to set man’s spirit free from the crushing armour of Scholastic learning, which had immobilized the medieval sage quite as effectively as his defensive mail had immobilized the medieval knight. But they soon fell lamentably short of their noble design and of the proud name they had assumed. Total humanity cannot be identified with any one of its functions, and so ‘humaner letters’ are neither the ‘whole duty of man’ nor even more than comparatively humane. In Scotland ‘humanity’ was academically reduced to Latin. Hence an impartial judge might soon doubt the superiority of Humanism over the Scholasticism which it supplanted in this very point of pedantry. Pedantry is the poverty of the soul, and like poverty it is always with us, while it is only occasionally that the human spirit rises in revolt against the dust-storms of finely comminuted knowledge with which it buries alive all originality and force.
Unfortunately we have little direct knowledge of this earliest Humanism. Its heroes and martyrs, Protagoras and Socrates, have left us no memorial. It is true that by the irony of history the spiritual heritage of one of them soon became a valuable asset, to be disputed over by the philosophic schools of the fourth century, and that so in the end Socrates has become for history what it suited the interest of the strongest, i.e., of the greatest writer, that he should appear. Plato has made our ‘Socrates’ into an intellectualist like himself. But this is manifestly one-sided. The teaching of the real Socrates must have been such as to inspire not only Plato, but also Xenophon, and Aristippus, and Antisthenes. He cannot, therefore, have been the beau idéal of intellectualistic idealism Plato makes him out to be. In his general attitude towards life he probably came far nearer to the progressive types of his own age than a careless reader would infer from Plato. For Plato has made him into a stalking horse in his campaign against his own professional rivals, the Sophists. The historic Socrates, however, probably got on with Sophists of his time even better than Plato admits in the Protagoras.
This interpretation of Socrates, however, is inferential. For from his own mouth we have not one authentic word. Protagoras was more careful of posterity. He wrote a book,