24 APRIL 1915, Page 18



TILE Socrates of Plato is an acknowledged masterpiece of literary portraiture. Xenophon, after his formal fashion, has tried his hand upon the same subject ; the caricature of Aristophanes is as immortal as its author's wit, and we have many slight sketches of varying interest; but for all after time Socrates remains stroll as Plato drew him. Whether or to what extent the picture is "true to life" will, no doubt, be endlessly debated, and the painful ingenuity of scholars con- tinually endeavours to piece together such particular details as may please an individual fancy into what they presume to be a real counterpart of the actual man. To prosaic, minds, indeed, Plato will always appear too imaginative to be trust- worthy, end, although Xenophon hardly labours under a like defect, it would seem from frequent references in this book that a certain Professor Joel has recently devoted two volumes and more than two thousand pages to distinguishing between "the genuine and the Xenophontic " sage. But such tedious attempts at exact delineation, although, since they always differ, they may perhaps exults disputes among the learned, will assuredly never engage the attention of the wise. The whole of the Apology, the Crito, the Phaedo, and the Symposium would make up only a tiny volume, and in a single day's reading whoever will may be brought face to face with Socrates as he appeared to the greatest master alike of thought and of expression that even Greece can claim.

• Socrates, the Nan and his Mission. By E. Nicol Cron, Id.L, London: Methuen and Co. Vv. nat.] Memory has doubtless wrapped the figure, as it were, in a golden haze, while Plato, as he writes, often colours and develops the speech of Socrates in accordance with his own theories; but on the whole the picture is convincing. We seem to know Socrates almost as well as we know Dr. Johnson. There is the bulky shape, the ethane gait—.1ike that of a dignified water-fowl—and above all the "wonderful" head, with its snub nose and bulging eyes, on which Alcibiades fondly laid a lover's chaplets, because he knew that beneath the Silenns- mask was hidden a divine and perfect beauty. And who cannot almost see the man who in the wintry Thracian camp at Potidaea, where all the men were " marvellously wrapped tip and their feet swaddled in felt and sheepskins," walked in his own old cloak "unshod over the ice," or who in the rout of Helium stalked along as if he were in the market-place of Athens, "rolling his eyes this way and that, quietly glancing alike at friends and foes," so that the pursuers held aloof from one "who every one could see even from afar would defend himself right sturdily"? Or look at him in Court when they bade him stay his teaching and go free, but the answer came, in the very words used by the Apostle in like case, "I will obey God rather than you." And then glance a moment at the final scene. One touch in it indeed offends, for when the friends enter the prison to find Xanthippe wailing loudly the words of Socrates, "Crito, let some one take her (vid,rei.) away home," seem to lack that tender humanity which leads Homer to make it Andromache's supreme lament that Hector had never "stretched out to her his dying hands" or "spoken a wise word such as I might ever remember by night and by day amid weeping." But all the rest is marvellous. The simple opening words which tell how Socrates "sits up upon the bed," crosses one leg over the other, and, as he strokes the ankle from which the fetters have just been taken, slides into a discussion on the strange relationship between pleasure and pain; the humour which makes Simmias "laugh though in no laughing mood "; "the shrewd glance and the smile" with which he welcomes a good counter-argument; the tenderness with which he plays with Phaedo'e hair and the happy art that makes the question" To-morrow, Phaedo, you will, perhaps, cut it off P " a new starting-point for farther inquiry—these and many other things like them seem to bear the ineffaceable stamp not only of beauty but of truth. And although the argument of the Phaedo does beyond question contain much that is Plato's own, that, assuredly, is a matter of only inferior concern. No human reason can afford a direct proof of immortality. All urge. manta on such a theme must remain for ever inconclusive, and at best the ablest thinkers can only re-echo the final words of Socrates that "fair is the prize and the hope great." But it does concern us all to come as it were into the very presence of Socrates, to catch something of his temper, some- thing of his quickening breath; and they must be dull indeed who can read the Phaedo without feeling that Plato has brought them into close and living communion with that master spirit.

