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Chapter 3
Ancestry of Shakespeare's Roman Plays

Plutarch 1

Plutarch, born at Chaeronea in Boeotia, about 45 or 50 A.D., flourished in the last quarter of the first and the earliest quarter of the second century. He came of good stock, which he is not reluctant to talk about. Indeed, his habit of introducing or quoting his father, his grandfather, and even his great grandfather, gives us glimpses of a home in which the prescribed pieties of family life were warmly cherished; and some of the references imply an atmosphere of simplicity, urbanity, and culture.

The lad was sent to Athens to complete his education under Ammonius, an eminent philosopher of that generation, though in Carlyle's phrase, “now dim to us,” who also took part in what little administrative work was still intrusted to provincials, and more than once held the distinguished position of strategos. Thus, as in childhood Plutarch was trained in the best domestic traditions of elder Greece, so now he had before his eyes an example of such active citizenship as survived in the changed condition of things. [p. 96]

The same spirit of reverence for the past presided over his routine of study. His works afterwards show a wide familiarity with the earlier literature and philosophy of his country, and the foundations of this must have been laid in his student days. It was still in accordance with accepted precedents and his own reminiscent tastes, that when he set out on his travels, he should first, as so many of his predecessors were reported to have done, betake himself to the storied land of Egypt. We know that this must have been after 66 A.D., for in that year, when Nero made his progress through Greece, Plutarch tells us that he was still the pupil of Ammonius. We know, further, that he must have visited Alexandria, for he mentions that in his grandfather's opinion his father gave too large a banquet to celebrate their homecoming from that city. But he does not inform us how much of Egypt he saw, or how long was his stay, or in what way he employed himself. It is only a probable conjecture at most that his treatise on Isis and Osiris may be one of the fruits of this expedition.

Of another and later journey that took him to Italy, there is more to be said. Plutarch at an early age, whether before or after the Egyptian tour, had already been employed in public affairs. He tells us:

I remember my selfe, that when I was but of yoong yeres I was sent with another in embassage to the Proconsul: and in that my companion staid about I wot not what behind, I went alone and did that which we had in commission to do together. After my returne when I was to give an account unto the State, and to report the effect of my charge and message back again, my father arose, and taking me apart, willed me in no wise to speak in the singular number and say, I departed or went, but, We departed; item not I said (or quoth I) but We said; and in the whole narration of the rest to joine alwaies my companion as if he had been associated and at one hand with me in that which I did alone.2

[p. 97]

Such courtesy conciliates good will, and he was subsequently sent ‘on public business’ to Rome. This must have been before 90 A.D., when Rusticus, whom Plutarch mentions that he met, was condemned to death, and when the philosophers were expelled from the city; and was probably some time after 74 A.D., the date of their previous expulsion, when, moreover, Plutarch was too young to be charged with matters so weighty as to need settlement in the capital. But it is not certain whether this was his only visit to Italy, and whether he made it in the reign of Vespasian or of Domitian. His story of a performing dog that took part in an exhibition in presence of Vespasian, has been thought to have the verisimilitude of a witnessed scene, and has been used to support the former supposition: his description of the sumptuousness of Domitian's buildings makes a similar impression, and has been used to support the latter. All this must remain doubtful, but some things are certain: that his business was so engrossing, and those who came to him for instruction were so numerous, that he had little time for the study of the Latin language; that he delivered lectures, some of which were the first drafts of essays subsequently included in the Moralia; that he had as his acquaintances or auditors several of the most distinguished men in Rome, among them Mestrius Florus, a table companion of Vespasian, Sosius Senecio, the correspondent of Pliny, and that Arulenus Rusticus afterwards put to death by Domitian, who on one occasion would not interrupt a lecture of Plutarch's to read a letter from the Emperor; that he traversed Italy as far north as Ravenna, where he saw the bust of Marius, and even as Bedriacum, where he inspected the battlefields of 69 A.D.

But though Plutarch loved travel and sight-seeing, and though he was fully alive to the advantages of [p. 98] a great city, with its instructive society and its collections of books, his heart was in his native place, and he returned to settle there. “I my selfe,” he says, “dwelle in a poore little towne, and yet doe remayne there willingly, least it should become lesse.”3 And in point of fact he seems henceforth only to have left it for short excursions to various parts of Greece. One of these exhibits him in a characteristic and amiable light. Apparently soon after his marriage a dispute had broken out between the parents of the newly wedded pair, and Plutarch in his conciliatory way took his wife, as we should say, “on a pilgrimage,” to the shrine at Thespiae on Mount Helicon to offer a sacrifice to Love.4 This is in keeping with all the express utterances and all the unconscious revelations he makes of his feeling for the sacredness of the family tie. He was one of those whose soul rings true to the claims of kith and kin. He thanks Fortune as a chief favour for the comradeship of his brother Timon, and delights to show off the idiosyncrasies of his brother Lamprias. We do not know when his marriage took place, but if Plutarch acted on his avowed principles, it must have been when he was still a young man, and it was a very happy one. As we should expect; for of all the affections it is wedded love that he dwells on most fully, and few have spoken more nobly and sincerely of it than he. Again and again he gives the point of view, which is often said to have been attained by the Modern World only by the combined assistance of Germanic character and Christian religion. Thus he says of a virtuous attachment:

But looke what person soever love setleth upon in marriage, so as he be inspired once therewith, at the very first, like as it is in Platoes Common-wealth, he will not have these words in his mouth, Mine and Thine; for simply all goods are not common among all friends, but only those who being severed [p. 99] apart in body, conjoine and colliquate as it were perforce their soules together, neither willing nor believing that they should be twaine but one: and afterward by true pudicitie and reverence one unto the other, whereof wedlock hath most need. . . In true love there is so much continency, modesty, loyalty and faithfulnesse, that though otherwhile it touche a wanton and lascivious minde, yet it diverteth it from other lovers, and by cutting off all malapert boldnesse, by taking downe and debasing insolent pride and untaught stubornesse, it placeth in lieu thereof modest bashfulnesse, silence, and taciturnity; it adorneth it with decent gesture and seemly countenance, making it for ever after obedient to one lover onely. . . For like as at Rome, when there was a Lord Dictatour once chosen, all other officers of state and magistrates valed bonnet, were presently deposed, and laied downe their ensignes of authority; even so those over whom love hath gotten the mastery and rule, incontinently are quit freed and delivered from all other lords and rulers, no otherwise than such as are devoted to the service of some religious place.5

His wife bore him at least five children, of whom three died in childhood, the eldest son, “the lovely Chaeron,” and then their little daughter, born after her four brothers, and called by her mother's name, Timoxena. The letter of comfort which Plutarch, who was absent at Tanagra, sent home after the death took place, is good to read. There is perhaps here and there a touch that suggests the professional moralist and rhetorician: as when he recounts a fable of Aesop's to enforce his advice; or bids his wife not to dwell on her griefs rather than her blessings, like “ those Criticks who collect and gather together all the lame and defective verses of Homer, which are but few in number; and in the meane time passe over an infinite sort of others which were by him most excellently made ”; or warns her to look to her health because, if “ the bodie be evill entreated and not regarded with good diet and choice keeping, it becometh dry, rough and hard, in such sort as from it there breathe no sweet and comfortable [p. 100] exhalations unto the soule, but all smoakie and bitter vapors of dolour griefe and sadnesse annoy her.” These were the toll Plutarch paid to his age and to his training. But the tender feeling for his wife's grief, and the confidence in her dignified endurance of it are very beautiful and human. And his descriptions of the child's sweet nature, which he does not leave general, but after his wont lights up with special reminiscences, and which, he insists, they must not lose from mind or turn to bitterness but cherish as an abiding joy, strike the note that is still perhaps most comforting to mourners. After telling over her other winsome and gracious ways, he recalls:

She was of a wonderfull kinde and gentle nature; loving she was againe to those that loved her, and marvellous desirous to gratifie and pleasure others: in which regards she both delighted me and also yielded no small testimonie of rare debonairetie that nature had endued her withall; for she would make pretie means6 to her nourse, and seeme (as it were) to intreat her to give the brest or pap, not only to other infants but also to little babies7 and puppets and such like gauds as little ones take joy in and wherewith they use to play; as if upon a singular courtesie and humanitie shee could finde in her heart to communicate and distribute from her owne table even the best things that shee had, among then that did her any pleasure. But I see no reason (sweet wife) why these lovely qualities and such like, wherein we took contentment and joy in her life time, should disquiet and trouble us now after her death, when we either think or make relation of them: and I feare againe, lest by our dolour and griefe, we abandon and put cleane away all the remembrance thereof; like as Clymene desired to do when she said

I hate the bow so light of cornel tree:
All exercise abroad, farewell for me,
as avoiding alwaies and trembling at the commemoration of her sonne which should do no other good but renew her griefe and dolour; for naturally we seeke to flee all that troubleth and offendeth us. We oughte therefore so to demeane ourselves, that, as whiles she lived, we had nothing [p. 101] in the world more sweet to embrace, more pleasant to see or delectable to heare than our daughter; so the cogitation of her may still abide and live with us all our life time, having by many degrees our joy multiplied more than our heavinesse augmented.


And then there is the confident expectation of immortality to mitigate the present pang of severance.

But Plutarch and his wife had other consolations as well. Two sons, Aristobulus and a younger Plutarch, lived to be men, and to them he dedicated a treatise on the Timaeus. We know that one of them at least married and had a son in his father's lifetime. Beyond his domestic circle Plutarch had a large number of friends in Chaeronea and elsewhere, including such distinguished names as Favorinus the philosopher and Serapion the poet; and being, in Dr. Johnson's phrase, an eminently “clubbable man,” he was often host and guest at banquets, fragments of the talk at which he has preserved in his Symposiacs. Almost the only rigorous line in his portrait is contributed by Aulus Gellius, his later contemporary, and the friend of their common friend Favorinus. Gellius9represents the philosopher Taurus as telling about “Plutarchus noster”--a phrase that shows the attachment men felt for him--a story of which Dryden gives the following free and amplified but very racy translation:

Plutarch had a certain slave, a saucy stubborn kind of fellow; in a word one of these pragmatical servants who never make a fault but they give a reason for it. His justifications one time would not serve his turn, but his master commanded that he should be stripped and that the law should be laid on his back. He no sooner felt the smart but he muttered that he was unjustly punished, and that he had done nothing to deserve the scourge. At last he began to bawl out louder; and leaving off his groaning, his sighs, and his lamentations, to argue the matter with more show of reason: and, as under such a master he must needs have gained a smattering of learning, he cried out that Plutarch [p. 102] was not the philosopher he pretended himself to be; that he had heard him waging war against all the passions, and maintaining that anger was unbecoming a wise man; nay, that he had written a particular treatise in commendation of clemency; that therefore he contradicted his precepts by his practices, since, abandoning himself over to his choler, he exercised such inhuman cruelty on the body of his fellowcreature. “How is this, Mr. Varlet?” (answered Plutarch). “By what signs and tokens can you prove that I am in passion? Is it by my countenance, my voice, the colour of my face, by my words or by my gestures that you have discovered this my fury? I am not of opinion that my eyes sparkle, that I foam at the mouth, that I gnash my teeth, or that my voice is more vehement, or that my colour is either more pale or more red than at other times; that I either shake or stamp with madness; that I say or do anything unbecoming a philosopher. These, if you know them not, are the symptoms of a man in rage. In the meantime,” (turning to the officer who scourged him) “while he and I dispute this matter, mind your business on his back.”

This story, as we have seen, comes from one who was in a position to get authentic information about Plutarch, and it may very well be true; but it should be corrected, or at least supplemented, by his own utterances in regard to his servants. “Sometimes,” he says, “I use to get angry with my slaves, but at last I saw that it was better to spoil them by indulgence, than to injure myself by rage in the effort to amend them.” And more emphatically:

As for me I coulde never finde in my hart to sell my drawght Oxe that hadde plowed my lande a longe time, because he coulde plowe no longer for age; and much lesse my slave to sell him for a litle money, out of the contrie where he had dwelt a long time, to plucke him from his olde trade of life wherewith he was best acquainted, and then specially, when he shalbe as unprofitable for the buyer as also for the seller.

Cato Major

Plutarch was thus fully alive to the social and domestic amenities of life, and to his responsibilities as householder, but he did not for them overlook other claims. He became priest of Apollo in Delphi, and for many years fulfilled the priestly [p. 103] functions, taking part in the sacrifices, processions and dances even as an old man; for philosopher as he was, his very philosophy supplied him with various contrivances for conformity. with the ancient cult, and he probably had no more difficulty about it than a modern Hegelian has with the Thirty-nine Articles. His deeper religious needs would be satisfied by the Mysteries, in which he and his wife were initiated.

He was equally assiduous in public duties, which he did not despise for the pettiness to which under the Roman domination they- had shrunk. In his view even the remnants of self-government are to be jealously guarded and loyally employed, though they may concern merely parochial and municipal affairs, and for them vigilant training and discipline are required.

Surely impossible it is that they should ever have their part of any great roial and magnificall joy, such as indeed causeth magnanimitie and hautinesse of courage, bringeth glorious honour abroad or tranquillitie of spirit at home, who have made choice of a close and private life within doors, never showing themselves in the world nor medling with publicke affaires of common weale; a life, I say, sequestered from all offices of humanitie, far removed from any instinct of honour or desire to gratifie others, thereby to deserve thankes or winne favour: for the soul, I may tell you, is no base and small thing; it is not vile and illiberal, extending her desires onely to that which is good to be eaten, as doe these poulpes 10 or pour cuttle fishes which stretch their cleies as far as to their meat and no farther: for such appetites as these are most quickly cut off with satietie and filled in a moment. But when the motives and desires of the minde tending to vertue and honestie, to honour and contentment of conscience are once growen to their vigour and perfection, they have not for their limit, the length and tearme onely of one man's life; but surely the desire of honour and the affection to profit the societie of men, comprehending all aeternitie, striveth still to goe forward in such actions and beneficiall deedes as yield infinite pleasures that cannot be expressed.

11 [p. 104]

He was true to his principles. He not only officiated as Archon of Chaeronea, but, “gracing the lowliest act in doing it,” was willing to discharge the functions of a more subordinate post, which some thought beneath his dignity.

Mine answer is to such as reprove me, when they find me in proper person present, at the measuring and counting of bricks and tiles, or to see the stones, sand and lime laid downe, which is brought into the citie: “It is not for myselfe that I builde, but for the citie and common-wealth.”

12 He was thus faithful over a few things; tradition made him ruler over many things. It is related that Trajan granted him consular rank and directed the governor of Achaia to avail himself of his advice. This was embellished by the report that he had been Trajan's preceptor; and in the Middle Ages a letter very magisterial in tone was fabricated from him to his imperial pupil. It was even said that in his old age Hadrian had made him governor of Greece.

