Page images
PDF
EPUB

to Rome, it could not in the year 68, have been long resident in the city. In other words, it was then rising at Rome. Tertullian does then refer to the passage, as he refers to the only writer where the fact he mentions is to be found. He does not indeed go out of his way to quote the very words, for an allusion to the notorious fact was all that he needed for the maintenance of his argument. It is in a similar manner, not to define the tiine when and the place where Christianity originated, which was needless, but to evince the cruelties to which Christians were exposed, that Tertullian alludes to the letters that passed between Pliny and Trajan respecting their punishment. Speaking of the rescript of the latter be exclaims, “A decision replete with absurdity. He (Trajan) forbids Christians to be sought out, as being innocent, he commands them to be punished, as guilty, persons. He is merciful and cruel, he conceals and punishes."

“ The world had never heard of this famous passage till the 16th century,” &c. I shall begin with the latter part of the sentence, and by exculpating the character of Leo X., who might have expected a somewhat better character from the pen of a

Secretary” of “a society of learned men.” Roscoe, in his Life of Leo X., speaks most honourably of this Pope, whom Mr. Taylor has so liberally aspersed. “ With respect (says he) to the moral character of Leo in private life, the most satisfactory evi dence remains that he exhibited not only in his early years, but after his elevation to the pontificate, an example of chastity and decorum, the more remarkable, as it was the more unusual in the age in which he lived."* And in reference to the distinct charge preferred against Leo by Mr. Taylor, the same excellent writer adds, “ Jobp Bule, in his satirical work, entitled The Pageant of Popes, in which in his animosity against the Church of Rome, he professes it to be his intention to give her double according to her works, has informed us that when Bembo quoted to Leo on some occasion a passage from the Gospel, the Pope replied, it was well known to all ages how profitable this fable of Christ has been to us. A story, (continues Roscoe) as it has justly been remarked, that has been repeated by three or four hundred different writers, without any authority whatsoever except that of the author above referred to, who is evidently a witness not to be received, as he wrote in open war against the Pope and the whole Catholic church.” The uncorroborated assertion of a satirist, of an enemy, of one who professes it to be his intention to give a double portion, is worth nothing. What wretches the world would take Christians to be if they judged of them solely by the misrepresentations of Mr. Taylor's oration !

But whether the Pope was so depraved or not as to wish to falsify history, he had not the talent in this case to secure suc

Vol. IV.

cess; and if he had the talent, he had not the opportunity for its exercise. You, Mr. Taylor, have indeed told us, that the world never heard of this passage till the 16th century. You are sadly misinformed. It was not the six last, but the five first books of the Annals of Tacitus, that were discovered in Westphalia in the 16th century. And it is in the six last that the important passage occurs. Hear your confutation in the words of Roscoe, and refer also to Brotiir's edition of Tacitus in the preface. “ The first five books of the Annals of Tacitus, which Lipsius afterward divided into six, and which had until then existed only in MSS. were brought froin the abbey of Corvey, in Westphalia, by Angelo Arcionboldo. Such of the writings of that eminent historian which had before been discovered, and which consisted of the last six books of bis Annals, and the first five of his History, had been printed by Johannes de Spire at Venice about the year 1468, and several times reprinted at Rome and Venice." The books then in which the passage in question is found had been printed in the year 1468, several times reprinted before the 16th century, and yet we are informed, that the world never saw the passage till ihat self-same 16th century. Long before Leo was born the passage was published to the world, and I suppose therefore that it is a good inference that he had no opportunity to fabricate it. When I read this plain account, so contradictory to your unqualified affirmation, I imagined that there must be somewhere an error. I thought you possessed the means of correct information, and I believed that you would use those means fully and publish the result to the world honestly. As therefore yon appeared to me to use Ernesti's Tacitus, I thought that the Doctors might disagree; I took down his edition, and to my great sur. prise found the same tale told by him. The style in Ernesti's preface, it is true, is not so luminous as that of Brotier, nor perhaps so readable to some as Roscoe's plain English, yet any school-boy who knew that ille always refers to the remote antecedent, could not possibly have blundered. And if Mr. Taylor had been conversant with the writings of Tacitus, he might from a note of Lipsius, ad Ann. 2.9. have corrected his egregious error. Let it then be borne in mind, that the part of Tacitus which contains the important testimony to the Christian religion was published in 1468, from a MS. which perhaps was written in the 8th ceatury.. From this MS. Ernesti supposes (for it is little more than supposition) all the other manuscripts were derivedl. How then, it will be asked, could Gibbon speak of all the ancient manuscripts? Here let me first remark, that we are by no means certain that they are all derived from this one; and Mr. Taylor is wrong to speak about it so positively as he does. Ernesti himself doubted, as may be seen in these his words - Non audeam pro certo affirmare, “ I may not presume certainly to affirm it." And Brctier does not mention the fact, whereas if he had believed

