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A Brief Appraisal Of The Greek Literature In Its Foremost Pretensions
by [?]

By way of Counsel to Adults who are hesitating as to the Propriety of Studying the Greek Language with a view to the Literature; and by way of consolation to those whom circumstances have obliged to lay aside that plan.

No. I.

No question has been coming up at intervals for reconsideration more frequently than that which respects the comparative pretensions of Pagan (viz. Greek and Roman) Literature on the one side, and Modern (that is, the Literature of Christendom) on the other. Being brought uniformly before unjust tribunals–that is, tribunals corrupted and bribed by their own vanity–it is not wonderful that this great question should have been stifled and overlaid with peremptory decrees, dogmatically cutting the knot rather than skilfully untying it, as often as it has been moved afresh, and put upon the roll for a re-hearing. It is no mystery to those who are in the secret, and who can lay A and B together, why it should have happened that the most interesting of all literary questions, and the most comprehensive (for it includes most others, and some special to itself), has, in the first place, never been pleaded in a style of dignity, of philosophic precision, of feeling, or of research, proportioned to its own merits, and to the numerous ‘issues’ (forensically speaking) depending upon it; nor, in the second place, has ever received such an adjudication as was satisfactory even at the moment. For, be it remembered, after all, that any provisional adjudication–one growing out of the fashion or taste of a single era–could not, at any rate, be binding for a different era. A judgment which met the approbation of Spenser could hardly have satisfied Dryden; nor another which satisfied Pope, have been recognised as authentic by us of the year 1838. It is the normal or exemplary condition of the human mind, its ideal condition, not its abnormal condition, as seen in the transitory modes and fashions of its taste or its opinions, which only

‘Can lay great bases for eternity,’

or give even a colourable permanence to any decision in a matter so large, so perplexed, so profound, as this great pending suit between antiquity and ourselves–between the junior men of this earth and ourselves, the seniors, as Lord Bacon reasonably calls us. Appeals will be brought ad infinitum–we ourselves shall bring appeals, to set aside any judgment that may be given, until something more is consulted than individual taste; better evidence brought forward than the result of individual reading; something higher laid down as the grounds of judgment, as the very principles of the jurisprudence which controls the court, than those vague responsa prudentum, countersigned by the great name, perhaps, of Aristotle, but still too often mere products of local convenience, of inexperience, of experience too limited and exclusively Grecian, or of absolute caprice–rules, in short, which are themselves not less truly sub judice and liable to appeal than that very appeal cause to which they are applied as decisive.

We have remarked, that it is no mystery why the decision should have gone pretty uniformly in favour of the ancients; for here is the dilemma:–A man, attempting this problem, is or is not a classical scholar. If he is, then he has already received a bias in his judgment; he is a bribed man, bribed by his vanity; and is liable to be challenged as one of the judges. If he is not, then he is but imperfectly qualified–imperfectly as respects his knowledge and powers; whilst, even as respects his will and affections, it may be alleged that he also is under a bias and a corrupt influence; his interest being no less obvious to undervalue a literature, which, as to him, is tabooed and under lock and key, than his opponent’s is to put a preposterous value upon that knowledge which very probably is the one sole advantageous distinction between him and his neighbours.