There is a poetic justification for such legends. The government of Trajan and Hadrian was felt to be such that the precepts of philosophy might very fittingly have inspired it, and that the philosopher might very well have been the administrator of their policy. And indeed it is perhaps no fable that Plutarch had something to do with the better régime that was commencing; for his nephew Sextus of Chaeronea, who may have inherited something of his uncle's spirit, was an honoured teacher of Marcus Aurelius, and influenced his pupil by his example no less than by his teaching. The social renovation which was then in progress should be remembered in estimating Plutarch's career. Gibbon says: “If a man were called to fix the period in the History of the World, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed [p. 105] from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus.” Probably this statement would need to be, if not greatly qualified, at least greatly amplified, before it commanded universal assent, but, as it stands, there is a truth in it which anyone can perceive. There was peace throughout a great portion of the world; there was good government within the Empire; there was a rejuvenescence of antique culture, literature, and conduct. Indeed, the upward tendency begins with the reigns of Vespasian and Titus, and even the thwarting influence of Domitian's principate would be felt in Rome rather than in the provinces. It was in this time of “reaction against corruption” that Plutarch flourished, and his later life especially fell well within that Indian summer of classical civilisation that Gibbon celebrates. The tradition that he survived till the accession of Antonine may be incorrect, but he certainly enjoyed eight years of Trajan's government, and, by Eusebius' statement, was still alive in the third year of Hadrian's reign. It is to his latter days that his Lives as a whole are assigned, partly on account of the casual reference to contemporary events that some of them contain.

Plutarch's character, circumstances, and career in a world which was reaching its close, well fitted him for the work that he did. This Greek citizen of the Roman Empire had cultivated his mind by study and travel, and had assimilated the wisdom of wide experience and pregnant memories which Antiquity had amassed in earlier times and to which this interval of revival was heir. Benevolent and dutiful, temperate and devout, with a deep sense of his public obligations and the ethos of his race, he sympathised with the best principles that had moulded the life of olden days, and that were emerging to direct the life of the present. And he combined his amplitude of traditional lore and [p. 106] enthusiasm for traditional virtue in a way that made him more than an antiquary or a moralist. The explorer and practitioner of antique ideas, in a sense he was their artist as well.

His treatment and style already suggest the manifold influences that went to form his mind. One of his charms lies in his quotations, which he culls, or rather which spring up of their own accord, from his reading of the most various authors of the most different times. He is at home in Greek literature, and likes to clinch his argument with a saying from the poets, for he seems to find that their words put his thought better than he could himself. But this affects his original expression. Dryden writes:

Being conversant in so great a variety of authors, and collecting from all of them what he thought most excellent, out of the confusion or rather mixture of their styles he formed his own, which partaking of each was yet none of them, but a compound of them all:--like the Corinthian metal which had in it gold and brass and silver, and yet was a species in itself.

There may be a suggestion of the curious mosaicworker in his procedure, something of artifice, or at least of conscious art; and indeed his treatises are not free from a rhetorical and sometimes declamatory strain.13 That in so far is what Courier means when [p. 107] he says that Plutarch writes in the style of a σοπηίστης; but it was inseparable from his composite [p. 108] culture and academic training, and it does not interfere with his sincerity and directness.

His philosophy makes a similar impression. He is an eclectic or syncretist, and has learned from many of the mighty teachers of bygone times. Plato is his chief authority, but Plato's doctrines are consciously modified in an Aristotelian sense, while nevertheless those aspects of them are made prominent which were afterwards elaborated by Neo- Platonism strictly so called. But Plutarch, though he has the good word of Neo-Platonic thinkers, is not himself to be reckoned of their company. He is comparatively untouched by their mysticism, borrowed freely from the Theosophy of the East, and he stands in closer lineal relation to the antique Greek spirit than some, like Philo, who precede him in time. He was so indifferent to the Semitic habit of mind that, despite his almost omnivorous curiosity, he never thought it worth while to instruct himself in the exact nature of Judaism or its difference from the Syrian cult, far less to spend on Christianity so much as a passing glance. He approaches Neo-Platonism most nearly in certain religious imaginings which, as he himself recognised, have affinity with beliefs which prevailed in Persia and Egypt; but even so, he hardly ceases to be national, for these were the two countries with which in days of yore Greece had the most important historic connections. And moreover, his interest [p. 109] in such surmises is not, in the first place, a speculative one, but springs from the hope of his finding some explanation of and comfort for the trials and difficulties of actual life. For on the whole he differs from Plato chiefly in his subordination of theory to practice. This compels him to accept loans from the very schools that he most criticises, the Stoics, the Sceptics, the Epicureans themselves. It is his pre-occupation with conduct, rather than eclectic debility, that makes him averse to any one-sided scheme, and inclined to supplement it with manifold additions. But as in his style, so in his thought, he blends the heterogeneous elements to his own purpose, and fixes on them the stamp of his own mind. It is not without reason that his various treatises are included under the common title of Moralia. He may dilate on the worship of Isis and Osiris, or The Face appearing within the Roundle of the Moone; he may discuss Whether creatures be more wise, they of the land or those of the water; What signifieth this word Ei engraven over the Dore of Appolloes Temple in the City of Delphi, and various other recondite matters; but the prevailing impression is ethical, and he is at his best when he is discoursing expressly on some moral theme, on Unseemly and Naughty Bashfulnesse, or Brotherly Love, or Tranquillitie and Contentment of Mind, or the Pluralilie of Friends, or the question Whether this common Mot be well said “Live Hidden.” There is the background of serious study and philosophic knowledge, but against it is detached the figure of the sagacious and practical teacher, who wishes to make his readers better men and better women, but never forgets his urbanity and culture in his admonitions, and drives them home with pointed anecdote and apt quotation. And the substance of his teaching, though so sane and experimental that it is sometimes described as obvious [p. 110] and trite, has a generous, ideal, and even chivalrous strain, when he touches on such subjects as love, or devotion, or the claims of virtue; and his sympathy goes out spontaneously to noble words or deeds or minds.

It is an easy step from the famous Moralia to the still more famous Parallel Lives. “All history,” says Dryden, in reference to the latter, “is only the precepts of moral philosophy reduced into examples.” This, at least, is no bad description of Plutarch's point of view; and his methods do not greatly differ in the series of essays and in the series of biographies. In the essays he did not let himself be unduly hampered by the etiquette of the Moral Treatise, but expatiated at will among Collections and Recollections, and embroidered his abstract argument with the stories that he delights to tell. As historian, on the other hand, he is not tied down to historical narration and exposition, but indulges his moralising bent to the full. He is on the lookout for edification, and is seldom at a loss for a peg to hang a lecture on. And these discourses of his, though the material is sometimes the sober drab of the decent bourgeois, are always fine in texture, and relieved by the quaintness of the cut and the ingenuity of the garnishing: nor are they the less interesting that they do not belong to the regulation historical outfit. Such improving digressions, indeed, are among Plutarch's charms. “I am always pleased,” says Dryden, “when I see him and his imitator Montaigne when they strike a little out of the common road; for we are sure to be the better for their wandering. The best quarry does not always lie on the open field, and who would not be content to follow a good huntsman over hedges and ditches, when he knows the game will reward his pains.”14 [p. 111]

Proceeding in this way it is not to be expected that Plutarch should compose his Lives with much care for dexterous design. Just as in his philosophy he has no rigidly consequent system of doctrine, so in his biographies he has no orderly or well-digested plan. The excellences that arise from a definite and vigorous conception of the whole are not those at which he aims. He would proceed very much at haphazard, were it not for the chronological clue; which, for the rest, he is very willing to abandon if a tempting by-path presents itself, or if he thinks of something for which he must retrace his steps. Yet, no more than in his metaphysics is he without an instinctive method of his own. The house is finished, and with all its irregularities it is good to dwell in; the journey is ended, and there has been no monotony on the devious track. There is this advantage indeed in his procedure over that of more systematic biographers, that it offers hospitality to all the suggestions that crowd for admission. None is rejected because it is out of place and insignificant. Gossip and allotria of every kind that do not make out their claims at first sight, and that the more ambitious historian would exclude as trivial, find an entry if they can show a far-off connection with the subject. And, lo and behold, they often turn out to be the most instructive of all.

But Plutarch welcomes them without scrutinising them very austerely. He submits their credentials to no stringent test. He is no severe critic of their authenticity. He takes them where he finds them, just as he picks up philosophic ideas from all quarters, even from the detested Epicureans, without [p. 112] condemning them on account of their suspicious source: it is enough for him if they adapt themselves to his use. Nor does he educe from them all that they involve. He does not even confront them with each other, to examine whether opposite hints about his heroes may not lead to fuller and subtler conceptions of them. This is the point of the charge brought against him by St. Évremond, that he might have carried his analysis further and penetrated more deeply into human nature. St. Évremond notes how different a man is from himself, the same person being just and unjust, merciful and cruel; “which qualities,” proceeds the critic, “seeming to belie each other in him, [Plutarch] attributes these inconsistencies to foreign causes. He could never . . . reconcile contrarieties in the same subject.” He never tried to do so. He collects a number of vivid traits, which, like a number of minute lines, set forth the likeness to his own mind, but he is ordinarily as far from interrogating and combining his impressions as he is from subjecting them to any punctilious test. He exhibits characters in the particular aspects and manifestations which history or hearsay has presented, and is content with the general sense of verisimilitude that these successive indications, credited or accredited, have left behind. But he stops there, and does not study his manifold data to construct from them a consistent complex individuality in its oneness and difference. And if this is true of him as biographer, it is still truer of him as historian. He touches on all sorts of historical subjects-war, policy, administration, government; and he has abundance of acute and just remarks on them all. But it is not in these that his chief interest lies, and it is not over them that he holds his torch. This does not mean that he fails to perceive the main drift of things or to appreciate the importance of statecraft. Mr. Wyndham, defending him against those [p. 113] who have “denied him any political insight,” very justly shows that, despite “the paucity of his political pronouncements,” he has a “political bent.” His choice of heroes, in the final arrangement to which they lent themselves, proves that he has an eye for the general course of Greek and Roman history, for the impotence into which the city state is sunk by rivalry with neighbours in the one case, for its transmutation into an Empire on the other: “The tragedy of Athens, the drama of Rome,” says Mr. Wyndham, “these are the historic poles of the Parallel Lives.” And Plutarch has a political ideal: the “need of authority and the obligation of the few to maintain it--by a “natural grace” springing on the one hand from courage combined with forbearance, and leading, on the other, to harmony between the rulers and the ruled--is the text, which, given out in the Lycurgus, is illustrated throughout the Parallel Lives” So much indeed we had a right to expect from the thoughtful patriot and experienced magistrate of Chaeronea. The salient outlines of the story of Greece and Rome could hardly remain hidden from a clear-sighted man with Plutarch's knowledge of the past: the relations of governor and governed had not only engaged him practically, but had suggested to him one of his most pithy essays, Praecepta gerendae Reipublicae, a title which Philemon Holland paraphrases in stricter accordance with the contents, Instructions for them that manage Affaires of State. But this does not carry us very far. Shakespeare in his English Histories shows at least as much political discernment and political instinct. He brings out the general lesson of the wars of Lancaster and York, and in Henry V. gives his conception of the ideal ruler. But no one would say that this series shows a conspicuous genius for political research or political history. The same thing is true, and in a greater degree, of Plutarch. [p. 114] He is public-spirited, but he is not a publicist. He has not much concern or understanding for particular measures and movements and problems, however critical they may be. It is impossible to challenge the justice of Archbishop Trench's verdict, either in its general scope or in its particular instances, when he says:

One who already knows the times of Marius and Sulla wil obtain a vast amount of instruction from his several Lives or these, will clothe with flesh and blood what would else, in some parts, have been the mere skeleton of a story; but I am bold to say no one would understand those times from him.

The suppression of the Catilinarian Conspiracy was the most notable event in the life of Cicero; but one rises from

Plutarch's Life with only the faintest impression of what that conspiracy, a sort of anticipation of the French Commune, and having objects social rather than political, meant. Or take his Lives of the Gracchi. Admirable in many respects as these are, greatly as we are debtors to him here for important facts, whereof otherwise we should have been totally ignorant, few, I think, would affirm that he at all plants them in a position for understanding that vast revolution effected, with the still vaster revolution attempted by them, and for ever connected with their names.

In Plutarch the historian, as well as the biographer, is subordinate to the ethical teacher who wishes to enforce lessons that may be useful to men in the management of their lives. He gathers his material for its “fine moral effects,” not for “purposes of research.” 15

Plutarch, then, had already composed many disquisitions to commend his humane and righteous [p. 115] ideas, and it was partly in the same didactic spirit that he seems to have written his Parallel Lives. At the beginning of the Life of Pericles he says:

Vertue is of this power, that she allureth a mans minde presently to use her, and maketh him very desirous in his harte to followe her: and doth not frame his manners that beholdeth her by any imitation but by the only understanding and knowledge of vertuous deedes, which sodainely bringeth unto him a resolute desire to doe the like. And this is the reason why methought I should continew still to write on the lives of noble men.

And similar statements occur again and again. They clearly show the aim that he consciously had in view. The new generation was to be admonished and renovated by the examples of the leading spirits who had flourished in former times. And since he was addressing the whole civilised world, he took his examples both from Roman and from Grecian History, and arranged his persons in pairs, each pair supplying the matter for one book. Thus he couples Theseus and Romulus, Alcibiades and Coriolanus, Alexander and Caesar, Dion and Brutus, Demetrius and Antony. Such parallelism is a little far-fetched, and though some of the detailed comparisons with which it is justified, are not from Plutarch's hand, and belong to a later time, it of itself betrays a certain fondness for symmetry and antithesis, a leaning towards artifice and rhetoric which, as we have seen, the author owed to his environment. He wishes in an eloquent way to inculcate his lessons, and is perhaps, for the same reason, somewhat prone to exaggerate the greatness of the past, and show it in an idealised light. But this is by no means the pose of the histrionic revivalist. It corresponds to an authentic sentiment in his own nature, which loved to linger amid the glooms and glories of tradition, and pay vows at the shrine of the Great Departed. “The cradle of war and statecraft,” says Mr. Wyndham, “was become a memory dear to him, [p. 116] and ever evolved by his personal contact with the triumphs of Rome. From this contrast flowed his inspiration for the Parallel Lives-his desire as a man to draw the noble Grecians, long since dead, a little nearer to the noonday of the living; his delight as an artist in setting the noble Romans, whose names were in every mouth, a little further into the twilight of more ancient Romance.”

But this transfiguration of the recent and resurrection of the remoter past, in which Mr. Wyndham rightly sees something “romantic,” does not lay Plutarch open to the charge of vagueness or unreality. He was saved from such vices by his interest in human nature and suggestive ana and picturesque incidents on the one hand, and by his deference for political history and civil society on the other.

He loved marked individualities: no two of his heroes are alike, and each, though in a varying degree, has an unmistakable physiognomy of his own. There is no sameness in his gallery of biographies, and even the legends of demigods yield figures of firm outline that resist the touch. This is largely due to his joy in details, and the imperious demand his imagination makes for them. In his Life of Alexander he uses words which very truly describe his own method, words which Boswell16 was afterwards to quote in justification of his own similar procedure.

