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366 A COLOSSAL WORK.
most intimate friend. In little more than six months after he had left his Swiss retirement, he died in London, of a disease which had long been preying on his strength (January 16, 1794).
Viewed simply as a literary performance, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” must be regarded, in spite of its defects and errors, as the noblest historical work in the English language. When we remember the immensity of the subject, the history, during nearly thirteen centuries, not only of the two great branches of the Roman Empire, but of all the various nations that played a partin the grand drama of which Rome and Constantinople were the central scenes—we are struck with astonishment at the courage of the mind that could grapple with a theme so gigantic. We think of Gibbon, sitting down to compose that memorable first chapter for the first time, as of some strapping woodsman, who, on the outskirts of a spreading forest, strikes his bright axe deep into the bark of the first tree. A wilderness of tangling boughs and thorny underwood, pathless and unexplored, lies stretching out before his gaze. But day by day the clearing grows wider. The fallen timber is shaped for use and beauty. The corn-patch waves its golden plumes every season in a larger circle. Gardens and cultured farms smile, where before the sunlight could scarcely shine through a rank, unfruitful thicket.
From the reign of the Antonines to the fall of Constantinople the narrative extends, filling much of that great gap which long severed the history of ancient Rome from the history of modern Europe. The style is lofty, musical, sometimes pompous in its gorgeous stateliness. No man has.better understood the power of the picturesque in historical composition; and throughout the entire work the law of historical perspective, by which events and characters receive their due proportion of space, is wonderfully maintained. From the range of his deep and varied reading he drew materials for the splendid panorama he has unfolded to our view. The manners and customs of peoples, the geography of countries, the science of war, the systems of law, the progress of the arts, are all woven with masterly skill into the brilliant tissue of events.
But in this great book there are deep-rooted and terrible evils. Without denying the evidences of Christianity, the historian loses no opportunity of slighting its power and sneering at its purity. Utterly ignoring the work of a Divine hand in the wonderful spread of the gospel of Christ, he traces the development of the Christian system only to secondary causes, and dwells at length, and with a seeming pleasure, on the corruptions of the early Church, as if these had grown out of the system itself, instead of being the foul funguses of human sin. His chapters on the spread of Christianity have nothing in them of the fire with which he describes the blood-stained marches of Mahomet and Tamerlane. Then he has not only the sneer of the Woltaire school, but that deep depravity of imagination which made them revel in licentious and disgusting details. Such faults as these, coupled with the fact that his acquaintance with the Byzantine historians is considered to have been but superficial, are abiding blots on this great literary achievement.
THE ATTACK ON CONSTANTINOPLE.
At daybreak, without the customary signal of the morning gun, the Turks assaulted the city by sea and land; and the similitude of a twined or twisted thread has been applied to the closeness and continuity of their line of attack. The foremost rank consisted of the refuse of the host,-a voluntary crowd, who fought without order or command; of the feebleness of age or childhood, of peasants and vagrants, and of all who had joined the camp in the blind hope of plunder and martyrdom. The common impulse drove them onwards to the wall: the most audacious to climb were instantly precipitated; and not a dart, not a bullet, of the Christians was idly wasted on the accumulated throng. But their strength and ammunition were wasted in this laborious defence. The ditch was filled with the bodies of the slain,_they supported the footsteps of their companions; and of this devoted vanguard the death was more serviceable than the life. Under their respective bashaws and sanjaks the troops of Anatolia and Romania were successively led to the charge : their progress was various and doubtful; but, after a conflict of two hours, the Greeks still maintained and improved their advantage; and the voice of the Emperor was heard encouraging his soldiers to achieve, by a last effort, the deliverance of their country. In that fatal moment the janizaries arose, fresh, vigorous, and invincible. The Sultan himself on horseback, with an iron mace in his hand, was the spectator and judge of their valour. He was surrounded by ten thousand of his domestic troops, whom he reserved for the decisive occasion; and the tide of battle was 36S SPECIMEN OF GIRBON's PROSE.
