THE ROMAN AND THE TEUTON.*
MR. Iittresutv's function as a historian, for he is a historian even when writing most like a novelist, is a somewhat peculiar one. He never teaches history. He has not in these lectures, so far as we can trace, added one original fact to our knowledge, or framed one theory at once new and striking, or discovered one document increasing considerably the means within our reach of ascertaining the actual facts. Still less does he teach us any- thing of the deeper philosophy of history, explain those ultimate causes of events which now tempt men very cogeutly and very dangerously away from the events themselves. He is very strong, for instance, almost as strong as Sir Archibald Alison, on the idea of the moral retribution to be perceived running through almost all histories, but he makes no attempt to solve the problem why, when the fathers have sinned and enjoyed themselves all their lives, and their descendants are thereby miserable, the suffering of the one generation for the vice of the other should be a proof of justice. That it is so we know, for is not gout visibly hereditary? but the why,—surely it is our duty either to solve that question or, in fair contempt for the "philosophy of history," pronounce it to be insoluble. To accept the mere fact as a philosophical exposition of itself is only to postpone thought. Is, then, the race an individual, as Dr. Temple says, or must every individual answer for himself and himself only, and the sins of the fore- fathers be accepted as extenuating circumstances wherewith to account for the lives of their descendants ? Mr. Kingsley does not tell us even the causes of the physical phenomena visible in the invasions of the Empire, though he sometimes hints at them. The inexplicable fact that the barbarians wore almost always as numerous after a defeat as before it is never accounted for, though the lecturer hints, and might have proved, that the 'defeats were sometimes paper victories, sometimes ordinary lies. Nor is he a judge, as Hallam was, weighing the indi- vidual, or the race, or the series of actions all in a passion- less scale, and pronouncing a sentence in which there is no fear, and no affection, and no prejudice. Fear there certainly is not in Mr. Kingsley, but there is much of affection and more of prejudice, an affection which shows itself often in the sort of excuses a mother makes for a bad son, and a prejudice of winch
• The Roman and the Teuton. By the Rev. C. Kingsley. London: Macmillan.
he is sometimes conscious, and with a subtle knowledge of his own deficiencies, springing not from acuteness so much as from courage, accepts, and refuses to pass a verdict. He is obliged, for example, to admit the bloodthirstiness of the Teutons, their real delight in slaying, and he apologizes for it thus :—" Besides, we have no right to blame those old Teutons, while we are killing every year more of Her Majesty's subjects by preventible disease than ever they killed in their bloodiest battle. Let us think of that, and mend that, ere we blame the old German heroes." Passing over the newspaper style of this
remark, a style born of a morbid self-cousciousness, we may ask whether the cases are indeed analogous. Is motive nothing in
crime ? The Teutons meant killing—rather, we suspect, as the only means of realizing their power to themselves than from mere cruelty— but do modern Englishmen mean the destruction which follows their contempt for sanitary laws? Mr. Kingsley kaows quite well they do not, knows better than our- selves that the obstacle to reform in this direction is the unconsciousness of the masses, that if those who are con- scious of the murders committed by cesspools had but the power, they would cleanse those cesspools with the strong hand.
So far, indeed, is Mr. Kingsley from the judicial calm that he Cannot for one moment assume it, cannot dissociate himself from the little circumstances and incidents of the daily life around him, but writes always as if there floated through his mind the sub- stance of a party "leader "which he was trying, though vainly, to put away. We could quote dozens of proofs of this tendency, but there is one so curious, that though it may seem to bear less directly on the point than many others, we must quote it in preference to them. He is trying to repeat to the students the opinions of Belvieu, to tell them how and why Salvian the "gentleman of Gaul" thought that the secret of the barbarians' victory was their virtue, to describe the horror which was pouring itself out upon the land, and he commences thus :—" Put your- selves in Salvian's place. Forget for a few minutes that you are Englishmen, the freest and bravest nation upon earth, strong in all that gives real strength, and with a volunteer army which is now formidable by numbers and courage—which, did the terrible call come, might be increased ten times in as many months.