The noblest deedes doe not alwayes shew men's vertues and vices, but often times a light occasion, a word, or some sporte, makes men's natural dispositions and manners appear more plaine, then the famous battells wonne wherein are slaine tenne thousande men, or the great armies, or cities wonne by siege or assault. For like as painters or drawers of pictures, which make no accompt of other parts of the bodie, do take the resemblaunces of the face and favor of the countenance, in the which consisteth the judgement of their maners and disposition; even so they must give us [p. 117] leave to seeke out the signes and tokens of the minde only, and thereby shewe the life of either of them, referring you unto others to wryte the warres, battells and other great thinges they did. Life of Alexander

So he likes to give the familiar traits and emphasise the suggestive nothings that best discover character. But his purpose is almost always to discover character, and, so far as his principal persons are concerned, to discover great character. Though so assiduous in sharking up their mannerisms, foibles, and oddities, their tricks of gait or speech or costume, he is not like the Man with the Muck Rake, and is not piling together the rubbish of tittle-tattle just because he has a soul for nothing higher. Still less does he take the valet's view of the hero, and hold that he is no hero at all because he can be seen in undress or in relations that show his common human nature. Reverence for greatness is the point from which he starts, reverence for greatness is the star that guides his course, and his reverence is so entire, that on the one hand he welcomes all that will help him to restore the great one in his speech and habit as he lived, and on the other, he assumes that the greatness must pervade the whole life, and that flashes of glory will be refracted from the daily talk and walk. Like Carlyle, though in a more naïf and simple way, he is a hero-worshipper; like Carlyle he believes that the hero will not lose but gain by the record of his minutest traits, and that these will only throw new light on his essential heroism. In the object he proposed to himself he has succeeded well. “Plutarch,” says Rousseau, almost reproducing the biographer's own words, “has inimitable dexterity in painting great men in little things, and he is so happy in his selection, that often a phrase, a simile, a gesture suffices him to set forth a hero. That is the true art of portraiture. The physiognomy [p. 118] does not display itself in the main lines, nor the characters in great actions; it is in trifles that the temperament discloses itself.” An interesting testimony; for Rousseau, when he sets up as characterpainter, belongs to a very different school.

It is not otherwise with his narratives of actions or his descriptions of scenes, if action or scene really interest him; and there is little of intrinsic value, comic or tragic, vivacious or stately, familiar or weird, that does not interest him. Under his quick successive strokes, some of them so light that at first they evade notice, some of them so simple that at first they seem commonplace, the situation becomes visible and luminous. He knows how to choose the accessories and what to do with them. When our attention is awakened, we ask ourselves how he has produced the effect by means apparently so insignificant; and we cannot answer. Here he may have selected a hint from his authorities, there he may derive another from the mental vision he himself has evoked, but in either case the result is equally wonderful. Whether from his tact in reporting or his energy in imagining, he contrives to make us view the occurrence as a fact, and a fact that is like itself and like nothing else.

But again Plutarch was saved from wanton and empty phantasms by his political bias. He was not a politician or a statesman or an historian of politics or institutions, but he was a citizen with a citizen's respect for the State. “For himself,” to quote Mr. Wyndham once more, “he was painting individual character, and he sought it among men bearing a personal stamp. But he never sought it in a private person, or a comedian, nor even in a poet or a master of the Fine Arts.” He confines himself to public men, as we should call them, and never fails to recollect that they played their part on the public stage. And this not only gave a robustness of [p. 119] touch and breadth of stroke to his delineations; the connection with well- known and certified events preserved him from the worst licenses to which the romantic and rhetorical temper is liable. Courier, indeed, says of him that he was “capable of making Pompey win the battle of Pharsalia, if it would have rounded his sentence ever so little.” But though he may be credulous of details and manipulate his copy, and with a light heart make one statement at one time and a different one at another, the sort of liberty Courier attributes to him is precisely the one he does not take. Facts are stubborn things, and the great outstanding facts he is careful to observe: they bring a good deal else in their train.


A book like the Parallel Lives was bound to achieve a great popularity at the Renaissance. That it was full of instruction and served for warning and example commended it to a generation that was but too inclined to prize the didactic in literature. Its long list of worthies included not a few of the names that were being held up as the greatest in human history, and these celebrities were exhibited not aloft on their official pedestals, but, however impressive and imposing the mise en scène might be, as men among men in the private and personal passages of their lives. And yet they were not private persons but historical magnates, the founders or leaders of world-renowed states: and as such they were particularly congenial to an age in which many of the best minds-More and Buchanan, L‘Hôpital [p. 120] and La Boëtie, Brand and Hutten--were awakening to the antique idea of civic and political manhood, and finding few unalloyed examples of it in the feudalised West. It was not enough that Plutarch was made more accessible in the Latin form. He deserved a vernacular dress, and after various tentative experiments this was first satisfactorily, in truth, admirably, supplied by Bishop Amyot in France.

Jacques Amyot was born in October, 1513, in Melun, the little town on the Seine, some thirty miles to the south-east of Paris. His parents were very poor, but at any rate from his earliest years he was within the sweep of the dialect of the Ile de France, and had no patois to unlearn when he afterwards appeared as a literary man. Perhaps to this is due some of the purity and correctness which the most fastidious were afterwards to celebrate in his style. These influences would be confirmed when as a lad he proceeded to Paris to pursue his studies. His instructors in Greek were-first, Evagrius, in the college of Cardinal Lemoine, and afterwards, Thusan and Danès, who, at the instance of Budaeus, had just been appointed lecteurs royaux in Ancient Philosophy and Literature. Stories are told of the privations that he endured in the pursuit of scholarship, how his mother sent him every week a loaf by the watermen of the Seine, how he read his books by the light of the fire, and the like; but similar circumstances are related of others, and, to quote Sainte Beuve, are in some sort “the legend of the heroic age of erudition.” It is better authenticated that he supported himself by becoming the domestic attendant of richer students till he graduated as Master of Arts at the age of nineteen. Then his position began to improve. He became tutor in important households, to the nephews of the Royal Reader, and to the children of the Royal Secretary. [p. 121] Through such patrons his ability and knowledge were made known to the King's sister, Marguerite de Valois, the beneficent patroness of literature and learning. He had proceeded to Bourges, it is said, to study law, but by her influence was appointed to discharge the more congenial functions of Reader in the Greek and Latin Languages, and was soon promoted to the full professorship. The University of Bourges was at the time the youngest in France save that of Bordeaux, having been founded less than three-quarters of a century before in 1463, when the Renaissance was advancing from conquest to conquest in Italy, and when Medievalism was moribund even in France. The new institution would have few traditions to oppose to the new spirit, and there was scope for a missionary of the New Learning. For some ten or twelve years Amyot remained in his post, lecturing two hours daily, in the morning on Latin, in the afternoon on Greek. No doubt such instruction would be elementary in a way; but even so, it was a laborious life, for in those days the classical teacher had few of the facilities that his modern colleague enjoys. It was, however, a good preparation for Amyot's peculiar mission, and he even found time to make his first experiments in the sphere that was to be his own. By 1546 he had completed a translation of the Aethiopica of Heliodorus, the famous Greek romance that deals with the loves and adventures of Theagenes and Chariclea. Amyot afterwards, on the authority of a manuscript which he discovered in the Vatican, identified the author with a Bishop of Tricca who lived in the end of the fourth century, and of whom a late tradition asserted that when commanded by the provincial synod either to burn his youthful effusion or resign his bishopric, he chose the latter alternative. “Heliodorus,” says Montaigne, when discussing parental love, “ayma mieulx perdre la [p. 122] dignité, le proufit, la devotion d‘une prelature si venerable, que de perdre sa fille, fille qui dure encores bien gentille, mais à l'aventure pourtant un peu curieusement et mollement goderonnee pour fille ecclesiastique et sacerdotale, et de trop amoureuse façon”18 In the case of the young French professor it had happier and opposite consequences, for it procured him from the king the Abbey of Bellozane. This gift, one of the last that Francis bestowed for the encouragement of letters, was partly earned, too, by a version of some of Plutarch's Lives, which Amyot presented to his royal patron and had executed at his command.

With an income secured Amyot was now in a position to free himself from the drudgery of class work, and follow his natural bent. In those days not all the printed editions of the classics were very satisfactory, and some works of the authors in whom he was most interested still existed only in manuscript or were known only by name. He set out for Italy in the hope of discovering the missing Lives of Plutarch and of obtaining better texts than had hitherto been within his reach, and seems to have remained abroad for some years. For a moment he becomes a conspicuous figure in an uncongenial scene. In May, 1551, the Council of Trent had been reopened, but Charles delayed the transaction of business till the following September. The Italian prelates, impatient and indignant, were hoping for French help against the emperor, but instead of the French Bishops there came only a letter from the “French King addressed to ‘the Convention’ which he would not dignify with the name of a council. The King said he had not been consulted about their meeting. He regarded them as a private synod got up for their own purposes by the Pope and the Emperor and he would have [p. 123] nothing to do with them.” 19 It was Amyot who was commissioned with the delivery and communication of the ungracious message. Probably the selection of the simple Abbé was intended less as an honour to him than as an insult to the assemblage. At any rate it was no very important part that he had to play, but it was one which made him very uncomfortable. He writes: “Je filois le plus doux que je pouvois, me sentant si mal et assez pour me faire mettre en prison, si j'eusse un peu trop avant parle”. He was not even named in the letter, and had not so much as seen it before he was called to read it aloud, so that he complains he never saw a matter so badly managed, “si mal cousu,” but he delivered the contents with emphasis and elocution. “Je croy qu'il n'y eust personne en toute la compagnie qui en perdist un seul mot s'il n'estoit bien sourd, de sorte que si ma commission ne gisoit qu'a présenter les lettres du roy, et à faire lecture de la proposition, je pense y avoir amplement satisfait.”

But his real interests lay elsewhere, and he brought back from Italy what would indemnify him for his troubles as envoy and please him more than the honour of such a charge. In his researches he had made some veritable finds, among them a new manuscript of Heliodorus, and Books xi. to xvii. of Diodorus Siculus' Bibliotheca Historica, only the two last of which had hitherto been known at all. His treatment of this discovery is characteristic,20 both of his classical enthusiasm and his limitations as a classical scholar. He did not, as the specialist of that and perhaps of any age would have done, edit and publish the original text, but contented himself with giving to the world a French translation. But the Historic Library has neither the [p. 124] allurement of a Greek romance nor the edification of Plutarch's Lives; and in this version, which for the rest is said to be poor, Amyot for once appealed to the popular interest in vain.

The Diodorus Siculus appeared in 1554, and in the same year Henry II. appointed Amyot preceptor to his two sons, the Dukes of Orleans and Anjou, who afterwards became respectively Charles IX. and Henry III. As his pupils were very young their tuition cannot have occupied a great deal of his time, and he was able to pursue his activity as translator. In 1559, besides a revised edition of Theagenes and Chariclea, there appeared anonymously a rendering, probably made at an earlier date, of the Daphnis and Chloe, a romance even more “curieusement et mollement goderonnee pour fille ecclesiastique et sacerdotale” than its companion. But it is with his own name and a dedication to the King that Amyot published almost at the same date his greatest work, the complete translation of Plutarch's Parallel Lives. If his Heliodorus gave him his first step on the ladder of church preferment, his Plutarch was a stronger claim to higher promotion. Henry II., indeed, died before the end of the year, but the accession of Amyot's elder pupil in 1560, after the short intercalary reign of Francis II., was propitious to his fortunes, for the new king, besides bestowing on him other substantial favours, almost immediately named him Grand Almoner of France.

Amyot was an indefatigable but deliberate worker. Fifteen years had elapsed between his first appearance as translator and the issue of his masterpiece. Thirteen more were to elapse before he had new material ready for the press. The interval in both cases was filled up with preparation, with learned labour, with the leisurely prosecution of his plan. A revised edition of the Lives appeared in 1565 and [p. 125] a third in 1567, and all the time he was pushing on a version of Plutarch's Moralia. Meanwhile in Charles gave him the bishopric of Auxerre; and without being required to disown the two literary daughters of his vivacious prime, “somewhat curiously and voluptuously frounced and of too amorous fashion” though they might be, he had yet to devote himself rather more seriously to his profession than he hitherto seems to have done. He set about it in his usual steady circumspect way. He composed sermons, first, it is said, writing them in Latin and then turning them into French; he attended faithfully to the administration of his diocese; he applied himself to the study of theological doctrine, and is said to have learned the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas by heart.21 These occupations have left their trace on his next work, which was ready by 1572. Not only are Plutarch's moral treatises perfectly consonant in tone with Amyot's episcopal office, but the preface is touched with a breath of religious unction, of which his previous performances show no trace. Perhaps the flavour is a little too pronounced when in his grateful dedication to his royal master he declares: “The Lord has lodged in you singular goodness of nature.” The substantive needs all the help that can be wrung from the adjective, when used of Charles IX. in the year of St. Bartholomew. But Amyot, though the exhibiter of “Plutarch's men,” was essentially a private student, and was besides bound by ties of intimacy and obligation to his former pupil, who had certainly done well by him. Nor was the younger brother behindhand in his acknowledgments. Charles died before two years were out (for Amyot had a way of dedicating books to kings who deceased soon after), and was lamented by Amyot in a simple and heartfelt Latin elegy. [p. 126] But his regrets were quite disinterested, for when Henry III. succeeded in 1574, he showed himself as kind a master, and in 1578 decreed that the Grand Almoner should also be Commander of the Order of the Holy Ghost without being required to give proofs of nobility.

