SAYINGS OF GREAT MEN.
IN turning over the admirably edited and amusing book which Mr. Samuel Arthur Bent has just given us on the sayings of great men,* nothing, perhaps, strikes one more than the interest attaching to the sayings of persons of very poor capacity, so long as that poor capacity has been weighted with sufficient self-confidence to make it measure itself coolly against the world. The most memorable quality attaching to the say- ings of eminent men, is not usually the wit, or the wisdom, or the truth of the saying, but the stamp of a distinct personality upon it. A hundred wise or witty sayings go astray in the world, and get fathered upon wrong parents, for every one sharply-marked characteristic saying that thus goes astray. For example, Goethe's sayings are very many of them really wise and instructive, but it is often extremely difficult to remember from whom they pro- ceeded, because they are not stamped with a distinct per- sonality. " Stupidity is without anxiety," or " Architecture is petrified music," or "Mastery is often considered a kind of egotism," for instance, are all sayings of interest, but not say- ings which shed much light on the character of the sayer, and, therefore, not closely associated with the sayer. But when George III. said, " Was there ever such stuff as great parts of Shake- speare ? Is there not sad stuff ? But one must not say it," it is impossible to forget this courageous attempt of the poor old King to cut himself out, as it were, in a bas-relief on the background of Shakespeare, and to mark even his British deference to a wide- spread admiration which he did not in the least share. Mr. Bent might also have recalled King George's remark, when he was asked to give preferment to Archdeacon Paley, and replied, with reference to Paley's celebrated illustration of the arti- ficial character of the institution of property taken from the demeanour of a crowd of pigeons scrambling for their share of a heap of corn,—" What, Paley, Paley, pigeon-Paley P No, no, no, no." George III. gained from his crown only the ability, which most dull people lack, to have confidence in himself,— to hold his own opinion against the universe, however " infinitely little" that opinion may have been ; and it is this power
• Published by Chatto and Windae.
to annex an opinion, to make it part of a man's own character, much more even than the greatness or truth of it, or even the brilliant manner in which it is expressed, which makes it memorable for us. George llI.'s sayings are, like his own image stamped on copper, poor in expression, but very strongly stamped. It was the same with Madame •de Pompadour's celebrated expression of recklessness,—" Apres nous, le deluge," a sayingwhichhas become part of history, partly from its truth, partly from its vivid expression of the selfishness and recklessness which made it historical. And it is this quality of personal expressiveness which, when the character so stamped is not poor, but has anything magnificent or noble in it, that makes a great saying take rank with a great deed. Louis XIV.'s declaration on his death-bed to Madame de Maintenon, " I imagined it more difficult to die," as though his departure at least must have involved a convulsion of nature; and Pitts grand farewell to power, when he returned, dying, from Bath, " Fold up the map of Europe," are excellent specimens of the sort of• sayings which, though containing nothonght at all, nothing but a great consciousness of power, yet impress us more than the most vivid wisdom or the most poignant wit. This is why dignity tells for so much in a saying of this kind,—for so much more, indeed, than even truth. Burke's grand sentence on the hustings, when referring to the death of another candidate, "What shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue•!" makes an even greater impression oo the imagination than the other sentence, " I do not know how to draw up an indictment against a whole people," not because it embodies half the political wisdom of the second sentence, but because it recalls Burke and his soaring imagination more impressively to the mind. Even Lord Chesterfield, with all his thinness and superficiality, makes his mark upon us directly he begins to delineate himself. "There is a certain dignity to be kept up in pleasures, as well as in business," and, " Knowledge may give weight, but accom- plishments give lustre, and many more people see than weigh," paint so exactly a man thoughtfully and consistently anxious about appearances, that they impress us almost as much as•one of Dr. Johnson's vivid self-portraitures of a much nobler kind. Indeed, they impress ns not only almost as much, but for nearly the same reason, that by imaging the man who lived in appear- ances, they throw up in strong relief on our minds the recollec- tion of men to whom mere appearances were naught.