Forget all that awhile." Realize the condition of mind to which the sentence which we have italicized seemed relevant, seemed anything but the lowest clap-trap, and judge from that of the amount of judicial fairness the student of these lectures is likely to discover !
Yet there is merit, and merit of a very considerable kind, merit such as might make Mr. Kingsley, if only he would not imagine that everything is simple where everything is really complex, a considerable historian. He never for- gets that history, whatever else it is, must always be, above and before all, a story of human beings ; that life from age to age is carried on by men, not by laws or systems, or nations or dynasties ; and that to comprehend men in any but the faintest degree we must sympathize with them. He does sympathize, not indeed with men, but with those sections of men whom for the moment he is depicting, and consequently makes his readers sympathize too. He can make them feel how and in what degree the barbarians who ate up Rome dif- fered from, yet resembled, ourselves, bring before us the men as they are, reduce what usually are mere phrases into visible pictures. His constant idea, repeated all through his lectures, is that the races who conquered Rome, Marcomanni and Allo- manni, Goths and Lombards, and Saxons and Franks, were the boys of the human race, boys exulting in their strength, and longing for the pleasures of manhood, "fond of gambling, brute excitement, childish amusements in the intervals of enormous exertion; quarrelsome among themselves, as boys are, and with a spirit of wild independence which seems to be strength ; but which, till it be disciplined into loyal obedience and self-sacri- fice, is, mere weakness ; and beneath all a deep practical shrewd- ness, an indomitable perseverance, when once roused by need "- this idea conveys in itself a world of teaching. And this teaches us less than the extraordinary fable in which, in utter contempt of the "dignity of history," he tries to describe the Roman Empire as it appeared to a barbarian, tries, and with success, though we must injure it by transplantation.
"Fancy to yourself a great Troll-garde; such as our forefathers dreamed of often fifteen hundred years ago ;—a fairy palace' with a fairy garden ; and all around the prima3val wood. Inside the Trolls dwell, cunning and wicked, watching their fairy treasures, working at their magic forges, making and making always things rare and strange ; and outside the forest is full of children ; such children as the world had never seen before, but children still: children in frankness and purity, and affectionateness, and tenderness of conscience, and devout awe of \ the unseen ; and children, too, in fancy, and silliness, and ignorance, and caprice and jealousy, and quarrelsomeness, and love of excitement and adventure, and the mere sport of overflowing animal health. They play unharmed among the forest beasts, and conquer them in their play: but the forest is too dull and too poor for them ; and they wander to the walls of the Troll-garden, and wonder what is inside. One can conceive easily for oneself what from that moment would begin to hap- pen. Some of the more adventurous clamber in. Some, too, the Trolls steal and carry off into their palace. Most never return : but here and there one escapes out again, and tells how the Trolls killed all his com- rades: but tells, too, of the wonders he has seen inside, of shoes of swiftness, and swords of sharpness and caps of darkness ; of charmed harps' charmed jewels, and, above ;III, of the charmed wine : and after all, the Trolls were very kind to him—see what fine clothes they have given him—and he struts about awhile among his companions ; and then returns, and not alone. The Trolls have bewitched him as they will bewitch more. So the fame of the Troll-garden spreads • and more and more steal in, boys and maidens, and tempt their comrades over the' wall, and tell of the jewels, and the dresses, and the wine, the joyous ' maddening wine, which equals men with gods ; and forget to tell how. the Trolls have bought them, soul as well as body, and taught them to be vain, and lustful, and slavish ; and tempted them, too often, to sins which have no name. But their better nature flashes out at times. They will not be the slaves and brutes in human forra, which the evil Trolls would have them ; and they rebel, and escape, and tell of the horrors of that fair foul place. And then arises a noble indignation, and war between the Trolls and the forest children. But still the Trolls can tempt and bribe the greedier or the more vain; and still the wonders inside haunt their minds ; till it becomes a fixed idea among them all to conquer the garden for themselves, and bedizen themselves in the fine clothes, and drink their fill of the wine. Again and again they break in : but the Trolls drive them out, rebuild their walls, keep off those outside by those whom they hold enslaved within; • till the boys grow to be youths, and the youths men, and still the Troll-garden is not conquered, and still it shall be. And the Trolls have grown old and weak, and their walls are crumbling away. Perhaps they may succeed this time—perhaps next. And at last they do succeed—the fairy walls are breached, the fairy palace stormed—and the Trolls are crouching at their feet, and now all will be theirs, gold, jewels, dresses, arms, all that the Troll possesses—except his cunning."