Invested with ample revenues and manifold dignities, Amyot for the next eleven years lived a busy and simple life, varying the routine of his administrative duties with music, of which he was a lover and a practitioner; with translations, never published and now lost, from the Greek tragedians, who had attracted him as professor, and from St. Athanasius, who appealed to him as bishop; above all, with the revision of his Plutarch, for which he never ceased to collect new readings. Then came disasters, largely owing to his reputation for partiality and complaisance. When the Duke and the Cardinal of Guise were assassinated in 589, he was accused by the Leaguers of having approved the crime and of having granted absolution to the King. This he denied; but his Chapter and diocesans rose against him, the populace sacked his residence, and he had to fly from Auxerre. Nor were his woes merely personal. On August 3rd the House of Valois, to which he was so much beholden, became extinct with the murder of Henry III.; and however worthless the victim may have been, Amyot cannot have been unaffected by old associations of familiarity and gratitude. Six days later he writes that he is “the most afflicted, desolate and destitute poor priest I suppose, in France.” His private distress was not of long duration. He made peace with the Leaguers, denounced the “politicians” for supporting Henry IV., returned to his see, resumed his episcopal duties, though he was divested of his Grand Almonership, and was able to leave the large fortune of two hundred thousand crowns. But he [p. 127] did not survive to see the establishment of the new dynasty or the triumph of Catholicism, for he died almost eighty years old in February, 1593, and only in the following June was Henry IV. reconciled to the Church. Perhaps had he foreseen this consummation Amyot would have found some comfort in the thought that a third pupil, a truer and greater one than those who were no more, would reign in their stead, and repair the damage their vice and folly had caused. “Glory to God!” writes Henry of Navarre to his wife, “you could have sent me no more pleasant message than the news of the zest for reading which has taken you. Plutarch always attracts me with a fresh novelty. To love him is to love me, for he was for long the instructor of my early years. My good mother, to whom I owe everything, and who had so great a desire to watch over my right attitude and was wont to say that she did not wish to see in her son a distinguished dunce, put this book in my hands when I was all but an infant at the breast. It has been, as it were, my conscience, and has prescribed in my ear many fair virtues and excellent maxims for my behaviour and for the management of my affairs.” 22

Amyot has exerted a far-reaching influence on the literature of his own country and of Europe. Though as a translator he might seem to have no more than a secondary claim, French historians of letters have dwelt on his work at a length and with a care that are usually conceded only to the

[p. 128] achievements of creative imagination or intellectual discovery. And the reason is that his aptitude for his task amounts to real genius, which he has improved by assiduous research, so that in his treatment, the ancillary craft, as it is usually considered, rises to the rank of a free liberal art. He has the insight to divine what stimulus and information the age requires; the knowledge to command the sources that will supply them; the skill to manipulate his native idiom for the new demands, and suit his expression, so far as may be, both to his subject and to his audience. Among the great masters of translation he occupies a foremost place.

Of spontaneous and initiative power he had but little. He cannot stand alone. For Henry II. he wrote a Projet de l‘Eloquence Royal, but it was not printed till long after his death; and of this and his other original prose his biographer, Roulliard, avows that the style is strangely cumbersome and laggard (estrangement pesant et traisnassier). Even in his prefaces to Plutarch he is only good when he catches fire from his enthusiasm for his author. Just as his misgivings at the Council of Trent, his commendations of his royal patrons, his concessions to his enemies of the League, suggest a defect in independent force of character, so the writings in which he must rely on himself show a defect in independent force of intellect.

Nor is he a specialist in scholarship. Already in 1635, when he had been less than a century in his grave, Bachet de Méziriac, expert in all departments of learning, exposed his shortcomings in a Discourse on Translation, which was delivered before the Academy. His critic describes him as “a promising pupil in rhetoric with a mediocre knowledge of Greek, and some slight tincture of Polite Letters” ; and asserts that there are more than two thousand passages in which he has perverted the sense of his [p. 129] author. Even in 1580-81, during Amyot's lifetime, Montaigne was forced to admit in discussion with certain learned men at Rome that he was less accurate than his admirers had imagined. He was certainly as far as possible from being a Zunftgelehrter. His peculiar attitude is exactly indicated by his treatment of the missing books of Diodorus which it was his good fortune to light upon. He is not specially interested in his discovery, and has no thought of giving the original documents to the world. At the same time he has such a reverence for antiquity that he must do something about them. So with an eye to his chosen constituency, his own countrymen, he executes his vernacular version.

For of his own countrymen he always thought first. They are his audience, and he has their needs in his mind. And that is why he made Plutarch the study of his life. His romances are mere experiments for his pastime and equipment: 23 his Diodorus is a task prescribed by accident and vocation: but his Plutarch is a labour of love and of patriotism. It was knowledge of antiquity for which the age clamoured and of which it stood in need; and who else could give such a summary and encyclopaedia of Classical Lifeas the polyhistor of Chaeronea, who interested himself in everything, from details of household management to the government of states, from ancestral superstitions to the speculations of philosophers, from after-dinner conversation to the direction of campaigns; but brought them all into vital relation with human nature and human conduct? Plutarch appealed to the popular instinct of the time and to the popular instinct in Amyot's own breast. It is his large applicability “distill'd through all the needful uses of our lives” and “fit for any conference [p. 130] one can use” that, for example, arouses the enthusiasm of Montaigne. After mentioning that when he writes he willingly dispenses with the companionship or recollection of books, he adds:

But it is with more difficulty that I can get rid of Plutarch: he is so universal and so full that on all occasions and whatever out-of-the-way subject you have taken up, he thrusts himself into your business, and holds out to you a hand lavish and inexhaustible in treasures and ornaments. I am vexed at his being so much exposed to the plunder of those who resort to him. I can't have the slightest dealings with him myself, but I snatch a leg or a wing.

24 And again:
I am above all grateful to [Amyot] for having had the insight to pick out and choose a book so worthy and so seasonable, to make a present of it to his country. We dunces should have been lost, if this book had not raised us out of the mire. Thanks to it we now dare to speak and write. With it the ladies can lecture the school-masters. It is our breviary.

25 “In all kinds Plutarch is my man,” he says elsewhere. And indeed it is obvious, even though he had not told us, that Plutarch with Seneca supplies his favourite reading, to which he perpetually recurs. “I have not,” he writes, “systematically acquainted myself with any solid books except Plutarch and Seneca, from whom I draw like the Danaides, filling and pouring out continually.”26 To the latter he [p. 131] could go for himself; for the Greek he had to depend on Amyot. For combined profit and pleasure, he says, “the books that serve me are Plutarch, since he is French, and Seneca.27” But it is to the former that he seems to give the palm.
Seneca is full of smart and witty sayings, Plutarch of things: the former kindles you more and excites you, the latter satisfies you more and requites you better; he guides us while the other drives us.28

It is indeed impossible to imagine Montaigne without Plutarch, to whom he has àstriking resemblance both in his free-and-easy homilies and in his pregnant touches. It is these things on which he dwells.

There are in Plutarch many dissertations at full length well worth knowing, for in my opinion he is the master-craftsman in that trade; but there are a thousand that he has merely indicated; he only points out the track we are to take if we like, and confines himself sometimes to touching the quick of a subject. We must drag (the expositions) thence and put them in the market place. ... It is a dissertation in itself to see him select a trivial act in the life of a man, or a word that does not seem to have such import.29

But Montaigne did not stand alone in his admiration. He himself, as we have seen, bears witness [p. 132] to the widespread popularity of Amyot's Plutarch and the general practice of rifling its treasures. Indeed, Plutarch was seen to be so congenial to the age, that frequent attempts had been made before Amyot to place him within the reach of a larger circle than the little band of Greek scholars. In 1470, e.g. a number of Italians had co-operated in a Latin version of the Lives, published at Rome by Campani, and this was followed by several partial translations in French.30 But the latter were immediately superseded, and even the former had its authority shaken, by Amyot's achievement.

This was due partly to its greater intelligence and faithfulness, partly to its excellent style.

In regard to the first, it should be remembered that the criticism of Amyot's learning must be very carefully qualified. Scholarship is a progressive science, and it is always easy for the successor to point out errors in the precursor, as Méziriac did in Amyot. Of course, however, the popular expositor was not a Budaeus or Scaliger, and the savants whom Montaigne met in Rome were doubtless justified in their strictures. Still the zeal that he showed and the trouble that he took in searching for good texts, in conferring them with the printed books and in consulting learned men about his conjectural emendations,31 would suggest that he had the root of the matter in him, and there is evidence [p. 133] that expert opinion in his own days was favourable to his claims.32

At the time when he was translating the Lives into French two scholars of high reputation were, independently of each other, translating them into Latin. Xylander's versions appeared in 1560, those of Cruserius were ready in the same year, but were not published till 1564. They still hold their place and enjoy consideration. Now, they both make their compliments to Amyot. Xylander, indeed, has only a second-hand acquaintance with his publication, but even that he has found valuable:

After I had already finished the greater part of the work, the Lives of Plutarch written by Amyot in the French language made their appearance. And since I heard from those who are skilled in that tongue, a privilege which I do not possess, that he had devoted remarkable pains to the book and used many good MSS., assisted by the courtesy of friends, I corrected several passages about which I was in doubt, and in not a few my conjecture was established by the concurrence of that translator.


Cruserius, again, in his prefatory Epistle to the Reader, warmly commends the merits of Xylander and Amyot, but refers with scarcely veiled disparagement to the older Latin rendering, which nevertheless enjoyed general acceptance as the number of editions proves, and was considered the standard authority. [p. 134]

If indeed (he writes) I must not here say that I by myself have both more faithfully and more elegantly interpreted Plutarch's Lives, the translation of which into Latin a great number of Italians formerly undertook without much success; this at least I may say positively and justly that I think I have done this.


On the other hand “Amiotus” has been a help to him. When he had already polished and corrected his own version, he came across this very tasteful rendering in Brussels six months after it had appeared. “This man's scholarship and industry gave me some light on several passages.” 35 It is well then to bear in mind, when Amyot's competency is questioned, that by their own statement he cleared up things for specialists like Xylander and Cruserius. And this is all the more striking, that Cruserius, whom his preface shows to be very generous in his acknowledgments, has no word of recognition for his Italian predecessors even though Filelfo was among their number.36 But his Epistle proceeds: “To whom (i.e. to Amyot) I will give this testimony that now-a-days it is impossible that anyone should render Plutarch so elegantly in the Latin tongue, as he renders him in his own.” 37 And this praise of Amyot's style leads us to the next point.

If Amyot claims the thanks of Western Europe [p. 135] for giving it with adequate faithfulness a typical miscellany of ancient life and thought, his services to his country in developing the native language are hardly less important. Before him Rabelais and Calvin were the only writers of first-rate ability in modern French. But Rabelais' prose was too exuberant, heterogeneous and eccentric to supply a model; and Calvin, besides being suspect on account of his theology, was of necessity as a theologian abstract and restricted in his range. The new candidate had something of the wealth and universal appeal of the one, something of the correctness and purity of the other.

Since Plutarch deals with almost all departments of life, Amyot had need of the amplest vocabulary, and a supply of the most diverse locutions. Indeed, sometimes the copious resources of his vernacular, with which he had doubtless begun to familiarise himself among the simple folk of Melun, leave him in the lurch, and he has to make loans from Latin or Greek. But he does this sparingly, and only when no other course is open to him. Generally his thorough mastery of the dialect of the Ile de France, the standard language of the kingdom, helps him out.

Yet he is far from adopting the popular speech without consciously manipulating it. He expressly states that he selects the fittest, sweetest, and most euphonious words, and such as are in the mouths of those who are accustomed to speak well. The ingenuousness of his utterance, which is in great measure due to his position of pioneer in a new period, should not mislead us into thinking him a careless writer. His habit of first composing his sermons in Latin and then translating them into French tells its own story. He evidently realised the superiority in precision and orderly arrangement of the speech of Rome, and felt it a benefit to [p. 136] submit to such discipline the artless bonhomie of his mother tongue. But since he is the born interpreter, whose very business it was to mediate between the exotic and the indigenous, and assimilate the former to the latter, he never forgets the claims of his fellow Frenchmen and his native French. He does not force his idiom to imitate a foreign model, but only learns to develop its own possibilities of greater clearness, exactitude, and regularity.

It is for these excellencies among others, “pour la naifeté et purété du language en quoi il surpasse touts aultres,” 38 that Montaigne gives him the palm, and this purity served him in good stead during the classical period of French literature, which was so unjust to most writers of the sixteenth century, and found fault with Montaigne himself for his “Gasconisms.” Racine thought that Amyot's “old style” had a grace which could not be equalled in our modern language. Fénelon regretfully looks back to him for beauties that are fallen into disuse. Nor was it only men of delicate and poetic genius who appreciated his merits. Vaugelas, the somewhat illiberal grammarian and purist, is the most enthusiastic of the worshippers.

What obligation (he exclaims) does our language not owe to him, there never having been anyone who knew its genius and character better than he, or who used words and phrases so genuinely French without admixture of the provincial expressions which daily corrupt the purity of the true French tongue. All stores and treasures are in the works of this great man. And even to-day we have hardly any noble and splendid modes of speech that he has not left us; and though we have cut out a half of his words and phrases, we do not fail to find in the other half almost all the riches of which we boast.

It will be seen, however, that in such tributes from the seventeenth century (and the same thing is true of others left unquoted), it is implied that [p. 137] Amyot is already somewhat antiquated and out of fashion. He is honoured as ancestor in the right line of classical French, but he is its ancestor and not a living representative. Vaugelas admits that half his vocabulary is obsolete, Fénelon regrets his charms just because their date is past, Racine wonders that such grace should have been attained in what is not the modern language.

And this may remind us of the very important fact, that Amyot could not on account of his position deliver a facsimile of the Greek. Plutarch lived at the close of an epoch, he at the beginning. The one employed a language full of reminiscences and past its prime; the other, a language that was just reaching self-consciousness and that had the future before it. Both in a way were artists, but Plutarch shows his art in setting his stones already cut, while Amyot provides moulds for the liquid metal. At their worst Plutarch's style becomes mannered and Amyot's infantile. By no sleight of hand would it have been possible to give in the French of the sixteenth century an exact reproduction of the Greek of the second. Grey-haired antiquity had to learn the accents of stammering childhood.

Sometimes Amyot hardly makes an attempt at literal fidelity. The style of his original he describes as “plein, serré et philosophistorique.” With him it retains the fulness, but the condensation, or rather what a modern scholar describes as “the crowding of the sentence,” 39 often gives place to periphrasis, and of the “philosophistorique” small trace remains. Montaigne praises him because he has contrived “to expound so thorny and crabbed 40an author with such [p. 138] fidelity.” What is most crabbed and thorny in Plutarch he passes over or replaces with a loose equivalent; single words he expands to phrases; difficulties he explains with a gloss or illustration that he does not hesitate to insert in the text; and he is anxious to bring out the sense by adding more emphatic and often familiar touches.

The result of it all undoubtedly is to lend Plutarch a more popular and less academic bearing than he really has. Some of Amyot's most attractive effects either do not exist or are inconspicuous in his original. The tendency to artifice and rhetoric in the pupil of Ammonius disappears, and he is apt to get the credit for an innocence and freshness that are more characteristic of his translator. M. Faguet justly points out that Amyot in his version makes Plutarch “a simple writer, while he was elegant, fastidious, and even affected in his style.” . . . He “emerges from Amyot's hands as le bon Plutarque of the French people, whereas he was certainly not that.” Thus it is beyond dispute that the impression produced is in some respects misleading.

