in the city, they marry and give in marriage to whom they will; and the evils which you attributed to the unfortunate just, do really fall in the end on the unjust, although, as you implied, their sufferings are better veiled in silence.
But all the blessings of this present life are as nothing when compared with those which await good men after death. 'I should like to hear about them.' Come, then, and I will tell you the story of Er, the son of Armenius, a valiant man. He was supposed to have died in battle, but ten days afterwards his body was found untouched by corruption and sent home for burial. On the twelfth day he was placed on the funeral pyre and there he came to life again, and told what he had seen in the world below. He said that his soul went with a great company to a place, in which there were two chasms near together in the earth beneath, and two corresponding chasms in the heaven above. And there were judges sitting in the intermediate space, bidding the just ascend by the heavenly way on the right hand, having the seal of their judgment set upon them before, while the unjust, having the seal behind, were bidden to descend by the way on the left hand. Him they told to look and listen, as he was to be their messenger to men from the world below. And he beheld and saw the souls departing after judgment at either chasm; some who came from earth, were worn and travel-stained; others, who came from heaven, were clean and bright. They seemed glad to meet and rest awhile in the meadow; here they discoursed with one another of what they had seen in the other world. Those who came from earth wept at the remembrance of their sorrows, but the spirits from above spoke of glorious sights and heavenly bliss. He said that for every evil deed they were punished tenfold--now the journey was of a thousand years' duration, because the life of man was reckoned as a hundred years--and the rewards of virtue were in the same proportion. He added something hardly worth repeating about infants dying almost as soon as they were born. Of parricides and other murderers he had tortures still more terrible to narrate. He was present when one of the spirits asked-- Where is Ardiaeus the Great? (This Ardiaeus was a cruel tyrant, who had murdered his father, and his elder brother, a thousand years before.) Another spirit answered, 'He comes not hither, and will never come. And I myself,' he added, 'actually saw this terrible sight. At the entrance of the chasm, as we were about to reascend, Ardiaeus appeared, and some other sinners--most of whom had been tyrants, but not all--and just as they fancied that they were returning to life, the chasm gave a roar, and then wild, fiery-looking men who knew the meaning of the sound, seized him and several others, and bound them hand and foot and threw them down, and dragged them along at the side of the road, lacerating them and carding them like wool, and explaining to the passers-by, that they were going to be cast into hell.' The greatest terror of the pilgrims ascending was lest they should hear the voice, and when there was silence one by one they passed up with joy. To these sufferings there were corresponding delights.
On the eighth day the souls of the pilgrims resumed their journey, and in four days came to a spot whence they looked down upon a line of light, in colour like a rainbow, only brighter and clearer. One day more brought them to the place, and they saw that this was the column of light which binds together the whole universe. The ends of the column were fastened to heaven, and from them hung the distaff of Necessity, on which all the heavenly bodies turned--the hook and spindle were of adamant, and the whorl of a mixed substance. The whorl was in form like a number of boxes fitting into one another with their edges turned upwards, making together a single whorl which was pierced by the spindle. The outermost had the rim broadest, and the inner whorls were smaller and smaller, and had their rims narrower. The largest (the fixed stars) was spangled--the seventh (the sun) was brightest--the eighth (the moon) shone by the light of the seventh--the second and fifth (Saturn and Mercury) were most like one another and yellower than the eighth--the third (Jupiter) had the whitest light--the fourth (Mars) was red--the sixth (Venus) was in whiteness second. The whole had one motion, but while this was revolving in one direction the seven inner circles were moving in the opposite, with various degrees of swiftness and slowness. The spindle turned on the knees of Necessity, and a Siren stood hymning upon each circle, while Lachesis, Clotho, and Atropos, the daughters of Necessity, sat on thrones at equal intervals, singing of past, present, and future, responsive to the music of the Sirens; Clotho from time to time guiding the outer circle with a touch of her right hand; Atropos with her left hand touching and guiding the inner circles; Lachesis in turn putting forth her hand from time to time to guide both of them. On their arrival the pilgrims went to Lachesis, and there was an interpreter who arranged them, and taking from her knees lots, and samples of lives, got up into a pulpit and said: 'Mortal souls, hear the words of Lachesis, the daughter of Necessity. A new period of mortal life has begun, and you may choose what divinity you please; the responsibility of choosing is with you--God is blameless.' After speaking thus, he cast the lots among them and each one took up the lot which fell near him. He then placed on the ground before them the samples of lives, many more than the souls present; and there were all sorts of lives, of men and of animals. There were tyrannies ending in misery and exile, and lives of men and women famous for their different qualities; and also mixed lives, made up of wealth and poverty, sickness and health. Here, Glaucon, is the great risk of human life, and therefore the whole of education should be directed to the acquisition of such a knowledge as will teach a man to refuse the evil and choose the good. He should know all the combinations which occur in life--of beauty with poverty or with wealth,-- of knowledge with external goods,--and at last choose with reference to the nature of the soul, regarding that only as the better life which makes men better, and leaving the rest. And a man must take with him an iron sense of truth and right into the world below, that there too he may remain undazzled by wealth or the allurements of evil, and be determined to avoid the extremes and choose the mean. For this, as the messenger reported the interpreter to have said, is the true happiness of man; and any one, as he proclaimed, may, if he choose with understanding, have a good lot, even though he come last. 'Let not the first be careless in his choice, nor the last despair.' He spoke; and when he had spoken, he who had drawn the first lot chose a tyranny: he did not see that he was fated to devour his own children--and when he discovered his mistake, he wept and beat his breast, blaming chance and the Gods and anybody rather than himself. He was one of those who had come from heaven, and in his previous life had been a citizen of a well-ordered State, but he had only habit and no philosophy. Like many another, he made a bad choice, because he had no experience of life; whereas those who came from earth and had seen trouble were not in such a hurry to choose. But if a man had followed philosophy while upon earth, and had been moderately fortunate in his lot, he might not only be happy here, but his pilgrimage both from and to this world would be smooth and heavenly. Nothing was more curious than the spectacle of the choice, at once sad and laughable and wonderful; most of the souls only seeking to avoid their own condition in a previous life. He saw the soul of Orpheus changing into a swan because he would not be born of a woman; there was Thamyras becoming a nightingale; musical birds, like the swan, choosing to be men; the twentieth soul, which was that of Ajax, preferring the life of a lion to that of a man, in remembrance of the injustice which was done to him in the judgment of the arms; and Agamemnon, from a like enmity to human nature, passing into an eagle. About the middle was the soul of Atalanta choosing the honours of an athlete, and next to her Epeus taking the nature of a workwoman; among the last was Thersites, who was changing himself into a monkey. Thither, the last of all, came Odysseus, and sought the lot of a private man, which lay neglected and despised, and when he found it he went away rejoicing, and said that if he had been first instead of last, his choice would have been the same. Men, too, were seen passing into animals, and wild and tame animals changing into one another.
When all the souls had chosen they went to Lachesis, who sent with each of them their genius or attendant to fulfil their lot. He first of all brought them under the hand of Clotho, and drew them within the revolution of the spindle impelled by her hand; from her they were carried to Atropos, who made the threads irreversible; whence, without turning round, they passed beneath the throne of Necessity; and when they had all passed, they moved on in scorching heat to the plain of Forgetfulness and rested at evening by the river Unmindful, whose water could not be retained in any vessel; of this they had all to drink a certain quantity--some of them drank more than was required, and he who drank forgot all things. Er himself was prevented from drinking. When they had gone to rest, about the middle of the night there were thunderstorms and earthquakes, and suddenly they were all driven divers ways, shooting like stars to their birth. Concerning his return to the body, he only knew that awaking suddenly in the morning he found himself lying on the pyre.
Thus, Glaucon, the tale has been saved, and will be our salvation, if we believe that the soul is immortal, and hold fast to the heavenly way of Justice and Knowledge. So shall we pass undefiled over the river of Forgetfulness, and be dear to ourselves and to the Gods, and have a crown of reward and happiness both in this world and also in the millennial pilgrimage of the other.
The Tenth Book of the Republic of Plato falls into two divisions: first, resuming an old thread which has been interrupted, Socrates assails the poets, who, now that the nature of the soul has been analyzed, are seen to be very far gone from the truth; and secondly, having shown the reality of the happiness of the just, he demands that appearance shall be restored to him, and then proceeds to prove the immortality of the soul. The argument, as in the Phaedo and Gorgias, is supplemented by the vision of a future life.
Why Plato, who was himself a poet, and whose dialogues are poems and dramas, should have been hostile to the poets as a class, and especially to the dramatic poets; why he should not have seen that truth may be embodied in verse as well as in prose, and that there are some indefinable lights and shadows of human life which can only be expressed in poetry--some elements of imagination which always entwine with reason; why he should have supposed epic verse to be inseparably associated with the impurities of the old Hellenic mythology; why he should try Homer and Hesiod by the unfair and prosaic test of utility,--are questions which have always been debated amongst students of Plato. Though unable to give a complete answer to them, we may show--first, that his views arose naturally out of the circumstances of his age; and secondly, we may elicit the truth as well as the error which is contained in them.
He is the enemy of the poets because poetry was declining in his own lifetime, and a theatrocracy, as he says in the Laws, had taken the place of an intellectual aristocracy. Euripides exhibited the last phase of the tragic drama, and in him Plato saw the friend and apologist of tyrants, and the Sophist of tragedy. The old comedy was almost extinct; the new had not yet arisen. Dramatic and lyric poetry, like every other branch of Greek literature, was falling under the power of rhetoric. There was no 'second or third' to Aeschylus and Sophocles in the generation which followed them. Aristophanes, in one of his later comedies (Frogs), speaks of 'thousands of tragedy-making prattlers,' whose attempts at poetry he compares to the chirping of swallows; 'their garrulity went far beyond Euripides,'--'they appeared once upon the stage, and there was an end of them.' To a man of genius who had a real appreciation of the godlike Aeschylus and the noble and gentle Sophocles, though disagreeing with some parts of their 'theology' (Rep.), these 'minor poets' must have been contemptible and intolerable. There is no feeling stronger in the dialogues of Plato than a sense of the decline and decay both in literature and in politics which marked his own age. Nor can he have been expected to look with favour on the licence of Aristophanes, now at the end of his career, who had begun by satirizing Socrates in the Clouds, and in a similar spirit forty years afterwards had satirized the founders of ideal commonwealths in his Eccleziazusae, or Female Parliament (Laws).
There were other reasons for the antagonism of Plato to poetry. The profession of an actor was regarded by him as a degradation of human nature, for 'one man in his life' cannot 'play many parts;' the characters which the actor performs seem to destroy his own character, and to leave nothing which can be truly called himself. Neither can any man live his life and act it. The actor is the slave of his art, not the master of it. Taking this view Plato is more decided in his expulsion of the dramatic than of the epic poets, though he must have known that the Greek tragedians afforded noble lessons and examples of virtue and patriotism, to which nothing in Homer can be compared. But great dramatic or even great rhetorical power is hardly consistent with firmness or strength of mind, and dramatic talent is often incidentally associated with a weak or dissolute character.
In the Tenth Book Plato introduces a new series of objections. First, he says that the poet or painter is an imitator, and in the third degree removed from the truth. His creations are not tested by rule and measure; they are only appearances. In modern times we should say that art is not merely imitation, but rather the expression of the ideal in forms of sense. Even adopting the humble image of Plato, from which his argument derives a colour, we should maintain that the artist may ennoble the bed which he paints by the folds of the drapery, or by the feeling of home which he introduces; and there have been modern painters who have imparted such an ideal interest to a blacksmith's or a carpenter's shop. The eye or mind which feels as well as sees can give dignity and pathos to a ruined mill, or a straw-built shed (Rembrandt), to the hull of a vessel 'going to its last home' (Turner). Still more would this apply to the greatest works of art, which seem to be the visible embodiment of the divine. Had Plato been asked whether the Zeus or Athene of Pheidias was the imitation of an imitation only, would he not have been compelled to admit that something more was to be found in them than in the form of any mortal; and that the rule of proportion to which they conformed was 'higher far than any geometry or arithmetic could express?' (Statesman.)
Again, Plato objects to the imitative arts that they express the emotional rather than the rational part of human nature. He does not admit Aristotle's theory, that tragedy or other serious imitations are a purgation of the passions by pity and fear; to him they appear only to afford the opportunity of indulging them. Yet we must acknowledge that we may sometimes cure disordered emotions by giving expression to them; and that they often gain strength when pent up within our own breast. It is not every indulgence of the feelings which is to be condemned. For there may be a gratification of the higher as well as of the lower--thoughts which are too deep or too sad to be expressed by ourselves, may find an utterance in the words of poets. Every one would acknowledge that there have been times when they were consoled and elevated by beautiful music or by the sublimity of architecture or by the peacefulness of nature. Plato has himself admitted, in the earlier part of the Republic, that the arts might have the effect of harmonizing as well as of enervating the mind; but in the Tenth Book he regards them through a Stoic or Puritan medium. He asks only 'What good have they done?' and is not satisfied with the reply, that 'They have given innocent pleasure to mankind.'
He tells us that he rejoices in the banishment of the poets, since he has found by the analysis of the soul that they are concerned with the inferior faculties. He means to say that the higher faculties have to do with universals, the lower with particulars of sense. The poets are on a level with their own age, but not on a level with Socrates and Plato; and he was well aware that Homer and Hesiod could not be made a rule of life by any process of legitimate interpretation; his ironical use of them is in fact a denial of their authority; he saw, too, that the poets were not critics--as he says in the Apology, 'Any one was a better interpreter of their writings than they were themselves. He himself ceased to be a poet when he became a disciple of Socrates; though, as he tells us of Solon, 'he might have been one of the greatest of them, if he had not been deterred by other pursuits' (Tim.) Thus from many points of view there is an antagonism between Plato and the poets, which was foreshadowed to him in the old quarrel between philosophy and poetry. The poets, as he says in the Protagoras, were the Sophists of their day; and his dislike of the one class is reflected on the other. He regards them both as the enemies of reasoning and abstraction, though in the case of Euripides more with reference to his immoral sentiments about tyrants and the like. For Plato is the prophet who 'came into the world to convince men'--first of the fallibility of sense and opinion, and secondly of the reality of abstract ideas. Whatever strangeness there may be in modern times in opposing philosophy to poetry, which to us seem to have so many elements in common, the strangeness will disappear if we conceive of poetry as allied to sense, and of philosophy as equivalent to thought and abstraction. Unfortunately the very word 'idea,' which to Plato is expressive of the most real of all things, is associated in our minds with an element of subjectiveness and unreality. We may note also how he differs from Aristotle who declares poetry to be truer than history, for the opposite reason, because it is concerned with universals, not like history, with particulars (Poet).
The things which are seen are opposed in Scripture to the things which are unseen--they are equally opposed in Plato to universals and ideas. To him all particulars appear to be floating about in a world of sense; they have a taint of error or even of evil. There is no difficulty in seeing that this is an illusion; for there is no more error or variation in an individual man, horse, bed, etc., than in the class man, horse, bed, etc.; nor is the truth which is displayed in individual instances less certain than that which is conveyed through the medium of ideas. But Plato, who is deeply impressed with the real importance of universals as instruments of thought, attributes to them an essential truth which is imaginary and unreal; for universals may be often false and particulars true. Had he attained to any clear conception of the individual, which is the synthesis of the universal and the particular; or had he been able to distinguish between opinion and sensation, which the ambiguity of the words (Greek) and the like, tended to confuse, he would not have denied truth to the particulars of sense.
