Page images
PDF
EPUB

army quite stupified with wine ; particularly when he “should have seen the forests of Apulia, the mountains of “Lucania, and the still recent footsteps of the defeat of Alex"ander his uncle, king of Epirus, who there lost his life.” The historian adds, that he speaks of Alexander, not yet depraved and corrupted by prosperity, whose subtle poison worked as strongly upon him as upon any man that ever lived : and he concludes, that, being thus transformed, he would have appeared very different in Italy from what he had seemed hitherto.

These reflections of Livy show that Alexander partly owed his victories to the weakness of his enemies ; and that, had he met with nations as courageous, and as well inured to all the hardships of war as the Romans, and commanded by as able experienced generals as those of Rome ; that then his victories would not have been either so rapid, or so uninterrupted. Nevertheless, with some, from hence we are to judge of the merits of a conqueror, Hannibal and Scipio are considered as two of the greatest generals that ever lived, and for this reason : both of them not only understood perfectly the military science, but their experience, their abil. ities, their resolution and courage, were put to the trial, and set in the strongest light. Now, should we give to either of "them an unequal antagonist, one whose reputation is not an. swerable to theirs, we shall no longer have the same idea of them; and their victories, though supposed alike, appear no longer with the same lustre, nor deserve the same applause.

Mankind are but too apt to be dazzled by shining actions, and a pompous exterior, and blindly abandon themselves to prejudices of every kind. It camot be denied but that Alexander possessed very great qualities ; but if we throw into the other scale his errors and vices, the presumptuous idea he entertained of his merit* ; the high contempt lie had for other men, not excepting his own father ; his ardent thirst of praise and Hattery ; his ridiculous notion of fancy'ing himself the son of Jupiter ; of ascribing divinity to him. self; of requiring a free victorious people to pay him a servile homage, and prostrate themselves ignominiously before him ; his abandoning himself so shamefully to wine; his vio

*Referre in tanto rege piget superbam mutationem vestis, et desideratus humi jacentium adulaciones, etiam victis Macedonibus graves, oedum victoribus ; et fceda supplicia, et inter vinum et epuJas caedes amicorum, et vanitatem ementiendae stirpis. Quid si vini - amor in dies ficret acrior ? quid si crux ac pracfervida ira? (net

quicquam dubium inter scriptores resero) pullanc haec damna japo , Satoriis virtatibus ducimus ? Liv. I. ix. D. 18.

[ocr errors]

lent anger, which rises to brutal ferocity; the unjust and barbarous execution of his bravest and most faithful officers, and the tourder of his most worthy friends in the midst of feasts and carousals : can any one, says Livy, believe that al these imperfections do not greatly sully the reputation of a conqueror ? But Alexander's frantic ambition, which knows neither law nor limits; the rash intrepidity with which he braves dangers, without the least reason or necessity; the weakness and ignorance of the nations, totally unskilled in war, against whom he fought : do not these en ervate the reasons for which he is thought to have merited the surname of Great, and the title of hero? This however I leave to the prudence and equity of my reader,

As to myself, I am surprised to find that all orators who applaud a prince, never fail to compare him to Alexander. They fancy when he is once equalled to this king, it is impossible for panegyric to soar higher ; they cannot imagine to themselves any thing more august; and think they have omitted the stroke which finishes the glory of a hero, should they not exalt him by this comparison. In my opinion this denotes a false taste, a wrong turn of thinking ; and, if I might be allowed to say it, a want of judgment, which must naturally sliock a reasonable mind. For, as Alexander was invested with supreme power, he ought to have fulfilled the several duties of the sovereignty. We do not find that he possessed the first, the most essential, and most excellent virtues of a great prince, who is to be the father, the guar dian, and shepherd of his people ; to govern them by good laws; to make their trade both by sea and land flourish to encourage and protect arts and sciences ; to establish peace and plenty, and not suffer his subjects to be in any manner aggrieved or injured ; to maintain an agreeable har. mony between all orders of the state, and make them cone spire, in due proportion, to the public welfare ; to employ himself in doing justice to all his subjects; to hcar their disputes, and reconcile them; to consider himself as the father of his people, consequently as obliged to provide for all their necessities, and to procure them the several enjoyments of life. Now Alexander, who almost a moment after he as. cended the throne, left Macedonia, and never returned back into it, did not endeavour at any of these things, which however are the chief and most substantial duties of a great prince.

He seems possessed of such qnalities only as are of the second rank, I mean those of war, and these are all extravagant ; are carried to the rashest and most odious excess, and to the extremes of folly and fury ; whilst his kingdom is left a prey to the rapine and exactions of Antipater ; and all the conquered provinces abandoned to the insatiable ava. rice of the governors, who carried their oppression so far, that Alexander was forced to put them to deatlı. Nor do his soldiers appear in a more advantageous light : for these, after having plundered the wealth of the east, and after the prince had given them the highest marks of his beneficence, grew so licenticus, so debauched and abandoned to vices of every kind, that he was forced to pay their debts, amounting to 1,500,0001. What strange men were these ! How deprava ed their school ! How pernicious the fruit of their victories! Is it doing honour to a prince, is it adorning his panegyric, to compare him with such a model ?