It may, however, be urged that, although Plato's portrait of the man is of compelling reality and charm, still the substance of the Socratic philosophy is so important that an exact inquiry into its contents is indispensable. But the case seems in fact to stand otherwise. For no one was ever less of a system-monger than Socrates, and it was not in " irony" but in truth that he always claimed to be only an inquirer. Doubtless by his method of cross-examination, by his constant search for definitions, and by his insistence that for a man to learn "to know himself" is the only true science he laidthe founds, tions of login and of ethics, while his view that "virtue is knowledge" has almost the character of a positive formula. Yet his real task is not to demonstrate or instruct, but rather to suggest problems and even perplexities. "You are always in difficulties yourself," says Meno to him, "and you make everybody else to be so too," while he jests at him as being like that queer fish " the torpedo," contact with which paralyses. But Socrates ie wiser when he compares himself to "a gadfly" which stings into activity. For to suggest difficulties is often but a fool's business, but to do it " well and fairly (naafis) in argument" is not only, as Aristotle remarks, "a hard thing," but one wholly necessary in the search for truth, and it is the distinction of Socrates that he set men thinking about moral problems more seriously than they had ever thought before. He laid down no doctrines; he founded no school; but the numerous bodies of philosophers—" the Socratic household,"

as Horace calls them—who, in the succeeding centuries, claimed him as their spiritual father attest, in spite of their divergencies, the power of his impulse and inspiration.

But when personality is everything, and when the very image of Socrates has been put before us by Plato, a new and formal biography must seem at best superfluous. He was one of those men whose lives cannot be scheduled and tabu- lated and divided into chapters. It is of course easy to take such headings as "Boyhood and Education " or "Domestic Life," but there is nothing of real importance to put under them. Or how can you define his teaching about "Ethics" when a dozen sects draw from it different conclusions P Or bow deal with his "Religion " P Theologians may perhaps justly deduce a series of dogmas even from the simple narrative of the first three Gospels, for Christ "taught as one having authority." But Socrates did nothing of the kind. Be had his own odd fancies—" a superstitious old fellow," Macaulay calls him—and possibly had something that was almost a belief in oracles and his indwelling " daemon"; but for the most part he went no further than to "affirm, as far as you can affirm in such matters," that the gods do care for men, and that he bad a good hope that after death his soul would pass into their presence. His, in fact, was the anima naturaliter Christiana, with its happy trustfulness ; nor does Mr. Cross add to our knowledge by telling us that " he was no less advanced and enlightened than the late William James" (p. 216), or that "you might compare him to some Scotch Presbyterian professor in the grip of Hegel" (p. 217), and that " his attitude seems very like that described in mellow tints by Mr. A. 0. Benson in his essays 'From a College Window '" (p. 218). Such phrases seem to create only a blurred image; but Mr. Cross is fond of comparisons. At one time Socrates " recalls George Fox," at another Carlyle, " that other blaster of bobble-heads." and be is twice deliberately made to resemble Mr. Bernard Shaw, who, like him, is an "intellectualist," whose "crime is ideas," and whose "profoundly moral aim" is Misunderstood by "our bourgeoisie," although to some minds the robust virility and constant self-depreciation of the Athenian might rather suggest a somewhat striking contrast, while the comparison seems, perhaps, to dwarf a fame which still towers over more than twenty centuries.

None the less this volume may, we think, fulfil its purpose of "tempting the average Englishman of culture to hold company for a little while with one of earth's most elect spirits." For Mr. Cross writes with the enthusiasm that is born of "reverence"; he is lively—sometimes, perhaps, too lively—in his style; he abounds in illustrative references to modern writers, and he gives large quotations from the original authorities. But he has undertaken a task in which the finest skill could only result to some extent in failure, for that which has been drawn by the hand of Plato forbids rivalry and refuses reproduction.