Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

out the most gigantic army that ever trod the earth. Xerxes then ruled over the most fruitful and populous regions of the globe, and the simple habits of life which then prevailed, enabled the earth to sustain some three or four times the number that can be supported in the more costly and luxurious mode which has since been adopted by all civilized nations. Every nation was called upon to furnish its quota of troops, or shipping, or provisions, from Ethiopia to the Caspian, from the Ægean to the Persian Gulf. Four full years were consumed in preparations for the descent of Asia on Europe, and all for what? To crush a nation, whose utmost extent did not exceed some of the States of this Union, and whose united forces could not exceed fifty thousand fighting men. At the end of four years an army was assembled amounting to the incredible number of three millions, collected from twenty-seven different nations. Among the rest the Jews are said to have contributed their part. To transport such a multitude by shipping from Asia to Europe, was not to be thought of. A bridge of boats was therefore constructed, connecting the two continents. Seven days and nights it took for the passage of this innumerable host, bearing, as they supposed, conquest and subjugation to the whole Western world.

The scene which occurred just before the passage of Xerxes into Europe, at the Straits of the Hellespont, where his land and naval forces were collected, all within sight of each other, I cannot better describe than in the simple language of the most ancient profane historian. “On their arrival at Abydos, Xerxes desired to take a survey of all his army: the inhabitants at his previous desire, had constructed for him on an eminence a seat of white marble; upon this he sat, and directing his eyes to the shore, beheld at one view his land and sea forces. When the king beheld all the Hellespont crowded with ships, and all the shore, with the plains of Abydos, covered with his troops, he at first congratulated himself as happy, but he afterwards burst into tears."

Let us place ourselves in imagination by his side, not like him to weep that not one of that mighty host should be living at the end of a hundred years, but to view, as it then was, the state of the world, and consider the momentous chances which hung upon the fate of that expedition. Supposing ourselves possessing the power to see from that elevation the distant as well as the future, we naturally turn our eyes to Greece, the devoted object of all his hostile army. There she lies with her beautiful islands, laved by the crystal waters of the Ægean sea. There is Athens with her exquisite arts, her literature, and her science, with her constellations of genius just ready to burst upon the world. There was Sparta, less cultivated, but the bulwark of Grecian independence. There was Leonidas, with his three hundred. There in a little peninsula, lay the intellectual hope of the world, the sole germ of free government for ever and

ever.

Is this brave and gallant people to be crushed at a blow? Shall the Persian banners float on the hills of subjugated Greece? Is it to be announced at Susa that order reigns in Attica ? Is Asiatic despotism to overwhelm in one long night of oppression the very dawn of European freedom and civilization? Worse than all, are the domestic institutions of the East to get established in the Western world, and polygamy, the nurse of despotism, that eternal bar to all social virtue and advancement, to supplant the primary institution of the Almighty, which decrees an equality between the sexes, and thus lays the foundation of private virtue, social prosperity, and public liberty ? But Greece subjugated, where is the march of conquest to stop? She holds the key of Europe, and if she is overborne, and the millions of Asia rush in over her prostrate form, where is the inundation to be stayed? The luxuriant vegetation, the abounding rivers of Southern Europe are quite as likely to please the fancy of the luxurious Asiatics as their own more sterile and sultry plains ? There were the larger islands of the Mediterranean, Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica. What was to prevent the Persian fleet having mastered the only maritime power on the continent, from taking possession of these beautiful

abodes, with all their cities, and all their wealth? There was Italy too, equally inviting. She had already been enlightened by Grecian art and Grecian letters, but split up into little states, she was utterly incapable of resisting the force of the Persian arms. What was to prevent the Persians instead of the Romans from becoming the lords of Italy? And Italy subdued, what part of Europe would have been safe?

In that contest literature was to have an awful stake; the very existence of those men was suspended on the issue of this vast enterprise, whose works have been the study and delight of all succeeding time; that whole galaxy of genius, whose clustering radiance has since encircled the earth, nay, the very memory of this portentous phenomenon itself, Asia pouring out her millions on Europe, was at stake. Were it not for these very Greeks, Xerxes and all his host would have sunk in the night of ages, and not a whisper of his greatness and his pride would have come over the ocean of

that has since rolled on. Religion too had her stake. Standing, as we imagine ourselves, on the borders of two continents, and casting our eyes Eastward and Westward and Northward and Southward, we see the world altogether given to idolatry. Every where is religion, every where are temples, every where is worship, but both priest and people, the learned and the simple, the noble and the base, all alike grope in Cimmerian

years

darkness as to the knowledge of the true Divinity. “ The world in its wisdom knew not God." There is but one exception to this, the temple at Jerusalem. We turn our eyes eastward to Palestine, and there we see the temple of the true God just rising from the ruin of seventy years' desolation. Its builders, a feeble company, have just returned from a long captivity. The very language in which their holy oracles were written has become obsolete. Their speech is Chaldean, and their religious teachers are obliged ‘from Sabbath to Sabbath to interpret from a dead language the records of their faith. This may answer for a narrow territory, and a small community. But the Light of the world is coming, and from that spot is to send forth his Apostles to teach all nations. How shall this be done, if the universal language do not visit and pervade the country whence is to emanate the universal religion? How shall the wisdom of God and the wisdom of man combined begin their sacred and triumphal march round the world ? If Xerxes prevail, this can never happen. Forbid it then, Freedom ; forbid it Intellect; forbid it Religion. “Arise, O God, and let thine enemies be scattered : and those that rise up against the liberties, the hopes, and the destinies of man, be as the chaff which the wind driveth away.” Xerxes shall not prevail. The soil of Europe will not bear the tread of Asiatic despotism. Leonidas with his three hundred Spar

« ElőzőTovább »