Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

combine. There is neither unity among themselves, nor numerical force to back them. The commercial classes do not trouble themselves about the opposition, because they know next to nothing about it; they are not readers of pamphlets, and they only skim the correspondence of the newspapers.

In truth, the commercial feeling of the country acts in a very quiet way; as, for instance, in the question of limited liability, which the press did not lash one-half as much as the question whether or no the Hon. Major C. D. has been unjustly preferred to Captain A. B. Commerce earwigs its representatives, and shows itself in the results of the division: it was so in the present instance. Secure in this power, its organs of the press are mild and argumentative. There is no occasion to fume or fret, for as the commercial mind wills, so will the commercial measure be. It is only when the trade of the country comes into opposition with some other interest, as in the case of the corn-laws, that we see the excitement, the want of which our opponents call want of interest. We have no doubt that, in the present question, there is nothing left to overcome, except the inertia of the executive Government. Should the proceedings of the Commission now appointed fail to rouse ministers to action, the division of next session will be more effective. Members will not again be sent away by the dozen on the faith of the declaration of a government manager of debates, that in all probability there will be no division.

Since writing the preceding article, we have had the advantage of seeing the report (in the Journal of the Society of Arts) of a lecture by Mr. F. J. Minasi, an advocate of the tenpenny system, and we believe, the best arithmetician of his class. It is the most recent publication on the subject, and has much condensed information on other systems, and on the history of the whole question. The pound and mil system, which we have advocated, is traced by Mr. Minasi to a writer who signs himself Mercator in the Pamphleteer, for July 1814. Earlier versions of the same proposition will no doubt be found; for it is difficult to imagine any one turning his mind to the subject, without this plan suggesting itself, whether with approbation or not.

Mr. Minasi propounds the tenpenny system as we have set it forth : that is, not as an adoption of a decimal system, but as an option. The franc of tenpençe, a silver coin, very likely to be confounded with the shilling, and the imperial of one hundred pence, a gold coin of 8s. 4d., very likely to be confounded with the half-sovereign, are proposed to be added to

[ocr errors]

our existing currency; and those who like may then calculate decimally in pence, francs, and imperials. The farthing and halfpenny are to be left for the poorer classes, or perhaps, if found desirable, the penny is to be divided into ten mites. The immediate effect would be, that this hash of different pieces of money would not deserve to be called currency, that which runs about, but rather claudicancy, that which halts most wofully: poor Mammon would immediately become a diable boiteux, a devil on two sticks of unequal length, one of twelve pence the other of ten. Suppose a person to hand over as his payment to the tax-gatherer, who calls at the door, four sovereigns, three halfsovereigns, four imperials, seven shillings, eight francs. How is the amount of this to be told ? It would never be done with any certainty, without setting down and adding up, £4, £1 10s., 8s. 4d. x 4, or £1 13s. 4d., 7s., 10d. x 8, or 6s. 8d. To reimpose this kind of chequer-board work, from which we have been so happily delivered since the time of Newton, would be a piece of insanity of which no legislature could be capable. The period of confusion would last until all the present currency had found its way back to the Mint, which Sir J. Herschel supposed would take twenty years : and the decimal calculation would be introduced with the utmost slowness. The truth is that, as appears by the earlier publications, the advocates of the tenpenny scheme at first intended to propose the grand measure of calling in all the coinage, all the silver at least, except the half-crowns. As soon as their eyes began to open to the impracticability of this scheme, and to the immense advantage which the pound and mil scheme possessed in retaining all the silver, except the 3d. and 4d. pieces, at its present value, they hit upon this plan of mixing a decimal and a duodecimal currency, with the option we have described. Our readers would not thank us for wasting further space upon a hybrid scheme, which carries its own condemnation with it.

The tenpenny scheme is the admiration of those who wish to assimilate the English and French coinage. It so happens that the two parliamentary movers of a decimal scheme are men singularly well acquainted with the coinage of foreign countries, and both are decidedly against this attempt. Sir John Bowring, to whom the florin is due, has seen the decimal system at work in all parts of the world. Mr. William Brown has long been acquainted with the American system in the country itself, and in his large mercantile transactions at home. We now leave the question to the Commission, trusting that the opponent systems will be so pitted against each other, that each side shall have full and immediate knowledge of what is brought forward by the others.

We conclude with a remark upon the assertion of some advocates of decimal reckoning, that practice, the rule of three, &c., will be banished from arithmetic. No notion can be more unfounded : every good plan of arithmetical operation is sure to find its way into every possible system. Relative advantages may be altered, and the questions in which one or another rule is advantageous may change places. All the difficulties of mere calculation will be greatly simplified by any decimal system: those of thought and arrangement will not be affected in any way.

ART. III.-SIR G. C. LEWIS ON EARLY ROMAN

HISTORY,

An Inquiry into the Credibility of the Early Roman History.

By the Right Hon. Sir George Cornewall Lewis. In Two
Volumes. London: John W. Parker and Son, West
Strand. 1855.