But there is another side to this. Plutarch in his tastes and ideals did belong to an older, less sophisticated age, though he was born out of due time and had to adapt his speech to his hyper-civilised environment. Ampère has called attention to the picture, suggested by the facts at our disposal, of Plutarch living in his little Boeotian town, obtaining his initiation into the mysteries, punctually fulfilling the functions of priest, making antiquities and traditions his hobby. “There was this man under the rhetorician,” he adds, “and we must not forget it. For if the rhetorician wrote, it was the [p. 139] other Plutarch who often dictated.” Of course in a way the antithesis is an unreal one. Plutarch was after all, as every one must be, the child of his own generation, and his aspirations were not confined to himself. The Sophistes is, on the one hand, what the. man who makes antiquity and traditions his hobby, is on the other. Still it remains certain that his love was set on things which pertained to an earlier and less elaborate phase of society, to “the good old days” when they found spontaneous acceptance and expression. On him the ends of the world are come, and he seeks by all the resources of his art and learning to revive what he regards as its glorious prime. His heart is with the men “of heart, head, hand,” but when he seeks to reveal them, he must do so in the chequered light of a vari-coloured culture.

Hence there was a kind of discrepancy between his spirit and his utterance; and Amyot, removing the discrepancy, brings them into a natural harmony. There is truth in the paradox that the form which the good bishop supplies is the one that was meant for the matter. “Amyot,” says Demogeot, summing up his discussion of this aspect of the question, “has in some sort created Plutarch, and made him truer and more complete than nature made him.”

But though Plutarch's ideas seem from one point of view to enter into their predestined habitation, this does not alter the fact that they lose something of their distinctive character in accommodating themselves to their new surroundings. It is easy to exaggerate their affinity with the vernacular words, as it is easy to exaggerate the correspondence between author and translator. Thus Ampère, half in jest, pleases himself with drawing on behalf of the two men a parallel such as is appended to each particular brace of Lives. Both of them lovers of virtue, he points out, for example, that both had a [p. 140] veneration for the past, of which the one strove to preserve the memories even then beginning to fade, and the other to rediscover and gather up the shattered fragments. Both experienced sad and troublous times without having their tranquillity disturbed, the one by the crimes of Domitian or the other by the furies of St. Bartholomew's. Both belonged to the hierarchy, the one as priest of Apollo, the other as Bishop of Auxerre.

But it is not hard to turn such parallels into so many contrasts. The past with which Plutarch was busy was in a manner the familiar past of his native country or at least of his own civilisation; but Amyot loved the past of that remote and alien world in which for ages men had neglected their heritage and taken small concern. The sequestered life of the provincial under the Roman Empire, a privacy whence he emerges to whatever civil offices were within his reach, is very different from the dislike and refusal of public activity that characterises the Frenchman in his own land at a time when learning was recognised as passport to high position in the State. The priest of a heathen cult which he could accept only when explained away by a rationalistic idealism, and which was by no means incompatible with his family instincts, was very different from the celibate churchman who ended by submitting to the terms imposed by the intolerance of the Holy League. The analogies are there, and imply perhaps a strain of intellectual kinship, but the contrasts are not less obvious, and refute the idea of a perfect unison.

Now, it is much the same if we turn from the writers to their writings. All translation is a compromise between the foreign material and the native intelligence, but in Amyot the latter factor counts most. Classical life is very completely assimilated to the contemporary life that he knew, but such [p. 141] contemporary life was in some ways quite unlike that which he was reproducing. There is an illusory sameness in the effects produced as there is an illusion of coincidence in the characters and careers of the men who produce them, and this may have its cause in real contact at certain points. But the gaps that separate them are also real, though at the time they were seldom detected. “Both by the details and the general tone of his version,” says M. Lanson, “[Amyot] modernises the Graeco-Roman world, and by this involuntary travesty he tends to check the awakening of the sense for the differences, that is, the historic sense. As he invites Shakespeare to recognise the English Mob in the Plebs Romana, so he authorises Corneille and Racine and even Mademoiselle Scudéry to portray under ancient names the human nature they saw in France.”

And this tendency was carried further in Amyot's English translator.


Of Sir Thomas North, the most recent and direct of the authorities who transmitted to Shakespeare his classical material, much less is known than of either of his predecessors. Plutarch, partly because as original author he has the opportunity of expressing his own personality, partly because he uses this opportunity to the full in frank advocacy of his views and gossip about himself, may be pictured with fair vividness and in some detail. Such information fails in regard to Amyot, since he was above all the mouthpiece for other men; but his high dignities placed him in the gaze of contemporaries, and his reputation as pioneer in classical translation and nursing-father of modern French ensured a certain [p. 142] interest in his career. But North, like him a translator, had not equal prominence either from his position or from his achievement. Such honours and appointments as he obtained were not of the kind to attract regard. He was a mere unit in the Elizabethan crowd of literary importers, and belonged to the lower class who never steered their course “to the classic coast.” He had no such share as Amyot in shaping the traditions of the language, but was one writer in an age that produced many others, some of them greater masters than he. Yet to us, as the immediate interpreter of Plutarch to Shakespeare, he is the most important of the three, the most famous and the most alive. Sainte-Beuve, talking of Amyot, quotes a phrase from Leopardi in reference to the Italians who have associated themselves forever with the Classics they unveiled: “Oh, how fair a fate! to be exempt from death except in company with an Immortal!” This fair fate is North's in double portion. He is linked with a great Immortal by descent, and with a greater by ancestry.

Thomas North, second son of the first Baron North of Kirtling, was born about 1535, to live his life, as it would seem, in straitened circumstances and unassuming work. Yet we might have anticipated for him a prosperous and eminent career. He had high connections and powerful patrons; his father made provision for him, his brother helped him once and again, a royal favourite interested himself on his behalf. His ability and industry are evident from his works; his honesty and courage are vouched for by those in a position to know; the efficiency of his public services received recognition from his fellow-citizens and his sovereign. But with all these advantages and qualifications he was even in middle age hampered by lack of means, and he never had much share in the pelf and pomp of life. Perhaps his occupation with larger concerns [p. 143] than personal aggrandisement may have interfered with his material success. At any rate, in his narrower sphere he showed himself a man of public interest and public spirit, and the authors with whom he busies himself are all such as commend ideal rather than tangible possessions as the real objects of desire. And we know besides that he was an unaggressive man, inclined to claim less than his due; for in one of his books he professes to get the material only from a French translation, when it is proved that he must have had recourse to the Spanish original as well.

This was his maiden effort, The Diall of Princes, published in 1557, when North was barely of age and had just been entered a student of Lincoln's Inn; and with this year the vague and scanty data for his history really begin. He dedicates his book to Queen Mary, who had shown favour to his father, pardoning him for his support of Lady Jane Grey, raising him to the peerage, and distinguishing him in other ways. But on the death of Mary, Lord North retained the goodwill of Elizabeth, who twice kept her court at his mansion, and appointed him Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely. The family had thus considerable local influence, and it was not diminished when, on the old man's death in 564, Roger, the first son, succeeded to the title. Before long the new Lord North was made successively an alderman of Cambridge, Lord Lieutenant of the County, and High Steward; while Thomas, who had benefited under his father's will, was presented to the freedom of the town. All through, the career of the junior appears as a sort of humble pendant to that of the senior, and he picks up his dole of the largesses that Fortune showers on the head of the house. What he had been doing in the intervening years we do not know, but he cannot have abandoned his literary pursuits, [p. 144] for in 1568, when he received this civic courtesy, he issued a new edition of the Diall, corrected and enlarged; and he followed it up in 1570 with a version of Doni's Morale Filosofia.

Meanwhile the elder brother was advancing on his brilliant course. He had been sent to Vienna to invest the Emperor Maximilian with the Order of the Garter; he had been commissioned to present the Queen on his return with the portrait of her suitor, the Archduke Charles; he had held various offices at home, and in 1574 he was appointed Ambassador Extraordinary to congratulate Henry III. of France on his accession, and to procure if possible toleration for the Huguenots and a renewal of the Treaty of Blois. On this important legation he was accompanied by Thomas, who would thus have an opportunity of seeing or hearing something of Amyot, the great Bishop and Grand Almoner who was soon to be recipient of new honours from his royal pupil and patron, and who had recently been drawing new attention on himself by his third edition of the Lives and his first edition of the Morals.41 It may well be that this visit suggested to Thomas North his own masterpiece, which he seems to have set about soon after he came home in the end of November. At least it was to appear in January, 1579, before another lustre was out; and a translation even from French of the entire Lives, not only unabridged but augmented (for biographies of Hannibal and Scipio are added from the versions of Charles de l‘Escluse),42 is a task of years rather than of months. [p. 145]

The embassage, despite many difficulties to be overcome, had been a success, and Lord North returned to receive the thanks and favours he deserved. He stood high in the Queen's regard, and in 1578 she honoured him with a visit for a night. He was lavish in his welcome, building, we are told, new kitchens for the occasion; filling them with provisions of all kinds, the oysters alone amounting to one cart load and two horse loads; rifling the cellars of their stores, seventy-four hogsheads of beer being reinforced with corresponding supplies of ale, claret, white wine, sack, and hippocras; presenting her at her departure with a jewel worth <pound sign> I 20 in the money of the time. In such magnificent doings he was by no means unmindful of his brother, to whom shortly before he had made over the lease of a house and household stuff. Yet precisely at this date, when Thomas North was completing or had completed his first edition of the Lives, his circumstances seem to have been specially embarrassed. Soon after the book appeared Leicester writes on his behalf to Burleigh, stating that he “is a very honest gentleman and hath many good parts in him which are drowned only by poverty.” There is perhaps a certain incongruity between these words and the accounts of the profusion at Kirtling in the preceding year.

Meanwhile Lord North, to his reputation as diplomatist and courtier sought to add that of a soldier. In the Low Countries he greatly distinguished himself by his capacity and courage; but he was called home to look after the defences of the eastern coast in view of the expected Spanish invasion, and this was not the only time that the Government resorted to him for military advice.

No such important charge was entrusted to Thomas, but he too was ready to do his duty by his country in her hour of need, and in 1588 had [p. 146] command of three hundred men of Ely. In the interval between this and the distressful time of 1579 his position must have improved; for in 1591, in reward it may be for his patriotic activity. the Queen conferred on him the honour of knighthood, which in those days implied as necessary qualification the possession of land to the minimum value of £40 a year. This was followed by other acknowledgments and dignities of moderate worth. In I592 and again in 1597 he sat on the Commission of Peace for Cambridgeshire. In 1598 he received a grant of <pound sign>20 from the town of Cambridge, and in 1601 a pension of £40 a year from the Queen. These amounts are not munificent, even if we take them at the outside figure suggested as the equivalent in modern money.43 They give the impression that North was notvery well off, that in his circumstances some assistance was desirable, and a little assistance would go a long way. At the same time they show that his conduct deserved and obtained appreciation. Indeed, the pension from the Queen is granted expressly “in consideration of the good and faithful service done unto us.”

He also benefited by a substantial bequest from Lord North, who had died in 1600, but he was now an old man of at least sixty-six, and probably he did not live long to enjoy his new resources. Of the brother Lloyd records: “There was none better to represent our State than my Lord North, who had been two years in Walsingham's house, four in Leicester's service, had seen six courts, twenty battles, nine treaties, and four solemn jousts, whereof he was no mean part.” In regard to the younger son, even the year of whose death we do not know, the parallel summary would run: “He served a few months in an ambassador's suite; he commanded a local force, he was a knight, and sat on the [p. 147] Commission of Peace; he made three translations, one of which rendered possible Shakespeare's Roman Plays.”44

This is his “good and faithful service” unto us, not that he fulfilled duties in which he might have been rivalled by any country justice or militia captain. And, “a good and faithful servant,” he had qualified himself for his grand performance by a long apprenticeship in the craft. Like Amyot, he devotes himself to translation from first to last, but unlike Amyot he knows from the outset the kind of book that it is given him to interpret. He is not drawn by the fervour of youth to “vain and amatorious romance,” nor by conventional considerations to the bric-a-brac of antiquarianism. From the time that he has attained the years of discretion and comes within our knowledge, he applies his heart to study and supply works of solid instruction.

Souninge in moral vertu was his speche,
And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche.

It is characteristic, too, both of his equipment and his style, that though he may have known a little Greek and certainly knew some Latin, as is shown by a few trifling instances in which he gives Aymot's expressions a more learned turn, he never used an ancient writer as his main authority, but confined himself to the adaptations and translations that were current in modern vernaculars.

Thus his earliest work is the rendering, mainly from the French, of the notable and curious forgery of the Spanish Bishop, Antonio de Guevara, alleged by its author to have been derived from an ancient manuscript which he had discovered in Florence. It was originally entitled El Libro Aureo de Marco [p. 148] Aurelio, Emperador y eloquentissimo Orator, but afterwards, when issued in an expanded form, was rechristened, Marco Aurelio con el Relox de Principes. It has however little to do with the real Marcus Aurelius, and the famous Meditations furnish only a small ingredient to the work. It is in some ways an imitation of Xenophon's Cyropaedia, that is, it is a didactic romance which aims at giving in narrative form true principles of education, morals, and politics. But the narrative is very slight, and most of the book is made up of discussions, discourses, and epistles, the substance of which is in many cases taken with a difference from Plutarch's Moralia. These give the author scope to endite “in high style” ; and in his balanced and erudite way of writing, which with all its tastelessness and excess has a far-off resemblance to Plutarch's more rhetorical effects, as well as in his craze for allusions and similes, he anticipates the mannerisms of the later Euphuists. But despite the moralisings and affectations (or rather, perhaps, on account of them, for the first fell in with the ethical needs of the time, and the second with its attempts to organise its prose), the book was a great favourite for over a hundred years, and Casaubon says that except the Bible, hardly any other has been so frequently translated or printed. Lord Berners had already made his countrymen acquainted with it in shorter form, but North renders the Diall of Princes in full, and even adds another treatise of Guevara's, The Favored Courtier, as fourth book to his second edition.

It is both the contents and the form that attract him. In the title page he describes it as “right necessarie and pleasaunt to all gentylmen and others which are louers of vertue” ; and in his preface he says that it is “so full of high doctrine, so adourned with auncient histories, so authorised with grave [p. 149] sentences, and so beautified with apte similitudes, that I knowe not whose eies in reding it can be weried, nor whose eares in hearing it not satisfied.”

That North's contemporaries agreed with him in liking such fare is shown by the publication of the new edition eleven years after the first, and even more strikingly by the publication of John Lily's imitation eleven years after the second. For Dr. Landmann has proved beyond dispute that the paedagogic romance of Euphues, in purpose, in plan, in its letters and disquisitions, its episodes and persons, is largely based on the Diall. He has not been quite so successful in tracing the distinctive tricks of the Euphuistic style through North to Guevara. It has to be remembered that North's main authority was not the Spanish Relox de Principes, but the French Orloge des princes; and at the double remove a good many of the peculiarities of Guevarism were bound to become obliterated: as in point of fact has occurred. It would be a mistake to call North a Euphuistic writer, though in the Diall, and even in the Lives, there are Euphuistic passages. Still, Guevara did no doubt affect him, for Guevara's was the only elaborate and architectural prose with which he was on intimate terms. He had not the advantage of Amyot's daily commerce with the Classics, and constant practice in the equating of Latin and French. In the circumstances a dash of diluted Guevarism was not a bad thing for him, and at any rate was the only substitute at his disposal. To the end he sometimes uses it when he has to write in a more complex or heightened style.

