« AnteriorContinuar »
being perverted to strengthen prejudices, or of operating to awaken a spirit of the most disinterested and exalted patriotism.
Had the northern part of our island always formed an integral part of our English monarchy, or even been united to it, like Wales, before civilization was far advanced, we should never have witnessed those literary and scientific exertions which have been carried far beyond the proportional wealth and number of its population. If Scotland had never flourished as an independent kingdom, and had not preserved to this day a national character and feeling, few only of those Scottish authors would have appeared, who have been an ornament to their age, and have contributed to raise the fame and glory of the empire at large. What now is Scotland would then have been a few insignificant northern counties of England, and England herself, augmented thus in territory, but without the rivalship of an active and intelligent neighbour, would never have achieved what she has now accomplished by her single efforts.
If we were called upon to select from the history of the past two eras in which nations of inconsiderable population have succeeded in raising the arts and sciences that demand the most powerful efforts of the human mind, from a low state of degradation to the fullest maturity and perfection, and, moreover, effected this great change in the shortest periods of time, we should point without hesitation to Greece between the battle of Marathon and the death of Alexander, and to Italy between the latter part of the 15th and the beginning of the 17th century. Both these epochs, scarcely exceeding a century and a half iu duration, were in their commencement periods of darkness, and each gave birth to a large proportion of the most illustrious men whom the world has produced in poetry and the fine arts, in literature and philosophy. In their opinions and institutions, whether religious or political; in their laws, usages and systems of education-causes to which the growth of national character can usually be traced the Greeks and Italians, during these parallel eras, presented a striking contrast to each other; and each differed no less widely in all these points of comparison from all the modern nations that now bear most resemblance to them in the superiority of their intellectual attainments. Both the Greeks and Italians had to contend against obstacles to the free advance of knowledge, such as the experience of modern times might have led us to consider insurmountable. Education was never generally diffused throughout the people. The mass of the Greek populace consisted of slaves; the majority of the Italian people was buried in the grossest superstition. The oligarchies and democracies of Greece, and republics and absolute principalities of Italy, were the constant scenes of treacherous and sanguinary struggles between contending domestic factions. Mutual invasions of territory, either for conquest or for the avowed purpose of effecting political revolutions, were frequent and fatal to national independence. The destructive nature of their hostilities, conducted with the bitter animosity of civil war, was no less adverse to the progress of the arts and sciences. But there was one general feature of resemblance between the Greek and Italian nations, the only feature perhaps in the moral character of the two races in which any strong likeness is discoverable. In both countries national and provincial feelings had a remarkable warmth and elevation of character, and these, like the life-blood circulating from the heart into the most delicate extremities, were not confined to Athens, Florence, and the chief cities, but ramified into almost every petty town and village. The Greeks and Italians, enjoying equally the advantage of a common language, were subdivided into numerous independent states, each impressed with a sense of national dignity; and these small states again were composed of conquered towns or smaller republics incorporated with them, where a spirit of provincial emulation was kept alive in the bosom of each citizen, either by the proud recollection of former independence, or by the cherished hope of future emancipation. The immediate effect of the collision and rivalship of these numerous independent powers in the encouragement of talent and genius deserves an attentive examination, as suggesting instructive considerations applicable to the state of modern Europe,
Men are proud of the achievements and the glory of their fellow countrymen because they feel their lustre reflected on themselves. The gratification, for instance, is most perfect when they who have earned renown are of our own family. For the same reason more lively sensations of pleasure and individual exaltation are experienced when the glory of a fellow-citizen is shared with the population of a small state, than when it is equally participated with that of an immense empire. The decreasing energy of this sentiment as we enlarge the space in which it operates, may be compared to the rapidity of motion and the intensity of light and heat in the solar system, diminishing constantly as the planetary orbits widen. The circle as it is enlarged has a constant tendency to embrace within its limits the whole of mankind, and thus to leave us no farther title to participation in the intellectual triumphs or renown of others, than as they raise the character of our species, a sentiment too refined, and too incapable of administering to selflove, to be relied upon as a powerful stimulant of human action. Now in Greece, where the population was smaller and the subdivision still more minute than in modern Italy, these national and provincial feelings were excited even to enthusiasm. The glory of an illustrious man became so associated and identified with that of his birthplace, that the name of the one could not be pronounced without instantly recalling the other to the mind. Even to this day every lover of classic lore remembers well that Sappho was a Lesbian, Leonidas a Spartan, Thucydides and Plato Athenians; but however profound may be our admiration of Milton, Newton, Marlborough, few of us are acquainted with the towns or even the provinces that gave them birth. Thus in Greece and in Italy the value of the illustrious deeds of individuals was doubly enhanced to each separate portion of the people, while the united communities in each, still laid claim, as one nation separated from the rest of the world, to the glories of all their common citizens. Of this fact we might produce abundant proofs from their writings, if it were necessary. An elegant modern writer* has clearly shown that when literature and the fine arts first began to make vigorous shoots in Italy towards the close of the 15th century, they were the subjects of rivalry between numerous independent republics, and those families which had established principalities in various states; and the impulse thus given acquired progressive force in the 16th century when cultivation was farther extended and matured.
