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These facts, which might doubtless be paralleled by many more through Greek Literature, seem to prove conclusively the poor development of a real business spirit among the old Greeks. We do not expect these qualities now-a-days from artists and poets, and even from politicians; but among so many-sided a people, to use a very hackneyed expression, it is somewhat surprising that their wide coasting trade, and their connections all over the Mediterranean, did not generate those qualities which I believe to have existed in some degree in the Phoenicians, and still more in the Romans. The Phoenicians appear to have had a like trading genius to their brethren the Jews, and to have brought even their seamanship to a far higher level than the Greeks. At least Xenophon, in his Economics, speaks of going down to Corinth to see the big Phonician ship, just as we should speak of visiting the 'Devastation,' and the points which he remarks are the extreme neatness and tidiness of the internal arrangements. Everything was stowed away in the smallest possible space, and ready to hand. I know no more certain sign of superior abilities than this very feature of cleanness and tidiness. The Romans swayed no doubt a great Empire, welded into an unity very different from the Hellenic unity, if we may use so misleading a term of the Greeks in general. But there was also something in the Roman gravitas, an instinct of adherence to bonds and promises, which Cicero, as I have quoted (p. 114), asserts to be foreign to the Greeks, and which is the first essential of any sound commercial prosperity.
This was in my opinion the great national blot on their character, and the principal cause of their comparative failure in this direction. I know that my judgment will be contested, that it is usual to assert the Greeks to be the greatest and most successful traders of antiquity, but I appeal to the judicial literature in proof of the reverse, and hold that however much they may have traded, however many their ships, and various their exports and imports, all this was as nothing compared to what such a nation as the English would have accomplished in the same position. That love of overreaching, that ingrained shrewdness and intent watching of personal interests, which I have noticed all through Greek civilisation from Homer into the Attic times, was an obstacle to all their perfection, and not the least in those very branches of civilisation which are its proper scope. Trade does not often fall into the hands of the aristocracy of a nation; it is the special function of the middle classes, and hence the core of a nation must be sound, the average man must be steady and thrifty and honest, in a really mercantile people. Hence the noblest moral principles in the leading men, the highest moral preaching among the philosophers, are not adequate, nor are they a sure sign of a solid national quality. It seems to me, upon a careful review of a very wide and conflicting body of evidence, that the Greeks had these great leaders and preachers, but that the average man was below the level of fair honesty.
It will be said in reply that the most noted trading races the world has seen have been notoriously
dishonest, that the Phoenicians and Jews are striking examples of this side of the question. Even admitting this doubtful statement, and without entering into a full discussion, which would indeed require a separate volume, I shall merely observe that the Phoenicians and medieval Jews succeeded chiefly as the Greeks succeeded, either by opening up an intercourse with savages, where mere enterprise secures great advantages, or as members of a subject race, constrained by the severest and most bloody penalties to keep within the limits of fairness. So far the Greeks succeeded in trade also. The early colonists plundered the barbarians unmercifully under the guise of barter; the subject classes at Athens, such as the cornfactors of whom I have spoken, were compelled, by fear of execution uncondemned, to keep within some limits, and under this compulsion, they may have induced people to deal with them, and so prospered under a supervision unjust as well as evere.
But when I speak of great and successful commerce, I speak of it in a free and dominant race, carried on upon large and fair principles, and without any constant thought of overreaching those with whom we deal. I speak of it, and of the business habits it engenders, as we find it in such countries as England and Belgium. This I do not believe ever to have been attained by the Phoenicians, or by the Jews till the present day, when they have taken their place as free members of the great free nations among whom they dwell.
With these remarks I close a chapter to which
further study may suggest some modifications, but which will, I trust, suggest true and reasonable views upon a complicated and difficult aspect of Greek social life.
I still owe the reader a discussion upon Greek art, and its relation to ordinary Greek life. This is of all others the branch of my subject about which the pedants have written many absurd things, and upon which therefore homely common sense might be profitably employed. But it is too great and various a theme to be disposed of in a chapter, and requires a familiarity with Greek sculpture and architecture which can hardly be acquired in this ultima Thule. I hope, however, some day, to supply the deficiency, and to say something practical on this interesting topic-one of the greatest importance in our modern life. The æsthetical education of our lower classes cannot be
reformed without a thorough psychological study of the genesis of national taste, and for this the principal materials must be found among the Greeks.