The Romans indeed seem to have held Alexander's memory in great veneration; but I very much question, whether, in the virtuous ages of the commonwealth, he would have been considered as so great a man. Cæsar * seeing his statue in a temple in Spain, during his government of it, after his prætorship, could not forbear groaning and sighing, when he compared the few glorious actions achieved by him to the mighty exploits of this conqueror. It was said that Pompey, in one of his triumphs, appeared dressed in that king's surtout. Augustus pardoned the Alexandrians, for the sake of their founder. Caligula, in a ceremony in which he assumed the character of a mighty conqueror, wore Alexander's coat of mail. But no one carried his veneration for this monarch so far as Caracalla. He used the same kind of arms and goblets as that prince : he had a Macedonian phalanx in his army : he persecuted the Peripatetics, and would have burned all the books of Aristotle their founder, because he was suspected to have conspired with those who poisoned Alexander,

I believe that I may justly assert, that if an impartial pers son of good sense reads Plutarch's lives of illustrious men with attention, they will leave such a tacit and strong impression in his mind, as will make him consider Alexander one of the least valuable among them. But how strong would the contrast be found, had we the lives of Epaminondas, of Hannibal, and Scipio, the loss of which can never be too much regretted ! How little wonld Alexander appear, set off with

all his titles, and surrounded by all his conquests, even if cona sidered in a military light, when compared to those heroes, who were truly great, and worthy their exalted reputation. * Diod. 1. xxxvii. p. 53. App. de Bell

. Mithrid, p. 253. Dion b. lis . 454 Id, 1. lis. p. 653. ' Id. , laxvii. g. 873.

SECTION XX, REFLECTIONS ON THE PERSIANS, GREEKS, AND MACE

DONIANS, BY M. BOSSUET, BISHOP OF MEAUX. The reader will not be displeased with my inserting here part of the admirable reflections* of the bishop of Meaux, on the character and government of the Persians, Greeks, and Macedonia is, whose history we have heard.

The Greek nations, several of whom had at first lived unser a monarchical form of government, having studied the arts of civil polity, imagined they were able to govern themselves, and most of their cities formed themselves into commonwealths. But the wise legislators, who arose in every country, as a Thalés, a Pythagoras, a Pittacus, a Lycurgus, a Solon, and many others mentioned in history, prevented liberty from degenerating into licentiousness, Laws drawn up with great simplicity, and few in number, awed the peoa ple, held them in their duty, and made them all conspire to the general good of the country.

The idea of liberty which such a conduct inspired, was wonderful ; for the liberty which the Greeks figured to themselves, was subject to the law, that is, to reason itself, acknowledged as such by the whole nation. They would not let men rise to power among them. Magistratès, who were feared during their office, became afterwards private men, and had no authority but what their experience gave them. The law was considered as their sovereign ; it was .she appointed magistrates, prescribed the limits of their power, and punished their mal-administration. The advantage of this government was, the citizens bore so much the greater love to their country, as all shared in the government of it, and as every individual was capable of attaining its highest dignittes.

The advantage which accrued to Greece from philosophy, with regard to the preservation of its form of government, is incredible. The greater freedom these nations enjoyed, the greater necessity there was to settle the laws relating to manners and those of society, agreeable to reason and good sense. From Pythagoras, Thales, Anaxagoras, Socrates, Archytas, Plato, Xenophon, Aristotle, and a multitude more, the Greeks received their noble precepts.

But why should we mention philosophers only? The writings of even the poets, which were in every body's hands, diverted them very much, but instructed them still more. The most renowned of conquerors considered Homer as a

Dioccurse on Universal History. Part jie chap. 4

master, who taught him to govern wisely. This great poet: instructed people no less happily in obedience and the duties of a good citizen.

When the Greeks, thus educated, saw the delicacy of the Asiatics, their dress and beauty emulating that of women, they held them in the utmost contempt, but their form of government, that had no other rule than their prince's will, which took place of all laws, not excepting the most sacred, inspired them with horror : and the barbarians were the most hateful of objects to Greece.

* The Greeks had imbibed this hatred in the most early times, and it was become almost natural to them. A circum stance which made these nations delight so much in Homer's poems, was his celebrating the advantages and victories of Greece over Asia. On the side of Asia was Venus, that is to say, the pleasures, the idle loves, and effeminacy: on that of Greece was Juno, or in other words, gravity with conjugal affection, Mercury with eloquence, and Jupiter with wise policy. With the Asiatics was Mars, an impetuous and brutal deity, that is to say, war carried on with fury : with the Greeks Pallas, or in other words, the science of war and va.' lour, conducted by reason. The Grecians, from this time, had ever imagined that understanding and true bravery were natural as well as peculiar to them. They could not bear the thoughts of Asia's design to conquer them; and in bowing to this yoke they would have thought they had sube' jected virtue to pleasure, the mind to the body, and true cour rage to force without reason, which consisted merely in numbers,

The Greeks were strongly inspired with these sentiments, when Darius, son of Hystaspes, and Xerxes invaded them with armies so prodigiously numerous as exceeds all belief. The Persians found often, to their cast, the great advantage which discipline has over multitude and confusion; and how greatly superior courage, when conducted by art, is to a blind impetuosity:

Persia after having been so often conquered by the Greeks, had nothing to do but to sow divisions among them; and the height to which conquest had raised the latter, facilitated this effect. As fear held them in the bands of union, vice tory and security dissolved them. Having always been used to fight and conquer, they no sooner believed that the power of the Persians could not distress them, but they turned their arms against each other. Isocr, in Panegyr,

+ Plat, de Leg. l. in

« PreviousContinue »