The Vatican Decrees in Their Bearing on Civil Allegiance: A Political Expostulation

Harper
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Publisher
Harper
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Published on
Dec 31, 1875
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Pages
168
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English
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We are told that, in an ancient city, he who had a new law to propose made his appearance, when about to discharge that duty, with a halter round his neck. It might be somewhat rigid to re-introduce this practice in the case of those who write new books on subjects, with which the ears at least of the world are familiar. But it is not unreasonable to demand of them some such reason for their boldness as shall be at any rate presumably related to public utility. Complying with this demand by anticipation, I will place in the foreground an explicit statement of the objects which I have in view.

These objects are twofold: firstly, to promote and extend the fruitful study of the immortal poems of Homer; and secondly, to vindicate for them, in an age of discussion, their just degree both of absolute and, more especially, of relative critical value. My desire is to indicate at least, if I cannot hope to establish, their proper place, both in the discipline of classical education, and among the materials of historical inquiry. When the world has been hearing and reading Homer, and talking and writing about him, for nearly three thousand years, it may seem strange thus to imply that he is still an ‘inheritor of unfulfilled renown,’ and not yet in full possession of his lawful throne. He who seems to impeach the knowledge and judgment of all former ages, himself runs but an evil chance, and is likely to be found guilty of ignorance and folly. Such, however, is not my design. There is no reason to doubt that Greece

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I. PROLEGOMENA.

Sect. 1.—On the State of the Homeric question.

We are told that, in an ancient city, he who had a new law to propose made his appearance, when about to discharge that duty, with a halter round his neck. It might be somewhat rigid to re-introduce this practice in the case of those who write new books on subjects, with which the ears at least of the world are familiar. But it is not unreasonable to demand of them some such reason for their boldness as shall be at any rate presumably related to public utility. Complying with this demand by anticipation, I will place in the foreground an explicit statement of the objects which I have in view.


These objects are twofold: firstly, to promote and extend the fruitful study of the immortal poems of Homer; and secondly, to vindicate for them, in an age of discussion, their just degree both of absolute and, more especially, of relative critical value. My desire is to indicate at least, if I cannot hope to establish, their proper  place, both in the discipline of classical education, and among the materials of historical inquiry. When the world has been hearing and reading Homer, and talking and writing about him, for nearly three thousand years, it may seem strange thus to imply that he is still an ‘inheritor of unfulfilled renown,’ and not yet in full possession of his lawful throne. He who seems to impeach the knowledge and judgment of all former ages, himself runs but an evil chance, and is likely to be found guilty of ignorance and folly. Such, however, is not my design. There is no reason to doubt that Greece


Dum fortuna fuit

knew right well her own noble child, and paid him all the homage that even he could justly claim. But in later times, and in most of the lands where he is a foreigner, I know not if he has ever yet enjoyed his full honour from the educated world. He is, I trust, coming to it; and my desire is to accelerate, if ever so little, the movement in that direction.


As respects the first portion of the design which has been described, I would offer the following considerations. The controversy de vitâ et sanguine, concerning the personality of the poet, and the unity and antiquity of the works, has been carried on with vigour for near a century. In default of extraneous testimony, the materials of warfare have been sedulously sought in the rich mine which was offered by the poems themselves. There has resulted from this cause a closer study of the text, and a fuller development of much that it contains, than could have been expected in times when the student of Homer had only to enjoy his banquet, and not to fight for it before he could sit down. It is not merely, however, in warmth of feeling that he may have profited; the Iliad and the Odyssey have been, from the absolute necessity of the case, put into the witness-box themselves, examined and cross-examined in every variety of temper, and thus, in some degree at least, made to tell their own story. The result has been upon the whole greatly in their favour. The more they are searched and tested, the more does it appear they have to say, and the better does their testimony hang together. The more plain does it become, that the arguments used on the side of scepticism and annihilation are generally of a technical and external character, and the greater is the mass of moral and internal evidence continually accumulated against them. 


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