Sayings, however excellent, which do not convey in them any self-portraiture are seldom vividly associated with their true authors. How many of our readers will remember who it was that said, "Nothing is certain but death and taxes ;" or, "We must all hang together, else we shall all hang separately," or even, " It is better to wear out than rust out," which last does represent the energy of a certain kind of temperament, but energy so com- mon that it marks rather a class than an individual. Benjamin Franklin said the two first sayings, and Bishop Cumberland the last, but we should be surprised to find any one in a company of literary men who could have pronounced on the spat to whom any one of the three was to be attributed. On the other hand, we seldom misappropriate sayings containing much less that it is worth while to remember, if only they vividly portray a memorable figure,—like Frederick the Great's in- dignant, " Wolk ihr immer leben ?" ("Do you fellows want to live for ever?") when his soldiers showed some disinclina- tion to being shot down (a saying which Mr. Bent has for- gotten, though he has included several by the same speaker much less remarkable), or Gambetta's peremptory, "il faudra on se sonmettre, on se demettre," of Marshal MacMahon's " Government of Combat." Thus, the most impressive of all sayings are probably those of great rulers who contrived to embody the profound confidence they felt that a life of command was before them, in a few weighty words. Julius Caesar's " Veni, vidi, vici," and his question to the skipper who feared for the loss of his boat, • " What dost thou fear, when Caesar is on board ?" or his disdainful apology for an unjust divorce, "Caesar's wife ought to be free even from suspicion," are likely to be in every one's mouth as long as the world lasts. And so, perhaps, is Napoleon's, "I succeeded not Louis XIV., but Charlemagne," and the same great man's re- mark, " Imagination rules the world," and, " I ought to have died at Waterloo."
But the most influential of all great sayings are those which combine great force and weight of character with a precept, ex- press or implied. Thus, Cavonr's remarkable prophecy, written seven-and-twenty years before its fulfilment, "In my dreams, I see
myself already Minister of the Kingdom of Italy,"—the most im- pressive of all precepts to have faith in great national cravings, —or, again, his expressive saying, " In politics, nothing is so absurd as rancour ;" or, " I will have no state of siege ; any one can govern with a state of siege," will do more to keep Italy united, to keep her governments statesmanlike, and to keep her people free, than reams of argument from men less memorable and less potent. Has not Danton's " Let us be terrible, to pre- vent the people from becoming so," and his still more celebrated, "De l'andace, encore de l'audace, et toujonrs de l'audace!" done more to excite an unfortunate enthusiasm for deeds of terror done in the name of the people, than all the windy eloquence of the Gironde or the Mountain ? When a man once manages to compress a strong character,—good or bad,—into a pithy sen- tence which claims to regulate the conduct of others, he lives after death in a sense denied to the great majority even of men of genius, though his posthumous life may be either for evil or for good.
Indeed, the essence of the grandest sayings appears to be that in such sayings the speaker flings down his glove to all the forces which are fighting against him, and deliberately regards himself as the champion in some dramatic conflict the centre of which he is. Cromwell's " Paint me as I am," and the more elaborate, though not more memorable, " I have sought the Lord night and day that he would rather slay me than put me upon the doing of this work," or his reputed saying of Charles, " We will cut off his head with the crown on it," all implied his supreme conviction that he was the involuntary minister of a great series of providential acts. It is the same with Mirabean's contemp- tuous thrusting aside of the part taken by Lafayette with the scornful remark, " He would fain be a Grandison-Cromwell !" and still more with his inflated, but still genuinely sincere, avowal in the Constitutional Assembly, " When I shake my terrible locks, all France trembles," and his brushing away of the thought " impossible,"—" Never mention that stupid word again." Even Voltaire, in his flippant way, regarded himself, and deliberately elected to regard himself as the one personal enemy of the Roman Catholic Church, when he said, in reply to a friend who had noticed his reverence as the Host passed, and who asked whether he had been reconciled to the Church, " We bow but do not speak." It is true that many such sayings acquire their dramatic meaning by the artificial moderation rather than the emphasis of their language, as when the Duke of Wellington spoke of the battle of Navarino simply as "an untoward event ;" but this, too, was supreme assumption in disguise, for it meant that he was able entirely to ignore its drift as a battle, and to concentrate his attention and the attention of the world solely on its tendency to unsettle " the balance of power." The perfect silence in which he passed over the common-place view of .Navarino, and insisted on looking at it solely in the attitude of a diplomatist, indicated in the most graphic manner how completely indifferent he felt to the class of consequences which would first strike the popular mind. His serene indiffer- ence to the Turkish disaster as a disaster was quite Olympian. Perhaps the finest thing ever said was Burke's answer to Pitt, who declared that England and the British Constitution were safe till the Day of Judgment,—" It is the day of no judgment I am afraid of ;" but it is not certain that Burke really meant to con- vey all that the words do convey. Possibly, he meant it chiefly as a sarcasm on Pitt's want of judgment ; but the larger sense of the saying, in which it means that it is not the day of divine judgment that is to be feared, so much as the day when the reality of divine judgment is hidden froth men, and human beings go on in the frivolous, irresponsible pursuit of their own wishes, is quite worthy of Burke, and conveys a grander conception of the spiritual scales in which political negligence will be judged, than any other saying which even Burke himself has uttered.