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Mr. Finlay’s History Of Greece
by [?]

In attempting to appraise Mr. Finlay’s work comprehensively, there is this difficulty. It comes before us in two characters; first, as a philosophic speculation upon history, to be valued against others speculating on other histories; secondly, as a guide, practical altogether and not speculative, to students who are navigating that great trackless ocean the Eastern Roman history. Now under either shape, this work traverses so much ground, that by mere multiplicity of details it denies to us the opportunity of reporting on its merits with that simplicity of judgment which would have been available in a case of severer unity. So many separate situations of history, so many critical continuations of political circumstances, sweep across the field of Mr. Finlay’s telescope whilst sweeping the heavens of four centuries, that it is naturally impossible to effect any comprehensive abstractions, as to principles, from cases individual by their nature and separated by their period not less than by their relations in respect to things and persons. The mere necessity of the plan in such a work ensures a certain amount of dissent on the part of every reader; he that most frequently goes along with the author in his commentary, will repeatedly find himself diverging from it in one point or demurring to its inferences in another. Such, in fact, is the eternal disadvantage for an author upon a subject which recalls the remark of Juvenal:

‘Vester porro labor fecundior, historiarum
Scriptores: petit hic plus temporis, atque olei plus:
Sic ingens rerum numerus jubet, atque operum lex.’

It is this ingens rerum numerus that constitutes at once the attraction of these volumes, and the difficulty of dealing with them in any adequate or satisfactory manner.

Indeed, the vistas opened up by Mr. Finlay are infinite; in that sense it is that he ascribes inexhaustibility to the trackless savannahs of history. These vast hunting-grounds for the imaginative understanding are in fact but charts and surveyors’ outlines meagre and arid for the timid or uninspired student. To a grander intellect these historical delineations are not maps but pictures: they compose a forest wilderness, veined and threaded by sylvan lawns, ‘dark with horrid shades,’ like Milton’s haunted desert in the ‘Paradise Regained,’ at many a point looking back to the towers of vanishing Jerusalem, and like Milton’s desert, crossed dimly at uncertain intervals by forms doubtful and (considering the character of such awful deserts) suspicious.

Perhaps the reader, being rather ‘dense,’ does not understand, but we understand ourselves, which is the root of the matter. Let us try again: these historical delineations are not lifeless facts, bearing no sense or moral value, but living realities organized into the unity of some great constructive idea.

Perhaps we are obscure; and possibly (though it is treason in a writer to hint such a thing, as tending to produce hatred or disaffection towards his liege lord who is and must be his reader), yet, perhaps, even the reader–that great character–may be ‘dense.’ ‘Dense’ is the word used by young ladies to indicate a slight shade–a soupcon–of stupidity; and by the way it stands in close relationship of sound to Duns, the schoolman, who (it is well known) shared with King Solomon the glory of furnishing a designation for men weak in the upper quarters. But, reader, whether the fault be in you or in ourselves, certain it is that the truth which we wish to communicate is not trivial; it is the noblest and most creative of truths, if only we are not a Duns Scholasticus for explanation, nor you (most excellent reader!) altogether a Solomon for apprehension. Therefore, again lend us your ears.

It is not, it has not been, perhaps it never will be, understood–how vast a thing is combination. We remember that Euler, and some other profound Prussians, such as Lambert, etc., tax this word combination with a fault: for, say they, it indicates that composition of things which proceeds two by two (viz., com-bina); whereas three by three, ten by ten, fifty by fifty, is combination. It is so. But, once for all, language is so difficult a structure, being like a mail-coach and four horses required to turn round Lackington’s counter[1]–required in one syllable to do what oftentimes would require a sentence–that it must use the artifices of a short-hand. The word bini-ae-a is here but an exponential or representative word: it stands for any number, for number in short generally as opposed to unity. And the secret truth which some years ago we suggested, but which doubtless perished as pearls to swine, is, that combination, or comternation, or comquaternation, or comdenation, possesses a mysterious virtue quite unobserved by men. All knowledge is probably within its keeping. What we mean is, that where A is not capable simply of revealing a truth (i.e., by way of direct inference), very possible it is that A viewed by the light of B (i.e., in some mode of combination with B) shall be capable; but again, if A + B cannot unlock the case, these in combination with C shall do so. And if not A + B + C, then, perhaps, shall A + B + C combined with D; and so on ad infinitum; or in other words that pairs, or binaries, ternaries, quaternaries, and in that mode of progression will furnish keys intricate enough to meet and to decipher the wards of any lock in nature.