But the poets are also the representatives of falsehood and feigning in all departments of life and knowledge, like the sophists and rhetoricians of the Gorgias and Phaedrus; they are the false priests, false prophets, lying spirits, enchanters of the world. There is another count put into the indictment against them by Plato, that they are the friends of the tyrant, and bask in the sunshine of his patronage. Despotism in all ages has had an apparatus of false ideas and false teachers at its service--in the history of Modern Europe as well as of Greece and Rome. For no government of men depends solely upon force; without some corruption of literature and morals--some appeal to the imagination of the masses--some pretence to the favour of heaven--some element of good giving power to evil, tyranny, even for a short time, cannot be maintained. The Greek tyrants were not insensible to the importance of awakening in their cause a Pseudo-Hellenic feeling; they were proud of successes at the Olympic games; they were not devoid of the love of literature and art. Plato is thinking in the first instance of Greek poets who had graced the courts of Dionysius or Archelaus: and the old spirit of freedom is roused within him at their prostitution of the Tragic Muse in the praises of tyranny. But his prophetic eye extends beyond them to the false teachers of other ages who are the creatures of the government under which they live. He compares the corruption of his contemporaries with the idea of a perfect society, and gathers up into one mass of evil the evils and errors of mankind; to him they are personified in the rhetoricians, sophists, poets, rulers who deceive and govern the world.
A further objection which Plato makes to poetry and the imitative arts is that they excite the emotions. Here the modern reader will be disposed to introduce a distinction which appears to have escaped him. For the emotions are neither bad nor good in themselves, and are not most likely to be controlled by the attempt to eradicate them, but by the moderate indulgence of them. And the vocation of art is to present thought in the form of feeling, to enlist the feelings on the side of reason, to inspire even for a moment courage or resignation; perhaps to suggest a sense of infinity and eternity in a way which mere language is incapable of attaining. True, the same power which in the purer age of art embodies gods and heroes only, may be made to express the voluptuous image of a Corinthian courtezan. But this only shows that art, like other outward things, may be turned to good and also to evil, and is not more closely connected with the higher than with the lower part of the soul. All imitative art is subject to certain limitations, and therefore necessarily partakes of the nature of a compromise. Something of ideal truth is sacrificed for the sake of the representation, and something in the exactness of the representation is sacrificed to the ideal. Still, works of art have a permanent element; they idealize and detain the passing thought, and are the intermediates between sense and ideas.
In the present stage of the human mind, poetry and other forms of fiction may certainly be regarded as a good. But we can also imagine the existence of an age in which a severer conception of truth has either banished or transformed them. At any rate we must admit that they hold a different place at different periods of the world's history. In the infancy of mankind, poetry, with the exception of proverbs, is the whole of literature, and the only instrument of intellectual culture; in modern times she is the shadow or echo of her former self, and appears to have a precarious existence. Milton in his day doubted whether an epic poem was any longer possible. At the same time we must remember, that what Plato would have called the charms of poetry have been partly transferred to prose; he himself (Statesman) admits rhetoric to be the handmaiden of Politics, and proposes to find in the strain of law (Laws) a substitute for the old poets. Among ourselves the creative power seems often to be growing weaker, and scientific fact to be more engrossing and overpowering to the mind than formerly. The illusion of the feelings commonly called love, has hitherto been the inspiring influence of modern poetry and romance, and has exercised a humanizing if not a strengthening influence on the world. But may not the stimulus which love has given to fancy be some day exhausted? The modern English novel which is the most popular of all forms of reading is not more than a century or two old: will the tale of love a hundred years hence, after so many thousand variations of the same theme, be still received with unabated interest?
Art cannot claim to be on a level with philosophy or religion, and may often corrupt them. It is possible to conceive a mental state in which all artistic representations are regarded as a false and imperfect expression, either of the religious ideal or of the philosophical ideal. The fairest forms may be revolting in certain moods of mind, as is proved by the fact that the Mahometans, and many sects of Christians, have renounced the use of pictures and images. The beginning of a great religion, whether Christian or Gentile, has not been 'wood or stone,' but a spirit moving in the hearts of men. The disciples have met in a large upper room or in 'holes and caves of the earth'; in the second or third generation, they have had mosques, temples, churches, monasteries. And the revival or reform of religions, like the first revelation of them, has come from within and has generally disregarded external ceremonies and accompaniments.
But poetry and art may also be the expression of the highest truth and the purest sentiment. Plato himself seems to waver between two opposite views --when, as in the third Book, he insists that youth should be brought up amid wholesome imagery; and again in Book X, when he banishes the poets from his Republic. Admitting that the arts, which some of us almost deify, have fallen short of their higher aim, we must admit on the other hand that to banish imagination wholly would be suicidal as well as impossible. For nature too is a form of art; and a breath of the fresh air or a single glance at the varying landscape would in an instant revive and reillumine the extinguished spark of poetry in the human breast. In the lower stages of civilization imagination more than reason distinguishes man from the animals; and to banish art would be to banish thought, to banish language, to banish the expression of all truth. No religion is wholly devoid of external forms; even the Mahometan who renounces the use of pictures and images has a temple in which he worships the Most High, as solemn and beautiful as any Greek or Christian building. Feeling too and thought are not really opposed; for he who thinks must feel before he can execute. And the highest thoughts, when they become familiarized to us, are always tending to pass into the form of feeling.
Plato does not seriously intend to expel poets from life and society. But he feels strongly the unreality of their writings; he is protesting against the degeneracy of poetry in his own day as we might protest against the want of serious purpose in modern fiction, against the unseemliness or extravagance of some of our poets or novelists, against the time-serving of preachers or public writers, against the regardlessness of truth which to the eye of the philosopher seems to characterize the greater part of the world. For we too have reason to complain that our poets and novelists 'paint inferior truth' and 'are concerned with the inferior part of the soul'; that the readers of them become what they read and are injuriously affected by them. And we look in vain for that healthy atmosphere of which Plato speaks,--'the beauty which meets the sense like a breeze and imperceptibly draws the soul, even in childhood, into harmony with the beauty of reason.'
For there might be a poetry which would be the hymn of divine perfection, the harmony of goodness and truth among men: a strain which should renew the youth of the world, and bring back the ages in which the poet was man's only teacher and best friend,--which would find materials in the living present as well as in the romance of the past, and might subdue to the fairest forms of speech and verse the intractable materials of modern civilisation,--which might elicit the simple principles, or, as Plato would have called them, the essential forms, of truth and justice out of the variety of opinion and the complexity of modern society,--which would preserve all the good of each generation and leave the bad unsung,--which should be based not on vain longings or faint imaginings, but on a clear insight into the nature of man. Then the tale of love might begin again in poetry or prose, two in one, united in the pursuit of knowledge, or the service of God and man; and feelings of love might still be the incentive to great thoughts and heroic deeds as in the days of Dante or Petrarch; and many types of manly and womanly beauty might appear among us, rising above the ordinary level of humanity, and many lives which were like poems (Laws), be not only written, but lived by us. A few such strains have been heard among men in the tragedies of Aeschylus and Sophocles, whom Plato quotes, not, as Homer is quoted by him, in irony, but with deep and serious approval,--in the poetry of Milton and Wordsworth, and in passages of other English poets,--first and above all in the Hebrew prophets and psalmists. Shakespeare has taught us how great men should speak and act; he has drawn characters of a wonderful purity and depth; he has ennobled the human mind, but, like Homer (Rep.), he 'has left no way of life.' The next greatest poet of modern times, Goethe, is concerned with 'a lower degree of truth'; he paints the world as a stage on which 'all the men and women are merely players'; he cultivates life as an art, but he furnishes no ideals of truth and action. The poet may rebel against any attempt to set limits to his fancy; and he may argue truly that moralizing in verse is not poetry. Possibly, like Mephistopheles in Faust, he may retaliate on his adversaries. But the philosopher will still be justified in asking, 'How may the heavenly gift of poesy be devoted to the good of mankind?'
Returning to Plato, we may observe that a similar mixture of truth and error appears in other parts of the argument. He is aware of the absurdity of mankind framing their whole lives according to Homer; just as in the Phaedrus he intimates the absurdity of interpreting mythology upon rational principles; both these were the modern tendencies of his own age, which he deservedly ridicules. On the other hand, his argument that Homer, if he had been able to teach mankind anything worth knowing, would not have been allowed by them to go about begging as a rhapsodist, is both false and contrary to the spirit of Plato (Rep.). It may be compared with those other paradoxes of the Gorgias, that 'No statesman was ever unjustly put to death by the city of which he was the head'; and that 'No Sophist was ever defrauded by his pupils' (Gorg.)...
The argument for immortality seems to rest on the absolute dualism of soul and body. Admitting the existence of the soul, we know of no force which is able to put an end to her. Vice is her own proper evil; and if she cannot be destroyed by that, she cannot be destroyed by any other. Yet Plato has acknowledged that the soul may be so overgrown by the incrustations of earth as to lose her original form; and in the Timaeus he recognizes more strongly than in the Republic the influence which the body has over the mind, denying even the voluntariness of human actions, on the ground that they proceed from physical states (Tim.). In the Republic, as elsewhere, he wavers between the original soul which has to be restored, and the character which is developed by training and education...
The vision of another world is ascribed to Er, the son of Armenius, who is said by Clement of Alexandria to have been Zoroaster. The tale has certainly an oriental character, and may be compared with the pilgrimages of the soul in the Zend Avesta (Haug, Avesta). But no trace of acquaintance with Zoroaster is found elsewhere in Plato's writings, and there is no reason for giving him the name of Er the Pamphylian. The philosophy of Heracleitus cannot be shown to be borrowed from Zoroaster, and still less the myths of Plato.
The local arrangement of the vision is less distinct than that of the Phaedrus and Phaedo. Astronomy is mingled with symbolism and mythology; the great sphere of heaven is represented under the symbol of a cylinder or box, containing the seven orbits of the planets and the fixed stars; this is suspended from an axis or spindle which turns on the knees of Necessity; the revolutions of the seven orbits contained in the cylinder are guided by the fates, and their harmonious motion produces the music of the spheres. Through the innermost or eighth of these, which is the moon, is passed the spindle; but it is doubtful whether this is the continuation of the column of light, from which the pilgrims contemplate the heavens; the words of Plato imply that they are connected, but not the same. The column itself is clearly not of adamant. The spindle (which is of adamant) is fastened to the ends of the chains which extend to the middle of the column of light--this column is said to hold together the heaven; but whether it hangs from the spindle, or is at right angles to it, is not explained. The cylinder containing the orbits of the stars is almost as much a symbol as the figure of Necessity turning the spindle;--for the outermost rim is the sphere of the fixed stars, and nothing is said about the intervals of space which divide the paths of the stars in the heavens. The description is both a picture and an orrery, and therefore is necessarily inconsistent with itself. The column of light is not the Milky Way--which is neither straight, nor like a rainbow--but the imaginary axis of the earth. This is compared to the rainbow in respect not of form but of colour, and not to the undergirders of a trireme, but to the straight rope running from prow to stern in which the undergirders meet.
The orrery or picture of the heavens given in the Republic differs in its mode of representation from the circles of the same and of the other in the Timaeus. In both the fixed stars are distinguished from the planets, and they move in orbits without them, although in an opposite direction: in the Republic as in the Timaeus they are all moving round the axis of the world. But we are not certain that in the former they are moving round the earth. No distinct mention is made in the Republic of the circles of the same and other; although both in the Timaeus and in the Republic the motion of the fixed stars is supposed to coincide with the motion of the whole. The relative thickness of the rims is perhaps designed to express the relative distances of the planets. Plato probably intended to represent the earth, from which Er and his companions are viewing the heavens, as stationary in place; but whether or not herself revolving, unless this is implied in the revolution of the axis, is uncertain (Timaeus). The spectator may be supposed to look at the heavenly bodies, either from above or below. The earth is a sort of earth and heaven in one, like the heaven of the Phaedrus, on the back of which the spectator goes out to take a peep at the stars and is borne round in the revolution. There is no distinction between the equator and the ecliptic. But Plato is no doubt led to imagine that the planets have an opposite motion to that of the fixed stars, in order to account for their appearances in the heavens. In the description of the meadow, and the retribution of the good and evil after death, there are traces of Homer.
The description of the axis as a spindle, and of the heavenly bodies as forming a whole, partly arises out of the attempt to connect the motions of the heavenly bodies with the mythological image of the web, or weaving of the Fates. The giving of the lots, the weaving of them, and the making of them irreversible, which are ascribed to the three Fates--Lachesis, Clotho, Atropos, are obviously derived from their names. The element of chance in human life is indicated by the order of the lots. But chance, however adverse, may be overcome by the wisdom of man, if he knows how to choose aright; there is a worse enemy to man than chance; this enemy is himself. He who was moderately fortunate in the number of the lot--even the very last comer--might have a good life if he chose with wisdom. And as Plato does not like to make an assertion which is unproven, he more than confirms this statement a few sentences afterwards by the example of Odysseus, who chose last. But the virtue which is founded on habit is not sufficient to enable a man to choose; he must add to virtue knowledge, if he is to act rightly when placed in new circumstances. The routine of good actions and good habits is an inferior sort of goodness; and, as Coleridge says, 'Common sense is intolerable which is not based on metaphysics,' so Plato would have said, 'Habit is worthless which is not based upon philosophy.'
The freedom of the will to refuse the evil and to choose the good is distinctly asserted. 'Virtue is free, and as a man honours or dishonours her he will have more or less of her.' The life of man is 'rounded' by necessity; there are circumstances prior to birth which affect him (Pol.). But within the walls of necessity there is an open space in which he is his own master, and can study for himself the effects which the variously compounded gifts of nature or fortune have upon the soul, and act accordingly. All men cannot have the first choice in everything. But the lot of all men is good enough, if they choose wisely and will live diligently.
The verisimilitude which is given to the pilgrimage of a thousand years, by the intimation that Ardiaeus had lived a thousand years before; the coincidence of Er coming to life on the twelfth day after he was supposed to have been dead with the seven days which the pilgrims passed in the meadow, and the four days during which they journeyed to the column of light; the precision with which the soul is mentioned who chose the twentieth lot; the passing remarks that there was no definite character among the souls, and that the souls which had chosen ill blamed any one rather than themselves; or that some of the souls drank more than was necessary of the waters of Forgetfulness, while Er himself was hindered from drinking; the desire of Odysseus to rest at last, unlike the conception of him in Dante and Tennyson; the feigned ignorance of how Er returned to the body, when the other souls went shooting like stars to their birth,--add greatly to the probability of the narrative. They are such touches of nature as the art of Defoe might have introduced when he wished to win credibility for marvels and apparitions.
There still remain to be considered some points which have been
intentionally reserved to the end: (1) the Janus-like character of the
Republic, which presents two faces--one an Hellenic state, the other a
kingdom of philosophers. Connected with the latter of the two aspects are (2) the paradoxes of the Republic, as they have been termed by
Morgenstern: (a) the community of property ; (b) of families; (c) the rule of
philosophers; (d) the analogy of the individual and the State, which, like
some other analogies in the Republic, is carried too far. We may then
proceed to consider (3) the subject of education as conceived by Plato,
bringing together in a general view the education of youth and the
education of after-life; (4) we may note further some essential differences
between ancient and modern politics which are suggested by the Republic; (5) we may compare the Politicus and the Laws; (6) we may observe the
influence exercised by Plato on his imitators; and (7) take occasion to
consider the nature and value of political, and (8) of religious ideals.
Many traditions were preserved at Sparta of the severity with which the magistrates had maintained the primitive rule of music and poetry; as in the Republic of Plato, the new-fangled poet was to be expelled. Hymns to the Gods, which are the only kind of music admitted into the ideal State, were the only kind which was permitted at Sparta. The Spartans, though an unpoetical race, were nevertheless lovers of poetry; they had been stirred by the Elegiac strains of Tyrtaeus, they had crowded around Hippias to hear his recitals of Homer; but in this they resembled the citizens of the timocratic rather than of the ideal State. The council of elder men also corresponds to the Spartan gerousia; and the freedom with which they are permitted to judge about matters of detail agrees with what we are told of that institution. Once more, the military rule of not spoiling the dead or offering arms at the temples; the moderation in the pursuit of enemies; the importance attached to the physical well-being of the citizens; the use of warfare for the sake of defence rather than of aggression--are features probably suggested by the spirit and practice of Sparta.