The Italians, it may be said, never attained the same superiority in the mathematical and physical sciences that distinguished their poetry, history, painting and sculpture. We must not, however, infer from hence that national or provincial emulation is less efticacious in favouring the patronage of philosophical pursuits, and in promoting their rapid progress; but we must take into our consideration the opposition of hostile prejudices, such as were unknown to Greece in the age of Pericles, and such as happily have no existence in the present day in Great Britain. The fate of Galileo and the motives that led to his persecution will explain our meaning so fully, that farther illustration would be superfluous. In the age of Pericles, the spirit of emulation had more ample opportunities of developing itself than in the age of the Medici, as the subdivision of the Greek people was yet greater, and their public festivals, where the citizens of the different states assembled together, were an acknowledged stage for the exercise of national competition. Hence, they acquired their distinguishing national character præter laudem nullius avari,' -and to this source of excitement, more than any other cause, may we ascribe that originality of mind, and those powers of invention in which they have scarcely been equalled by all succeeding generations. * Roscoe, Leo. X. vi i. c. ii. p. 88. 94.
: The Romans cultivated arts and sciences already invented, but remained for ever the mere scholars of Greece. Even the transient splendour of the Augustan age gradually faded away as their power increased, and although they extended knowledge and civilization with their conquests, and during many periods of the empire enjoyed more tranquillity and security of property than in the brightest periods of the republic, the most vigorous energies of the mind became dormant when the whole world was, as it were, One Nation.
The transcendant power of Rome depressed her own provinces and her subjugated kingdoms with a sense of inferiority; and thus provincial and national emulation, kindred sources of intellectual excitement, were annihilated by the establishment of one universal and undivided dominion,
In modern Europe there have been formed so many civilized and independent kingdoms, maintaining an active intercourse with each other, that the spirit of foreign rivalry has never been dormant, although from want of sufficient internal competition the intellectual resources of a large and intelligent portion of the European population have never hitherto been called into action.
If Alsace had not remained disunited from France till the close of the seventeenth century, enjoying a certain share of national independence as a member of the Germanic empire, Strasburg would not have claimed at the present moment the title of the second seat of learning in France; while, on the other hand, if the
powerful duchy of Burgundy had not been incorporated with France antecedently to the period when science had burst the fetters of the middle ages, so proud a name could never have been cancelled from the annals of European nations, and that country would have occupied at present a more conspicuous station in the vast population of France than Scotland still maintains in Great Britain. Had the petty republic of Geneva always formed a portion of the French empire, as was recently its lot for a few years, the least of the numerous French provinces might have aspired, with greater prospects of success, to literary and scientific reputation. The separation of Germany into numerous independent states has multiplied, in the various capitals, courts, and universities, the sources of patronage, and has quickened the growth of talent, and literature and the arts have flourished most conspicuously when the subdivision has been most minute. The literary and scientific renown of the small duchy of Saxe-Weimar, when compared with the comparatively feeble exertions of some of the larger states, proves, in a striking manner, how small is the connexion, under the present constitution of VOL. XXXIV. NO. LXVII.
the Germanic empire, between the fruits of intellectual exertion and the amount of population, national wealth, and political power
To Italy, after having dwelt with satisfaction on the days of her former greatness, it is painful to revert in the nineteenth century; however, she has not yet lost all her original brightness, and the Italians may still illustrate and confirm the truth of our preceding observations, as forcibly perhaps as their ancestors in the age of the Medici. The political debility of this fair portion of Europe, arising from its subdivision into numerous states, has reduced a large part of the inhabitants to a condition no less unnatural than degrading; for the conquered are superior in genius and the highest intellectual acquirements to their conquerors. Such was the fate of Greece soon after the period of her history before alluded to. The Greeks and Italians were the victims of causes precisely similar in their nature. Both were incapable, from corresponding defects in their political organization, of forming firm confederations, and therefore of resisting the aggression of powerful foreigners. Both retained a high state of civilization after the loss of their independence, thus exemplifying the energy of that impulse from whence their rapid improvement had been derived. The Italians are still entitled to consideration amongst the people of Europe both in polite literature and in art; and with respect to the physical and mathematical sciences, we have the testimony of Professor Playfair, who travelled there at the commencement of the present century and examined minutely into the state and the productions of the principal academies, ! that there were a greater number of scientific institutions in Italy, important from the regularity and value of their publications, than existed in any equal portion of territory in Europe.'* The emulation of the Italian states, though enfeebled by their subjection to foreign rulers, has never been utterly extinguished: This, and many other sources of intellectual excitement have been kept alive in a great degree by the numerous institutions for promoting science and the fine arts in all the principal and many of the inferior towns-advantages that originated in the former subdivision of the country.
But to pursue this subject farther would lead us into a lengthened digression, and we trust we have said enough to illustrạte the position with which we started, that provincial feelings, if properly directed, are capable of exerting a constant and powerful influence over the public mind, disposing it to afford protection to merit. We have no wish to indulge sanguine * Edinb. Rev. vol. vi. p. 171.