But if the Spanish Bishop were not in all respects a salutary model, North was soon to correct this influence by working under the guidance of a very different man, the graceless Italian miscellanist, [p. 150]

Antonio Francesco Doni. That copious and'audacious conversationalist could write as he talked, on all sorts of themes, including even those in which there was no offence, and seldom failed to be entertaining. He is never more so than in his Morale Filosofia, a delightful book to which and to himself

North did honour by his delightful rendering. The descriptive title runs: “The Morall Philosophie of Doni: drawne out of the auncient writers. A worke first compiled in the Indian tongue, and afterwards reduced into diuers other languages: and now lastly Englished out of Italian by Thomas North.” This formidable announcement is a little misleading, for the book proves to be a collection of the so-called Fables of Bidpai, and though the lessons are not lacking, the main value as well as the main charm lies in the vigour and picturesqueness of the little stories.45

Thus in both his prentice works North betrays the same general bias. They are both concerned with the practical and applied philosophy of life, and both convey it through the medium of fiction: in so far they are alike. But they are unlike, in so far as the relative interest of the two factors is reversed, and the accent is shifted from the one to the other. In the Diall the narrative is almost in abeyance, and the pages are filled with long-drawn arguments and admonitions. In the Fables the sententious purpose is rather implied than obtruded, and in no way interferes with the piquant adventures; which are recounted in a very easy and lively style.

North was thus a practised writer and translator, with a good knowledge of the modern tongues, when he accompanied his brother to France in 1574. In his two previous attempts be had shown his bent towards improving story and the manly wisdom of the elder world; and in the second, had advanced in [p. 151] appreciation of the concrete example and the racy presentment. If he now came across Amyot's Plutarch, we can see how well qualified he was for the task of giving it an English shape, and how congenial the task would be. Of the Moral Treatises he already knew something, if only in the adulterated concoctions of Guevara, but the Lives would be quite new to him, and would exactly tally with his tastes in their blend of ethical reflection and impressive narrative. There is a hint of this double attraction in the opening phrase of the title page: “The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans compared by that grave learned Philosopher and Historiographer, Plutarch of Chaeronea.” The philosophy and the history are alike signalised as forming the equipment of the author, and certainly the admixture was such as would appeal to the public as well as to the translator.

The first edition of 1579, imprinted by Thomas Vautrouillier and John Wight, was followed by a second in 1595, imprinted by Richard Field for Bonham Norton. Field, who was a native of Stratford-on-Avon, and had been apprenticed to Vautrouillier before setting up for himself, had dealings with Shakespeare, and issued his Venus and Adonis and Rape of Lucrece. But whether or no his fellow townsman put him in the way of it, it is certain that Shakespeare was not long in discovering the new treasure. It seems to leave traces in so early a work as the Midsummer-Night's Dream, which probably borrowed from the life of Theseus, as well as in the Merchant of Venice, with its reference to “Cato's daughter, Brutus' Portia”; though it did not inspire a complete play till Julius Caesar. In 1603 appeared the third edition of North's Plutarch, enlarged with new Lives which had been incorporated in Amyot's collection in 1583: and this some think to have been the particular authority for [p. 152] Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus.46 And again a fourth edition, with a separate supplement bearing the date of 1610, was published in 1612; and of this the famous copy in the Greenock Library has been claimed as the dramatist's own book. If by any chance this should be the case, then Shakespeare must have got it for his private delectation, for by this time he had finished his plays on ancient history and almost ceased to write for the stage. But apart from that improbable and crowning honour, there is no doubt about the value of North's version to Shakespeare as dramatist, and the four editions in Shakespeare's lifetime sufficiently attest its popularity with the general reader. [p. 153]

This popularity is well deserved. Its permanent excellences were sure of wide appreciation, and the less essential qualities that fitted Plutarch to meet the needs of the hour in France, were not less opportune in England. North's prefatory “Address to the Reader” describes not only his own attitude but that of his countrymen in general.

There is no prophane studye better than Plutarke. All other learning is private, fitter for Universities then cities, fuller of contemplacion than experience, more commendable in the students them selves, than profitable unto others.

Whereas stories, (i.e. histories) are fit for every place, reache to all persons, serve for all tymes, teache the living, revive the dead, so farre excelling all other bookes as it is better to see learning in noble mens lives than to reade it in

Philosophers writings. Nowe, for the Author, I will not denye but love may deceive me, for I must needes love him with whome I have taken so much payne, but I bileve I might be bold to affirme that he hath written the profitablest story of all Authors. For all other were fayne to take their matter, as the fortune of the contries where they wrote fell out; But this man, being excellent in wit, in learning, and experience, hath chosen the speciall actes, of the best persons, of the famosest nations of the world.... And so I wishe you all the profit of the booke.

This passage really sums up one half the secret of Plutarch's fascination for the Renaissance world. The aim is profit, and profit not merely of a private kind. The profit is better secured by history than by precept, just as the living example is more effectual than the philosophic treatise. And there is more profit in Plutarch than in any other historian, not only on account of his personal qualifications, his wit, learning, and experience, but on account of his subject-matter, because he had the opportunity and insight to choose the prerogative instances in the annals of mankind. Only it should be noted that the profit is conceived in the most liberal and ideal sense. It is the profit that comes from contact with great souls in great surroundings, not the [p. 154] profit of the trite and unmistakable moral. This Amyot had already clearly perceived and set forth in a fine passage of which North gives a fine translation. The dignity of the historian's office is very high:
Forasmuch as his chiefe drift ought to be to serve the common weale, and that he is but as a register to set downe the judgements and definitive sentences of God's Court, whereof some are geven according to the ordinarie course and capacitie of our weake naturall reason, and other some goe according to God's infinite power and incomprehensible wisedom, above and against all discourse of man's understanding.

In other words history is not profitable as always illustrating a simple retributive justice. It may do that, but it may also do otherwise. Some of its awards are mysterious or even inscrutable. The profit it yields is disinterested and spiritual, and does not lie in the encouragement of optimistic virtue. And this indicates how it may be turned to account. The stuff it contains is the true stuff for Tragedy.

The remaining half of Plutarch's secret depends on the treatment, which loses nothing in the hands of those who now must manage it; of whom the one, in Montaigne's phrase, showed “the constancy of so long a labour,” and the other, in his own phrase, “took so much pain,” to adapt it aright. But just as the charm of style, though undiminished, is changed when it passes from Plutarch to Amyot, so too this takes place to some degree when it passes from Amyot to North. North was translating from a modern language, without the fear of the ancients before his eyes. Amyot had translated from Greek, and was familiar with classical models. Not merely does this affect the comparative fidelity of their versions, as it was bound to do, for North, with two intervals between, and without the instincts of an accurate scholar, could not keep so close as even Amyot had done to the first original. Indeed he [p. 155] sometimes, though not often, violates the meaning of the French, occasionally misinterpreting a word, as when he translates Coriolanus' final words to his mother: “Je m'en revois (i.e. revais, retourne) vaincu par toy seule”, by “I see myself vanquished by you alone”; more frequently misconstruing an idiom, as when he goes wrong with the negative in passages like the following: “Ces paroles feirent incontinent penser à Eurybides et craindre que les Atheniens ne s'en voulussent aller et les abandonner” ; which he renders: “These wordes made Eurybides presently thinke and feare that the Athenians would not goe, and that they would forsake them.” 47

But the same circumstance affects North's mode of utterance as well. It is far from attaining to Amyot's habitual clearness, coherence, and correctness. His words are often clumsily placed, his constructions are sometimes broken and more frequently charged with repetitions, he does not always find his way out of a complicated sentence with his grammar unscathed or his meaning unobscured. One of the few Frenchmen who take exception to Amyot's prose says that “it trails like the ivy creeping at random, instead of flying like the arrow to its mark.” This is unfair in regard to Amyot; it would be fairer, though still unfair, in regard to North. Compare the French and English versions of the passage that deals with Mark Antony's “piscatory eclogue.” Nothing could be more lucid or elegant than the French.

Il se meit quelquefois à pescher à la ligne, et voyant qu'il ne pouvoit rien prendre, si en estoit fort despit et marry à cause que Cleopatra estoit présente. Si commanda secrettement à quelques pescheurs, quand il auroit jeté sa ligne, qu'ilz se plongeassent soudain en l'eau, et qu'ilz allassent accrocher à son hameçon quelques poissons de ceulx qu'ilz auroyent eu peschés auparavent; et puis retira aussi deux or [p. 156] trois fois sa ligne avec prise. Cleopatra s'en aperceut incontinent, toutes fois elle feit semblant de n'en rien s(avoir, et de s'esmerveiller comme il peschoit si bien; mais apart, elle compta le tout à ses familiers, et leur dit que le lendemain ilz se trouvassent sur l'eau pour voir l'esbatement. Ilz y vindrent sur le port en grand nombre, et se meirent dedans des bateaux de pescheurs, et Antonius aussi lascha sa ligne, et lors Cleopatra commanda à lun de ses serviteurs qu'il se hastast de plonger devant ceulx d‘Antonius, et qu'il allast attacher a l'hameion de sa ligne quelque vieux poisson salle comme ceulx que Ion apporte du pais de Pont. Cela fait, Antonius qui cuida qu'il y eust un poisson pris, tira incontinent sa ligne, et adonc comme lon peult penser, tous les assistans se prirent bien fort à rire, et Cleopatra, en riant, lui dit: “Laisse-nous, seigneur, à nous autres Aegyptiens, habitans 48 de Pharus et de Canobus, laisse-nous la ligne; ce n'est pas ton mestier. Ta chasse est de prendre et conquerer villes et citez, pais et royaumes.”

The flow of the English is not so easy and transparent.

On a time he went to angle for fish, and when he could take none, he was as angrie as could be, bicause Cleopatra stoode by. Wherefore he secretly commaunded the fisher men, that when he cast in his line, they should straight dive under the water, and put a fishe on his hooke which they had taken before: and so snatched up his angling rodde and brought up a fish twise or thrise. Cleopatra found it straight, yet she seemed not to see it, but wondered at his excellent fishing: but when she was alone by her self among her owne people, she told them howe it was, and bad them the next morning to be on the water to see the fishing. A number of people came to the haven, and got into the fisher boates to see this fishing. Antonius then threw in his line, and Cleopatra straight commaunded one of her men to dive under water before Antonius men and to put some old salte fish upon his baite, like unto those that are brought out of the contrie of Pont. When he had hong the fish on his hooke, Antonius, thinking he had taken a fishe in deede, snatched up his line presently. Then they all fell a-laughing. Cleopatra laughing also, said unto him: “Leave us, (my lord), Aegyptians (which dwell in the contry of Pharus and Canobus) your angling rodde: this is not thy profession; thou must hunt after conquering realmes and contries”

[p. 157]

This specimen is in so far a favourable one for North, that in simple narrative he is little exposed to his besetting faults, but even here the superior deftness of the Frenchman is obvious. We leave out of account little mistranslations, like on a time for quelquefois, 49 or the fishermen for quelques pescheurs,50 or alone by herself for apart. We even pass over the lack of connectedness when they (i.e. the persons informed) in great number51 becomes the quite indefinite a number of people, and the omission of the friendly nudge, so to speak, as you can imagine, comme l'on peult penser. But to miss the point of the phrase pour voir l'esbatement, to see the sport, and translate it see the fishing, and then clumsily insert the same phrase immediately afterwards where it is not wanted and does not occur; to change the order of the fishe and the hooke and entangle the connection where it was quite clear, to change s'esmerveiller to wondred, the infinitive to the indicative past, and thus cloud the sense; to substitute the ambiguous and prolix When he had hong the fish on his hooke, for the concise and sufficient cela fait--to do all this and much more of the same kind elsewhere was possible only because North was far inferior to Amyot in literary tact. In the English version we have often to interpret the words by the sense and not the sense by the words; and this is a demand which is seldom made by the French.

But there are compensations. All modern languages have in their analytic methods and common stock of ideas a certain family resemblance, in which those of antiquity do not share; and in particular [p. 158] French is far closer akin to English than Greek to French. Since North had specialised in the continental literature of his day and was now dispensing the bounty of France, his allegiance to the national idiom was virtually undisturbed, even when he made least change in his original. He may be more licentious than Amyot in his treatment of grammar, and less perspicuous in the ordering of his clauses, but he is equal to him or superior in word music, after the English mode; and he is even richer in full-blooded words and in phrases racy of the soil. Not that he ever rejects the guidance of his master, but it leads him to the high places and the secret places of his own language. So while he is quick to detect the rhythm of the French and makes it his pattern, he sometimes goes beyond it; though he can catch and reproduce the cadences of the music-loving Amyot, it is sometimes on a sweeter or a graver key. Take, for instance, that scene, the favourite with Chateaubriand, where Philip, the freedman of Pompey, stands watching by the headless body of his murdered master till the Egyptians are sated with gazing on it, till they have “seen it their bellies full” in North's words. Amyot proceeds:

Puis l'ayant lave de l'eau de la mer, et enveloppé d‘une sienne pauvre chemise, pour ce qu'il n'avoit autre chose, il chercha au long de la greve ou il trouva quelque demourant d‘un vieil bateau de pescheur, dont les pieces estoyent bien vieilles, mais suffisantes pour brusler un pauvre corps nud, et encore non tout entier. Ainsi comme il les amassoit et assembloit, il survint un Romain homme d‘aage, qui en ses jeunes ans avoit esté à la guerre soubs Pompeius: si luy demanda: “Qui est tu, mon amy. qui fais cest apprest pour les funerailles du grand Pompeius? ” Philippus luy respondit qu'il estoit un sien affranchy. “Ha,” dit le Romain, “tu n'auras pas tout seul cest honneur, et te prie vueille moy recevoir pour compagnon en une si saincte et si devote rencontre, à fin que je n'aye point occasion de me plaindre en tout et partout de m'estre habitué en pais estranger, [p. 159] ayant en recompense de plusieurs maulx que j'y ay endurez, rencontré au moins ceste bonne adventure de pouvoir toucher avec mes mains, et aider a ensepvelir le plus grand Capitaine des Romains.”

This is very beautiful, but to English ears, at least, there is something in North's version, copy though it be, that is at once more stately and more moving.

Then having washed his body with salt water, and wrapped it up in an old shirt of his, because he had no other shift to lay it in52 he sought upon the sands and found at the length a peece of an old fishers bote, enough to serve to burne his naked bodie with, but not all fully out.53 As he was busie gathering the broken peeces of this bote together, thither came unto him an old Romane, who in his youth had served under Pompey, and sayd unto him: “O friend, what art thou that preparest the funeralls of Pompey the Great.” Philip answered that he was a bondman of his infranchised. “Well,” said he, “thou shalt not have all this honor alone, I pray thee yet let me accompany thee in so devout a deede, that I may not altogether repent me to have dwelt so long in a straunge contrie where I have abidden such miserie and trouble; but that to recompence me withall, I may have this good happe, with mine owne hands to touche Pompey's bodie, and to helpe to bury the only and most famous Captaine of the Romanes.”