To the Spartan type the ideal State reverts in the first decline; and the character of the individual timocrat is borrowed from the Spartan citizen. The love of Lacedaemon not only affected Plato and Xenophon, but was shared by many undistinguished Athenians; there they seemed to find a principle which was wanting in their own democracy. The (Greek) of the Spartans attracted them, that is to say, not the goodness of their laws, but the spirit of order and loyalty which prevailed. Fascinated by the idea, citizens of Athens would imitate the Lacedaemonians in their dress and manners; they were known to the contemporaries of Plato as 'the persons who had their ears bruised,' like the Roundheads of the Commonwealth. The love of another church or country when seen at a distance only, the longing for an imaginary simplicity in civilized times, the fond desire of a past which never has been, or of a future which never will be,--these are aspirations of the human mind which are often felt among ourselves. Such feelings meet with a response in the Republic of Plato.
But there are other features of the Platonic Republic, as, for example, the literary and philosophical education, and the grace and beauty of life, which are the reverse of Spartan. Plato wishes to give his citizens a taste of Athenian freedom as well as of Lacedaemonian discipline. His individual genius is purely Athenian, although in theory he is a lover of Sparta; and he is something more than either--he has also a true Hellenic feeling. He is desirous of humanizing the wars of Hellenes against one another; he acknowledges that the Delphian God is the grand hereditary interpreter of all Hellas. The spirit of harmony and the Dorian mode are to prevail, and the whole State is to have an external beauty which is the reflex of the harmony within. But he has not yet found out the truth which he afterwards enunciated in the Laws--that he was a better legislator who made men to be of one mind, than he who trained them for war. The citizens, as in other Hellenic States, democratic as well as aristocratic, are really an upper class; for, although no mention is made of slaves, the lower classes are allowed to fade away into the distance, and are represented in the individual by the passions. Plato has no idea either of a social State in which all classes are harmonized, or of a federation of Hellas or the world in which different nations or States have a place. His city is equipped for war rather than for peace, and this would seem to be justified by the ordinary condition of Hellenic States. The myth of the earth-born men is an embodiment of the orthodox tradition of Hellas, and the allusion to the four ages of the world is also sanctioned by the authority of Hesiod and the poets. Thus we see that the Republic is partly founded on the ideal of the old Greek polis, partly on the actual circumstances of Hellas in that age. Plato, like the old painters, retains the traditional form, and like them he has also a vision of a city in the clouds.
There is yet another thread which is interwoven in the texture of the work; for the Republic is not only a Dorian State, but a Pythagorean league. The 'way of life' which was connected with the name of Pythagoras, like the Catholic monastic orders, showed the power which the mind of an individual might exercise over his contemporaries, and may have naturally suggested to Plato the possibility of reviving such 'mediaeval institutions.' The Pythagoreans, like Plato, enforced a rule of life and a moral and intellectual training. The influence ascribed to music, which to us seems exaggerated, is also a Pythagorean feature; it is not to be regarded as representing the real influence of music in the Greek world. More nearly than any other government of Hellas, the Pythagorean league of three hundred was an aristocracy of virtue. For once in the history of mankind the philosophy of order or (Greek), expressing and consequently enlisting on its side the combined endeavours of the better part of the people, obtained the management of public affairs and held possession of it for a considerable time (until about B.C. 500). Probably only in States prepared by Dorian institutions would such a league have been possible. The rulers, like Plato's (Greek), were required to submit to a severe training in order to prepare the way for the education of the other members of the community. Long after the dissolution of the Order, eminent Pythagoreans, such as Archytas of Tarentum, retained their political influence over the cities of Magna Graecia. There was much here that was suggestive to the kindred spirit of Plato, who had doubtless meditated deeply on the 'way of life of Pythagoras' (Rep.) and his followers. Slight traces of Pythagoreanism are to be found in the mystical number of the State, in the number which expresses the interval between the king and the tyrant, in the doctrine of transmigration, in the music of the spheres, as well as in the great though secondary importance ascribed to mathematics in education.
But as in his philosophy, so also in the form of his State, he goes far beyond the old Pythagoreans. He attempts a task really impossible, which is to unite the past of Greek history with the future of philosophy, analogous to that other impossibility, which has often been the dream of Christendom, the attempt to unite the past history of Europe with the kingdom of Christ. Nothing actually existing in the world at all resembles Plato's ideal State; nor does he himself imagine that such a State is possible. This he repeats again and again; e.g. in the Republic, or in the Laws where, casting a glance back on the Republic, he admits that the perfect state of communism and philosophy was impossible in his own age, though still to be retained as a pattern. The same doubt is implied in the earnestness with which he argues in the Republic that ideals are none the worse because they cannot be realized in fact, and in the chorus of laughter, which like a breaking wave will, as he anticipates, greet the mention of his proposals; though like other writers of fiction, he uses all his art to give reality to his inventions. When asked how the ideal polity can come into being, he answers ironically, 'When one son of a king becomes a philosopher'; he designates the fiction of the earth-born men as 'a noble lie'; and when the structure is finally complete, he fairly tells you that his Republic is a vision only, which in some sense may have reality, but not in the vulgar one of a reign of philosophers upon earth. It has been said that Plato flies as well as walks, but this falls short of the truth; for he flies and walks at the same time, and is in the air and on firm ground in successive instants.
Niebuhr has asked a trifling question, which may be briefly noticed in this
place--Was Plato a good citizen? If by this is meant, Was he loyal to
Athenian institutions?--he can hardly be said to be the friend of
democracy: but neither is he the friend of any other existing form of
government; all of them he regarded as 'states of faction' (Laws); none
attained to his ideal of a voluntary rule over voluntary subjects, which
seems indeed more nearly to describe democracy than any other; and the
worst of them is tyranny. The truth is, that the question has hardly any
meaning when applied to a great philosopher whose writings are not meant
for a particular age and country, but for all time and all mankind. The
decline of Athenian politics was probably the motive which led Plato to
frame an ideal State, and the Republic may be regarded as reflecting the
departing glory of Hellas. As well might we complain of St. Augustine,
whose great work 'The City of God' originated in a similar motive, for not
being loyal to the Roman Empire. Even a nearer parallel might be afforded
by the first Christians, who cannot fairly be charged with being bad
citizens because, though 'subject to the higher powers,' they were looking
forward to a city which is in heaven.
(a) The first paradox is the community of goods, which is mentioned slightly at the end of the third Book, and seemingly, as Aristotle observes, is confined to the guardians; at least no mention is made of the other classes. But the omission is not of any real significance, and probably arises out of the plan of the work, which prevents the writer from entering into details.
Aristotle censures the community of property much in the spirit of modern political economy, as tending to repress industry, and as doing away with the spirit of benevolence. Modern writers almost refuse to consider the subject, which is supposed to have been long ago settled by the common opinion of mankind. But it must be remembered that the sacredness of property is a notion far more fixed in modern than in ancient times. The world has grown older, and is therefore more conservative. Primitive society offered many examples of land held in common, either by a tribe or by a township, and such may probably have been the original form of landed tenure. Ancient legislators had invented various modes of dividing and preserving the divisions of land among the citizens; according to Aristotle there were nations who held the land in common and divided the produce, and there were others who divided the land and stored the produce in common. The evils of debt and the inequality of property were far greater in ancient than in modern times, and the accidents to which property was subject from war, or revolution, or taxation, or other legislative interference, were also greater. All these circumstances gave property a less fixed and sacred character. The early Christians are believed to have held their property in common, and the principle is sanctioned by the words of Christ himself, and has been maintained as a counsel of perfection in almost all ages of the Church. Nor have there been wanting instances of modern enthusiasts who have made a religion of communism; in every age of religious excitement notions like Wycliffe's 'inheritance of grace' have tended to prevail. A like spirit, but fiercer and more violent, has appeared in politics. 'The preparation of the Gospel of peace' soon becomes the red flag of Republicanism.
We can hardly judge what effect Plato's views would have upon his own contemporaries; they would perhaps have seemed to them only an exaggeration of the Spartan commonwealth. Even modern writers would acknowledge that the right of private property is based on expediency, and may be interfered with in a variety of ways for the public good. Any other mode of vesting property which was found to be more advantageous, would in time acquire the same basis of right; 'the most useful,' in Plato's words, 'would be the most sacred.' The lawyers and ecclesiastics of former ages would have spoken of property as a sacred institution. But they only meant by such language to oppose the greatest amount of resistance to any invasion of the rights of individuals and of the Church.
When we consider the question, without any fear of immediate application to practice, in the spirit of Plato's Republic, are we quite sure that the received notions of property are the best? Is the distribution of wealth which is customary in civilized countries the most favourable that can be conceived for the education and development of the mass of mankind? Can 'the spectator of all time and all existence' be quite convinced that one or two thousand years hence, great changes will not have taken place in the rights of property, or even that the very notion of property, beyond what is necessary for personal maintenance, may not have disappeared? This was a distinction familiar to Aristotle, though likely to be laughed at among ourselves. Such a change would not be greater than some other changes through which the world has passed in the transition from ancient to modern society, for example, the emancipation of the serfs in Russia, or the abolition of slavery in America and the West Indies; and not so great as the difference which separates the Eastern village community from the Western world. To accomplish such a revolution in the course of a few centuries, would imply a rate of progress not more rapid than has actually taken place during the last fifty or sixty years. The kingdom of Japan underwent more change in five or six years than Europe in five or six hundred. Many opinions and beliefs which have been cherished among ourselves quite as strongly as the sacredness of property have passed away; and the most untenable propositions respecting the right of bequests or entail have been maintained with as much fervour as the most moderate. Some one will be heard to ask whether a state of society can be final in which the interests of thousands are perilled on the life or character of a single person. And many will indulge the hope that our present condition may, after all, be only transitional, and may conduct to a higher, in which property, besides ministering to the enjoyment of the few, may also furnish the means of the highest culture to all, and will be a greater benefit to the public generally, and also more under the control of public authority. There may come a time when the saying, 'Have I not a right to do what I will with my own?' will appear to be a barbarous relic of individualism;-- when the possession of a part may be a greater blessing to each and all than the possession of the whole is now to any one.
Such reflections appear visionary to the eye of the practical statesman, but they are within the range of possibility to the philosopher. He can imagine that in some distant age or clime, and through the influence of some individual, the notion of common property may or might have sunk as deep into the heart of a race, and have become as fixed to them, as private property is to ourselves. He knows that this latter institution is not more than four or five thousand years old: may not the end revert to the beginning? In our own age even Utopias affect the spirit of legislation, and an abstract idea may exercise a great influence on practical politics.
The objections that would be generally urged against Plato's community of property, are the old ones of Aristotle, that motives for exertion would be taken away, and that disputes would arise when each was dependent upon all. Every man would produce as little and consume as much as he liked. The experience of civilized nations has hitherto been adverse to Socialism. The effort is too great for human nature; men try to live in common, but the personal feeling is always breaking in. On the other hand it may be doubted whether our present notions of property are not conventional, for they differ in different countries and in different states of society. We boast of an individualism which is not freedom, but rather an artificial result of the industrial state of modern Europe. The individual is nominally free, but he is also powerless in a world bound hand and foot in the chains of economic necessity. Even if we cannot expect the mass of mankind to become disinterested, at any rate we observe in them a power of organization which fifty years ago would never have been suspected. The same forces which have revolutionized the political system of Europe, may effect a similar change in the social and industrial relations of mankind. And if we suppose the influence of some good as well as neutral motives working in the community, there will be no absurdity in expecting that the mass of mankind having power, and becoming enlightened about the higher possibilities of human life, when they learn how much more is attainable for all than is at present the possession of a favoured few, may pursue the common interest with an intelligence and persistency which mankind have hitherto never seen.
Now that the world has once been set in motion, and is no longer held fast
under the tyranny of custom and ignorance; now that criticism has pierced
the veil of tradition and the past no longer overpowers the present,--the
progress of civilization may be expected to be far greater and swifter than
heretofore. Even at our present rate of speed the point at which we may
arrive in two or three generations is beyond the power of imagination to
foresee. There are forces in the world which work, not in an arithmetical,
but in a geometrical ratio of increase. Education, to use the expression
of Plato, moves like a wheel with an ever-multiplying rapidity. Nor can we
say how great may be its influence, when it becomes universal,--when it has
been inherited by many generations,--when it is freed from the trammels of
superstition and rightly adapted to the wants and capacities of different
classes of men and women. Neither do we know how much more the co-
operation of minds or of hands may be capable of accomplishing, whether in
labour or in study. The resources of the natural sciences are not half-
developed as yet; the soil of the earth, instead of growing more barren,
may become many times more fertile than hitherto; the uses of machinery far
greater, and also more minute than at present. New secrets of physiology
may be revealed, deeply affecting human nature in its innermost recesses.
The standard of health may be raised and the lives of men prolonged by
sanitary and medical knowledge. There may be peace, there may be leisure,
there may be innocent refreshments of many kinds. The ever-increasing
power of locomotion may join the extremes of earth. There may be
mysterious workings of the human mind, such as occur only at great crises
of history. The East and the West may meet together, and all nations may
contribute their thoughts and their experience to the common stock of
humanity. Many other elements enter into a speculation of this kind. But
it is better to make an end of them. For such reflections appear to the
majority far-fetched, and to men of science, commonplace.
But have we not here fallen into a contradiction? for we were saying that different natures should have different pursuits. How then can men and women have the same? And is not the proposal inconsistent with our notion of the division of labour?--These objections are no sooner raised than answered; for, according to Plato, there is no organic difference between men and women, but only the accidental one that men beget and women bear children. Following the analogy of the other animals, he contends that all natural gifts are scattered about indifferently among both sexes, though there may be a superiority of degree on the part of the men. The objection on the score of decency to their taking part in the same gymnastic exercises, is met by Plato's assertion that the existing feeling is a matter of habit.
That Plato should have emancipated himself from the ideas of his own country and from the example of the East, shows a wonderful independence of mind. He is conscious that women are half the human race, in some respects the more important half (Laws); and for the sake both of men and women he desires to raise the woman to a higher level of existence. He brings, not sentiment, but philosophy to bear upon a question which both in ancient and modern times has been chiefly regarded in the light of custom or feeling. The Greeks had noble conceptions of womanhood in the goddesses Athene and Artemis, and in the heroines Antigone and Andromache. But these ideals had no counterpart in actual life. The Athenian woman was in no way the equal of her husband; she was not the entertainer of his guests or the mistress of his house, but only his housekeeper and the mother of his children. She took no part in military or political matters; nor is there any instance in the later ages of Greece of a woman becoming famous in literature. 'Hers is the greatest glory who has the least renown among men,' is the historian's conception of feminine excellence. A very different ideal of womanhood is held up by Plato to the world; she is to be the companion of the man, and to share with him in the toils of war and in the cares of government. She is to be similarly trained both in bodily and mental exercises. She is to lose as far as possible the incidents of maternity and the characteristics of the female sex.
The modern antagonist of the equality of the sexes would argue that the differences between men and women are not confined to the single point urged by Plato; that sensibility, gentleness, grace, are the qualities of women, while energy, strength, higher intelligence, are to be looked for in men. And the criticism is just: the differences affect the whole nature, and are not, as Plato supposes, confined to a single point. But neither can we say how far these differences are due to education and the opinions of mankind, or physically inherited from the habits and opinions of former generations. Women have been always taught, not exactly that they are slaves, but that they are in an inferior position, which is also supposed to have compensating advantages; and to this position they have conformed. It is also true that the physical form may easily change in the course of generations through the mode of life; and the weakness or delicacy, which was once a matter of opinion, may become a physical fact. The characteristics of sex vary greatly in different countries and ranks of society, and at different ages in the same individuals. Plato may have been right in denying that there was any ultimate difference in the sexes of man other than that which exists in animals, because all other differences may be conceived to disappear in other states of society, or under different circumstances of life and training.