That fable is worth the whole of these lectures, if only you . will read it with something more than the eyes ; but we could pick out paragraph after paragraph in which mere names are transmuted into living men, in whom it is possible to believe, and whom we can even comprehend. They are just the descriptions which, though they do not teach students how to read history, do wake in their minds the passionate desire to read it, and so fulfil, perhaps a higher and certainly a more useful function than the lectures which, while they inform, make the young
hate the information. _ It is only, however, when he sympathizes that Mr. Kingsley thus wakes the imagination. Like most other writers on the subject, he cannot sympathize with the unsuccessful, has not sufficient of pity for the Romans even to try to make his audience understand why the civilized race fell down before the barbarian, but repeats, for the thousandth time, that old story of vice having eaten up the imperial race. Had Christianity then intensi- fied vice that these men were so much worse than the parasites of Tiberius, who, if the barbarians had menaced their voluptuous- ness, would unquestionably have given them to the crows? Chastity is a great virtue, and so is thrift ; but, after all, one knows what the Athenians were at their best time and Orientals are always, and the patriciat—the government of earth by a few score families—lasted more than twelve hundred years. Is not the truth rather that which Sir F. Palgrave, among others, discerned and tried to point out, that the Roman Empire never perished at all by violence, that the ruling class, never large, even if all the free citizens be included, had slowly died away as aristo- cracies do, particularly vicious aristocracies, that to the rest of the population a change in the ruling class was not a matter worth resisting actively, and that the wave rolled like the wave of Ottoman dominion over, not through, the Christian masses? It is true that the conquerors attracted over in five hundred years great numbers, who possessing that spawning force which is the unexplained mystery of history—and which does not depend in any degree on chastity, or why is it so visible among negro slaves ?—became by degrees chief possessors of the soil, drilling subject serfs till they caught their masters language, and ways, and character. But one cardinal fact of the middle ages is the smallness of the free population of Europe, a smallness which left the richest countries at the mercy of the in- finitesimal bands who could be transported in the Northmen's war vessels, vessels say of sixty tons. It is not our purpose, however, to discuss history, but Mr. Kingsley's style of teaching it, and we would ask him frankly what, when out of the rostrum, he makes of this style of description?— of a demon a demon himself, passing whole days without food, wander- ing up and down his palace corridors all night, resolving desk things, and labouring all day with Herculean force to carry them out. No wonder he was thought to be a demon, wedded to a demon-wife. The man is unfathomable, inexplicable ;—marrying deliberately the wickedest of all women, plainly not for mere beauty's sake, but possibly because he saw in her a congenial intellect ;—faithful and loving to her and she to him, amid all the crimes of their following years ;--pious with ex- ceeding devotion and orthodoxy, and yet with a piety utterly divorced from, unconscious of, the commonest morality ;—discerning and using the greatest men, Belisarius and Narses, for example, and throwing them away again, surely not in weak caprice, whenever they served him too well ;—conquering Persians, Vandals, Gotha; all but re- conquering, in fact, the carcase Roman Empire '--and then trying (with a deep discernment of the value of Roman law) to put a galvanic life into the carcase by codifying that law."
Louis XI. is, he thinks, his only example, and he cannot un- deref and Louis XI. Can he understand, then, Leopold of Austria., who gave Tuscany her laws, and governed Austria as it never was governed before or since, and died of debauchery in the midst of strenuous efforts for the right? Because, if he will read the most ordinarily truthful account of that person he will find that he was quite an intelligible human being, and he will, more over, understand Justinian. Or if Leopold is too far off, suppose lie remembers the real character of Lord Somers, and imagines him on a throne.