directed and impelled by his voice and eye. His numerous ministers of justice were posted behind the line, to urge, to restrain, to punish; and if danger was in the front, shame and inevitable death were in the rear, of the fugitives. The cries of fear and of pain were drowned in the martial music of drums, trumpets, and attaballs; and experience has proved, that the mechanical operation of sounds, by quickening the circulation of the blood and spirits, will act on the human machine more forcibly than the eloquence of reason and honour. From the lines, the galleys, and the bridge, the Ottoman artillery thundered on all sides; and the camp and city, the Greeks and the Turks, were involved in a cloud of smoke, which could only be dispelled by the final deliverance or destruc. tion of the Roman Empire.
Born 1759 A.D.......... Died 1796 A.D.
ROBERT BURNS was an Ayrshire ploughman. But beneath the “hodden grey” of the peasant's dress there shone poetic fire as pure and bright as the world has ever seen. The faults of the man are forgotten, or at least forgiven, for the sake of a surpassing music, which, sounding first from the smoky interior of a clay-built cabin, has spread its sweetness into every home, not in Britain only, but wherever the English tongue is heard. Yet other and sterner scenes than the domestic circle are even more deeply blessed by this enchanting influence. Soldiers on the dusty march or round the red logs of the bivouac fire—sailors in the long dark nights at sea amid washing waves and creaking cordage—trappers and woodmen in the ancient forests of the New World—miners crushing quartz in the golden bed of the Sacramento or the Fraser—shepherds galloping from huge flock to flock over the boundless pastures of Australia—have all had their loneliness cheered, their rugged natures softened, and the crust, which gathers on the human heart through years of sin and hardship, melted into tender tears, by the gentle or spirit-stirring magic of Robert Burns's songs. No lyrist goes home to the heart so straight as he. Thirty-seven years of sorrow and struggle, chequered with one or two brief flickering gleams of apparent prosperity, made up the poet's span of life. He was born on the 25th of January 1759, in a mud cabin not far from the Bridge of Doon, in the Ayrshire (15) 24
370 HOW BURNS WAS TAUGHT.
parish of Alloway. His father, a gardener, who had struggled into a humble business as a nurseryman on his own account, built with his own hands the clay walls within which Robert first saw the light. Going to school at six years of age, the boy battled his way stoutly through the mysteries of English reading, pot-hooks and hangers, the multiplication table, and other sorrows of the young, until at eleven years of age he had acquired a very fair degree of elementary education. It was all his good father could give him; and when it became necessary to employ the young hands in the labour of a farm, Mount Oliphant, to which the family removed in 1767, some occasional evening studies rubbed away the rust that will come, and added a little to the scanty stock of knowledge already gained. “A fortnight's French,” which the simple rustic was fond of parading in his letters, and a summer quarter at landsurveying, completed all the instruction the poet ever got, beyond what he was able to pickup from a few books that lay on his humble shelf. The Spectator, Alexander Pope, and Allan Ramsay were there; and by-and-by Thomson, Shenstone, Sterne, and Mackenzie joined the little company of silent friends. But out on the fields of Mossgiel, amid the birds and wildflowers of a Lowland farm, he learned his finestlessons, and conned them with all his earnest heart, as he held the handles of the plough. A little heap of leaves and stubble, torn to pieces by the ruthless ploughshare, one cold November day, exposes to the frosty wind a poor wee field-mouse, that starts frightened from the ruin. The tender heart of the poet-ploughman swells and bubbles into song. And again, when April is weeping on the field, the crushing of a crimson-tipped daisy beneath the up-turned furrow, draws from the same gentle heart a sweet, compassionate lament, and exquisite comparisons. Poems like those to the Mouse and the Daisy, are true wild-flowers, touched with a fairy grace, and breathing a delicate fragrance, such as the blossoms of no cultured garden can ever boast. But the ploughing that led to the production of these poems was profitless in other respects. In vain Robert and his brother Gilbert toiled “like galley-slaves.” In vain their mother looked after the