[ocr errors]

it, little doubt can be entertained that he could have so done. It would then be sufficient to observe, that Gibbon, and he was no incompetent judge, did not believe that all the manuscripts were derived from one written in the 8th century. But what does Mr. Taylor mean when in bis note he asserts, that this one copy, from which all the other MSS. are taken, is not more ancient than the 16th century? Why, bless me, he had just told us in the text, on the authority of Oberlia, that it was referable to the 8th century. Supposing, however, that Gibbon thought that all the MSS. were taken from one in the 8th century, still would there be great propriety in his remark respecting the agreement of all the ancient MSS. In every case all the MSS. must be traced to one eventually, the autograph; and what does it matter whether they be traced up to a manuscript in the 8th, or the 2nd century, provided we have reason to believe that this said MS. of the 8th century is a faithful transcript. Now of this no good authority ever made a question, and the consent of all the apographs shews that it was so. For though it be granted that this is the only MS. we have preserved to us referable to the 8th century, it by no means follows that no others existed in that century, and the reverse is the position that every competent judge would choose to assert. Now if this Ms. had been tampered with, having a marginal note, or an erasure, or insertion, it is not credible that those who copied it, seeing its diversity from other manuscripts, would have all propagated its errors. "The very circumstance, that all the transcribers copied the MS. in question, proves that they all deemed it a faithful transcript. As then every manuscript contains the disputed passage, with propriety Gibbon remarked that the consent of all the ancient MSS. proves its genuineness.

Some of my readers perhaps will be desirous of knowing what has set two avowed unbelievers, Mr. Gibbon and Mr. Taylor in opposition to each other. Mr. Gibbon had remarked that the inost sceptical criticism is-obliged to respect the integrity of this celebrated

passage; and one reason that he alleges is the consent of all the most ancient MSS. Mr. Taylor chooses to call this an ironical concession, and adduces as one reason the palpable weak ness of the argument. In exhibiting this weakness we see he has contradicted himself, referring a Manuscript now to the 8th now to the 16th century, and detected weakness where other people will see strength and propriety. Pass we now to another reason alleged by Gibbon for the integrity of the passage. “ The inimnitable character of the style of Tacitus.” Any clever man r'a joins Mr. Taylor could imitate that style.---yes-but successfully? Nature, truth, have their imitations, but they differ widely from the original. The question is not whether the style can be imitated, but whether it can be imitated so successfully as to escape betraying traces of its origin to the keen eye of criticism. No

man's style is it easy to imitate, still less to imitate successfully. Johnson has had a large crowd of imitators, and yet it requires but little critical acumen to distinguish between the master and the scholars. In this as in many other things it is easier to descry a fault than to amend it; to expose a failure than to secure success.

Brotier has endeavoured to supply the loss we experience through the ravages of time in the works of Tacitus. Yet with all his skill, he disclaims any pretensions to equal the original, and if he had made them, they might soon be exposed. Still less could it be easy for a writer in the middle ages, imbued with the barbarous Latin of the schools, to assimilate his style to that of Tacitus. And even grauting that his latinity might be as pure, we could never expect from such an one the same compression of thought, as we have in Tacitus. To write like him, a mau must not only latinize but think as Tacitus. He must borrow bis head as well as his pen; and it will not be easy to find a second Tacitus in the cells of ihe monks.

