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Having now arrived at the end of the first volume of this work, we must reserve our account of the second for another month.
[To be continued.]
Art. XIV. Albenian Letters ; or the Epistolary Correspondence of
an Agent of the King of Persia, residing at Athens during the
the world by name and character for a considerable number
We are now happy in saying that this work is at length published in an elegant, correct, and authenticated form. It comes forwards under the auspices of the Earl of Hardwicke, as editor ; who, in an advertisement prefixed to the ist vol. attributes its having been so long kept from the public to an inganuous diffidence, which forbad the authors of it, most of them extremely young, to obtrude on the notice of the world what they had considered merely as a preparatory trial of their strength, and as the best method of imprinting on their own minds some of the immediate subjects of their academical studies. This cause no longer subsists; and in consequence of
Vide Appendix to Monthly Review, the 81st volume of the Old
repeated applications, the work is now offered to the public, il. lustrated with engravings, a nap of Antient Greece, and a geoa graphical index.
With this advertisement, we have here also the original preface which was given with the edition of 1741; and which supposes the letters to be a translation from an old Arabic mas nuscript. We have also Lord Hardwicke's preface to the edi. tion of 1782, in which, to use his Lordship's words, the il. lusion vanishes-the masquerade is closed; the fancy-dresses and the dominos are returned to their respective wardrobes; the company walk about in their proper habits, and return to their ordinary occupations in life.'-To these prefaces are added a French letter of the late Lord Dover, addressed to the Abbé Barthélemi, with a copy of the Athenian Leiters; and the Abbe's answer is subjoined, in which he obviates, by a positive declaration, a supposition that might otherwise have been naturally entertained that the Athenian Letters suggested the idea of the Travels of Anacharsis. Ile says, “ I heard for the first time of this work last summer :--had I known of it earlier, I either would not have begun mine, or I would have endeavoured to render it an imitation of this beautiful model."
A very minute analysis of a production with which the public have been acquainted, more or less, above 50 years, would not now perhaps be acceptable. We shall therefore content ourselves with a general sketch of its contenis, and with a few observations on the manner of its execution.
The history of Greece, during the Peloponnesian war, has been an object of contemplation and delight in every age and country in which genius, valour, and an ardent love of liberty have been esteemed. Whether it be that human nature, under the fostering auspices of an emulation in freedom among the principal states of which Greece was then composed, rose to a higher level, and assumed a prouder form, than any combination of circumstances has since suffered it to do;--or whether it be that the genius and eloquence of the historians, who have transmitted to posterity the accounts of that period, have exhibited human nature in colours which are rather the creation of their own powers than the real attributes of the persons whom they immortalize, and of the events which they commemorate; it is certain that the hero and the sage, the legislator and the statesman, have uniformly looked to that brilliant epoch for models to study and to imitate.- Youth has been taught to reverence, and manhood to admire and emulate, the men who fought and fell in the generous conflict bettveen the rival states; while those who endeavoured to raise the character or increase the power of their respective countries, by political wisdom, or by pre-eminence in the arts, have not less secured the applause and admiration of succeeding ages, than those who extended its territory by their valour or purchased its glory with their blood.
It is to this brightest æra of antient Greece, that the AngloAthenian Letters principally relate. Professing to consist of the correspondence of an individual with a number of others, and to relate only to events and characters which fell within their own immediate observation, they cannot be supposed to give a general view of Grecian history. They are necessarily confined to a detached portion of the story of that celebrated people: but that portion has been so judiciously chosen, as to convey not only a knowlege of the most important facts which the history of Greece relates, but to display the character and manners of its inhabitants, the nature of its law's, and the object and management of its principal institutions, such as they were at a time when those manners, laws, and institutions, were most worthy of being attentively studied.
It is not respecting Greece alone, however, that this ingenious work imparts knowlege to the English reader :- Egypt, Persia, and Asia in general, as they existed at the moment when Grecian glory was in its zenith, are held up to his view in such a masterly way, as to enable him to catch at once the interesting outline; and to contrast the religion, philosophy, and polity of those earlier seats of science and of wisdom, with the religion, philosophy, and polity, of this their more late but also favoured residence.
Topics such as these would, in any form of composition, be likely to fix the attention of a reader : but, embellished as they are here with all the graces and charms which the epistolary form of writing is so well calculated to communicate, they catch a still firmer hold of the imagination and the memory; and thus, by the importance of the subject, combined with the manner of recital, facts and circumstances are almost indelibly impressed. With the mere view of imparting historical information, then, the work would be highly valuable :--but it has also other, and in our opinion still higher merit:-it teaches to reason and to think : it is not confined to dry details of facts, but combines facts with circumstances, traces events to causes, and, in relating a political measure or a legislative act, communicates to the reader the manner in which an informed and sagacious mind seeks for the motives which produced that measure or act, and looks forwards to the probable consequences with which it will be followed. Literary and moral disquisition, too, is here agreeably mixed with historical details; and the mind, after a fatiguing examination of the constitution
Rev. Nov. 1799.
of of a government, or the comparison of two different constittions, is sometimes delighted with a transition to the beauties of sculpture or painting, or to a dissertation on manners or on language:-or it is introduced to the company of Aspasia, Pericles, or Socrates, and is taught to relish the chaste enjoyments of attic wit.