The first wave having been passed, we proceed to the second--community of wives and children. 'Is it possible? Is it desirable?' For as Glaucon intimates, and as we far more strongly insist, 'Great doubts may be entertained about both these points.' Any free discussion of the question is impossible, and mankind are perhaps right in not allowing the ultimate bases of social life to be examined. Few of us can safely enquire into the things which nature hides, any more than we can dissect our own bodies. Still, the manner in which Plato arrived at his conclusions should be considered. For here, as Mr. Grote has remarked, is a wonderful thing, that one of the wisest and best of men should have entertained ideas of morality which are wholly at variance with our own. And if we would do Plato justice, we must examine carefully the character of his proposals. First, we may observe that the relations of the sexes supposed by him are the reverse of licentious: he seems rather to aim at an impossible strictness. Secondly, he conceives the family to be the natural enemy of the state; and he entertains the serious hope that an universal brotherhood may take the place of private interests--an aspiration which, although not justified by experience, has possessed many noble minds. On the other hand, there is no sentiment or imagination in the connections which men and women are supposed by him to form; human beings return to the level of the animals, neither exalting to heaven, nor yet abusing the natural instincts. All that world of poetry and fancy which the passion of love has called forth in modern literature and romance would have been banished by Plato. The arrangements of marriage in the Republic are directed to one object-- the improvement of the race. In successive generations a great development both of bodily and mental qualities might be possible. The analogy of animals tends to show that mankind can within certain limits receive a change of nature. And as in animals we should commonly choose the best for breeding, and destroy the others, so there must be a selection made of the human beings whose lives are worthy to be preserved.
We start back horrified from this Platonic ideal, in the belief, first, that the higher feelings of humanity are far too strong to be crushed out; secondly, that if the plan could be carried into execution we should be poorly recompensed by improvements in the breed for the loss of the best things in life. The greatest regard for the weakest and meanest of human beings--the infant, the criminal, the insane, the idiot, truly seems to us one of the noblest results of Christianity. We have learned, though as yet imperfectly, that the individual man has an endless value in the sight of God, and that we honour Him when we honour the darkened and disfigured image of Him (Laws). This is the lesson which Christ taught in a parable when He said, 'Their angels do always behold the face of My Father which is in heaven.' Such lessons are only partially realized in any age; they were foreign to the age of Plato, as they have very different degrees of strength in different countries or ages of the Christian world. To the Greek the family was a religious and customary institution binding the members together by a tie inferior in strength to that of friendship, and having a less solemn and sacred sound than that of country. The relationship which existed on the lower level of custom, Plato imagined that he was raising to the higher level of nature and reason; while from the modern and Christian point of view we regard him as sanctioning murder and destroying the first principles of morality.
The great error in these and similar speculations is that the difference between man and the animals is forgotten in them. The human being is regarded with the eye of a dog- or bird-fancier, or at best of a slave- owner; the higher or human qualities are left out. The breeder of animals aims chiefly at size or speed or strength; in a few cases at courage or temper; most often the fitness of the animal for food is the great desideratum. But mankind are not bred to be eaten, nor yet for their superiority in fighting or in running or in drawing carts. Neither does the improvement of the human race consist merely in the increase of the bones and flesh, but in the growth and enlightenment of the mind. Hence there must be 'a marriage of true minds' as well as of bodies, of imagination and reason as well as of lusts and instincts. Men and women without feeling or imagination are justly called brutes; yet Plato takes away these qualities and puts nothing in their place, not even the desire of a noble offspring, since parents are not to know their own children. The most important transaction of social life, he who is the idealist philosopher converts into the most brutal. For the pair are to have no relation to one another, except at the hymeneal festival; their children are not theirs, but the state's; nor is any tie of affection to unite them. Yet here the analogy of the animals might have saved Plato from a gigantic error, if he had 'not lost sight of his own illustration.' For the 'nobler sort of birds and beasts' nourish and protect their offspring and are faithful to one another.
An eminent physiologist thinks it worth while 'to try and place life on a physical basis.' But should not life rest on the moral rather than upon the physical? The higher comes first, then the lower, first the human and rational, afterwards the animal. Yet they are not absolutely divided; and in times of sickness or moments of self-indulgence they seem to be only different aspects of a common human nature which includes them both. Neither is the moral the limit of the physical, but the expansion and enlargement of it,--the highest form which the physical is capable of receiving. As Plato would say, the body does not take care of the body, and still less of the mind, but the mind takes care of both. In all human action not that which is common to man and the animals is the characteristic element, but that which distinguishes him from them. Even if we admit the physical basis, and resolve all virtue into health of body 'la facon que notre sang circule,' still on merely physical grounds we must come back to ideas. Mind and reason and duty and conscience, under these or other names, are always reappearing. There cannot be health of body without health of mind; nor health of mind without the sense of duty and the love of truth (Charm).
That the greatest of ancient philosophers should in his regulations about marriage have fallen into the error of separating body and mind, does indeed appear surprising. Yet the wonder is not so much that Plato should have entertained ideas of morality which to our own age are revolting, but that he should have contradicted himself to an extent which is hardly credible, falling in an instant from the heaven of idealism into the crudest animalism. Rejoicing in the newly found gift of reflection, he appears to have thought out a subject about which he had better have followed the enlightened feeling of his own age. The general sentiment of Hellas was opposed to his monstrous fancy. The old poets, and in later time the tragedians, showed no want of respect for the family, on which much of their religion was based. But the example of Sparta, and perhaps in some degree the tendency to defy public opinion, seems to have misled him. He will make one family out of all the families of the state. He will select the finest specimens of men and women and breed from these only.
Yet because the illusion is always returning (for the animal part of human nature will from time to time assert itself in the disguise of philosophy as well as of poetry), and also because any departure from established morality, even where this is not intended, is apt to be unsettling, it may be worth while to draw out a little more at length the objections to the Platonic marriage. In the first place, history shows that wherever polygamy has been largely allowed the race has deteriorated. One man to one woman is the law of God and nature. Nearly all the civilized peoples of the world at some period before the age of written records, have become monogamists; and the step when once taken has never been retraced. The exceptions occurring among Brahmins or Mahometans or the ancient Persians, are of that sort which may be said to prove the rule. The connexions formed between superior and inferior races hardly ever produce a noble offspring, because they are licentious; and because the children in such cases usually despise the mother and are neglected by the father who is ashamed of them. Barbarous nations when they are introduced by Europeans to vice die out; polygamist peoples either import and adopt children from other countries, or dwindle in numbers, or both. Dynasties and aristocracies which have disregarded the laws of nature have decreased in numbers and degenerated in stature; 'mariages de convenance' leave their enfeebling stamp on the offspring of them (King Lear). The marriage of near relations, or the marrying in and in of the same family tends constantly to weakness or idiocy in the children, sometimes assuming the form as they grow older of passionate licentiousness. The common prostitute rarely has any offspring. By such unmistakable evidence is the authority of morality asserted in the relations of the sexes: and so many more elements enter into this 'mystery' than are dreamed of by Plato and some other philosophers.
Recent enquirers have indeed arrived at the conclusion that among primitive tribes there existed a community of wives as of property, and that the captive taken by the spear was the only wife or slave whom any man was permitted to call his own. The partial existence of such customs among some of the lower races of man, and the survival of peculiar ceremonies in the marriages of some civilized nations, are thought to furnish a proof of similar institutions having been once universal. There can be no question that the study of anthropology has considerably changed our views respecting the first appearance of man upon the earth. We know more about the aborigines of the world than formerly, but our increasing knowledge shows above all things how little we know. With all the helps which written monuments afford, we do but faintly realize the condition of man two thousand or three thousand years ago. Of what his condition was when removed to a distance 200,000 or 300,000 years, when the majority of mankind were lower and nearer the animals than any tribe now existing upon the earth, we cannot even entertain conjecture. Plato (Laws) and Aristotle (Metaph.) may have been more right than we imagine in supposing that some forms of civilisation were discovered and lost several times over. If we cannot argue that all barbarism is a degraded civilization, neither can we set any limits to the depth of degradation to which the human race may sink through war, disease, or isolation. And if we are to draw inferences about the origin of marriage from the practice of barbarous nations, we should also consider the remoter analogy of the animals. Many birds and animals, especially the carnivorous, have only one mate, and the love and care of offspring which seems to be natural is inconsistent with the primitive theory of marriage. If we go back to an imaginary state in which men were almost animals and the companions of them, we have as much right to argue from what is animal to what is human as from the barbarous to the civilized man. The record of animal life on the globe is fragmentary,--the connecting links are wanting and cannot be supplied; the record of social life is still more fragmentary and precarious. Even if we admit that our first ancestors had no such institution as marriage, still the stages by which men passed from outer barbarism to the comparative civilization of China, Assyria, and Greece, or even of the ancient Germans, are wholly unknown to us.
Such speculations are apt to be unsettling, because they seem to show that an institution which was thought to be a revelation from heaven, is only the growth of history and experience. We ask what is the origin of marriage, and we are told that like the right of property, after many wars and contests, it has gradually arisen out of the selfishness of barbarians. We stand face to face with human nature in its primitive nakedness. We are compelled to accept, not the highest, but the lowest account of the origin of human society. But on the other hand we may truly say that every step in human progress has been in the same direction, and that in the course of ages the idea of marriage and of the family has been more and more defined and consecrated. The civilized East is immeasurably in advance of any savage tribes; the Greeks and Romans have improved upon the East; the Christian nations have been stricter in their views of the marriage relation than any of the ancients. In this as in so many other things, instead of looking back with regret to the past, we should look forward with hope to the future. We must consecrate that which we believe to be the most holy, and that 'which is the most holy will be the most useful.' There is more reason for maintaining the sacredness of the marriage tie, when we see the benefit of it, than when we only felt a vague religious horror about the violation of it. But in all times of transition, when established beliefs are being undermined, there is a danger that in the passage from the old to the new we may insensibly let go the moral principle, finding an excuse for listening to the voice of passion in the uncertainty of knowledge, or the fluctuations of opinion. And there are many persons in our own day who, enlightened by the study of anthropology, and fascinated by what is new and strange, some using the language of fear, others of hope, are inclined to believe that a time will come when through the self-assertion of women, or the rebellious spirit of children, by the analysis of human relations, or by the force of outward circumstances, the ties of family life may be broken or greatly relaxed. They point to societies in America and elsewhere which tend to show that the destruction of the family need not necessarily involve the overthrow of all morality. Wherever we may think of such speculations, we can hardly deny that they have been more rife in this generation than in any other; and whither they are tending, who can predict?
To the doubts and queries raised by these 'social reformers' respecting the relation of the sexes and the moral nature of man, there is a sufficient answer, if any is needed. The difference about them and us is really one of fact. They are speaking of man as they wish or fancy him to be, but we are speaking of him as he is. They isolate the animal part of his nature; we regard him as a creature having many sides, or aspects, moving between good and evil, striving to rise above himself and to become 'a little lower than the angels.' We also, to use a Platonic formula, are not ignorant of the dissatisfactions and incompatibilities of family life, of the meannesses of trade, of the flatteries of one class of society by another, of the impediments which the family throws in the way of lofty aims and aspirations. But we are conscious that there are evils and dangers in the background greater still, which are not appreciated, because they are either concealed or suppressed. What a condition of man would that be, in which human passions were controlled by no authority, divine or human, in which there was no shame or decency, no higher affection overcoming or sanctifying the natural instincts, but simply a rule of health! Is it for this that we are asked to throw away the civilization which is the growth of ages?
For strength and health are not the only qualities to be desired; there are the more important considerations of mind and character and soul. We know how human nature may be degraded; we do not know how by artificial means any improvement in the breed can be effected. The problem is a complex one, for if we go back only four steps (and these at least enter into the composition of a child), there are commonly thirty progenitors to be taken into account. Many curious facts, rarely admitting of proof, are told us respecting the inheritance of disease or character from a remote ancestor. We can trace the physical resemblances of parents and children in the same family--
'Sic oculos, sic ille manus, sic ora ferebat';
but scarcely less often the differences which distinguish children both from their parents and from one another. We are told of similar mental peculiarities running in families, and again of a tendency, as in the animals, to revert to a common or original stock. But we have a difficulty in distinguishing what is a true inheritance of genius or other qualities, and what is mere imitation or the result of similar circumstances. Great men and great women have rarely had great fathers and mothers. Nothing that we know of in the circumstances of their birth or lineage will explain their appearance. Of the English poets of the last and two preceding centuries scarcely a descendant remains,--none have ever been distinguished. So deeply has nature hidden her secret, and so ridiculous is the fancy which has been entertained by some that we might in time by suitable marriage arrangements or, as Plato would have said, 'by an ingenious system of lots,' produce a Shakespeare or a Milton. Even supposing that we could breed men having the tenacity of bulldogs, or, like the Spartans, 'lacking the wit to run away in battle,' would the world be any the better? Many of the noblest specimens of the human race have been among the weakest physically. Tyrtaeus or Aesop, or our own Newton, would have been exposed at Sparta; and some of the fairest and strongest men and women have been among the wickedest and worst. Not by the Platonic device of uniting the strong and fair with the strong and fair, regardless of sentiment and morality, nor yet by his other device of combining dissimilar natures (Statesman), have mankind gradually passed from the brutality and licentiousness of primitive marriage to marriage Christian and civilized.
Few persons would deny that we bring into the world an inheritance of mental and physical qualities derived first from our parents, or through them from some remoter ancestor, secondly from our race, thirdly from the general condition of mankind into which we are born. Nothing is commoner than the remark, that 'So and so is like his father or his uncle'; and an aged person may not unfrequently note a resemblance in a youth to a long- forgotten ancestor, observing that 'Nature sometimes skips a generation.' It may be true also, that if we knew more about our ancestors, these similarities would be even more striking to us. Admitting the facts which are thus described in a popular way, we may however remark that there is no method of difference by which they can be defined or estimated, and that they constitute only a small part of each individual. The doctrine of heredity may seem to take out of our hands the conduct of our own lives, but it is the idea, not the fact, which is really terrible to us. For what we have received from our ancestors is only a fraction of what we are, or may become. The knowledge that drunkenness or insanity has been prevalent in a family may be the best safeguard against their recurrence in a future generation. The parent will be most awake to the vices or diseases in his child of which he is most sensible within himself. The whole of life may be directed to their prevention or cure. The traces of consumption may become fainter, or be wholly effaced: the inherent tendency to vice or crime may be eradicated. And so heredity, from being a curse, may become a blessing. We acknowledge that in the matter of our birth, as in our nature generally, there are previous circumstances which affect us. But upon this platform of circumstances or within this wall of necessity, we have still the power of creating a life for ourselves by the informing energy of the human will.
There is another aspect of the marriage question to which Plato is a stranger. All the children born in his state are foundlings. It never occurred to him that the greater part of them, according to universal experience, would have perished. For children can only be brought up in families. There is a subtle sympathy between the mother and the child which cannot be supplied by other mothers, or by 'strong nurses one or more' (Laws). If Plato's 'pen' was as fatal as the Creches of Paris, or the foundling hospital of Dublin, more than nine-tenths of his children would have perished. There would have been no need to expose or put out of the way the weaklier children, for they would have died of themselves. So emphatically does nature protest against the destruction of the family.
What Plato had heard or seen of Sparta was applied by him in a mistaken way to his ideal commonwealth. He probably observed that both the Spartan men and women were superior in form and strength to the other Greeks; and this superiority he was disposed to attribute to the laws and customs relating to marriage. He did not consider that the desire of a noble offspring was a passion among the Spartans, or that their physical superiority was to be attributed chiefly, not to their marriage customs, but to their temperance and training. He did not reflect that Sparta was great, not in consequence of the relaxation of morality, but in spite of it, by virtue of a political principle stronger far than existed in any other Grecian state. Least of all did he observe that Sparta did not really produce the finest specimens of the Greek race. The genius, the political inspiration of Athens, the love of liberty--all that has made Greece famous with posterity, were wanting among the Spartans. They had no Themistocles, or Pericles, or Aeschylus, or Sophocles, or Socrates, or Plato. The individual was not allowed to appear above the state; the laws were fixed, and he had no business to alter or reform them. Yet whence has the progress of cities and nations arisen, if not from remarkable individuals, coming into the world we know not how, and from causes over which we have no control? Something too much may have been said in modern times of the value of individuality. But we can hardly condemn too strongly a system which, instead of fostering the scattered seeds or sparks of genius and character, tends to smother and extinguish them.
