Greece, Ancient and Modern. Lectures Delivered Before the Lowell Institute
By Ticknor and Fields., LL. D., late President of Harvard University. In two volumes. Boston :
IT is not easy to describe the affectionate and yet candid spirit in which the author of this work treats all the aspects of the wonderful Hellenic civilisation, and makes us acquainted with Greek literature, art, and life, from Homer’s time to our own. It is as if the vast tract of time intervening between the epochs were some region of the world, and our author had travelled there, sojourning in every part of it, and dwelling whole years in its famous cities and amid its storied scenes, He knows it thoroughly, and loves it, with due reservations and exceptions ; and we are all the wiser because he remains to the end an observer of Greeks, and does not himself become Greek. With all his erudition and his enthusiasm, he never forgets that he is relating his large experiences to a popular audience at the Lowell Institute, and that his hearers will be as quick to judge as they are willing to learn. His is very clear and honest discourse ; and if in what is always so pleasant the reader finds little that is absolutely new in thought or very subtile in feeling, he cannot deny that the opinions are usually just, and the sentiment invariably generous. The work is essentially a popular one : there is necessarily some repetition of matters already known to the student ; but the book takes a place empty before, and has a power of entertaining and delighting which attracts the reader again and again to its pages. There is nothing in it which a sincere regard for the author’s memory could make us wish absent, except its occasional jocosities.
The idea of Greece which he presents is a very complete one. The first course of Lectures deals with Greek literature from the earliest times, and notices the less familiar phases of this literature in the Alexandrian and Byzantine periods, and the all but unknown contemporary Greek poetry, as well as the classic works. The life of the Greeks in city and country, in-doors and out-doors, their dress, their manners, their education, their beliefs, and their amusements, affords material for the second course. In the third course is given a general and particular view of the different Greek polities, and of the famous statesmen, lawgivers, and orators identified or connected with them ; while the fourth series of Lectures form an historical and social study of Grecian life from the time of the Macedonian ascendency till the promulgation of the Constitution of 1844.
At this day, when the terrible tragedy of the Greek War of Independence is reenacting in Crete, and the whole world looks on with the guilty apathy that characterized the attitude of Christendom during the earlier part of the former struggle, everything relating to that hercic revolution possesses a new interest. With this part of Greek history, as with every other period of it, the acquaintance of President Felton was very thorough, and all that he has to say of contemporary Greece has a peculiar value from the fact that he had seen and known the civilization of which he writes. In some things he shows that the modern Greeks are still the Greeks of classic days, as their speech is in great degree the language of old ; but they have found it more difficult to restore the aorist in their civilization than in their grammar; and our sympathy must rather be given to them as a brave Christian people, akin to us in time and in faith, struggling against Mohammedan tyranny and barbarism, than as the Spartans and Athenians battling for the fine old abstraction, classic liberty.
As we turn to that part of President Felton’s work which treats of the classics, we are conscious of a quite different, yet more familiar atmosphere ; for these are the Greeks who have been at our doors from childhood. It is very pleasant to follow them home and be made their guest, — to dine with them, to go at sunrise to the theatre with them, to lounge up and down Athens, either hearing or telling some new thing continually. We arc clearly and easily instructed concerning their dress and all their social customs, as well as their laws and history, to some knowledge of which the citizen of a free country seems to come by nature. Our Mentor is not a poet, but he is a gentleman of a very genial as well as honest habit of mind, and he is on excellent and familiar terms with every great and worthy Greek wc meet, and he sympathizes with nearly everything in Athens. He does not like the Dorians, he frankly confesses it, but he is just to them nevertheless ; and though he loves the Athenians, he is not blind to some faults of their polity and character. In fine, the Greeks are once more a living people in his book.
We should not give a correct idea of President Felton’s work if we did not speak of the conscientious manner in which it seems all to be done. You feel secure that no pleasant fancy is playing you false as you follow him ; while you cannot fail to be impressed by the minuteness as well as the variety of his knowledge concerning Greek life, literature, art, and history. The work, therefore, has a double value, and is twice qualified to meet a popular want.