Again, says Gibbon, the reputation of Tacitus would guard his text from the interpolations of pious fraud. He is still sneering, answers Mr. Taylor, for how was it then that the reputation of Jesus Christ and his apostles never guarded their text from the interpolations of pious fraud. The reply is simply, that it did so to a great degree. Besides, there is this manifest difference, that the Christian documents were almost exclusively in the possesion of Christians, while the writings of Tacitus were common to them and all the learned. There could be no hope of a safe interpolation in the writings of an author so celebrated, except the learned acquiesced to foist it on the world. But how does your next clause contribute to the confutation of Gibbon; “the more piety, the more fraud.” Gibbon avers that the reputation of Tacitus guarded his text from pious fraud. No, exclaims Mr. Taylor, the more piety the more fr aud, If you had said the more reputation the more frand, your remark would have been relevant, but not the less futile. Then it would have been the greater the diversity of readers, the more likely are they to agree in corrupting an author. Gibbon's argument is directly the reverse of this, and it is a good one. The greater the diversity of readers, the less likely are they to concert an interpolation.

Upon the substance of your last remark, I have already said sufficient. The reasonings of Gibbon then are good, and consequently your supposition is groundless. But let us even grant you that they are weak, because a man reasons inconsequentially, does it therefore follow that he must speak ironically. If so, alas, for many writers! It would not be very easy to discover when certain persons are serious. No, Mr. Taylor, Gibbon had too much skill to allow his irony to remain undiscovered for years, as this has done, if it be irony. The witticism is worthless that requires a

commentary, and the irony that is not obvious had better never have been penned. The irony of Gibbon is fine, but it is perceptible on all occasions; otherwise it would fail of its designed effect. If the historian sneers, it is only to attract the more attention, and though he turns his head askaunt, still the sneer must be visible, or the labour is lost. And it is the more necessary that irony should be so well marked as to be easily perceived, because if it be not seen, a result takes place directly the opposite to what the writer intended. For irony has the appearance of conceding the very thing that is most strenuouslydenied; if then it be not obvions, that very appearance is converted into reality. Gibbon was too great a master of his art to incur this risk. Yet if

your supposition be true, he has not only incurred the risk, but has reaped its consequences also from the publication of his works down to the year 1825, when you had the good fortune to descry his real intention. If, however, he had questioned the integrity of the passage, what should prevent him from speaking out? Questions of minute criticism are the last places for the introduction of irony: for, as in this instance, the palpable absurdity of the argument (which is always required in ironical writing) cannot possibly be conceived by the majority of readers. Wonld nine hundred and ninety-nine of Gibbon's readers out of every thou . sand know aught about the doubts of Ernesti, or the age of the manuscripts? And a note on this very passage in wbich he mentions the alleged interpolation in Josephus respecting Jesus, induces me to believe that had he entertained any rational doubt of the purity of the part of Tacitus in question, he could have spoken in as plain language in the one case as in the other. But we have still better evidence yet of his real opinion. He has a note on the very passage you choose to suspect, and assuming the truth of this passage he corrects an error of the Jews. testimony, alone,” he remarks,“ is sufficient to expose the anachronism of the Jews, who place the birth of Christ near a century sooner.” He here argues on the genuineness of the passage, and, of course, believed that it was genuine. Of irony, there fore, he thought not. But if we are to get rid of difficulties this way, dragging them over to our side with a shout of irony, irony, struggle as they may, there is no point which we may not support by any arguments you may please to assign. The most positive testimony may thus be destroyed, for you have only to call it ironical, and you immediately reverse its purport. Such procedure however argues a lamentable deficiency of sound argument. In reference, moreover, to the matter in debate, we have a confliction of authorities. Mr. Taylor informs us that the “ difficulty” is an interpolation. No,” says Mr. Carlile, “ Tacitus wrote the passage in question, and wrote from the accounts of Christians." We cannot receive both, and in our vacillation between certaia

No. 9. Vol. XIII.

" This

« PreviousContinue »