Still, while condemning Plato, we must acknowledge that neither Christianity, nor any other form of religion and society, has hitherto been able to cope with this most difficult of social problems, and that the side from which Plato regarded it is that from which we turn away. Population is the most untameable force in the political and social world. Do we not find, especially in large cities, that the greatest hindrance to the amelioration of the poor is their improvidence in marriage?--a small fault truly, if not involving endless consequences. There are whole countries too, such as India, or, nearer home, Ireland, in which a right solution of the marriage question seems to lie at the foundation of the happiness of the community. There are too many people on a given space, or they marry too early and bring into the world a sickly and half-developed offspring; or owing to the very conditions of their existence, they become emaciated and hand on a similar life to their descendants. But who can oppose the voice of prudence to the 'mightiest passions of mankind' (Laws), especially when they have been licensed by custom and religion? In addition to the influences of education, we seem to require some new principles of right and wrong in these matters, some force of opinion, which may indeed be already heard whispering in private, but has never affected the moral sentiments of mankind in general. We unavoidably lose sight of the principle of utility, just in that action of our lives in which we have the most need of it. The influences which we can bring to bear upon this question are chiefly indirect. In a generation or two, education, emigration, improvements in agriculture and manufactures, may have provided the solution. The state physician hardly likes to probe the wound: it is beyond his art; a matter which he cannot safely let alone, but which he dare not touch:
'We do but skin and film the ulcerous place.'
When again in private life we see a whole family one by one dropping into the grave under the Ate of some inherited malady, and the parents perhaps surviving them, do our minds ever go back silently to that day twenty-five or thirty years before on which under the fairest auspices, amid the rejoicings of friends and acquaintances, a bride and bridegroom joined hands with one another? In making such a reflection we are not opposing physical considerations to moral, but moral to physical; we are seeking to make the voice of reason heard, which drives us back from the extravagance of sentimentalism on common sense. The late Dr. Combe is said by his biographer to have resisted the temptation to marriage, because he knew that he was subject to hereditary consumption. One who deserved to be called a man of genius, a friend of my youth, was in the habit of wearing a black ribbon on his wrist, in order to remind him that, being liable to outbreaks of insanity, he must not give way to the natural impulses of affection: he died unmarried in a lunatic asylum. These two little facts suggest the reflection that a very few persons have done from a sense of duty what the rest of mankind ought to have done under like circumstances, if they had allowed themselves to think of all the misery which they were about to bring into the world. If we could prevent such marriages without any violation of feeling or propriety, we clearly ought; and the prohibition in the course of time would be protected by a 'horror naturalis' similar to that which, in all civilized ages and countries, has prevented the marriage of near relations by blood. Mankind would have been the happier, if some things which are now allowed had from the beginning been denied to them; if the sanction of religion could have prohibited practices inimical to health; if sanitary principles could in early ages have been invested with a superstitious awe. But, living as we do far on in the world's history, we are no longer able to stamp at once with the impress of religion a new prohibition. A free agent cannot have his fancies regulated by law; and the execution of the law would be rendered impossible, owing to the uncertainty of the cases in which marriage was to be forbidden. Who can weigh virtue, or even fortune against health, or moral and mental qualities against bodily? Who can measure probabilities against certainties? There has been some good as well as evil in the discipline of suffering; and there are diseases, such as consumption, which have exercised a refining and softening influence on the character. Youth is too inexperienced to balance such nice considerations; parents do not often think of them, or think of them too late. They are at a distance and may probably be averted; change of place, a new state of life, the interests of a home may be the cure of them. So persons vainly reason when their minds are already made up and their fortunes irrevocably linked together. Nor is there any ground for supposing that marriages are to any great extent influenced by reflections of this sort, which seem unable to make any head against the irresistible impulse of individual attachment.
Lastly, no one can have observed the first rising flood of the passions in youth, the difficulty of regulating them, and the effects on the whole mind and nature which follow from them, the stimulus which is given to them by the imagination, without feeling that there is something unsatisfactory in our method of treating them. That the most important influence on human life should be wholly left to chance or shrouded in mystery, and instead of being disciplined or understood, should be required to conform only to an external standard of propriety--cannot be regarded by the philosopher as a safe or satisfactory condition of human things. And still those who have the charge of youth may find a way by watchfulness, by affection, by the manliness and innocence of their own lives, by occasional hints, by general admonitions which every one can apply for himself, to mitigate this terrible evil which eats out the heart of individuals and corrupts the moral sentiments of nations. In no duty towards others is there more need of reticence and self-restraint. So great is the danger lest he who would be the counsellor of another should reveal the secret prematurely, lest he should get another too much into his power; or fix the passing impression of evil by demanding the confession of it.
Nor is Plato wrong in asserting that family attachments may interfere with higher aims. If there have been some who 'to party gave up what was meant for mankind,' there have certainly been others who to family gave up what was meant for mankind or for their country. The cares of children, the necessity of procuring money for their support, the flatteries of the rich by the poor, the exclusiveness of caste, the pride of birth or wealth, the tendency of family life to divert men from the pursuit of the ideal or the heroic, are as lowering in our own age as in that of Plato. And if we prefer to look at the gentle influences of home, the development of the affections, the amenities of society, the devotion of one member of a family for the good of the others, which form one side of the picture, we must not quarrel with him, or perhaps ought rather to be grateful to him, for having presented to us the reverse. Without attempting to defend Plato on grounds of morality, we may allow that there is an aspect of the world which has not unnaturally led him into error.
We hardly appreciate the power which the idea of the State, like all other
abstract ideas, exercised over the mind of Plato. To us the State seems to
be built up out of the family, or sometimes to be the framework in which
family and social life is contained. But to Plato in his present mood of
mind the family is only a disturbing influence which, instead of filling
up, tends to disarrange the higher unity of the State. No organization is
needed except a political, which, regarded from another point of view, is a
military one. The State is all-sufficing for the wants of man, and, like
the idea of the Church in later ages, absorbs all other desires and
affections. In time of war the thousand citizens are to stand like a
rampart impregnable against the world or the Persian host; in time of peace
the preparation for war and their duties to the State, which are also their
duties to one another, take up their whole life and time. The only other
interest which is allowed to them besides that of war, is the interest of
philosophy. When they are too old to be soldiers they are to retire from
active life and to have a second novitiate of study and contemplation.
There is an element of monasticism even in Plato's communism. If he could
have done without children, he might have converted his Republic into a
religious order. Neither in the Laws, when the daylight of common sense
breaks in upon him, does he retract his error. In the state of which he
would be the founder, there is no marrying or giving in marriage: but
because of the infirmity of mankind, he condescends to allow the law of
nature to prevail.
The discovery of a great metaphysical conception seems to ravish the mind with a prophetic consciousness which takes away the power of estimating its value. No metaphysical enquirer has ever fairly criticised his own speculations; in his own judgment they have been above criticism; nor has he understood that what to him seemed to be absolute truth may reappear in the next generation as a form of logic or an instrument of thought. And posterity have also sometimes equally misapprehended the real value of his speculations. They appear to them to have contributed nothing to the stock of human knowledge. The IDEA of good is apt to be regarded by the modern thinker as an unmeaning abstraction; but he forgets that this abstraction is waiting ready for use, and will hereafter be filled up by the divisions of knowledge. When mankind do not as yet know that the world is subject to law, the introduction of the mere conception of law or design or final cause, and the far-off anticipation of the harmony of knowledge, are great steps onward. Even the crude generalization of the unity of all things leads men to view the world with different eyes, and may easily affect their conception of human life and of politics, and also their own conduct and character (Tim). We can imagine how a great mind like that of Pericles might derive elevation from his intercourse with Anaxagoras (Phaedr.). To be struggling towards a higher but unattainable conception is a more favourable intellectual condition than to rest satisfied in a narrow portion of ascertained fact. And the earlier, which have sometimes been the greater ideas of science, are often lost sight of at a later period. How rarely can we say of any modern enquirer in the magnificent language of Plato, that 'He is the spectator of all time and of all existence!'
Nor is there anything unnatural in the hasty application of these vast metaphysical conceptions to practical and political life. In the first enthusiasm of ideas men are apt to see them everywhere, and to apply them in the most remote sphere. They do not understand that the experience of ages is required to enable them to fill up 'the intermediate axioms.' Plato himself seems to have imagined that the truths of psychology, like those of astronomy and harmonics, would be arrived at by a process of deduction, and that the method which he has pursued in the Fourth Book, of inferring them from experience and the use of language, was imperfect and only provisional. But when, after having arrived at the idea of good, which is the end of the science of dialectic, he is asked, What is the nature, and what are the divisions of the science? He refuses to answer, as if intending by the refusal to intimate that the state of knowledge which then existed was not such as would allow the philosopher to enter into his final rest. The previous sciences must first be studied, and will, we may add, continue to be studied tell the end of time, although in a sense different from any which Plato could have conceived. But we may observe, that while he is aware of the vacancy of his own ideal, he is full of enthusiasm in the contemplation of it. Looking into the orb of light, he sees nothing, but he is warmed and elevated. The Hebrew prophet believed that faith in God would enable him to govern the world; the Greek philosopher imagined that contemplation of the good would make a legislator. There is as much to be filled up in the one case as in the other, and the one mode of conception is to the Israelite what the other is to the Greek. Both find a repose in a divine perfection, which, whether in a more personal or impersonal form, exists without them and independently of them, as well as within them.
There is no mention of the idea of good in the Timaeus, nor of the divine Creator of the world in the Republic; and we are naturally led to ask in what relation they stand to one another. Is God above or below the idea of good? Or is the Idea of Good another mode of conceiving God? The latter appears to be the truer answer. To the Greek philosopher the perfection and unity of God was a far higher conception than his personality, which he hardly found a word to express, and which to him would have seemed to be borrowed from mythology. To the Christian, on the other hand, or to the modern thinker in general, it is difficult, if not impossible, to attach reality to what he terms mere abstraction; while to Plato this very abstraction is the truest and most real of all things. Hence, from a difference in forms of thought, Plato appears to be resting on a creation of his own mind only. But if we may be allowed to paraphrase the idea of good by the words 'intelligent principle of law and order in the universe, embracing equally man and nature,' we begin to find a meeting-point between him and ourselves.
The question whether the ruler or statesman should be a philosopher is one that has not lost interest in modern times. In most countries of Europe and Asia there has been some one in the course of ages who has truly united the power of command with the power of thought and reflection, as there have been also many false combinations of these qualities. Some kind of speculative power is necessary both in practical and political life; like the rhetorician in the Phaedrus, men require to have a conception of the varieties of human character, and to be raised on great occasions above the commonplaces of ordinary life. Yet the idea of the philosopher-statesman has never been popular with the mass of mankind; partly because he cannot take the world into his confidence or make them understand the motives from which he acts; and also because they are jealous of a power which they do not understand. The revolution which human nature desires to effect step by step in many ages is likely to be precipitated by him in a single year or life. They are afraid that in the pursuit of his greater aims he may disregard the common feelings of humanity, he is too apt to be looking into the distant future or back into the remote past, and unable to see actions or events which, to use an expression of Plato's 'are tumbling out at his feet.' Besides, as Plato would say, there are other corruptions of these philosophical statesmen. Either 'the native hue of resolution is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,' and at the moment when action above all things is required he is undecided, or general principles are enunciated by him in order to cover some change of policy; or his ignorance of the world has made him more easily fall a prey to the arts of others; or in some cases he has been converted into a courtier, who enjoys the luxury of holding liberal opinions, but was never known to perform a liberal action. No wonder that mankind have been in the habit of calling statesmen of this class pedants, sophisters, doctrinaires, visionaries. For, as we may be allowed to say, a little parodying the words of Plato, 'they have seen bad imitations of the philosopher-statesman.' But a man in whom the power of thought and action are perfectly balanced, equal to the present, reaching forward to the future, 'such a one,' ruling in a constitutional state, 'they have never seen.'
But as the philosopher is apt to fail in the routine of political life, so
the ordinary statesman is also apt to fail in extraordinary crises. When
the face of the world is beginning to alter, and thunder is heard in the
distance, he is still guided by his old maxims, and is the slave of his
inveterate party prejudices; he cannot perceive the signs of the times;
instead of looking forward he looks back; he learns nothing and forgets
nothing; with 'wise saws and modern instances' he would stem the rising
tide of revolution. He lives more and more within the circle of his own
party, as the world without him becomes stronger. This seems to be the
reason why the old order of things makes so poor a figure when confronted
with the new, why churches can never reform, why most political changes are
made blindly and convulsively. The great crises in the history of nations
have often been met by an ecclesiastical positiveness, and a more obstinate
reassertion of principles which have lost their hold upon a nation. The
fixed ideas of a reactionary statesman may be compared to madness; they
grow upon him, and he becomes possessed by them; no judgement of others is
ever admitted by him to be weighed in the balance against his own.
Still, through this fallacious medium, a real enlargement of ideas is
attained. When the virtues as yet presented no distinct conception to the
mind, a great advance was made by the comparison of them with the arts; for
virtue is partly art, and has an outward form as well as an inward
principle. The harmony of music affords a lively image of the harmonies of
the world and of human life, and may be regarded as a splendid illustration
which was naturally mistaken for a real analogy. In the same way the
identification of ethics with politics has a tendency to give definiteness
to ethics, and also to elevate and ennoble men's notions of the aims of
government and of the duties of citizens; for ethics from one point of view
may be conceived as an idealized law and politics; and politics, as ethics
reduced to the conditions of human society. There have been evils which
have arisen out of the attempt to identify them, and this has led to the
separation or antagonism of them, which has been introduced by modern
political writers. But we may likewise feel that something has been lost
in their separation, and that the ancient philosophers who estimated the
moral and intellectual wellbeing of mankind first, and the wealth of
nations and individuals second, may have a salutary influence on the
speculations of modern times. Many political maxims originate in a
reaction against an opposite error; and when the errors against which they
were directed have passed away, they in turn become errors.
He has long given up the notion that virtue cannot be taught; and he is disposed to modify the thesis of the Protagoras, that the virtues are one and not many. He is not unwilling to admit the sensible world into his scheme of truth. Nor does he assert in the Republic the involuntariness of vice, which is maintained by him in the Timaeus, Sophist, and Laws (Protag., Apol., Gorg.). Nor do the so-called Platonic ideas recovered from a former state of existence affect his theory of mental improvement. Still we observe in him the remains of the old Socratic doctrine, that true knowledge must be elicited from within, and is to be sought for in ideas, not in particulars of sense. Education, as he says, will implant a principle of intelligence which is better than ten thousand eyes. The paradox that the virtues are one, and the kindred notion that all virtue is knowledge, are not entirely renounced; the first is seen in the supremacy given to justice over the rest; the second in the tendency to absorb the moral virtues in the intellectual, and to centre all goodness in the contemplation of the idea of good. The world of sense is still depreciated and identified with opinion, though admitted to be a shadow of the true. In the Republic he is evidently impressed with the conviction that vice arises chiefly from ignorance and may be cured by education; the multitude are hardly to be deemed responsible for what they do. A faint allusion to the doctrine of reminiscence occurs in the Tenth Book; but Plato's views of education have no more real connection with a previous state of existence than our own; he only proposes to elicit from the mind that which is there already. Education is represented by him, not as the filling of a vessel, but as the turning the eye of the soul towards the light.
He treats first of music or literature, which he divides into true and false, and then goes on to gymnastics; of infancy in the Republic he takes no notice, though in the Laws he gives sage counsels about the nursing of children and the management of the mothers, and would have an education which is even prior to birth. But in the Republic he begins with the age at which the child is capable of receiving ideas, and boldly asserts, in language which sounds paradoxical to modern ears, that he must be taught the false before he can learn the true. The modern and ancient philosophical world are not agreed about truth and falsehood; the one identifies truth almost exclusively with fact, the other with ideas. This is the difference between ourselves and Plato, which is, however, partly a difference of words. For we too should admit that a child must receive many lessons which he imperfectly understands; he must be taught some things in a figure only, some too which he can hardly be expected to believe when he grows older; but we should limit the use of fiction by the necessity of the case. Plato would draw the line differently; according to him the aim of early education is not truth as a matter of fact, but truth as a matter of principle; the child is to be taught first simple religious truths, and then simple moral truths, and insensibly to learn the lesson of good manners and good taste. He would make an entire reformation of the old mythology; like Xenophanes and Heracleitus he is sensible of the deep chasm which separates his own age from Homer and Hesiod, whom he quotes and invests with an imaginary authority, but only for his own purposes. The lusts and treacheries of the gods are to be banished; the terrors of the world below are to be dispelled; the misbehaviour of the Homeric heroes is not to be a model for youth. But there is another strain heard in Homer which may teach our youth endurance; and something may be learnt in medicine from the simple practice of the Homeric age. The principles on which religion is to be based are two only: first, that God is true; secondly, that he is good. Modern and Christian writers have often fallen short of these; they can hardly be said to have gone beyond them.
The young are to be brought up in happy surroundings, out of the way of sights or sounds which may hurt the character or vitiate the taste. They are to live in an atmosphere of health; the breeze is always to be wafting to them the impressions of truth and goodness. Could such an education be realized, or if our modern religious education could be bound up with truth and virtue and good manners and good taste, that would be the best hope of human improvement. Plato, like ourselves, is looking forward to changes in the moral and religious world, and is preparing for them. He recognizes the danger of unsettling young men's minds by sudden changes of laws and principles, by destroying the sacredness of one set of ideas when there is nothing else to take their place. He is afraid too of the influence of the drama, on the ground that it encourages false sentiment, and therefore he would not have his children taken to the theatre; he thinks that the effect on the spectators is bad, and on the actors still worse. His idea of education is that of harmonious growth, in which are insensibly learnt the lessons of temperance and endurance, and the body and mind develope in equal proportions. The first principle which runs through all art and nature is simplicity; this also is to be the rule of human life.
The second stage of education is gymnastic, which answers to the period of muscular growth and development. The simplicity which is enforced in music is extended to gymnastic; Plato is aware that the training of the body may be inconsistent with the training of the mind, and that bodily exercise may be easily overdone. Excessive training of the body is apt to give men a headache or to render them sleepy at a lecture on philosophy, and this they attribute not to the true cause, but to the nature of the subject. Two points are noticeable in Plato's treatment of gymnastic:--First, that the time of training is entirely separated from the time of literary education. He seems to have thought that two things of an opposite and different nature could not be learnt at the same time. Here we can hardly agree with him; and, if we may judge by experience, the effect of spending three years between the ages of fourteen and seventeen in mere bodily exercise would be far from improving to the intellect. Secondly, he affirms that music and gymnastic are not, as common opinion is apt to imagine, intended, the one for the cultivation of the mind and the other of the body, but that they are both equally designed for the improvement of the mind. The body, in his view, is the servant of the mind; the subjection of the lower to the higher is for the advantage of both. And doubtless the mind may exercise a very great and paramount influence over the body, if exerted not at particular moments and by fits and starts, but continuously, in making preparation for the whole of life. Other Greek writers saw the mischievous tendency of Spartan discipline (Arist. Pol; Thuc.). But only Plato recognized the fundamental error on which the practice was based.
The subject of gymnastic leads Plato to the sister subject of medicine, which he further illustrates by the parallel of law. The modern disbelief in medicine has led in this, as in some other departments of knowledge, to a demand for greater simplicity; physicians are becoming aware that they often make diseases 'greater and more complicated' by their treatment of them (Rep.). In two thousand years their art has made but slender progress; what they have gained in the analysis of the parts is in a great degree lost by their feebler conception of the human frame as a whole. They have attended more to the cure of diseases than to the conditions of health; and the improvements in medicine have been more than counterbalanced by the disuse of regular training. Until lately they have hardly thought of air and water, the importance of which was well understood by the ancients; as Aristotle remarks, 'Air and water, being the elements which we most use, have the greatest effect upon health' (Polit.). For ages physicians have been under the dominion of prejudices which have only recently given way; and now there are as many opinions in medicine as in theology, and an equal degree of scepticism and some want of toleration about both. Plato has several good notions about medicine; according to him, 'the eye cannot be cured without the rest of the body, nor the body without the mind' (Charm.). No man of sense, he says in the Timaeus, would take physic; and we heartily sympathize with him in the Laws when he declares that 'the limbs of the rustic worn with toil will derive more benefit from warm baths than from the prescriptions of a not over wise doctor.' But we can hardly praise him when, in obedience to the authority of Homer, he depreciates diet, or approve of the inhuman spirit in which he would get rid of invalid and useless lives by leaving them to die. He does not seem to have considered that the 'bridle of Theages' might be accompanied by qualities which were of far more value to the State than the health or strength of the citizens; or that the duty of taking care of the helpless might be an important element of education in a State. The physician himself (this is a delicate and subtle observation) should not be a man in robust health; he should have, in modern phraseology, a nervous temperament; he should have experience of disease in his own person, in order that his powers of observation may be quickened in the case of others.
The perplexity of medicine is paralleled by the perplexity of law; in which, again, Plato would have men follow the golden rule of simplicity. Greater matters are to be determined by the legislator or by the oracle of Delphi, lesser matters are to be left to the temporary regulation of the citizens themselves. Plato is aware that laissez faire is an important element of government. The diseases of a State are like the heads of a hydra; they multiply when they are cut off. The true remedy for them is not extirpation but prevention. And the way to prevent them is to take care of education, and education will take care of all the rest. So in modern times men have often felt that the only political measure worth having--the only one which would produce any certain or lasting effect, was a measure of national education. And in our own more than in any previous age the necessity has been recognized of restoring the ever-increasing confusion of law to simplicity and common sense.
When the training in music and gymnastic is completed, there follows the first stage of active and public life. But soon education is to begin again from a new point of view. In the interval between the Fourth and Seventh Books we have discussed the nature of knowledge, and have thence been led to form a higher conception of what was required of us. For true knowledge, according to Plato, is of abstractions, and has to do, not with particulars or individuals, but with universals only; not with the beauties of poetry, but with the ideas of philosophy. And the great aim of education is the cultivation of the habit of abstraction. This is to be acquired through the study of the mathematical sciences. They alone are capable of giving ideas of relation, and of arousing the dormant energies of thought.
Mathematics in the age of Plato comprehended a very small part of that which is now included in them; but they bore a much larger proportion to the sum of human knowledge. They were the only organon of thought which the human mind at that time possessed, and the only measure by which the chaos of particulars could be reduced to rule and order. The faculty which they trained was naturally at war with the poetical or imaginative; and hence to Plato, who is everywhere seeking for abstractions and trying to get rid of the illusions of sense, nearly the whole of education is contained in them. They seemed to have an inexhaustible application, partly because their true limits were not yet understood. These Plato himself is beginning to investigate; though not aware that number and figure are mere abstractions of sense, he recognizes that the forms used by geometry are borrowed from the sensible world. He seeks to find the ultimate ground of mathematical ideas in the idea of good, though he does not satisfactorily explain the connexion between them; and in his conception of the relation of ideas to numbers, he falls very far short of the definiteness attributed to him by Aristotle (Met.). But if he fails to recognize the true limits of mathematics, he also reaches a point beyond them; in his view, ideas of number become secondary to a higher conception of knowledge. The dialectician is as much above the mathematician as the mathematician is above the ordinary man. The one, the self-proving, the good which is the higher sphere of dialectic, is the perfect truth to which all things ascend, and in which they finally repose.
This self-proving unity or idea of good is a mere vision of which no distinct explanation can be given, relative only to a particular stage in Greek philosophy. It is an abstraction under which no individuals are comprehended, a whole which has no parts (Arist., Nic. Eth.). The vacancy of such a form was perceived by Aristotle, but not by Plato. Nor did he recognize that in the dialectical process are included two or more methods of investigation which are at variance with each other. He did not see that whether he took the longer or the shorter road, no advance could be made in this way. And yet such visions often have an immense effect; for although the method of science cannot anticipate science, the idea of science, not as it is, but as it will be in the future, is a great and inspiring principle. In the pursuit of knowledge we are always pressing forward to something beyond us; and as a false conception of knowledge, for example the scholastic philosophy, may lead men astray during many ages, so the true ideal, though vacant, may draw all their thoughts in a right direction. It makes a great difference whether the general expectation of knowledge, as this indefinite feeling may be termed, is based upon a sound judgment. For mankind may often entertain a true conception of what knowledge ought to be when they have but a slender experience of facts. The correlation of the sciences, the consciousness of the unity of nature, the idea of classification, the sense of proportion, the unwillingness to stop short of certainty or to confound probability with truth, are important principles of the higher education. Although Plato could tell us nothing, and perhaps knew that he could tell us nothing, of the absolute truth, he has exercised an influence on the human mind which even at the present day is not exhausted; and political and social questions may yet arise in which the thoughts of Plato may be read anew and receive a fresh meaning.
The Idea of good is so called only in the Republic, but there are traces of it in other dialogues of Plato. It is a cause as well as an idea, and from this point of view may be compared with the creator of the Timaeus, who out of his goodness created all things. It corresponds to a certain extent with the modern conception of a law of nature, or of a final cause, or of both in one, and in this regard may be connected with the measure and symmetry of the Philebus. It is represented in the Symposium under the aspect of beauty, and is supposed to be attained there by stages of initiation, as here by regular gradations of knowledge. Viewed subjectively, it is the process or science of dialectic. This is the science which, according to the Phaedrus, is the true basis of rhetoric, which alone is able to distinguish the natures and classes of men and things; which divides a whole into the natural parts, and reunites the scattered parts into a natural or organized whole; which defines the abstract essences or universal ideas of all things, and connects them; which pierces the veil of hypotheses and reaches the final cause or first principle of all; which regards the sciences in relation to the idea of good. This ideal science is the highest process of thought, and may be described as the soul conversing with herself or holding communion with eternal truth and beauty, and in another form is the everlasting question and answer--the ceaseless interrogative of Socrates. The dialogues of Plato are themselves examples of the nature and method of dialectic. Viewed objectively, the idea of good is a power or cause which makes the world without us correspond with the world within. Yet this world without us is still a world of ideas. With Plato the investigation of nature is another department of knowledge, and in this he seeks to attain only probable conclusions (Timaeus).
If we ask whether this science of dialectic which Plato only half explains to us is more akin to logic or to metaphysics, the answer is that in his mind the two sciences are not as yet distinguished, any more than the subjective and objective aspects of the world and of man, which German philosophy has revealed to us. Nor has he determined whether his science of dialectic is at rest or in motion, concerned with the contemplation of absolute being, or with a process of development and evolution. Modern metaphysics may be described as the science of abstractions, or as the science of the evolution of thought; modern logic, when passing beyond the bounds of mere Aristotelian forms, may be defined as the science of method. The germ of both of them is contained in the Platonic dialectic; all metaphysicians have something in common with the ideas of Plato; all logicians have derived something from the method of Plato. The nearest approach in modern philosophy to the universal science of Plato, is to be found in the Hegelian 'succession of moments in the unity of the idea.' Plato and Hegel alike seem to have conceived the world as the correlation of abstractions; and not impossibly they would have understood one another better than any of their commentators understand them (Swift's Voyage to Laputa. 'Having a desire to see those ancients who were most renowned for wit and learning, I set apart one day on purpose. I proposed that Homer and Aristotle might appear at the head of all their commentators; but these were so numerous that some hundreds were forced to attend in the court and outward rooms of the palace. I knew, and could distinguish these two heroes, at first sight, not only from the crowd, but from each other. Homer was the taller and comelier person of the two, walked very erect for one of his age, and his eyes were the most quick and piercing I ever beheld. Aristotle stooped much, and made use of a staff. His visage was meagre, his hair lank and thin, and his voice hollow. I soon discovered that both of them were perfect strangers to the rest of the company, and had never seen or heard of them before. And I had a whisper from a ghost, who shall be nameless, "That these commentators always kept in the most distant quarters from their principals, in the lower world, through a consciousness of shame and guilt, because they had so horribly misrepresented the meaning of these authors to posterity." I introduced Didymus and Eustathius to Homer, and prevailed on him to treat them better than perhaps they deserved, for he soon found they wanted a genius to enter into the spirit of a poet. But Aristotle was out of all patience with the account I gave him of Scotus and Ramus, as I presented them to him; and he asked them "whether the rest of the tribe were as great dunces as themselves?"'). There is, however, a difference between them: for whereas Hegel is thinking of all the minds of men as one mind, which developes the stages of the idea in different countries or at different times in the same country, with Plato these gradations are regarded only as an order of thought or ideas; the history of the human mind had not yet dawned upon him.
Many criticisms may be made on Plato's theory of education. While in some respects he unavoidably falls short of modern thinkers, in others he is in advance of them. He is opposed to the modes of education which prevailed in his own time; but he can hardly be said to have discovered new ones. He does not see that education is relative to the characters of individuals; he only desires to impress the same form of the state on the minds of all. He has no sufficient idea of the effect of literature on the formation of the mind, and greatly exaggerates that of mathematics. His aim is above all things to train the reasoning faculties; to implant in the mind the spirit and power of abstraction; to explain and define general notions, and, if possible, to connect them. No wonder that in the vacancy of actual knowledge his followers, and at times even he himself, should have fallen away from the doctrine of ideas, and have returned to that branch of knowledge in which alone the relation of the one and many can be truly seen--the science of number. In his views both of teaching and training he might be styled, in modern language, a doctrinaire; after the Spartan fashion he would have his citizens cast in one mould; he does not seem to consider that some degree of freedom, 'a little wholesome neglect,' is necessary to strengthen and develope the character and to give play to the individual nature. His citizens would not have acquired that knowledge which in the vision of Er is supposed to be gained by the pilgrims from their experience of evil.
On the other hand, Plato is far in advance of modern philosophers and theologians when he teaches that education is to be continued through life and will begin again in another. He would never allow education of some kind to cease; although he was aware that the proverbial saying of Solon, 'I grow old learning many things,' cannot be applied literally. Himself ravished with the contemplation of the idea of good, and delighting in solid geometry (Rep.), he has no difficulty in imagining that a lifetime might be passed happily in such pursuits. We who know how many more men of business there are in the world than real students or thinkers, are not equally sanguine. The education which he proposes for his citizens is really the ideal life of the philosopher or man of genius, interrupted, but only for a time, by practical duties,--a life not for the many, but for the few.
Yet the thought of Plato may not be wholly incapable of application to our own times. Even if regarded as an ideal which can never be realized, it may have a great effect in elevating the characters of mankind, and raising them above the routine of their ordinary occupation or profession. It is the best form under which we can conceive the whole of life. Nevertheless the idea of Plato is not easily put into practice. For the education of after life is necessarily the education which each one gives himself. Men and women cannot be brought together in schools or colleges at forty or fifty years of age; and if they could the result would be disappointing. The destination of most men is what Plato would call 'the Den' for the whole of life, and with that they are content. Neither have they teachers or advisers with whom they can take counsel in riper years. There is no 'schoolmaster abroad' who will tell them of their faults, or inspire them with the higher sense of duty, or with the ambition of a true success in life; no Socrates who will convict them of ignorance; no Christ, or follower of Christ, who will reprove them of sin. Hence they have a difficulty in receiving the first element of improvement, which is self- knowledge. The hopes of youth no longer stir them; they rather wish to rest than to pursue high objects. A few only who have come across great men and women, or eminent teachers of religion and morality, have received a second life from them, and have lighted a candle from the fire of their genius.
The want of energy is one of the main reasons why so few persons continue to improve in later years. They have not the will, and do not know the way. They 'never try an experiment,' or look up a point of interest for themselves; they make no sacrifices for the sake of knowledge; their minds, like their bodies, at a certain age become fixed. Genius has been defined as 'the power of taking pains'; but hardly any one keeps up his interest in knowledge throughout a whole life. The troubles of a family, the business of making money, the demands of a profession destroy the elasticity of the mind. The waxen tablet of the memory which was once capable of receiving 'true thoughts and clear impressions' becomes hard and crowded; there is not room for the accumulations of a long life (Theaet.). The student, as years advance, rather makes an exchange of knowledge than adds to his stores. There is no pressing necessity to learn; the stock of Classics or History or Natural Science which was enough for a man at twenty-five is enough for him at fifty. Neither is it easy to give a definite answer to any one who asks how he is to improve. For self-education consists in a thousand things, commonplace in themselves,--in adding to what we are by nature something of what we are not; in learning to see ourselves as others see us; in judging, not by opinion, but by the evidence of facts; in seeking out the society of superior minds; in a study of lives and writings of great men; in observation of the world and character; in receiving kindly the natural influence of different times of life; in any act or thought which is raised above the practice or opinions of mankind; in the pursuit of some new or original enquiry; in any effort of mind which calls forth some latent power.
If any one is desirous of carrying out in detail the Platonic education of
after-life, some such counsels as the following may be offered to him:--
That he shall choose the branch of knowledge to which his own mind most
distinctly inclines, and in which he takes the greatest delight, either one
which seems to connect with his own daily employment, or, perhaps,
furnishes the greatest contrast to it. He may study from the speculative
side the profession or business in which he is practically engaged. He may
make Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Plato, Bacon the friends and companions of
his life. He may find opportunities of hearing the living voice of a great
teacher. He may select for enquiry some point of history or some
unexplained phenomenon of nature. An hour a day passed in such scientific
or literary pursuits will furnish as many facts as the memory can retain,
and will give him 'a pleasure not to be repented of' (Timaeus). Only let
him beware of being the slave of crotchets, or of running after a Will o'
the Wisp in his ignorance, or in his vanity of attributing to himself the
gifts of a poet or assuming the air of a philosopher. He should know the
limits of his own powers. Better to build up the mind by slow additions,
to creep on quietly from one thing to another, to gain insensibly new
powers and new interests in knowledge, than to form vast schemes which are
never destined to be realized. But perhaps, as Plato would say, 'This is
part of another subject' (Tim.); though we may also defend our digression
by his example (Theaet.).
The early legends of Hellas have no real connection with the later history: they are at a distance, and the intermediate region is concealed from view; there is no road or path which leads from one to the other. At the beginning of Greek history, in the vestibule of the temple, is seen standing first of all the figure of the legislator, himself the interpreter and servant of the God. The fundamental laws which he gives are not supposed to change with time and circumstances. The salvation of the state is held rather to depend on the inviolable maintenance of them. They were sanctioned by the authority of heaven, and it was deemed impiety to alter them. The desire to maintain them unaltered seems to be the origin of what at first sight is very surprising to us--the intolerant zeal of Plato against innovators in religion or politics (Laws); although with a happy inconsistency he is also willing that the laws of other countries should be studied and improvements in legislation privately communicated to the Nocturnal Council (Laws). The additions which were made to them in later ages in order to meet the increasing complexity of affairs were still ascribed by a fiction to the original legislator; and the words of such enactments at Athens were disputed over as if they had been the words of Solon himself. Plato hopes to preserve in a later generation the mind of the legislator; he would have his citizens remain within the lines which he has laid down for them. He would not harass them with minute regulations, he would have allowed some changes in the laws: but not changes which would affect the fundamental institutions of the state, such for example as would convert an aristocracy into a timocracy, or a timocracy into a popular form of government.
Passing from speculations to facts, we observe that progress has been the
exception rather than the law of human history. And therefore we are not
surprised to find that the idea of progress is of modern rather than of
ancient date; and, like the idea of a philosophy of history, is not more
than a century or two old. It seems to have arisen out of the impression
left on the human mind by the growth of the Roman Empire and of the
Christian Church, and to be due to the political and social improvements
which they introduced into the world; and still more in our own century to
the idealism of the first French Revolution and the triumph of American
Independence; and in a yet greater degree to the vast material prosperity
and growth of population in England and her colonies and in America. It is
also to be ascribed in a measure to the greater study of the philosophy of
history. The optimist temperament of some great writers has assisted the
creation of it, while the opposite character has led a few to regard the
future of the world as dark. The 'spectator of all time and of all
existence' sees more of 'the increasing purpose which through the ages ran'
than formerly: but to the inhabitant of a small state of Hellas the vision
was necessarily limited like the valley in which he dwelt. There was no
remote past on which his eye could rest, nor any future from which the veil
was partly lifted up by the analogy of history. The narrowness of view,
which to ourselves appears so singular, was to him natural, if not
And first of the Laws.
The relation of the two works to one another is very well given:
'The same, or nearly the same, objections apply to Plato's later work, the
Laws, and therefore we had better examine briefly the constitution which is
therein described. In the Republic, Socrates has definitely settled in all
a few questions only; such as the community of women and children, the
community of property, and the constitution of the state. The population
is divided into two classes--one of husbandmen, and the other of warriors;
from this latter is taken a third class of counsellors and rulers of the
state. But Socrates has not determined whether the husbandmen and artists
are to have a share in the government, and whether they too are to carry
arms and share in military service or not. He certainly thinks that the
women ought to share in the education of the guardians, and to fight by
their side. The remainder of the work is filled up with digressions
foreign to the main subject, and with discussions about the education of
the guardians. In the Laws there is hardly anything but laws; not much is
said about the constitution. This, which he had intended to make more of
the ordinary type, he gradually brings round to the other or ideal form.
For with the exception of the community of women and property, he supposes
everything to be the same in both states; there is to be the same
education; the citizens of both are to live free from servile occupations,
and there are to be common meals in both. The only difference is that in
the Laws the common meals are extended to women, and the warriors number
about 5000, but in the Republic only 1000.'
'The first and highest form of the state and of the government and of the law is that in which there prevails most widely the ancient saying that "Friends have all things in common." Whether there is now, or ever will be, this communion of women and children and of property, in which the private and individual is altogether banished from life, and things which are by nature private, such as eyes and ears and hands, have become common, and all men express praise and blame, and feel joy and sorrow, on the same occasions, and the laws unite the city to the utmost,--whether all this is possible or not, I say that no man, acting upon any other principle, will ever constitute a state more exalted in virtue, or truer or better than this. Such a state, whether inhabited by Gods or sons of Gods, will make them blessed who dwell therein; and therefore to this we are to look for the pattern of the state, and to cling to this, and, as far as possible, to seek for one which is like this. The state which we have now in hand, when created, will be nearest to immortality and unity in the next degree; and after that, by the grace of God, we will complete the third one. And we will begin by speaking of the nature and origin of the second.'
The comparatively short work called the Statesman or Politicus in its style
and manner is more akin to the Laws, while in its idealism it rather
resembles the Republic. As far as we can judge by various indications of
language and thought, it must be later than the one and of course earlier
than the other. In both the Republic and Statesman a close connection is
maintained between Politics and Dialectic. In the Statesman, enquiries
into the principles of Method are interspersed with discussions about
Politics. The comparative advantages of the rule of law and of a person
are considered, and the decision given in favour of a person (Arist. Pol.).
But much may be said on the other side, nor is the opposition necessary;
for a person may rule by law, and law may be so applied as to be the living
voice of the legislator. As in the Republic, there is a myth, describing,
however, not a future, but a former existence of mankind. The question is
asked, 'Whether the state of innocence which is described in the myth, or a
state like our own which possesses art and science and distinguishes good
from evil, is the preferable condition of man.' To this question of the
comparative happiness of civilized and primitive life, which was so often
discussed in the last century and in our own, no answer is given. The
Statesman, though less perfect in style than the Republic and of far less
range, may justly be regarded as one of the greatest of Plato's dialogues.
(VI) Others as well as Plato have chosen an ideal Republic to be the vehicle of thoughts which they could not definitely express, or which went beyond their own age. The classical writing which approaches most nearly to the Republic of Plato is the 'De Republica' of Cicero; but neither in this nor in any other of his dialogues does he rival the art of Plato. The manners are clumsy and inferior; the hand of the rhetorician is apparent at every turn. Yet noble sentiments are constantly recurring: the true note of Roman patriotism--'We Romans are a great people'--resounds through the whole work. Like Socrates, Cicero turns away from the phenomena of the heavens to civil and political life. He would rather not discuss the 'two Suns' of which all Rome was talking, when he can converse about 'the two nations in one' which had divided Rome ever since the days of the Gracchi. Like Socrates again, speaking in the person of Scipio, he is afraid lest he should assume too much the character of a teacher, rather than of an equal who is discussing among friends the two sides of a question. He would confine the terms King or State to the rule of reason and justice, and he will not concede that title either to a democracy or to a monarchy. But under the rule of reason and justice he is willing to include the natural superior ruling over the natural inferior, which he compares to the soul ruling over the body. He prefers a mixture of forms of government to any single one. The two portraits of the just and the unjust, which occur in the second book of the Republic, are transferred to the state--Philus, one of the interlocutors, maintaining against his will the necessity of injustice as a principle of government, while the other, Laelius, supports the opposite thesis. His views of language and number are derived from Plato; like him he denounces the drama. He also declares that if his life were to be twice as long he would have no time to read the lyric poets. The picture of democracy is translated by him word for word, though he had hardly shown himself able to 'carry the jest' of Plato. He converts into a stately sentence the humorous fancy about the animals, who 'are so imbued with the spirit of democracy that they make the passers-by get out of their way.' His description of the tyrant is imitated from Plato, but is far inferior. The second book is historical, and claims for the Roman constitution (which is to him the ideal) a foundation of fact such as Plato probably intended to have given to the Republic in the Critias. His most remarkable imitation of Plato is the adaptation of the vision of Er, which is converted by Cicero into the 'Somnium Scipionis'; he has 'romanized' the myth of the Republic, adding an argument for the immortality of the soul taken from the Phaedrus, and some other touches derived from the Phaedo and the Timaeus. Though a beautiful tale and containing splendid passages, the 'Somnium Scipionis; is very inferior to the vision of Er; it is only a dream, and hardly allows the reader to suppose that the writer believes in his own creation. Whether his dialogues were framed on the model of the lost dialogues of Aristotle, as he himself tells us, or of Plato, to which they bear many superficial resemblances, he is still the Roman orator; he is not conversing, but making speeches, and is never able to mould the intractable Latin to the grace and ease of the Greek Platonic dialogue. But if he is defective in form, much more is he inferior to the Greek in matter; he nowhere in his philosophical writings leaves upon our minds the impression of an original thinker.
Plato's Republic has been said to be a church and not a state; and such an ideal of a city in the heavens has always hovered over the Christian world, and is embodied in St. Augustine's 'De Civitate Dei,' which is suggested by the decay and fall of the Roman Empire, much in the same manner in which we may imagine the Republic of Plato to have been influenced by the decline of Greek politics in the writer's own age. The difference is that in the time of Plato the degeneracy, though certain, was gradual and insensible: whereas the taking of Rome by the Goths stirred like an earthquake the age of St. Augustine. Men were inclined to believe that the overthrow of the city was to be ascribed to the anger felt by the old Roman deities at the neglect of their worship. St. Augustine maintains the opposite thesis; he argues that the destruction of the Roman Empire is due, not to the rise of Christianity, but to the vices of Paganism. He wanders over Roman history, and over Greek philosophy and mythology, and finds everywhere crime, impiety and falsehood. He compares the worst parts of the Gentile religions with the best elements of the faith of Christ. He shows nothing of the spirit which led others of the early Christian Fathers to recognize in the writings of the Greek philosophers the power of the divine truth. He traces the parallel of the kingdom of God, that is, the history of the Jews, contained in their scriptures, and of the kingdoms of the world, which are found in gentile writers, and pursues them both into an ideal future. It need hardly be remarked that his use both of Greek and of Roman historians and of the sacred writings of the Jews is wholly uncritical. The heathen mythology, the Sybilline oracles, the myths of Plato, the dreams of Neo-Platonists are equally regarded by him as matter of fact. He must be acknowledged to be a strictly polemical or controversial writer who makes the best of everything on one side and the worst of everything on the other. He has no sympathy with the old Roman life as Plato has with Greek life, nor has he any idea of the ecclesiastical kingdom which was to arise out of the ruins of the Roman empire. He is not blind to the defects of the Christian Church, and looks forward to a time when Christian and Pagan shall be alike brought before the judgment-seat, and the true City of God shall appear...The work of St. Augustine is a curious repertory of antiquarian learning and quotations, deeply penetrated with Christian ethics, but showing little power of reasoning, and a slender knowledge of the Greek literature and language. He was a great genius, and a noble character, yet hardly capable of feeling or understanding anything external to his own theology. Of all the ancient philosophers he is most attracted by Plato, though he is very slightly acquainted with his writings. He is inclined to believe that the idea of creation in the Timaeus is derived from the narrative in Genesis; and he is strangely taken with the coincidence (?) of Plato's saying that 'the philosopher is the lover of God,' and the words of the Book of Exodus in which God reveals himself to Moses (Exod.) He dwells at length on miracles performed in his own day, of which the evidence is regarded by him as irresistible. He speaks in a very interesting manner of the beauty and utility of nature and of the human frame, which he conceives to afford a foretaste of the heavenly state and of the resurrection of the body. The book is not really what to most persons the title of it would imply, and belongs to an age which has passed away. But it contains many fine passages and thoughts which are for all time.
The short treatise de Monarchia of Dante is by far the most remarkable of mediaeval ideals, and bears the impress of the great genius in whom Italy and the Middle Ages are so vividly reflected. It is the vision of an Universal Empire, which is supposed to be the natural and necessary government of the world, having a divine authority distinct from the Papacy, yet coextensive with it. It is not 'the ghost of the dead Roman Empire sitting crowned upon the grave thereof,' but the legitimate heir and successor of it, justified by the ancient virtues of the Romans and the beneficence of their rule. Their right to be the governors of the world is also confirmed by the testimony of miracles, and acknowledged by St. Paul when he appealed to Caesar, and even more emphatically by Christ Himself, Who could not have made atonement for the sins of men if He had not been condemned by a divinely authorized tribunal. The necessity for the establishment of an Universal Empire is proved partly by a priori arguments such as the unity of God and the unity of the family or nation; partly by perversions of Scripture and history, by false analogies of nature, by misapplied quotations from the classics, and by odd scraps and commonplaces of logic, showing a familiar but by no means exact knowledge of Aristotle (of Plato there is none). But a more convincing argument still is the miserable state of the world, which he touchingly describes. He sees no hope of happiness or peace for mankind until all nations of the earth are comprehended in a single empire. The whole treatise shows how deeply the idea of the Roman Empire was fixed in the minds of his contemporaries. Not much argument was needed to maintain the truth of a theory which to his own contemporaries seemed so natural and congenial. He speaks, or rather preaches, from the point of view, not of the ecclesiastic, but of the layman, although, as a good Catholic, he is willing to acknowledge that in certain respects the Empire must submit to the Church. The beginning and end of all his noble reflections and of his arguments, good and bad, is the aspiration 'that in this little plot of earth belonging to mortal man life may pass in freedom and peace.' So inextricably is his vision of the future bound up with the beliefs and circumstances of his own age.
The 'Utopia' of Sir Thomas More is a surprising monument of his genius, and shows a reach of thought far beyond his contemporaries. The book was written by him at the age of about 34 or 35, and is full of the generous sentiments of youth. He brings the light of Plato to bear upon the miserable state of his own country. Living not long after the Wars of the Roses, and in the dregs of the Catholic Church in England, he is indignant at the corruption of the clergy, at the luxury of the nobility and gentry, at the sufferings of the poor, at the calamities caused by war. To the eye of More the whole world was in dissolution and decay; and side by side with the misery and oppression which he has described in the First Book of the Utopia, he places in the Second Book the ideal state which by the help of Plato he had constructed. The times were full of stir and intellectual interest. The distant murmur of the Reformation was beginning to be heard. To minds like More's, Greek literature was a revelation: there had arisen an art of interpretation, and the New Testament was beginning to be understood as it had never been before, and has not often been since, in its natural sense. The life there depicted appeared to him wholly unlike that of Christian commonwealths, in which 'he saw nothing but a certain conspiracy of rich men procuring their own commodities under the name and title of the Commonwealth.' He thought that Christ, like Plato, 'instituted all things common,' for which reason, he tells us, the citizens of Utopia were the more willing to receive his doctrines ('Howbeit, I think this was no small help and furtherance in the matter, that they heard us say that Christ instituted among his, all things common, and that the same community doth yet remain in the rightest Christian communities' (Utopia).). The community of property is a fixed idea with him, though he is aware of the arguments which may be urged on the other side ('These things (I say), when I consider with myself, I hold well with Plato, and do nothing marvel that he would make no laws for them that refused those laws, whereby all men should have and enjoy equal portions of riches and commodities. For the wise men did easily foresee this to be the one and only way to the wealth of a community, if equality of all things should be brought in and established' (Utopia).). We wonder how in the reign of Henry VIII, though veiled in another language and published in a foreign country, such speculations could have been endured.