ORE than forty years have now elapsed since Niebuhr

published the first edition of his History of Rome. The novelty of his views attracted immediate attention in Germany, and they were controverted by authors of great eminence,A. W. Schlegel, in the Litteratur-Zeitung of Jena, and Creuzer, in the Jahrbücher of Heidelberg. But in this country his work was long altogether unknown, except from an article of Dr. Arnold's in the Quarterly Review. His fame and authority amongst us date from the appearance of Hare and Thirlwall's Translation of his Second Edition, in 1828; and for some years after that time it required no little boldness to express any doubt respecting the reality of his discoveries. One of the literary journals of the day,* in a notice of the first volume of this translation, ventured to controvert his favourite theory of the derivation of the Roman History from ballad poetry, his definition of the populus as a patrician body, which is the foundation of his whole constitutional history, and his exclusion of the clients from the general body of the plebs : but in general his opinions were received with profound acquiescence. All were dazzled for a time by the sudden brilliancy of the light which had burst upon them. The immense learning and great sagacity of Niebuhr seemed to place him above the reach of

See Westminster Review for October, 1829.

criticism by ordinary men. There was an attractive earnestness, as well as an imposing self-confidence, in his style. Those who doubted the origin of the Roman History from poetical lays were told “ that they might continue blind to their existence if they pleased; they would be left more and more alone every day; on this point there could be no going backward for generations.” His friends and translators caught and imitated his earnestness of conviction and confidence of statement; and being placed where they had the influence of station and office over the minds of the young-Arnold, at Rugby, Hare and Thirlwall, at Trinity College, Cambridge—they imbued the rising generation of scholars with their own faith in the infallibility of Niebuhr. Arnold united his critical fragments into a continuous narrative, more popular and intelligible than the original. Macaulay lent the aid of his brilliant talent to the belief in the poetical origin of Roman History. Who could doubt that the story of Horatius Cocles and the Battle of the Lake Regillus had originally been ballad poetry, when he saw what admirable ballads had been made out of them ? unless, indeed, it had happened to occur to him that the Roman history had furnished very little to the ballad, and that it owed nearly all its poetry to the modern composer.

Of late years the symptoms of reaction have been visible, both at home and abroad. Not only has the poetical theory been called in question,* but the theory of an originally patrician constitution, and even Niebuhr's explanation of the Agrarian laws, long deemed the unassailable point of his discoveries. Almost all the late publications on the Roman history in Germany have attacked some of his assumptions, and indications have not been wanting that Livy and Dionysius were about to be restored to their ancient dominion. Accordingly, MM. Gerlach and Bachofen have recently published a portion of a work, in which the voyage of Æneas to Italy, and the wars described in Virgil, resume their place as authentic facts. It

Niebuhr himself appears to have felt some distrust of his own poetical theory; for he says, Vol. II. p. 6. Eng. Translation, “ The rhythmical form is a secondary matter, the one main point is that those very stories which speak to the soul are treated by tradition freely and creatively; that it does not give back the chain of incidents one by one, as it receives them; that in proportion as a story is listened to with general interest, it is more liable to be transformed without any limit, until it becomes fixed in some book ; while on the other hand, what excites no emotion comes down just as it was recorded to the historian, who likes to employ himself in putting some life into it.” This amounts to no more than that imagination and patriotic feeling seize on certain events for their exercise, and neglect others, and is a very different thing from saying that every one must be blind who does not acknowledge the existence of incorporated lays in Livy's history, traceable at this day by their metre: which was Niebuhr's original dictum.

was impossible to study Niebuhr's writings, and compare his statements with his authorities—a process hardly ever performed by the first readers—and not to perceive how much his feelings and imagination had influenced his judgment. No writer was ever more remarkable for what the Germans call subjectivity. He has himself described the excitement under which he wrote. “The consequence of the continued exertion of all my faculties, directed to a single object for sixteen months without any intermission, except now and then a very few days, was that my sight grew dim in its passionate efforts to pierce into the obscurity of the subject.”* Elsewhere he compares him

” self to the youth in the Sclavonic tale, beneath whose yearning gaze of love a scarcely visible aërial form rises out of the mist, and takes the body of an earthly maiden,t in shape and substance. We have no doubt that he describes faithfully the emotions of his own mind; but we cannot regard this state of nympholepsy as a clairvoyance favourable to the divination of historic truth. It rather resembles that to which the religious devotee reduces himself by intense concentration of his thoughts and affections on one object—a state in which he sees visions and dreams dreams with an entire conviction of their reality.

The author of the work before us is in every respect, but extent of knowledge, the very opposite of Niebuhr. Happily for the tax-payers of England, their Chancellor of the Exchequer is altogether a man of facts and figures. He brings with him to his investigations of history, the habits of a mind trained in economy and statistics. He will accept no inferences, no analogies, no conjectures, no second-hand reports as substitutes for precise, contemporaneous, well-authenticated written documents. Where these begin, there, to him, history begins; all that precedes them he abandons to those who are willing to waste their time in building houses of cards, to be blown down by their successors at this idle and endless work, or in grinding the wind in a treadmill from which no grist can ever issue.

Accordingly he considers the Italian expedition of Pyrrhus as fixing the time at which the Roman history begins to be a profitable study. The learning and sagacity employed in constructing a history of the preceding five centuries have been wasted; the hypotheses which speculative men produce may be more or less ingenious and attractive, but they are equally unsusceptible of proof, and no increase of our knowledge can result from them.

[ocr errors]

“ The main cause of the great multiplicity and wide divergence of opinions which characterize the recent researches into early • Preface. Vol. ii. p. 4.

† Vol. ii. p. 14.

Y

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »