BLTC Press Titles


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The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas


Theory of Colours

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Thomas Carlyle, Rudolf Steiner


Esoteric Buddhism

A. P. Sinnett


Judas Iscariot and other writings

by Thomas De Quincey

Excerpt:

PREFACE.

If the problems here treated are not numerous, one of them at least (viz., the problem of "The Essenes") is the most important, and, secondly, from its mysteriousness, the most interesting; but also, thirdly, the most difficult of all known historic problems; and so much so, that, in my opinion, this (if estimated by any progress made in deciphering it down to the date of my own attempt), would have been classed as the one insoluble case amongst all historic problems yet offered to the investigation of thoughtful men.

In the course of that paper, and again of the paper entitled " Cicero," there occurs a contemptuous, but also (and in a more earnest tone) an indignant notice of two historic personages who at present hold an equivocal rank in the esteem of men—viz., the Pharsalian Pompey, and the Jewish partisan leader, Josephus. With respect to the former, the late Dr Arnold, of Kugby, mentions, that, when he was meditating a work on some section (I forget what) of ancient history, there reached him from one of the Napiers (either Sir William it must have been, or the late General Sir Charles), an admonitory caution to beware of treating Pompey with any harshness or undervaluation, under the common notion that he had been spoiled in youth by unmerited success, had been petted by a most ignorant populace through half-a-century, and finally coming into collision with the greatest of men, had naturally made a total shipwreck; for that, on the contrary, he was a very great strategist; yes, in spite cf Pharsalia (and in spite, I presume, of his previous Italian campaign). Now, the Napiers, a distinguished family, "mullum ?iostrce quce proderai urbi," and qualified to offer suit and service "tarn Marti quam Mercurio," have a right to legislate on such a subject, have a limited right even to dogmatise, and to rivet their conclusions (if at any odd corner shaky), by what Germans term a macht-spruch. But the general impression is likely to prevail, until his annals are re-written— that, in the fullest sense of that modern sneer, Pompey (if any man on the rolls of history) was " a Sepoy general:" he earned his reputation too surely, by building on other men's foundations; and he prospered in any brilliant degree only so long as he contended with Asiatic antagonists. That famous sneer came round with killing recoil before the play was over, upon those that launched it, like the boomerang of the poor Australian savage in unskilful hands: but, it is a sneer, that still tells retrospectively upon the Pompey, that in his morning hours was the pet of ill-distinguishing Rome. A Sepoy general is one to whom the praise of the martinet is the breath of his nostrils; who thinks it a bagatelle in a soldier to have the trick of running away, provided he runs with grace and a stately air; and, above all, a Sepoy general is one that reaps a perpetual consolation under calamities from the luxury of "prospecting" malice. I may be beaten, says the gallant man, on the open field of battle. But what then? My secret consolations remain: " my mind to me a kingdom is." And this mind suggests that, if unable to face my enemy in the daylight, I may yet find the means to murder him at night. Such as these were the habits and the reversionary consolations of Pompey. And, I should have suggested to Dr Arnold, that, after all, since there is no State Paper Office in Rome surviving from classical days, that might contribute new materials when the old had failed, and since Pompeii itself, though built on the Neapolitan landed estate of this very Pharsalian Pompey, has hitherto furnished, amongst all her unrolled papyri, nothing at all towards the military vindication of her ground landlord, even the Napiers must be content for the present with the old documents that have failed to whitewash the pompous old torso, now lying without a head somewhere on the coast of Aboukir, at the bottom of the sea. Meantime all this relates to Pompey as a military captain, and tactician: upon which aspect of his pretensions I have said nothing at alL It is Pompey as a man, and as a citizen more deeply indebted to Rome than any other amongst his contemporaries, that I am reviewing. A bad man he was: a vile man; and upon the evidence of one who would have been (and long had been) his friend, for purposes that could be decently avowed; and his horrorstruck confidant for such as could not. On the impulse of mere vindictive fury against Caesar and the supporters of Caesar, he would have visited Rome with famine and the sword. All the absurd designs against Rome that ever were mendaciously imputed to Catiline, Pompey in his secret purposes entertained steadily and inexorably. Cicero was far from being a good man: too ambitious he was by much, and the enjoyment of his patrician honours was too incompatible with the general welfare for any true civic patriotism. But he was too moderate and decent a man to harmonise with the faction that had formed itself in Pompey's camp. But this subject I will not pursue; it would be actum, agere, as it is already sketched, though rapidly and insufficiently, in the paper entitled " Cicero."

The other historic person on whom I shall probably be charged with assault and battery is Josephus. And the impartial reader, who knows but slightly or not at all what it is that this felon has been doing, is likely enough to think that I have shown a levity and hastiness of resentment not warranted by the notorieties of his life. It is remarkable that few of us know the possible strength of our patriotic sympathies, and how much it is that we could do and could hazard for our own dear, noble country, if danger or calamity should besiege her. Seen always under calm and gentle sunshine, this natal land of ours forms an object that wduld be thoroughly transfigured to our hearts, and would wear a new life, if once she were thrown into impassioned circumstances of calamity, not by visitations of Providence, but by human wrongs and conspiracies. Vendidit hie auro patriam, is the dreadful category which Virgil has prepared in the infernal regions for traitors such as this Jew; for I suppose it can make but slight difference in any man's estimate that the Jew did not receive the bribe first, and then perpetrate the treason, but trusted to Roman good faith at three months after date. But this Jew did worse. Many have been the willing betrayers of their country, who would have spurned with fury an invitation to join in a gorgeous festival of exultation, celebrating the final overthrow of their mother-land, and the bloody ruin of their kindred, through all their tribes and households. There is many an intelligent little girl, not more than seven years old, who, in such circumstances, and knowing that the purpose of the festival was to drag the last memorials of her people—its honours, trophies, sanctities—through the pollution of triumph, would indignantly refuse to give the sanction of so much as a momentary gaze upon a spectacle abominable in all Hebrew eyes. And if, in such a case, she could descend to an emotion so humiliating as curiosity, she would feel a silent reproach fretting her heart, so often as she beheld upon a Roman medal that symbolic memorial of her desolated home—so beautiful and so pathetic—Judea figured as a woman veiled, weeping under her palm-tree; Rachel weeping for her children. But this Josephus, this hound—hound of hounds, and very dog of very dog—did worse; he sat, as a congratulating guest, offering homage and adoring cringes, simpering and kotooing, whilst the triumphal pageant for Judea ravaged, and for Jerusalem burned* filled the hours of a long summer's day, as it unfolded its pomps before him. Nay, this Jew achieved a deeper degradation even than this. But for him, when it was asked of the conquerors, "Where is the conquered race? what has become of tliemi it must have been answered, All slain, or captives. And that result is a mode of military triumph, even for the conquered. But through the presence of Josephus, a solitary man of rank, all this was transformed: a Jewish grandee, sitting on terms of amity amongst the victors, and countersigning their pretensions, had the inevitable effect of disavowing all his humbler countrymen; from heroes they became mutineers; and in an instant of time the fiery struggle of the ancient El Koda against the "abomination of desolation, standing where it should not"—i. e., the Roman banners, expressing the triumph of an idolatrous nation, insolently hoisted aloft in the temple of Jehovah—was transfigured, through this one man's presence, into a capricious, possibly an ungrateful, rebellion.


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