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

We might cite an illustration from the French literary history on this very point. Every nation in turn has had its rows in this great quarrel, which is, in fact, co-extensive with the controversies upon human nature itself. The French, of course, have had theirs–solemn tournaments, single duels, casual ‘turn-ups,’ and regular ‘stand-up’ fights. The most celebrated of these was in the beginning of the last century, when, amongst others who acted as bottle-holders, umpires, etc., two champions in particular ‘peeled’ and fought a considerable number of rounds, mutually administering severe punishment, and both coming out of the ring disfigured: these were M. la Motte and Madame Dacier. But Motte was the favourite at first, and once he got Dacier ‘into chancery,’ and ‘fibbed’ her twice round the ropes, so that she became a truly pitiable and delightful spectacle to the connoisseurs in fibbing and bloodshed. But here lay the difference: Motte was a hard hitter; he was a clever man, and (which all clever men are not) a man of sense; but, like Shakspeare, he had no Greek. On the other hand, Dacier had nothing but Greek. A certain abbe, at that time, amused all Paris with his caricatures of this Madame Dacier, ‘who,’ said he, ‘ought to be cooking her husband’s dinner, and darning his stockings, instead of skirmishing and tilting with Grecian spears; for, be it known that, after all her not cooking and her not darning, she is as poor a scholar as her injured husband is a good one.’ And there the abbe was right; witness the husband’s Horace, in 9 vols., against the wife’s Homer. However, this was not generally understood. The lady, it was believed, waded petticoat-deep in Greek clover; and in any Grecian field of dispute, naturally she must be in the right, as against one who barely knew his own language and a little Latin. Motte was, therefore, thought by most people to have come off second best. For, as soon as ever he opened thus–‘Madame, it seems to me that, agreeably to all common sense or common decorum, the Greek poet should here’—-instantly, without listening to his argument, the intrepid Amazon replied ([Greek: hypodra idousa]), ‘You foolish man! you remarkably silly man!–that is because you know no better; and the reason you know no better, is because you do not understand ton d’apameibomenos as I do.’ Ton d’apameibomenos fell like a hand-grenade amongst Motte’s papers, and blew him up effectually in the opinion of the multitude. No matter what he might say in reply–no matter how reasonable, how unanswerable–that one spell of ‘No Greek! no Greek!’ availed as a talisman to the lady both for offence and defence; and refuted all syllogisms and all eloquence as effectually as the cry of A la lanterne! in the same country some fourscore years after.

So it will always be. Those who (like Madame Dacier) possess no accomplishment but Greek, will, of necessity, set a superhuman value upon that literature in all its parts, to which their own narrow skill becomes an available key. Besides that, over and above this coarse and conscious motive for overrating that which reacts with an equal and answerable overrating upon their own little philological attainments, there is another agency at work, and quite unconsciously to the subjects of that agency, in disturbing the sanity of any estimate they may make of a foreign literature. It is the habit (well known to psychologists) of transferring to anything created by our own skill, or which reflects our own skill, as if it lay causatively and objectively[1] in the reflecting thing itself, that pleasurable power which in very truth belongs subjectively[1] to the mind of him who surveys it, from conscious success in the exercise of his own energies. Hence it is that we see daily without surprise, young ladies hanging enamoured over the pages of an Italian author, and calling attention to trivial commonplaces, such as, clothed in plain mother English, would have been more repulsive to them than the distinctions of a theologian, or the counsels of a great-grandmother. They mistake for a pleasure yielded by the author, what is in fact the pleasure attending their own success in mastering what was lately an insuperable difficulty.