He is gifted with far greater dramatic invention than any one who succeeded him, with the exception of Swift. In the art of feigning he is a worthy disciple of Plato. Like him, starting from a small portion of fact, he founds his tale with admirable skill on a few lines in the Latin narrative of the voyages of Amerigo Vespucci. He is very precise about dates and facts, and has the power of making us believe that the narrator of the tale must have been an eyewitness. We are fairly puzzled by his manner of mixing up real and imaginary persons; his boy John Clement and Peter Giles, citizen of Antwerp, with whom he disputes about the precise words which are supposed to have been used by the (imaginary) Portuguese traveller, Raphael Hythloday. 'I have the more cause,' says Hythloday, 'to fear that my words shall not be believed, for that I know how difficultly and hardly I myself would have believed another man telling the same, if I had not myself seen it with mine own eyes.' Or again: 'If you had been with me in Utopia, and had presently seen their fashions and laws as I did which lived there five years and more, and would never have come thence, but only to make the new land known here,' etc. More greatly regrets that he forgot to ask Hythloday in what part of the world Utopia is situated; he 'would have spent no small sum of money rather than it should have escaped him,' and he begs Peter Giles to see Hythloday or write to him and obtain an answer to the question. After this we are not surprised to hear that a Professor of Divinity (perhaps 'a late famous vicar of Croydon in Surrey,' as the translator thinks) is desirous of being sent thither as a missionary by the High Bishop, 'yea, and that he may himself be made Bishop of Utopia, nothing doubting that he must obtain this Bishopric with suit; and he counteth that a godly suit which proceedeth not of the desire of honour or lucre, but only of a godly zeal.' The design may have failed through the disappearance of Hythloday, concerning whom we have 'very uncertain news' after his departure. There is no doubt, however, that he had told More and Giles the exact situation of the island, but unfortunately at the same moment More's attention, as he is reminded in a letter from Giles, was drawn off by a servant, and one of the company from a cold caught on shipboard coughed so loud as to prevent Giles from hearing. And 'the secret has perished' with him; to this day the place of Utopia remains unknown.
The words of Phaedrus, 'O Socrates, you can easily invent Egyptians or anything,' are recalled to our mind as we read this lifelike fiction. Yet the greater merit of the work is not the admirable art, but the originality of thought. More is as free as Plato from the prejudices of his age, and far more tolerant. The Utopians do not allow him who believes not in the immortality of the soul to share in the administration of the state (Laws), 'howbeit they put him to no punishment, because they be persuaded that it is in no man's power to believe what he list'; and 'no man is to be blamed for reasoning in support of his own religion ('One of our company in my presence was sharply punished. He, as soon as he was baptised, began, against our wills, with more earnest affection than wisdom, to reason of Christ's religion, and began to wax so hot in his matter, that he did not only prefer our religion before all other, but also did despise and condemn all other, calling them profane, and the followers of them wicked and devilish, and the children of everlasting damnation. When he had thus long reasoned the matter, they laid hold on him, accused him, and condemned him into exile, not as a despiser of religion, but as a seditious person and a raiser up of dissension among the people').' In the public services 'no prayers be used, but such as every man may boldly pronounce without giving offence to any sect.' He says significantly, 'There be that give worship to a man that was once of excellent virtue or of famous glory, not only as God, but also the chiefest and highest God. But the most and the wisest part, rejecting all these, believe that there is a certain godly power unknown, far above the capacity and reach of man's wit, dispersed throughout all the world, not in bigness, but in virtue and power. Him they call the Father of all. To Him alone they attribute the beginnings, the increasings, the proceedings, the changes, and the ends of all things. Neither give they any divine honours to any other than him.' So far was More from sharing the popular beliefs of his time. Yet at the end he reminds us that he does not in all respects agree with the customs and opinions of the Utopians which he describes. And we should let him have the benefit of this saving clause, and not rudely withdraw the veil behind which he has been pleased to conceal himself.
Nor is he less in advance of popular opinion in his political and moral speculations. He would like to bring military glory into contempt; he would set all sorts of idle people to profitable occupation, including in the same class, priests, women, noblemen, gentlemen, and 'sturdy and valiant beggars,' that the labour of all may be reduced to six hours a day. His dislike of capital punishment, and plans for the reformation of offenders; his detestation of priests and lawyers (Compare his satirical observation: 'They (the Utopians) have priests of exceeding holiness, and therefore very few.); his remark that 'although every one may hear of ravenous dogs and wolves and cruel man-eaters, it is not easy to find states that are well and wisely governed,' are curiously at variance with the notions of his age and indeed with his own life. There are many points in which he shows a modern feeling and a prophetic insight like Plato. He is a sanitary reformer; he maintains that civilized states have a right to the soil of waste countries; he is inclined to the opinion which places happiness in virtuous pleasures, but herein, as he thinks, not disagreeing from those other philosophers who define virtue to be a life according to nature. He extends the idea of happiness so as to include the happiness of others; and he argues ingeniously, 'All men agree that we ought to make others happy; but if others, how much more ourselves!' And still he thinks that there may be a more excellent way, but to this no man's reason can attain unless heaven should inspire him with a higher truth. His ceremonies before marriage; his humane proposal that war should be carried on by assassinating the leaders of the enemy, may be compared to some of the paradoxes of Plato. He has a charming fancy, like the affinities of Greeks and barbarians in the Timaeus, that the Utopians learnt the language of the Greeks with the more readiness because they were originally of the same race with them. He is penetrated with the spirit of Plato, and quotes or adapts many thoughts both from the Republic and from the Timaeus. He prefers public duties to private, and is somewhat impatient of the importunity of relations. His citizens have no silver or gold of their own, but are ready enough to pay them to their mercenaries. There is nothing of which he is more contemptuous than the love of money. Gold is used for fetters of criminals, and diamonds and pearls for children's necklaces (When the ambassadors came arrayed in gold and peacocks' feathers 'to the eyes of all the Utopians except very few, which had been in other countries for some reasonable cause, all that gorgeousness of apparel seemed shameful and reproachful. In so much that they most reverently saluted the vilest and most abject of them for lords--passing over the ambassadors themselves without any honour, judging them by their wearing of golden chains to be bondmen. You should have seen children also, that had cast away their pearls and precious stones, when they saw the like sticking upon the ambassadors' caps, dig and push their mothers under the sides, saying thus to them--"Look, though he were a little child still." But the mother; yea and that also in good earnest: "Peace, son," saith she, "I think he be some of the ambassadors' fools."')
Like Plato he is full of satirical reflections on governments and princes; on the state of the world and of knowledge. The hero of his discourse (Hythloday) is very unwilling to become a minister of state, considering that he would lose his independence and his advice would never be heeded (Compare an exquisite passage, of which the conclusion is as follows: 'And verily it is naturally given...suppressed and ended.') He ridicules the new logic of his time; the Utopians could never be made to understand the doctrine of Second Intentions ('For they have not devised one of all those rules of restrictions, amplifications, and suppositions, very wittily invented in the small Logicals, which here our children in every place do learn. Furthermore, they were never yet able to find out the second intentions; insomuch that none of them all could ever see man himself in common, as they call him, though he be (as you know) bigger than was ever any giant, yea, and pointed to of us even with our finger.') He is very severe on the sports of the gentry; the Utopians count 'hunting the lowest, the vilest, and the most abject part of butchery.' He quotes the words of the Republic in which the philosopher is described 'standing out of the way under a wall until the driving storm of sleet and rain be overpast,' which admit of a singular application to More's own fate; although, writing twenty years before (about the year 1514), he can hardly be supposed to have foreseen this. There is no touch of satire which strikes deeper than his quiet remark that the greater part of the precepts of Christ are more at variance with the lives of ordinary Christians than the discourse of Utopia ('And yet the most part of them is more dissident from the manners of the world now a days, than my communication was. But preachers, sly and wily men, following your counsel (as I suppose) because they saw men evil- willing to frame their manners to Christ's rule, they have wrested and wried his doctrine, and, like a rule of lead, have applied it to men's manners, that by some means at the least way, they might agree together.')
The 'New Atlantis' is only a fragment, and far inferior in merit to the 'Utopia.' The work is full of ingenuity, but wanting in creative fancy, and by no means impresses the reader with a sense of credibility. In some places Lord Bacon is characteristically different from Sir Thomas More, as, for example, in the external state which he attributes to the governor of Solomon's House, whose dress he minutely describes, while to Sir Thomas More such trappings appear simple ridiculous. Yet, after this programme of dress, Bacon adds the beautiful trait, 'that he had a look as though he pitied men.' Several things are borrowed by him from the Timaeus; but he has injured the unity of style by adding thoughts and passages which are taken from the Hebrew Scriptures.
The 'City of the Sun' written by Campanella (1568-1639), a Dominican friar, several years after the 'New Atlantis' of Bacon, has many resemblances to the Republic of Plato. The citizens have wives and children in common; their marriages are of the same temporary sort, and are arranged by the magistrates from time to time. They do not, however, adopt his system of lots, but bring together the best natures, male and female, 'according to philosophical rules.' The infants until two years of age are brought up by their mothers in public temples; and since individuals for the most part educate their children badly, at the beginning of their third year they are committed to the care of the State, and are taught at first, not out of books, but from paintings of all kinds, which are emblazoned on the walls of the city. The city has six interior circuits of walls, and an outer wall which is the seventh. On this outer wall are painted the figures of legislators and philosophers, and on each of the interior walls the symbols or forms of some one of the sciences are delineated. The women are, for the most part, trained, like the men, in warlike and other exercises; but they have two special occupations of their own. After a battle, they and the boys soothe and relieve the wounded warriors; also they encourage them with embraces and pleasant words. Some elements of the Christian or Catholic religion are preserved among them. The life of the Apostles is greatly admired by this people because they had all things in common; and the short prayer which Jesus Christ taught men is used in their worship. It is a duty of the chief magistrates to pardon sins, and therefore the whole people make secret confession of them to the magistrates, and they to their chief, who is a sort of Rector Metaphysicus; and by this means he is well informed of all that is going on in the minds of men. After confession, absolution is granted to the citizens collectively, but no one is mentioned by name. There also exists among them a practice of perpetual prayer, performed by a succession of priests, who change every hour. Their religion is a worship of God in Trinity, that is of Wisdom, Love and Power, but without any distinction of persons. They behold in the sun the reflection of His glory; mere graven images they reject, refusing to fall under the 'tyranny' of idolatry.
Many details are given about their customs of eating and drinking, about their mode of dressing, their employments, their wars. Campanella looks forward to a new mode of education, which is to be a study of nature, and not of Aristotle. He would not have his citizens waste their time in the consideration of what he calls 'the dead signs of things.' He remarks that he who knows one science only, does not really know that one any more than the rest, and insists strongly on the necessity of a variety of knowledge. More scholars are turned out in the City of the Sun in one year than by contemporary methods in ten or fifteen. He evidently believes, like Bacon, that henceforward natural science will play a great part in education, a hope which seems hardly to have been realized, either in our own or in any former age; at any rate the fulfilment of it has been long deferred.
There is a good deal of ingenuity and even originality in this work, and a most enlightened spirit pervades it. But it has little or no charm of style, and falls very far short of the 'New Atlantis' of Bacon, and still more of the 'Utopia' of Sir Thomas More. It is full of inconsistencies, and though borrowed from Plato, shows but a superficial acquaintance with his writings. It is a work such as one might expect to have been written by a philosopher and man of genius who was also a friar, and who had spent twenty-seven years of his life in a prison of the Inquisition. The most interesting feature of the book, common to Plato and Sir Thomas More, is the deep feeling which is shown by the writer, of the misery and ignorance prevailing among the lower classes in his own time. Campanella takes note of Aristotle's answer to Plato's community of property, that in a society where all things are common, no individual would have any motive to work (Arist. Pol.): he replies, that his citizens being happy and contented in themselves (they are required to work only four hours a day), will have greater regard for their fellows than exists among men at present. He thinks, like Plato, that if he abolishes private feelings and interests, a great public feeling will take their place.
Other writings on ideal states, such as the 'Oceana' of Harrington, in
which the Lord Archon, meaning Cromwell, is described, not as he was, but
as he ought to have been; or the 'Argenis' of Barclay, which is an
historical allegory of his own time, are too unlike Plato to be worth
mentioning. More interesting than either of these, and far more Platonic
in style and thought, is Sir John Eliot's 'Monarchy of Man,' in which the
prisoner of the Tower, no longer able 'to be a politician in the land of
his birth,' turns away from politics to view 'that other city which is
within him,' and finds on the very threshold of the grave that the secret
of human happiness is the mastery of self. The change of government in the
time of the English Commonwealth set men thinking about first principles,
and gave rise to many works of this class...The great original genius of
Swift owes nothing to Plato; nor is there any trace in the conversation or
in the works of Dr. Johnson of any acquaintance with his writings. He
probably would have refuted Plato without reading him, in the same fashion
in which he supposed himself to have refuted Bishop Berkeley's theory of
the non-existence of matter. If we except the so-called English
Platonists, or rather Neo-Platonists, who never understood their master,
and the writings of Coleridge, who was to some extent a kindred spirit,
Plato has left no permanent impression on English literature.
(VIII) Two other ideals, which never appeared above the horizon in Greek Philosophy, float before the minds of men in our own day: one seen more clearly than formerly, as though each year and each generation brought us nearer to some great change; the other almost in the same degree retiring from view behind the laws of nature, as if oppressed by them, but still remaining a silent hope of we know not what hidden in the heart of man. The first ideal is the future of the human race in this world; the second the future of the individual in another. The first is the more perfect realization of our own present life; the second, the abnegation of it: the one, limited by experience, the other, transcending it. Both of them have been and are powerful motives of action; there are a few in whom they have taken the place of all earthly interests. The hope of a future for the human race at first sight seems to be the more disinterested, the hope of individual existence the more egotistical, of the two motives. But when men have learned to resolve their hope of a future either for themselves or for the world into the will of God--'not my will but Thine,' the difference between them falls away; and they may be allowed to make either of them the basis of their lives, according to their own individual character or temperament. There is as much faith in the willingness to work for an unseen future in this world as in another. Neither is it inconceivable that some rare nature may feel his duty to another generation, or to another century, almost as strongly as to his own, or that living always in the presence of God, he may realize another world as vividly as he does this.
The greatest of all ideals may, or rather must be conceived by us under similitudes derived from human qualities; although sometimes, like the Jewish prophets, we may dash away these figures of speech and describe the nature of God only in negatives. These again by degrees acquire a positive meaning. It would be well, if when meditating on the higher truths either of philosophy or religion, we sometimes substituted one form of expression for another, lest through the necessities of language we should become the slaves of mere words.
There is a third ideal, not the same, but akin to these, which has a place in the home and heart of every believer in the religion of Christ, and in which men seem to find a nearer and more familiar truth, the Divine man, the Son of Man, the Saviour of mankind, Who is the first-born and head of the whole family in heaven and earth, in Whom the Divine and human, that which is without and that which is within the range of our earthly faculties, are indissolubly united. Neither is this divine form of goodness wholly separable from the ideal of the Christian Church, which is said in the New Testament to be 'His body,' or at variance with those other images of good which Plato sets before us. We see Him in a figure only, and of figures of speech we select but a few, and those the simplest, to be the expression of Him. We behold Him in a picture, but He is not there. We gather up the fragments of His discourses, but neither do they represent Him as He truly was. His dwelling is neither in heaven nor earth, but in the heart of man. This is that image which Plato saw dimly in the distance, which, when existing among men, he called, in the language of Homer, 'the likeness of God,' the likeness of a nature which in all ages men have felt to be greater and better than themselves, and which in endless forms, whether derived from Scripture or nature, from the witness of history or from the human heart, regarded as a person or not as a person, with or without parts or passions, existing in space or not in space, is and will always continue to be to mankind the Idea of Good.
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