Life of Pompey.

On the other hand, while anything but a purist in the diction he employs, North's foreign loans lose their foreign look, and become merely the fitting ornament for his native home-spun. It is chiefly on the extraordinary wealth of his vocabulary, his inexhaustible supply of expressions, vulgar and dignified, picturesque and penetrating, colloquial [p. 160] and literary, but all of them, as he uses them, of indisputable Anglicity--it is chiefly on this that his excellence as stylist is based, an excellence that makes his version of Plutarch by far the most attractive that we possess. It is above all through these resources and the use he makes of them that his book distinguishes itself from the French; for North treats Amyot very much as Amyot treats Plutarch; heightening and amplifying; inserting here an emphatic epithet and there a homely proverb; now substituting a vivid for a colourless term, now pursuing the idea into pleasant side tracks. Thus Amyot describes the distress of the animals that were left behind when the Athenians set out for Salamis, with his average faithfulness.

Et si y avoit ne sçay quoi de pitoyable qui attendrissoit les cueurs, quand on voyoit les bestes domestiques et privées, qui couroient ça et là hurlemens et signifiance de regret après leurs maistres et ceulx qui les avoient nourries, ainsi comme ilz s'embarquoient: entre lesquelles bestes on compte du chien de Xantippus, pere de Pericles, que ne pouvant supporter le regret d‘estre laissé de son maistre, il se jeta dedans la mer après luy, et nageant au long de la galère où il estoit, passa jusques en l'isle de Salamine, là où si tost qu'il fust arrivé, l'aleine luy faillit, et mourut soudainement.

But this account stirs North's sympathy, and he puts in little touches that show his interest and compassion.

There was besides, a certain pittie that made mens harts to yerne, when they saw the poore doggs, beasts and catell ronne up and doune, bleating, mowing, and howling out aloude after their masters in token of sorowe, whan they did imbarke. Amongst them there goeth a straunge tale of Xanthippus dogge, who was Pericles father; which, for sorowe his master had left him behind him, dyd caste him self after into the sea, and swimming still by the galley's side wherein his master was, he held on to the Ile of Salamina, where so sone as this poor curre landed, his breath fayled him, and dyed instantly.

[p. 161] Similarly, when he recounts the story how the Gauls entered Rome, North cannot restrain his reverence for Papirius or his delight in his blow, or his indignation at its requital. Amyot had told of the Gaul:
qui prit la hardiesse de s'approcher de Marcus Papyrius, et luy passa tout doulcement54 la main par dessus sa barbe qui estoit longue. Papyrius luy donna de son baston si grand coup sur la teste, qu'il la luy blecea; dequoy le barbare estant irrité, desguaina son espée, et l'occit.
North is not content with such reserve.

One of them went boldely unto M. Papyrius and layed his hand fayer and softely upon his long beard. But Papyrius gave him such a rappe on his pate with his staffe, that the bloude ran about his eares. This barbarous beaste was in such a rage with the blowe that he drue out his sworde and slewe him.

Furius Camillus.
Or sometimes the picture suggested is so pleasant to North that he partly recomposes it and adds some gracious touch to enhance its charm. Thus he found this vignette of the peaceful period that followed Numa:
Les peuples hantoient et trafiquoient les uns avec les autres sans crainte ni danger, et s'entrevisitoient en toute cordiale hospitalité, comme si la sapience de Numa eut été une vive source de toutes bonnes et honnestes choses, de laquelle plusieurs fleuves se fussent derives pour arroser toute l‘Italie.

This is how North recasts and embellishes the last sentence:
The people did trafficke and frequent together, without feare or daunger, and visited one another, making great cheere: as if out of the springing fountain of Numa's wisdom many pretie brookes and streames of good and honest life had ronne over all Italie and had watered it. Numa Pompilius
But illustrations might be multiplied through pages. Enough have been given to show North's debts to [p. 162] the French and their limits. With a few unimportant errors, his rendering is in general wonderfully faithful and close, so that he copies even the sequence of thought and modulation of rhythm. He sometimes falls short of his authority in simplicity, neatness, and precision of structure. On the other hand he sometimes excels it in animation and force, in volume and inwardness. But, and this is the last word on his style, even when he follows Amyot's French most scrupulously, he always contrives to write in his own and his native idiom. And hence it came that he once for all naturalised Plutarch among us. His was the epoch-making deed. His successors, who were never his supersessors, merely entered into his labours and adapted Plutarch to the requirements of the Restoration, or of the eighteenth or of the nineteenth century. But they were adapting an author whom North had made a national classic.
Plutarch was a Greek, to be sure, and a Greek no doubt he is still. But as when we think of a Devereux . . . we call him an Englishman and not a Norman, so who among the reading public troubles himself to reflect that Plutarch wrote Attic prose of such and such a quality? Scholars know all about it to be sure, as they know that the turkeys of our farm-yards come originally from Mexico. Plutarch however is not a scholar's author, but is popular everywhere as if he were a native. Quarterly Review, 1861.

But one aspect of this is that North carries further the process which Amyot had begun of accommodating antiquity to current conceptions. The atmosphere of North's diction is so genuinely national that objects discerned through it take on its hue. Under his strenuous welcome the noble Grecian and Roman immigrants from France are forced to make themselves at home, but in learning the ways of the English market-place they forget something of the [p. 163] Agora and the Forum. Perhaps this was inevitable, since they were come to stay.

And the consequence of North's method is that he meets Shakespeare half way. His copy may blur some of the lines in the original picture, but they are lines that Shakespeare would not have perceived. He may present Antiquity in disguise, but it was in this disguise alone that Shakespeare was able to recognise it. He has in short supplied Shakespeare with the only Plutarch that Shakespeare could understand. The highest compliment we can pay his style is, that it had a special relish for Shakespeare, who retained many of North's expressions with little or no alteration. The highest compliment we can pay the contents is, that, only a little more modernised, they furnished Shakespeare with his whole conception of antique history.

The influence of North's Plutarch on Shakespeare is thus of a twofold kind. There is the influence of the diction, there is the influence of the subjectmatter; and in the first instance it is more specifically the influence of North, while in the second it is more specifically the influence of Plutarch.

It would be as absurd as unfair to deny Shakespeare's indebtedness to North not only in individual turns and phrases, but in continuous discourse. Often the borrower does little more than change the prose to poetry. But at the lowest he always does that; and there is perhaps in some quarters a tendency to minimise the marvel of the feat, and so, if not to exaggerate the obligation, at least to set it in a false light. He has nowhere followed North so closely through so many lines as in Volumnia's great speech to her son before Rome; and, next to that, in Coriolanus' great speech to Aufidius in Antium. In these passages the ideas, the arrangement of the ideas, the presentation of the ideas are practically the same in the translator and in the [p. 164] dramatist: yet, with a few almost imperceptible touches, a few changes in the order of construction, a few substitutions in the'wording, the language of North, without losing any directness or force, gains a majestic volume and vibration that are only possible in the cadences of the most perfect verse. These are the cases in which Shakespeare shows most verbal dependence on his author, but his originality asserts itself even in them. North's admirable appeal is not Shakespeare's, Shakespeare's more admirable appeal is not North's.55

Similarly there has been a tendency to overestimate the loans of the Roman Plays from Plutarch. From this danger even Archbishop Trench has not altogether escaped in an eloquent and well-known passage which in many ways comes very near to the truth. After dwelling on the freedom with which Shakespeare generally treats his sources, for instance the novels of Bandello or Cinthio, deriving from them at most a hint or two, cutting and carving, rejecting or expanding their statements at will, he concludes:

But his relations with Plutarch are very different-different enough to justify or almost to justify the words of Jean Paul when in his Titan he calls Plutarch “der biographische Shakespeare der Weltgeschichte.” What a testimony we have here to the true artistic sense and skill which, with all his occasional childish simplicity56 the old biographer possesses, in the fact that the mightiest and completest artist of all times, should be content to resign himself into his hands and simply to follow where the other leads.

To this it might be answered in the first place that Shakespeare shows the same sort of fidelity in kind, though not in degree, to the comparatively inartistic chronicles of his mother country. That is, [p. 165] it is in part, as we have seen, his tribute not to the historical author but to the historical subject. Granting, however, the superior claims of Plutarch, it is yet an overstatement to say that Shakespeare is content to resign himself into his hands, and simply to follow where the other leads. Delius, after an elaborate comparison of biography and drama, sums up his results in the protest that “Shakespeare has much less to thank Plutarch for than one is generally inclined to suppose.”

Indeed, however much Plutarch would appeal to Shakespeare in virtue both of his subjects and his methods, it is easy to see that even as a “grave learned philosopher and historiographer” he is on the hither side of perfection. He interrupts the story with moral disquisitions, and is a little apt to preach, and often, through such intrusions and irrelevancies, or the adherence of the commonplace, his most impressive touches fail of their utmost possible effect: at least he does not always seem aware of the full value of his details, of their depth and suggestiveness when they are set aright. Yet he is more excellent in details than in the whole: he has little arrangement or artistic construction; he is not free from contradictions and discrepancies; he gives the bricks and mortar but not the building, and occasionally some of the bricks are flawed or the mortar is forgotten. And his stories have this inorganic character, because he is seldom concerned to pierce to the meaning that would give them unity and coherence. He moralises, and only too sententiously, whenever an opportunity offers; but of the principles that underlie the conflicts and catastrophes which in his free-and-easy way he describes, he has at best but fragmentary glimpses.

And in all this the difference between the genial moralist and the inspired tragedian is a vast oneso vast that when once we perceive it, it is hard to [p. 166] retain a fitting sense of the points of contact. In Shakespeare, Plutarch's weaknesses disappear, or rather are replaced by excellences of precisely the opposite kind. He rejects all that is otiose or discordant in speech or situation, and adds from other passages in his author or from his own imagination, the circumstances that are needed to bring out its full poetic significance. He always looks to the whole, removes discrepancies, establishes the inner connection; and at his touch the loose parts take their places as members of one living organism. And in a sense, “he knows what it is all about.” In a sense he is more of a philosophic historian than his teacher. At any rate, while Plutarch takes his responsibilities lightly in regard both to facts and conclusions, Shakespeare, in so far as that was possible for an Elizabethan, has a sort of intuition of the principles that Plutarch's narrative involves; and while adding some pigment from his own thought and feeling to give them colour and visible shape, accepts them as his pre-suppositions which interpret the story and which it interprets.

Thus the influences of North's Plutarch, whether of North's style or of Plutarch's matter, though no doubt very great, are in the last resort more in the way of suggestion than of control. But they do not invariably act with equal potency or in the same proportion. Thus Antony and Cleopatra adheres most closely to the narrative of the biographer, which is altered mainly by the omission of details unsuitable for the purpose of the dramatist; but the words, phrases, constructions, are for the most part conspicuously Shakespeare's own. Here there is a maximum of Plutarch and a minimum of North. In Coriolanus, on the other hand, apart from the unconscious modifications that we have noticed, Shakespeare allows himself more liberty than elsewhere in chopping and changing the substance; but [p. 167] lengthy passages and some of the most impressive ones are incorporated in the drama without further alteration than is implied in the transfiguration of prose to verse. Here there is the maximum of North with the minimum of Plutarch. Julius Caesar, as in the matter of the inevitable and unintentional misunderstandings, so again here, occupies a middle place. Many phrases, and not a few decisive suggestions for the most important speeches, have passed from the Lives into the play: one sentence at least it is hard to interpret without reference to the context; but here as a rule, even when he borrows most, Shakespeare treats his loans very independently. So, too, though he seldom wittingly departs from Plutarch, he elaborates the new material throughout, amplifying and abridging, selecting and rejecting, taking to pieces and recombining, not from one Life but from three. Here we have the mean influence both of Plutarch and of North.

In so far therefore Julius Caesar gives the norm of Shakespeare's procedure; and with it, for this as well as on chronological grounds, we begin. [p. 168]

1 See Plutarch's works passim, especially North's version of the Lives reprinted in the Tudor Translations, and the Morals translated by Philemon Holland (1603). See also Archbishop Trench's Lectures on Plutarch.

2 Instructions for them, etc.

3 Life of Demosthenes

4 Love

5 Love.

6 = Coax.

7 Dolls.

8 Epistle to Wife

9 Noctes Atticae, I. xxvi.

10 Polypes.

11 That a man cannot live pleasantly, etc.

12 Instructions for them, etc.

13 Even in the narrative passages one is conscious that the descriptions have been worked up. Take, e.g. the following passage from the Life of Marius:

e)pei\ de\ pollou\s tw=n *)ambrw/nwn oi( *(rwmai=oi diafqei/rantes a)nexw/rhsan o)pi/sw kai\ sko/tos e)pe/sxen, ou)x w(/sper e)p’ eu)tuxh/mati tosou/tw| to\n strato\n e)de/canto paia=nes e)pini/kioi kai\ po/toi kata\ skhna\s kai\ filofrosu/nai peri\ dei=pna kai\ to\ pa/ntwn h(/diston a)ndra/sin eu)tuxw=s memaxhme/nois, u(/pnos h)/pios, a)ll’ e)kei/nhn ma/lista th\n nu/kta fobera\n kai\ taraxw/dh dih/gagon. h)=n me\n ga\r au)toi=s a)xara/kwton to\ strato/pedon kai\ a)tei/xiston, a)pelei/ponto de\ tw=n barba/rwn e)/ti pollai\ muria/des a)h/tthtoi, kai\ summemeigme/nwn tou/tois o(/soi diapefeu/gesan tw=n *)ambrw/nwn, o)durmo\s h)=n dia\ nukto\s ou) klauqmoi=s ou)de\ stenagmoi=s a)nqrw/pwn e)oikw/s, a)lla\ qhromigh/s tis w)rugh\ kai\ bru/xhma memeigme/non a)peilai=s kai\ qrh/nois a)napempo/menon e)k plh/qous tosou/tou ta/ te pe/ric o)/rh kai\ ta\ koi=la tou= potamou= periefw/nei. kai\ katei=xe frikw/dhs h)=xos to\ pedi/on. Life of Marius 20
Or take this from the Life of Sulla:--
th\n de\ kraugh\n kai\ a)lalagmo\n ou)k e)/stegen o( a)h\r e)qnw=n tosou/twn a(/ma kaqistame/nwn ei)s ta/cin. h)=n de\ a(/ma kai\ to\ kompw=des kai\ sobaro\n au)tw=n th=s polutelei/as ou)k a)rgo\n ou)de\ a)/xrhston ei)s e)/kplhcin, a)ll’ ai(/ te marmarugai\ tw=n o(/plwn h)skhme/nwn xrusw=| te kai\ a)rgu/rw| diaprepw=s, ai(/ te bafai\ tw=n *mhdikw=n kai\ *skuqikw=n xitw/nwn a)namemigme/nai xalkw=| kai\ sidh/rw| la/mponti puroeidh= kai\ fobera\n e)n tw=| saleu/esqai kai\ diafe/resqai prose/balon o)/yin, w(/ste tou\s *(rwmai/ous u(po\ to\n xa/raka suste/llein e(autou/s, kai\ to\n *su/llan mhdeni\ lo/gw| to\ qa/mbos au)tw=n a)felei=n duna/menon, bia/zesqai/ te a)podidra/skontas ou) boulo/menon, h(suxi/an a)/gein kai\ fe/rein bare/ws e)fubri/zontas o(rw=nta kompasmw=| kai\ ge/lwti tou\s barba/rous. Life of Sulla 16.

