Did the Greeksget itfrom theEast, this wonderful feeling of balance, or did Japan gain from India a reflection of Greek civilisation ? Balance plays so great a part and gives so great a charm to many things.This is well illustrated by a tiny bronze statuette of Victory in one of the glass cases.The extended wings support her, and though one arm is gone, the sense of security is perfect, and there is no fear that she will slip from the globe beneath her foot.We spent two hours the first morning and two hours another morning in this paradise of treasures, but that was only sufficient to whet the appetite. All moderntravelling is spoiltby hurryand want of time.One travels further and sees less, thanks to the rapid modesoflocomotion.We returned to our little carriage with the bitless ponies, and, having lunched in the town, we resolved, with modern energy and want of faith that the weather would remain as fine as it was then,todrive at once to Baiae.The delighted coach-man never let outthat the distance was fifteen miles. I think if we had known this we should have postponed the expedition to another day.But I was very glad we went then, for I believe we should never have done it otherwise, as the weather did get worse, and we should have had no time.
To go to Baiae you drive through a tunnel which pierces the western range of hills, and emerge on to a beautiful open sunset space. The road is everywhere studded with Roman ruins. We visited, by order of the coachman, sulphur springs and eruptive holes along the road, and spent a delightful hour and a half at Baiae itself trying to discriminate what were temples, villas, or amphitheatres. I found that my ignorance was complete with regard to all classic history or the development of its civilisation as shown in architecture. When in my youth I read Gibbon's 'History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' it had dawned even upon my inexperienced mind that the instruction he conveyed was of an unsatisfactory kind, and in no way enlightened the reader as to the various influences of race, religion, or art, nor as to the evolution of one era out of another. It was, therefore, no small consolation to me to find in a little volume of Coleridge's 'Table Talk ' which I happened to have in my travelling-bag, his opinion as to the uninstructive superficiality of that immortal work. It may comfort others who have, and still more those who have not, read that history, so I copy it here: -
The difference between the composition of a history in modern and ancient times is very great; still there are certain principles upon which a history of a modern period may be written, neither sacrificing all truth and reality, like Gibbon, nor descending into mere biography and anecdote.
Gibbon's style is detestable, but his style is not the worst thing about him. His history has proved an effectual bar to all real familiarity with the temper and habits of Imperial Rome. Few persons read the original authorities, even those which are classical; and certainly no distinct knowledge of the actual state of the empire can be obtained from Gibbon's rhetorical sketches. He takes notice of nothing but what may produce an effect; he skips on from eminence to eminence, without ever taking you through the valleys between ; in fact, his work is little else but a disguised collection of all the splendid anecdotes which he could find in any book concerning any persons or nations from the Antonines to the capture of Constantinople. When I read a chapter in Gibbon, I seem to be looking through a luminous haze or fog : figures come and go, I know not how or why, all larger than life, or distorted or discoloured; nothing is real, vivid, true; all is scenical, and, as it were, exhibited by candlelight. And then to call it a "History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire"!Wasthere ever a greater misnomer?I protest I do not remember a single philosophical attempt made throughoutthework to fathom the ultimate causes of the decline or fall of that empire.How miserably deficient is the narrative of the important reign of Justinian!And that poor scepticism, which Gibbon mistook for Socratic philosophy, had led him to misstate and mistake the character and influence of Christianity in a way which even an avowed infidel or atheist would not and could not have done.Gibbon was a man of immense reading; but he had no philosophy; and he never fully understood the principle upon which the best of the old historians wrote.He attempted to imitate their artificial construction of the whole work - their dramatic ordonnance of the parts - without seeing that their histories were intended more as documents illustrative of the truths of political philosophy than as mere chronicles of events.The true key to the declension of the Roman Empire - which is not to be found in all Gibbon's immense work - maybestated in two words - the imperial character overlaying, and finally destroying, the national character.Rome under Trajan was an empire without a nation.'
This last sentence may be not without wise application to the England of to-day. On my return home I referred to that excellent book of lectures by Mr. Frederic Harrison on 'The Meaning of History' (Macmillan, 1894), to read what he said about the ' Decline and Fall,' and it is so supremely 'interesting and encouraging to see what different views great men take that I must quote what he says from the chapter called 'some Great Books of History'
It is no personal paradox, but the judgment of all competent men, that the "Decline and Fall" of Gibbon is the most perfect historical composition that exists in any language ; at once scrupulously faithful in its facts ; consummate in its literary art; and comprehensive in analysis of the forces affecting society over a very long and crowded epoch. In eight moderate volumes, of which every sentence is compacted of learning and brimful of thought, and yet every page is as fascinating as romance, this great historian has condensed the history of the civilised world over the vast period of fourteen centuries - linking the ancient world to the modern, the Eastern world to the Western, and marshalling in one magnificent panorama the contrasts, the relations, and the analogies of all. If Gibbon has not the monumental simplicity of Thucydides, or the profound insight of Tacitus, he has performed a feat which neither has attempted. "Survey mankind," says our poet, "from China to Peru ! " And our historian surveys mankind from Britain to Tartary, from the Sahara to Siberia, and weaves for one-third of all recorded time the epic of the human race.