While we but re-echo the public voice in giving such a cha- . racter of the plan and general execution of the Athenian Letters, we must venture to observe that the reader meets, even in this elegantly written performance, some instances of loose and faulty expression. For some errors of this kind, perhaps, an apology may be found in the less improved state of English prose-composition, when the letters were written (1739):- for others, it is feared, no such excuse can be offered; and then the charge of particular and venial defects can be balanced only by the admitted general excellence. Of such instances, the following may serve for example :- Say, why is Arimanius permitted to disturb and invert the order of Oromasdes' works? Whether from his influence, that the mind of man is so easily perverted, and refuses to be under the guidance of those principles which alone could direct it right? As the latter sentence stands here, it is scarcely intelligible. By a little attention to the structure of it, the error might have been avoided, and it might have run- Whether it be from his influence that,' &c. &c. : but even in this case, the composition would have been clumsy, if not ungrammatical, unless the sentence which stands next were incorporated with this by the conjunction .or,' and assigned some other cause than the influence of Arimanius for the perversion of the mind of man. though the sentence begins with whether,' as if two causes opposite or different were about to be considered as producing man's perversion, yet the influence of Arimanius alone is mentioned in either this or the following sentence. In the course of the volumes, we find several such instances as this. Sometimes, too, words are used improperly: as when I was permitted to lay at your feet,' &c. for • lie,' &c.--sometimes the sense is involved in ambiguity, and sometimes deformed by incongruous metaphors ;-as • when with you I wandered in those blissful paths which heavenly contemplation seems beyond all others to have chosen for her abodes.'*
These defects, however, are rare and trivial. We hasten, therefore, to indulge our readers with a specimen of the manner in which historical fact and delineation of character are here enlivered by the beauties of epistolary composition.
* The reader will find all these errors in the 20th Letter of vol. i. page 66 & sequent.
CLEANDER to SMERDIS. ! I have of late been engaged in some conversations with the sages of this place, which have more than once brought to my mind those delightful solitudes, where thou, abstracted from every other care and avocation, enjoyest as it were the presence of the great OroMASDES, and illuminations, which, though no less important than those vouchsafed to the favoured ZOROASTER, thou in divine conference hast communicated to me. Not many furlongs from the city, in the midst of a spacious meadow, which is almost surrounded with the clear and smooth stream of the river Ilissus, there is a stadium not so remarkable for its ornaments and grandeur, as its antiquity and situation; it was built in the early ages of this republic, and still retains its primitive rudeness and simplicity. A grove of trees coeval at least to the structure, whose trunks appear like huge pillars to support a thick and verdurous roof, are planted on one side ; and through them the cool breezes, which arise from the river, and are perfumed by numberless flowers that adorn its banks, give a freshness amidst the scorching heats, which we now feel, and form a retreat the most agreeable that can be imagined. It is for this, that the philosophers of Athens with their disciples frequently exchange the Academy and Lycæum; and as I have more than once been admitted to the conferences that are held here, thou wilt not, I fancy, be displeased to partake in them also. It is true, I have sometimes been but indifferently entertained. Some of the first and highest reputation among these philosophers have little true and solid knowledge even of those sciences they profess. Many, who set up for masters of natural truths, are either greatly ignorant of, or entirely inistake the first principles on which they are built. Others there are, who are called teachers of eloquence, but are not able to give any proof of their being so ; others, who dispense out lessons of wisdom, not from anv stock of their own, but founded on the authority and maxims of their ancestors. But what above all moves my indignation is, that, without any experience of the world, any insight into policy, they all take upon them to instruct their scholars in the arts of government, in the conduct of publick affairs, and the enacting of fit and necessary laws. It is true, that these pretenders to science but too frequently meet here one, who, as he is inuch superior to them in all parts of learning, seems animated with a particular zeal to destroy their ill-grounded pretences to it. It is not unusual to see them put to a precipitate and shameful retreat by this great champion of truth; and indeed it is impossible to conceive the deep wisdum and true reasoning, that are concealed under the plainness and simplicity of the rude mechanick*. As he has a peculiar art of illustrating what he treats on, so he has also of exposing what may be on insufficient grounds admired by others. By abundance of apt comparisons, and by a most extensive induction of known and familiar topics, he at once opens and convinces the minds of his hearers. Nor need I after this description tell thee, that I speak of SOCRATE6, in whom, if there is any thing that I blame, it is his too great reserve, and his rather labouring to make those with whom he converses unlearn what is wrong, than to in. • SOCRATES was bred a sculptor.'