This is very different from the unstudied charm of Herodotus. Even in North's translation, though something of the cunning has been lost in the selection and manipulation of the words, it is easy to see that the pictures are elaborate both in their general effect and their details.

Now the Romaines, after they had overcome the most parte of the Ambrons, retyring backe by reason the night had overtaken them, did not (as they were wont after they had geven such an overthrow) sing songes of victory and triumphe, nor make good chere in their tentes one with an other, and least of all sleepe: (which is the best and sweetest refreshing for men that have fought happely), but contrarily they watched all that night with great feare and trouble, bicause their campe was not trenched and fortified, and bicause they knewe alsothat there remained almost innumerable thowsandes of barbarous people, that had not yet fought: besides also that the Ambrons that had fled and scaped from the overthrow, did howle out all night with lowd cries, which were nothing like men's lamentacions and sighes, but rather like wild beastes bellowing and roaringe. So that the bellowinge of such a great multitude of beastly people, mingled together with threates and waylinges, made the mountains thereabouts and the running river to rebounde againe of the sounde and ecco of their cries marvellously: by reason whereof, all the valley that lay between both, thundered to heare the horrible and fearfull trembling.

The ayer was even cut a sunder as it were with the violence of the noyse and cries of so many sundry nations, which altogether did put them selves in battell ray. The sumptuousness of their furniture moreover, was not altogether superfluous and unprofitable, but served greatly to feare the beholders. For the glistering of their harnesse,so richly trimmed and set forth with gold and silver, the cullers of their arming coates upon their curaces, after the facion of the Medes and Scythians, mingled with the bright glistering steele and shining copper, gave such a showe as they went and removed to and fro, that made a light as clere as if all had bene on a very fire, a fearfull thing to looke upon. In so much as the Romaines durst not so much as once goe out of the trenches of their campe, nor Sylla with all his perswasion coulde take away this great conceived feare from them: wherefore, (and bicause also he would not compell them to goe forth in this feare) he was driven not to stirre, but close to abide, (though it grieved him greatly) to see the barbarous people so proudly and villanously laugh him and his men to scorne.

14 There are so many good things, despite all the inevitable mistakes, in Dryden's Life of Plutarch, that one half regrets that Professor Ker's plan did not allow him to include at least part of it in his admirable selection. Thus, in excuse for omitting the catalogue of Plutarch's lost works, which had been given in full in the Paris edition: “But it is a small comfort to the merchant to pursue his bill of freight when he is certain his ship is cast away; moved by the like reason, I have omitted that ungrateful task.”

15 De Quincey says: “Nor do I believe Wordsworth would much have lamented on his own account if all books had perished, except the entire body of English poetry and Plutarch's Lives. . . I do not mean to insinuate that Wordsworth was at all in the dark about the inaccuracy or want of authentic weight attaching to Plutarch as historian, but his business with Plutarch was not for purposes of research; he was satisfied with his fine moral effects” So too one of Plutarch's latest editors, Mr. Holden, says in a similar sense: “Plutarch has no idea of historic criticism. . . . He thought far less of finding out and relating what actually occurred than of edifying his readers and promoting virtue.”

16 Johnson's Life, ed. B. Hill, i. 31.

17 See De Blignières' Essai sur Amyot, and Amyot's translations passim, with the prefatory epistles.

18 II. viii., De l'affection des pères aux enfants.

19 Froude, Council of Trent, chap. xii.

20 See M. de Job's remarks in Petit de Julleville's Litterature Françaisse.

21 Twelve volumes!

22 “Vive Dieu! vous ne m'auriés sceu rien mander qui me fust plus agréable que la nouvelle du plaisir de lecture qui vous a prins. Plutarque me soubrit toujours d‘une fresche nouveauté; l'aymer c'est m'aymer, car il a esté longtemps l'instituteur de mon bas age: ma bonne mère à laquelle je doibs tout, et qui avoit une affection si grande de veiller à mes bons deportmens, et ne vouloit pas (ce disoit-elle) voir en son filz un illustre ignorant, me mist ce livre entre les mains, encores que je ne feusse à peine plus un enfant de mamelle. Il m'a esté comme ma conscience et il m'a dicté à l'oreille beaucoup de bonnes honestetés et maximes excellentes pour ma conduite, et pour le gouvernment de mes affaires.”

23 As he himself states in the Proesme of Théagène et Chariclée. He has occupied himself with this only, “aux heures extraordinaires, pour adoucir le travail d‘autres meilleures et plus fructueuses traductions,” so as to be made “plus vif à la consideration des choses d‘importance.”

24 “Je me puis plus malaysement desfaire de Plutarque; il est si universel et si plein, qu‘ à toutes occasions, et quelque subject extravagant que vous ayez prins, il s'ingere à vostre besongne, et vous tend une main liberal et inespuisable de richesses et d‘embellissements. Il m'en faict despit, d‘estre si fort exposé au pillage de ceulx qui le hantent: je ne le puis si peu raccointer, que je n'en tire cuisse ou aile” (iii. 5).

25 “Mais, surtout, je lui scais bon gré d‘avoir sceu trier et choisir un livre si digne et si à propos, pour en faire présent à son pais. Nous aultres ignorants estions perdus, si ce livre ne nous eust relevé du bourbier: sa mercy nous osons à cette heure et parler et escrire; les dames en regentent les maistres d‘eschole; c'est notre bresviaire” (ii. 4).

26 “Je n'ay dresse commerce avecques aulcun livre solide sinon Plutarque et Senecque, où je puyse comme les Danaïdes remplissant et versant sans cesse” (i. 25).

27 Les livres qui m'y servent, c'est Plutarque depuis qu'il est françois, et Seneque (ii. iv.). Of course Montaigne knew some Greek and read it more or less. He has even his own opinion about Plutarch's style (see page 104), and M. Faguet conjectures: “It is quite conceivable that Montaigne compared the translation with the text, and that it is a piece of mere affectation when he says he knows nothing of the Greek.” But doubtless he read the French much more habitually and easily.

28 Seneque est plein de poinctes et saillies, Plutarque de choses; celuy là vous eschauffe plus et vous esmeut, cettuy ci vous contente davantage et vous paye mieulx; il nous guide, l'aultre nous poulse (ii. 10).

29 Il y à dans Plutarque beaucoup de discours estendus très dignes d‘estre sceus, car, à mon gré, c'est le maistre ouvrier de telle besongne; mais il y en àmille qu'il n'a que touchez simplement; et guigne seulement du doigt par où nous irons, s'il nous plaist; et se contente quelquefois de ne donner qu'une attaincte dans le plus vif d‘un propos. Il les fault arracher de la, et mettre en place marchande. ... Cela mesme de luy voir trier une legere action en la vie d‘un homme, ou un mot qui semble ne porter cela, c'est un discours (i. 25).

30 There were also translations in Italian, Spanish, and German; but none of them had anything like the literary importance of Amyot's, and they were made from the Latin, not from the Greek. Of Hieronymus Boner, for instance, who published his Plutarch, Von dem Leben der allerdurchlauchtigsten Griechen und Romern (1st edition, Augsburg, 1534), it is misleading to say that he “anticipated” Amyot. Merzdorf writes of Boner's versions of Greek authors generally (Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie) that he “turned them into German not from the original Greek but from Latin translations. Moreover, one must not expect from him any exact rendering, but rather a kind of paraphrase which he accommodates to the circumstances of the time.”

31 See his preface, towards the close.

32 In later days, too, Mr. Holden, who has busied himself with Plutarch, says “Amyot's version is more scholarlike and correct than those of Langhorne or Dryden and others.”

33Cum jam majorem operis partem absolvissem, prodierunt Vitae Plutarchi gallicâ linguâ ab Amyoto conscriptae. Quem cum praeclaram ei libro operam impendisse ex iis qui linguae ejus sunt periti (quod mihi non datum est) et usum multis ac bonis codicibus audirem; amicorum adjutus . . . officio, nonnullos, de quibus dubitabam, locos correxi; in haud paucis mea conjectura est illius interpretis suffragio comprobata” (Ed. 1560). Xylander's friends must have given him yeoman's help, for he frequently discusses Amyot's readings, generally adopting them; and for the whole life of Cato, he even goes so far as to avow: “Amyoti versionem secutus sum, Graecis non satis integris”.

34Ego quidem si dicere hic non valeam, vitas me Plutarchi, quas plurimi sumpserunt antehac Itali Latine reddendas parum feliciter, me explicavisse unum et verius et mundius; hoc certe dicere queo liquide et recte, esse arbitratum me hoc effecisseEpistola ad Lectorem, 1561, edition 1599).

35Interea cum jam polivissem atque emendassem vitas meas Plutarchi, ostendit mihi Bruxellae, ubi agebam illustrissimi principis mei legatus, secretarius regius editas elegantissime ab Amioto lingua gallica vitas Plutarchi, quae exierant tamen in publicum sex menses antequam eas viderem. Hujus viri mihi eruditio et diligentia aliquid lucis nonnullis in locis attulit. Cui ego hoc testimonium dabo: non posse fieri, ut quisquam hoc tempore Plutarchum tam vertat ornate lingua Latina quam vertit ille suâEpistola ad Lectorem, 1561, edition 1599).

36 Amyot's own attitude is very similar. He cites the Latin versions in proof of the hardness of the original, and challenges a comparison of them with his own.

37Interea cum jam polivissem atque emendassem vitas meas Plutarchi, ostendit mihi Bruxellae, ubi agebam illustrissimi principis mei legatus, secretarius regius editas elegantissime ab Amioto lingua gallica vitas Plutarchi, quae exierant tamen in publicum sex menses antequam eas viderem. Hujus viri mihi eruditio et diligentia aliquid lucis nonnullis in locis attulit. Cui ego hoc testimonium dabo: non posse fieri, ut quisquam hoc tempore Plutarchum tam vertat ornate lingua Latina quam vertit ille suâEpistola ad Lectorem, 1561, edition 1599).

38 ii.4

39 Mr. Holden.

40 Espineux et ferré (ii. iv.). Perhaps ferré should be rendered difficult rather than crabbed. But even thorny and difficult are hardly words that one would apply to Plutarch. Montaigne's meaning may perhaps be illustrated by the criticism of Paley: “Plutarch's Greek is not like Lucian's, fluent and easy, nor even clear. He uses many words not in the ordinary Greek vocabulary; and he too often constructs long sentences, the thread of which separately as well as the connection cannot be traced without close attention. Hence he is unattractive as a writer.”

41 I do not know what authority Mr. Wyndham has for his statement that Amyot's version of the Morals “fell comparatively dead.” It is, of course, much less read nowadays, but at the time it ran through three editions in less than four years (1572, 1574, 1575), and for the next half century there are frequent reprints.

42 These, translated from the Latin collection of 1470, to which they had been contributed by Acciaiuoli, were included in Amyot's third edition.

43 That is, if we multiply them by eight.

44 Most of the facts of the foregoing sketch are taken from the articles on the Norths in the Dictionary of National Biography, which, however, must not be considered responsible for the inferences.

45 A charming reprint was edited by Mr. Joseph Jacobs in 1888.

46 The whole question about the editions which Shakespeare read is a complicated one. Two things are pretty certain: (i) He must have used the first edition for Midsummer-Night's Dream, which was in all likelihood composed before 1595, when the second appeared. (2) He must have used the first or second for Julius Caesar, which was composed before 1603, when the third appeared. It is more difficult to speak positively in regard to Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus . It has been argued that the former cannot have been derived from the first two editions, because in them Menas' remark to Sextus Pompeius runs:

Shall I cut the gables of the ankers, and make thee Lord not only of Sicile and Sardinia, but of the whole Empire of Rome besides?
In the third edition this is altered to cables, and this is the form that occurs in Shakespeare:

Let me cut the cable;
And, when we are put off, fall to their throats:
All there is thine.

But this change is a very slight one that Shakespeare might easily make for himself on the same motives that induced the editor of the Lives to make it. And though attempts have been made to prove that the fourth edition was used for Coriolanus, there are great difficulties in accepting so late a date for that play, and one phrase rather points to one of the first two editions (see Introduction to Coriolanus). If this is really so, it affects the case of Antony and Cleopatra too, for it would be odd to find Shakespeare using the first or second edition for the latter play, and the third for the earlier one. Still, such things do occur, and I think there is a tendency in those who discuss this point to confine Shakespeare over rigidly to one edition. In the twentieth century it is possible to find men reading or re-reading a book in the first copy that comes to hand without first looking up the date on the title page. Was this practice unknown in Shakespeare's day?

47 Themistocles

48 Greek Βασιλεῦσιν. Does the habitans come from the 1470 Latin version? A later emendation is ἁλιεῦσιν.

49 Yet in these three cases, where North is certainly behind Amyot as a narrator, he is more faithful to the Greek. This is the sort of thing that makes one ask whether he was not really in closer contact with the original than he professes to have been. One remembers his similar modesty in regard to the Diall, which, nominally from the French, really made use of the Spanish as well.

50 Yet in these three cases, where North is certainly behind Amyot as a narrator, he is more faithful to the Greek. This is the sort of thing that makes one ask whether he was not really in closer contact with the original than he professes to have been. One remembers his similar modesty in regard to the Diall, which, nominally from the French, really made use of the Spanish as well.

51 Yet in these three cases, where North is certainly behind Amyot as a narrator, he is more faithful to the Greek. This is the sort of thing that makes one ask whether he was not really in closer contact with the original than he professes to have been. One remembers his similar modesty in regard to the Diall, which, nominally from the French, really made use of the Spanish as well.

52 Amyot probably and North certainly has mistaken the sense. After washing and shrouding the body “ἄλλο δὲ οὐδὲν ἔχων ἀλλὰ περισκοπῶν”; but having nothing else to carry out the funeral rites with, such as pine wood, spices, etc., but looking about on the beach, he found, etc.

53 A misunderstanding on North's part where Amyot translates the Greek quite adequately. The rendering should be “a poor naked body and moreover an incomplete one,” i.e. with the head wanting.

54 Represents “πράως”. Amyot leaves out “ἥψατο τοῦ γενείου”, caught the chin: si grand, and estant irrité;, are added.

55 The relations of the various versions — Greek, Latin, French, and English — are illustrated by means of this speech in Appendix B.

56 Childish simplicity does not strike one as a correct description of Plutarch's method.

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